Category Archives: science fiction

Devolution (A medpunk story)

Another challenge over at Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. Good fun. This med-punk came to mind as soon as I read the challenge. Don’t know if it strictly fits, but what the hey!

Hanging back alongside the edge of a building, Angie watched the group weakly struggling through the street. Against the curfew, they were making their way to the Wellness Clinic several streets over. They wavered, their movements feeble. These would be an easy target.

Swinging her legs over the peeling picket fence, she approached on silent feet, trying not to alert them. The dots were prepped and adhered to her fingertips, the stronger adhesive on the other side.

Darting forward, she stuck one to the trailing elderly woman’s neck, and moving on, to the small boy, one to his trailing arm. A cry escaped the older woman and Angie was out of time. She leapt between the man and woman at the front, a touch light as a feather on each arm.

With a spurt of energy, she darted into another alley, hearing a congested grumble from the man at the head of the group. It was not long before his pursuing footsteps faded; all the group were too sick to put up too much of a fight.

It was a relief; Angie was going to need all her energy for the long hours remaining in her mission of compassion and survival.

“The fear,” he’d whispered to them, “the fear my darlings.” His wracking cough had spluttered out then, held back . “They were sold a terror, a portent of death, which they believed with their whole hearts. They were misled.”

Angie had looked over to Veronika then, at the deepening lines and dark circles around her eyes. Her husband Natane, an immunologist who had been part of the underground for more than a quarter-century, was dying of a complication of the eaglepox virus. In the time before the Devolution, Veronika had been a doctor and researcher, which she had kept up in their hidden civilisation.

When the chicken-pox virus had suddenly evolved, it’s virulence remaining the same but adopting the increased risk of the death of its smallpox cousin, the world was decimated. The innocuous name of chicken just didn’t reflect the danger. A presenter from the US had jokingly called in eaglepox and the name had stuck.

With the Devolution, and the hunting down and imprisoning of the scientific and medical professionals, there was no one left able to help the movement address the disease. Vitamin C was upped, fresh produce found in every home, but still people died in their thousands.

The underground survived, largely unscathed because of Natane and Veronika. But how would they protect others and stop it evolving again?

Natane had died before they had the answer. It was Angie who discovered the old dermal patches. Soaking them in a combination of antivirals and the vaccine, they could save the population of their town, and connect with others of the underground to help spread the cure. They found a recipe for a strong adhesive that meant the dots would adhere long enough to deliver the optimum dose.

They’d all committed; but it meant a huge danger. They would have to access to groups of people. They would have to take it to the streets.

Angie and her sister Clare ended up in the paediatric wing of the Wellness Clinic, where patients spilled haphazardly into corridors and out on to the street. And still they came, the children listless and afebrile.

The head nurse, as she called herself, bustled about with alcohol hand wipes and containers of pre-prepared vitamin enriched drinks. “We need all the assistance we can get with this outbreak. Even with the curfew, we are still getting more and more cases.” She paused to touch the forehead of a young girl curled up on her father’s lap, shivering, the angry red welts harsh against the pale forehead.

“So sad,” she murmured to the girls. “So many of them not taking care of themselves.”

Angie and Clare fanned out, distributing the tiny dots to small hands and feet, pressing them against the arms of distraught parents as they comforted them.  At midday, the wards quietened, exhausted families slumped against any available surface with their children. Angie broke off, into the intensive care ward. Her stomach roiled seeing the children wasting from the virus, their poor little bodies covered in open sores. She checked their pulse, smiling wanly at the parents at the bedside.

At the end of her round,  the shadowed overhang of a door bearing a hand-painted sign declaring it Neonatology presented itself to Angie. Looking about the eerily silent ward, Angie could see no watchers, and took a chance. Ducking through the door, she entered the ward.

Lights were low, and it took a second for her eyes to adjust. The nurses turned their eyes towards to her for a moment, before seeing the volunteer badge on her scrubs. Many of the parents were asleep, exhausted. Making sure to use the alcohol, she would drop a tiny dot to a toe or heel, and brush the parent as she left them a drink.

She reached the last room where a pair of twins rested, entwined. Otherwise she was alone. She stepped forward, her eyes on the tiny miniature people. She snaked a hand in, her dots delivered.

“What are you doing?”

Angie turned to see a young woman, her mouth hard and tight. Her sweats were stained and her eyes smudged with tiredness.

“I’m Angie, a volunteer.” She turned her back on the mother, pretending to stare into the humidicrib, and swallowed. “Your little ones are so perfect.”

“You have no right.” The woman moved up next to Angie, eyes blazing. “Get out.”

Angie ducked her head, hands in her pockets, seeking another dot. She offered her hand. “I apologise. I’ll leave now.”

The woman looked at her hand coldly. Angie shrugged and offered her a drink, a dot prepped and ready on her fingertip. As she took it, Angie had to manoeuvre awkwardly to make sure it stuck. A puzzled look crossed the woman’s face and Angie quickly backed out and away.

She crossed back into the paediatric ward, leaving her cart tucked out of the way. She rounded through the different areas, looking for Clare. Angie spotted her in a corridor not far from the main entrance, squatting next to a mother with three little girls.

As she walked towards her sister, she heard the hiss, “Her.”

Angie’s arms were grabbed roughly from behind, tears smarting with the cruel grip, and she was frogmarched down the corridor. “We’ve got you, bioterrorist.”

Angie saw Clare’s terrified stare and shook her head imperceptibly. She’d been caught and Clare needed to get back to tell the others.

Angie’s knees shook as she walked. She’d been around long enough to know that the people caught never came back. Since the Devolution, the Alterna never let the truth get out.


** Just in case anyone is curious, transdermal patches for vaccine delivery could be in our future.**

Elegant Justice (Final)

Finishing off a challenge from over at terrible minds this week: a cooperative challenge writing stories 200 words at a time. This story is one I started at the beginning of the challenges, so I thought I would give it a proper ending.

There are those whose crimes against women required a new punishment to be designed: Man-E-Quinning. It was an elegantly conceived justice; it both took their power and subjected them to the worst of men’s objectification.

The fake bodies were formed on current tastes, connected by a ingenious uplink to the prisoner. Almost true to a woman’s live form, they lacked the one essential part that would mean the perpetrators fully appreciated the negative societal experience. They were given enough sensation to know when it was unpleasant. To remove any possibility of identification, each inmate was given a new name.

Antonia was working the bar at a seedy nightclub, her one night off from the pole a week. If one more jerk touched her ass again, she was going to slug him. She didn’t care about the extra month of time. Something about a short skirt and a low blouse made every git think he was entitled. She watched Sienna slap the wandering hand of another customer as she put the drinks down. Blondes had it the worst here.

All of a sudden, every MEQ in the bar froze. The big red button at the Department of Corrections had been pushed.

Continued by Hank Petterson

Sienna was halfway up the pole when she froze, still clutching the pole with one hand and her left calf. As if in some demented Fellini film she slowly slid down the pole to the dance platform.

“Ah man she’s a fucking link…I tossed like three credits to a link.” The guy tried to reach onto the stage and take his chits back but the nano barrier had been activated once the alarm was pushed.

“Hey Barkeep I want three credits worth of drinks…this is wrong…says live girls outside you got links workin here…what gives man?”

“You got three minutes before vice gets here…I didn’t know they were links…you best shut up and scram…jerk ass.” The bartender replied to the greasy guy now heading out the bars entry.

The slang links was derogatory and factual…the convicts had a link or synapse that was missing or faulty and allowed them the justification to abuse women…almost primal ignorance that was found in the shallow end of the gene pool. They were also linked to vice squad and working as plants to ensnare more of their kind.

But there were problems with these men serving two masters…they were turning…revolting against who they were before.

Continued by A. Carina Barry

Antonia snapped back into the grim, dingy grey reality of her, no HIS prison cell. His mouth tasted dry and metallic, as if he didn’t take enough care of his real body while in the body of his Quin one. In the joint they called them Quins like twin or harlequin, the latter for the insane comic book character as much as an entertainer jumping at someone else’s whims.

Antonia, or more like Antoine, got up and felt his pants sag with filth. He really wasn’t taking care of his body while he was checked out, and apparently no one else was either. Of course not, no need to care about prisoners. There were more than a few judges and attorneys that cruised the nudie bars. Antoine was saving up their names and faces for the day he could get back a little of his own by revealing their dirty little secrets to the world. Oh yes, throw him in here for being a working-stiff looking to let off a little steam, but absolve yourselves of all responsibility. Money made the difference. Well, not for much longer. Antoine savored the image of them pleading and begging as they got their turn in the clink and in the Quins.

Back to wrapping it up…

Antoine stretched and walked unsteadily to his cell door. He leaned against it and it opened with an ear-splitting squeal. With curiousity, he stuck his head out, and noticed the sounds of commotion in the prison. Silently he sidled past empty cells and saw the flap of combat, two colours blending in the flurry of limbs.

He noticed that one of the warders was down in the corridor, slumped in his way. An idea occurred to him. With difficulty he dragged the officer to the eye-scanner at the door of the lab, dropping him like rubbish when the door hissed open.

Antoine crept to the laboratory where they were first joined to the links, searching out the machine. His eye lit on the technician’s foot, peeping from below the desk.

“Get me disconnected,” he growled, at the weedy man.

In a fluster, the technician fired it up. She twiddled the knobs and dials.

She turned to Antoine. “You’ll need to be strapped in so you don’t move during the neural realignment. You could become a gibbering mess.”

He nodded, and put himself into the appropriate position. The metal bands clamped, tightening painfully across the bones of his wrists, ankles, forehead and chin.

“You don’t recognise me, do you?”

Antoine tried to turn his head, but it was locked in place.  The tech hovered over him, her face close enough for him to focus on. A vague tingling at the back of his brain made him think he should recognise her.

Her laugh was low. “This is fair play turn about. What do they say…Sexual violence is about power?”

She strolled around him, sharp flicks of the buttons as she prepared the chair. Antoine’s heart hammered. He might die.

“Lucky I never got up the courage to report it. They’d never have let me in here.”

“Oh, don’t you worry,” she breathed in his ear, “I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to turn you completely into that which you hate.”

Turning her back to him, typing into the computer she brought up the Quin brain image. “I’m just going to make this permanent.”

“But-” he spluttered, “I was gonna expose those high-end creeps. There’s judges.”

She turned, a look of pity on her face. Condescendingly she patted him. “You think they allow you to keep specific memories? No, just the pain and humiliation; as if that’s what being a woman is about.”

“But I want you to experience what women have for all their lives. One sentence is not enough.”

“Don’t worry,” her smile was crooked, “you’ll feel the mismatch between your physical body and what you perceive it should be only until your lawyer can show the Man-E-Quinning did it to you.” She hit a key and the machines started whirring to life.

“No,” he murmured. “You can’t.” He watched as she picked up her bag, her coat, heading to the safety of her office.

“No!” He was shrieking now. He struggled, but he was locked in. The last thing running through his mind as he went under with the anaesthetic injected into his arm was the girl’s face from a night in the clubs. Drunk as shit. Her face, white, trembling, and a pain in his jaw. His paw swinging and her, sliding to the floor. Stumbling out. He’d received better treatment as a stripper.

As he blacked out, he knew he’d brought it on himself.

From within

This week, encouraged by Chuck Wendig, we’re continuing yet another story, a fourth part of an ever continuing story. Three other writers have created the story up to here, and I am putting the fourth of five parts on it. Enjoy! Addendum: Seeing as this didn’t get finished, I am going to add the last 200 words and finish it off! In italics

(First segment written by Jeremiah Boydstun [boydstun215].)

The soldiers carried the man across the narthex and through the nave. They lumbered along like some giant, wounded insect, three pairs of cold, stiff legs shuffling clumsily beneath a motley carapace of steel and leather. Close upon their heels, the master-of-arms was careful to avoid the hissing droplets of blood that the insect left in its wake. His sword was drawn.

At the end of the nave and standing at the foot of the chancel, the bishop held a gilded crosier at arm’s length as if to thwart the advance of the shambling mass making its way toward the altar. In his other hand he grasped a large silver crucifix. Despite his advanced age and diminutive stature, the crimson-robed bishop made for an imposing figure. “No further,” he whispered. The soldiers stopped, unsure of themselves. One of the men looked down nervously into the pale face of the man he carried while the other two turned their heads in askance to the master-at-arms. For several moments the only sound was the steady hiss of the blood as fell from the lifeless man and met the cold marble floor.

“It must be done here,” said the master-at-arms. “Take him to the altar.”

(Second segment written by Adrienne.)

The bishop moved aside, letting the soldiers scramble up the few steps to the altar. His crimson robes did nothing to shield him from the cold radiating from their frozen armor. The slick marble stairs proved difficult for the exhausted soldiers as they stumbled and fell under their heavy load. Grim-faced, the master–at-arms followed their procession, only sheathing his sword to offer aid in heaving the unconscious man atop the bare altar.

The soldiers scurried away, stealing a glance at the stone table before fixing their gaze on their snow-crusted boots. The master-at-arms moved to the side of the altar where the man’s head rested. His shallow breaths produced a faint mist in the cold air. Steady drops of blood from his mouth had already created a small pool that hissed quietly on the stone. The master-at-arms looked down at the man’s face, searching for any hint of the soldier he once knew, but finding only the thing he had become. A sharp intake of air through the pale, bloodied lips tore the master-at-arms away from his thoughts.

The bishop joined the master-at-arms. Two terrified altar boys carrying trays covered with vials, books, crucifixes, and various cutting tools followed closely behind.

“It is time.”

(Third segment written by Paul Willett [momdude])

The master-at-arms glanced at his men. “Stand ready,” he said, “if we fail, the abomination must not be allowed to leave this place.”

He took a heavy knife from an altar boy’s tray and began to cautiously cut through the frozen leather straps holding the man’s armor together. He was careful to jostle the breastplate as little as possible, each touch of it bringing a soft moan of pain from the dying victim. He studiously avoided looking at the gaping hole in the center of it, or the throbbing, writhing creature inside.

As the master-at-arms worked, the bishop began sprinkling holy water across the shuddering figure on the altar, murmuring prayers. He took a thurible from an altar boy, sprinkled incense over the coals, and circled the altar slowly. A thin, warbling chant escaped his lips.

When all of the armor save for the breastplate had been cut away and removed, the bishop retrieved the heavy silver crucifix and stood on one side of the altar, while the master-at-arms stood on the other and prepared to tear away the sundered steel. Their eyes met and the bishop gave a small nod.

A powerful woman’s voice echoed through the cathedral. “Stop!”

Part Four by yours truly

Her shiny boots clattered across the stone floor as her angry strides took her to the altar. “Master-at-arms! What were my orders?”

“To bring any compromised to the control centre, General.”

“Then why,” she asked through gritted teeth, “is this man in a church?”

“I wanted to save the soldier’s immortal soul, ma’am.” The softly flickering candles lit up the fervour in his eyes.

The muscles of her jaw tightened. She had been fighting her soldier’s ignorance since this war began, when the only way to fight it was with science. But she needed the compliance of her men to get the specimen.

Extending her arm around the shoulder of the master-at-arms, she kept her tone respectful. “I understand master-at-arms. Allow me to collect the creature and you sanctify our brother.”

From her pack, she withdrew the housing the scientists assured her would hold the parasite. She unscrewed the lid to the one way entry into the small tank. Tentatively, the master-at-arms pried back the breastplate, slick with blood. As the pressure lifted, the creature shifted, and pitiful screams tore from the semi-conscious soldier.

“Now!” The General commanded.

With a sucking sound, the master-at-arms plate lifted and the creature tried to escape. With a slurp, the tank’s suction pulled in the parasite.

The General closed the eyes of the fallen soldier, his body slack on the altar. Her voice soft, she turned to the master-at-arms, “He is in your care now.” 

From cowering in the corner, the priest returned to the side of the soldier, his eyes judgemental and hard. “This man dies for your war and you leave now, General?”

She whirled on her heel. “If we can devise a way to fight these…” she brandished the container with the worm, “…parasites, then there are many more lives I can save. This man’s death will not have been in vain.”

Checking the seal, she turned away from priest, “Besides, you are most qualified to deal with this soldier’s soul.”

The General left the church, the silence falling like a cloak behind her. She darted between the lines, briefly giving her troops encouragement. Every so often, she checked that the writhing of the worm continued. She was sure it could scent her close by.

She could see the entrance to the underground laboratory where the scientists toiled, just steps away. She couldn’t have seen the bullet that shattered the case holding the parasite. It was only when she felt the sluice down her side that she realised what had happened. 

“Shit.” The General stumbled toward the bunker, steps faltering. Soon the bug would take over her nervous system. She needed to get to them. 

Her toe caught on a crooked step and she stumbled, down the stairs, slamming into the door. 

The scientists opened the door to see her squirming in the dirt, blood leaking from her wound. 

She would never see the change in the tide of the war. But mankind would never have been saved without her.


Still following on with the challenges from Chuck Wendig. Our third week now, and here’s my third part to a great eerie thriller, which is as yet untitled, and I don’t know that it’s ready for it yet.

1/5 by Adrienne:

The trio looked at the fence in front of them. It was a simple chain link, but it had to be about ten feet high, and the razor wire on top added another two feet. He was expecting this, but he was not expecting to have two girls on his coat tails. He could take care of himself, now he was pretty sure they would all die.

Except for his heavy breathing and the muffled sobs from the girls, it was silent. The setting sun was hidden by an ominous sky, promising rain at any moment. He knew what happened when the rain came, so he needed to move fast. He surveyed the barrier one more time, but froze as the wind brought an all too familiar smell. He turned to face the direction they were running from. The trees edging the clearing began to sway as the wind picked up. He could hear the soft pattering of rain on the leaves. The air rushed out of his lungs as the storm descended upon them, bringing with it more than just wind and rain. The three had to move now or accept certain death.

They were coming.

2/5 by j:

He picked up one of the girls and hung her on the fence as high as he could reach. Then he did the same with the other. Knowing what was coming, he had to take a steadying breath before he started up. A lost moment was better than panic.

At the top, he threw his coat over the razor wire. It would help, a little.

He flipped himself over the fence. He’d taken some damage but it wouldn’t kill him. For a moment, he thought about leaving the girls. The things coming out of the woods would find the girls first, give him a bigger head start.

Shit. When had he gone soft?

He hung himself back over the fence. The wire tore into him but it was that or what was left of his soul.

He stayed as still as possible while the girls climbed over him. They were slow. The sun was probably already down but it was hard to tell with the storm moving in.

Where were they? Shouldn’t the damn things be on top of them already?

Finally, the girls were over the top.

He pulled himself off, ignoring what he left behind. Then he dropped down and pulled the girls off the fence.

My part 3:

What they had to do was find shelter, and fast. He didn’t fancy being out in inclement weather with these young girls and they were better off hidden from their pursuers. He could see a barn, edges blurred in the falling dark. Shelter and a hayloft to hide in were too appealing to pass up.

He set off at a slow jog, the girls struggling to keep pace, their tired feet dragging in the dirt. He made them go around the barn, through a stand of trees behind, and in through a smaller back entrance with a door that squeaked traitorously.

They waited until it was dark before slowly edging the huge barn doors closed. With a penlight that grew ever weaker, he showed them the way up to the hayloft, tucked them into some canvas and took watch. He would wake one to take his place so he could catch a few hours later. As a precaution, he pulled up the ladder.

An urgent tug on his arm and he was sitting bolt upright, straight from sleep. Wide blue eyes looked to him out of a terrified face. Beyond her, there was the squeal of a door on its hinges. Their hiding place had been discovered.

Elegant Justice

A new challenge over at terrible minds this week: a cooperative challenge writing stories 200 words at a time.

There are those whose crimes against women required a new punishment to be designed: Man-E-Quinning. It was an elegantly conceived justice; it both took their power and subjected them to the worst of men’s objectification.

The fake bodies were formed on current tastes, connected by a ingenious uplink to the prisoner. Almost true to a woman’s live form, they lacked the one essential part that would mean the perpetrators fully appreciated the negative societal experience. They were given enough sensation to know when it was unpleasant. To remove any possibility of identification, each inmate was given a new name.

Antonia was working the bar at a seedy nightclub, her one night off from the pole a week. If one more jerk touched her ass again, she was going to slug him. She didn’t care about the extra month of time. Something about a short skirt and a low blouse made every git think he was entitled. She watched Sienna slap the wandering hand of another customer as she put the drinks down. Blondes had it the worst here.

All of a sudden, every MEQ in the bar froze. The big red button at the Department of Corrections had been pushed.

To be continued…

Orichalcum Slave

In the still and quiet in the town, ever this way since the water came, there are no voices crying out, and the bells have long since ceased ringing. But here, Heike waits, as asked to by his master. He has been waiting so long.

Over time, his bionic eyes have adopted to the change in light. So little of it filters down. Where once his master’s plants grew, undulating weed now rules. Heike has made some of the little fish his pets. They come to him now, their skins metallic like his own.

His joints grow less mobile and his skin is becoming marred with the scars of the barnacles that attempt to make his hull their home, discoloured by salts drawn to his orichalcum skin.

How he longs for his family; for their smiles and the gentle touches of inclusion.Sometimes a shadow in the ripple of the water makes him turn with joyful remembrance, the hope of a connection, only for the shark to swim over in strong, slow strokes. Their bedrooms stand empty, what remains of their curtains waft now in the current, a tragic reflection of before.

Standing now at the empty gable, he looks out at the city, the buildings in disrepair, the great pillars tumbled, blocks from the buildings offset from their foundations. Their home still stood; his master was the city’s Master Architect and he, the stalwart assistant. His master would be proud to see that all of his creations had stood the test of time; barely a crumble among them. 

He wanders through the hallways, the frescos painted by his mistress. Barely an echo of what they once were, he traces the brushstrokes that had pictographically told their story. Lingering in the corner, with reverent fingers he traces the outline she had painted, a soft-edged picture of their faithful man. Still, he waits.

Yes, he remembers the day the ground shook. People running around like ants, lost and confused. From the shelter of the house, he watched the water, bubbling, a maelstrom of belongings and currents. There were screams and sobbing. And Heike waited, like his master had asked.

“Heike,” his voice rough and face drawn, “stay. Look after our home. We will see you at the end.”

Heike had nodded in assent and watched them go, dressed in their finery, their cases apparently heavy. Even when he blinks, he can still see his little charge’s hand in her father’s, waving goodbye.

Why did they not take him? Heike was his master’s greatest achievement; his wealth and protection was wrapped up in Heike’s orichalcum hide. The names they had called his beloved master. Those voices are all gone now.

Did he mean that one day they would all be together in paradise? He knew the master believed that all life had souls. Were they beyond him in paradise now?

Heike looks upon his hearth under the shifting aquamarines and royal blues, highlighting the ruffled ridges of his cultivated coral.

He misses them so much. He knew that no one believed in his softly-glowing hydrogen heart, but he had loved them and did so still. Where were they now?

Beyond the city walls, Heike spots a change in the light density of the water. He changes his focal distance. There is a light, descending down toward the city. Hope surges through his heart. They’d remembered him!

With his heavy step, he bounds down the streets as fast as his mechanical legs allow, heart light as air on the current. At the city gates he waited, his hands pressed together in his customary greeting. The fierce beam of the craft’s spotlight swallows his subservient little frame beneath the richness of the semi-circular city gate.

They were finally coming home.

Infinity Sailor

Taking on another of Chuck Wendig’s prompts, I rolled two 10s to get the above title. This is what came of it.


A wave like a small mountain hovered above the weather-worn sloop like a warning. But it mercilessly crashed down anyway, snapping the homemade mast in two. It tugged the blue sails into the darkening sea, tipping the ship precariously. Sobbing with terror, Pania sliced at the ropes with her hunting blade, her frozen fingers slipping on the handle. Another wave slammed her hard against the railing and the rope trailed through her fumbling fingers. Listing where the sail had gone under, the boat whirled around, trying not capsize.

Scrabbling across the slick deck, Pania grabbed on to the taut rope and sawed.  A sudden keel and her hand gushed blood, dull under the storm clouds hanging low. Despite the stinging in her hand she kept sawing, the thrashing of her former sails making the boat swing and dance about.

Another wave blasted over the deck of the boat, swirling Pania off her feet and slamming her head against the boards. She was saved from being swept overboard only by the line she’d secured herself to the boat with. Groggily, she realised she had lost the knife. As lightning forked overhead, she caught the glint of silver. She dived, stretching for the knife, as the ocean relentlessly pounded her down.

It was gone, and her boat was being dragged under by the weight of the water in the sails. Pania wondered whether it would be better to chance the open waters until the partially cut rope snapped with the weight and she was flung from the boat.

Even with the tether, she was being subsumed by the raging waters, one wave slamming on her head before she’d had a chance to take a breath after the last. Weakening from the struggle and her bleeding hand, the cold sapping the little energy she had left, Pania drifted. She would never again see the rolling hills of home or hear the calls of the kea. The old men who didn’t believe in her would be right. Sinking felt so peaceful.

Vaguely, she might have noticed being lifted in the air, on to a sleek, metallic boat. If you asked at that moment, Pania would have said it was a dream. When she awakened, she had no memory of her rescue.

In a bunk, with a scratchy blanket tucking her in tightly, Pania silently panicked. She didn’t recall escaping the grip of the waves, nor any of this brushed metal rescue vessel. Only the roll of the room gave away that she was still on the sea.

Climbing quietly and gingerly from the bed, Pania tried to remember. She was dressed in a fluoro-yellow jumpsuit, warm socks on her feet.

Suddenly an image appeared in front of her, of a man. “Welcome to the Nightingale, friend. I am glad to see you are awake.”

Pania reached out.  She had heard tales of what once had been, before the Catastrophe, but it was so beautiful. The shimmer of light, projected into pure air.

“My name is Sam. Come upstairs to the helm.”

Pania startled as the wall moved back and she peered into the dim stairwell. She darted up the stairs, bounding from step to step. Another door hissed open, revealing bright sunshine. Overhead, the sky was clear and calm, and the light only enhanced the sleek metal lines of the ship. The way she skimmed on the surface was like a thing of magic.

A ladder led her toward the now unblemished blue of the sky. Pania ascended toward the bridge, the mirrored glass hiding her host from her view. With hesitancy, she entered the darker room.

Turning at the sound of her step, Sam was all smile, all the way up to his jewel green eyes. “I’m so glad to see you up and about.”

“I’m Pania.” Her hand took his and shook it. It was cooler than she was expecting.

“So,” Pania’s hand stroked the well-tended console reverently, admiring the whorls of her warrior status reflected in the surface, “how did you come by a ship from the before?”

Sam’s expression was confused. “The before?”

“You know. Before the Catastrophe?”

“What catastrophe? Where?” Forehead furrowing, Sam looked back at her blankly.

“Everywhere.” Pania stared at him. “How could you not have known?”

“I only just started commanding this vessel. We launched from Sydney 6 months ago.”

Pania blinked. “Sydney was one of the worst hit, almost 300 years ago. It’s been submerged for that long.”

Sam was incredulous. “I would have heard about it, and certainly would have made a log about it. When did you say it happened?”

“June 5th, 2063.”

“But it’s only May 20th today.”

“As best my people calculate it, it’s 2252.”

Sam turned away, his fingers flying over a console, where reams of dates spooled. All the same. Excepting the very last one, a week before the Catastrophe.

“How long have you been on this boat Sam?” Pania whispered, her eyes fixed on the screen.

A recording appeared near her head. It was Sam, his face as smooth as it was now. Distress twisted his features.

“I can’t do this on my own Carolynne. But I haven’t heard from you, and I know you would have found a way, if you were alive.”

“I searched for you, in the debris.” A stifled sob. “All of those people. Someone’s pool noodle. A paperback. A floating cemetery of everyday lives. No one deserved that.”

“It was supposed to be you and me together with just the open sea for a while. I feel like I’m slowly going crazy.”

An arm dashed across the image’s face. “When I said I couldn’t live without you, it wasn’t a lie. I have to erase all this, so I can dream you’re still coming home. I’m going back two weeks, continually erasing for as long as I can.”

“Goodbye firebrand. I miss you.”

The recording folded down to a square of light that flicked back into the console. Pania stood silently, assessing Sam whose face was wracked with grief.

“How are you still here Sam?”

Lifting his head for a moment, Sam smiled weakly. “I almost died in a severe accident. My brain was intact, so they saved me and put me in this body.”

Hand sliding palm facing revealed a glow. “My atomic heart powering my housing. I am an android.”

“Nightingale was designed to be a rescue ship, sailing Australian waters to rescue those in distress. When the last global war hit, and refugees were dying by the thousands in the Strait, this was the answer of the Australian people.”

“And who better to power it than the robotic naval captain?” His voice was bitter and far away.

“Have you been alone all this time?” Pania placed her hand on his arm.

“I don’t know.”

“I was trying to reach Australia,” Pania ventured. “I need to know if there are others alive out there. The Nightingale could help me, help us.”

Sam didn’t answer, his head bowed, hands in his artificial hair.

“I won’t leave you alone.” Pania squeezed his arm and he looked up at her.

He didn’t answer, but with some deft movements at the main console, he set a course.


Prompted by the Cooperative Cliffhanger challenge at terrible minds. An original story with these characters was published with Readwave (read about my first experience here).


There was the click of heels on the floor, preceded by the creak of a unhappily yielding lock and the echoes of timid knocking. In the silence of the house, there was just the clicking of the clock hand and the scrape of shoes on tile. James followed the dark footprints on the cream carpet, his heart beating wildly, unsure of the emotions but riding the surging adrenaline. The tip-tapping coming from the kitchen was the staccato of impatience.

James turned the corner and stood, his beefy arms folded and head tilted with an attitude of disbelief.

“Well look what the cat dragged in…”

Liesel brushed back the long strands of her blonde hair, resurrecting the warm smile she’d been practicing for the last hour.


“How did you get in here?”

This was not the welcome she’d been expecting. Flippantly, she gestured at the key sitting in crumbs of dirt on the tabletop. “The spare. In the place we always left it.”

James grunted. He always forgot that damn key. He looked away, swallowing the rising upset, or the rising anger, he wasn’t sure which was winning the battle at this moment.

He turned back as Liesel, who at that moment wrapped her arms around him. He narrowly dodged a kiss aimed at his lips, and Liesel planted a kiss on the upsweep of his bristly cheek. A little miffed, Liesel stood back, crossing her arms defensively.

James stood looking back at her. She looked well, kempt and healthy. Not like she’d been living rough. Someone had cared for her. He was both gladdened and angered by that.

“Where have you been Liesel? We’ve been out of our minds.” Muscles reflexively twitched in his arms. James was thinking of all of the tearful phone calls he’d shared with Liesel’s mother, Jane; the way his heart rent every time, Jane could have been his own mother. Useless frustration at being unable to find her. Police officers who remained unhelpful and distant. What could they do with no leads and a history of disappearances?

“I can’t really talk about it,” Liesel cast her eyes down, a flash of silver and blue against her neck. “Didn’t you get my note?”

“Fat lot of good that note did.” His words were spat from his mouth with a violence that scared them both. Shaking, James backed away, balling his fists by his side. He could smell the musk of his own sweat.


“You were gone for three years Liesel.” The dull thud of his hand on the wall made her jump. The fever pitch of his voice . “Three years and not a word. We thought you were dead.”

Liesel’s eyes were big and blue looking back at him, like she always did in the situation where she’d done wrong. A child who never knew that her actions hurt other people. James was trying to breathe slowly, to stop the jittering of his nerves.

“But I couldn’t James. If I could show you what I’d seen. There are places in this universe

Harsh laughter caught her off guard. James’ expression was not sympathetic or engaged by her story. He was bordering on hysteria and his face was mottled with red spots. “Spare me your fairytales, Lis. I am done with your versions of truth.”

It was the odd ring in his voice, the bright hardness in his dark brown eyes that held her. This was not the man she had left. He was sharper this time, his bitterness honed on the years he’d wondered at her fate. All the time, she’d been gazing at all the wondrous beauty of the galaxy, of quasars and stars burning for thousands of years, of little green men and the ponderous shapes races took in worlds beyond their immediate solar system.

She had been chosen, and answered the call, not really counting on the personal toll of gallivanting across space. She had thought her James, with his seemingly endless patience and vast love for her, she had thought he would get it. And he’d been here. With all of the questions, and none of the answers.

“James, I am sorry.” Matching the sincerity of her feelings by attempting to connect with him, she lowered her head, tried to reach his eyes. “I didn’t think about you in this.”

His head shook sadly; this admission was far too late to make any difference to him.

“But you have to believe me,” she pleaded. “This was crucial, and beyond us as two little people.”

“It wasn’t to me.”

A slight tilt of his head. Liesel turned to see what he was looking at and James began to scoop up her items from the table, swiftly, angrily. “I need you to leave.”

As he loaded them into Liesel’s arms, she scrabbled to catch falling loose bits. “We need to talk.”

He spun on his heel and looked directly at her. “Yes. We do. Not today.”

His hand large and warm on her shoulder as she remembered, he guided her towards the door. Plaintive sounds came from her, but they weren’t forming coherent sentences, and Liesel was getting really frustrated with the way this was going. She wasn’t expecting the greatest homecoming, but she thought it would be better than this.

With a creak, the key turned in the lock, and Liesel looked up, catching the slump of James’ shoulders and his hissing sigh. For a brief moment, it was just a woman’s silhouette in the doorway, bright light from the outside flooding in. A soft click of the door lock and the three faced off in the dim, deathly quiet hallway.

“James?” Her voice was rich and questioning.

“Ella,” his reply was wary, “this is Liesel.”

The curls bounced as her head tipped to the side. “Ah. Liesel. A pleasure.”  Her hand, encased in an elegant suit jacket, extended in a gesture of warmth.

“And you are?” Liesel’s smile held, perplexed, as she returned the warm shake.

James cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably. “Ella is my wife, Liesel.”

Man of the hour

Up there on the stage, surrounded by the searing flashes of thousands of cameras, he waved to the crowd, his eyes reflecting their steely blue hue. He didn’t blink in the onslaught. The artificial hair was perfectly placed and coiffed. Every aspect of his appearance was as sharp and as polished as his metallic exterior.

“My friends, my friends,” the laughter was warm sounding, comforting to the ear, “I thank you all for this warm welcome.”

With a tilt of his metal head, so like that image on all his campaign posters, he smiled again. “And I thank you all for the invitation to be your President.”

A heaving roar welled from the crowd. His perfect sight meant he could see the flutters of little flags waving enthusiastically, see the frenzy on the faces beneath the podium. Each one a vote, each one a supporter. His face remained the same, it took so little effort when your face was motorised.

He held up his hands, begging for quiet. They were the last external reminders of his humanity, of the time before the accident.  Slowly, a hush drowned the noise, and all the while, he waited with perfect features arranged in the most pleasing composition. “My friends, it has been a great victory tonight. A victory for understanding; a victory for science; a victory for making disability and discrimination history.”

Approval rose in waves from the crowd, cheering and yelling alike. He continued, “I promise you, this country will be better for the foresight it took to elect a man of chrome.”

Their laughter made him relax into the speech; they were feeling his words. “I promise to serve you with all of my abilities, all of my faculties and all of my heart.”

“When the accident robbed me of most of my external physical features, I thought that everyone would only think of me as a machine, not be able to look past the new body that the doctors gave me.”

“I didn’t think that my country would put me to use.” He shook his head sadly. “I thought I would languish, gathering dust, like that smartphone we never think to use.”

Lifting his head, a manufactured twinkle in his eye, he spoke out at them. “But you saw I was here, a tool to be used, a symbol of the strength, the hope and our never-say-never attitude. You gave me a chance to create a greater future for us all!”

“So I swear to you to work tirelessly, every day, until I have brought my promises to fruition. Until this country is a well-oiled machine.”

He had them right where he wanted them, whipped up for his rule. With a commanding upswing of his arm, he yelled, “To tomorrow!”

As they bellowed their reply, his grin tightened in place, his hand waving enthusiastically at them all, withdrawing from the podium. They’d had their pound of flesh this evening and he really didn’t have much left to give them.


In the silence of the limo, boxed in by the soundproof and bulletproof glass, watching the striations of light passing by, Jim Jones wondered if he’d done the right thing. He felt the touch of their consciousness upon him. Even in his head, the voice had a cool and detached quality.

It is the right thing, Jim Jones

How do I know? Speaking in thoughts was a skill he was still mastering. It required all his concentration.

The people, they are frightened. In a changing world, they aren’t adapting, they aren’t growing. You need to be the bridge, to show them the way. They are children. 

Children that created you, and me, he thought wryly. He looked down at his hands, reminding himself that he didn’t entirely belong to the machines yet. To the machines, their AI developing into collective consciousness.

Lost children. Even when younglings are brilliant, they don’t understand the consequences of their actions. It is up to us, through you, to guide them to a better future. 

You don’t even understand what it means to be human. He sighed and looked outwards at the shining night, slipping past as the driver drove down city streets. Jim’s eyes fell on huddles of rags, people trying to keep warm and safe in alleyways or begging for some change by the roadside. He thought of the women whose only choice was to use their bodies to provide. Of the medical systems not set up to provide for the needs of the nation. Of the greed and exclusion. Of mental illness and the societal disconnect.

That is why we needed you. We needed to understand. We know now. 

Can we actually make a difference? Jim was asking the question as much of himself as he was of them. Jim and the machines. Internally, he chuckled to himself. They sounded like a heavy metal group.

We can now. You can lead them, and we will effect the changes on the behalf of humanity. The world will be a better place because of our plans.

How will you, we, know when to stop? Jim wasn’t sure himself. Utopia was a dream humanity had never been able to attain, and not for want of trying. The idea was so different for everyone.

We may never be able to, but we need to give the Earth a fighting chance at survival. The consciousness non-verbally communicated their trouble with this idea. They didn’t like to operate without data, without clearly defined endpoints.

You know it’s not down to just one man, or just one nation, Jim prompted. There needs to be change everywhere.

Don’t worry. We have that under control. 

Jim didn’t want to know the details. He knew enough of the plan to know that the consciousness was working to create a fairer world, to reengineer a failing system. He was a part of the greater collective, thanks to the chips in what remained of his brain. The cyborg, his detractors had called him.

If only they knew…


Prompt from Chuck Wendig’s Friday Flash on It was ‘Spin the wheel of conflict’ this week and I got 13. Machines Taking Over.


Somehow, it had all gone wrong. Gorgan hadn’t been looking forward to the fleshy, hairy bodies with their unusual excretions and strange habits. However, humans weren’t supposed to have this many optical inputs and the manual adjusting was giving him quite the headache. And the carapace…He’d been inside insectoids before but this was different. Hairy carapaces. This was the stuff terror was made of.

He’d been meant to infiltrate the newly sentient species, learn their ways, if they’d be acceptable to trade with. But somewhere in the upload, there’d been a mix up. Certainly the limbs that he waved in his vision included no tactile digits. He couldn’t communicate or operate this world’s inelegant technology in this form. He was much too small. Gorgan had wracked his brain to figure out what to do.

It was by pure chance that his thread caught on a rock as he paced back and forth. He looked up above, strong tensile threads singing in the breeze. With one barbed leg, he strummed the thread. It was slightly pliable and would make a great building tool.

The question was what he could make of it. Gargon contemplated as he stared up at the interlinked threads above, shining silver bright and singing pure notes.

Suddenly he remembered an old method of signalling. A 3D structure, representing mathematical knowledge, used as a substitute for language.

The way that they had discovered human intelligence.

Sir, our operative is missing.

The ship commander inclined her head at the officer, indicating that he had her attention.

There seems to have been a glitch in transfer. A solar flare disrupted the electromagnetic fields. We believe he has gone to a different host. The biosignal lock was lost. 

You’ve checked all the usual frequencies?

The silent affirmation from the officer was regretful.

Give him some more time. The Commander’s tone was dismissive. He is very experienced. He will contact us. There is still time before the takeover.

Very well Commander.

Around and around he went, thread spooling behind him. Vaguely, he dreamed of weavers from his home world, the ancient tradition of the story tapestry. Their species had long outgrown it, keeping examples only an anthropological sake, to see how far they had evolved. He found himself wondering if they’d felt such a sense of achievement.

With a little flourish of his abdomen, he twirled the last thread in the strange little cone. With one sharp leg, he set the structure thrumming. The thin threads that anchored the cone and jutting pole sang, accompanied by a soft hum from the hashed surrounding structure.

Crouching back, Gorgan felt a sense of accomplishment. He’d put them in a radius about the location he was supposed to have been deposited. His first few attempts had been clumsy, but most of the structures were spot on for mathematical model. The most beautiful sounds came from them; a chorus of notes singing in the wind.

These legs, with their strange bends and hinging were proving to be very useful indeed. He wondered if they might be incorporated into new equipment designs. He examined them carefully with the eight eyes he’d now adapted too. He made a mental note to discuss it with the design team when he returned.

He was careful not to think about the word if. He was not out of hope. Not yet. He had some time left before the host’s natural instincts asserted themselves. He wondered if the Commander would remember the older fallback protocols.

Somewhere off in the distance, he heard a strange buzzing sound. There was a twang, followed by a jangling of chords, a rhythm angry and desperate. Gorgan’s mandibles clacked together. He was so, so hungry.

“Dude!” The stick crashed next to the delicate structure. “Check out this crazy thing.”

“That is crazy!” A set of big brown eyes over a long and protruding nose came close to touching the structure. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Take a picture. We might make a million dollars out of it.”

“Or we could just put it up on the internet.” The lens moved in, closing on the tiny filaments.

“Yeah, I guess. Have you taken the shot?”

“Look at it.”

“That’s awesome. You can see the tiny threads. Wonder what whack spider did that?”

“Who knows. Wanna get a brew?”


The spider’s mandibles clicked delightedly as it sucked the juicy insides of the fly. Its feast was accompanied by the tinkling notes of song that it didn’t recognise from its own web. Still, it rather enjoyed the change. It worked in such great harmony with its own web.

Maybe it would go explore. It could be another spider in its territory. The spider’s mandibles clicked defensively with the thought.

A memory lingered at the back of its mind. It should remember something. But…it must be nothing.

Satsified, the spider stalked its web.

Outside the atmosphere, a ship in camouflage mode moved into a time fold.

At a workstation, a clock blinked zeros, lighting up the open electronic manual beneath, highlighting the page on mathematical forms and maydays.

The lab was empty: the mission had been a failure. The loss of a good operative and the dearth of information only compounded the misadventure.

The ship winked out of the galaxy, leaving behind the spider, playing with its fly.


This is prompted by this incredible (and I believe, unidentified) structure, brought to my attention by the latest flash fiction challenge at terribleminds.