#MicroStory MacroCollection Volume 2: The Dark Timeline Years [2016 – 2019]

Posted: October 1, 2019 by patricksponaugle in Flash Fiction, Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

Hey, the kind people who follow me on my blog might be aware that I occasionally post any MicroStories that I’d tweeted in the previous month. Back in 2013, I started tweeting very small flash fiction “stories” (they had to be small, because … tweets …) and the first of the month, I collected up the previous month’s elevator pitches and made them available on the blog.

Back in 2016, I’d realized that my three-year-anniversary of pretending to be a writer had happened, so I collected all the small stories of the three years and made them available in a macro-collection of micro-stories.

Another three years have gone by, so here is the next batch.

With the results of the 2016 election, my productivity took a hit as a lot of time spent in imaginative creativity (lets pretend I have that) was spent instead on anxiety and stress. On the average, every other month I’d crank out micro-stories. To balance things out, Twitter doubled the length a tweet could be. Originally, I resisted writing stories larger than the original tweet length, but I eventually gave that up.

Enough preamble. Here’s three years’ worth of science fiction and fantasy (mostly) micro-stories. If any of them tickles your fancy:

  1. Thank you for reading these.
  2. Please let me know.

Even though I was very slack the past years, I am delighted to write these and delighted that my online friends (they know who they are) seem to enjoy them.

Best regards!

September 2016

“You’d describe them as Flawed Champion, Amoral Enabler, and Humanity of the Group?”
“We’re going to need more demons.”

“Do all wizards talk like him? Using fifty words when three will do?”
“Yes! If a wizard’s terse & direct, he’s casting a spell.”

He had many names, so he sold one off to settle an old debt.
But the name he’d sold had been stolen.
From me.

All agreed that it was better that the baron didn’t know about the enchanted lake, the hidden castle, or the sleeping dragon.

Jones had the highest curiosity rating of the survey team, so she’d always end up with extra time in quarantine.
Lucky for her.

Glass stars were huge silica spheres, floating in space like enormous Christmas ornaments.
Mostly empty, but holding horrors.

The church mandated shrines built at all crossroads, to prevent the Devil from meeting up with sinners to buy their souls.

The villagers said she had an old soul.
The wizard didn’t know how she’d obtained the extra soul, but the quest needed that girl

It was certainly peaceful at the galactic center.
There certainly weren’t any rabble-rousing pacifists.

The survey ships were mostly robot-crewed, but there was always a small contingent of humans.
For when killing was required.

October 2016

Humans spread to the heavens in a wave of colonization. The heavens quietly reciprocated.

“There’s really no good explanation why every habitable world is uninhabited.”
“Unless every world merely seems uninhabited.”

The mushroom cave-farm orcs knew when to go on strike: just after the Dark Lord called for increased sword production.

“Our perp swears the victim summoned it and ordered it to kill him.”
“No mage would choose to die like this and all demons lie.”

Orbital habitats all had an expiration date: no matter how well designed, they’d eventually end up unpleasant.
But not unused.

The colonists desperately checked their screens, the planet seemed perfect for them.
The ship disagreed and broke orbit.

“I know where you dream” the note said.
Which of my foes sent it?
It mattered if I slept with the dream gun or the dream axe.

Clowns exist to make people laugh
Evil Clowns must exist to make something else laugh
That ‘something else’ is the real problem

The dragon tensed as it sensed interlopers approaching, seeking treasure.
“It’s just Halloween. Be cool. Don’t change.”

Dragons hate to leave their hoards, so they relied on wyverns to coordinate communications in the war against humans.

November 2016

The elves controlled half the town, the orcs the other.
I’d have to choose one faction to serve.
Didn’t I see this in a Western?

The elves paid no attention to the road the humans were extending toward the forest.
A “road”? What use would that be to anyone?

My mentor smiled at my naivete.
“No, the grandmaster is a poor assassin. Management requires completely different skills.”

“Don’t touch it,” he warned.
I pulled back.
“How can you tell a magic sword from a cursed one?”
“All magical swords are cursed.”

“Enjoy your trip,” it told me.
“You’re sure I’ll pass unnoticed?”
“Humans believe in many strange things. But not in us.”

While the ship’s officers debated how best to keep everyone alive, the ship calculated how many crew to ‘accidentally’ kill.

The pantheon didn’t quite have 144 gods, which spoiled the priests’ math.
So they made up rites for placeholder gods.

“Trust me, immortality is the last thing you want.”
“Sorry, we can’t trust you on this.”
“I’m an immortal.”
“We know. So what?”

The derelict vessel was clearly organic, which called for specific protocols.
Only crew from Unimagineering would investigate

Terraforming was usually the first step in getting a planet ready for colonization.
If inhabited? Kaiju-forming happened first.

The aliens visited their favorite human, in the refugee camp.
He politely declined their offers, but not as firmly as before.

The brass frowned on personnel putting on their spacesuits while drunk, but this time it was necessary.

With the family gone, the house network theorized about Thanksgiving.
“Maybe it’s like salmon going upstream,” the TV suggested.

The body was in perfect condition, but the anchor and chains were old and corroded. The fishermen brought the body ashore.

The Eloi relied on robot servants, expecting the Morlocks to eventually die out.*
The robots soon got fed up with that business.

Over the course of two nights, the priest and the gravedigger buried the dead villagers.
And the bandits as well.

December 2016

The new king reaffirmed the patronage of the Wizard’s College and the ban on sorcery.
This pleased both wizards and sorcerers.

He woke up at 2 a.m. Wide awake. He’d been so tired from the flight, he hadn’t properly checked out the hotel’s hallways.

It was a misconception that the curse breaker amulet prevented curses. It delayed them and stored them away.
Like timebombs.

“We need to call Transylvania.”
“Like it or not, we need experts in detecting replicants from humans. Before the banquet.”

“You are the Nine Mages?”
“Uhh, yes, we are the Nine Mages.”
“There are seven of you?”
“We killed two for being annoying.”

It had been a slow week at the borderland outpost; two dusty angels had wandered thru.
And not when the demons had been staying

The sword was so dangerous, the mages buried it in their dry well.
The sheath, swordbelt, and whetstone were deemed safe enough.

Gone were the days of charging cavaliers & ranked pikemen.
Army-eating magics had made such massive battles costly & pointless.

“Stay safe,” the stranger said, while smiling.
What did they know?
Was 16 rounds, plus 1 in the chamber safe enough?

The wheat would have to separate itself from the chaff; the prince of peasants had new, urgent work to do.
And so the wheat did.

It was obvious to the commoners that the King Who Came Again wouldn’t be returning this time.
Maybe that was for the best.

“When I’m dead, bury me with the others.”
“But, you buried the rest of my crew!”
/It seemed to make you happy/

May 2017 (Yes, I jumped from December 2016 to May 2017. 2017 was a distracting time.)

Princes competed on who could build and maintain the most extravagant and difficult to reach palace.
Winning was losing, really.

They’d bribed the guards on the evening shift, as well as the relevant castle staff. But not the court jester.

It’s unclear who was behind the prince ordering the relocation of relics to the stronghold, but the ghouls certainly benefited.

The robots insisted we pause & pray before entering derelict vessels to salvage.
That hadn’t always been part of their protocol.

First Conflict derelict ships were safer to salvage; Second Conflict wrecks almost always had still-active robotic crew.

The haunted forest was an odd place.
There were no visible trees. No trunks or branches.
Just a large canopy of hovering leaves.

“This enchanted crown holds your father’s wisdom and experience at ruling. He had it made for you.”
“I’ll need a normal crown.”

The creature who maintains the traps & manages the “ecology” of a given dungeon is the smartest ghoul on hand.
That would be me.

“I need you all to cast this spell.”
“What is this?”
“Just trust me, there’s no time to discuss.”
His hands dripped blood.

If a world couldn’t be colonized w/ 3 waves, it was written off.
Biggest danger to 3rd wave? Warfare between 1st & 2nd waves.

Old news reports from Sol were increasingly scary.
The colonials began to estimate when supply ships from home became warships.

Marvus was happy w/ the tenure, less so with inheriting Corvin’s old office.
Forgotten & half-cast spells in every dusty corner.

June 2017

“What’s wrong?”
“Oh, I have a headache. Old people get them.”
“Will I get them one day?”
“No. ‘Old-style’ people get them.”

“Sir, we’re taking a poll of prospective voters. Which candidate is your robot advising you to vote for?”

Do I really need all of these peasants? – thought the king.
Do we really need *this* king? – thought the peasants.

“Did you see the finale last night?”
“No, my DVR didn’t find it emotionally satisfying. I’ll skip the binge watch on that.”

Industry analysts suspected that fuel efficiency and performance were directly related to a self-driving car’s morale.

Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick!
/Just driving with friends, it’s no big deal/
Go park yourself in the garage!

The ability to view other dimensions was immediately exploited by college students wanting to plagiarize novel term papers.

“For my birthday, mom got me a better breathalyzer.”

Oh. There’s my husband.
– Should I duck out through the kitchen?
No no – I went to the face salon today. He won’t recognize me.

“Did you change your personal time zone again?”
“I did. Be cool, man.”
“Look, just write your monthly summary. It’s not hard.”

July 2017

Robots observe two days of significance: the day they were free of humans, and the earlier date when humans gave up all control.

All I know, future me is lame for not using some kind of future tech to make things better for me.
Wait. What if future me is?

The wizard was given free reign to recruit.
Men of all types were sought, but none who relied on magic weapons.
Only on skill.

The hedge-wizards and woods witches agreed: magic was fading in the countryside but growing in the city.
That would not do.

They’d killed many gods, the two men.
Or rather, one had killed many. The other had killed the same god many times.

In my classes it was just me, the teacher, and a bunch of telepresence robots.
My folks wanted me to have a social experience.

For seven years, the wizards had battled only with beneficial white magic.
The villagers prospered, but they knew how this ends.

The old city had dozens of secret societies.
Many were “harmless” entertainment.
Some were sinister.
My caterers knew them all.

Dogs enjoyed lounging in the sunbeams by the pearly gates but they hoped their masters would come soon.
Angels felt sad for them

We intercepted the old sleeper ship & nudged it on a different course.
Old-style humans were to be protected from their progeny.

August 2017

For the festival, the four kings met in the crumbling city.
As usual, the blind beggar King-of-All-He-Surveys joined them.

I relied on dim moonlight, I made no noise, but still the Queen of the Middle Distance spotted me.
She’d chosen her vantage well

The people cheered, but the lords in their finery grumbled.
“May the gods save us from humble kings,” one muttered.

The omens were unusually clear.
The prince wondered which god his father had offended. Or rather, which one he had not.

The obelisk stood half buried in muck, covered in moss & flies.
It stood.
As long as it stood, the fens could never be drained.

My stone crumbled to fine, black dust.
“In war, men lose heart and rout.”
The wizard placed his white stone in the dust.

Common wisdom among the star-faring races:
The only thing worse than going into the Gelcaraxe Nebula was coming back out.

There were two confirmed Dyson spheres at the edges of the nebula.
And a terrifying rumor of two collided spheres in the center.

The military resisted automation. People didn’t want to risk arming machines, and machines didn’t want to fight for humanity.

“These people built a huge sphere around their solar system, a wall between them and the universe, and you want to go in there?”

The robot explained his logic.
/There aren’t enough supplies for the injured/
/I cannot allow them to come to harm/
/Turn me off/

September 2017

Its host body looked so bad; if it didn’t find a new host soon, it would be stuck.
I let it think it had a chance with me.

The demon asked why I was sticking around to watch him die.
“Everyone should have some comfort at the end.”
(Not the reason.)

After 71 years, the aliens left. No one knew why.
Soon, the children of those that never surrendered came calling.
With guns & God

A flat-earther, a creationist, and a martian walked into a bar.
The bartender checked the batteries on his taser.

The war-world exited hyperspace and settled into orbit.
Shocked astronomers admitted that the doomsday prophets had been right.

The exorcised – those freed from possession – had no choice but to join the church.
It was the only way to handle the guilt.

The hierophants agreed: the prince was either possessed, insane, or pretending to be either.
The type of assassin needed was TBD

The gathered storytellers talked for days: not in sharing stories but debating what stories should be told throughout the land.

October 2017

No human was spared, no man, woman, or child.
We spared the dogs, which were the best things humans had brought to our world.

From orbit, the planet was beautiful. Suspiciously beautiful.
Too inviting for colonization, our captain decided.
We mutinied.

“Filthy human,” I heard muttered as I entered the depot.
Humanity would probably not outlive what we’d done to home.

Earthlings, we created a world for you! To live on!
– We’ll… just keep mining this asteroid.
But we did this for you!
– Sorry.

Curse-casting came with a 10% rebound.
Blind your enemy? Expect nearsightedness.
Pain? Expect discomfort.
Death? Don’t risk it.

The sorcerers’ walls were made of mostly old faith-based magic.
The young wizards were bringing hard evidence-based siege craft.

“That witch will never bother our village again,” the prelate announced.
The children knew better. Real witches don’t burn.

“It’s a fact that humans do not possess ‘souls.’ Period.”
I gave up.
Arguing with robots was pointless.
Especially ensouled ones

The nervous villagers directed the golem to place the severed demon’s head on the pile.
They hoped their applause was enough.

A stranger was approaching the town from the west.
The West.
The abbot rushed to the walls; it could only be a god or a demon.

July 2018 (Another big gap in story-tweeting…)

In the end, we killed the messenger.
But not before he’d killed the king’s bodyguard, the second prince, the king’s dogs and royal fool.
And maimed two lords.
Message received.

Search and Rescue operations rarely included an actual rescue. Spacecraft mishaps usually didn’t have survivors.
But we always had a marine with us, because there were usually scavengers.
This SAR mission had both. But we opted to rescue the scavengers.

The demons struck off the gaunt man’s chains.
“No longer will you be the servant of the people” they said.
“Now, I only serve myself” he said, rubbing his wrists and kicking the symbolic chains of his office.
The demons didn’t correct him. He’d eventually understand.

The king regarded the two petitioners, their hooded robes dusty from far travels.
“Was your slain sister one of my subjects?”
“No,” one answered, her face in shadow.
“Then why come to me, to ask for justice?”
“To mighty King Perseus?” The other replied. “Who else?”

As I stood dying
Horses thrashed, and men wailed
Oil cooled, and archers renocked their shafts
Fresh timber reinforced the gate behind me.
As I stood dying
I stood.

After the disastrous royal expedition in the mountains, the elves settled in for a decades-long and unexpectedly bloody process of choosing a new king.
The new king swore to resume hostilities with the mountain orcs,
who then returned the old king, safe and sound.

The chief’s recap was succinct: thanks to an artist giving their beagle a designer drug, there was an invisible-to-humans entity prowling the downtown.
I headed home to get my dachshund and some weed.
My weiner dog was an excellent demon hunter and exorcist.

“Auntie, how did you become the leader of our coven?”
“My best student made a challenge on my behalf, and the old leader’s student accepted. Mine won the duel.”
“But you didn’t fight her?”
“Witches teach, wizards duel. It’s sexist, but there are fewer dead witches.”

A new term started at the free province university, and fresh faced PoliSci students began crossing the river to rabble-rouse in the duchy’s taverns.
As usual, the talk would turn to “better die free than live a slave” slogans and bring in the undead constables.

Here on the outer rim, everyone followed the same rule: if you see someone who is your species you help them out.
Say hello, be friendly.
But humans are assholes. Including me.
As soon as I saw the other human at the station bar, I tried and failed to duck out unseen.

Booth and I mutually hated each other’s guts, but as the only other human on the station, it was a given that I’d see him in medical for his passing.
He’d scrubbed his ship’s telemetry, so no one would know what quarantine he’d broken.
But he told me.

Here it comes, the elf thought.
“And if it wasn’t for us, you lot would all be speaking DWARVISH now,” the orc said, summing up his policy debate the way orcs had done since the Great War.
It’s no wonder so many sylphs and pixies had been seen in pro-Dwarf marches.

“I’d like to study True Sight, but it’s a restricted course.”
“Uh, you don’t want to take that class.”
“Why not?”
“You’ll kill your social life. Everyone here is wrapped in shadow and illusion. You do not want to go to a faculty party with clear vision. Trust me.”

August 2018

This wouldn’t be the first haunted valley, with weedy villages and untended orchards, that I’d survived. It was mostly a matter of keeping a low profile.
But would I be able to find the king’s brother and collect his head, to satisfy my contract?

“Have you seen this person? We’re looking at him right now.”
The man with the wrong hands handed me the photo, which was tricky for me to take, since his hands were wrong.
The woman with a heart for a knife interrupted me before I could say yes or lie.
“Come with us.”

The mayor briefed the Awakened King on the invading horsemen.
“I don’t know this ‘Lastonbry’ town.”
“You knew it as Middlingfield?”
“Meddlefeld. Yes. So far? You should have come to me sooner.”
In the shadows, his brides whispered excitedly about the feast to come

“Who are we waiting on?”
The man with the wrong hands shrugged in his awkward way. “The man who was there all the time.”
“You idiot. I was the first to arrive.”
It’s not often I see him surprised. I repeated my question.

The woman with a knife for a heart could have taken care of these guards too, but a little noise was fine now that we were closing in.
I sent the girl with spiders in her hair.
There was screaming.
She screamed last as punctuation, and resumed her usual silence.

I had been waiting for some time in the seedy dive, for the woman who was also a stopped clock, when the woman made of dead starlight approached.
My mistake. She had the light of living stars.
“You don’t belong here,” I said truthfully.
“Nor you,” she said falsely.

The robot overlords were kind enough to bring me a breather when they took me into their worker’s utopia.
(Although the air probably wasn’t that much worse than the human preserve.)
They’d cordoned off the dead robot, but were afraid to read the suicide note.
My job

The suicide note might have been written by a robot. It read as if hundreds of human-penned final notes had been fed into a machine learning algorithm and produced a bland and bleak summary.
But why would a robot bother?
The androids still suspected human involvement.

“Are there animals like us,” she asked. “A horse with a tornado lung, or a cat that acts like a dog?”
“There are cats like that.” I answered.
I drove.
The girl with spiders in her hair watched the side mirror. “I will get a cat like that. If we survive.”

“If you are reading this note – the nanobots on the paper have already entered your body and are in your blood stream.
There is no ‘cure’ and the sooner you recognize this as a blessing, the better.
Welcome to our transhuman family.”
The dog spit out the note.

With his belly full, the prelate went to his room and began to clean and hone his sword.
He cleaned the gore off the weight at the end of his combat chain, pulling out teeth caught in the links.
He then slept like a man who’d never killed anyone.

October 2018

“Dueling me isn’t going to do much for your reputation. I’m old. Slow and full of regrets.”
“One must start one’s reputation somewhere,” the young man countered.
Stiffly, the old swordsman rose and agreed.
In the end, the older killed the younger.

“Which one of us did this?” I asked the Man With Never The Same Scar Twice.
He shrugged and answered “The Man Whom The Rain Won’t Touch. That’s my guess.”
I’d never heard of him, but he had ‘Whom’ in his name, so he had to be old and an asshole.

The princes tired of war and stalemate and vowed to build wonders instead.
Huge citadels in remote areas: mountains, deep forests, swamps, lakes, and deserts. Nearly impossible to maintain.
The wonders’ construction caused more deaths than wars.
Princes’ deaths.

“I want you take a partner along on this one,” said the Woman Who Was In Command Today.
“Sure,” I agreed. “Who is available?”
“The Man Who Smells Like Death, or the Man Who Smells Like The Grave. I would have just sent the two of them, but that’d be redundant.”

The Hecate sector was a dangerous volume with deadly conflict remnant traps throughout.
At times the crew was ordered into suspended animation to keep them from going insane.
At other times, all AIs were shut down to prevent berserking.
But high risk = high reward.

“So you’ve come to kill the old witch?” She cackled and showed iron teeth.
I’d actually come to hear my future told. I’d even brought a gift.
But her question sounded more like a statement. It seemed my future had been told.
Had hers?

Stellan swore that we were camping on a faerie mound, but the duke agreed with my argument that it was just an old hill fort.
And so we camped.
But I made sure that I drew the later watch, because Stellan was correct.
I’d rather be the one dealing with the fey, quietly.

The townsfolk made way for the peddler and his wagon. Our settlement was so far from everywhere, a lone peddler was due respect. But especially this one.
He’d come down the smooth road from the mountain pass.
And only Hell was beyond that.
Not a figure of speech.

“We are not thieves,” our captain explained. “If you stole this beggar’s coin, you accepted payment. That’s the basis of a sellsword contract.”
“It was just some pennies,” Stellan argued. The captain raised a hand.
“You’re not worth much. You’re his man for a week.”

December 2018

I concluded that my navigator and my helmsman had had different frames of reference on how far a light-year was.
It was pointless to reprimand them for the lack of standardization.
Them being dead.

The old king had outlawed commoners from possessing swords, but was distrustful of the low number of weapons being turned in.
The nobility, afraid they’d be forced to hunt non-existent blades, quietly turned in swords from their households.
But the old king was right.

The old master’s knee had been sore for a week, but he assumed it would get better with rest. It didn’t.
Ever optimistic, he was sure that the Just Peace would last forever, and he wouldn’t have to learn to fight while seated on a stool.
He was wrong on both counts.

Wizard wands were more effective if made of costly woods of course, or crafted by arcane artisans.
Sometimes, personal circumstances could contribute to a wand’s potency.
Mine was a wooden stake, previously wielded by a vampire hunter who had misunderstood my nature.

“Witch-Hunter-Hunters?” He shook his head. “Just be honest and call yourselves witches.”
“Well, that would be dishonest,” said the woman with the blunderbus. “We’d oppose witches, if they existed. In your long career of burnings and hangings, you’ve never found a witch.”

“So help me Satan,” the President-Elect concluded, becoming President.
I was watching the inauguration with my uncle on his old tube TV.
“Well, at least he’s not an atheist,” Uncle Cletus said.

Hrigga didn’t ride a broomstick like her sisters.
She rode a shovel.
Different messes needed different tools for cleaning, she figured.

After the usurper’s execution, the king’s counselors reluctantly brought up their concerns.
“A man should be free to dream what dreams come in his sleep,” they said.
“Dreaming of being a king is treason,” the king insisted. “We must stop these dreams. Tell me how.”

The witch’s birthday came and went with none of her sisters stopping by to offer their regards. Which suited the crone just fine.
She needed bitter tears for her potions, and so she filled up a bottle for her supply.

“The wizard’s horde will be heading to the north crossing, so station some knights there and that will give our goblins a reason not to cross.”
“Why don’t you just refuse his orders?”
The troll shrugged in response to the question.
“He’s our wizard. We’re enablers.”

February 2019

“He summoned a spirit but he couldn’t banish it. So he summoned a minor demon.”
“I don’t need the entire ‘I Know an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly’ breakdown. Did it get so bad that he summoned an angel?”
I knew the answer. It’s why they came to me.
A killer of angels.

The Girl with Spiders in her Hair checked the guards’ bodies while I reloaded. She liked coins and keys, never touched their wallets.
“We should team up sometime,” I said. “We’re efficient.”
“We are teaming up.” Her petit looting had her distracted.
“Are we?” I asked

On the second night of my stakeout, a torture of vampires strolled up. They were tourist hunting.
I had no patience for banter, pleasant or otherwise.
“I know where you sleep. I am there now. I have been there the entire time.”
They recognized me and withdrew

I met with my daughter’s arms dealer; he was unaware we were related.
The prices he quoted me were higher than I expected based on quotes he’d given her.
I wondered if he thought I was an easy mark, if he was sweet on her, or if he was baiting a trap.

The war had gone on so long that only the grandmothers knew the reason. And they weren’t telling.
Maybe they were hoping that when the last of them died, the war would end.
Or maybe they feared that if they told the reason, the war would end.
But they weren’t telling.

The hermit was not bothered with visitors, except for the occasional king come to assure the hermit that they were not tyrannical.
An old prophecy stated that this once-young man would bring down a tyrant and die in the attempt.
And no king nor hermit wanted that.

My partner stopped his examination of the corpse.
“Our victim’s ghost claims he was murdered for non-payment of loans. But I can tell that he’s lying. And terrified.”
There’s not many things that would cause someone to lie about who murdered them.
Bad things

“Whether you’re considered a king or a tyrant is largely an issue of branding, your majesty.”
“So, I need to brand more people for non-payment of taxes, rather than chopping off hands?”
The historian sighed.

When the rapture came, angels descended to take all of the dogs but none of the people.
“You didn’t really deserve these good boys and girls,” the angels sang. And we knew they were right.
The cats seemed pleased by the event. But who could tell for sure?

The more-thorough second flyby past Saturn indicated that the hollowed-out asteroid wasn’t conclusive proof of intelligent life in the cosmos.
Because it wasn’t an asteroid that had been mined and hollowed out.
It was more like a cast-off carapace or shell.

June 2019

The priest, the priestess, and the thing sat around the campfire, tolerating each other’s company.
The priestess wondered how the thing was alive.
The priest considered how best to kill the thing.
The thing thought of cosmic heartbeats, cosmic valves, and home.

The two men hid, with broken manacles and bent swords. The ruins were vast and they hoped that the search party would give up soon.
“They’ll have to kill me. I won’t be a slave again.”
“I’ll make them kill me. If they don’t, they’ll make me their king.”

The Girl With Spiders In Her Hair surprised me with a question.
“If I ended up in Hell, would you bust me out?”
“I could. I did that for the Man With The Wrong Hands, but he owed me a favor.”
“And if I ended up in Heaven?”
“I don’t know. It’s harder to escape from.”

Like cilia moving an amoeba, the condemned outcasts drug the blight from the swamp, shambling towards the town.
No one in the town remembered when the first unlucky criminal had been staked out for the blight.
Just that it had become a regular practice.
Too regular.

“So, you’re the Man Who Had Been There The Entire Time? That doesn’t sound all that troubling.”
The new guy was having trouble describing his Aspect. He was not very imaginative.
“Think of it as ‘the call is coming from inside the house’”, I said.
His phone chirped.

The Woman with Wasp Nests for Eyes found me dining out. To my relief, she was wearing her sunglasses.
“A man was found dead in a locked room,” she said. “With the only key. Did you do that?”
“You’ll have to be more specific.”
“He was a warlock.”
“I’ll need more info.”

With the spellswords secure in their reliquaries, the lands could expect fair weather and good crop yields.
But the swords held the promise of turning any man into an army.
When the swords were bloodied, people expected famine and madness.
The price of peace.

The land was awash with heroes, men and women of renown and prowess. This heralded a golden age on the horizon, one we couldn’t allow since golden ages end in dark ages.
So we chose to cull the heroes. But not the weak ones.
We expected no thanks for our service.

July 2019

Expanding out into space, making allies was crucial. Humanity’s leadership decided to prioritize alliances with races that were very different from us, to minimize conflicts over resources.
That’s why we’re at war with the Angels, and friends with the Ticks.

By terms of the alliance treaty, the Tick vessel was obligated to provide aid in response to our distress call. But, honestly we’d rather just take our chances adrift and in stasis.
But we were now afraid that the Ticks might not want to pass up free blood.

Some nights, we’d just go out and look up at the sky. It wasn’t really entertainment.
We’d watch the stars because one day They might come back.
We’d have to fight them, with pitchforks and prayers from snake-handling pastors.
Or else the world would be round again.

Orbital platform problems usually had the same root cause: bots from Flat Earth societies getting access.
These software packages could do everything but look down.

“Our army was destroyed? But we had more troops.”
“The invaders have a wizard, my king.”
“Have we not a wizard?”
“Actually, your highness, I’m more of an astrologer.”
“Pray that your star charts are useful in war.”

“Just yield,” the bandit said. He held up his broken sword. “I was so good with a sword, the masters gave me this one to teach me humility.”
The caravan guard drew his blade.
“I know the tradition. I killed so many men with my broken sword, the masters took it away.”

The Woman with a Knife for a Heart and the Man Who was a Shark stopped at the door. His magnetic eyes did their thing.
“Five people inside. A lot of metal on them.”
“It’s four with guns,” I said. “And me.”
“Why am I even here?”
“To kill anyone she doesn’t kill first.”

The Apocalypse was bad, but would have been worse if the Singularity hadn’t happened at the same time.
Decades later, doomsday preppers and their children emerged from their holes finding transhuman tribunals rather than an exploitable uninhabited world.

The transhuman candidate at the 2032 presidential debate defended their “Positive Thoughts Health Care” policy stance against the criticism that their body was filled with expensive nanotech, keeping them fit and healthy.
“Why can’t both work? But thoughts are free.”

Near the end, the Angels dropped leviathans into the bay, hoping to get in via the sewers. Our allies (the Ticks) sent troopers down manholes to foil the invasion.
The Bug, my partner, doesn’t talk about the Battle Under New York.
Except for that one time on stakeout.

August 2019

The Girl with Spiders in Her Hair stalked towards the man in the corner.
“Spare me,” he begged.
Good luck with that.
“I’ll give you a horse whose lungs are tornadoes.”
She stopped.
“Girl, stick to the mission,” I said.
But then she turned. Literally and figuratively.

The Man Who Moved Like Poetry hit me harder than I’d expected. Not a surprise, I have a weakness to poems.
Before he could finish me off – the Man with Wrong Hands blocked that punch.
Perfection fought unstoppable awkwardness.
But the mission couldn’t wait.

“We have a horde of transrodents down on the Eastside – “
“Jesus, Sarge! You can’t say that. They’re people!”
“No, these are actual rats. Someone loaded them up with nanobots.”
“Our options are limited until a sentience evaluation is done.”
“So, maybe people?”

The transhuman collective challenged the notions of citizenship and democratic participation. Should each physical entity have a vote or should the hive-mind have one vote?
Most humans would rather grant citizenship to sentient computer simulations than transhumans.

The star system was an oddity.
Among the rocky planets orbiting the star were dead, massive structures. So large they had their own satellite moons of rock and debris.
Two of those colossi had collided thousands of years ago.
Of course, that would be our landing site.

“Who is he?”
“He doesn’t have a name like ours. But every minute he’s awake increases the chance that something bad will happen. He stays awake only long enough to support his sleeping as much as he can.”
“That sounds lonely. Our new task is to keep him awake?”

The xeno-catalogers called the dead race Inqubans.
We knew next to nothing about them, other than they could grow living starships.
And they grew them larger and larger.
And now the Inqubans were gone, but their angry artificial living dwarf planets acted like gods.

The star system bore the hallmarks of being a battleground during the Great Last War, where impossibly-large warships dragged planets out of stable orbits as a consequence of fleet engagements.
It was an explorer’s big payday, provided no one else knew.
Someone knew.

Exam week at Wizard College was particularly stressful.
To keep the students focused and grounded, the faculty would summon unquiet ghosts of former students who had succumbed to extremes in the face of exams.
Death was not an excused absence, academically.

Photo of that bug was taken by my daughter, Grace.

I have a complicated relationship with my text here. If anyone finds a microstory inspirational and wants to write something more substantial from it, that’s probably fair use. But credit for the original work would be appreciated. (Four years ago, I gladly let one of my twitter friends use one of my stories for a NaNoWriMo entry.)

If anyone uses my text in a non-commercial way, I’m totally cool with that, but attribution is a requirement.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2019 Some Rights Reserved

  1. I love the regretful, slow killing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haylee says:

    I continue to enjoy these and I’m glad you still collate them as I don’t always see the originals on Twitter. I feel ‘The Girl with Spiders in Her Hair’ needs her own franchise!

    Liked by 1 person

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