This month’s “Son of Pictonaut” very nearly didn’t happen, devoid of inspiration I was conent to let it pass me by. At least until I was seized by an idea 3 days after the end of March.
This month’s image was “Person Going Through a Broken Wire Fence” by Zachary DeBottis on Pexels. On some level I felt a bit like I was channelling John Darnielle. Not necessarily in terms of style, but more in terms of “vibes.” I did after all, finish reading “Wolf in the White Van” last month. But what we have is a stream of consciousness piece that heavily references information I scraped from Wikipedia articles on historical events. Which events should hopefully become rapidly apparent once you start reading the story.
Leave a comment | tags: Pictonaut Challenge, Pictonauts, Short stories, Writing | posted in Pictonauts, Writing
At lot of things have happened since the last post I made here, back at the arse end of 2016. I had a small nervous breakdown, my dad died, I bought a house, I got married. But one thing that there hasn’t been a lot of is writing. At least not fiction. I’ve got a short story of about five and a half thousand words that I started in the wake of my father’s death from what I have been quanitly calling “MEGA CANCER,” but it remains unfished. His suddden, but not unexpected beefing of the coil mortal isn’t really to blame for the lack of words, merely one of a myriad of other contributing factors. Other things have been the focus of my attention: my wonderful wife, picking up art again; fiction just hasn’t been a priority. Although I did release an RPG back in 2021 based on a setting I helped write , that was pretty neat. You can find RoadSpire here.
However, at the start of this month my good friend Sam resureccted the Piconaut Challenge (with my permission) under the name “Son of Pictonaut.” It would have been rude not to participate. So here we are, image in hand; the work of Caspar David Friedrich, the iconic The Wanderer above a sea of fog.
The story is a prequel of sorts to both Yogic and Shaman that I have cheerily titled “The Old Ways Must Die.” Enjoy.
Leave a comment | tags: Pictonaut Challenge, Pictonauts, Sci-fi, Short stories, Writing | posted in Pictonauts, Writing
Over the last couple of days I’ve been playing a lot of Paradox Interactive’s Stellaris. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a galaxy spanning real-time strategy game that is absolutely loaded with random events and AI interactions. These random events and the scenarios it throws up make the game ripe for making self-created narratives in your head.
I started playing it in May, and had some great laughs with a ruler who became addicted to drugs and in doing so accidentally became immortal (I’ve generally been assuming that it’s Melange.) A few weeks back a patch was released that made a lot of my older games incompatible, so I started a new one. I came back to it this weekend to help take my mind off things happening in the real world. (For those following me on twitter you’ll already know that this wasn’t exactly a success.) After two days of almost solid gameplay I stopped for the evening and promptly wrote 2,000 words about the crazy nonsense which had been unfolding. I’ve interspersed the story with some edits of screenshots I took as the game was unfolding. I hope you enjoy it.
Leave a comment | tags: Aliens, Computer Games, queers in space, Sci-fi, SCIENCE!, Short stories, stellaris, War, Writing | posted in Writing
The Ship Breaker (A Tale of Space Fishing)
The mono-fillament line snaked out through the soupy, interstellar morass of the nebula. It spooled out from the primary mass of the Great Xolotar, drifting klik after klik until it floated megakliks distant, rotating gently on its own axis.
The Xolotar’s arcane, machine intelligence tracked eddies in the dust clouds and mapped the bow wakes of far off freighters. From a million different fragments it ran a quintillion different calculations, and pieced together a pixel fine map of the prey-ships within its sensor-sphere.
And with that, it set its lure.
The lure at the end of the line pulsed with a faint EM signature, matching the obscured siren song of standard navigational pulsar 847-2Xp or as the Xolotar’s data files also called it “The Bright Corpse Star of the Sticky Wicket.”
The lure sent out its ersatz radio pulse. Four weeks later it drew an ore freighter towards it, drawn off course by the promise of a safe passage out of the nebula, and straight into the clutches of the Xolotar.
The lure magnetised and clamped onto the freighter’s hull, digging into the plating with barbed snares and jagged teeth. The line snapped taught, and began to draw the ship in.
The freighter thrashed and twisted, cranking its engines into full reverse, but it couldn’t break free. It was caught. Inexorably the Xolotar reeled the ship in. It would not escape now. It would be landed in the grand, rendering jaws of the ancient ship-breaker. Its grinders and cutting lances would shred this ship. The Xolotar would feast once again. It would consume, and it would grow. And then it would do the same all over again. Just as it had done for a thousand years.
1 Comment | tags: AI, catch, fishing, Robots, Sci-fi, Short stories, Space, Whimword, Writing, Xolotar | posted in Whimword, Writing
A Baited Trap Now Sprung
The lift doors slid open. There were two quick, rapid thumps; like a ball hammer hitting a thick slab of meat. Blood sprayed the walls, and two security guards fell to the floor. Their SMGs fell from their hands and skittered across the floor. They were both quite dead. Agent Max Peril exited the lift. He knelt down and snapped the lanyard from around the neck of one of the dead guards. Pocketing the key card, he crept into the heart of the facility, gun raised.
Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly
A woman stood in the gloom of the surveillance room, lit only by the glare of the monitors. Her hair seemed a dark, deep red; like the colour of freshly spilled blood. She watched Agent Peril traverse a maze of corridors, deactivating security doors, dispatching guards, raising merry hell.
“Sweet creature!” said she, the spider in her web, “You’re witty and you’re wise! Come to save poor little, helpless me from the big mean men.” She flicked a small red switch on a panel in front of her, sending a foot-thick security bulk-head shuddering across a corridor that Agent Peril had just vacated.
“Come ever onwards my brave little hero. Come deeper into the trap I have set for you.”
She pushed a small blue button and activated the laser grids, choking off egress through the air vents and service hatchways.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive!
Agent Peril plunged through the facility, borne forward on the wings of duty, chivalry, love, and an all-consuming and entirely irrational sense of judgement and self-worth. He went willingly towards his end. A fool rushing in, where angels feared to tread.
Into a web
Leave a comment | tags: Short stories, spy thriller, web, Whimword, Writing | posted in Whimword, Writing
A Palace for Corpses and the Dead Ghosts of Empire
The plumes of soft, powdery, grey dust drifted downwards slowly under the asteroid’s weak gravity. It had begun to settle around the feet of the landing gear. The ship sank into the thick loamy crust as it compacted the matter beneath it.
Dracnyr stood at the base of the boarding ramp, watching the hull still crackle with the greenish-blue hues of star-fire. It’d be at least a day before the storm of ionised particles from the local yellow dwarf quietened down, and probably another two before it was safe to take off again. Which left Dracnyr the unenviable joy of hunkering down and waiting out the storm.
Dracynr flexed xyr vacuum armoured tentacles and began to inspect the local area. Xe strained with the myriad facets of xyr compound eyes, the dust clouding the deep basin in which the ship now sat, obscuring anything beyond a couple of tendrils. Dracynr blinked and slide the nano-molecule nictitating scanner membrane across their bulbous quintuplet of eyes. The scanners filtered out the noise, interpolating shadow fractals, tweaking photon gain, and splicing in the wavelengths beyond xyr biological capability to see.
The basin began to resolve slowly as the membrane layered the composite images together, scrubbing out the fog of dust and revealing whatever was out there in the cold and the dark.
As the shapes took form they seemed smooth, regular, and vertical, not loose and jagged slopes Dracnyr would have expected from an asteroid basin. Not even the smooth regularity of a cliff-face. It felt far more artificial than that. The walls of basin became coarse and pixelated colonnades nearly half a klyx high. Xyr view traced down from these grand and imposing pillars to the open space on which xyr ship rested. It was a klyx wide and ran in a line for nigh on a decaklyx, bordered by short walls with regularly spaced archways. At its head a titanic portico filled the entire wall. This dead and cold palace exuded a precise and almost offensive grandeur. But how could anything live in the hard vacuum? Why would anything build a palace in a place such as this?
The images sharpened. Dracnyr zoomed in on the majesty of the portico. Its back wall was smooth, blank. The ghosts of what may have been doors or windows flickered on the mass-density scan, all had been bricked over and sealed shut. High above the ground, on this now featureless back wall, there was something written on it. No. Not written: Carved. In great, ragged letters, brutally hacked into façade.
Tendebantque Manus Ripae Ulterioris Amore
Sunt Lacrimae Rerum
The translation banks held all languages alive and dead known to Dracynr’s people. It grunted. Dry. Empty. It did not know what it said.
Leave a comment | tags: Aliens, asteroids, dead world, Latin, palatial, Sci-fi, Short stories, Space, Whimword, Writing | posted in Whimword, Writing
To Tame a Beast
The ropes were thick with soot and grease. They hung heavily from the pallid, white belly of the sky-beast. Stirred by the breeze they undulated and twisted; never still. Uyildi sat in the shadow of the sky-beast’s titanic form, on the hard, unyielding surface of the black-stone field and watched ropes. They snaked through the air a cubit-score above her head, as the sky-beast drifted lazily about its tenuous tether to the spire of the gnarled and crooked iron-tree over two hecto-cubits cloudward.
Uyildi knew the theory, as all the dust-folk knew the theory. Climb the iron-tree as high as you dare, then leap from its branches and try to catch one of the sky-beast’s trailing tendrils. Most failed here. Missing the rope entirely, or catching it but being unable to hold onto its slick surface. People burst like ripe melons when they hit the black-stone from those heights. Then there was the not inconsiderable matter of climbing the ropes all the way to the sky-beast’s back. A few had tried to forgo the leap and reach the pinnacle of the iron-tree so as to clamber along the mooring ties. But that high in the tree the footing was treacherous, the way narrow and sharp. They always fell.
The way along the sky-beast’s spine was said to be slippery and shifting, like walking on churning sand, and with the wind and precious few hand holds nearly all who made it this far plummeted to their deaths also.
In living memory only two souls had made it to the gateway. The doorway which was said to lie in the centre of the sky-beast’s spine. Neither of them had returned.
Uyildi stood up and checked her equipment. Her family’s great-wrench lay tightly strapped across her back, nestled against the weight of the persuasive form of the sacred hammer. She ran her hands through the spools of her ascending ropes and trialled the motions of her rising clips and fastening hooks. Last of all she flexed the wing sheathes beneath her arms. If she fell, like hell was she going to die like a fool.
She knew the invocations and incantations to summon forth life from the beast’s turgid heart, her mother had taught them to her ever since she was a child. Reading from the wafer thin tube-spools, all yellowed and cracking; a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy.
She also knew what awaited those who could awake the sky-beast from its ageless slumber: mastery of the skies. It was a risk worth taking. It was why there was always someone willing to try.
Uyildi took a bite of hard white cheddar and washed it down with chill stream water from her canteen.
Then she set off to the roots of the iron-tree, to start her climb.
(This piece was declared the “winner” with the title of Word Boss)
1 Comment | tags: Dirigible, post apocalyptic, Sci-fi, Short stories, Whimword, Writing | posted in Whimword, Writing
So last week I made my first foray into the world of Whimword. I consequently “won.” Obviously there was the temptation to bow out and live out my days with a perfect record, undefeated upon the field of battle. But you see, the thing with Whimword is that when you “win” you have to pick the next word. And having done so, I thought skipping out on putting together an entry for aforementioned word would be (to use the technical term) a dick move.
The word I chose was “Gloaming.” Which is should a wonderful word to say. So thick and heavy and round in its tones; a much better word for twilight or dusk. this one is a bit shorter than the last, and veers a bit closer to the dangerous and turbulent waters of poetry.
Leave a comment | tags: Apocalypse, Gloaming, Sci-fi, Short stories, Whimword, Writing | posted in Whimword, Writing
On twitter I know a whole cabal of writers. And writers, as writers do, write. One writing exercise that I’ve never seemed to find the time for has been Whimword. The simple concept being: churn out 100-500 words loosely based on a single word chosen by the previous “winner.”
This week was different, I finally pulled my finger out a wrote something for it.
I’m terribly guilty of recycling concepts and ideas, whittling away at them until they’ve been honed into a fine, razor sharp point. This tale was no different, being heavily based on the events and settings of Yogic and Shaman from 2014. Weighing in at 417 words I give you my inaugural entry into Whimword.
1 Comment | tags: Aase Acalapati, Mountains, Shaman, Short stories, The She That Wanders Cycle, Whimword, Writing, Yogic | posted in Whimword, Writing
Things have been quiet on the blog for front for a few months. One might assume that this means I haven’t been doing any writing. This is not entirely true. Between the start of October and the end of December I bashed out eleven and a half thousand words for an open submission. January and February were then spent not doing any writing, as I was consumed by the nervous and uncertain energy of “waiting.” In the end the piece wasn’t accepted for publication, but I’m still inordinately pleased with myself that I actually tried.
With the waiting out-of-the-way I got back to working on one of my pet projects. Gayane Al-Taftazânî and her associate Almund Skeete have made their inevitable return. The stories in and around their strange futuristic world now run in excess of fifteen thousand words, so I thought it high time to give the collection a name: The She That Wanders Cycle. Below is part 4 of Gayane and Al’s personal adventure “On a Bright Angel’s Wings.” As ever, it was an uncomplicated joy to write. I hope you enjoy it.
Image by Tebe Interesno
Leave a comment | tags: Adventure, Gayane Al-Taftazânî, Sci-fi, Short stories, Space, Space Travel, Starwatcher, Tebe Interesno, The She That Wanders Cycle, Writing | posted in Writing