Antediluvian: Words on Wednesdays

A piece of flash fiction inspired by the good folks at The Write Practice and their word of the week format. Constraints were to include a President and a storm. The times we live in, eh?

Also! Congrats Obama.

Antediluvian

adjec­tive:

  •  of or relat­ing to the period before the flood described in the Bible
  • made, evolved, or devel­oped a long time ago
  • extremely prim­i­tive or outmoded

The hibernating ship Anomalocaris began to stir after a universe long slumber. Ageless subroutines booted to life on a solar scale. In the time it took a nearby star to first luminesce under thermonuclear fusion, Anomalocaris’ antediluvian systems managed to become self-sufficient.

Life signs spiked deep within the rousing vessel. A president awoke to raucous clamoring that permeated from outside the hull. He ran a diagnostic and learned that a system was ejecting far too much radiation to conform with known stellar parameters. This universe could not be so different; he was awake after all.

Sensors reached out into the storm, relying on outmoded detection algorithms. Equally antediluvian methods filtered data effectively, yet slowly. Feedback reported in an instant. The president’s display banished pools of darkness from his face with a shock of plasma. His irises contracted in the light.

Anomalocaris’ armor plating, usually relegated to protection against eroding timespans, was under direct attack. Bombardment rocked her as she woke. Had been pummeling while she slept. He checked: For millennia. A static appraisal revealed that there was indeed an intelligent cause. Radio bands were chockfull of chatter. Alien sounds.

“Kids these days,” the president said. His voice was a rasp. He’d wake his constituents. It was time to go to war.

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Short Fiction: Lunch?

Lunch?

Complements: Photios

The Star-liner “Catseye” wouldn’t stay in drydock for long. She’d stop over just long enough to pick up her final bevy of passengers before setting out for Epsilon Eridani; a young system renowned for spectacular solar displays. It was a short round-trip pass, perfect for adventurous senior citizens and soppy honeymooners alike. Eridani was one of the closest stars that Catseye Cruise Ships offered clientele voyages to, yet it was still a grueling 10 month affair for Linesman Singer. With no vacation prospects for non-naval crew, Singer would take every opening he got. This contract had him all lined up until November.

He glanced at his wrist-chronometer and wagered he had a good ten minutes before a castoff order was piped through the PA. He’d make it. Singer was faster than a bunch of octogenarians whose flash of late-life insight saw them dovetailing their pointless existences with an equally pointless “escapade into space.”

His stomach growled.

Linesman Tam was still chattering in his ear. Singer had told her not to come, but since when did anyone ever listen to him? The older woman cast looks over her shoulder as they drifted through the dimly lit corridor of this unnamed space station. Unnamed because it wasn’t humanmade. Unnamed because it was probably only pronounceable if you had sixteen collated tongues. The hexagonal tube made him uneasy. It made Tam downright jittery. He could hear it in her voice.

“Why is it so d…dark?” she said.

“Just be thankful Celsius is smiling down upon us,” Singer hissed. “Dark we can handle. But cold…” He trailed off as he neared an entrance plank jutting surreptitiously out of the wall.

“Here we are.”

“What’s that? Is that the canteen?” Tam said, fumbling for something at her waistband.

“Sure is,” Singer replied. “It’s a doorway.” He floated towards it at an angle. It was covered in thorns, which probably gave traction to the designated alien species that used it. Singer didn’t care. He’d been told that they served Earth delicacies. Fast food.

Thank you Catseye and your many sister yachts. Octogenarians gotta eat.

Linesman Singer anchored himself and began kicking at the plank. The noise he made rattled his companion as she brought her Portois into view. She flicked it open and fingered the screen until it sputtered to life.

“You still keep that thing?” Singer said between grunts.

“Travel advisory states: Condition Orange, graded C,” Tam said.

Singer paused long enough to shrug.

“The Mammalogue Rough-Toothed Ringed Leatherglutton is in rut. They’re cleared for this branch of the station!”

Singer kicked harder.

“This is their ‘estrus cycle’.”

“You know, all that, what you just said? That’s just noise,” Singer said through clenched teeth. “I’m getting my burger. Shipboard accommodation comes out of your pay. You do realize that, right?”

Tam’s eyes stayed averted; illuminated from below.

“I know what I’m doing,” Singer said, redoubling his efforts.

A great squeal sounded and half of the wall folded in on itself like an ornate amalgam of dominoes. Though clearly distressed, Tam followed her younger coworker inside. The Portois started flashing red.

Within was a galley, if you could call it that. It was pressed flat, top to bottom. It reminded Singer of being inside an empty tyre on its side. There was movement all over, but it was gloomier in here than out in the hall.

“Allotropic gasseomorphs primarily exchange thermoception for visual acuity.”

“Shut up, Tam.”

She was quoting again. He hated when she did that.

“It explains why the lights are out,” Linesman Tam complained, looking up. “We aren’t supposed to be here.”

“There’s a bunch of creatures hunched over that hole over there. I bet that’s where the food comes from.”

Singer pushed away from the wall, but was instantly halted when Tam clasped his shoulder.

“Are you insane? If you get caught–” She recoiled, throwing a hand over the ship’s ensign emblazoned on her right shoulder.

“Go ahead. Waste your time. We’d be lucky to even find a human in here, let alone one who could trace us to the Catseye.” Singer glanced down at his own badge. Like they’d even see it!

“Why the hell did you even follow me, Tam?”

A heavy shadow fell over the pair of crewmates. Though the murk seemed to deepen, Singer turned and was able to see an enlarged being hovering nigh-motionless above them. It didn’t seem to breathe, but the rise and fall as it bobbed made Singer venture that the thing was – smelling them. It flipped a muscular appendage into a nook in the floor and pulled itself a little closer. It was shaggy, and smelled of rust and melons.

It whistled something out of a flume-like series of grooves along its ‘side’. Tam started fumbling again.

“I take it this is your Spikey-Tailed Mammal Podge?” Singer said without turning.

Tam thrust her twinkling Portois high overhead. Her lip was a severe line.

The rush of air congealed into a heavily accented form of English.

#forms of beverage# #meat grind# “Disclosure: humans served here” *HUNGER!*

“Whoa, hold it, fella.” Singer patted his hands through the air. “We’re here for the baconnaise and sirloin. Back off.”

Tam tried to speak, but was unable for the first time since he’d known her.

“That thing translating?”

The wooly figure of the alien split like a torn seam. The two crewmembers looked into an unfurling carapace. Like a silent snarl. Those were definitely teeth glinting in there.

“Listen, if I don’t get pension for this cruise, you sure as hell don’t get to eat me.” Singer frowned. He folded his arms across his chest and the chronometer started peeping. Castoff in tee-minus.

Damn it! He’d wasted his lunch break again.

Short Fiction: Troglobite

Troglobite

Complements: Yoeri Vleer

A tiny figure emerged into the broken and decrepit hall that was once an exhibition wing of The Museum of Natural History. Any such label was lost to the ravages of time and linguistic change. The figure, which called itself an “Initiate”, would have struggled with the flowing vowels of such ancient text. The rituals and rote prayers imparted throughout childhood had left her with a staccato tongue, perfect for After-Noon Audience, but not much else.

She moved swiftly past hollowed alcoves that once housed dioramas of Mesolithic life. Plastic representations of maize fields tended by double-over Olmec farmers. Their painted backdrops were nothing more than plain gray swaths, cracked by centuries of neglect. None of this registered to her. They were as they’d always been. She was not aware that anything could be otherwise.

Before her, she clutched a circular pan. Initiates immemorial had proffered offerings upon it. Its face was milked over by countless scratches. Etchings carved from dread talismans to permineralized fossils; even cradle-boarded skulls of children. Detestable things. For generations, Initiates hadn’t seen anything so intricate. Brethren and Sistren long past had seen to abolishing such evils. Yet it was upon this offering that the lonesome figure gazed. She was transfixed by something she had not seen before.

 —

Seismic quakes pulverized much of the Museum, shaking loose foundations that might see it into an uncertain future. Long before, every square inch had been picked over with dogmatic determination. Casualties from long years of robust practice and erosive steadfastness. Ancient sins had been prioritized; dismantling the most evil of aggressors first. The most heretical objects were held aboveground. Such brazen lies were cast before The Truth, tested, and summarily burned away.

 —

Her feet wended through much traveled paths. They were holy alleys that pressed the green vegetation flat, like game trails. Her movements were dreamlike. Much practiced and performed with little afterthought. Elders spoke of accompanying assistants whose ceremonial drums kept the wicked at bay. But she was alone. Past her feet, she could still make out the worn pattern of a thousand soles.

It was these quakes that shattered most of the evil sequestered below. It was this very evil that still remained. Beneath the Museum lay countless vaults, many of them either destroyed outright by the elements or sanctified by the just. Others lurked where they had not yet tread. Hymns and prayers attested to the heaviness Initiates bore as they spread the truth into these long tortured places. Light spread into the darkness, where faith was but a candle’s flicker.

 —

The central promenade was gutted. The tiered hall was split open to sunlight. Heavy shafts slanted serenely as the sun fought higher into the sky. The opening was congested with life. Vines snaked down, tasting the moist darkness below. Overgrowth sought purchase amid support pillars and stairwells. Cracked exit signs were the homes of fungal colonies. Sea birds called shrilly, coming to and from their nests. As she neared the veil, the Initiate eyed a plinth in the center. The altar.

 —

It was these quakes that had effectively cut off the remaining vaults from purification, allowing time to flow, softening the tyrannical grip of scripture. The wheels of doctrine rusted. Without execution, practice waned. Creed, once tightly bound by contest, became lethargic and spread thin by contentment. Black and white began to see gradients.

 —

Before stepping forth, the Initiate dipped the offering ever so slightly. An item tumbled along the tinny surface, bumped against her chest, and fell away. She moved, bound by ceremony. Stepping to the illuminated dais, she bowed her head in supplication. She thought of the place’s import as she placed the tray upon the faded platform. When she was on her knees, chin-to-chest, she heard the discordant hiss. The offering had been judged. They said the acrid stench was righteous. She bowed, stood, and bowed again before backpedaling from the lazily spiraling mist.

Once again in the dark, the Initiate paused. She relished separation. A strange sense enlivened her. Stooping low, she retrieved the tiny artifact that had fallen. She studied it fixedly. While treading resolutely from the sanctum, the Initiate placed a tiny fossilized trilobite behind her ceremonial sash.

Terribleminds Flash Fiction Challenge: Noir, dinosaurs, and — childbirth?

Over at Terribleminds, authorial sage and all around penmonkey, Chuck Wendig is hosting a literary throwdown. Titled “A Game of Aspects”, he asks his fellow monkeys to come up with a piece of flash fiction that combines several strong — and sometimes seemingly conflicting — aspects of genre, elements, and themes. I’m all for a library where readers could find a directory that covers all stories with deep space naval battles, magical garden gnomes, and thrilling police forensics within a single volume! It’s an interesting take of storytelling, and I’d love to dip my toes into the deep end. It’s a good enough excuse for me to put some actual story content here at Outwardbounder!

I was only partly brave with my selection process. I just couldn’t let go of the chance to write about dinosaurs. “Write about what you know” and all that.. I rolled the die and came up with “Noir” as my subgenre and “Childbirth” as a theme/motif. (Alright, more of a motif..) I took my stapler and had at it. I went to town and eventually came up with “Nobody Trusts a Talonfalcon”. Talonfalcon, Maltese Falcon — Yeah, maybe I should have tried a little harder… It’s Noir! Anyways… I’m actually kinda proud of what came out at the other end of Chuck’s inspiring take on the creative process. A tale of a couple ‘wise guys’ that find it hard to agree. One thing is for certain; their job just got a little more complicated.

Hope you have some hardboiled fun.

Nobody Trusts a Talonfalcon

Complements: k.l.macke

Rex McBain had boarded the Ithaca with one thing in mind. The next guy to make a crack about small arms gets it. He was tired of hearing it. It didn’t help that he fit the bill so perfectly. Large, meaty torso balanced on lumbering tree trunk legs. If he paused, he could still hear the laughs. Rex was ready to cave in another nose or two and Erle knew it. Erle Brice; The John. He’d stayed astutely silent over the matter. Oh, sure; he was cordial. Talked about what they were up against. Asked plenty of questions about the dean they were looking to nab. The right questions. Erle Brice knew better than to rib a man like Rex. He was a goddamn insurance agent. Collateral was his mother’s maiden name.

The two men halted in the dim illumination filtering down the foredeck. Through a wordless exchange, they knew it was time to wait up. It was past midnight now; the only opening they’d get. Yet they waited. Only a few cabins showed any life. Rex took care of patrols. He was The Heavy. The larger man looked down at Erle.

“So tell me,” he said in his deep basso, “How many soon-to-be widows see you about life insurance?” Swell, small talk. The shorter man was agitated, fidgeting and looking around. After a tenuous chuckle, he decided to change the subject.

“What do you think, Rex? This job can’t be passed down by naturalists. Naturalists! We’re talking about the loons that fill museums with skeleton deans that still drag their tails.” His derision trailed off. He craned his neck away from the big man’s direction. “Say they won’t change ‘em until it’s proven! Some kind of “scientific integrity!”’

“So what? Long as we get our lizard,” Rex said simply. The silence seemed to stretch after that. Erle cleared his throat, but was interrupted by a jarring clamor. A rustle behind the two men. Rex bulged his eyes with what could have been rage. It was Charlie. Finally. Why’d he come from that goddamn way? Rex was boiling. They’d split at the transom a long time ago. Charlie’s face and hands appeared pure white in moonlight. He was hunched and they could see him quivering. The Inside Guy looked shaken. His fists were bunched in a familiar way. Rex always pictured him carrying a pair of die. Old habits.

“The dean, it got Roy,” he said.

“The hell it did,” Rex said. “Go get Roy and stop fucking around. Dean’s this way.” He pointed to the front of the ship.

“Roy? Roy Faulkner?” said Erle. The other men ignored him.

“Pointy end is crest, back end is wake. We meet up at crest to collect the dean,” Rex quoted.

“I’m telling you. Roy and me found the dean. The thing killed him but I got away, I swear.” Charlie’s voice seemed a little too even-keeled to Erle.

“You came from aft-cargo,” said Rex skeptically.

“It’s eating him. That’s why I could escape. It’s still busy below decks” said Charlie. His hands twitched like he was getting ready to throw snake-eyes. Erle stepped forward in the gloom.

“What did it look like?”

“Red and mean; with scaly black stripes,” Charlie said. He eyed Erle, lingering a little too long. He seemed expectant, as if prepared for something to come barreling down on the shorter man at any moment. “There was leathery folds on its throat that ballooned out big when it swallowed Roy’s scapula.”

“You’re a sick man, Charlie Caine,” Rex said. “And you don’t even know what a scapula is!”

“Look, I’m really sorry for Pally Boy, Roy. It was a shame to see him go. But mostly, I’m just sore I didn’t have him in the month’s pool.” Erle blinked, confused. Rex grimaced painfully.

“You sick fuck,” he said.

“We have to go back for the dean, right away,” said Charlie, motioning behind.

“Hold it,” Rex pushed an enlarged hand forward. “The red one ain’t our dean. The one we need is about to brood.”

“It’s a she? She’s pregnant?” said Erle. His mind whirred.  That makes this haul three times as lucrative! No wonder it’s high profile. We gotta talk surpluses when we get back. Should be more coming to us.

Rex wrinkled his nose, but didn’t look away from Charlie. “It was explained, our dean, the one we’re looking at, it’s pure. It’s as true blue as you can get: feathers, small size, the whole kit.”

“Feathery deans ain’t no deans at all,” said Charlie with a hiss. “I’ve seen The Land Unknown. My dad used to take me to dinosaur exhibits. I’m the expert on deans here. Sounds like you’re talking about a talonfalcon.” Erle looked between the men several times. He wondered why he wasn’t told these kinds of details.

“Talonfalcons are deans,” Erle said. He didn’t sound sure.

“I ain’t blowing money on a fancy crow,” Charlie said. He lurched forward and clasped Erle by the scruff. “We’re going back.” He began hauling Erle along the gunwale.

“I’m tired of you and your Hanky Panky. You’re just as bad as that dean that killed Roy,” Rex growled. Before turning to hoof it down forward-cargo, he leaned his severe bulk toward his retreating accomplices.

“Erle, I wouldn’t go with him. He’s got a death pool going. Horrible gambler, but he’s a little too good at his pools. And kid, it looks like he’s got his eye on you.”

After a yelp, Erle yarded himself free for a moment and cast a thumb about.

“I – I should go meet up with Tommy,” he stammered. “I bet he’s got the johnboat in position.” Charlie’s hand came down heavily on his shoulder.

Rex didn’t see any of this. He’d disappeared down a stairwell and into a musty chamber. There was a warbling noise. Rex wound his way through useless crates and boxes, letting his eyes adjust. He found himself in front of a very strange birdcage. It was reinforced with metal, yet seemed worn. Sun bleached. A faded insignia was stamped into the side. Rex could make out the word “Peru”. Inside was his dean. He could have cradled the thing in one arm. Its black plumage fluttered as he approached. The narrow yet long snout tracked his shadow until deeming him too close. It ducked beneath broad primaries on its arm, concealing a row of super-fine razor teeth beneath obsidian feathers. Rex could still see the folded hooks that made up the creature’s three-pronged fore claw. It was clasped delicately over a ball of living goose down. A fledgling peeped. The mother dean chattered and cooed.

“You found her,” said a voice.

Rex turned to see Erle picking his way towards him. He moved cumbersomely.

“Good to see you’ve got some sense,” Rex said.

“I, uh, talked some sense into him.”

As he approached, the little man leaned closer to the folded form of the dean.

“Why, she ain’t so bad. She’s all curled up.”

“I wouldn’t test that,” said Rex, pointing down at the single recurved talon in view. Erle began backing away. A strange slithering sound ratcheted inside the room. All around them. The openness in the air fueled the noise. A heavy brushing like cat’s tongue on sandpaper. There was a click and a thud. The sound of a baseball bat cracking wood paneling.

“Saint Christopher! It’s the mean one,” cried Erle.

Rex saw it. The red scales looked like dried blood in the dark. A scattering of dusky bands would have camouflaged it, were it in its own element. It was a dean. Or what passed for one for ninety-nine percent of the suckers Rex knew. Its four-fingered paws waved pathetically, raking the tops of some cases and containers. The broad, rounded head was wagging blearily at them. Angry eye slits blinked in the diffuse light. Erle caught a forked tongue spring forward in pure reptilian fashion. Rex was looking at the feet. They were the same. Exactly the same as the pint sized feathery dean. Only this creature’s toe claw was held a good six inches off the ground. The dean was moving. Its back appeared too rigid and upright to the two men. A long and bony tail hovered low but the point never touched the ground.

Erle shrank back beside his taller companion. He bumped into an extended oak of an arm. Rex was holding a piece. A blunted instrument in his oversized fist, it shined despite everything. It was already cocked. There was no lead up, no noise before the explosive concussion. No warning. A great flare up of light scalded Erle’s vision. He managed to catch a ferocious snarl peeling back the dean’s muzzle. An equally brutal grimace gnarled Rex’s face. There might have been a scream, but for the rush of four more shots, Erle couldn’t be sure. Several long minutes passed and nothing stirred. Heady wisps of spent gunpowder cloyed the air in front of them. As they danced and swirled into dissipation, Rex and Erle could make out the fallen form of the bastard dean. The head was partly missing.

“Was that really –? Is that what they look like?” Erle said at length.

“I don’t care. Long as it don’t rattle my check,” said Rex.

After a while the cooing began again.