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Monthly Writer's Challenge : January 2007

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Monthly Writer's Challenge : January 2007

Postby Qray » Sun Jan 07, 2007 10:19 pm

January 2007 Writer's Challenge

The guidelines for the Challenge are as follows :
    Write a story that somehow incorporates the monthly challenge image, story title, or both. The story doesn’t need to be a complete short story. It can be just a story excerpt. Just so long as it meets the minimum word count and somehow incorporates the monthly challenge image, story title, or both.

    As with all story posts, the content of the story must meet Speculative Vision Forumguidelines for appropriateness.

    The story can be of any genre.

    A minimum word count of 250 words with no maximum word count.

    You can write more than one story.

    The end of the challenge (the deadline) will be the end of the month.

This is a writing challenge, not a contest. It’s an opportunity to share our creativity and have fun!

If you want a critique of your writing, please say so in your post.

Let the authorial mayhem begin!

This month's story title:
A Fierce Wind

This month's image:
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Source : NASA
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Wormals

Postby Bmat » Thu Jan 11, 2007 7:43 pm

“What are these things?” Jenny shuddered. “There’s hundreds of them! They just keep coming and coming out of the ocean! It’s crazy! It’s bad enough that there are so many, but they wipe out the phone signals. We can’t even call for help!”

“Dunno. But word around town is that they started being seen after that earthquake that was in the ocean about a month ago,” said Joseph, spraying the oil solution on the creatures that had been dubbed Wormals. Joseph sprayed, and Jenny swept the dead Wormals into a disposal bag.

Finally the house seemed clear of the present invasion. Joseph leaned over the sink breathing heavily. Jenny fell onto a kitchen chair, gasping and shivering.

They both looked up sharply in the direction of the plop that sounded against the window. One Wormal was attached to the window, and another was right behind. They could see the undulation on the sand as another wave of Wormals came from the water.

Joseph’s jaw worked. He sized up the amount of Wormal spray left. Not really enough to fight off many more, he realized. Jenny noticed the direction of his attention and turned pale. She pulled her useless cell phone from her pocket. The Wormals had absorbed the signal that the phone needed to make calls. Jenny laid the phone onto the table and reached over and took Joseph’s hand.

“Some vacation this has been,” she muttered quietly. “A quiet week at the ocean. Right.”

They felt rhythmic vibrations and glanced at each other with hope. It was the Wormalcopter! For a while the inside of the house darkened as the copter sprayed the Wormalcide onto the house and across the beach. Gradually the light returned through windows streaked with the oily spray.

Cautiously, the couple opened the door a crack, and seeing no wriggly movement they threw the door open and looked out upon the piles of dead Wormals lying on the sand between their beach house and the ocean.. Joseph pulled his phone out of his pocket and flicked it open. The signal was weak, but there was a signal. They hugged each other in relief.

They didn’t notice, yet, that in the sand below the tide line some small wiggly Wormal shaped lumps were slowly rising to the surface.
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A Fierce Wind

Postby Boikat » Sat Jan 13, 2007 6:06 am

Mars, January 18, 2035, 1000 QMT

The Mars Buggy bounced over another outcrop of rock that Quirinius missed as he tried to drive and study the High Rez map at the same time. From behind him, his sister, Lovecquis, protested for the tenth or eleventh time, “Keep your eyes out the window or you’ll bust an axle!”

Quirinius rolled his eyes and kept driving, but directed more attention towards the rusty red ground in front of the buggy as he accelerated slightly. “No problem, sister, I got my bearings now.”

In the back half of the compartment, Lovecquis was busy taking additional external readings and comparing them to a weather map from an up-link to Phobos Station. There was a front approaching, carrying with it a level 5 sand storm. It was still several hours out and they should be able to make it to Tharsis Station with more than an hour to spare, as long as Quirinius didn't wreck the buggy.

About ten seconds later, Quirinius wrecked the buggy. That was slightly unfair, though, since the buggy wrecked when it broke through a thin layer of hardened lava that covered a small lava pipe and had looked like solid ground until the buggy broke through. The buggy nosed into the hole and slammed to a stop as it’s front cab rammed into the floor of the lava tube. Both occupants automatically grabbed their helmets and locked the seals. Quirinius looked at a gage and said, “Yup, hull breach. Great.”

Lovecquis unbuckled her harness and gracefully swung down to straddle her brother as he dangled from his straps in the drivers seat. “Any broken bones?”

“No. I’m okay.”

“That’s only because I haven’t broken any yet..”

“Very funny.” reaching down, he grabbed the High Rez map and then propped himself up with his legs against the instrument panel, and undid his harness. “How’s the COMM?”

Lovecquis twisted around and looked at the COMM equipment. “It’s out, naturally.”

Quirinius looked at the map again, “Well, we can climb out and send for help with the E-COMM, or we can head for this cave.” he said, holding the map up for his sister to see. “You said there was a front headed out way?

“The storm front is about three hours out.”

“Not enough time for a pick-up, even.”

Lovecquis asked, “Where are we?” Quirinius pointed to a spot just to the south of the cave area. “That doesn't look too far. Besides, with the sand storm, the buggy will probably get buried..”

“That’s what I’m thinking.” said Quirinius. “You get the E-Packs out, I’ll pop the hatch.”

Lovecquis had to climb to reach the rear of the compartment to reach the yellow and black stripped pull handles, but managed to do so with ease in the light gravity of Mars. Pulling and twisting the handles at the same time, there was a faint double “thud”, and she pulled two cylindrical containers out of their storage bays. Each cylinder was about a foot and a half in diameter, and about a yard long. One had a decal on it that showed a pup-tent and the other had a decal that showed a picnic basket.

In the mean time, Quirinius tried the hatch. It was jammed. Looking around, he found a geology hammer that had come loose from the rear of the compartment, and used it to shatter the glass window of the hatch. Making sure there were no shards remaining in the port that might cut his EVA suit, he reached through, felt the external latch lever, and pulled. The hatch popped open slightly and thudded against a rock out crop. “Great. Door’s blocked.” he said.

Lovecquis looked down from where she was unlocking another canister and said, “Take out the canopy then.”

Quirinius shrugged and smiled. “Breaking things is my specialty.”

“No need to remind…” said Lovecquis as she pulled the last E-Pack loose. This one had a radio antenna logo, and in big red letters, “E-COMM”.

Quirinius had to hit the canopy several times with the hammer before it finally started to pop out of it’s frame. Grabbing hold of a convenient hand hold, he swung his feet and kicked the glass shell completely out of the frame. Letting go, he fell through the frame and landed with a slight bounce. Looking around he said, “Careful when you get down here, Vee-Vee. Lots of obsidian shards.”

“Heads up” said Lovecquis as she let the “pup tent” canister drop. Quirinius looked up and managed to catch the canister before it hit the cave floor. “Very funny. Let me say it again: Obsidian Shards. Not good for pressure tents.”

Lovecquis didn't say anything more, but didn't drop the other two canisters, but handed them down so that her brother wouldn't’t drop them. Quirinius set them aside and as Lovecquis lowered herself through the canopy frame, and stopped. “What about the samples?”

“Olympus Mons has been there for over three billion years, it will still be there a week or two from now..” said Quirinius as he picked up two of the canisters. His sister dropped to the ground and picked up the E-COMM canister. “Besides, after the storm, and after we get a recovery team out here, the samples will still be in the buggy. They’re safe where they are.”

“I was thinking I could do some more study on some of them while we sit out the storm.”

“knock yourself out..” said Quirinius. Looking up he started to climb up the side of the buggy. Only the front half of the buggy was stuck in the hole, so it only took a few minutes for the two siblings to climb out. Once on the surface, Quirinius pointed to a low rise with several outflow gullies starting about half way down the slope. “There’s the caves.“ he said.

Vee-Vee looked where her brother was pointing. “Easy hike.“ Then she opened the E-COMM canister by pulling a rip cord and stepping back. The canister split open and a pair of solar panels unfolded, an antenna telescoped upwards and a display panel lit up. The solar panels aligned themselves of servo controlled gimbals to catch the most sun light possible. Lovecquis pushed in the suit COMM frequency on the “local receiver” section of the touch screen, and then entered the Tharsis emergency frequency into the “Transmit” section. “Tharsis Station, Tharsis station, this is Vee-Vee and Old Dog. We have a problem. Over.”

There was a brief silence then, “Tharsis Station to EXP 12, we hear you loud and clear, and have a fix….. Advise you take shelter. Sand storm front, ETA two hours and we would need three and a half hours to get there. EXP 17 has our Hopper tied up over a thousand clicks west of your position, but I’ll have them drop what they’re doing and head your way as soon as the sand storm is over. Copy?”

“Copy Tharsis. What’s the estimated duration, over.”

There was a brief silence, “It’s too soon to tell. Current estimates are two days to a week. Have you picked a secured location to hunker down, over.”

“Affirmative. Old Dog found a cave opening on grid section Gamma 15, map 5549. Over.

A second of silence, “Got it. Sending info to EXP 17. Need anything else, over.”

“Nope. Just another day in the neighborhood. Out.”

Vee-Vee tapped the “shutdown” tab on the screen, and the E-COMM refolded itself in reverse order of how it had opened, including drawing the rip cord back into it’s stowed position.

“Vee-Vee..?”

“Yes?”

“Quit calling me ‘Old Dog’. I’m only a year older than you.”

“Sorry. Old habit. Would you prefer your other old nick name, ‘Piggy‘?”

Quirinius shook his head, “Little sisters: There ought to be a ‘return’ policy at the hospitals…” he said to nobody in particular. Picking up the food and shelter canisters and slinging them over his shoulders, he continued, “Let’s get moving.” and started to walk off.

“A little more to the left…” said Vee-Vee.

Quirinius stopped. Looked at the caves which he had started walking towards. “More to the left? I’m heading straight for the caves.”

Vee-Vee had picked up the E-COMM canister and Quirinius noticed she also carried a geology sample collection kit. “Yes, but to the left is a small crater. I figured as long as we were in the neighborhood, I’d grab a few samples.”

Quirinius shook his head again, and said, “Sure, why not….” and started walking towards a low rise to the left which marked the rim of the crater.

Less than ten minutes later, Quirinius sat on the food canister and idly looked at pebbles as Vee-Vee was “Ooohhhhh-ing” and “Aaaahhhh-ing” over similar pebbles that had apparently been blown out of the crater when it was formed. He also kept an eye on the north west horizon, watching a ruddy reddish wall of dust grow larger and larger. Finally, he could not stand it any more. “Vee-Vee, although I don’t share your love or rocks and things found in the ground, I do appreciate that love of rocks and things found in the ground, but I think it is time for us to haul rear ends into the caves.”

Vee-Vee looked up from a particularly interesting rock about the size of a basket ball which was formed out of layers of volcanic ash, but had a single layer of carbonate through the middle. Then she noticed the approaching dust storm. “Sorry, I lost track of time.” she said. Pointing at the small boulder, she said, “Stay put. I want to talk to you later.” The rock agreed with a silent and unmoving nod of obedience, much like any other proper rock would do. Gathering up the sample bags she had already filled and sealed, she stuffed them in the geology kit. Walking over to where she had set the E-COMM canister, she picked it up and followed her older brother.

Another twenty minutes or so brought them to the cave entrances. It would have taken longer, but Quirinius kept reminding Vee-Vee of the sand storm. Caves were “blow” caves, formed when sub surface brine warmed enough for the carbon dioxide to flash boil and blow out of the side of the hill. The carbon dioxide would boil off, leaving a slurry of sand and watery and foaming slush to roll down the slope forming channels that narrowed and faded into the lowlands. Even as far back as 2006, Mars researchers knew that some of the blows were recent, as in forming in real time, yet in the five years that humans had set up outposts on the red planet, nobody had been able to catch one in action. As they had worked their way up the hill, Vee-Vee had wanted to stop and collect more samples, but Quirinius kept control and kept reminding her that the rocks would still be there after the sand storm, even if they would be covered with a little more dust.

The two stood in the opening of the cave they picked and used the helmet lights to study the caves walls. “Pretty smooth walls.” said Quirinius.

“The Blows usually carry a lot of rock and grit, so the slush flow tends to polish the walls.” said Vee-Vee. Looking back at the opening, she watched as wisps of dust started appearing. “The front will be here soon. Looks like about twenty minutes out.”

“How far back do you think we need to set up the tent?”

“As far back as possible.” said Vee-Vee.

Quirinius picked up the tent canister and started walking deeper into the cave as Vee-Vee watched the dust wisps and an occasional dust devil form and drift by with increasing speed and frequency. It was almost hypnotic, like watching snow fall. Her near trance was broken when her brother called her, “I planted the tent as far back as I could. A little too far back, I think…”

Turning, she saw his helmet light in the depths of the cave, and taking one last look at the growing sand storm, she turned and quick stepped toward the light. When she got to the tent, she stopped, looked at Quirinius, then back at the tent. “I’d say that’s too far back.”

The tent was basically an inflatable double walled micro-fiber balloon with an air lock on one end, and a compressor and re-breather/oxygen generator at the other. It’s general shape was a ten foot diameter by fifteen foot long cylinder. When deployed, the walls inflated, creating the shell, and two flaps in the front also inflated so that the doors to the lock were formed by two flaps of fabric with a molecular coating that fused to form an air tight seal, yet could still be separated by simply pushing through. This particular ten foot diameter tent was wedged into a nine foot diameter cave.

A gust of wind at the front of the cave blew in a spray of sand and small pebbles, which due to the thin air, continued to fly to the back of the cave. The “plinking” and ‘pinging” of the sand and pebbles sent Vee-Vee and her brother scrambling into the tent with the E-COM and Picnic canisters in tow, and of course, Vee-Vee’s geology sample kit.

The inside of the tent was high tech, and designed to keep anyone that had to use it as an emergency shelter entertained for weeks, if needed. One wall incorporated two chromatofiber wide screen video displays with a micro library of over two thousand full length vids stored in a dual output micro player the size of a postage stamp. The remotes were the size of a little finger, and besides controlling the video entertainment, controlled everything else too, like lights and temperature. Built in fold down inflatable beds lined the opposite side, with two end to end about one foot off the floor, and three feet above them, two more so the tent could sleep up to twelve people in three rotating sleep shifts. The far end, opposite the air lock, was a toilet area, which used several miniature water and solid waste processing units to continuously recycle water, and compress and dry out solid waste for future recycling once the happy campers were rescued. (This was a standard on all versions of the off Earth emergency shelters, since it was much cheaper to recycle the solid waste than to transport fertilizer from Earth to either Lunar or Martian outposts. That was only common sense.)

There were also privacy drapes, nano-fiber blankets, inflatable chairs and a fold down inflatable dining table. In short, the shelters contained all the amenities needed to make an emergency shelter a home, executed in such a way that those that had need of one could do so, and keep themselves occupied in such a way that would prevent two or more people, cooped up for weeks on end, from killing each other.

Quirinius checked a small glowing panel next to the airlock, “Full pressure.” Reaching up he unlocked his helmet and with a slight hiss, broke the seal. “Ah! Fresh canned air!” His sister followed suit, and after removing her helmet, shook her braids out.

“Well, what’s for dinner?” she asked.

Quirinius executed a slight bow, “Uno momento, Senorita..”, pulling the rip cord of the picnic canister, the top popped open, and Quirinius pulled out a five liter bottle of water, which he set down, then started pulling out small individual meal packs, each about the size of a deck of cards. “We have a wide selection. Fried chicken wafers with mashed potatoes, carrots and an apple pie biscuit. Or, would you prefer a Sloppy-Joe with fries? And then there’s the salmon steak with baked potato, asparagus and peas with a cherry tart? Ah, this is mine, Bar-b-cued pork chop, with stuffing, mashed ‘taters, gravy, corn and rice pudding!…”

“Who cares, at this point..” said Lovecquis, as she reached in and grabbed a meal pack. Looking at the box, she read, “Liver and onions, spinach, dirty rice and dill pickle. Who thought that one up?”

“Weirdness is one to the things that the shrinks figured would stop anyone cooped up in here from going ‘Bozo-the-Clown‘, and walking out the air lock without a suit.”

“Frankly, if there’s too much ‘weird’, I think that would make someone want to walk out the air lock without a suit. Oh well. I don’t suppose there’s a chili-dog with tater tots in there..?”

“I’m sure there is, but you have to dig for it. But I’m not picky.”

***************

Day Three

The wind still howled on the eerie high pitched way that Martian wind howled, and along with that, the near constant hiss and thump of sand and pebbles flying into the cave and impacting on the material of the tent. Quirinius sat on his bunk and watched “Master of Disguise” for about the fifteenth time. Behind the privacy curtain that divided the tent into two rooms, Lovecquis watched the last part of “The Princess Bride”, and was sifting through a menu in the lower left corner for the next movie she wanted to watch. Finally, she settled on the controversial 2012 remake of “2001: A space Odyssey”, which she had never seen, much less knew about. Curious, she read the synopsis. It was controversial in two ways. How stupid was it to remake a move that was 11 years behind the times, and not even close to the reality of the times? The second was turning the HAL-9000 into a female android sex slave that developed an AI personality, which then proceeded to kill the crew in a manner that would have had Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick spinning in their graves so fast that their collective gyroscopic effects would, depending upon their relative alignment, stop the rotation of the Earth and cause massive devastation as continents ripped themselves apart under the stress. And, of course, they changed the ending so that the AI female sex slave androids’ motive was to ‘get it on’ with the alien artifact, which was no longer manifest as a monolith with 1 by 4 by 9 ratio dimensions, but shaped more like a twenty foot tall pickle, and thusly, create the “Star Child”.

Vee-Vee was delighted to find that she could “delete” movies from the menu.

Finally, she settled on a bio-pic based upon the life of “Floppy, The Hip-Hop Banjo Clown.”

*********************

Day six

“… You must learn the Disguisey way…” drifted through the tent as Quirinius made his way through the tent towards the toilet area. Vee-vee looked up from examining one of the rock samples. “Aren't’t you tired of that by now? How many times can you listen to Dana Carvy do that fake Italian accent?”

Quirinius shrugged. “I busted the remote.”

Vee-Vee shook her head. “My brother.” and went back to studying her rocks.

******************

Day seven.

The sound of the wind was dying down. The hiss of sand and thump of pebbles was also dropping off. Quirinius had managed to repair the remote to his screen, and was now watching the 2012 remake of “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Apparently, the “delete” feature only worked for each respective screen. At the rear of the tent, the compressor and re-breather/oxygen generator was pumping out huge levels of heat. In the cave behind the tent (And, just in case anyone forgot, the tent was ten feet in diameter, yet the cave was only nine feet in diameter), the walls were out gassing carbon dioxide, a touch of methane, and also (due to some odd Martian chemical reactions between the various compounds in the soil, the methane, and traces of water), oxygen. And the pressure was building.

Vee-Vee was just finishing up the cataloging of one of the last specimens of rock samples, when she felt a vibration. It seemed like the whole tent had vibrated. “Quirinius, what are you doing?”

“Nothing… Just watching a movie.”

“Did you feels something like a tremor, just now?”

“Umm, no. Well, sort of.” The privacy curtain parted and Quirinius poked his head into Vee-Vees’ space. “Sort of a vibration?”

Then it happened again, and the two felt the tent lurch in the direction of the cave opening.

Quirinius slapped his head, “Of course! Quick, get into your EVA suit!”

“What? Why?”

“Just do it!”

Vee-Vee knew one thing about Quirinius: He had an almost instinctive way of knowing when something bad was about to happen. Unfortunately, that didn't’t always apply when he was driving Mars Buggies. Moving as fast as she could, she pulled on her suit, and doing a quick check to check her suits O-2 levels, clamped on her helmet. Just then, the tent lurched again, knocking both of them off their feet. Quirinius got to his feet and grabbed his sisters arm, and said, “back of the tent, move!”

Not that Vee-Vee had to put much effort into it, since her brother was pretty much dragging her along anyway. The tent lurched again, and helped them to reach the back of the tent. “What’s going on?”

“The generator’s putting out heat in the back of the cave…”

Suddenly, it dawned on Vee-Vee what was happening. “Shouldn’t we be trying to get out of here instead?”

“Too late….” said Quirinius.

There was a flutter, then a lurch, then the two found themselves slammed onto the back wall of the tent. That wasn’t a particular problem, since it was in effect, an air cushion, yet the two still were firmly plastered against the wall.

Outside the cave mouth, a rumble could be heard in the thin Martian air, and suddenly, a day-glow green ten by fifteen foot cylinder shot out of the moth of the cave, quite literally like a cork out of a bottle of wine, since the tent was followed by a mix of water ice slush, carbon dioxide, and sand in a foaming mix that sloshed down the older gully. The tent landed about 100 yards from the opening of the cave, bounced a few times, roll for a bit, then hit the rim of the small crater, teetered, then rolled into the depression.

Inside, The two checked each others suit indicators and for broken bones or cracked visors.

“Talk about your fierce winds!” said Vee-Vee.

“Yeah. I think we made Mars pass a little gas…”

The tent rocked slightly, since there was still a bit of wind from the front, but it was lessening by the minute. In an hour, the two heard nothing from outside. Quirinius pushed through the inner air lock door, waited for it to reseal, then pressed through the outer lock. The sky was a bright red, it was early morning. He COMMed his sister, “Bring out the E-COMM, I wanna go home.”

Vee-Vee appeared within seconds, set up the E-COMM unit, called Tharsis Station, and was told the “Hopper” was on it’s way.

The two waited, and in just a little more than an hour, Quirinius saw a black speck low on the horizon, “Hopper ahoy!” In ten minuets, the hopper grew from a speck, to a blotch, to a oddly shaped contraption of thrust modules, instrument platforms and fuel tanks, until finally, it was the most beautiful ship the two had ever seen in their lives. As the ship touched down, a cargo pod hatch opened, and a figure leaned out and waived. “Busted the trolley, eh, Piggy?”

“Things were running too smooth the last couple of months, so I figured you needed something to do, Big Head!” Quirinius called back.

“Yeah, well, just wait until yo’ mamma hears about this…” the older man chuckled. Then he looked out over the shallow valley, and saw Vee-Vee poking at a rock. “Young lady, we have two more teams to pick up…”

Vee-Vee picked up the basket ball sized rock, and said, “That’s a good rock, nice rock. You stayed exactly where I told you to stay…”

“Vee-Vee!”

“I’m coming! Nice rock. Don’t worry, I won’t let the bad man hurt you…”

(Constructive criticism welcome)
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Postby Qray » Mon Jan 22, 2007 12:55 am

Constructive Criticism and Critiques are welcome. (Qray)

In Need of Balance.

Reznor never took his eyes off the towel wrapped woman. “Anybody can kill, but it takes a special kind of person to do it in a way that doesn’t raise suspicions.”

Ignoring the water dripping off her hair, Sakina looked around the small apartment as if she’d find something that would help her make sense of the fact that there was an assassin sitting in her living room. “This doesn’t make sense...”

“This isn’t Earth, Sakina. This is Mars. There’s just under two thousand people here. When someone goes missing, you better believe it’s going to be noticed. Even though this rock is pretty much run by the corporations, they still have to answer to the governments back on Earth. Especially when it’s a high profile person like you that disappears.”

Sakina felt sick to her stomach. “So you're...”

“The kind of person that does things in a way that doesn’t raise suspicions.” Rez nodded. “Yes.”

Sakina shook her head. As if she could change the fact that Rez was a professional killer by just not believing in it. “How can you do that. End someone’s life?”

Rez sighed softly. “Most of my contracts have dealt with corporate targets. Trust me, Sakina. The Sol is a much better place without them.”

“And me?” the woman wanted to know. “Will it be better off without me?”

Rez placed his gun on the table and smiled softly at the woman. “I’m not here to kill you, Sakina.”

Sakina’s towel almost fell off as she jumped to her feet. “I jump out of the shower, open the front door, and find you standing there pointing a gun at me saying you’re here to kill me!”

Rex held up a finger. “No, I said I was sent here to kill you.”

Sakima slumped back down on the couch. “Rez...”

“I’m not here to kill you. I took this job specifically so you WOULDN’T be killed. It’ll take time for them to figure out I haven’t fulfilled the contract and arrange to get someone else to Mars.”

“But...why me? Why would someone want me dead?”

“That’s what I want to know. That’s what we need to figure out. What are you even doing here, Sakina? When you left Earth, you were headed outbound to the Asteroid Belt.”

“I was there for six months,” the woman nodded. “Finishing up my research on the Coronatae.”

“The space jelly fish?”

Sakina’s eyes narrowed. “They are NOT jelly fish!”

Rez rose and moved over to the couch. “I know, I know. They’re the only extraterrestrial life-form ever found,” he said trying to calm her. “Other than basic bacteria, of course. Able to withstand the rigors of the vacuum of space, the feed off minerals they find in the asteroid belt.”

Sakina’s looked dumbfounded.

“See,” Rez smiled back at the surprised look on the woman’s face. “I payed attention to you.”

Sakina suddenly rifled through the pile of photographs on the coffee table. “Here, look at this. Do you know what this is?”

“It looks like a sand dune,” Rez said with a shrug.

“It’s the remains of a Coronatae!”

To Rez it looked like a sand dune.”Yeah and the Face of Mars isn’t just a natural rock formation.”

“This is why I’m here, Rez. I tracked the Coronatae migratory pattern to Mars. Once every hundred years a Coronatae makes it’s way to Mars and dies on the surface. It’s offspring use the remains of the parent to survive until it can break free.”

“Sakina, it’s a sand dune.”

The woman didn’t seem to hear the man. “I dissected a larval Coronatae and found high levels of Ununhexium. Once they break free of the parent, they must feed off the naturally occurring Martian Ununhexium...I...I don’t know why, but maybe to enter a cocoon-like state to metamorphosis into an adult, spacebourne Coronatae...”

“Fich! Sakina!” Rez cursed. Suddenly rising and retrieving his gun before pulling Sakina to her feet. “Get dressed.”

“What?”

“Ununhexium, Sakina? By Olympus, do you realize that the only reason there’s a thriving society of two thousand people on Mars is because the corporations realized how profitable mining Ununhexium is? If it wasn’t for the mineral, the only thing on this barren rock might be, might be a research outpost of a maybe dozen people at the most.”

Sakina dropped her towel and began sliding on a pair of pants. “So?”

“Fich, Sakina! For being a exobiologist you can really fail to see the big picture some times.” Rez again cursed. “Ever since Earth was able to solve the greenhouse effect there, every nation has gone ultra green. Fich, they’ll lock this whole planet down if they think the Coronatae are feeding on the Ununhexium. Turn it into a santuary if they think it’s a Coronatae breeding ground. Look at what happened to the upstream breeding locations of the Arctic Salmon. Fich, Sakina. Earth is already banning mining operations in large sections of the asteroid belt where they’ve found Coronatae living...”

Sakina tugged a shirt over her head. “You think that’s why someone wants me dead, because of my research?!?!?!”

Rez didn’t reply. He just looked at the woman.

“Oh come on, Rez. We can coexist with the Coronatae.”

“You think that, I’d agree with you, but when have the corporations or the Earth govs ever operated on anything close to common sense?”
I'm going to die the way I've lived...poor, screaming, and naked.
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Postby Chaeronia » Sat Jan 27, 2007 8:39 am

This is a very good addition to the site. I've only recently seen it and, with a busy couple of days ahead, I've had to rush through the story. Yes, I'm getting my excuses in early...

**

They could see its face. They could see its face! A cavernous socket had appeared with a seismic movement, shifting the sand as it seemed to blink. Avalanches rained down from it and tremors rocked the ground. A bridge of a nose came into relief. Spilled sand tendrils like dried river channels ebbed from what looked like its maw: its beard, perhaps, or its version of spittle. Except spittle seemed blasphemous. Gods didn't drool.

It was just so big, dwarfing every consensus, smashing even their most fertile of imaginings. It was just too big and now it all felt wrong. An archaeological discovery to fuel public fervour had become a theological shift. The watchers were all unnerved by the immensity of what they were witnessing, of what the House had ordered to be extracted.

A thought crossed many of their minds: they had been betrayed.

The fifty-mile thaumaturgist's circle that surrounded it was clearly not going to be wide enough, but they kept on chanting, kept on investing themselves into this behemoth. Pulses of energy and algorithms and alchemy raced from their minds into this creature, wave after wave of mental puissance, and it shifted and shook in response. From their raised viewpoint it was easy for those watching to see: the mageworkers would be buried by a million tonnes of sand when this thing was raised, inhaling them like pebbles sucked in by an event horizon. They would become the first martyrs.

'Why don't they stop? Mother, why don't they stop?' Radamanthus found his answer in a painfully squeezed hand.

More sand tumbled, like a child's crumpled sand castle when seen by the watchers from their tropostations, but they could appreciate the scale. Another shimmering cascade and the left side of its head shivered into existence.

The worst thing to the boy was that no one was talking. Everyone stood and gawped in statued awe and his mother's grip was too tight. He knew she was scared, quiet and scared, which meant everyone else was scared too because they weren't talking or shouting or swearing to resolve anything. It was all beyond their control. The boy's face creased like rippled water and tears welled. He pawed at them before they could fall, wiping away the shame just like father had always instructed. He looked up at her entranced mother. She looked pale and thin and gormless.

He squeezed back.

It shifted again to reveal another black implosion of an eye. Even at two kilometres from the ground the sentience of it burned through the birthing god's audience.

'Liars,' someone finally said. Then shouted: '*beep* liars!' Radamanthus saw others nodding their agreement, the same people who had been all smiles and pride when they had docked the station this morning. 'We need to descend,' the same voice said. Radamanthus, pressed to the window pane and shielded by his mother, couldn't see the speaker but felt the urgency in his tone. Others piped up:

'My family...'

'This isn't right...'

'What the *beep* are they playing at?'

The ice seemed to be broken, the spell of dormancy lifted. Anger was usurping fear and with it came purpose. 'We'll ground this thing,' said the lead dissenter. 'Demand some *beep* answers. We run this city, not them. Our money runs this city!' The cheers of acquiescence pleased Radamanthus like nothing before. He met his mother's eyes; she was nodding.

Then it happened. The event horizon roared its welcome, and there was an abundance of pebbles. The earth rocked, waves of kinetic friction rending and splitting the land, and shaking even the tropostations. Expletives and screams, protestations, prayers and lost footing; two kilometres up and still the effect was drastic. Two kilometres down it must have felt like an apocalypse. Maybe it was, except no one could see because the earth had become a plume of discharge so colossal it blotted the land.

The God had woken and, like all newborns, it had bellowed.

Radamanthus hugged his mother tightly as the eruption of sand raced upwards to swamp them. This time he let the tears fall.
'There's a vampire, dad. It's trying to get me.'
'I know, son,' he said softly. 'I saw it.'
'You saw it?'
'Yeah. I broke its bloody neck. I won't have no vampires in my house.'
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