300-word Writing Challenge #32 (January 2019) -- VICTORY TO VICTORIA SILVERWOLF!

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johnnyjet

Western PA High Tech Country Boy
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#21
An Explosion of Clocks

He looked through the translucent walls of his prison and wondered again how he could have fallen into this carefully planned trap. He was the Master of Time for heaven's sake! He should have seen it coming. But, he was no fortune teller, only an administrator.

Through the wall of clockwork parts, tubes, dials, wires, and switches, he watched the busy people rush by, never giving a glance toward the oddly decorated wall, never wondering why it was there and what its purpose was.

Time passed. How much time he didn't know. He lost track of it in this timeless prison.

Then he spotted the small squatting figure of a gremlin, popping in among the busy people, anxious to be disruptive. It looked around for things to dismantle, and soon began working on a parked car. In short order, pieces and parts were scattered about the sidewalk.

He tried to concentrate on its mind, to make it look this way. What would be more fun than dismantling a wall of clockwork parts?

Finally, when he was about to give up, it looked. He watched it perk up. It rushed over and began tearing apart his prison. No challenge could dissuade a gremlin from its deepest desires.

And so eventually he was free. His captor, however, was long gone. He would have to deal with the woman later. He had time on his side.

Time had clear rules. Many events in time are shielded from interference when they are deemed critical path events. But assisting a homeless gremlin in finding a new home on a small planet was an event of micro significance.

And, as it turned out, that gremlin had a happy life among the pariahs of this world, and a bright future in the demolition industry.
 

mosaix

Shropshire, U.K.
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#22
Don't Think About It.

“So, you destroyed the machine?”

“Yes.”

“Why? You were instrumental in its design and construction.”

“Its use would have meant the end of humanity.”

“Really? Explain.”

“Well, I used it.”

“What!”

“It was ready. So I tried it.”

“Alone?”

“Yes.”

“It worked?”

“Of course. I knew it would.”

“Putting aside the seriousness of what you've just admitted to the tribunal, just what did you do, exactly?”

“I did what anyone would, given the opportunity. I travelled forward in time. Some seventy years in my case.”

“Why?”

“Think about it. Given the chance what would you do? I suppose you think you'd look up the lottery numbers. Everyone thinks that at first. I did.

But dwell on it a little longer. What's the one, unanswerable, question that lurks at the back of everyone's mind? The question that fleetingly passes through our consciousness but that we pretend doesn't?”

“I'm not quite sure...”

“Yes you are. I see it on your face. Go on, put it into words.”

“Well...”

“I'll help you out. I've seen my own gravestone. Pretty awesome eh? But pretty horrifying as well. Nobody really believes they're going to die. Oh they know it. But do they actually believe it? Do they actually believe in the reality of a red-letter day in the calendar specifically for them? I tell you, once you know that exact date it becomes the focus of your life. Everything else becomes meaningless, pointless. Time travel would mean the end of civilisation. The end of progress, the end of us striving to better ourselves.

You might as well lock me up now, I've got nothing better to do. And you're going to in the end anyway.”

“You presume to prejudge the decision of the tribunal?”

“Oh yes. I know that as well.”
 

Perpetual Man

Tim James
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#23
A Game of Fatal Chance

This is what we have called The Still.

Well, it’s more of a nickname really, the real name is the Lirby-Kee Refinatorium, but when one of the students saw all the piping and tubes on the outside she said it looked a still and it kind of stuck.

Now, now I know that you are not here to hear me waffle on about the machine or process itself, no matter how clever it might be, you are here about the results.

So, the results is shall be.

As requested, we have combined the required chemical and genetic components and have succeeded, to some degree, with the results that were desired.

All I need do is turn the tap, distil, heh, some of this fluid and carefully fill a hypodermic syringe, and voila may I introduce to you to G/EC2.

The first formula was inert, but this, this one if active, albeit with some small ‘issues.’

As asked for, a single injection will alter the recipients genetic structure giving us, and by us, I mean you the facility to create your own superbeings.

There is one slight setback. Although the drug must be considered a success, it is not a complete one.
As with anything of this nature there are going to be slight… variations, dependent on the person receiving and other random considerations.

There are three most likely outcomes.

First, as hoped, 54% of subjects develops undefined abilities or basic to godlike powers.

Second, there is no change, the drug is rendered inert and the person remains baseline human.

Finally, the G/CE2 causes a toxic reaction within 39% of individuals causing a rather protracted and painful death.

Russian roulette, one might say.

So, ladies and gentlemen, who wants a dose?
 

Shyrka

Friend of Ulysses
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#24
Uisce Beatha

Herdy gagged as the stench of dead flesh and vegetable matter hit her. The Supervisor laughed.

“Not hungry?” He reached for the bowl with a withered arm. The Supervisor was ancient, like all humans. His patinated, leather-brown skin reminded her of the pump-bladders she’d repaired as a child in the still sumps. They had smelt better.

“Expect you’d rather have this, mm?”He dangled an ornate syringe in front of her, grinning toothily. Yearning blossomed in her gut. Without thinking, she reached for it.

“Ah ah,” he chided, pulling it back. “That’s not for the likes of you.” His arm snaked around her waist and hauled her close. She squirmed briefly then went limp – bitter experience had taught her it was better not to fight. She closed her eyes and tried to think of Remy.

---

Herdy gripped the syringe, heart pounding. Why had she taken it? The humans would surely notice it was missing. The vision of Remy returned, of her brother’s form, bloodied and broken, cast down by the Foremen for daring to demand ambrosia. All he’d wanted was their fair share.

Her grip tightened. The needle pressed against her flesh, mimicking the humans’ own blasphemy. She pushed.

Herdy’s world exploded in pain.

---

Ambrosia sang in her veins like a hymn. With one beat, she soared high, shells from the panicked Foremens’ flintlocks rattling uselessly past her. She dived again, smashing them aside like ninepins. She drew up before her huddled compatriots, pinions flaring.

“Brothers and sisters!” she cried, her voice echoing around, the power of ambrosia flooding her being. It felt divine. “The humans and their great machine have taken much from us. For too long we have been denied. Today we take back what is rightfully ours!”

“Today we take our share!”
 
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chrispenycate

resident pedantissimo
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#25
Those magnificent apes (in their flying machines)​

The gauges showed them running low on acid again - how could that be? The magnesium ribbon that fizzed and bubbled in vitriol to produce the gas that lifted the aerostat, but also fueled the lightweight gas-turbine motors that dragged it through the air were fed by a clockwork mechanism which was running predictably. Sabotage? "Weigh the carboys," suggested Max "concentrated vitriol is denser than water."

His hand signals alerted a service gibbon which swung down and diligently watched his sign, before brachiating down holdwards for another carboy. Graceful, almost flying - lightweight, that's what a flying race needs. He was a small, light man, as were his engineer and navigator: Trelawny's sailors were stronger, and better trained with rigging, but sails weren't going to win this race. Graf Himberg's steam engine was immensely massive, and both the fuel and water required would be heavy, too: enough that they couldn't carry enough for the entire trip, but would need to lower crew to buy or collect deadwood, and pull up water in casks.

The trans-African air race should be danced, not boot-marched.

Khan Nurlan's giant fishgut fresnel lens and hot-air engine held promise, but his Kazak eagles would never hold discipline to direct his entire flight - and without them steering, navigation would be impossible. And the man had brought a woman with him as crew - hardly the sport intended.

The ladder going from nacelle to the flat platform on the gasbag's apex was structurally part of the airframe - no luxury like lifts. And the platform itself was the roof of a storage cupboard containing the telescope (for navigation), a heliograph, several rifles, an LMG, and cooking gear.

They weren't in Africa yet; he aimed the heliograph. A Malta stopoff would get them back in the race…
 

Peter V

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#26
The Test.

After seven long years of training; two as apprentice followed by five as assistant to the Custodian, Gedion was allowed to look upon the great device for the first time.

He stepped back, frowning. Surely there must be some mistake? Either that or his whole life was built upon a lie and the last seven years wasted.

“So if the alarm rings, I insert this final cog into the mechanism and pull the lever?” Gedion dubiously handled the heavy brass gear in question, its surface marked with faded brown stains.

The Custodian nodded.

“And then?”

“As explained, the machine will protect our world. Just as it always has.”

“But not for a thousand years. We keep everything oiled and clean, other than this dirty thing, just in case?”

The Custodian nodded again and took the gear from Gedion.

“But it doesn’t do anything. I’ve checked everything and all that will happen is the cogs will turn. They are not driving anything but themselves. It’s a sham.”

“All that matters is that the people believe.”

“But what if the Darkness comes again?”

The Custodian waved a hand dismissively. “Oh that’s not really what it’s about. It’s the generous stipend and life of luxury it brings. The reverence from the populace is enjoyable too. All yours now boy, whilst I go and live my life on Custodian Island in blissful comfort. And no more pointless training!”

“This is wrong.” Gedion was stunned, the honour of being chosen utterly tainted. “The people must be told.”

“Think about what you would lose.”

“I don’t care about that. I just…” Gedion did not see the savage blow that killed him coming.

The Custodian regarded the body and sighed. Still no early retirement. He wiped the bloodstained cog with his sleeve and put it back.
 

M. Robert Gibson

I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that
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#27
Captain Starshine Invites You On A Trip In His Astrocharabanc

Welcome ladies and gents. Hello you boys and girls.
We're going on a journey that's out of this world.

So we'll say goodbye to the planet of your birth.
That overcrowded, blue green planet known as Earth.

Everyone can navigate and join in the fun.
So let's set the controls for the heart of the sun.

Spin that wheel, turn that dial and fly us to the Moon.
At the speed we are going, we'll get there by noon.

Press all of those buttons with unfettered freeness.
Soon we'll be passed the blue jeans planet of Venus.

Next up is Mercury, the quicksilver planet.
Would anyone like a piece of pomegranate?

With only two planets seen, we've barely begun.
Let's speed it up with a slingshot around the sun.

So now we are on a heading out to the stars.
I bet you all want to know if there's life on Mars?

To you all I offer this warning, most heartfelt.
Please take care as we pass through the Asteroid belt.

Now pull that lever and take us to Jupiter.
But try not to crash. Nothing could be stupider.

Let us put on the brakes as we pass by Saturn.
Look at those rings. They make such a lovely pattern.

Early on in the trip I pointed out Venus.
So now I'd like you all to point at Uranus.

And so we arrive at the mystical Neptune.
With mountains and valleys singing their windswept tune

Now we've concluded our jaunt through the heavens,
Let's head back home, so turn that dial to eleven.

* * *​

Sighing, Doctor Freungler closed the ward's viewport and turned to his visitor. "I'm sorry Mrs Williams, but I'm afraid we can't let your husband leave the asylum while he persists in these flights of fantasy."
 

LittleStar

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734
#28
Rocinante

Felipe squinted into the sun-baked haze. Empty. Few used the old roads anymore.

Andante shook his leather mane. Steam hissed from his withers, buffeting Felipe from the saddle. He righted himself and caught Andante reins, holding a soothing palm on his old iron nose. “I know it hurts.” He glanced along the flank; loose couplets puffed steam with every movement.

Felipe took a drink from his flask, doused a cloth, then looped it with a hiss around the steam leak. “Best I can do, friend. That and walk the rest of the way with you.” It was only a few miles to Sallencia anyway.

Andante snorted his ascent.

Three fast riders rounded the distant bend, kicking up dust with tar-black smoke spewing above. Felipe closed his eyes; he was in no mood to deal with them today. But, some knights still held to their beliefs. Civility. Honour. He repeated.

“Ahh, the great Don Felipe returns. And afoot no less,” Miguel said, brushing his cap-feather and puffing his dandied chest to the other riders. Their sleek mounts danced, glinting in what little sun pierced the diesel smoke. “Have the Knights of Steam fallen so far as to tread the road barefoot?”

Felipe smiled at the young knights, and shrugged. “Don Carlo’s payment will see Andante through another year’s repairs.”

Miguel’s mount stamped a diesel foot in the dust. “Well, on that count you’re tardy. Carlo’s payment was well received when I informed him of his daughter’s safe escort to Vallesantana.”

“But you--”

“I returned first. Times change quickly in this world. So why are you so stuck in the past?” They spurred their mounts on. “Perhaps if you’d ridden you might have been in time.” He shook his head, running his eyes over Andante. “But probably not.”
 

The Judge

Truth. Order. Moderation.
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#29
The Story of Rumpel's Still-Gin


Rumpel let out a breath, then nodded to his servant, Abigail.

For eight hundred years his family had tried to turn straw into gold. He was about to achieve it. Spinning wheel technology still held sway over his older relatives, though now with steam-driven machines, while several cousins had high-pressure furnaces and one dabbled in genetically modified straw. None had succeeded.

But he’d understood transmutation required a catalyst. Years trawling through ancient texts led him to the stained parchment with its note “the one true way to get gold”. Immediately, he’d understood. What better catalyst than the liquidised cereal seed-fruits of which straw was the by-product? Months he’d spent getting hold of the materials secretly, of commissioning tuns, and alembics for his still-gin engine. Months more following the parchment’s instructions as the magic worked. Now, the proof.

Abigail dipped a cup into the already-golden liquid. Rumpel held his breath as she let a few drops fall onto a pile of straw. Nothing.

More drops… the rest of the cup… a second cupful… a third. Still nothing.

All his years of work. Wasted. He stumbled brokenly from the room.

*

Rumpel drew in a gasped breath and stared at Abigail. And at the gold piece she held.

“Happened to taste the Cat Allice, master. Thought I’d try selling a jugful to The Goblin’s Head. Taverner says he’ll take all we’ve got.”

Gold. He’d spun grain into gold after all.

“But taverner said couldn’t call it Cat Allice. Too poncey for drinkers.”

“We’ll name it after the gin.”

“Too late, master. Needed a name then.”

“What?”

“You know I gave the Cat Allice a proper cat name?”

“Yes, Whiskery.”

“He didn’t like that, either.”

“So?”

“So he’s named it after one of his cats.”

“Brilliant. Johnny Walkabout.”

“No. Tiddles.”
 

Ursa major

Bearly Believable
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#30

Less Is Least

“A masterful example of… the School of Bronze Minimalism. Yes, that’s what I shall call it.”
Another pompous fool whose prestige blinds them to anything outside what they consider to be important. Such as the work’s origins, its sculptor’s name, and particularly the history of a faraway world.
“It’s so clean,” the fool continued, “as if the artist had made it yesterday.”
The word, clean, and the name, Skipp Karstadt, meant one thing: Karstadt’s hands would be clean, whatever stunt he was pulling. And Karstadt thought big, starting with taking total control of his planet’s scarce resources.
Not that they were as scarce as people believed. There was just enough to build and equip his robot armies. (Robots, because Karstadt trusted no one. His soldiers could be disabled at an instant; they were built by other, less martial, automatons.)
The people knew nothing about the robots. They knew was that there was little to fight over, so fight over it they did. At the eleventh hour, Karstadt appeared as a saviour, declaring the material world to be sinful. All people needed was nourishment and purpose… to “build a better world for everyone.”
Karstadt turned what brass there was into art; daily life had no need for trinkets. His Art of Scarcity was minimalist: its pieces contained little metal; the building of more robots required the rest.
What, might one ask, would a robot army do on a poor, barren world? Kill all the people there once their usefulness was over. And conquer worlds far less deprived of material wealth.
It all came to nothing. Other worlds also had rulers. All were keen on staying in power. Soon, nothing was left of the robot army, or of Karstadt… other than a dead planet of wretched metal sculptures.

 
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