September Short Story Contest-$100 Prize-Redemption *OVER*

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Re: September Short Story Contest - $100 Prize - Redemption

Postby Stanistani » Thu Sep 29, 2011 5:16 am

Two more days, people! Come on, school can't be that bad!
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The Torturers

Postby Talkos » Thu Sep 29, 2011 9:24 pm

Sliding into home at the nick of time, as usual! :wink:



The Torturers

Doctor Jacob Lamb had learned many things in his life about people, how many fingernails one could pluck before the subject would pass out, which teeth yielded the most vibrant pain when pulled, how to burn someone without deadening the nerves, but the one he fell back to today was that to put people at ease, he should never tell the truth.

“As I flip this switch now, we will see if any of you are latent telepaths.” He held up the device theatrically, his hand hovering over a switch that did little more than turn on a blinking green light. “Not that it is illegal anymore of course,” This was technically true, it was no longer illegal to be a telepath, just illegal to be a telepath and not work for the government’s intelligence services. But the eager young faces of the marines and techs of this isolated research station had nonetheless been fascinated by his toy.

“Aha!” He exclaimed. The blinking green light shone dimly in the bright fluorescent light of the canteen. “Unfortunately, none of you get the express ticket back to homeworld.” Perhaps. The device would tell him its secrets later, it was always on, and would not give out any indication of whether it had actually detected any telepaths unless he instructed it to.

There was a mixture of relief and disappointment in the faces around him, there was prestige now in joining the Telepathic Services, hunting down the few rogues that remained. There was also fear, rumors that ones useful life in it was measured in months rather than years, history had not been kind to telepaths. Doctor Jacob Lamb had not been kind to telepaths.

“And since I see my dinner is on its way, as the infamous Benito Kallrone said to the Helionaughts “Begone cretins, away to your blasted moon, and I to the dining room!”” They laughed, of course they laughed. The Ballad of Kallrone was ever popular for its gallows humor among those on the frontier, and there were few places one could be more remote than here.

“Well, aren’t you the popular one, Doctor.” Sergeant Yolanda Howard slid into the recently vacated plasticine seat across from him, two trays of grilled meat clattering against the metal table. Her dusky skin and exotic almond eyes inherited from her father complimenting the drab and olive uniform of the stellar marines like few others.

“Soldiers and technicians do love new toys, whether they shoot, beep, blink or explode.” He replied, pulling over a tray and stabbing a piece of meat, still steaming and dripping with juices.

“And what great person said that one?”

“I did.” He smiled, although it didn’t reach his eyes, it rarely did. “Thank you by the way, I do enjoy it when you call me a great man Yolanda.”

“I don’t like it when you call me that in public.” She frowned at him, a lightning flash of anger carefully repressed.

“And yet I can. And thus I will. Compliments to the chef by the way, this is delicious.” He had known her mother, who had spoken of her often. The Sergeant would always remain in his mind Yolanda.

“It’s one of those Honna Lizards we caught yesterday, they’re good eating, but we rarely catch them.” The frown left her face, a storm cloud passing as it always did in the presence of Doctor Lamb.

“Ah, yes.” He replied while slicing some meat from bone. “It seems these were adolescent specimens, although we had to do a rush job on the first, the later we will be cutting open tonight. And despite their scaled skin are quite warmblooded....well, not this one anymore of course.”

“I don’t know why you have to go through with that. We’ve eaten these before, and Doctor Landorf must have left some records of their anatomy.” Her head shook as she spoke, and her shoulders looked almost as if one had heaped the entirety of the Star Confederation’s bureaucratic inefficiencies upon them.

“The good Doctor Landorf also died, along with the former chef and two kitchen assistants, after eating something that he had deemed safe. Which by all accounts tasted and smelled like lemony peaches. So you will forgive me if I place little faith in his trustworthiness as an expert source.”

“Yeah, if they hadn’t been sneaking snacks we would all have been dead after pie.” She chuckled, the laugh of someone who had seen death enough times that black humor was sometimes the only kind that she could appreciate. “Of course it would mean that I wouldn’t be enjoying your company right now. Why are you here Doctor? This is not a place I would have expected to see you, given, well...” Her voice trailed off as she spread her hands wide on the table, there were some things best left unsaid.

“You mean you do not believe that I have volunteered for the excitement, adventure, and lust for exploration that so infects everyone else in this room?”

“Yeah, I know bullshit and that’s just piled right out in the open.” She shrugged. “Be straight with me Doc, why are you in the ass end of nowhere.”

“The new administration ever wants to get rid of the dirty business of the old, truth, reconciliation, transparency, those are the buzzwords of the day back on homeworld. They found my continued presence a reminder of what rough men had done on their parts to keep them safe. And thus here I am, far from them and far from any inquiries that the media might have sent their way. Not an order of course, but a strong suggestion, now if you will let me to the rest of my meal Yolanda, there are few pleasures out here to take, and this I believe shall be one of them.”

-----

“And did you enjoy your time with the unwashed masses Jacob?” Doctor Mikhal Reynard wiped a crumb from his beard, barely sparing a glance towards the open door.

“They are hardly unwashed Mikhal, the good Sergeant assures me that they are washed down once a week at least, whether they need it or not.” Off with the coat, on with the scrubs. The room was sterile, stainless steel fixtures, with a drain in the corner that saw frequent use. “Perhaps if you got out with them more you would see.”

“I would see that they do not respect us.”

“Should they?”

“Another lesson Doctor?”

“Always.”

“Well then sir, I will let you begin to expand the realms of human knowledge. The specimen is in the large cage, beware the talons.”

The Honna Lizard scrabbled at the sides of its cage. They had not found a compatible anesthetic yet for the fauna of Honna’s World. Measuring nearly five feet from head to tail, with powerful tendons stretching through its six scaled legs. Its pebbled skin broke into almost a feathery set of spines near its overly large head and snout. This one came in at around fifty pounds, although the marines had seen ones they estimated at twice that weight. Difficult to quantify though, as they were notoriously elusive when encountered by humans in groups.

Doctor Landorf had reported being able to approach groups of them alone, but Jacob had no desire to repeat the experiment. Despite a inviting climate, the flora and fauna of the world created a more hostile environment than he desired.

The creature bucked in his grasp, trying to tear at Jacob’s bite resistant gloves, but to no avail. Its independently tracking eyes flashing wildly as it was strapped down.

“Are we recording for posterity Mikhal?” Jacob Lamb asked.

“Of course.” replied Doctor Reynard, a silvery blade, outstretched in his hand. “Scalpel?”

“I have to say, I do not like this part.” he said, hesitating. “It goes against all experience.”

“Doctor Jacob Lamb, the Butcher of Camp Wasse, having an attack of conscience?” Doctor Jenner snorted.

“I did not kill!” replied Jacob.

“Ahhh yes.” said Doctor Reynard, his voice mocking, mimicking Jacob’s bass. “To kill is a waste and a failure. We are seekers of truth, the truth that can be extracted by pain and close acquaintance with death, yes, we shall take our subjects to the edge, where they can see the fires that await them in the undiscovered country. That is where we will find our golden truth, when all sense of self is stripped away, and they are naught but animals. Yes Doctor, I did pay attention to what you taught me.”

“Those were desperate times Mikhal, we fought an enemy that could be anyone, that could peer into your very mind and find out your deepest secrets if given half a chance. It was necessary that we be able to peer back.”

“And when else would they let you practice your craft? What other time would I have received such schooling with such passion and verve in the arts of pain? Why I remember whe--”

The lizard let out a loud screech, thrashing and frothing about, frightened chirps and squeals.

“Did you know they could do that?” asked Mikhal, yelling and struggling to be heard over the racket.

“No.” Jacob replied as he slid home the scalpel. The noise stopped as if a switch had been turned, bright arterial blood flashing in the fluorescent lighting. “Even with the restraints it nearly nicked me.” He took a moment then, wiping the scalpel on his scrubs with one hand, a habit of long practice, to examine the talons. A tangled cord hung from the opening forehand and he caught it deftly. “Take a look at this Mikhal.”

“Heh.” Doctor Reynard scoffed. “Better put it in the lost and found pile, perhaps one of our stalwart marines has lost their friendship bracelet.” The cord was woven plant fibers, interspersed with black and gray stones, suspended in the weave.

“Yes, of course.” Jacob put the cord aside. “Curious though. Shall we continue with our grim work then?”

“With pleasure Doctor. With pleasure.”


----

The hot water of the shower was an absolution, a scouring of the soul as well as the body. Food from home may be rationed, mail may be infrequent, and luxuries sparse, but at least there was always plenty of hot water.

Ritual and habit, sanity out on the frontier station required both. Jacob Lamb knew both well, first the music, Beethoven to calm the nerves. The razor was next, despite his colleague's goatee, Jacob Lamb felt that facial hair was a sign of laziness and ineptitude, and thus twice a day he would glide the straight edged razor across his face. One dollop of Bourbon, an affection gained from an old colleague on Earth, medicinal. Then he could begin his work.

Seventeen species of flora were examined, and five specimens of fauna. All measured, calculated, and genetically sampled if possible, including the Honna Lizard. His voice filled the small room, a far cry from the mansions back on Earth that he had once occupied. Notation of coloration, theories of relationships among the various samples, musings on diet and habit, often collected secondhand from the marines that captured them.

The last item was the one that still made his stomach churn and heart tighten. A silent command and the device gave up its stored secrets. A vibrant timeline sprung up, peaks and valleys of latent or active psychic thought, for the three months of work on the planet there had been no mountain, only molehills that registered the inherent psychic energy of thinking and sentient beings. No reason to report to his far away keepers, no friends or colleagues stolen away in the night, only to be visited once again, as they sat in the chair and he administered pain and suffering to reveal their truest self.

But it was there, a mountain of energies detected, Everest. His breath quickened as he looked down to the timestamp, and the almost immediate reaction to contact his keepers quelled as he looked at the date.

“That can’t be right.” he muttered to himself, fighting against his own disbelief. But in his heart of hearts he knew that the device had never led him wrong, in all the years they had used it. Fumbling hands opened the com channel.

“Mikhal.” He said, palms slick with sweat. A grunted reply from the other end, full of the grogginess of sleep. “Mikhal, come to my rooms, I need to show you something, it is important.”

With that he closed the com channel, five minutes perhaps, for the other man to get out of bed and get across the compound, perhaps less? Either way, Jacob Lamb wasted not a moment as he let the device display the energy reading in ever more detail, the mountain expanded, bloomed like a flower, a kaleidoscope rendering that held within its depths secrets that only trained minds could plumb.

The knock at his door was insistent, five solid thunks of a meaty fist. “Computer, pause and hide schematic. Begin active notification of psychic energy.” Jacob said quickly, already reaching for the door.

“This had better be important Jacob.” growled Mikhal, still fumbling with the straps of his robes. “I do no-”

“Wait.” Snapped Jacob, silencing the younger man. A heartbeat in silence turned into two, then five, then ten, before he resumed. “I’m sorry, I had to be sure.”

“Sure of what?”

“Computer, end active notification, open schematic.” The flower blossomed once more, glowing and moving lines of energy, flowing across the air of the room. Mikhal’s eyes narrowed as he stepped around it, taking the floating image in from multiple angles.

“Did you bring me here to see a recording from the Camp Wasse affair?” Camp Wasse, where the imprisoned and tortured telepaths had united into a gestalt mind, and Doctor Lamb had become a household name to frighten those with even the least of telepathic ability.

“Look at the time stamp doctor, draw your own conclusions.”

“Given that all other samples had been processed at the time, I can only conclude that either you have spontaneously developed a high level telepathic ability, which I doubt since you wouldn’t need to ask me any of these questions, or else the Honna Lizard is inherently telepathic. A conclusion which defies all previous understanding of the phenomenon.”

“Think of it Mikhal!” Jacob Lamb’s eyes were unnaturally bright, reflecting the light of the yellow blooming thing in the center of the room. “The Honna Lizard, not only sentient, but inherently telepathic. It explains both the braided artifact and the readings. We have made first contact with another intelligent race, and our first act has been to eat their young!”

“No.” Mikhal Reynard’s hand cut like a blade through the air. “So what if they are intelligent? They are obviously at a very early stage in evolution, barely tool using, and no reports of them having mastered fire. Their only safety is that they are no threat, if they were then even this bleeding heart administration would have no more problem with nuking them than a farmer would plow over a set of thorny bushes. Bury this Jacob, it is poison.”

“Poison? No, we will be poison if we allow the colony to go forward and possibly destroy these creatures. You know how telepaths are still feared, and if it came out later that these were telepaths of such a strong order then it would be slaughter and witch hunts.”

“Bah! They are at a stage where a simply climate change could wipe them out.” Mikhal’s hand stroked at his goatee while he stared down his friend. “We have a good system here old friend. If we recommend this place for colonization then we get our share of the colonial charter. Enough for us to retire on, find a new life somewhere, new names that won’t have people who spit on us and call us war criminals.”

“Is that what you want? To wash the blood of the war off your hands with the blood of innocents?”

“If that is what it takes, then yes!” Mikhal panted, his chest heaving. “Do you know how rare it is that this planet has a complementary environment, how even more rare it is that it has a functioning ecosystem in place that with a little modification can support more than just a few pioneers scrabbling among rocks for algae? Do you want the government to bury our inconvenient selves among the backwaters of the frontier forever?”

“No.” replied Jacob, the guilt of the admission lay heavily upon his shoulders. “It....it could have been an aberration. But I have to be sure.”

“You would risk your future for a pack of stone age lizards?” Asked Mikhal, almost incredulous.

“I ate one. I killed one. A child, an innocent. And you the same for the other one. Imagine if it were a human, would you be able to live with yourself? I have done so many questionable things in my life, and yet here is a chance to save an entire species, I have to find out.”

Mikhal Reynard was taken aback, never before had he seen such passion in his colleague, a professional in their field where Mikhal had been the one with passion. “Go then. Find your proof one way or another, I will examine what you have found here.”

------

“And you are taking us to where the last one was caught in the trap, yes Yolanda?” asked Doctor Lamb. The skimmer was little more than a two person powered wing. Useful for surveying and landing in tight spots, but unarmed and with a minuscule cargo bay, just enough for some survival gear and Doctor Lamb’s equipment.

“Yes Doctor.” she replied, “Although how you intend to find one I don’t know, they’re pretty skittish critters.” Her pistol rode comfortably at her side, but the marines had encountered nothing in the way of dangerous fauna so far. “I don’t see why you needed to go out there in the middle of the night though, it’s a good thing I had a favor to call in with the mechanic.”

“Exuberance Doctor.” He replied, making a few adjustments to the device. “I need to test a theory.” She sighed, but continued on their course. Eccentricity was expected of the Doctors assigned to frontier outposts such as this.

The clearing itself had been used several times as a landing area. Still, old trees lined the edges. The dense forest awaited those that ventured beneath them. The chirps Yolanda would have guessed came from insects, but she knew that they must be some native analogue, one that they had not bothered to collect a sample of. The Doctor had laid out a small set of speakers at the edge of the clearing. Then it happened, a loud screech, followed by chips and squeals.

Yolanda pressed the palms of her hands against her ears, but could still hear the faint voice of Doctor Mikhal Reynard saying “Did you know they could do that?” beneath the clamor, and then it began again, repeating itself for what seemed like an eternity of fear and pain.

“There.” Announced Doctor Lamb, amidst the clamor. “Now all we have to do is wait.”

Sergeant Yolanda Howard opened her mouth to complain, but before she could get words out, they were there. Glowing eyes in the predawn darkness at the edge of the clearing, two sets, four, a dozen.

“Yes!” exclaimed Jacob looking at the telepathic detecting device in his hands, “Yes! It was right.”

“What was Doctor?” Yolanda asked, but before her sentence could complete a presence, alien and implacable entered into her mind. She screamed, and Jacob screamed along with her, the device dropping from his numb fingers onto the soft loam of the clearing.

The presence in his mind, he could feel it as he had never imagined. The carefully constructed walls that he had created over the decades as a torturer, the defenses against telepaths he had forged of pain and memory were blasted away. And in their place, the alien presence saw and learned, he realized then what a mistake he had made. To play the death scream of the child of their race as bait.

He felt Yolanda there as well, watching the tapestry of his mind unfold, his thoughts mingling with the alien Honna Lizard’s consciousness, and with hers. Childhood memories mixed with those of the war, as the face of Marie Howard, bruised and cut showed up. His own voice asking her, unreasonable questions, ones that she had no hope of answering, as he broke her down, trying to find out the truth. She had been but one of many, a sympathizer, an enemy combatant, he realized he was crying then, the screams of a dying Honna Lizard still echoing throughout the clearing.

He reached out a hand to her, but whatever paralysis that afflicted them would not let him.

“I’m sorry.” he cried out. The Honna Lizards were coming closer now, it seemed they had seen all they needed, learned all they required. Their pebbled and spiked snouts bobbed forward as the closest reared up on four of its six legs, the unmistakable shape of a sharpened obsidian blade in its talons. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have taken you here.” He sobbed.

“I know.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper, barely audible over the recording. “I’ve known for a long time. I forgive you.”

His and her screams joined the tortured voice on the recording, but not for long. And soon the only sound of the clearing was once again the cry of the Honna Lizard, and the disembodied voice of Doctor Mikhal Reynard, “Did you know they could do that? Did you know they could do that? Did you know they could do that?”

-------------

Colonial Suitability Report

It is in my professional opinion that the planet HLX-152, colloquially known as Honna’s World is unsuitable for further development at this point. Although it has an atmosphere highly compatible with human settlement, the hostility of the flora and fauna would require a near total cleansing, thereby erasing the advantages gained by an atmosphere supported by a suitable ecosystem. In fact, out of a base crew of 20(plus replacements), there have been 8 casualties, 6 from an allergic reaction to inedible flora known as Landorf’s Folly, and two from an incident with wild Honna Lizards, including my colleague and former chief survey doctor, Jacob Lamb. It is unfortunate that such a deceptively fertile world is home to such dangers, but I have little doubt that any colonial venture sent here will quickly find itself in a dire situation. Although I have be able to inoculate the current base crew against several diseases that the previous resident colonial survey doctor missed, I fear that a continued presence here is only inviting disaster. I have created full reports of the Landorf’s Folly incident and Honna Lizards incident, which are attached to this file. Unfortunately due to a fault in our records computer, the genetic samples and measurements of most of the lifeforms on the planet have been lost. The only remaining scientific record being my journal of recollections. Thus, with a heavy heart I must recommend a 500 year quarantine be placed upon Honna’s World to prevent any further risk towards the general population.

Mikhal Reynard
Acting Chief Colonial Survey Doctor
Last edited by Talkos on Fri Sep 30, 2011 5:29 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: September Short Story Contest - $100 Prize - Redemption

Postby fenriswolf » Fri Sep 30, 2011 6:29 am

Good stories to everyone who has posted so far. I particularly liked the Sci-Fi piece by Talkos. Here is a link to my entry:
Whispers of the Ruling Class

Hope you enjoy it.

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secrets

Postby Falamh » Fri Sep 30, 2011 6:38 am

Julia C. Miller

Her hair was like silk, as it slipped through my fingers. Her eyes were warmly gray, and shone whenever she held back silent laughter, which was often. I see her before me, in the darkness, and I can almost hear her voice in the thrums and whispers of the electronics around me.

The half-dream is no comfort. There is accusation in her eyes, making them cold as a Xylian sea. The murmur of half-voice takes the form of my misdeeds. You, the voice only I may hear says, you monster. What have you done? How much have you told them? What HAVE you done?

"Sandra," I whimper as I close my eyes against what cannot be shut away. I breathe her name, nearest I have to sacred thing, but can do no more. Who knows what they make of such mutterings, when they listen to the recordings. Or perhaps it is a live feed.
I am valueable, after all. Valueable enough that the worlds think me dead. I am theirs, and they know I am holding out on them, but know that to damage me too greatly would make me worthless. They have what they have taken from me, but so long as I live, I can give them more. I must, for the day they realize they have taken everything is the day they will push me beyond my limits. The day they will take her, if she still lives. All I have left, they shall take from me.

I have given them no part of her. I dare not, for they may be wiser than they seem. They must be, to have not simply tortured me for all I could give them in a rush, for my secret laboratory and my arcana I could never share with the interplanetary authority, and then killed me.

It is what I deserve. It is what a monster of my caliber deserves. The weapons I have made for them are nothing, compared to what I have kept from them.

They chain me to the bed, so I am unable to even curl up against the half-dreams, to seek comfort in the warmth of my own skin. What little comfort there could be, anyhow. I wish I knew if she was alive or dead. I could stop, if I knew she was dead. I could simply stop, refuse to work for the fiends anymore, and let them kill me. Let them use their drugs and devices to dredge from me all I ever knew, my darkest secret, and then finally kill me.

In this limbo, though, I must comply. If she lives, she...

I did what I could for Ambrie, I think to the ghost that haunts me. I did all I knew how. I couldn't lose her! You must understand, Sandra, I couldn't lose her, too! You were too far gone. There was nothing left, not enough to salvage, your head had been crushed, I couldn't even test...I...It is what I knew how to do. What I thought I must do, when I saw what was left of her in that support unit.

I couldn't lose her, too. And so, I became Frankenstein.

This. This is what they mustn't know. It was Sandra who worked so fervantly for acceptance of medical application of robotics. Who devised, in laughing tones, in playful theory, what our daughter became. Oh, not all of it. She was the doctor, I the roboticist, the cybernetics genius so prized that our every move was dogged by guards, more like celebrities than people of science. She was every bit as brilliant, of course, but doctors do not quite create the same kind of controversy as those in my line of work.

Or did not, until she grew too enthralled with our mind games, and wished to see a society where they could be actualized. I wish activism hadn't come with the birth of our daughter. Not because I envied her the attention it garnered, but because I feared it, and feared it rightly. Or may have.

It may have been me, they killed her for. But it may have been her, and her dreams, her hopeful, beautiful dreams. When I made my choice after seeing what was left of our Ambrie, I made her dreams become her opponents' nightmare. Yet it was Ambrie's delicacy that inspired her to dream such wild things as open acceptance of cybernetic supports beyond the most primitive of false hands and most clumsy of regulatory devices. "If she lost an eye," she would say to me as she cradled the sleeping child, "if you're right, we could make her see again. See it all. The world's too beautiful to just rely on guides. If only people were more accepting, we could give them back the WORLD."

I gave Ambrie back the world, as much as I could, after the accident. But I couldn't hide what I had done, and Sandra never achieved her world. Far from it. The suggestions she rose had drawn out old fears, fantasy and horror blending into reality, and I never had the heart to tell her what I could see, what she chose not to--that her campaign stirred people to fight, stimulated others to fight for laws to protect them from the monsters they believed we would create.

They would do such horrible things, to the monster I created in the wake of what they did to Sandra. I have to believe it was for her words, and not merely as a message to me. My captors have never bothered to insinuate they were the ones who caused the landing craft to explode.

They are not delicate. They would not keep it from me, if they thought speaking about Sandra and Ambrie would destroy me further, keep me compliant. But the world believes Ambrie dead, must believe her dead.

If there is a God, after all, I would pray that she still lives. If there is a God, he surely would hate me more for such a plea. Still, I would give everything to keep her safe. Her, and what I made for her. The awkward frillwork of metal that replaced her ear. The cool metal that hides the array of electrodes powering the artificial eye I could never disguise as a true one, not with what I could get without garnering attention, wired into her brain. The leg and a half, with all the range of motion any other limbs would have, carefully weighted and fitted to a fragile thirteen year old body I had to treat regularly with hormone blockers against the day I could afford upgrades to account for growth. The left arm, the network of wires threading her spine and her right arm that let her flex her fingers and grasp. The soft plastics and rubbers that replaced much of her jaw, the only human looking part of any of it beyond my one gift to her, for her scalp was too ruined to ever grow hair again—an array of gleaming, bright gold fibers that could be controlled with her thoughts and allow her to grasp light objects.

She told me she liked it. That it was a helper, while she tinkered. She’d taken after me, my little girl. She liked to create, explore, experiment. I couldn’t tell if she lied, because the false parts of her face made her seem forever cheerful and alien at once. I know she lied when she said she didn’t mind the replacement tongue, that could taste nothing, because I heard her weep before she realized I had returned to the bunker where I hid her from the world that would tear her apart, speaking to her toy she’d made herself about how desperately she wanted to taste anything at all. But I know she wanted to live as much as I wanted her to live, abomination though she would be in the eyes of the world. Even if it meant…why, she must be seventeen now, God almighty, I hope that all that hormone suppression stuck, because if she developed much, she’d outgrow her parts and I cannot be there for her.

That is but a small terror, the thought of my Ambrie helpless as the remnant stubs and the deadened flesh kept mobile and reactive through artificial nerves tore away from my gifts. Small only because the world holds far more dangers for my Frankenstein’s monster, no horror in my heart, than ever she did for it.

Such is the way of creations born of love and desperation.

Food must be difficult for her to obtain. She needs to eat, to maintain the biological parts remaining to her. She can’t taste it, but still, she can get sick, and her looks, I couldn’t hide them, I couldn’t get the prosthetics in time, so even if she had money, she couldn’t just go shopping, could she? And there’s the way her charge runs down, for to build a sufficient power pack in her that would require no charging and run the whole network would have meant weighing her down and using substances that could have harmed her body. She has to charge herself, like a cell phone, or she can’t walk, she can’t move. She becomes half blinded, half deaf, and the paraplegic that the accident had left her. If she let herself wind down, or got trapped away from her charger, or got hit by a stun weapon in just the wrong way…even that. Even that is far from the worst that could happen.

She was always smart, I tell myself, as I have told myself since they grabbed me, and told myself more frantically since they showed me the news clips around my suicide. She is smart enough to maintain herself, and she’s smart enough to know I would never desert her like that. She has to be. She was incredibly smart, and I didn’t leave her helpless. Sandra’s gaze in the darkness is all the harder to face as I think again on all her training. On the arsenal I left her with, piece by piece. Most of it was probably not deadly, if you handled it right, but some of it…

I wince. The chains rasp and jingle a bit, and I open my eyes, but cannot purge from my mind the image of my wife’s disapproval. She was a doctor. She wanted to save lives, to better lives. She would never forgive me for the time I spent training Ambrie on how to kill a man if she must, on how she must if it meant keeping our secret. Not for my sake, well, a little for my sake, but more for hers.

I should have disappeared myself, after Ambrie woke from her coma and learned her body. Yet instead, I faked sabbatical to protect her until she could handle herself, then traveled between our secret and my old world. I told myself again and again that she needed the money, that I needed the prestige to find parts for her.

I lied to myself, to pretend that I was not a little afraid of my own creation, that I could bear more than irregular visits to see her kept in supplies, making certain she was trapped forever physically thirteen, unchanging until I understood how to make her parts change with her. It was an elaborate lie, and I rarely fooled myself. It pained me more that she called the little companion she constructed from scraps after her mother. To see this ruin of my promising daughter, her Sif’s hair flowing over cold metal plate set into otherwise soft face that had once been brushed by mouse brown hair more lovely than those cool strands because it was human, real, was agony.

To see her not at all, to not know her fate, is a greater agony still. “Sandra,” I murmur, and only realize it is aloud when the rasp of it interrupts the ghostly hint of her voice. I close my eyes more tightly, tuck my chin against my chest, the uncomfortable rasp of beard a prickle through thin shirt, and pray to her memory, for if God would not hear me, if any vestige of the woman I loved remains in this world, surely she would. Protect her, I think. Keep her alive. Whatever happens, she must live. She is alive, no matter what they’d say, and you know it.

Keep her safe, and alive. And keep her from the ones who would euthanize her, or throw her on a table to try to tear apart and map my secrets.

A new day comes with a glare of fluorescent lights, one buzzing at an uncomfortable pitch, and the awareness of jailer, nurse, whatever I was supposed to think on my attendant as, loosening the night’s padded manacles and urging me to dress. It feels too early, but I hardly sleep, so it is surely a trick of perception.

Perhaps she is eighteen, now. The days are all so similar.

There seems a greater tension in the man’s shoulders. I have never asked his name, for to give him a name is to make him real, more real than just making sure I remain healthy enough to create for my captors. They give me names, and I wash them away, they give me orders, and I work in silence, praying for the day I can either find my way out or know she is gone, so I can give up without betraying her. But the tension could be imagined. He always walks briskly, always hurries me along. It is an uncomfortable thing that he doesn’t stop at the restroom, but I offer no complaint.

I am empty, and I am compliant. I create death for them without complaint, without offers of innovation or condemnation for their choices, least their frustration drive them to press me to tell my secrets. I remain relieved, day after day, that they see my compliance and don’t simply buy into tales of drugs to strip away restraint and drain me of all.

We turn left where we should have turned right. Now, I know something is different, something is the matter. The facility is full of hums and clicks, hushes and whirs, but no sound to explain why I am lead through a door marked No Entry, into a room lined with computer banks where two others work furiously. The door falls heavily closed behind us, with a great, metal thump.

“Sit,” I am told gruffly, and unceremoniously pushed towards a chair away from the computer banks. “Things get noisy, you get down. No bright ideas,” he adds, his terse voice sharp and sour.

I sit. I say nothing. He pulls something…a stunner, I think…from his belt, then moves to stand beside the door, waiting.

There is no other entry, no other exit. I sit in silence. There is a flutter of thought that perhaps I could overpower him, claim the stunner, and…

And what? I have never seen the whole complex. Perhaps I could take a prisoner? One of these, maybe?

They focus intently on their screens. There is a tension in them, too. I wonder if they have as much to fear as I, and my eyes fall to my hands, to the dull fingernails and fine, pale hairs over the backs of them, coarse, cracked fingertips, the mark of my wedding ring long since faded. They took it, after all, when they took me, and there is no natural light here.

I am a laughable thing, with a promise of freedom, or a chance at it, so near, but too afraid to try. If they killed me, I could tell no secrets. If I could find so much as a nail file, I could even up the output on the stunner enough to stop my heart, end me, end it all.

But I can do nothing but stare at my hands. Here is an ink stain and here is a crack. They are growing thinner skinned. They are fragile and yet broad, clumsy and parched. They break in ridges, like the dried-out mud in drought plagued lands.

A klaxon sounds, somewhere, its wail thinned by the walls, the heavy door. There is a more frantic race of fingers. The guard cum nurse tenses, and I wonder if it is a modified stunner after all.

There is a concussive sound somewhere, soft and muffled, like the pop of a champagne cork. Another. A hum, buzz, and then the lights go out, though the console-glows endure. And then, accompanied by snapped explicative, even that light is extinguished.

There is cursing. I am still. There is fumbling. Sandra never cared for rough language, she would have been in a furor at all this.

The fumbles are followed by a thin flicker of cigarette lighter, hinting at the outline of one of the console operators. He stoops, and I can vaguely tell the other is groping desperately beneath the mass of wires, as though convinced his power source couldn’t have been cut. There is a yelp, and we are plunged into darkness again.

Then, there is a rattle, a click. A grate and hiss. A net of arcing electricity, beautiful and wild, branches across the metal doorframe, dances across the door itself, and embraces the man with his stunner, strobing across him as he screams. Something like a metal spider is vaguely visible. The operators scream.

I think I am silent. I do not move. I am still, I am stone. There is nothing to move for. Not unless these are some fools who would play my masters, too. Only if they seemed so would I try to escape. Through death, or through the door. Whichever came more simply.

The man falls dead, and there is a light whisper of tinny sound, then a rise of warm light, and in the light is born Sandra. Her soft auburn hair, her gray eyes, her favorite blue sweater, even the necklace she always wore, a flickering ghost that looks to each of us as a thinner, more watery light plays over each in the room. She hovers over this spindle-limbed thing, which shifts a bit either way, then directs her illusory gaze towards the two cowering at the desk.

“Remain where you are,” comes a soft, smooth voice, not at all hers. The articulation is precise, mechanical, and smooth. “Resistance will be met with violence.” The hologram smiled, and it was HER smile. “She would prefer you unharmed. Consider yourselves fortunate.”

I remain frozen to the spot, though a new feeling kindles within me. Anger. How dare ANYONE use Sandra’s face? How dare they put that tin can voice on her, that automatic door whisper? I feel around myself. Perhaps I can smash the spindle-legged insult myself.

There is a shout in the hall. Feminine. My blood turns ice, and I cannot move. Full light blooms, thinning the insult, half blinding us all. There is a gasp.

“In here! Hurry!” cries that Voice, that all too familiar voice. “Sandra, hold those other two, while I get Doctor Davies.”

Doctor Davies? Doctor? Was this some parody, too? I squint into the glare, spots before my eyes, dazed. There is a faint outline of cheek. A glint of metal. Some soft, full garment drapes around her, and there is a lash of that sif’s hair I had spun from special reactive agents for her.

“Ambrie,” I breathe, surely damning us both. Who…she. She would use Sandra’s face. The articulated spider was hardly the ‘Sandra’ she had kept in the bunker, too sophisticated to be made of the scraps I had left her to play with, but why would she not think to use her mother’s face?

“MIKE! Get in here. Get them covered. Doctor Davies, come with me. We’re getting you out of here, and you don’t want to be late to the party,” Ambrie told me sternly, her mouth twisting oddly a moment. I can see now that she’s holding some weapon, but it seems a strange conglomeration of several concepts, none quite right. The light rises with the artificial hair’s lifting of it, and she gestures her weapon as though to hurry me along. A man in dark clothing, impossible to make out in the wildly shifting light, replaces the spidery Sandra-device, holding his own huge gun.

“Y’all gonna stay PUT. Or else you gonna meet Jane. Gun earns a name only when its got something special, and I’m ALL too glad to demonstrate,” he drawled. Ambrie stood over me impatiently. A faint frown then touched her features, a light of concern in her single human eye.

“You can get up, can’t you?” she asked. I struggle to my feet, sway, then am herded down the corridor. The skittering metal spider hides its borrowed visage and races with us as I half stumble after her. She is as small as I remember, and my heart is ice. I am dreaming. Surely I am dreaming. And any moment, it will turn nightmare. She will be stopped, she will be killed before my eyes, or worse, she will be captured.

I know it, I am certain of it, it is so real I can almost see it as she herds me onto a service elevator. “We have four minutes, Daddy,” she then tells me in the relative privacy of that claustrophobic, rattling closet. It occurs to me to wonder how it runs, until I realize that somehow her little toy has skittered up cold metal wall and is manipulating it. “So you have four minutes to tell me why the HELL you’re here.”

I stare at her in shock. Stupefied. Why would she curse? Ambrie never cursed. She was too clever for it, and she knew I didn’t care for it, because her mother didn’t care for it. I am so stupid for a moment that I cannot speak at all. Finally, I manage, “I…They made me make things. They said…I couldn’t…Ambrie.” I am an imbecile before her, a moron, waiting for the world to take her as my throat grows thick with tears I cannot shed. “I couldn’t risk it. Serum, force, I couldn’t risk them…you. They couldn’t know about…You’re alive.” I stumble lead-footed to her, then throw my arms around her. The odd weapon is pressed at odd angle between us as I begin to weep. “You’re alive. You’re alive,” I repeat, unable to say more.

“Do you even know who these people ARE, Daddy?” she asks, wedging me away a little. I tremble at her tone.

“N…No. No. No one who should know about you, who should touch you. That’s all I know. I…”

“What they were using you for?” she then asked, and the awareness of the strange gun was heavy between us.

“I…” My voice betrays me, and tears blur her in my sight. “I…couldn’t care. As long as you were safe. I had to keep you in my head, in my heart,” I babble like a fool, then stop myself, close my eyes against the judgment in that glaring, softly red false eye, in the cold blue-gray true eye. “…no,” I manage at last.

The elevator shudders to a stop. “Put this on,” she tells me, and shoves a bit of cloth in my hand. Her fingers are warm, the real hand with the simulated nerves presents me with blindfold. “You can’t see this. I’ll…speak for you, then, Doctor Davies. Mind your manners. Keep quiet for now.”

I tie the thing on obediently, as terror rises. What kind of hallucination is this? What kind of dream? I am driven up stairs. Through a door. There is cool air. I am herded into something, I can hear a rumble and hiss. Voices gather.

“Is that the target?”

“Mike has that in hand. Give him three more minutes, and if he doesn’t show, we’re out. Defend position. You readied the stunner array?”

“Aye, Brie.”

“Who’s this, then?”

“We will discuss that once we get going. Got it?” she answered tersely, and I feel myself pushed to settle in a padded seat. Some kind of aircraft? Well. We had gone up, and up, and up…

There are creaks and snaps and an almost animal hum-rumble of mechanics around us. Cold metal settles against one of my hands. I almost wince away, then let my hand rest.

“Damn it, Mike! Hurry your ass up,” I hear the familiar tones of Ambrie grumble in unfamiliar tonality. I wonder in a defensive sort of way if that hulking figure, barely lit, was something to my tiny, ever-thirteen daughter, and feel a little sick a moment before I tell myself no one would do that. Even if she is seventeen or eighteen really, she still looks thirteen. This is followed closely by an odd guilt. There are popcorn sounds, sharp concussive thuds, and then there’s a wild crackle, followed by a sensation of lift, a bang against metal, and a man, this Mike, probably, saying, “Damn it, kid! Y’said I’d have eight minutes. Cuttin it a little close, ain’tcha?”

“MOVE!” Ambrie commands. I feel the cool metal shift around me, and I hear the clicks of harnesses. It is a disturbing sensation, but I hold my silence as I am settled into the seat by the toy. “Sandra,” she then notes, tones more gentle, “Keep him safe.”

“How do you even know that’s the mark?” someone else asked.

“He isn’t. We left the mark a present. He’s my insurance,” Ambrie replied.

“Insurance? Piss-poor bit of insurance if y’ask me, Brie,” came a second voice, feminine.

“We’ll talk about it once we break atmosphere. Now get settled in! The fireworks will be prettier from orbit, I’m sure.”

“Ambrie!” I exclaim suddenly, shocked by her words. “What are you DOING?”

“You tell him yo’ NAME?” the woman asked, disbelief in her voice.

“We’ll talk about it later! And that goes for all of you!” Ambrie replied.

There is leap, sickness, shift from great weight to forward thrust against the harness, and perception spins. I am all too aware that I haven’t seen a restroom since last night before bed, and feel an urge to retch though my stomach is empty. At last, we settle, and Ambrie says, “Sandra, take the damn thing off. No sense in illusion now.”

The cloth slithers down, and I find myself looked on by the large man from before, face scarred and thick body still harnessed in, a willowy woman with a highly illegal neural implant plug tracing through short cropped hair and leading to some lurid green unit around her neck, and an older man with wild hair and dark, calculating eyes.

“Daddy, I really hope you told the truth,” she then tells me, and all eyes focus on me.

“Daddy?”

“Tha’s your DAD?”

“You’re ALIVE?” The last was from the older man, and suddenly, I recognize him. “Allen, what the HELL. None of this was in the intel, kid, you SURE this is Allen?”

I begin to laugh thinly, breaking down into a gasping hysteria.
“It’s Dad all right,” Ambrie assures them, then loosens her own harness and comes to stand beside me. “I’d think you’d recognize him, if anyone would, Pete.”

“That’s STILL Dr. Wilson to you, kid,” Pete replies, then gives an odd sound. “Holy hell, Allen. They had me ID the body.”

“Not around Ambrie,” I snap.

This earns a bewildered laugh from the woman, and a huff from the massive Mike-creature. He really is creature like. I dislike him more, the more aware of him I am. He has a criminal look. He oughtn’t be within miles of my daughter.

“She’s heard worse, but…respects, little lady. I just…If it’s you, where’d I keep my cred for the vending machine?”

“You? Keep cred for anything? You always got ME to get you something. You still owe me fifty cred and counting for your snacks,” I reply, then shake my head. “Pete, what is…Ambrie. What is going on here? What IS this?”

“It’s a long story, Daddy,” she replies. “But…I knew you were alive. Didn’t I tell you, Pete? I…” She clears her throat, draws her tiny, slim body up, the poncho, purple vinyl that rustles around her, shifting. “Anyway. We’ll have a long time to talk about it. I…It’s good to see you.” Her voice squeaks a little at the last.

“It’s…she really must have listened,” I say in awe, unthinking as I speak. “Sandra, you have watched over her, haven’t you?”

The metal spider shifts, then tilts sensors my way.

“Your…pet’s changed a good deal, Ambrie. I will have to look you over, make sure you haven’t changed too much. I mean…” I stumble, trip on my words, fall silent.

Ambrie slips her arms around me, the hollow weight of the false and the warm of the true coming together to pull me to her. She nestles her face against my shoulder, and I am uncomfortably aware of the embarrassing growth of beard a moment, before I come to my senses and hold her in return. Joy and confusion mingle oddly. Hadn’t it been all frantic hurry before?

“Come on, Daddy. See what we did,” she tells me, then, and I am loosed from my harness, led to a window. It’s a sleek vessel, an orbit-to-land carrier like the one that she and her mother had been in that fateful day. Against the rich patterns of checkered landmass below us, there is a bloom of fire. I tense.

“Ambrie…”
“Beautiful, ain’t it?” she asks me.

And I know myself a monster, myself, as I abruptly give a thin laugh and say, “Beautiful.” Sandra, you would hate me for meaning it as sincerely as I did. But I knew what they made me make. And so, I knew joy.
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Re: September Short Story Contest - $100 Prize - Redemption

Postby Falamh » Fri Sep 30, 2011 6:39 am

*laugh* I think mine shows that yes, I am that busy, actually. :P But there's some neat stuff up!
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Re: September Short Story Contest - $100 Prize - Redemption

Postby Stanistani » Sun Oct 02, 2011 4:59 am

Contest is closed, and here are the contenders!

Under the Broom Tree by lagibby

Journey by Flor Paz

The Torturers by Talkos

Whispers of the Ruling Class by fenriswolf

secrets by Falamh

Some really good stories in here. Proud of you all.

Second prize unlocked.
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Results

Postby Stanistani » Tue Oct 11, 2011 5:08 am

Comments on each story kindly provided by the Rev Bonestripper. Thanks, Rev!

1st Place Winner
The Torturers by Talkos
The main character takes a step toward redemption, but it's his previously indifferent colleague who actually achieves it. Dr. Lamb gets his redemption posthumously; two-for-one in this story. A very nice and rare surprise, giving the story an unexpected happy ending.

2nd Place Winner
Journey by Flor Paz
A rumspringa story. An adolescent forgoes his spirituality and gains empty social success, then begins a return to his roots which he realizes is more satisfying. Well-told, but could have been more active and gripping.

Runners-up, in no order:

Whispers of the Ruling Class by fenriswolf
An entertaining and imaginative tale of an eldritch conspiracy. Excellent in all ways, but runs third in the competition because the redemption is nearly indistinguishable from revenge.

secrets by Falamh
A welcome sci-fi entry, but this is a rescue/revenge story, not a redemption. The narrator simply keeping a secret likely much more important to himself than anyone else is an admiral display of willpower, but does not equate to redemption by itself. If he had somehow arranged for all of this to occur, which is not indicated at all, the destruction of his captors by the very weapons he made for them would have approached redemption, but it would still have been very close to revenge.

Prizes in a day or so.
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Re: September Short Story Contest - $100 Prize - Redemption

Postby Flor Paz » Tue Oct 11, 2011 4:58 pm

Thanks for the advice. It will help me improve greatly.
I enjoyed each story.
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Re: September Short Story Contest - $100 Prize - Redemption

Postby RevBonestripper » Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:40 pm

Accidentally left out:
Under the Broom Tree by lagibby
This is actually a story of vindication, not redemption, which would have benefited tremendously with a more subtle touch. The protagonist has succeeded in his goal to bring his corrupt former employer to justice, and their threats of reprisal have driven him to despair, from which he recovers after outside forces eliminate the threats to him, and offer him rewards for his efforts. The real story of redemption is hinted at in the middle, where he had inside knowledge he used to present his case against the company; he had apparently helped this company perform/hide its dirty deeds, and had a spiritual revelation that convinces him to turn against them. That would have been a better contender in this contest.
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Re: September Short Story Contest - $100 Prize - Redemption

Postby Falamh » Thu Oct 13, 2011 3:29 am

Congratulations, Talkos and Flor!

*chuckle* I sort of figured mine was a bit out there. I enjoyed reading the other entries, though!
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