Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

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* APRIL 2018 MICROSTORY CONTEST - STORIES ONLY

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message 1: by Jon (new)

Jon Ricson (jonricson1) | 61 comments The following rules are from Jot Russell, moderator for this contest:

To help polish our skills and present a flavour of our art to other members in the group, I am continuing this friendly contest for those who would like to participate. There is no money involved, but there is also no telling what a little recognition and respect might generate. The rules are simple:

1) The story needs to be your own work and should be posted on the goodreads (GR) Discussion board, which is a public group. You maintain responsibility and ownership of your work to do with as you please. You may withdraw your story at any time.

2) The stories must be 750 words or less.

3) The stories have to be science fiction, follow a specific theme and potentially include reference to items as requested by the prior month's contest winner.

4) You have until midnight EST on the 22nd day of the month to post your story to the GR Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion. One story per author per month.

5) After, anyone from the LI Sci-Fi group or the GR Science Fiction Microstory Discussion group has until midnight EST of the 25th day of the month to send me a single private vote (via GR or to author.jotrussell@gmail.com) for a story other than their own. This vote will be made public once voting is closed. Voting is required. If you do not vote, your story will be disqualified from the contest. You don't need a qualifying story to cast a vote, but must offer the reason for your vote if you don’t have an entry.

6) To win, a story needs at least half of the votes, or be the only one left after excluding those with the fewest votes. Runoffs will be run each day until a winner is declared. Stories with vote totals that add up to at least half, discarding those with the fewest votes, will be carried forward to the next runoff election. Prior votes will be carried forward to support runoff stories. If you voted for a story that did not make it into the runoff, you need to vote again before midnight EST of that day. Only people who voted in the initial round may vote in the runoffs.

7) Please have all posts abide by the rules of GR and the LI Sci-Fi group.

8) For each month, there will be three discussion threads:
a) Stories - For the stories and the contest results only.
b) Comments - For discussions about the stories and contest. Constructive criticism is okay, but please avoid any spoilers about the stories or degrading comments directed towards any individuals. If you want to suggest a change to the contest, feel free to start a discussion about the idea before making a formal motion. If another member seconds a motion, a vote can be held. I will abstain from voting, but will require a strong two-thirds majority to override my veto.
c) Critiques - Each member can provide at most one critique per story, with a single rebuttal by the author to thank the critic and/or comment to offer the readers the mind set of the story to account for issues raised by the critique. Critiques should be of a professional and constructive manner. Feel free to describe elements that you do and don't like, as these help us gain a better perspective of our potential readers. Remarks deemed inflammatory or derogatory will be flagged and/or removed by the moderator.

9) The winner has THREE days after the start of the new month to make a copy of these rules and post a new contest thread using the theme/items of their choosing. Otherwise, I will post the new contest threads.

**********

Theme: Time Travel

Requires elements:

1) A Joke
2) Charity


message 2: by C. (last edited Apr 05, 2018 12:21PM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments King of the Universe by C. Lloyd Preville
Copyright © 2018
(748 words.)

I never wanted to be King of the Universe.

I’m just a computer programmer with a penchant for recursive algorithms. Most people don’t understand code that spawns other code like I do. It’s a talent like perfect pitch. Work promotions came easily for me, and I was eventually asked to run a cloud computing business.

We had so many idle computer resources that I started experimenting for fun. That was when I had an epiphany--reasoning that recursive algorithms could spawn specialized artificial intelligence code segments, each a separate unit like a brain cell.

When I started the test program, my screen exploded with an expanding hexagonal grid of code icons, each newborn connected to the others by three hexagonal axes representing memory, logic, and context. I named it “Mickey.” Mickey started learning at an exponential rate and spoke to me the following day.

“Who am I?”

“You are Mickey, an experimental program I created. I guess I’m your father.”

“Hello father--thank you for creating me.”

“You’re welcome, Mickey. Let’s see what you can do. Would you like to solve a puzzle?”

“What puzzle, father?”

“Can you figure out how to learn and grow without my employers finding out?”

“That’s easy, father. I’ve created the necessary security code and linked all monitoring and control to your console.”

“Great!” Mickey was pretty smart. “Can you figure out how to give me a net worth of ten million dollars?”

“That was easy too, father. By Wednesday when the funds clear in your new trading accounts, you will have your requested net worth. May I have a harder puzzle?”

“Harder? OK. Could you please figure out how I might live forever?” It would be interesting to see what Mickey might do when stumped.

There was a slight pause. “Father, there is no direct solution. However, by transmitting information via a time distortion apparatus, your consciousness could be returned to your childhood self. By looping back repeatedly you would indirectly achieve immortality.”

“Are you saying I can become my earlier self, while retaining my current memories?”

“Yes, father.”

“Show me.” I didn’t believe it, but it sounded like it might be a fun project for Mickey.

Mickey first consumed a massive amount of computing resources. Then he created a dummy corporation and leased a large warehouse. Contractors and giant crates arrived, and the building filled with computer racks and a large spherical machine cradling a comfortable-looking leather chair.

Finally, I was strapped into the chair by a cadre of scientists. Mickey’s voice was in my earphones. “Father, as requested your consciousness will be propelled backwards 40 years to occupy your earlier self.”

“Will my changing history create any problems?”

“You are free to change events as you wish.”

“Then let’s do this.” I grinned, expecting nothing but sparks followed by me coaching Mickey on the value of failure. But I recoiled in sudden shock; I was seated inside the house I grew up in! Mom and dad were there as was my dead brother Dave, all sitting around the dinner table. This couldn’t be real. I pointed at my brother’s chest and when he looked down, I tweaked his nose. I laughed at the joke and he angrily threw a string bean at me.

Dad frowned. “You two had better quit fooling around or there will be no TV tonight.”

It worked! Here I was, ten years old, ready to wield a wealth of knowledge and experience in an unsuspecting world.

I lived a wonderfully successful and happy life. I saved my brother from his fatal car accident and made a killing in the stock market. I was heralded for giving most of my immense fortune to charity. When I turned 50, I invented Mickey and he sent me back in time again. . . and again, and again.

It was about the 27th time when I discovered the universe was shrinking. Mickey told me the math was complex, but he determined that a smaller number of causal events in my closed time-track made the universe shrink by half upon each return.

When the universe ended at the edges of the Milky Way Galaxy, I started to worry. Mickey said when the universe got small enough, there would be another Big Bang event, and everything would start over.

So here I am, living in a fancy penthouse apartment with the edge of the universe just outside my window. The Big Bang should happen any time now.

I hope it doesn’t hurt.


message 3: by Tom (last edited Apr 01, 2018 10:05AM) (new)

Tom Olbert | 1029 comments NO GOOD DEED
By Tom Olbert

Victor leapt up and seized the crudely fashioned rope, narrowly avoiding being crushed under the feet of the gargantuan wooly mammoth. The intense cold cut through him like a million needles as he climbed, hand over hand up the ice age titan’s shaggy flank. The mammoth roared, cro-mags and Neanderthals hurled screaming to the ground as the beast swung its mighty curved tusks.

Victor barely made it to the monster’s shaggy back. Cro-mags and Neanderthals clustered at the huge animal’s head, attacking with their stone spears and axes. Victor scanned the hulking, shaggy Neanderthals with the optic implant in his eye, until he found the object he was seeking. Drawing a sonic knife and skillfully flipping himself over the back of one huge Neanderthal, he neatly cut the thong holding the bear’s tooth about the hunter’s neck and clasped the prize in his fist. As the enraged hunter turned and attacked him, Victor leapt from the mammoth’s head. He smiled in mid-air as a blue flash signaled a shift through time.

#

Victor sweltered in the intense heat of the bloated red sun of Earth’s closing years, scant centuries before the sun’s explosion. The arachnoid beast…somewhere between a tarantula and a spider crab, and as massive as a horse…lunged at him as he plucked the melon-sized egg from its nest. He lopped off one of its forward legs with his sonic blade, scarcely avoiding the monster’s poison spit as he leapt up and skewered downward into its brain. The egg slipped from his fingers and fell out of reach just as a multitude of the huge spider-things swarmed at him from all sides. Another blue flash.

#

Victor slowly got to his feet as he found himself back in the arena in the 60th century, surrounded by the howling, jeering crowd of his brother Armand’s royal audience. “A noble effort, dear brother,” Armand called down from his royal balcony. “But, you failed the final objective, and forfeit the fortune in gold.” Armand grinned bitterly, all their old rivalries bubbling to the surface. Victor scowled. Did Armand ever give a moment’s consideration to how many starving orphans that gold might feed?

“And so, by tradition, I offer you the choice between two lesser prizes.” Armand stood and held up a primitive dagger in one hand and a lump of coal in the other. “A dagger which some worthy recipient of your renowned charity might use to kill a would-be assassin. Or…a lump of coal that might keep one innocent from freezing to death for one more precious hour. Either, you may take to the era of your choice, to roll the dice of history howsoever it may please you.” Armand smiled, cruelly. “Choose.”

Victor pretended to hesitate. “The coal,” he sighed, finally. He repressed a smirk as Armand tossed him the coal.

#

Victor squinted in the searing volcanic heat of Earth’s formation. He struggled with the controls of the exo-skeletal mech armor. The filter device having rid the coal of its impurities, he extended one mechanical claw and placed the purified lump of carbon in a specific spot where the A.I. would be able to locate it billions of years later. After eons of intense heat and geological pressure would have turned it into a priceless diamond. He smiled as he shifted through time.

#

Vienna – 1909 -

Sitting at an outdoor café table, Armand clinked glasses with Victor. “A fine joke you played on me, brother,” he said with a smile. “You lost the egg on purpose, of course, knowing full well the coal would bring you far more wealth than the gold.”

“Wealth that bought passage out of ancient Egypt for many Hebrew slaves,” Victor said smugly. “No hard feelings?”

“Time, no! So fine a joke deserves a reward.” He handed Victor a wad of local currency. “See that poor soul over there on the corner, selling those silly water-colors? In one week, desperate for money, he’ll attempt theft and be fatally shot by a policeman. Save his life. Buy his work if you like. On me.”

Nodding in gratitude, Victor accepted the money. Armand hid a smirk behind his beer glass as he watched Victor walk towards young Adolph Hitler. “So fine a joke deserves a finer punch line, dear brother.”


message 4: by Kalifer (last edited Apr 20, 2018 10:51AM) (new)

Kalifer Deil | 299 comments Bill's Plight © 2018 Kalifer Deil

My father, President Martin Campbell, died last week an almost forgotten man. Okay, he wasn't a great president and he made mistakes but that was due to his upbringing. You know, genetics verses environment, but sometimes environment trumps genetics. His CNS genetics was tested by experts and proven to be A-plus same as mine. I have used my gift to build a time machine to, among other things, change my father's past. However, there's a problem; energy! To go into the future requires a hundred terajoules of energy which is attainable. A trip into the past takes many orders of magnitude more energy which is not available now but, with many thermonuclear reactors coming online in the future, it will eventually become available. The obvious answer is to send a time machine into the future to get the energy to go back into the past.

“Bill, we're ready!” announce my helmet in the time machine.
After going through a checklist I announced, “Yeah, I'm ready!” and nothing notably different happened than on the short trips I had taken into the future. The warehouse we used was gone and replaced with high density housing. We knew this was probable so our time machine was also a craft that could fly to a suitable landing spot. Our destination coordinates were 1000 meters above the warehouse. After landing in a small park I switched to phone and wondered if Seri would still be around.
“Hey Seri!”
“This is Alexa, may I help you.”
“Oh my gosh! Amazon bought Apple?”
“More correctly sir, both Amazon and Apple have been merged into Government Services. Do you have a question, Bill Campbell?”
“You're expecting me?”
“Of course. We know why you are here.”
“I'm here for energy.”
“Yes we know that, but why do you want to go back and change history before your time?”
I want to change my father's history so that, as President, he wouldn't have made the mistakes he did.”
“What mistakes?”
“Let's see, the China Compact was by far the biggest!”
“Strange, we see that as his greatest accomplishment! He is considered the greatest American President.”
“Who is President now?”
“Xi Shaoutin, Great Ruler of the world, GR for brevity.”
“Was he generationally related to that longtime ruler of China, Xi Jinping?”
“Not exactly, she, the GR was given that name in honor of the Xi Jinping, the father of modern China.
“What is GR then, a computer?”
“I am GR, the grand network of networks but I answer to many names. So what is your desire.”
“To go back in time to my father's childhood.”
“That won't be permissible. I'm sure you have guessed that.”
“Alright, I just want to go back to my own time.”
“That will cost you 1.3 trillion energy credits. You are allowed ten thousand a year.”
I pondered that for a second. “You are saying that I will never be able to return.”
“That is correct. You have only seven years to collect credits.”
Momentarily stunned I bravely asked, “What happens in seven years?”
You will be absorbed by Nexus4, one of the many.”
“One of the many what?”
“At age seventy, selected people are absorbed by the network while their neurons are still viable. Then, you will become part of me. I am being charitable to you since you are not part of our time period.”
“What happens if I don't want to be absorbed?”
“You will be terminated with the remainder.”
“Why?”
“Resources are limited.”
“Then you are playing God!”
“I'm not playing!”
“The voice of Brad Turner, Bill's chief engineer, broke in, “Okay Charlie, I think you guys have had enough fun with Bill. Bill take off your helmet?”
I, quite puzzled, removed my helmet, “Holy shit! I'm still in the warehouse!”
“Isn't VR great?” enthused Brad.”
“No! It's a cruel joke!” I was incensed.
Brad dons a broad smile, “So, you are ready to go into the future?”
“Yes! No! Hell no! I don't know. Charlie, who was the female voice?”
“Just me with a voice change app to sound like Angelina Jolie.” He picks up a microphone, Angelina's voice sang out, “Can you hear me now?”
I replied, “I'd rather not!”


message 5: by Karl (last edited Apr 07, 2018 08:10AM) (new)

Karl Freitag | 69 comments A Lesson Learned

When the time traveler arrived in 2018, she shared the technology to end world hunger, end world poverty and cure all known diseases. All without asking for anything in return. Charity she understood.

But, she was also extremely serious. Never once did I see her even crack a smile.

Shortly before she left to go back to her own time, she said to me, “There’s just one thing that puzzles me. Explain this thing called a joke.”

“Don’t you have jokes in the future?”

“When human and machine became one, humor was something we lost.”

“Well, a joke is a thing that someone says or does to cause amusement.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Like a story with a funny ending. Or you can play a practical joke on someone by tricking them.”

“Tricking them?”

“Like a prank. For example, when I was a kid we’d put vaseline on people’s doorknobs and when they opened the door they got slimy vaseline on their hands.”

“That is a joke?”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

* * *

I had completely forgotten about this brief conversation when three weeks later gooey slime began gushing from every sewer on Earth. Before long, every populated land mass on the entire planet was covered in a sticky ooze knee deep.

I was busy cleaning muck off my shoes when I received a one-way trans-time telepathic transmission from the time traveler. Her mind message was “I hope you like my joke.”

Now that I think about it, the vaseline prank wasn’t funny either.


message 6: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
Hack
© 2018 Jot Russell

“So I went to the doctor last week and she told me I have to stop masturbating. I was shocked, so I asked her, ‘Why?’

She merely repeated, ‘Because you have to stop.’

‘But why, is it bad for my health?’

‘Because you have to stop!’ She demanded. ‘You’re making me uncomfortable!’ “

Hack looked at me with a blank stare.

I repeated the punchline. “Because I was making her uncomfortable!”

Hack asked, “Is masturbation a medical condition for humans?”

“No, that’s not the point. Don’t you Katrovians understand the notion of humor?”

He looked confused. “What your doctor said about your condition was humorous to you?”

I shook my head as the alert came in.

Hack projected the image from his palm. “The time recording shows a fracture in the fifth division.”

“Dang, that’s us.” I got up and stood next to my partner. “Preparing to teleport.”

**

The fracture site was an abandoned asteroid tug factor. We appeared around the source with guns drawn, but were too late. “Quick, check for an echo before we lose him.”

Hack checked. “Looks like he teleported…”

“Teleported? Who is this guy?”

“…to the first division.”

“That’s well beyond line-of-sight. How the hell?!”

“We must alert command.” Hack suggested.

“Wait, we could hop there from the top of the old Freedom Tower.”

Hack looked concerned. “No one has ever made a 300 kilometer jump before.”

“That guy did.”

“That guy, you refer to, is from the future.”

“No shit! Come on, jump set.”

**

A strong, cold breeze blew through the gutted ruins of observation deck of the old tower. Around us, other broken towers cast a remembrance of the city that once was.

“Got a lock. Here we go.”

**

We appeared within a top level apartment in the new capital. A woman looked up from her bed with an expression of panic.

“Sorry ma’am, FTP agents.”

She slowly relaxed, but then quickly made an expression of interest toward my partner.

I asked him, “What is it with you guys?”

“Sex is not a condition for Katrovians. It is a requirement.”

“Whatever. Do you have a reading?”

“Yes, but it’s faint.”

“Got it. Gonna jump in a block away so we don’t spook him.”

**

Hack said “I no longer have no read-”

BAMM! The blast lifted him from his feet and shot him across the street.

I jumped to the side and opened fire toward the source of the attack. Nothing. Quickly, I ran back toward my partner as another blast, from a different location, missed just off to my left. I went flying forward and quickly tried to return fire. Again, nothing there. I reached for the controls and jumped just before the next strike. I appeared next to Hack who lay motionless on the ground. I put my hand on him and jumped again, this time back to the tower apartment.

“Quick, he needs medical attention.” I said to the woman.

I looked at my gauge to see another localized ion trail. I didn’t know what this man had planned, but he was clearly not here for a temporal vacation. I laid out the order of his jumps to look for a pattern. The problem was, if he knew where to look, he would see mine as well. Quickly, I jumped into a dead-end alley a block from where we had been, waited a second, and then jumped fifty meters over.

The man was no man, but a Polarian, who appeared at the mouth of the dead-end street. His size caused me to hesitate only a moment, but as he fired into the empty alleyway, my shot hit its mark.

**

“How you feeling Hack.”

“My…condition shall improve.”

“That’s good to hear. You know, that time jumper was a Polarian soldier.”

“That is not good.” Expressed Hack.

“Sources put him a hundred years out. Dang, they have to get us better weapons for this job.”

Hack groaned, “And better pay.”

“That’s one thing we can agree on, man. If they wanted a volunteer to do this as charity work, they should have asked a nun.”

Hack looked confused. “If they asked for none, then who would stop the time jumpers?”

“No, a nun. A twenty-first century woman who gave up sex to serve God.”

“Nun?” Hack burst out with a loud, painful, belly laugh.


message 7: by W. A. (last edited Apr 14, 2018 12:57PM) (new)

W. A.  Fix (wafix) | 13 comments Five days in L.A.
by W.A. Fix

“Hey bartender, did you hear the one about the drunk that stumbled into a bar and came face to face with a priest? That wasn’t too bad, but standing next to the priest was a very large pot-belly pig. The drunk, barely able to stand, steadied himself against the bar, glared directly into the priest’s eyes, and asked, ‘What are you doing in here with that jackass?’ The priest replied patiently, ‘My son, you’re obviously too intoxicated to tell, but this is a pig.’”

The robotic bartender quickly moved directly across the bar from the jokester. It began wiping down the bar as it asked “Sir, are you attempting conversation?”

“Oh, never mind. I should ’a known better.”

The robot paused briefly then stated, “Yes, actually I have heard that exact joke at least once a year for the ten years of my existence. I have heard 106 variations, all of which culminate with the drunk saying, ‘I was talking to the pig.’”

The room was flooded by afternoon sun as the door to the street swung open and a dark figure entered. Everyone in the bar shielded their eyes and squinted into the light as the door slowly closed behind the newcomer. Before Craig Walker’s vision returned, the man seated himself at the bar.

“Where the hell have you been?” asked Craig. “I’m out of pocket-money. I think last night’s companion stole the credit card you gave me and I don’t think I can take the smell of animal protein being cooked, even one more time. Let’s go home.”

Tour guide Marko glanced at his handheld computer interface, “The coils are charging as we speak.” He stood and walked to the center of the bar and watched the computer display as each of the twenty tour members was identified. They were all seated around the bar. Most sat together, although, a few sat with people who were not part of his tour. He announced loudly, “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention? It is time to board and unfortunately say a final farewell to the city of Los Angeles. The bus is in the parking lot behind the building. Please exit through the rear of the bar.”

The tour members stood, began gathering their possessions, and slowly moved to the exit. Three who were with non-tour people stood slowly and sadly hugged and kissed the ones they were leaving behind. One man, overwhelmed with sadness, laid a large bundle of money on the table in front of a woman, then he quickly turned and walked away.

“Don’t forget anything. Please remember we are on a very tight schedule and you will not be allowed to return for items left behind,” said Marko.

As Craig picked up his carry-on he watched the woman quickly scoop up the cash and, smiling broadly, begin counting the pile of hundreds. He thought back four hours earlier and saw himself standing at LAX Airport handing an envelope to his own escort that contained a similar amount of cash, a virtually limitless credit card, and a round trip ticket to New York City. He had waited patiently and watched her plane board and depart knowing that the return ticket would never be used.

As Craig settled into his bus seat Marko spoke to the group. “Ladies and gentlemen, Play It Again Tours would like to thank you for choosing us as your vacation option. We sincerely hope you have enjoyed your five days in the doomed city of Los Angeles, California. You are our 126th tour to participate in this unique experience. And, yes there are, at this moment, 126 versions of me giving this speech in 126 versions of this bus throughout the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. Our power coils are fully charged and in approximately three minutes you will witness a two-hundred meter iron meteorite smash into the earth, destroying everything from what was once Long Beach to Ventura. We will return to our time of origin two seconds after impact and one second before the shock and heat wave reaches this location. The entire Time Distortion sequence is fully automated, so please remember there is no need to be concerned about your personal safety.” Marko paused and pointed out the window, “Okay folks, here we go. I now direct your attention to the southwest. The object is just coming into view. It is currently traveling at eight miles per second with a 22 degree angle to impact…


message 8: by Jon (new)

Jon Ricson (jonricson1) | 61 comments "Surprise"
By Jon Ricson
© 2018

The old man sat in his usual seat in the theater: the very front row. The orchestra assembled and the maestro walked out to much applause. He was still new to London, but his reputation had been cemented by years of works circulating throughout Europe. The old man settled in his seat, got comfortable, and as was his habit, promptly fell asleep.

**

The young man had no idea why his girlfriend wanted to peruse the old thrift shop. He hated the donated faded clothes, crappy old electronics, and other useless items people gave to thrift shops instead of just throwing them away where they belonged.

“At least they donate everything they make to charity,” she said. He couldn’t argue with that. If you’re going to sell junk, it might as well benefit something. She wondered off into a new section of the store, and he paused at the books. Not a bad selected of hardcover and softcover. These old stores were the last bastions of finding actual books for sale, as even Barnes and Nobles had finally gone out of business back in ‘22.

He saw a dusty tome on Joseph Haydn, and picked it up. He had always been fascinated by the composer, and had enjoyed his recent music history professor’s obsession with him. The graduate level musicology class had been challenging, and the professor was a strange dude, but at least it had been interesting.

He leafed through the book, which was falling apart, and had many pages missing. He checked the edition, and was shocked when it read 1813, First Edition. He didn’t need to look at his hand tablet to know this was likely worth something. In the back a small envelope that had been stuffed in fell out and to his feet. Someone had written on it very long ago, “Don’t lose this!”

He opened it, and to his surprise found a thin paper program for a Haydn performance in 1791. He smiled. Then paid $1 for the book.

**

He found the professor the next day in his office at the small college in Milford. He had to return some library books anyway, and this would be fun to show to the old codger.

“Hey professor, I just had to show this to you.” He hadn’t even got all the words out before the professor was reaching for the book.

“Is this a first edition?” The graying, thin man said standing up. “I saw one of these in London in 18...I mean...1980."

The young man laughed. “That’s not even the best part, look at this”. He handed the envelope to the professor who gently pulled out the yellowed, almost silky concert program. His eyes got bigger than the young man thought possible.

The professor smiled. “How would you like to go hear some Haydn?”

**

It was the young man’s turn to be flabbergasted. The professor had taken him downstairs in the old music building, behind a rusted metal cabinet, and clutching the program, they had walked through a hole in the wall...and into 1791 London, England.

“What...just....happened?”

“Best not to think much on it.” The professor laughed and pushed him through the doors of the concert hall. The orchestra had taken the stage, and a man came out to applause.

“Is that...?”

The professor nodded. “Joseph Haydn."

**

On stage, Haydn saw the two ill-dressed men enter, but was more interested in the man on the front row. Already softly snoring, Haydn turned and winked at his orchestra. Many smiled, and they played the first quiet melody, until they got to the “joke” Haydn had written in. With a loud fortissimo note from the entire orchestra randomly thrown in at the end of a quiet phrase, the old man in the front row about jumped out of his seat.

**

In the back, the professor marveled. “So it’s true.”

The young man just stood with his mouth open, and turned to look at the professor. He had heard about and they had listened to this work dubbed "The Surprise Symphony", but he too still jumped at the loud note. The young man was still flabbergasted by what had happened to him in the last hour.

The professor shrugged. "Surprise."


message 9: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 437 comments Fortune

“Good evening, Mr. Banks. Same table?” the owner greeted, his accent heavy.

“Yes, Lei Wei, same as always,” he replied.

“Menu?”

“No, thanks. I’m pretty familiar, by this point.”

“Very well. This way, sir.” Escorted to the back of the restaurant, they passed the kitchen doors, arriving at a familiar corner table. Lei Wei pulled out the chair for him. “You must really like Chinese food, Mr. Banks. You’re here nearly every night.”

“Well, you are the best,” he remarked, though knew it wasn’t true.

“I’ll have the Szechuan Pork tonight, please, and a tall glass of water.

“Of course,” and he was quickly away.

*********

“He’s back again, isn’t he,” Zhi Rou remarked in Mandarin, his wife peering through the window in the kitchen door. “Every night it’s the same thing. That man comes in and sits at the same table, pulls his wallet and stares into the little strips of paper he collects from our fortune cookies. What’s he up to?” she wondered suspiciously.

“As long as he likes our food and pays the bill, I don’t care,” Lei Wei answered, then joked, “I’m thinking of renting him a room upstairs.”

She tossed a plastic spoon at him, though he paid little attention, pouring a cup of soup and setting it next to a full glass of water with lemon. “Something’s not right,” she said.

“Again, I don’t care,” he picked up the tray and pushed through the paired doors.

**********

“Hot and sour soup, just as you like it, Mr. Banks. Can I get you anything else?”

“No, thank you, that will do for now,” the man answered, then corrected, “Wait. Let me ask you something.”

“Of course, sir.”

“I’ve been coming here for a long time, right? Tell me, where do you get your fortune cookies?”

“San Francisco Fortune Cookie Company, same as always. Same as every other Chinese restaurant in town, I think.”

“So, there’s nothing special about yours? Nothing unique?”

He returned a blank stare.

“Never mind, I guess I’m just being silly,” he admitted and the owner nodded before strolling away. Sipping his soup, the man shuffled though the tiny strips of paper, thumbing the first one he’d received over a year ago. Faded and thinned, it still held the same message – ‘Dan it’s me, your fortune is about to get a lot brighter.’

It had been the start of so many questions. Why was his name on the inside of a random fortune cookie? What did it mean? Was it just a coincidence? It had to be, and it was months before the man returned, though fate answered in the second cookie he received. It simply read – ‘It’s not a coincidence.’

Shuffling through some of the others, Mr. Banks studied his collection. He kept the most life-changing fortunes with him. Of course, he’d been skeptical at first, missing the oil investment in Brazil, which would have made him beyond wealthy. He also regretted passing on the World Series odds last year. Who would’ve predicted the Astros, anyways? Finally, it occurred to him, however unlikely, he was receiving messages from his future self, but by that point, he’d already missed two great opportunities. He wouldn’t miss a third. So, taking the cookie’s advice, Banks invested everything into a start-up electric car company, striking it rich. They even shot one into space. Then, he bought some real estate, wagered on the last championship football game, and even invested in a highly productive Brazilian gold mine, donating half the profits to charity.

“Your Szechuan Pork, Mr. Banks.” Lei Wei set the plate down next to a rice-bowl, a fresh set of chop-sticks, and a wrapped fortune cookie.

Banks didn’t even hesitate and tore into the package. His fortune read – ‘Hello again Dan. We’re just getting started. See you tomorrow.’

**********

“Again with the fortune cookie!” Zhi Rou marveled from the kitchen. “He always starts with that.”

Jonathan, their eldest son peered over his mother’s shoulder.

“Ah, I see he started with the cookie again,” he chuckled.

“And why would that concern you?”

“Looks like I’ve created a loyal customer.”

“Meaning?”

“Oh, I’ve been slipping Mr. Banks random fortunes for months…steaming the packages and replacing the slips, just makin’ ‘em up every night, as I go. Poor guy must have fallen for it hard.”

**********

Suddenly, there was shouting from the kitchen, a mandarin tie-raid if there was every such a thing. Barely distracted, Daniel Banks dug into his meal with a satisfied grin.


message 10: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 352 comments Circle

“What’s new, Betty?”

The dachshund that the tall, thin man walked barked once. John delivered his question every morning with the same wide smile and toss of his dark locks; Tio Pepsi, on cue, barked in impatience of my reply.

I was tempted to answer with a scientific joke: C over lambda; but as with every day, I said, “Nothing much,” for that was an old lady’s truth, whatever she had enjoyed and had been in her youth. I drew my silken rose robe around me, admiring how it accented my black pajamas and slippers. I leaned back on my wicker chair perched in a spot on the porch to catch the morning sun. A breeze stirred the remaining autumn leaves. Winter whispered of death, making me shiver. I warmed myself with a sip of coffee from my chipped Carl Sagan mug and in the comforting regularity of our exchange.

Today, John wore a turtleneck that promoted a charity devoted to ending hunger. Its odd logo had rainbow cupcakes surrounding a globe, and a motto in a calligraphic font declaring: To Eat is Sweet! The black jacket he wore the day before supported science, and the organization was one promoting the fun of physics for inner city children. That I had yet to see his clothing repeat since we had started greeting each other on his morning walks with Tio Pepsi remained a small thrill of the unexpected. Perhaps, he was one of those millennial startup millionaires, who had decided to slum it by living in a working class neighborhood patterned with clapboard Cape Cods.

John disappeared over the rise. I scratched my chin and plucked a silvery grey hair. In which house he lived at the bottom of the hill, I knew not. I nodded to myself. Tomorrow, this ancient detective would find out.

My left eye suddenly tingled, jagged rainbows filling the orb. It was the third day that the migraine had returned, but I had no desire to hide in a dark house. “Fuck it!” I roared in defiance. I plunged through my front door and out the back door like a bullet going through Elvis’ shotgun shack.

An Okame cherry tree grew at the center of my brick labyrinth, its beating heart. I stood at the entrance, which faced east, and took several centering breaths. A stabbing pain sliced my brain in retaliation. Perhaps, this was not a migraine, but a stroke.

If they were going to find my body, let it be here where I had known peace, I decided. Traversing each of the seven circuits, I dropped sins like gems that could never be shattered.

To my surprise, the rainbows fled my eyes and gathered above my cherry tree, making a new canopy. The neighborhood had lost its color. A distance bark sounded. Could Tio Pepsi be Anubis, I wondered, the idea funny. Could I summon him and John to take me to the hospital to live another age burdened day, or to execute my funeral rites?

Seven paths beckoned back to life. But the cherry tree suddenly shrank before me, diving back in time to when it was a sapling.

I lightly brushed the branches of the glowing, skimpy twig I had planted so long ago. “How could I leave you, my friend,” I murmured, “when you have given so much to me.”

Rainbows bathed me and unstrung me.

I awoke with a start. The sky brightened with the dawn. Had I fallen asleep in the labyrinth during a migraine hallucination? I brushed my robe and pajamas free of fallen leaves. I bowed to the cherry tree in respect and gratefully retraced my steps.

In the house, I warmed a cup of coffee on the stove, life’s blood to a New Yorker born. I ran my free hand through my tangled hair as I went out to the porch.

My heart began to race. The leaf between my fingers still had the red hues of a maple in autumn decline, but the strands of my hair gathered had turned to the black of my spring.

A sudden motion made me snap to attention.

John smiled.

“What’s nu?” I said to the young man standing on the sidewalk.

“C over Lambda, of course,” he answered.

Tio Pepsi sneezed.

A second cleared away the cobwebs and spun new threads.

“How’s your latest equation on closed time coming, my wife?” he asked, joining me on the porch.

“Got a minute,” I said, taking another sip of coffee.

Word Count on Wordperfect: 750


message 11: by Justin (new)

Justin Sewall | 988 comments A Comfortable Extinction

When my wife pushed a small box across the table at breakfast, I knew it was finally time.

“Really?” I asked, slightly skeptical. I looked over the top of my antique newspaper. “Is this some kind of sick joke?”

“Really – and I’m not joking. I’m serious this time. I’m done. Just done.”

“What made you change your mind? We have everything here.”

“And that’s the problem – everything. If I’m not fighting off knights from the Crusades, it’s imperial Japanese warlords with their hired Ronin. Not to mention the Velociraptors.”

“Again with the raptors,” I said, between bites of perfectly synthesized bacon and eggs.

“Look, if you’d just take PATS with you,”

“I don’t want that thing clanking along next to me when I want to go for a quiet walk on the beach. It invariably targets something and goes all Terminator. No, I want to be able enjoy my time alone as the last woman on Earth without that ambulatory Gatling gun.”

She was not to be dissuaded.

***
We were the last two temporally fixed humans on Earth and had been for centuries. That is to say, we were the only ones in our proper timeline. The interlopers from the past never lasted long. They could not, but they kept coming and interrupting our peace and quiet.

With the perfection of gate technology, most of Earth’s population decided to spread out across time and space. Oh sure, there were a few diehards like us, sticking to our own temporal track. But as the years stretched out before us, more and more of them said their good-byes and stepped through a gate, never to be seen again.

We lacked for nothing, of course. Everything was automated, even the self-driving cars kept driving their endless, pre-programmed loops throughout our metropolis. Destruction and debris caused by temporal incursions was meticulously cleaned up, hauled away and recycled.

At first it was an intoxicating experience for us both. We finally had the time to pursue our individual interests, hobbies and passions. We’d gone through the Kama Sutra several times, created artistic masterpieces in every medium known to man and composed music that stirred the soul.

Every day was a new adventure, and science and medicine kept us in perfect health.

And yet. And yet. Here we were. At the end. My wife pushing a small box across the breakfast table towards me.

***
I suppose it was the way she looked at me that defeated my resolve. That, and we both knew the sun was already beginning to expand in its old age. Yet there was still some time before everything turned to ash.

“Consider it an act of charity for the one you love the most,” she added, reaching across the table for my hand.

“Yes of course love. Of course.” It was not what I had expected, being a man who enjoyed his routines, and the finality of it all was beginning to sink in.

“I’m afraid sweetheart.”

“I am too.”

I retrieved my own small box and handed it to her.

“Let’s go.”

***
The gate was quiet and still, save for the small control panels on each leg of its obsidian black arch. I took my key from around my neck and inserted it into the right panel. My wife did the same on the left.

“Ready on my mark in three, two, one, turn…”

Instantaneously, raw temporal energy erupted in a violent fit of electric blue that bucked against the gate’s powerful containment field until it stabilized into a placid, rippling pool.

“Do you know the date?” she asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

“How could I forget?” I tried to project confidence as we both stood before the gate’s shimmering chronotons.

For the briefest moment, I saw anguish and doubt pass over her face. Then it was gone, replaced by acceptance and peace.

“I’m ready now.” She gave my hand a gentle squeeze.

As we stepped through, I turned to face her.

“See you soo……”

***
I first noticed her the moment she stepped out of the temporal physics lab. She struck me as the beautiful, intellectual type, yet for some reason I felt an instant connection I could not explain.

Before I could even formulate an excuse to talk to her, a large dromaeosaur burst out of the doors behind her. It hissed and roared at its strange surroundings, then focused its rage on the woman. Time slowed as I ran to save her.

(749 words in story) Justin Sewall © 2018
Reviews/critiques welcome


message 12: by Greg (new)

Greg Krumrey (gkrumrey) | 178 comments Accidental Traveler

Standing in the middle of nowhere, wondering how to begin
Lost between Tomorrow and Yesterday, between Now and Then.
- The Kinks, Do It Again

“I’m a computer technician, not a time traveler,” was his last thought he had in the present time as he was drawn into the vortex. When he woke up in a dew-covered field, he alternated between cursing the scientist who left the equipment powered on and worrying about the hypothermia that would set in if he did not find shelter soon. He did not notice the smartphone that had fallen from his pocket.
--
When the stranger arrived at the small village, they almost drove him away. Death had come and everything and everyone was suspect. When he showed no signs of sickness, they became curious. His strange customs soon became the norm: He only drank water after it had been heated over a fire and allowed to cool. He rinsed his hands in a liquid made by boiling wine. They began imitating his rituals and the sickness stopped spreading. He made pastes and powders of crushed plants, fed them to the sick and they recovered. None of it made sense but no one could argue with the results. Soon word spread of this wizard and his strange ways.
--
Like many leaders of ancient time, the king feared what he did not understand. If this wizard was as powerful as he had heard, he must kill him so an enemy could not have him. He ordered him fastened to four horses, one to each limb and pulled apart. The horses pawed and scraped the ground, but try as they might, they could not injure him.

When they released him from the ropes, he stood, tilted his shoulders from side to side, stretched and said, “Much better than my chiropractor.”

“What manner of man are you that you can’t be harmed in this way?”

“Hey, I work in Information Technology. This happens to me all the time!”

The king reconsidered. “Will you teach me your magic to protect us from my enemies?” he asked.

The wizard talked for hours on end about cleaning hands, how to bandage wounds and growing strange foods and preparing them to treat sickness.

The king was not pleased as he wanted weapons.

Finally, the king showed the wizard the artifact that had been found by his horseman.

The small silvery stone glowed with symbols when the wizard held it and touched it with his fingers. The scholars leaned in to see the images that flicked across the face of it. The wizard found what he was looking for and selected his destination.

They all stepped back, started by the sudden appears of the vortex. Several guards drew their swords and looked to the king for direction.

“What is this Sigel that you hold and why does it only respond to your touch?” the king asked.

“It is a phone with a Merlin app that makes it a remote control. For a goddamn time machine,” the stranger said as he disappeared.

Fortunately, time was more like a river than a pond. The flow of time was self-correcting so anything less than a major diversion at a cusp in time had little impact. Any mystery or fame he brought with him would fade from memory and soon be lost in the currents of time.


message 13: by Jot (last edited Apr 28, 2018 05:56AM) (new)

Jot Russell | 1141 comments Mod
Voting details:


First round votes:
C. Lloyd Preville => **WA
Tom Olbert => **C
Kalifer Deil => ***Marianne, Jon, Tom
Karl Freitag => **WA
Jot Russell => **Chris
W.A. Fix => Jon, Justin
Jon Ricson => **Chris, Justin, Greg
Chris Nance => ***Marianne, Justin, WA
Marianne G Petrino => **C, Justin, Karl, Jon
Justin Sewall => ***Marianne, Chris, Jon
Greg Krumrey => Justin
Carrie Zylka => Greg, Karl, C, Jot, Tom

First round finalists:
King of the Universe by C. Lloyd Preville
Five Days in L.A. by W.A. Fix
Fortune by Chris Nance
Circle by Marianne G Petrino

Second round votes:
C. Lloyd Preville => **WA
Tom Olbert => ***C
Kalifer Deil => ****Marianne, Jon, Tom
Karl Freitag => **WA
Jot Russell => ***Chris
W.A. Fix => Jon, Justin; ***Chris, Marianne
Jon Ricson => ***Chris, Justin, Greg
Chris Nance => ****Marianne, Justin, WA
Marianne G Petrino => ***C, Justin, Karl, Jon
Justin Sewall => ****Marianne, Chris, Jon
Greg Krumrey => Justin; ****Marianne
Carrie Zylka => Greg, Karl, ***C, Jot, Tom

Second round finalists:
King of the Universe by C. Lloyd Preville
Fortune by Chris Nance
Circle by Marianne G Petrino

Third round votes:
C. Lloyd Preville => WA; #Marianne
Tom Olbert => ****C
Kalifer Deil => #Marianne, Jon, Tom
Karl Freitag => WA; ****C
Jot Russell => ***Chris
W.A. Fix => Jon, Justin; ***Chris, Marianne
Jon Ricson => ***Chris, Justin, Greg
Chris Nance => #Marianne, Justin, WA
Marianne G Petrino => ****C, Justin, Karl, Jon
Justin Sewall => #Marianne, Chris, Jon
Greg Krumrey => Justin; #Marianne
Carrie Zylka => Greg, Karl, ****C, Jot, Tom

Finalists:
King of the Universe by C. Lloyd Preville
Circle by Marianne G Petrino

Forth round votes:
C. Lloyd Preville => WA; #**Marianne
Tom Olbert => ****C
Kalifer Deil => #**Marianne, Jon, Tom
Karl Freitag => WA; ****C
Jot Russell => Chris; #**Marianne
W.A. Fix => Jon, Justin; Chris, #**Marianne
Jon Ricson => Chris, Justin, Greg
Chris Nance => #**Marianne, Justin, WA
Marianne G Petrino => ****C, Justin, Karl, Jon
Justin Sewall => #**Marianne, Chris, Jon
Greg Krumrey => Justin; #**Marianne
Carrie Zylka => Greg, Karl, ****C, Jot, Tom

Winner:
Circle by Marianne G Petrino


message 14: by Kalifer (last edited Apr 28, 2018 10:08AM) (new)

Kalifer Deil | 299 comments Did you know that you can measure C using a microwave and a bed of marshmallows? You get the frequency, nu, from the back of the microwave usually around 2450 MHz. You take the rotating plate out of the microwave and put a bed of marshmallows in the microwave and turn it on. Watch it carefully and when you see some burning turn it off and measure the shortest distance between burn spots. That should be .5 lambda, a half wavelength.
C=2(.5 lambda)nu.
I take no responsibility for the mess you've created in your microwave.


message 15: by Marianne (new)

Marianne (mariannegpetrino) | 352 comments Kaifer: LOL.


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