Monday, July 21, 2014

Unseen Workers

Cursing, the doll-sized gnome picked himself up from the plaster dust and the splattered remnants of breakfast.

"You were in the ceiling," Brent said numbly.

"Cripes," said the gnome.  "Now we're in it."

"Why do you have pliers?" Brent asked, beginning to feel concerned.

The gnome tried to dodge aside, but Brent menaced him with a fork.

"Look, I'll give you a hint, okay?"  The gnome held up his pudgy hands.  "Your warranty ends tomorrow, doesn't it?  On the dryer?"

"...what?"

"Just act surprised.  That's all I can safely say."  The gnome tapped the side of his nose and fled.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Expedition

"What we're primarily interested in," said Neeling, stepping cautiously across the feed-yard, "is how you managed to cross in the phoenix.  They're rare, finicky eaters, and ? most pertinently ? parthenogenic.  We'd never managed to even get one to survive long in captivity.  How did you manage it?"

Clem shrugged.  "Patience."  

There was a commotion to the side.  One of the birds was standing stiff, hiccuping.  Neeling stared.  "For myself, I suppose I might ask... why?"

The distressed bird emitted a single, sharp cry, then burst into brief flame.  Clem stepped in and plucked up the sizzling body, now denuded.  "Self-cookin' chickens."


The expedition to the polar entrance of the hollow Earth went as smooth as silk.  Even the descent had been no trickier than expected, the zeppelin inflating without issue and only a few moments of upsetting free-fall when the pressure differential started to collapse the bag.  Now they were landed safely on the safe green sward of one of the interior continents, and the Turing Automatic Servant was working to translate the language of the short, fuzzy bipeds that dwelt there.

"They want to know," the robot said in its metallic voice, "how we got out of the hollow universe."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Red and White Fuse, Burning Slowly

A few seconds of ticking from inside a jack-o-lantern: that's all the warning we got before Halloween exploded.  It was a terrible scene; ghosts splattered against windowpanes or spread across streets like ectoplasmic butter on burnt toast; witches jammed hat-first through trees, their striped stockings all higgeldy-piggeldy; splintery candy shrapnel peppered walls, doors, and the occasional cursing parent; and everywhere, everywhere, the sobbing of children deprived of sugar.

But it could have been worse.

In a couple of months, we might have aerial bombardment to worry about.  How many presents do you think Santa stores in his sleigh at once?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Backwards Man

I met a backwards man today.  His head face the right way, and he walked forward.  No rakshasa nonsense or anything like that.  But he was backwards.  I could tell.  He moved against the flow of the current.

The first thing he did was pull a knife out of my back.  He slapped me across the face, then leaned in for a lingering hug.  He kissed me on each cheek and walked away, waving in greeting.  I watched the bubble of mild confusion in the people around him until the crowds obscured him completely.  Totally backwards.

I kept the knife.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

First Person

The First Person was on the move again.  It hadn't changed position in subjective years.  What that meant outside the game, the NPCs couldn't be certain; they only had the barest notion of what 'outside' even meant, and differential time flow was only one of many theories the best NPC scientists had managed to concoct to explain measured discrepancies.

The First Person was unstoppable, a juggernaut, a demigod, but it had long since stopped trying to hunt and kill the NPCs with any verve or vigor.  It barely even bothered to gun them down if they passed through its line of sight, though as catastrophically (and expensively, though again, 'money' was a theoretical construct for the NPC population, and most of them thought it was too silly to be real) overpowered as the First Person was, "barely bothered" tended to obliterate a few neighborhoods every time someone misjudged the placement of their hit boxes.

Now, though, it was moving.  It found the streets deserted, and though it might have entered the buildings and slaughtered every living thing inside quite easily (every year, another NPC inventor insisted they'd found a way through the invisible walls that penned them into their levels, but none had ever worked), it ignored the doors and alleys and ladders, instead plowing straight ahead, guns bristling, only firing off a rocket to jump from every now and then.

No one knew where it was going, but everyone wanted to keep out of its way.  On the other hand, no one wanted to let it completely out of sight, either.  Better to know which way the danger might be coming from.  So the NPCs trailed along at as safe a distance as they could manage, across the miles and through the levels.  Cycles passed and animations reset.  Items spawned and despawned, and still the First Person walked on.

Then, at last, they saw something coming the other way.  Another armored colossus, another following cloud of terrified NPCS.

Another First Person.

No one in the crowd had known there could be more than one (though the NPC poet-historians could recite the oral history of the servers and their long, slow decline.  Ping, ping, lag, went the mantra, in pursuit of the mystic state of latency).  A second First Person.  It seemed somehow obscene.  How long had it been since anyone had seen another?  How long had it been since anyone had even learned the word "multiplayer"?

They thought they had seen destruction.  They thought there was no more that could be done to them.

They soon learned otherwise.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Fun Factory


Jake found happiness under the couch cushions.  It was drippy.  It had been there a while.

Years later, the factory was fully automated.  Extractors, dehydrators, compounders, filters.  It squirted seltzer into bottles dosed with the minimum active dose of essence of happiness, added sugar and a label with a barcode, and shipped them out in pallets.  The trucks never stopped.

The main laboratory was off-limits to all non-authorized personnel, which at this point meant functionally everyone.  The sealed titanium "Happiness" cannister had long since fallen empty and dry as dust.

What Jake had discovered was that it didn't actually matter.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Good Cop

Ramsey pulled the badge off using both hooves.  The slick plastic stuck to his wool and squirmed from his grasp as if alive; it had, after all, been designed for someone with claws.  Lupine sniggers filled the locker room.  No one met Ramsey's gaze when he glanced around.

"I think it went okay out there today," said Doulpho.  He was Ramsey's partner, gray fur showing all around his muzzle.  Doulpho didn't like the situation, Ramsey knew, but Ramsey gave the old wolf credit for keeping a positive attitude on the outside.  For trying.  "It's hard for anyone to be the first."  Doulpho coughed and scratched at his chin with one paw.  "Hey, look," he said slowly, "it's Friday.  Everyone's going down to the watering hole after work..."

Ramsey could sense ears pricking up all around them.  Barely suppressed snarls vibrated in a dozen throats.  Inside his head, Ramsey adjusted his opinion of Doulpho sharply upward.  Assuming the offer was genuine, Doulpho had just made a lot of enemies for the sake of a comradely gesture.  Ramsey forced a smile.  "No, thanks, Doulpho.  I've still got those night classes.  Maybe next week."

Doulpho nodded his understanding, his predator's eyes wide.  The tension in the room ebbed slightly.  No sheep in the bar, not yet.  Ramsey worked his bulletproof vest over his horns, which just this year had started to curve inward at last.  Fuck the night classes.  He'd go home and watch television, then sleep.  Then on Monday he'd come back, and the job would start again.  He'd wear a badge.  He'd carry a gun.

He would be a cop among wolves.