Audio shorts

So, my friend Russ is getting into voice work.

This is great on a number of levels. He never has time to read as much as he’d like, and prefers audio books. He’s not alone.

I loved audiobooks when I used to commute. A great audiobook is, in some cases, better than the read version. There’s nuances and inflections that you might not have even imagined with your eyeholes. To have someone read these things aloud not only exposes certain angles of the prose, it also provides a flavor you might not always get when reading silently. Take for example, Stephen Briggs narrating any Terry Pratchett novel. Or take the audiobook of THE DIAMOND AGE.

Reading aloud is also one of the go-to suggestions when editing your own work. Your brain picks up things your eyes miss when you hear the words aloud.

The last and best part was that Russ chose one of my own short stories to read, my most recent one, in fact. This story.

You can check out his fledgling voice narration here.


Flash fiction is a story told usually in 1000 words or less.


© 2013 Martin Kee


And here we are. Jennings is still taking the condensers out of the back compartment, but once he gets those situated, I think we’ll be ready to check in with colony prime and have our first official meeting away from home.

Gotta go grab a shower before the meeting. I feel gross.


Meeting went well, but Jennings laid it on a little thick. I’m sure the supervisor wasn’t thrilled when he mentioned we’re a week off schedule. She made it clear we need to hustle now if we’re going to be ready for that supply drop. Those drones punch through the fabric of space pretty fast, and we’re easy to miss. Hopefully, we’ll have the beacon ready. Cracker rations only go so far. There isn’t enough mustard in the world…


As far as colonies go, Ragnarok is small, about three hundred folks, which is a good manageable number. I heard Beta-Nine was packed into their chambers like sardines when they colonized. We’ve come a long way.

Jennings is overseeing the comm deployment, which is good news. That beacon is key.

There are thirty-six human colonies, all founded within the last fifty years. I remember hearing that biological evolution moves in jumps, and I’m inclined to believe technology works the same. They’d only just found a way to punch through to another solar system, and a year later people were building ships. I think it’s fair to say nobody could fucking stand Earth anymore, and who could blame them?

We’d known about this place almost ten years before we could visit. Man, does it feel good to get away from all Earth’s problems.

Hold on, Jennings is here.


Slight hiccup in the comm array, but you know the saying: tell God your plans for a laugh. Jennings says it fell in the night, but I looked at the tower and there’s clearly some incompetence afoot. Thing was bent like a vine when I went out to it. Solar flares or not, it takes a lot more to bend plasteel than “a fall”. I’ll see if I can get to the bottom of it.

In the mean time, they’re throwing a meet-and-greet tonight with the rest of the rations. I’ve advised against it, but Jennings says, “With the beacon up and running, we’ll have more food than we can eat in our lifetimes this time tomorrow.”

Maybe I can sneak away during the dance and double-check that comm array…


I could only take a few minutes of that music. Ran off to check on the comm array on the hill. I’d asked if they’d scanned the strats before erecting it this time. Jennings confirmed that it’s solid.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“We looked,” he said. “Nothing but dirt and rock. It’s solid.”

So I figured everything was fine. Well, it’s not.

There’s a cable missing, the cable that connects the beacon to the comm array. Am I making sense now? Yes? The beacon was hooked up, but it was just talking to itself. I’m going to have to figure out how to break the news to everyone. Probably need to go tell them now before they eat all the rations. Then I need to wash up and talk to Jennings…


People are disappointed, but they understand. We’ll start from scratch with what we have now, maybe send out parties to find edible plants. The fauna here is scarce, and they assured us there’s nothing much bigger than a housecat out in those woods, but we’ll send weapons with them just the same.

In the meantime I’m going to discuss our situation with the supervisor tonight and hopefully they’ll send another supply drone.

Fucking Jennings…


Jennings was found dead today at the comm tower. We’re not sure what it is, but his hands are bleeding and covered in some kind of infection, small slivers of black can be seen under the nails, like he’s been clawing at something, but we aren’t sure what. Doctors should have an answer by the end of the day.

The scouting party returned and with good news. They brought some berries and fruit. We’ll have those tested asap.

I’m also getting a headache from all this stress. I could use a shower.


The fibers found under Jennings’s fingernails seems to be a kind of fungus. It’s not from Earth. Definitely from here, but they can’t figure out where. Maybe I need to head back to the comm array again.

The good news is that the fruit checks out. People are eating and happy, so that’s good.

Still, I hate the air here. Sticks to you.


The array is broken again. This time twisted and laying in pieces. There’s no way we’ll get it repaired now. I explained to Phillips, who took over after Jennings.

He just gave me this look. Not sure what that meant.

I washed up and… here’s the thing…

My shower head is filthy, black mold coming off the nozzle in long strands. Also, I found marks after I shaved my head this morning, like someone was clawing at the back of my head. The hairs look an awful lot like those tendrils under Jennings’s nails. Dark. Wiry. I think I’ll take them in to the doc in the morning… on second thought, better not.


I found the body today, crammed into the cooling duct above my bunk.

I’ve suspected most of the night, and I imagine the crew has too, otherwise they wouldn’t have locked me in my room. But they’re in for a treat once it takes them too. There’s no way to tell when it’s happening. None. Hell, I didn’t even know until I found my own face, staring back at me from this cooling duct.

It’s fine though. We’ll all be better adapted to life here in the end.

For now I’ll just wait.


Haven’t done a flash fiction challenge in a while. Chuck Wendig gave us eight words. I chose four:  hamburger, gloves, motel, and funeral.

Warning: contains self-editing


Bindo licks her face with his long gray herbivore tongue.

“Ugh! You smell like vickenberries and shit!” she says, pushing his muzzle away playfully. Being kissed by a plainsteer is like getting a bath from a wet sausage. She wipes her tunic in disgust. “If you’re hungry you can have some grass, but that’s it until the next town.”

He looks at her with plaintive, bovine eyes.

“I know,” says Beth. “It’s not far, I promise.”

She can see the village up ahead. Its clusters of buildings and motels rest at the bottom of enormous spires. They stretch for hundreds of feet into the sky, calcified and sharp, the horns of the world. At the top, rest smoldering funeral pyres.

Beth drains the rest of her water skin into her mouth. She squeezes the last bit for Bindo who laps at it, spilling most on the ground. Opening the leather satchel along the flank of her companion, Beth pauses a moment. Inside rests her egg, a large two-foot-wide green ball, coated with a crackling patina of flakes. Beth is amazed to see it intact as she places her empty water skin between it and a pair of workman’s gloves.

“I think we can make it by sundown,” she says, her voice hopeful.

Bindo isn’t the brightest, but he can pick up on tension. Beth doesn’t want to make him more nervous than he is. He slow-blinks with those giant brown eyes then plods along beside her.

Her biggest concern isn’t the desert. If things get too bad she could always crack open a plant and suck some moisture out of it. What Beth is worried most about are poachers. Just the thought alone makes her glance back to the satchel nervously.

The purple sky is dusted with diamond stars. She finds herself on auto-pilot, just walking with her ox-sized beast, her face to the universe. A breeze musses her hair and Beth wonders for a brief moment if she will ever find a place to rest for good. Home is just a word–

Bindo stops without warning, growls. A cold spike runs through her chest. She feels in her pocket for the gun there, fully aware that she has a scant three bullets remaining.

“It’s okay babe,” she says to him.

But Bindo isn’t having any of it. He begins to snort. Hooves paw the ground and Beth feels the vibration in her legs. He snorts again and this time she hears it—stalkers.

They move in from the scrub bushes, lanky canines in the dusk light. They move on four paws, but Beth knows all too well that they don’t have to. This is just a scouting posture. They are sniffing her and Bindo out, moving low to the ground. When they attack, leaping with claws out, they stand upright, their tiny chest hooks exposed. But for now, they are keeping their distance. Good.

The village spires suddenly seen painfully far away and Beth finds herself wishing that these were poachers. Poachers can be fooled or reasoned with. Stalkers kill for fun.

A rustling of bushes and the first one leaps from the ground, its torso splitting wide to reveal the killing mouth there, its dark black eyes rolled back into its head in a parody of ecstasy.

Bindo rears up and catches it in the side with a sharp hoof. It squeals and tumbles into the dust as Beth pulls the gun from her pocket. She sees two more moving in from the bushes. She fires. The bullet only nicks the closest one, passing through the skin and leaving a puff of dust in the ground. It skips to the side and then flies at her. She can actually see the red gullet between those long vertical jaws. She fires again. Black liquid sprays out the stalker’s back. It pinwheels in the air before flopping to the ground.

A blur to her left. Bindo spins and almost knocks her to the ground with his massive clumsy flank. She jumps but the distraction keeps her from seeing what he is reacting to. Another stalker is already in the air. It lands on Bindo, latching onto his shoulder like a giant leech. He bellows. Saliva flings from his mouth in strands as he tries to shake off the attacker.

Beth can’t get to it. The stalker is on the other side of her massive friend. Movement again and something rushes her—the stalker Bindo had just kicked. It’s limping but alive and very angry. Without thinking, Beth fires. A cloud of black ichor sprays her and Bindo’s flank.

The last stalker is still attached to the beast, hooked in, unable to flee. Stalkers play to win every time. Bindo screams again and a large liquid eye turns to her pleadingly.

No bullets. She leaps onto Bindo and takes the gun barrel in her hand. The metal burns and Beth smells something like meat cooking. Should have worn the gloves.

She screams as she hammers the top of the stalker, its body flat as it wriggles to tear off a chunk of meat. Each blow sounds like she is smashing apples. The stalker’s screams are muted. Its rolled-back eyes blink and twitch. Beth continues to strike the creature even though her palm blisters and Bindo bucks.

You aren’t helping, she thinks.

At last she strikes an eye. The stalker shrieks with a sound that makes her teeth hurt. It falls away and begins to limp across the ground. But Bindo turns. Sharp hooves dance along the creature, pummeling it into the dirt until it isn’t much more than hamburger.

As she calms the beast, Beth feels wetness on her leg. She turns, pulls the satchel open. A small cry escapes her throat. The egg lies in two pieces, a fractured, leaking globe.

They limp to town. She has a hard time seeing the spires anymore, though she knows they are there through her tears.

(c) 2012 Martin Kee (marlanesque)

In Hindsight, At Least The Test Was Successful

So Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge this week was all about profanity.  The story had to be about, contain, or just generally roll around in profanity like a pig in shit.

See? I’ve started already.


In Hindsight At Least The Test Was Successful

Statistically speaking, the most commonly uttered phrase before someone’s death is “Oh shit!” This can be heard throughout history on recordings of bus crashes, train wrecks and most notably, airline black boxes.

It should come as no surprise then, that a variation of expletives would be recorded by John Dingle PhD, AaF, SCr, Chief of Nanoreproductive Robotic Artificial Intelligence at AMES research in Mountain View, California on a foggy Monday morning.

The day had started off all wrong to begin with: spilled coffee, broken fountain pen resulting in a blue ink stain, glasses dropped and broken then repaired with tape. All in all, it was one of those Mondays that told John Dingle he should have stayed in bed. Like most people, John Dingle was never very good at listening to that voice in his head.

“Cats,” he said. “There’s a cat. I hate cats.”

Pamela scurried to try and chase the stray feline into a corner where it might allow her to pick it up. In the meantime, John used an air hose to try and clean any stray hairs off the massive construct in the far corner of the room.

“It’s just a cat,” said Pam. “It isn’t the end of the world.”

“Pam,” he said, trying to retain some composure. “You know I’m allergic. You know that cats are filthy and stray cats are disgusting even by cat standards. For all we know, it could have tracked in a million particles. We’ll have to close the lab for a week.”

“You’re being dramatic.”

The cat, now even more frightened than before, disappeared under a cabinet. Yellow eyes peered from beneath the metal container.

“He’s not coming out,” said Pam.

“Get a broom or something.” Jesus Christ, thought John. This is all I fucking need today. One goddamn thing after another.

John wasn’t normally one to swear, especially in the office and certainly not in front of Pam, who he had been trying to impress ever since she started six months prior. Needless to say, it wasn’t going well. This cat was just frosting. Fat fucking cat frosting. Asshole.

The construct was a six foot mobile armature, composed of a bicameral head, speech recognition receptors, a wiry torso, capable of free movement throughout the lab and a single knobby arm. The arm ended in an eerily human looking hand, capable of lightning fast movements with enough sensitivity and dexterity to cradle an egg.

Pam came back with the broom and began fishing under the cabinet with it, trying to see if she could convince the feral cat to seek refuge elsewhere, preferably in one of the other labs.

“I think he’s scared,” she said.

“Of course he is,” said John. I’d be scared too if someone was prodding my ass with a goddamn broomstick.

“He’s not moving.”

In response, the cat hissed, but remained wedged beneath the cabinet. John glanced over his shoulder at Pam, on all fours, her most attractive angle from across the room. Even under the lab coat, the curves of her figure were hard to miss. Who cared if she was fifteen years younger than him. John considered himself quite a catch for a man in his fifties.

He put the air hose down and nearly knocked over his coffee again. A long hiss of “Fffffffuuuu” almost escaped his lips. Pam gave him a reproachful look and he finished with “Fudge.”

“Potty mouth,” she said with a flirting glint in her eye.

John flushed and turned back to the construct. “I’m going to test the speech receptors again,” he said and touched the button just below the twin cameras. They glowed and came to life. The construct gave him an attentive look, shutter-fly irises constricting. The arm moved and then shuddered to a halt.

Motherfucker, thought John. Pam forgot to tighten the actuators again. Son of a bitch.

“Pam did you tighten the actuators before we left on Friday?”

She looked back at him, still on her hands and knees, a pose that he found less attractive now that she was costing them time. “I thought I did. Is it not working properly?”

“No,” he said, grabbing the socket attachment and slamming it onto the air hose. “It’s not working properly at all. In fact, I remember you were the first one out of the building Friday.”

She was scowling at him now, the broom motionless. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying,” he jammed the socket wrench onto the actuator for emphasis. “That you may have fucked us, Pam. You may have fucked my whole day.”

The shock on her face was worth it. Her mouth made a charming pouty “O”.

“And now we have a voice recognition test today and we are behind four fucking hours.”

“John,” she said. “The construct is on–”

“I don’t fucking care if it’s on,” said John, placing the pneumatic tool on the counter. “The construct can go fuck itself. In fact the construct can go fuck me and you and this entire goddamn lab with a goddamn fat fucking air hose chainsaw for all I fucking care!”

As the cat sprang from the cabinet, Pam screamed, which seemed odd to John. It wasn’t until he turned to see the construct swing the tool at his crotch that he realized what had happened.

“Oh, fuck me,” he uttered as the pneumatic wrench skewered him through the pelvis, pumping a ragged line up to his sternum.

In a way, John Dingle, PhD, AaF, SCr, was rather proud of his creation in those last few moments of consciousness. The speech recognition test was successful. The construct had understood exactly what he had said, executing it to precise detail, (even if its interpretation was somewhat sketchy). As the machine left him and began to move through the lab amidst a chorus of screams, John lay in a scarlet pool of blood, a bemused smile on his face.

© 2011 Marlan Smith

The Hookup

This week’s Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge was a random word prompt.

Prompt: Story must contain the following words, or synonyms of the following words:

“Figure.” “Dusk.” “Flirt.” “Mobile Phone.” “Wig.”

1000 words or less.


The Hookup

“Wow! Look at this place,” she said. “You one of them rich scientists?”

She had long, blond, curly hair. She spun a lock on her finger chewing her gum with a loud POP!  He led her in through the double reinforced metal doors.

“No, not really,” he said. “I managed to make most of this stuff from recycled parts.”

“Like they do with soda cans?”

He paused as a small muscle above his eye twitched. “Yeah… sort of like that.”

“I’m gonna call you my Soda Scientist,” she giggled around her gum and pinched him in the ribs.

Rich drew back and tried his best to smile through his discomfort. He really, really didn’t mean to bring her home, but he was lonely. He was also curious. What was the harm right? It was past dusk and she probably wouldn’t even remember this place or how to get here in the morning anyway. If it all went well, she wouldn’t even know where she was afterwards.

“Woooooow!” she said again, drawing out the vowels into a long drunken howl. “You got all sorts of cool stuff. You know my dad, he messed with stuff. Was into all sorts of neat stuff like computers and the thing that makes all the noise.”

“The speakers?”

“No dummy,” she said. “The phone thing. It goes–” and then she made a squawk like a lame bird, followed by a feline hiss.

“Oh, right,” said Rich. “You mean a modem.”

“Yeah a mode in, or whatever,” she said. Her blue eyes trailed along the pipes and vent couplings, the conduits and cables. It all led to a large tube at one end of the apartment.  “What’s that?”

It was a seven foot, nondescript metal cylinder, gun metal gray and about three feet in diameter. A smoked glass window followed the contour of the tube elegantly. Rich flipped a switch and the inside glowed like a warm bathroom.

“Ooo!” she said. “That’s sexy. What is it, some sort of toilet?”

Rich tried to suppress a laugh. Twenty years he worked on this project and she calls it a toilet. Fantastic.

“No,” he said. “It’s a matter relocater.”

“A what?”

“A tele–ok look. You know how your dad used a modem?”


“So that modem transfers data–”


“Information,” he said. “It transfers it to another computer and that’s how they talk.”

“My dad’s computer never talked to me.”

Rich took a long, controlled breath. “Your dad’s computer wasn’t a teleporter.”

“Oh!” she said, her eyes going wide. Rich almost thought he saw a physical light shine from her head. “You mean like The Fly?”

He took another breath. “Yes,” he said. “Sort of,  except this one you don’t need a secondary target pod. You can set coordinates to anywhere in the world, or in this case, anywhere in a hundred mile radius.”

“Hey!” she said. “My pad is like, a mile from here. Do you think you could give me a ride… you know… after we have a little fun?”

Rich found himself torn. It had been a painfully long time. And even in the full light of his apartment, she wasn’t totally unattractive. He could probably imagine she was Susan if he really tried, closed his eyes. Ten years though… He began to wonder if he even remembered how to do it.

“Well, it isn’t as simple as that,” he said.

“I’m not stupid,” she said, scowling. “I like smart guys, they talk at my level, all smart and brainy.”

“I just mean… look, you can’t go through it with anything inorganic,” he said.

“You trying to say I got fakies?” she said, winding up to slap him.

“No… well… no… I mean if you had implants it would be a no-no regardless. I mean you can’t go through with anything like piercings, clothes, etc. Even your gum is probably too artificial to go through.”

She looked back at the tube, wild curiosity in her eyes. She is probably one of those girls who likes to run through traffic just for the thrill, thought Rich. She turned back to him and smiled.

“What would happen?”

Oh god, thought Rich. Down the rabbit hole we go.

“Well the inorganic material creates a field, like metal in a microwave–”

“Like fireworks.”

“Yeah, okay. Like that,” said Rich. “Imagine that happening to an earring or maybe a pacemaker.”

Her smile only got wider. “I wanna do it!”

“Right… right now?”

“Yeah,” she said, then stopped herself. The disappointment was clear in Rich’s eyes. “Oh baby, you know if you give me a ride to my place right now, I’ll totally make it up to you.”

She ran a flirtatious finger down his chest and tugged at his belt.

“Okay,” he said. “Get naked.”

In a flash, she stood before him, her clothes in a neat pile next to the pod, hoop earrings on top. “You’ll call me?” she asked.

No, I am going to sell your $5 dress at Goodwill. “You bet.”

He watched her with a pang of regret as she stepped, nude, into the pod, his eyes tracing her figure as she moved. She turned as the door closed and gave him a wave.

Rich held up the remote, no bigger than a cell phone and punched a button. There was a whir, a flash, a POP! like the gum she had been chewing… and then smoke.

Smoke, that wasn’t good. Rich watched in horror as the door slid open. Like some sea creature washed ashore was a blond wig at the bottom of the pod. Fresh blood and something white and shattered was visible just beneath it.

Rich reached into his pocket, pulled out his cell phone and quickly erased her phone number.

(c) 2011 Marlan Smith