Ponderings from a Procrastinating Prognosticator

Posts Tagged ‘challenge’

SHORT STORY: A BUCKET OF BOLTS

Posted by samatwitch on December 24, 2011

This is the last of my past group challenges (we have one coming up in January). It was for Christmas and had to contain the words turkey, cinnamon and spaceship.  As usual, I put them all in the first paragraph. 😉

A BUCKET OF BOLTS

“You turkey!” Cinnamon slammed her hand on the table next to Sage.  “In the name of the goddess, why would you buy a spaceship?  It’s not as if we can leave this planet.”

Sage waited for Cinnamon’s anger to abate.  She could erupt like one of the volcanoes on Absinthe, but she calmed down a lot faster – and with much less damage – usually.

“It’s just a small one, Cinnamon.  It was in the used ‘ship lot I pass on my way to work.  It hadn’t sold for so long, they marked it down really low.”

“It’s red!”

“Well, that way it can be seen in any weather and other ‘ships will avoid it.”

“Oh, I’m sure the other ‘ships will avoid it, alright.  It looks as if it will fall right out of the sky in front of them.”

“Nonsense, it has a great engine in it.  It’s only ‘ships with Capissen 38 engines that do that.”

“You hope.”  Cinnamon sounded resigned.  Good, that meant she was starting to come around.  “I guess we might as well keep it; I’m sure the dealers have taken your money and run by now anyway.  Face it, Sage, they saw you coming a light year away!  That ‘ship is nothing but a bucket of bolts.  Does it even fly at all?”

“It will,” Sage replied, “I just need to tinker with it a bit.  I don’t think anyone’s looked after it for years.”

Cinnamon shook her head, but she was smiling.  You had to love a man who was confident in his ability to fix anything.  And his confidence was not misplaced.  Sage had yet to meet a machine he couldn’t improve.

“Let me know when it’s ready for a test run,” she said with resignation.

“Of course.”  Sage smiled at her knowingly.  “I wouldn’t go up without my favourite test pilot.  The trouble with you is you’re so used to those big spaceliners that you fly, that you don’t appreciate the little ‘ships anymore.”

“I appreciate anything that actually flies,”  Cinnamon stated, “and I haven’t see this one do that yet.”

“It will,” Sage promised, “I’ll have it in the air before the Christmas celebrations.”

Christmas was one of those quaint customs that had come to the outer planets with the original settlers, but its roots were lost in the light years and centuries of the past.  Nobody Sage knew remembered little more than just before the end of the year there was a celebration with lights and lots of food.  Legend had it that an old fat man in a red suit flew around the planet delivering presents to children, all in one night.  Since they had both been brought up on Coriander, he and Cinnamon had never experienced such a tradition, but Sage was a realist, as well as a mechanic and he knew there was no possible way that any spacecraft could accomplish such a feat.  True, Pegasus wasn’t a very big planet, but facts were facts: to visit every child on the planet would have taken many more hours than were available in a single night.

Sage spent every spare moment he had on his little red spaceship, tinkering, tuning and replacing parts.  One of the perks of being the city’s (and, truth be told, planet’s) best spaceship mechanics was that he was able to get parts at a discount, sometimes even free.  He always knew when a ‘ship was being sold for scrap but still had parts that were salvageable.  His affinity to make a ‘ship fly when everyone else had given up on it was legendary.

Finally, he was ready.  Sage called Cinnamon out to the shipport to go for a test flight.

“You cut that close,” she grinned.

“I said I’d have it ready before the Christmas celebrations and I do,” Sage protested.

“The afternoon before.”

“Do you want to go for a ride or not?” he asked.

“Of course.  Are you flying or am I?”

“I’ll do the test run.” Sage decided.  “Hop in.”

Off they went, soaring up in the low clouds.  Cinnamon had to hand it to Sage once again.  Her husband sure knew how to make a spaceship fly as it probably had never flown before.   It handled well, seeming to avoid obstacles even before Sage was aware of them – and he was a good pilot.  Not as good as Cinnamon, of course, but who was?

After having put the ship through all the tests he could think of, Sage turned to go home and was astounded to realize how far they had traveled in such a short time.  He and Cinnamon had been so absorbed in putting the ship through its paces, they hadn’t paid much attention to the distance they’d covered.

Now they realized they were on the other side of the planet, heading home at a great rate.

“Wow,” said Cinnamon, impressed, “you really got some speed out of the old bucket of bolts.”

They returned home without incident, parking the shiny red spaceship in the yard next to all the other ‘ships Sage was working on.

Before they could enter their house, they were interrupted by their neighbour.  They’d never seen Sandy looking so excited and anxious.  Of course, they hadn’t known him that long and they had hardly seen him at all over the last month, but he had always seemed very happy and calm.

“Where did you get that spaceship?” he demanded without even waiting for a ‘hello’.

“In the used ‘ship lot on the other side of town,” replied Sage, puzzled.

“I’ve been looking all over for him,” Sandy exclaimed.  “He was stolen last year right after Christmas and I looked everywhere.  I finally thought I would have to manage without him this year but I didn’t think I could, especially with this fog rolling in.”

Sage looked out and sure enough, a thick fog was starting to blanket the city.

“What are you talking about, Sandy?” he asked.  “I bought the ‘ship legally.  I have the papers…”

“I don’t care about the papers.”  Sandy brushed that aside.  “I just need Rudy for tonight.”

Sage was getting a little impatient.  Maybe his neighbour wasn’t quite as stable as they had thought.

Cinnamon joined the conversation.  “Who’s Rudy and what do you want with our spaceship.”

“Rudy is my red spaceship and I need him to help me deliver presents to children all over the world tonight.  I must leave now or I won’t get to all the children.  I’ll have him back by morning.”

Sage and Cinnamon exchanged looks.  “What are you talking about?”

“It’s the night before Christmas.  I’m Sandy Close and I deliver presents to all the children on the planet before sunrise.  Rudy is my guiding ship.  He can see through fog and rain and has the speed that I need to guide my sleigh.”

Cinnamon and Sage looked at their neighbour, astounded.

“You really do that?”  wondered Sage.

“Yes, yes,” Sandy answered impatiently, “but I need to leave right away.  May I borrow Rudy tonight?  I promise I’ll bring him back tomorrow and you can ask me any questions you want.”

Sage looked at Cinnamon.  “We did find it strange that the ‘ship went as far and as fast as it did on our test run.”

“I know, but what he’s saying just isn’t possible scientifically.”

“Of course, it isn’t,” Sandy agreed.  “It’s not science, it’s magic.  But even magic has rules and I only have so many hours to fulfill my duty.”

“Fine,” shrugged Cinnamon.  “But if that ‘ship isn’t back in our yard by tomorrow morning, we will be calling the authorities.”

“Thank you, thank you, good neighbours.”  Sandy shook their hands enthusiastically.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”

With that, he let out a piercing whistle and bounded across the street to where a strange contraption awaited.  It was big enough for Sandy and a huge red sack that perched on the back and had eight four-legged creatures with horns attached to it.  In answer to the whistle, Sage’s newest acquisition had flown across the street and now hovered in front of the animals.  With another whistle, it took off, followed by the animals and the open spacecraft, which were now flying through the air.  Circling his astounded neighbours, Sandy Close yelled down to them, “Merry Christmas, Cinnamon and Sage, and have a good night.”

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SHORT STORY: THE ROBINS

Posted by samatwitch on December 14, 2011

Another group writing challenge, this was for Hallowe’en 2006.  A fire had damaged a local newspaper office and the challenge was to come up with an explanation for that.  Here’s mine.

 THE ROBINS

“Hey mister, you okay?”

The man lying on the ground couldn’t make out the words, but he instinctively tried to reach the voice.  He stretched out his left hand as far as he could and tried to turn in the direction of the voice.

“Please, help me.”  The man’s voice was so weak as to be almost non-existent.  “I need help.”

Gravel crunched under cautious footsteps as Walter neared the outstretched man.

“Hey, mister,” said a voice near his head, “do you need some help?”

“Need help,” the man repeated.

Walter jumped and looked down as he felt something brush his ankle.  The man was reaching out with his hand.

“Please,” he whispered, “. . .  call . . .  doctor . . . warn her.”

“I’ll run home and call 911,” Walter suggested.

“No, no, not the police.”  The man was so agitated, he struggled to sit up, only to fall back limply.

Walter looked apprehensively at the man.  He couldn’t see any blood or wounds anywhere, but the man certainly didn’t look well.   Maybe he had fallen and hurt his head.  He remembered his mother waking him up periodically when he’d had a concussion during a hockey practice.

“Mister,” he asked quietly, “where do you hurt?  Is it your head?”

“Unnh,” groaned the man.

Walter persisted, “What’s your name?”

“Robin . . . Seven.”

“Robin Seven?  Okay, Mr. Seven…”

“Just Robin,” said the man.

“Okay, Robin, I think you better try to stay awake until the ambulance gets here.  You don’t look so good.”

“No ambulance.”  The man became agitated again.  “Call doctor.”

“I don’t have a phone.  The hospital can call your doctor.”

“No, no.”  This time Mr. Seven managed to raise himself up slightly.  With great difficulty, he reached into the pocket of his jacket and  pulled out what must be the world’s smallest cell phone.  He pressed one button but even that effort seemed to be too much for him and he collapsed onto the hard ground, the device rolling out of his hand.

Walter looked at him anxiously and hoped someone would come by soon.  He was off the main roads, but surely somebody would drive by on their way to work.  He had the day off because his teachers were on a course, but it was a Thursday after all.

Walter was sure the man – Robin – wasn’t getting any better lying on the cold damp road, but he didn’t want to move him.  Walter walked around the man to pick up his phone.  Even though it was a dull February day, light was beginning to filter through the trees lining the road and when Walter picked up the object, it was clear that this wasn’t any kind of cell phone that he had ever seen.  He put it back in the man’s pocket, noting a smoky smell when he bent over.  As he straightened, his hand touched the man’s arm beneath his sleeve and he found Robin’s skin to be cool.  Walter wished he had a blanket.  Maybe he should take off his jacket and put it on top of the man.

Just then he heard a thumping sound and he looked up to see a helicopter about to land on the road in front of him.

The helicopter landed and two men, looking very much like the man lying on the ground, jumped out, followed more slowly by an older woman in a white coat.  They all looked as surprised to see Walter as he was to see them.

“He was talking to me a few minutes ago,” he offered.

Three heads swivelled towards him.

“What did he say?” barked the woman.

“Just that his name was Robin Seven and he wanted me to call his doctor.  I don’t have a phone, but I think he called someone on his.”

The three people exchanged looks.

“Anything else?”

“No, he couldn’t tell me where he was hurt, but there’s no blood that I can see,” replied Walter, relieved that help had arrived and yet feeling as if something was not quite right.  Why were they standing asking him questions when the man obviously needed medical attention?

As if she could hear Walter’s thoughts, the woman looked down at Robin and murmured, “You have served us well, Seven.”

Turning to the other two men, she motioned to the man on the ground, “Four, Nine, please take him back to the helicopter.”

The two younger men picked up Robin, one at his head and one taking his feet.

Walter stared in astonishment and growing anger.  He’d watched enough medical shows on TV in his young life to know that something was very wrong.

“Hey, what are you doing?  Who are you?  Where’s the stretcher or your medical bags?”

The woman shook her head slowly.

“I am Dr. Rudolph.  I created the Robin series.”

“Robin series?  What are you talking about?”  Walter felt as if he were in a dream.  What was going on?

“The Robin series of robots,” the doctor explained patiently.  “ROBIN stands for ROBotic INtelligence.  I have created artificial life so that I could place the ROBINS in positions of authority at various CanWest media.  ROBIN 7 was placed at the North Shore News, but his position was compromised when the staff there started going through their archived material for their 35th anniversary and someone realised that he hadn’t aged at all in the last twenty years.  He had to get rid of the evidence and set the building on fire.  Unfortunately, he must have overloaded his circuitry and only made it this far before he collapsed.  With the damage, we couldn’t track him until he pressed the button on his old-fashioned homing device.  But now he’ll be taken home and recycled.”

Walter’s eyes were near to popping.  He had so many questions he thought his head would explode, including the nagging feeling that the doctor shouldn’t be telling him this.

He managed to stammer, “Why?  Why would you put robots at newspapers?”

“Oh,  not just at newspapers, at TV stations, too.  It’s the only way to control what news people hear.  Unfortunately, somehow I wasn’t able to get the ROBINs situated at all the news media, just CanWest and its subsidiaries, but that was a good start – they own most of the news sources around here anyway.”  The doctor shrugged and then started towards Walter.

Walter started to run but he had been so absorbed in what the doctor was saying that he hadn’t noticed the other two men – robots, too, he guessed – coming up behind him.  They grabbed him by the arms while the doctor approached with a needle which she inserted into Walter’s neck.

“Just a pinch, boy, and then you will remember nothing of this conversation.  You won’t be aware of us at all and you will return home with memories of a pleasant morning walk.”

Walter started walking in the direction of his home, oblivious to the helicopter taking off behind him.  When he entered the house, his mother asked, “Anything exciting happen on your walk, Walter?”

“No,” he answered at he went into the living room to turn on the news.

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