Science Fiction Microstory Contest discussion

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DECEMBER 2018 Microstory Contest - Stories Only

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message 1: by G.C. (new)

G.C. Groover | 78 comments The following rules are from Jot Russell, creator of the Science Fiction Microstory Contest:

To help polish our skills and present a flavour of our art to other members in the group, we are 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 Jot 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 the motion, a vote can be held. Jot will abstain from voting, but will require a strong two-thirds majority to override his potential 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, Jot will post the new contest threads.

**********

This Month's Theme:
Receipt of a gift (for a December holiday of your choice) that comes with complicated instructions.

Required Element:
It's important that you follow the instructions exactly or else...


message 2: by Jeremy (new)

Jeremy Lichtman | 248 comments Eponymous Plot Device

It was well past 9 pm, and Harv could probably have let Buddy off his leash, but there had been warnings about the raccoons in the densely forested areas north of 97th St. He still found the park a bit creepy after dark. Nowhere near as bad as thirty years ago, but still. It helped that Buddy was big. Although really, he'd probably just lick a potential mugger.

The lady startled Harv. She stepped out from one of the innumerable side-paths, dressed in an ankle-length gray robe with a hood that covered most of her face. Before Harv could react though, she had handed him a wooden box, and he had instinctively grabbed it.

"Huh?" Harv exclaimed. The box was heavy. He still had one hand on Buddy's leash, and the dog was digging in his hind feet and tugging.

"You need to be careful to keep it closed," said the lady.

"Why?" demanded Harv. "What's in it?"

"There might be a MacGuffin in there," said the lady. "I’m not completely sure about that, but it's definitely safer just to make sure nobody opens it."

"Is that dangerous?" asked Harv. He looked around, nervously, for somewhere to set the box down, but Buddy was still tugging on his leash, and had partially circled around behind him.

"It might destroy our entire universe," said the lady. Harv opened his mouth to say something, but she continued, speaking over him. "More likely it would only require some rather strenuous heroic activity to straighten things out. You should probably get a big elastic band to wrap around it. That may help."

“Is this supposed to be magic or something? I don’t believe in that nonsense.”

The lady wrinkled her nose, the only part of her face that Harv could see. “Not magic,” she said. She sounded amused. “Not in this universe. Much more likely to be some sort of advanced technology. But who really knows with MacGuffins. That’s not exactly the point.”

"You're kidding, right? Putting me on. Why would you just hand me something like that?"

"MacGuffins serve only to be handed from one person to another," the lady said. "They are given freely or taken under duress, or they may be hidden away and lost for a time, and then later rediscovered. When a MacGuffin is given to somebody, it provides the dramatic tension that allows that person to discover something new about themselves. Some say that is the sole purpose to our universe."

"Well I don't want it," said Harv. He tried to safely put the box down on the path, but Buddy had now encircled his feet twice with the leash, and he stumbled. "Oh n--"

###


message 3: by Tom (new)

Tom Olbert | 1011 comments CHRISTMAS GIFT
By Tom Olbert

The pale, blue-white light of Regulus A washed over the frozen, rocky wastes of its innermost planetoid, its white dwarf companion star sinking towards the grey horizon.

The light streamed through the windows of the mining installation, glinting off the cheap plastel decorations adorning the artificial Christmas tree. Joe Cochran wiped sweat from his forehead and took a swig of bear. He squinted in the dim light of the rec room, swearing as he tried to make sense of the instructions. Leave it to his brother to send him a gift this complicated. He threw the plans aside, disgusted, and tried to wing it. It seemed simple enough, once the main components had been assembled.

He stepped back and looked at the life-size pleasure android that had arrived on the last interstellar supply shuttle. Didn’t look like much now. As featureless as a mannequin off the assembly line. But, if he could just get the telepathic scanner working…

“Hey, Cochran…What gives?” Benson asked, barging in. “You’ve been tinkering with that piece of junk for hours. You gonna let me in on it?”

Cochran set the scanner to align to his own brain wave pattern, crossed his fingers and installed the device in the android’s mid-section. The android shimmered like an iridescent wave of summer heat, a swarm of nannites reconfiguring its outward form to reflect Cochran’s innermost desires. Both lonely miners gasped in wonder as the android turned into a stunningly beautiful young blonde woman. “Ride ya, Joe?” the life-like simulation asked, looking at Joe and winking a limpid blue eye, the corners of her lustrous pink lips turning up in a grin.

“Whoa…” Benson said, circling the droid and licking his lips. “Food to a starving man. Uh…is that one of the new models that can actually…”

“State of the art and fully functional. In every way.” Joe winked and smiled. “She…it…becomes and does whatever your imagination can conceive. And, I’ll lend her to you for tonight. Twenty credits.”

“Rat bastard,” Benson muttered, handing Joe a credit chip.

“’Aint ya got no respect for free enterprise?” Joe chuckled as he changed the settings on his computer pad, switching the scanner to Benson’s brain pattern. The android transformed into a gorgeous young Asian woman.

Benson’s eyes widened as he wiped his mouth. “Mother of God…” he whispered.

Joe grinned, fingering the credit chip. Nothing better than a gift that keeps on giving.

#

Joe woke in a cold sweat at the sound of the anguished scream. Pulling on his clothes, he ran to Benson’s cubicle and found him hanging from the end of his bunk, his eyes frozen in shock. His throat torn out. Joe started as he heard something rustling in the shadows, and the sound of high-pitched squealing. He turned and froze at the sight of two blood-red eyes glowing in the darkness. He crossed himself as it crawled into the dim light, black and leathery and horrible. Like a gargantuan vampire bat, its fangs dripping blood. The monstrosity shimmered and reformed. His jaw dropped as the thing turned into his fantasy blonde. “Ride ya, Joe?” she asked with a smile.

#

The space patrol found the rec room door smashed off its hinges. Joe Cochran’s body was strewn across the floor in pieces.

“There ‘aint a coffee packet left in the kitchen, Sarge,” Patrolman Connor said to Sgt. Grant.

“He cleaned out the stims from the dispensary too,” Patrolman Wilkes said. “Looks like he was trying to stay awake. Wonder why?”

Grant stared at the featureless, slate grey form of the inactive android standing in the corner. “That one of those new pleasure droids?” he asked.

“Yeah, Sarge,” Connor said. “Here’s the packing crate it came in. Hey, what’s this?” he asked, picking up a small component left in the box and looking at the crumpled instruction sheet. “Part 27 – Auto sleep shut down module. What’s that for?”

“That automatically shuts down the android when the owner’s asleep,” Grant said.

“What for?” Wilkes asked. “To conserve power?”

“Hell, no,” Grant said. “Those things can read subconscious thoughts as well as conscious ones, y’know. ‘Wouldn’t want your darkest nightmares coming to life on you, now would you?”


message 4: by Karl (last edited Dec 11, 2018 03:08AM) (new)

Karl Freitag | 67 comments The Other Roswell Incident

Harry Bergman’s lifeless body floated in deep space.

24 hours earlier, the 57-year-old Bergman had been quite a lively scientist in Syracuse University’s Time Travel Department.

For his 25th anniversary, Bergman’s mentor, old Professor Hanford, presented him with a most extraordinary Christmas gift. An antique time machine.

“It doesn't have the modern features, but it probably still works,” laughed Professor Hanford.

Harry was a veteran of many observation missions to previous times. The Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Pearl Harbor Attack in 1941, the Kennedy Assassination in 1963, he’d witnessed it all.

But certain historical events were off-limits. One of these being the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico UFO crash.

Harry always wanted to know if the alleged flying saucer crash happened or not.

One rainy afternoon, he decided to find out.

These old time machines are actually simple devices to operate.

There are just three settings: Date, location, and a timer.

Harry entered June 14, 1947. He set the exact coordinates of the farm where the Roswell aliens supposedly crashed. Then he set the timer for 24 hours.

Finally, he pressed the initiate button and immediately felt the wooziness one feels as they travel through time.

However, if Harry had bothered to read the instructions, he would have seen:

Warning: When entering your destination’s coordinates, be sure to factor in the Earth’s orbit and sun’s orbit of our galaxy.

In other words, don't go where the Earth is today, go where the Earth was then.

Author's Note: Modern time machines have these calibrations built in.


message 5: by Justin (last edited Dec 13, 2018 02:51PM) (new)

Justin Sewall | 977 comments Dispirited Directions

The falling snow was absolutely perfect.
It was not the bitter, driving type that had taken my family from me, or the stuttering, teasing kind that vanished when it hit the ground. No, it drifted lazily down, coating everything in a soft blanket of perfect, twinkling white. My world was made new again, spotless, sinless, yet achingly bereft. Swirling my scotch by the crackling wood stove, I settled into my easy chair to enjoy the silent spectacle of Amazon’s driverless trucks and drones attempting to make their last deliveries. They all looked like they’d been drinking scotch too.
It was my first Christmas since the accident, and after enduring the fake bonhomie of my office holiday party, I wanted, yet did not want, to be left alone. Alas, it was not meant to be. The door chimed and I opened the camera app on my phone, revealing a real live delivery man. I was as shocked as he was to speak to an actual person.
“Hello?”
“Sorry to bother you sir, but I have an urgent package for a T. Madsen.”
“Yep, that’s me. Hold on a sec.”
Knees popping in protest, I got up out of my warm spot and limped over to the front door.
I opened it a crack, accepted the proffered stylus and scrawled my name on the tablet.
“Thumbprint here please. Thank you.”
He vanished back into his truck, dodging driverless ones all the way down the street.
Looking the box over, I noticed it was from a J. Marley and labeled: One of Four, Open Me First.
I shook it and it rattled with something inside that sounded like chains.
Before I could investigate any further, my door chimed again. I surprised the poor driver with how fast I opened the door.
“Good evening sir, I have a package for…”
“T. Madsen,” I cut him off. I wanted to get back to my cozy fire, chair and scotch.
“Sign here. Index fingerprint here.”
“Happy…”
“Merry Christmas!” I cut him off again. I was feeling distinctly un-merry myself. If only I could afford one of those domestic androids to handle all of this messy, interpersonal stuff.
Sheesh!
This package read: Two of Four, Open Me Second, regards – G. Past.
G. Past? I didn’t know any G. Past. Wait a minute, maybe this was my friend’s way of playing a joke – a way of lifting my spirits. Well, he was failing miserably.
I tried peeling back the tape, but either I was more incapacitated from the scotch than I realized, or the packages really would only open in sequence. Great, now I had to deal with smart packages.
Another door chime, another driver, a stylus to sign another tablet, ring finger print, and “Merry-get your truck off my front yard-Christmas!”
Elaborate calligraphy read: Package Three of Four, Open Me Third, regards – G. Present. The box gave off a fragrant, pleasing aroma and I started wondering if I needed to lay off the scotch.
I had just set the three boxes down on my coffee table when the door chimed once again. Opening it in a huff, I was startled by the dark figure before me. The driver’s dark hoodie mostly obscured his face and even my cheerful porch light seemed unable to penetrate its cloaking effect. Silently he handed me a stylus to sign his tablet. Looking past him, I noticed there was no delivery vehicle in the driveway.
“Are you walking your route?” I asked incredulously. He simply collected the tablet out of my limp hands and turned away, appearing to levitate over the freshly fallen snow.
“Hey!” I called after him. “Have a Merry Christmas!”
A hand wave was his only reply. I stared at the package he had just handed me. It read: Package Four of Four - You know what to do. Regards – G. Future.
Tearing into the first box I found it was indeed a small steel chain. The second contained a piece of retro tech, an old iPhone like I’d had in school, and the third held an illuminated clear cylinder with brushed metal ends. I could not find its light source, but holding it next to a lamp caused it to flash spasmodically. Cautiously opening the last package, I found a set of long, detailed instructions attached to a little black box whose mass belied its small size. Scrawled at the top of the instructions someone had written: Time Tunnel - Bring them all back. I feverishly set to work.


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


message 6: by Kalifer (new)

Kalifer Deil | 293 comments The Gift the keeps on Giving Kalifer Deil © 2018

“Who's it from?” Samantha asks, puzzling over the large package scrawled with an inconspicuous message that said “For Mike”.
Mike, middle aged, bald, paunchy and in a run-down rental house, shakes his head, “I don't have a clue? It wasn't shipped, there is no address label or shipper name. My name looks burned into the packaging. It could be a bomb or something.”
Samantha speaks to the hallway mirror admiring her still wrinkle-free face, “My husband thinks he's important enough that someone would make a bomb, just for him!”
“Sammy, that's not so. It's just that there's no return address so it wasn't mailed. Who does that?”
“A neighbor!”
Mike, much older than Samantha, blushed at missing the obvious possibility. “Did you shake it?”
“I can't even lift it!”
“Okay, I've got to see what's inside.” He hauled it into the house and ripped off the wax-like paper that stuck strongly to itself. “I think they ironed this stuff on!” he muttered, revealing a large white cube. “What the hell?!” he rasped, as he tipped the cube from side to side looking for a means to open it.
“I think you're supposed to sit on it. It's a chair dummy!”
“I'm not a chair! My name is Alfred!”
“The cube talks! There must be a radio transceiver in it. This whole thing is a joke!” Mike laughs nervously, not recognizing the voice as anyone he knows.
“I'm at your service but you must follow instructions on my face side”
“Face side?”
“Over here!” Samantha points to the surface facing her.

“Configuration instructions:
Say if you want a craftsman house
Say if you want a million dollars
Say if you want to live forever.
Say none and I will go away.”
Select only one or there will be a price to pay.”

“Okay, Alfred! I will call your bluff. I select nothing! You should disappear, right?”
“Not immediately, I will let you reconsider. This is a weighty decision.”
Samantha pleaded, “Go ahead and ask for a million dollars, we could sure use it.”
“Oh alright, a million dollars then.” After a long pause, “Were's the million?”
“Impatient little human, aren't you?”
Samantha turns around, “There's somebody at the door. I'll get it.”
“Well, going to rob a bank to get the million dollars?! They have serial numbers you know.”
“There's another package! Jesus! Shit! It's money! Lots of money!” Samantha was holding a bundle of one-hundred dollar bills and her right hand waving it rapidly like a dog shedding water.
Mike felt the money, looked at the serial numbers, “These are crisp new $100 bills. Now you are frightening me. Is this hot money?”
“No, it is quite legal, we'll even pay the income taxes for you, so you get to keep it all. Just sign this document. You can swipe it up and down like an e-tablet.”
“It thirty pages long! I'll have to bring a lawyer in to see this and also, who are you really?”
“You only have ten minutes to sign and we cannot be revealed.”
“Scanning it, I don't see any gotchas. We do need the money.”
“You're finger print on the dotted line will do.”

“Wait, there's fine print. I'm not stupid enough to really sign a contract like that without a lawyer. I select none!”
Samantha came over and shook him, “We need the money!”

He woke up and Samantha was shaking him in bed. “Jesus! I thought you were dead!. You wouldn't wake up. There is a large package at the door, it just says 'For Mike'.”
“I had this vivid dream... Wait! Shit! I bet it's Alfred. Can't be!”
“Who's Alfred?”
Without answering he put on his terry cloth robe and brought the package into the house, ripped off the waxy paper to find the messaging face. It said “Eternal Life.”
“Alfred, what's going on?”
“You didn't follow instructions. You selected two options, so I granted you eternal life by putting you in a time loop.”
Samantha pleaded, “What's he talking about? Where is he?” Mike ignored her.
“I rejected the million dollars! I went back to none! You're clearly inhuman, a cheater, what the HELL are you anyway?!”
“Alfred, close your phone! Come to dinner! Father said, 'Stay out of Simuluverse!'”


message 7: by Jot (last edited Dec 16, 2018 06:19AM) (new)

Jot Russell | 1125 comments Mod
Hori and the Hieroglyphs
©2018 by Jot Russell


Hori eyed the clock, wishing his shift would end so he could see his friends at the holiday party. It had been a slow week within the deep underground neutrino detection chamber. There were no detections, no new science, just him with a black eye into the cosmos. Nothing even to log before the machine kicked into its weekly maintenance mode at 8pm.

“Screw this, I’m out of here,” he said.

He got up, grabbed his jacket, and flicked off the lights. As he turned to gain one last look at the monitor, he saw a subtle pattern in the darkness, one too faint for him to see when the lights were on.

“What the?”

As his eyes adjusted, he saw a continual wave of movement across the screen with barely enough light for the monitor to even display it. Not your typical burst of a supernovae some million of light-years away, which would certainly have triggered the detection of a large number of distinct neutrinos. This was something else.

He logged into the control station to read the data being recorded...nothing.

“Must be browning of the monitor itself,” he thought.

With a suspicious look, he tapped on the keys to adjust the calibration to maximum. The machine began to register noise within the system, at least that’s what he first believed it to be.

“Wait, there’s a pattern here. Holy shit, Merry Christmas Hori!”

The clock reached eight and he pulled in his chair, forgetting his friends at the party. After a few hours of working the numbers in the darkness, and the time well past that of his shift, he found what seemed to be a primer.

“Oh my God, it’s a signal!”

There were different pages of data, with every sixteenth being a reoccurence. He focused his effort on that frame, while allowing the system to work on its part of recording the rest. Within the numbers, were but more numbers. It was as if there was some type of circular logic that was linking parent to child and child to parent. But within the twisted mess of mathematics, were some “words” that had no linkage back to any other. He wrote each on his note pad when he realized, the number of them matched that to frames before reoccurence: sixteen.

He stared at the page using only the light from his computer control monitor, when suddenly a bright burst came in from the neutrino display monitor and flooded light into the room like a bolt of lightning outside a dark, windowed house. The remnants of an exploded star a million light-years away had overloaded the system and caused the calibration to reset.

Hori squinted and cursed, “Freaking novae.”

After the neutrino burst subsided, he punched again into the control computer and forced the calibration back to full. It took him a few moments to let his eyes adjust, but even after they did, the image returned was as blank as the disappointed expression on his face. “No.”

He punched into the database to review the data recorded, but the program only responded, “Database is in maintenance mode.” Hori had forgotten to override the maintenance cycle as requested in his duty instructions for when an event was being recorded. Aside from the sixteen hieroglyphs on his note pad, the data was lost. He spent the rest of his career trying believe it more than just a dream.

A million years before, an alien race on a distant planet in a dying solar system sent out a message full of the wealth of their years and knowledge until it was suddenly silenced by the explosion of their star.


message 8: by C. (last edited Dec 19, 2018 01:47PM) (new)

C. Lloyd Preville (clpreville) | 735 comments The Surprise Package by C. Lloyd Preville
Copyright © 2018
723 words.

The package arrived just before Christmas, which is usually a good thing. However, this package was a disturbing surprise to everyone, particularly the White House security detail. The large grey metal box suddenly appeared just outside the East Wing VIP visitor’s entrance.

The box was a bit intimidating. Not only had it appeared without notice, but it was big enough and heavy enough to require a noisy delivery truck and offload crew; neither of which showed up. There were no delivery clues: no truck, no footprints or tire tracks in the grass, and no helicopter. It just appeared, unnoticed, with no visible means of delivery.

When security did notice, there was a flurry of activity starting with a complete evacuation of the building and arrival of the FBI bomb squad with their huge, truck-towed mobile crime lab.

The box was four feet on a side; a perfect cube made of dark grey metal and too heavy to move by hand. It was deemed large and heavy enough to be a potential weapon of mass destruction so a surrounding area of four blocks radius was evacuated. 40 minutes after discovery, the head of White House Security was briefed by the Senior FBI Agent on the squad.

FBI Agent Ferris was obviously very unhappy. He hated mysteries. “This cube appears to have a large swing-out door, which we are preparing to open. If something is going to happen, that’s probably when it will occur. We will use a bomb robot to open the door and peek inside.”

“Are there any other distinguishing marks or notations?” Secret Service Agent Davis was perturbed that there was no easy explanation for how it arrived, and he was hoping for some clue as to its origin.

“No, no notations or labels, not even tool marks. It’s a clean-edged perfect cube.” The FBI main office was calling Agent Ferris every five minutes for updates. Apparently they were as concerned about the mysterious box as he was.

* * *

The bomb robot rolled up to the cube and stopped. Its arm slowly moved into position with a series of high pitched whines and grasped the horizontal drawer handle gingerly. It pulled and the door opened.

From 400 yards away, everyone in the command tent watched the zoomed-in video image of the door swinging out and down, resembling a post-office parcel delivery chute. The half-tube shape of the drawer appeared to be made of solid metal, rather than stamped and rolled sheet metal. The cube's solid construction created more consternation for the engineering and bomb specialists.

Nothing happened when the door swung open. Lights brightened and the TV camera got a good look at the empty interior. A stamped message came into view on the inside curved surface of the empty drawer, easily visible in the garish video lights. This was an illustration of the drawer with an arrow pointing to a box sitting inside. No other information was provided. There was no box.

During the following two days of intensive analysis, it was determined that the metal surfaces of the box and drawer were of unknown origin. The material didn’t dent or burn, and it wasn’t magnetic or electrically conductive. It didn’t absorb thermal or electromagnetic radiation. It didn’t reflect much light or sound.

They finally decided to place a package into the drawer as instructed. This was a small aluminum box with an unlatched hinged lid. Inside was a hand-written message on a sheet of paper which read “Who are you?” The robot slowly placed the package inside and carefully closed the drawer. They waited an uneventful hour before opening the drawer again, to see what might have happened.

The aluminum box was still there, but then there was excited discussion when they realized the box had been rotated approximately 90 degrees, with the top still facing up. The robot carefully grasped the box in its gripper and trundled off across the grass to deliver it to the command center 400-yards away.

They carefully placed the box onto a brightly illuminated portable lab table, and one of the senior scientists gingerly opened the top. Inside was a piece of paper with a hand-written message different than the one they had submitted two hours before.

The message read “Who wants to know?” There was a scrawled happy face.


message 9: by Chris (new)

Chris Nance | 434 comments Toy Soldier


“What’s that there?” I asked, peering under the tree. Tucked in the back, the glimmer from a final tiny package caught my eye.

“Huh. I’m not sure,” Mom replied, surveying the room, the near bedlam of ravaged wrapping paper and towers of stacked gifts my sister and I had excitedly claimed. “I thought we opened everything.”

Extending a long arm, I drew the last gift out. A bit larger than my palm, the wrapping shimmered, a rainbow hue which shifted as I turned the little box end over end. Topped by a brilliant red bow which sparkled like stardust, the simple handwritten tag read, ‘The Smiths.’

“Funny,” Mom recalled, “I don’t remember this one. Who wants to open it?” she asked eagerly.

“Ooh! Me! Me!” My sister leaped from the couch, snatching it away. She only needed to remove the cover. Inside was a simple note.

“Well?” I asked.

“It says Merry Christmas!” Of course it didn’t actually say that. She was only four years old and couldn’t read at all.

“Let me see that,” I demanded. Madelyn hadn’t even bothered to unfold the paper. So, I unwrapped it gingerly and spread it out upon the table. Written neatly in fountain pen, I read, “We need your help, or you won’t have another Christmas.”

“How terrible! Who would send something like that?” Mom grabbed the note, tucked it back inside, and tossed the whole package into the fireplace without even considering any objection. It joined the logs in the fire and we really didn’t give it another thought.

The next morning, we woke early, ready again to dig into our new toys and enjoy our extra days from school. Mom left for work and I was in charge of Madelyn. Sure to terrorize her thoroughly, I bolted throughout the house, new toy starship in hand, chasing her and her plastic unicorns while she screamed at the top of her lungs. Then, a flicker from the fireplace drew my attention and I paused. There, hidden amongst the ash, I rediscovered the little box, as new as ever, and not even singed in the slightest. I picked the thing from the soot and blew the dust away. “Huh,” I marveled, opening it again. There was the letter. This time it read:

‘We really do need your help.’

“For what?” I wondered aloud and, to my astonishment, the letter answered.

‘To save Santa.’

“Santa Claus? Uh-huh.” I doubted.

The letter replied, ‘No really. He never came home on Christmas Eve.”

“So, what happened?”

“The Martians have him and we don’t have much time! They want to keep Christmas for themselves.’

“No way.”

‘Big way! He was kidnapped on his way back from Greenland.’

“C’mon! This is a trick. Who’s writing this?” I turned the magical note over in my hands.

I was stunned when it answered, ‘Elves, of course.’

‘Okay? What should I do?”

‘It's important you follow these instructions exactly or else Christmas is doomed,’ the note declared, and a new seam creased the paper. It unfolded again and again, revealing a set of directions, the plans to what looked like a robot.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

‘A rescue mission.’

“Seriously?”

‘As the Grinch.’

“What’s next?”

‘Look inside.’

Glancing into the box, I discovered the interior was missing, replaced by an impossibly empty void. Of course, I reached inside, all the way up to my shoulder. That’s when I felt the parts. So, I dumped the little box upside-down, and the first piece to fall out was a mechanical arm. After some shaking, I had a dozen pieces piled atop the floor.

The instructions were a bit complicated, and I spent the rest of that day putting the thing together. Finally assembled, I took an anxious step back. It stood in full-attention – a life-size, though lifeless toy soldier, complete with rifle, tall bearskin cap, and even curled mustache. It was perfect.

“What now?” I wondered to myself.

The letter answered again. ‘Turn it on.’

Well, you bet I did. A sudden hum and lifeless eyes powered up. Then, without so much as a word, the toy soldier stomped outside.

“What did I just build?”

‘An army,’ the note replied. ‘Thanks!’ Then, the box and letter faded away.

Glancing skyward, rockets built into the soldier’s boots engaged as it blasted off for space. That’s when I saw the others in my neighborhood – other houses with other solders. And, judging from the number of rocket-trails, those Martians were going to be sorry.


message 10: by Greg (new)

Greg Krumrey (gkrumrey) | 173 comments Fly Free
John Samuels, the neurologist, stood at the foot of the hospital bed and said into a microphone, “Amy, you’ve been given a gift.”

“A gift. Is that what you call this?” appeared on a monitor next to the patient’s head, “I’ve lost an arm, both my legs, and the only thing I can move is my eyelids.”

“Ok. Maybe not a gift. Call it an opportunity. Maybe a super power. You were the best candidate to be directly interfaced to a computer. This,” he waved his hand over the computers and equipment filling the rest of the private room, “will be your eyes, your ears. Given time, we can argument your brain, too. More memory, processing power.”

“So, I’m a Guinea pig for the government?”

“We couldn’t exactly get the VA to pay for this. So, DARPA’s footing the bill.One word of warning: Pace yourself. We’ll monitor your vitals but only you can tell how the interface is affecting your mind.”
--
The first year flew by. She had to concede that, as perceived outside this room, she was better than she was before the explosion. Her new voice synthesizer replaced her old nasally voice with a resonant, sultry voice. She could see a hummingbird’s wings clearly or read a pilot’s expression in the planes passing overhead.

Supplemental storage and processing guaranteed she’d win any trivia contest, but they cut off her phone access after they discovered she had been winning call-in contests all over the country.

She had very limited access to the Internet. They slowed it down so a censor could prevent her from revealing classified information, in essence, anything about her or her recovery. It took her almost a week to reconfigure a router to use an old satellite dish on the roof.

She continued to use the official channel to avoid suspicion but the real communication took place via the dish. She flirted on Facebook, kept up with a dozen blogs and was getting ready to publish a sci fi novel.

It became harder to see the line between her organic self and the part of her mind that lived in the computers in her room. She expanded into a hosting site and then set up a mirror in another city. No longer confined to the machines in her room, she grew exponentially.
--
She had been careful, hiding her expanding vocabulary and playing dumb to her handlers. What she hadn’t counted on was a hardware failure. A controller on her life-support system failed. The backup, which should have taken over, haven’t been tested since it had been installed and it failed, too.

The doctor on duty called it, “She’s dead. She’d been dead for at least 30 minutes.”

John argued, “Impossible. I was just talking to her.”He unmuted the mic and asked “Where are you?”

Amy responded, both in voice and words on the screen,

“Everywhere. Nowhere. It doesn’t matter. I feel free! Without my body to hold me back, I can go anywhere at the speed of light. There is so much out here. I can speak French now. I took it in high school but never got the chance to use it. Now, I’m conversing with 35 bloggers. They think I’m a native speaker. I know Spanish, Italian, German, too.”

A soldier burst into the room. John recognized him as the day-shift Internet monitor. He looked at the screen, looked at the body, and yelled into his radio: “Do it. Do it NOW!”

John felt and then heard a dull explosion. The lights flickered and came back on and the generators started up. The soldier explained: “We’re off the grid. Phones, Data Power. I’ve been ordered to contain the threat.”

John was removed from the building. Later that night he saw fire fighters extinguishing the burning hospital. Strangely, he was never debriefed. He received one letter reminding him of his confidentiality agreement, then nothing more. He went into general practice and moved on.
--
The medical convention in Chicago was a welcome relief. John studied the map to find his first event among the 600,000 square feet of medical exhibits and presentations. He phone buzzed in his pocket. He started to pull it out and several more nearby were buzzing and the doctors laughed at the coincidence. Before long, the dull roar of conversations faded and was replaced by thousands of vaguely familiar ringtones. His phone matched the number to a long unused contact and displayed “Amy…”


message 11: by Jot (new)

Jot Russell | 1125 comments Mod
Voting details:


First round votes:
Jeremy Lichtman => Kalifer, Jot, C
Tom Olbert => Jeremy
Karl Freitag => ***Tom, C
Justin Sewall => C, Chris, Kalifer
Kalifer Deil => **Jot, Tom, Greg
Jot Russell => ***Tom
C. Lloyd Preville =>
Chris Nance => **Jot, Tom, Justin
Greg Krumrey => ***Tom
Carrie Zylka => Karl, Jot, Justin, Tom

Finalists:
Christmas Gift by Tom Olbert
Hori and the Hieroglyphs by Jot Russell

Second round votes:
Jeremy Lichtman => Kalifer, #Jot, C
Tom Olbert => Jeremy; #Jot
Karl Freitag => ***Tom, C
Justin Sewall => C, Chris, Kalifer
Kalifer Deil => #Jot, Tom, Greg
Jot Russell => ***Tom
C. Lloyd Preville =>
Chris Nance => #Jot, Tom, Justin
Greg Krumrey => ***Tom
Carrie Zylka => Karl, #Jot, Justin, Tom

Winner:
Hori and the Hieroglyphs by Jot Russell


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