Plugs

The first wave  came through fragile and could hardly stand on their own. A few dozen of them from each makerbot, barely half a meter tall, gray, unfinished. They opened their mouths slowly, closed them again, as if in anguish, but no sounds escaped the holes where their mouths should have been. When they raised swords above their heads, their arms could not bear the weight, and snapped off.

Once we figured out their ill intent we were able to stop them with a well-placed boot, a whack with a broom. We dropped a few in the fire just to be sure they were no more than simple resin.

But they learned quickly.

In moments, the next wave through were bigger, sturdier. Fast, less brittle, still resin but flossed through with fibers. They carried rifles that looked convincingly like AK-47s. They shot and killed several security guards before we were able to set fire to the lot.

And then the onslaught. Wave upon wave, each bigger, faster, meaner, and more solid, until they were unstoppable.

Turning off the breakers did no good, and the reservoirs of material were empty regardless. Power and materials were coming through from the other side.

They were made of carbon, glowing liquid, scrap metal, garbage. Those who didn’t shoot or hack at us simply sat down, piling up in the corners, in the alleyways, in the ditches, in the gaps between cars.

And then there were no gaps. On our side at least.

Resources, we learned, were not everything. Sometimes you just run out of places to put things.

Between densely gnarled groves, the ruins of Castle Noland rose on Spindle Mountain against the late sun like a needle one cannot spot in the carpet unless the light catches it or he treads on it.  The mountain, though stunted, was steep and crumbled in Yul’s hands–a miracle it had lasted.  It would not bar him from his lost father.

Castle Noland lacked drawbridges and doors, so Yul made one, knocking down bricks, some of which decomposed to powder.  Sunlight streamed through the roof and holes in the mortar, illuminating dust motes.  One beam shone on a white-bearded, white-robed old man stooped atop his throne:  like God after the sixth day.  The beam moved, and the old man regressed into shadow.

Was this the same man who sent the child Yul on quests:  Track the Amethyst of Memory to the caves of Kaldan, wrestle the Ruby of No Regrets from the King of Cobramen, hunt down the Cape of No Tomorrows through the thorny jungles of Afterwine?

Yul had never put his mind to quests.  He’d set out but–heavy-hearted–stopped to rest on a stump.  Days passed like a clock’s pendulum.  Soon hunger roused his head, and he’d slink home.

Yet Yul fetched the Ruby of No Regrets by trading plastic beads he’d dubbed the Necklace of Deathless Dawns:  “Death slipped by if you gripped the necklace righteously.”  True, it’d fail, but had they held it right?

The Ruby had never ceded Yul the confidence needed to begin his own life.  Instead, Yul had worried over quests his father shipped him on.  Late in his third decade, he, still questing, paused at a village, where a gangly girl drew well water.  When he asked for a draft, she gave without reservation.

Twelve decades later, he’s returned, to bring Father to a new home among sheep and grapevines.  Yul stood beside the old man:  his white contrasting with the gleaming ruby ring lolling on the right, wrinkled hand.

“Hello?”  The old man leaned forward, milky white eyes scanning the room.  “That you, Spot?  I’ve a doggy biscuit.”

Yul gritted his teeth.

“I shouldn’t have let you go.”  The last word was a sob.

Yul wanted to shake the man, ask if a lost dog was all he regretted.

The old man’s body shook violently.  His ribs rippled beneath robes, coming and going.  “I loved you like a son.”

Yul wrapped his arms around his father, shushing and humming a lullaby.

by David C. Kopaska-Merkel, Luc Reid, and Trent Walters

This is an exquisite corpse. Each of us wrote 1/3 of the story.

Lost in a thought he couldn’t let go, Chet bumped into a paramete in full plumage. She reared back, inadvertently spurting a few centiliters of rainbow spores from her bejeweled gametoslits.

“Clumsy human! May cleanser grubs devour you alive!”

Chet offered the Bow of Contrition, but the paramete swept past and was gone.  Chet glanced over his shoulder but saw nothing.

***

Returning home, Chet hurried to his rooftop lab. He wasn’t allowed to work in the basement since the Thousand Stenches incident. He took out the parcel he’d picked up at Thaumaturge’s Market.  As he sought the proper protocol, a gust of wind ripped a page out of his lab notebook.  He hoped it wasn’t crucial.

Chet ground a slice of the memory root into a fine powder. He mixed it up into the last of the lemon hummus, scraped it onto a pita chip, and ate. Trembling, he sat on the cool tar roof and waited to “meet” his father–world’s finest thaumatuge–who’d died in a horrible lab accident involving parametes when Chet was three.

Thaumaturgic symbols Chet had inscribed around him set the time frame. Touching his father’s ashes at his mother’s house was to ensure he’d see the right memories. Chet’s fingernails tickled, his nose hairs quivered, and murmuring noises burbled in his ears. This was it. This would be worth saving a year and a half to buy that memory root. A vision–bright colors writhed, bucked–came into focus:

It was a paramete pleasure nest, on a particularly pleasure-filled night. Chet realized: He had bumped into a paramete on the way home.  The parametes paused in their feathered flurry and, poking their long necks out of the fray, turned to Chet.  This was supposed to be a memory, Chet thought as he backed into a wall of pointy sticks.  The parametes surrounded him and glared.  Simultaneously, the parametes shook and ruffled their feathers, showering a cascade of cleanser grubs that inched their way toward Chet.  Chet tried to leap over them, but they leapt with him, crawling up pant legs, down his shirt collar, through shirt sleeves.  He weakened before he was able to strip off his shirt to peel off grubs.

***

Chet awoke on the rooftop, groggy as from a night of indulgence.  It must have been one helluva night because he remembered nothing from the day before.

Dear Todd:

What’s the matter? Didn’t you like the card I drew for our one-month anniversary? The dinner I cooked? How many more ways can I show how much I adore you? I know I haven’t always been on time for our dates, and sometimes I’ve been a little absent-minded, but can’t you take my word for it that I’ve got other things going on in my life?

I guess my job has

All right. No. No, if we’re going to have a relationship, it’s got to be built on truth and trust. I see that now. So I’ll just come right out and say it. I’m not just a travel agent; I’m really the Violet Vixen.

Whew. There. I know it has to be a shock to hear I’m a world class supervillain, nemesis of General Arms and destroyer of the Statue of Liberty. Still, you have to look at my side of it. They shouldn’t have ignored my ultimatum.

And look at all I’ve done for you. Ever since we were in high school together I had a crush on you. Even then I was manifesting my superpowers. It was me that helped you get a place on the track team. Richie Harcourt’s legs didn’t exactly break themselves, you know.

Wasn’t college the greatest? That was when I brainwashed you into attending an all-girls school with me. Sorry you got beat up in the locker room so often, but at least I made the girls forget you were actually a guy every time. Most weekends I’d fly you to Paris for dinner. Very romantic, except that time Capitaine Gaul and his twin brothers tried to keep me from giving you the Eiffel Tower. Lovely funeral, wasn’t it?

We drifted apart after graduation, as couples will do. You had grad school and I had conquering a small Central American country. I erased most of your memories. Then you were recruited by B.U.C.K.L.E.R. and sent to ‘stop my reign of terror’.

As if.

Still, I must thank the Bureau for sending you to me. Sure, my spies there told me you weren’t really looking me up for old times’ sake. Their anti-brainwashing techniques are advanced, but I have faith that in time you’ll come to see that I’m right.

That’s why I want you to listen to the attached tape. Every night. Consider it an ultimatum.

Love,

-Vicky

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