Wednesday November 23rd, 2011

The exercise:

In case you're just joining us, the theme for this week's writing is outer space. I'm rather pleased with what has resulted from it so far. Shall the trend continue? I suspect it shall.

Because you guys kick ass.

Today's prompt is: the key.


Timothy Higgins, Mechanic, Second Class.

The job title had always grated on him, for it was more than just a designation of rank. It marked his place in the ship's caste system.

One rung above the bumbling idiots in Third Class and, much more to the point, one below those arrogant First Class pricks. And they made damned sure it was never forgotten, always passing on the work they considered beneath their universe-class skills to those in the Second Class. Talking down their noses all the while.

As Higgins walked through an empty corridor on Deck 8, he had two items in his pockets. He kept his hands away from both, though the rhythmic hiss of his breathing apparatus made sure his thoughts never strayed very far from either item.

The first, lying crumpled at the bottom of his left pant pocket, was a piece of paper with three hastily scrawled names on it. These were the worst offenders in First Class, the ones he knew had argued against his promotion to their lofty ranks.

Ryan Clark
Miranda Sanchez
Warren Simpson

If he was going to do this anyway, he might as well get some revenge while he was at it.

The other item, secreted away in his right pant pocket, was a knife he'd stolen from the galley shortly after the second announcement had come from Captain Romero.

Whichever of the three he could isolate first would be his ticket to survival. The key, he knew all too well, would be to kill his target without damaging their IES.


Anonymous said...

The Key

Anna looked through the ship’s porthole. Her mentor from across the universe had given her the basics of interstellar travel, you know, reaching light speed and all that,  but she had yet to discover the key to get beyond warp speed to reach other galaxies. Those mysterious wormholes lay in wait, tempting...

She was given a hint, it was like a riddle...
’Way to reach desired goal,
enter into the wormhole,
got to change the way you think
move beyond the holy brink.’

Einstein said light speed was the speed limit of outer space travel. It was a law humans stuck to, but it was obviously limiting progress. Anna wondered if this attitude was what limited the outcome. If Heisenberg was correct - that the mere act of observing altered slash influenced the outcome of any experiment, it meant two things:
1. that nothing was truly objective, and
2. that we were actually cocreative, influencing our immediate future by our attitude in the present.

Anna thought long and hard as she gazed through the porthole at Jupiter’s main moon below, streaked with channels of icy water...
“That’s it!” she announced to the crew and typed in the coordinates.  “This is what we must do ladies - on the count of three, I want us all to think outside the square - I want us all to think us to our destination while I hold the thruster down. Ready? One, two, three!”

Anna knew then she had found the key. As the wormhole opened up, swirling plasma around the ship, they were catapulted to a galaxy beyond the Virgo cluster and landed on a planet made largely of rock and sand. Einstein would have taken 400 light years to get here.
Anna and her crew accomplished it in five seconds.

Not bad for her first effort.

Jordan Jack Rockerbie said...

(apologies in advance, i won't be properly formatting this, as i don't have a properly functioning left shift key on my laptop any more. long story.)

the white light stops blinking, and, somehow, the room feels suddenly empty without it. the weight of the words had lifted with the reappearance of audio fuzz, leaving a near-silent void in its place.

'hello?' one of the men questions.

'no use,' the woman says. 'the connection has been lost. or terminated.'

the room lay in silence for a few moments, the technicians still huddled around the cluster of monitors. the lone woman flicks the switch below the dormant white light up, extinguishing the soft ambient noise before finally breaking the silence.

'well, what are we waiting for?'

'whadaya mean?'

'we just made contact. somehow. what we know will catalyse the next space race.'

she pauses a moment to let her words sink in before continuing. the two men stare at her with mouths slightly agape.

'we are the key to civilisation's next hasty leap forward.'

'so, what do suggest, mar?'

she raises an eyebrow and purses her lips in a greedy sneer. 'i say we search for the highest bidder.'

Greg said...

@Marc: ah-ha, your plot thickens! And I was wondering if you'd transfer this over to Protagonize if it went well :)
This Higgins seems like a survivor to me although he seems a little more ruthless than your usual characters!

@Jackerbie: nice to see a familiar face (ok, read a familiar script) again :) I love the cynicism running through your story over the last few days.

@writebite: I think the longer format definitely plays to your strengths! This is an intriguing story you're telling :)

The key
"So what happens now?" Marylee was the youngest of the crew, being Captain Mogadef's teenage daughter.
"We spend the next fifteen hours or so getting hotter, and the ride will get bumpier," said Griffen flatly. "Luckily I reckon the heat will kill us before the asteroid hits the surface, but if by some cursed miracle it doesn't then you get to find out what it's like to be a million-tonne bomb."
There was another silence as they all thought about this. Marylee swallowed hard and loosened the starched collar of her uniform, looking like she could feel the heat already.
"So how do we get off?" said Mogadef at last. "We've survived everything the universe could throw at us while mining this thing. Are we going to give up now?"
"Are we in the atmosphere yet?" This time it was Maros, the habitation specialist who spoke up. "I don't think we can be."
"No," said Griffen glumly. "Right now we're skimming across the atmosphere like a stone skipping over water. But that doesn't make any difference; the shuttle craft can't get back for four hours and we will be in the atmosphere then."
"Then I think I might have a way to buy us more time."
Everyone looked at her, and little lights of hopes kindled in their eyes.
"Providing I can find the wretched key after all this time," she finished, avoiding their gazes.

Anonymous said...

greg, cheers! this is a great idea. the topic is right up my alley i have two spacey novels blogged at

Cathryn Leigh said...

Okay it took me a while to get to this, but here you go. Hopefully, it’s not suffering from overstuffed Thanksgiving glaze over. :}

Contact Continued
“The same?” Lolita asked, “but how can you be the same.”
Well can you tell us all apart?
The feline stepped back and Lolita gasped. She was surrounded by ten of the creatures, all very similar in shape and size but she was sure they couldn’t be identical. Oh why didn’t she have the smarts like Rachael or Lupita or even Michael. She knew she’d never match Adam, after all he was half computer half human.
“If you give me some time,” she managed to get out.
Time is the key,” the voice seemed to come from all of them at once.
“It’s the sun that you see,” Lolita continued reaching out for some desperate clue as the felines circled around them.
yet there is only one of me,” they continued as they sat down to cleanse themselves.
Lolita caught a tone slightly different form the rest coming from behind her. She turned and looked at the cats, no felines she quickly corrected herself.
The one I know is Stowie!
It was a leap of faith that he might acknowledge her. The movement was so slight that she might not have caught it if she hadn’t been looking at him.
“Stowie!” Lolita felt relief surge through her. “Why you big lug,” she hug him and started scratching behind his ear, “how come you never spoke to me before?”
His big yellow eyes slowly raised to meet hers, his tone sarcastic though his body purred, “You would have believed me?
Suddenly the felines were around both of them.
So the space cat has returned.
Stowie stiffened in her arms and fear again gripped Lolita.

g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

It's a bit late in my corner of the universe, so I'll be posting for this prompt properly tomorrow. For now, though, I'll just reiterate how awesome the ideas of an overarching theme, sustaining a single story over that week, and everyone's individual ideas are.

And with that Rubashesque-ey repetition* outta my system, I take my leave.

(sorry Jack, had to have a little fun with that X) )

Anonymous said...

CL, yours males me want to see puss in boots even more now :)

Marc said...

Writebite - sweet! Can't wait to see what's on the other side waiting for them :)

JorJack - that would drive me absolutely bonkers. I remember not dealing too well with a couple work computers that didn't have properly functioning keys - the space bar was probably the worst.

Great twist at the end there, opens up some intriguing possibilities ahead.

Greg - I know we're not nearly done yet, but I wanted to thank you for this idea. I'm really digging the results so far!

Hmm, interesting development at the end there. Now you've got me wondering if you'll let them off the hook at the end...

Elor - if it's suffering from turkey coma, I'm not seeing it!

Oh man, just when things were looking up, too. I see you're having fun playing with the level of tension :)

g2 - we have Greg to thank for the idea. And everybody who's joined in for the resulting awesomeness!

Looking forward to what you've got for us tomorrow :)

g2 (la pianista irlandesa) said...

So The Key isn't my main focus, but it was something to work on.
- - - - - - - - - -
It then occurred to me there was a problem of accommodation.

Dad was long asleep, and once he was asleep it was often easier to wake up a rock. I wasn't too worried about his reaction anyway. A Norwegian circus wagon blaring "My Darling Clementine" and carrying toy pandas, peanut butter, and exactly seventeen ducks rolled into the front porch once, and he looked as if he had been expecting such a thing for twenty years. Explaining that I'd found an extraterrestrial life form in the watermelon patch would get a mild eyebrow raise and a "Well, that's somethin'," only if he was feeling ambitious.

Mom would ask questions, but she was out of town for the next two weeks. I'd have time to figure out answers.

No, it was my brothers I was worried about.

Is something wrong?, Ime chirped.

I hesitated. "Not exactly… I'm just trying to think where you could stay tonight, at least until I figure some things out." I started to stand up.

What sorts of things?

How to say it delicately? I bit my lip. "Let me put it this way: Some people are friendly and willing to treat you like a fellow person."

Like you.

"Right. To others, however, you'd just be a curiosity to be admired, at best."

At worst?

I was afraid of that question. "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not think about that." Ime cooed nervously. "The key," I continued, "is to make sure those sorts of folks don't find you."

And the first part of that challenge, I thought, was to keep my brothers as far away from Ime as possible.

Where do I go to stay safe? trilled Ime nervously.

"I think… the barn loft. It's a bit musty, but it should be safe. Come on." I started across the field, Ime trotting behind, but quickly falling behind. "Here, I can carry you on my shoulder." Ime was a light little thing, much to my surprise.

It didn't strike me as odd that light leaked from under the barn door. One of the boys must've left it on, I figured. I fiddled in my pocket for my keys when Ime trilled.

The lock was undone, and the door was ajar.

I set Ime down just around the corner, put my finger to my lips, thinking "Stay here, don't make a sound" as clearly as I could. Ime squeezed my hand in understanding.

I crept as close to the opening as I could, holding my breath, listening, and dreading.

Light metal against metal, and a staticky radio in the background. I prayed it was only Jay, a cousin who came to help from time to time.

"Pass me that wrench, would'ja Finn?"

"Get it yourself, ya lump."

"Look who's the lump, you're just sittin' by the radio--"

"Shh! They're talkin' about somethin' that passed over the airfield a few hours ago."

I bit my tongue. The last two people I wanted to see, and they're in my first hiding spot.

Wasn't that always my luck.

Marc said...

g2 - hey, as long as you work a reference into the prompt at some point (which you did - twice even!) I have nothing to complain about :)

Interesting developments. Onwards to tomorrow's writing!

Aaron said...

I am really enjoying this. It is the longest piece I have written in a long time. I love this blog. I am having a ton of fun. Wish I would have got in on day one.

The council of the Delta crew had been closed to Epsilons. It was the first time a meeting of an elder crew had ever been held in private. It had made Epsilon-442 very curious.
Life aboard Eden was the most blissful time humanity had ever experienced. So claimed the Deltas and the Betas before them. Gaia could not refute it with a single byte of data in her hard drives. Yet, Epsilon 442 had often felt like life aboard Eden lacked a certain something. He was the head science pupil in the academy, had even coded usable programming for Gaia in his second year. In science he was accepted and praised but his social life was the opposite. It was his curiosity and daring that made him a great scientist but outside the laboratory those traits made him an outsider. Epsilon Crew was the most placid and zen of any of the crews on record. Most Epsilon's spent their off watches meditating in the star room. Praying and meditating had been encouraged from day one of the voyage. Part of the genetic modifications to crew Alpha had been an instinct to feel calm for long parts of the day. Pre-evacuation scientists had long known meditation to be the antidote to stress and anxiety, 2 pre-evac feelings long since abandoned.
Epsilon 442 seemed not to have an impulse to meditate instead he stalked the communal areas, always trying to engage in conversation with other crew members. When he grew tired of carrying conversations he went to the science rooms to tinker with his latest invention.
Epsilon 442 did have one friend aboard Eden, Gaia, the ships semi-sentient computer.
"They secreted the meeting Gaia! Do you realize what that signifies? We are witnessing the symptoms of anxiety! Perhaps even the beginnings of panic!” Epsilon 442 could barely contain his excitement and his whole body vibrated with it, “This anomaly is creating emotions in the crew that some have never felt before. If only I could scan their brains as they think about the anomaly."
"442 you are missing the point. The Deltas are afraid for good reason. Computer simulations determined a space vehicle capable of catching Eden and then disappearing are impossible with our same technology. Conclusion: The anomaly is technology even more advanced than our fusion drives and nanotech repair systems."
"Gaia, don't tell me you are worried. I had no idea you had emotions. Tell me who coded your worry program?"
"Sarcasm detected. There is no need to anthropomorphize me. I cannot be worried as it is possible for you. There is no infinite soul to feel in all the miles of my circuits. However, even a computer can understand the probability of scenarios. I detect how curious you are. I am surprised. What keeps you from hacking into the Delta crew meeting."
"Gaia, are you capable of lying?"
"No, I have no programming for deception."
"I unlocked the Delta crew meeting five minutes ago. I am surprised you didn't detect that. The hack was easy enough, too easy actually. I felt like a key was left next to a locked safe just daring someone to open it. Still it is not as if I put a key in a lock, and Delta crew will never detect my intrusion."
"No, of course not."

Marc said...

Aaron - that makes me so happy to hear that :D

Intriguing developments, and I think you've got a great character here to carry the story forward. Nicely done!