Category Archives: writing

Writing prompt: Old rock day

(It’s the new year and I going to restart my weekly prompts! Hooray! I slacked a bit this fall, which means I’m chock full of inspiration, right?)

Time: 10 minutes plus a 5 minute edit. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Old rock day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

After I went to an exhibit on Mars rocks, I was determined to find my own chunk of Mars. I dropped $1500 on a Pocket Geology GC™ Field Testing Kit. The Pocket GC could vaporize a small chunk of rock and run it through a tiny analyzer. Based upon the composition and structure, it could access an online database and tell you how the rock formed, where it was from, and how old it was. Crowd sourcing meant better data every day. If you really needed to be sure, you could send it off for authentic geological testing by certified scientists… for a price.

Only a handful of Mars rocks have ever been found because most rocks just look like rocks. Peering into their history isn’t something human eyes were made for. But since the Pocket GC hit market, the number of samples had grown by 50%.

I drove throughout the southwest. I studied the circumstances of other rock finds. I kept looking. I kept failing, but I was keeping busy, which is important, right?

I found it, appropriately enough, in City of Rocks State Park in New Mexico. It wasn’t a Mars rock; it was something else. I only went there for the scenery; the rocks there are way too young to find a Mars rock. But, so accustomed to fiddling with my hands, I tested an unassuming chunk of rock.

“Origins: Unknown, age: unknown,” my phone displayed, followed by a mess of chemical data. The Pocket GC didn’t return “unknown” too often these days. Sometimes scientists in the lab with new substances stumped it, but after 5 years of crowd supplied data, it had seen almost everything. So I had found something wonderful: a puzzle. I knew I should send it in for the extra testing. But I decided to keep it intact for a few days as a trophy. It was almost a compulsion, I couldn’t stand to hurt it more than I already had for the testing.

I set the rock on the bedside table as I went to bed that night. In the morning, I woke tired. The dreams crept up on me slowly over the next few nights.

Writing prompt: bald and free day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“bald and free day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

I opened my eyes. I reached up to feel my head. It was smooth and hairless, slick and fast. Then I realized my fingers were different too. I lowered them and inspected them. They looked slightly blurry, but they were wider, flatter. Webbed.

“You’re completely hairless, now,” the technician said. “This new body has a number of modifications for your new lifestyle. You have more subcutaneous fat, to deal with the water temperature. You have a dorsal fin. You might notice your vision is a little blurry. That’s from the extra eyelid. It’ll help you see underwater.”

Across from me sat a motionless creature covered in hair. It’s tail hung limp. The last vestige of my last adventure. I had run with the wolves. Well, human-wolves. I wasn’t actually interested in hanging out with real wolves. Too much violence, not enough conversation. But since Ed had dumped me, I got tired of wolves quick. Finally I wanted to explore my first love, whales.

I’d always been fascinated by the sea. But the ocean is still not fully tamed. It’s intimidating. You have to sign a lot of wavers to do the whale experience. A lot of whale people never come back home. They don’t know if it’s by preference or if they die. They made me get a GPS chip, for tracking. It sounded undignified to me, but that was the only way.

“Where will I sleep?” I asked. My voice sounded odd. I wondered if that was due to modifications to my voice or to my ears.

“Your new body is modified to mimic sea mammalian species. Part of your brain will always be awake. This brain sleeps in shifts.”

“That sounds unhuman.”

The tech shrugged. “Isn’t that the goal?”

Another tech rolled my wolf body away. I knew from past adventures it would be mulched. My tech rolled my chair out of the room. I realized my legs were fused into one. Now it was real. I was going to be free.

Writing prompt: race your mouse day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Race your mouse day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

“Ladies and gentlemen and the rest of us, the mice are being shown on the track now. Place your bets before the bottom of the hour! Look there at Thumbelina, a whole foot taller than last year! They must have discovered another variation for the Am-te-1 gene. And Fivel Goes Sonic is following. Yes, there have been some creative designs this year!” The announcer droned, though few listened.

The stands were full and the elite had their plumage set to “ridiculous.” Holographic dresses made women appear to have 12 inch waists. There were hats 5 feet tall, but didn’t obstruct the views of those seated behind. A man cooed at his pocket-sized St. Bernard. The fabrics were inlaid with microthreads to calculate ever-changing fractals. The men displayed their bare chests, elegantly carved by nanobots into perfectly sculpted forests of bonsais. It was the day of the mouse race. The finest lab specimens from centuries past had been carefully genetically modified. Some were great hulking beasts 12 feet tall. Others where lanky and narrow, but highly optimized in musculature. The mice had to contain at least 99% of the genetics of a Sprague-Dawley lab rat from the year 2000, but some of these beasts would have been difficult for humans from that time to recognize. Some of the humans might have been hard to recognize, but they weren’t modified in any genetic sense. That would be obscene.

Writing prompt: cousins day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Cousins day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

(author’s note: I am not a biologist, so all the biology in here is just fun and spitballing!)

The Tasmanian Flu wasn’t a type of flu at all. No one knew then, sixty years ago. It was an engineered disease that got lucky enough to absorb a favorable mutation from a wild bacteria. It didn’t develop in Tasmania. We started calling it the Tasmanian Flu after no one would admit to the disease, but it was everywhere. Well gosh, it must’ve come from Tasmania. That’s where devils come from, right?

Either you were susceptible to TF, or you weren’t. A mother would catch the disease, then all her children, but not her husband or her in-laws. Quickly, they isolated the genes responsible for susceptibility. The fear was, if it infected enough people, it would absorb another wild mutation and gain the ability to infect anyone. After Putin died of the illness, conspiracy theorists speculated that it was a targeted assassination of the Russian despot gone awry.

That didn’t to the Cousins.

That’s what they called us. They rounded up those susceptible, the Cousins, and they put us in bio-containment camps away from everyone else. We had good care. They tried to keep the infected isolated from the merely susceptible. But it didn’t work, and TF has a 50% fatality rate even with novel treatment. Then there were the side effects.

I know 200 digits of pi. I didn’t try to remember them, and before TF I had no head for numbers. With minimal training, I found I could make sense of complicated geometries and had inexplicable intuitions as to the solutions of complex systems.

For 60 years, we made up for the loss of our cousins with our gifts. There are fewer of us than there once were. And now, some whisper that perhaps TF could be useful.

Writing prompt: Stay out of the sun day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“Stay out of the sun day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

“This will be one your first exercises,” the leader wiggled his antennae sternly. “It might seem like a trivial one, but 15% of recruits fail this test.”

Ix’xin sat nervously in his seat. Everyone knew about this test. They were working to develop genetic tests to identify the trait and lower the loss rate, but until then, the best thing to do was place every recruit in a separate vehicle and only give him the opportunity to take himself out.

“We will be launching you into space shortly. Most of your experience will be exactly like your experiences in the flight simulators. Except one. You will feel drawn to fly into the sun. Most of you will be able to resist, but not all.”

Ix’xin’s wings were strapped to a sensitive interface.The interface detected small muscle movements and translated them into the motion of the ship. It was almost like flying back home.

The sun was bigger and brighter than he could have imagined. In his mind, it felt warm and inviting even though with all the shielding he didn’t feel any difference. Several seconds passed before he realized he was flying straight toward the luminous sphere. With compound eyes, he saw the twinkling of other pods travelling as he did.

He continued toward the sun.

Writing prompt: I forgot day

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“I Forgot Day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

She didn’t know the face in front of her eyes. She reached out and touched the cool glass surface of the mirror. She didn’t know her own face. When had this happened? She realized she couldn’t remember her own name either. In neighboring apartments and out the small bathroom window, she heard screams and wails. She didn’t feel like screaming. She felt numb and confused. She wandered out of the bathroom into the rest of the apartment.

It was comfortable yet alien. Pictures of her unfamiliar face adorned the wall, often accompanied by a young man. The bookcase was full of books; many of them looked interesting. Pleasant music played over the speakers.

“Who are you?” it was the young man from the pictures. He wore pajamas. He looked angry.

She pointed immediately to the pictures. “I don’t know. But we know each other. You can’t remember anything either, can you?”

He looked away, acknowledging. Those screams must have been other people, lost, frightened.

A voice boomed from the sky. “Do not be alarmed! You do not remember anything, but this is for good reason. You must unlearn to relearn.” The words were mechanical, like a voice navigation system or translation. It was the most frightening thing that had happened yet.

“Please exit your domiciles in an orderly fashion in order to begin relearning.”

She exchanged a wild glance with the man. She knew that he didn’t intend to obey the big voice either.

Writing prompt: “I think my house is haunted”

Time: 7 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“I think my house is haunted”

 

I leaned into the corner of the room, huddling over the phone. “I think my house is haunted,” I whispered.

Gale laughed. “Haunted? I’ve seen pictures, it looks like a slice of the southwest straight from the route 66 days.”

“Yea…” I said, not following.

“Well, you know. Haunted houses are like… Victorian houses. Or Cape Cod houses with a dark past. Not adobe houses.” She sighed. “Well, maybe that’s just where I live. Why do you think it’s haunted?”

“There’s a soft spot in the floor. And sometimes it squeaks when I’m not over there.”

“Houses settle.”

“And twice now, Miss Kitty has reared up and hissed at absolutely nothing.”

“Mm hmm,” Gale murmured. She thought Miss Kitty was a psychotic cat already so I could imagine now what she was thinking.

“And…” I inhaled and looked around the room. “The other morning I think I saw the ghost of a Spanish conquistador in the garden hacking at plants.”

“Whoa.”

“After he left, I went and checked the plants and they were damaged where he’d swung his sword.”

“Why’d you lead with the first two?”

“They wouldn’t have sounded like much if I said them after. I tried to call the previous owner. He was very helpful with directions on the irrigation system and how to get the oven to light. But when I mentioned the conquistador he stuttered and hung up.”

“That’s got to be some kind of real estate faux pas,” Gale said.

Writing Prompt: National Tourism Day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“National Tourism Day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

We met Kosmos at the Spaceport in Richmond. With him (I suppose I really should say it based upon the literature, but it feels rude) travelled a xenobiologist and a diplomat. We were there for local color. I guess we were there to be hillbillies for Kosmos, but everything seemed so different for him I can’t believe he noticed.

When Kosmos came down the jetway, the laughter from his mechanical translator filled the room. The port had been largely emptied, a huge inconvenience, but worth it to host one of the first extraterrestrials. If everyone wasn’t already staring at him, they were now.

“The waves here stand!” he declared to the diplomat, who seemed unfazed. Thomas and I exchanged a glance. I’d once hosted a Tibetan exchange student, and I remembered the culture shocks of her visit. We smiled nervously.

The luxury limo conveyed us west to the mountains. Kosmos had demanded to see mountains.

I had seen Kosmos’ kind on the news often enough, but it was different to experience him in person. The pressure suit hummed softly. Pumps and valves whistled softly at several rhythms. Sometimes, I could see the fluid move through the transparent plates near the top of the suit, where I guessed his face or at least many of his sensory organs must be.

“They tell me you are called Jessica,” Kosmos said, turning his whole body to me in the limo. “And that you are native to this region.”

“Yes,” I replied, feeling a bit out-of-body. “My family has lived in these hills for over ten generations. I’m very proud of it.”

“Hills,” Kosmos breathed in pleasure. “I want to see them all. And caves and cliffs and whatever else you’ve got. This geology of yours fascinates me.”

“I could, uh, show you the fault line down on route 151.”

“Exquisite,” Kosmos said. He turned back to the window.

“His people are aquatic,” the xenobiologist leaned my way. “They live at a depth of 500-1000 meters. He’s very interested in how we live at the boundary of two phases.”

“Of course,” I said. I still wondered what purpose Thomas and I could possibly serve in showing Kosmos around.

Writing prompt: World Laboratory Day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“World Laboratory” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

The capsule docked at the World Laboratory station. Dr. Trinner pushed gingerly from weightlessness into the gentle rotational gravity. The door slipped closed.

“Your laboratory is a ways from the dock. It’s all allotted by need, the labs with heavier shipping duties are near here, the vacuum labs are surface labs, the gravity labs rotate faster, the zero g labs are on the axis.”

“It’s all right, I wouldn’t mind stretching out,” Trinner assured the nervous guide. Her reputation obviously preceded her. But it had been years since the Erlenmeyer Incident…

Strictly speaking, her research didn’t benefit at all from work in space. But as a child, she had dreamt of being an astronaut. Doing science on a space station was damned near the next best thing. The station had jumped at the opportunity to have a Nobel winner onboard.

The light gravity was disorienting, harder on her stomach than zero g somehow.“How many are onboard now?” She braced against the walls of the corridor.

“30%, about,” the guide responded. “Some of the laboratories require special work and will take longer to complete. It will be pretty peaceful for a while here!”

“Other than the construction,” Trinner said.

“Yes, other than that.”

#

Trinner was alone in the lab. Some colleagues would follow in a couple of days. Her quarters were in the cluster near that lab section. It felt like science camp, living and breathing science, away from the cares of the world.

The construction echoed through the bulkheads from time to time. But there were other noises that Trinner couldn’t explain—voices. Voices came from the walls, in languages she didn’t know. She wondered if it were recordings of radio or television, but she couldn’t find a source.

Writing prompt: National Stress Awareness Day

Time: 10 minutes. Click here to go to my list of prompts.

“National Stress Awareness Day” (Inspired by this list of silly holidays.)

 

Lisa pressed the start button on the tester. The arm slowly pulled harder and harder on the cylindrical sample, and recorded the resistance of the rod. Lisa watched while holding her breath. This was what she had been working toward for the last six years. This either spelled the ticket out of school to a prominent job and good paycheck or back to god-knows-how-much-more grad school with an advisor that would view her as more of a liability than an asset. It had taken three years full of setbacks to build the casting machine. And three more of broken parts and materials choices and whatnot. If she’d known that she would wait six years for a meaningful result, she would never have gone to grad school.

But she had. And she waited. The machine plotted the relationship. The slow grinding sound filled the room. Scritch, scritch, scritch, and another data point.

Crack! A fracture shot through the sample, spider-webbing as it went. It reached from the top to the bottom of the rod. The machine beeped “I’m done!” and stopped pulling on the rod. The chart of the stress-strain filled the air. Lisa’s eyes shot to the stress axis. How far had it gotten?

“Only that far?” Lisa shouted. “That far?” She stood and threw her chair against the ground.

Six years. Six years down the drain. What would she do now? Find a new project? Give up? Her mind buzzed and reeled. The hallway seemed to lurch as she lumbered down it.

“Lisa!” the undergrad accosted her at a time she was least prepared to coddle him. “Lisa, about your test!”

She snarled and moved past him. She needed to be outside. It pulled at her.

“Lisa, you didn’t just do the stress test, did you?” the undergrad pursued.

She looked over her shoulder and kept moving. He seemed to understand.

“Um, which… which sample did you use?”

She stopped.

“It wasn’t in the blue case, was it?”

“It was.” She should be relieved at this line of questioning. She wasn’t. The tension built in her.

“I might have switched the samples. I dropped several of them and had trouble sorting them back out. It might not be the final sample.”

#

Their advisor found the undergrad later, with “stress test” written on his face. He had been bludgeoned with a fractured cylindrical rod.

The professor found Lisa with the stress machine, cradling her printout and another fractured cylindrical rod. She smiled serenely and extended the plot to the advisor.

“This is excellent data,” the advisor said. He nodded, turned around, and left the room in a good mood.