Vignette Tuesday

Because I have guest posts but hate to give them low exposure by posting late, and because I’m either having massive autoimmune or the con crud returned in all its glory (either is possible.  It’s been a stressful month.)

So — the theme for this vignette (try to keep it to two paragraphs, under 500 words) — is “Almost the end of the world.”

I.e. how the world almost ended and how the end was averted.

Points given for originality.  (E.g. Bradbury, the end almost came because TV went out forever, it was averted by someone getting the idea of painting and cleaning.)

The top three — as pronounced by me — get a choice of signed copy of DST, signed copy of Through Fire or (when available, but I’m glacially slow at mailing, anyway.  I eventually do it, but it usually takes three months or so, because I HATE THE POST OFFICE) signed (by author, not artist) poster of Darkship Revenge. (See cover below.)

darkship-revenge

123 responses to “Vignette Tuesday

  1. Martin L. Shoemaker

    Heh. The story I dictated this morning was probably under 500 words. I won’t know until it comes back from transcription.

    Unfortunately, it probably IS the end of the world. I did not find a happy ending for it. Defiant, yes, but not happy.

  2. 500 words? Sorry, that’s waaaaayyyyyyy over my limit.

    Yesterday, at approximately 4:37 PM EST, the world ended.

    Because it was in the middle of rush hour traffic nobody paid it any attention.

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    We thought it was the end of the world.

    The monsters seemed to be unstoppable.

    Then the Dragons came.

    They helped us destroy and turn back the monsters’ invasion.

    They helped us clean up the mess and while they decided to stay, they were friendly about it.

    Our governments worked with the Dragons to live in peace with them.

    Best of all, they were book lovers and willing to share the books they had brought with them.

  4. Not Exactly Fitting… but I needed it out of my head:

    “This won’t work, you know.”

    “Why not? Looks workable to me.”

    “It’s fiction alright, but not science fiction. It’s well into fantasy. And even for that it’s not believable. Donald Trump elected President? As a Republican? And defeating a Clinton? The disbelief suspension required could rig a bridge to the freaking moon!”

    “Oh come on. Tell me, is a B-movie actor ending the cold war less far-fetched?”

    “Maybe, but I still don’t really believe that one, either. Why don’t you write something about, oh I dunno, slime molds acting as biocomputers. Something less fantastic and bizarre.”

    Somewhere in Michigan, a slime mold finished a lengthy computation. The earth wasn’t saved, for it had never truly been in danger, but it would soon get Very Interesting.

    • Oh crud. Am I turning into a writer/author/something? This sounds like an ailment of such, “…I needed it out of my head.”

      I didn’t see a ‘Transformation Hazard’ sign anywhere around here.

      • Hang around these folks long enough and some un- or under-employed muse will notice you and take a poke to see if you prove amusing.

        • Oh gourd. Osmosis? Induction? Standard plain old infection? Or some peculiar kind of ray?

          • Depends on the bent of the muse. They invaded my head and it is now filled with vignettes surrounding muse conventions … which I am doing my best to ignore … they really do have strong personalities, even the ones who appear otherwise.

            • If there is a muse of mine, it’s scatterbrained at best. I get snippets of things, but not a whole thing as such. No beginning-middle-end. Not even Step_1-????-Profit!.

              I get the idea that muses might actually be more troublesome than gremlins, and those are no fun at all.

              And dangit, Labyrinthine is NOT a chemical weapon from WWI trenches. Even if it kinda sounds like it should be. Oh crud, not again.

              • Yeah. I can tell you have been taken on by a muse, just like a happy kitten with a toy.

              • BobtheRegisterredFool

                Getting useful product of out ‘muses’ is a matter of trained habit.

              • I feel your pain. I have snippets scattered hither and yon. Some even match characters. My muse taunts me, I swear.

              • BTW: I was first accosted by a muse whose usual target was not paying her the proper attention she thought she was due. She told me as much. ‘You tell them they ought to pick up their line,’ she said.

                ‘Who?’ I asked. To this day, I don’t know.

                She wouldn’t answer that question, but waved it off neatly with a white gloved hand, giving me impression that she was convinced that I was being deliberately obtuse.

                She was driving a lovely mint condition red Cadillac convertible with the top down. (I later determined it to be a 1958 Eldorado Biarritz.) She was impeccably dressed, dark cat’s eye sunglasses and a chiffon scarf tied neatly over her dark hair. I am certain that she is a force to be reckoned with. I feel for her authors, whoever they have been.

                • Somebody needs to establish a Home For Wayward Muses. We wouldn’t want them crossing to the wrong side of the tracks.

                  • [muffled laugh]

                    They exist, there is a lovely one up near Asheville. G-d help the person whose job it is to keep them on the reservation.

                  • I’ve been desiring to start the Orvan Taurus Home for Wayward Women, but any support dissolves once it’s explained that it is not planned as a reform school, as such. };o)

                    Of course, there is also the matter of the expense(s) involved, which are apt to be considerable.

              • Sounds like mine. Takes work to grow ’em, or sometimes, get them to hook up to each other — and grow the matrix for them all.

    • The old gray goo she ain’t what she used to be,
      Turing-complete, you see,
      Runs our society.

      • Late to the games here, but I have to attempt to complete what wheels started:

        Sensors watch for seismic anomalies,
        And I forgot my meds.

  5. I had always known when the end of the world would come. It really was not a matter to question. Ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series, tied score, the Boston Red Sox having failed to even put a batter on base, after two players strike out the Cubs send up their best.

    In the fall of 1997 someone, who stumbled as they were gazing at Hale-Bopp, had stepped on a locust which was where it did not belong. And nothing was ever the same again.

  6. I put together an anthology on this theme, actually. The world was supposed to be destroyed, but it turned out that scientists were wrong. I got a fun group of stories about what happened next.

        • Wow. I thought I was just posting a link.

          • That’s what they all say.

          • With WP, you never, ever know.

            Judge Posner is a moron.

            • Thankfully, all indications are that Judge Gorsuch is not a moron.

              • Former (what a delightful word!) Resident Obama’s solicitor-General, Neal Katyal, seems to agree:

                “Judge Gorsuch is one of the most thoughtful and brilliant judges to have served our nation over the last century. As a judge, he has always put aside his personal views to serve the rule of law. To boot, as those of us who have worked with him can attest, he is a wonderfully decent and humane person. I strongly support his nomination to the Supreme Court.”

                He even turned to the NY Times Pinhead Page to editorialize:
                [I am a yellow-dog, boot-licking party loyalist of low morals and dubious ethics and even I have to admit]:

                “I have no doubt that if confirmed, Judge Gorsuch would help to restore confidence in the rule of law. His years on the bench reveal a commitment to judicial independence — a record that should give the American people confidence that he will not compromise principle to favor the president who appointed him. Judge Gorsuch’s record suggests that he would follow in the tradition of Justice Elena Kagan, who voted against President Obama when she felt a part of the Affordable Care Act went too far. In particular, he has written opinions vigorously defending the paramount duty of the courts to say what the law is, without deferring to the executive branch’s interpretations of federal statutes, including our immigration laws. ”

                HT: Power Line

              • BobtheRegisterredFool

                But was he on the list of candidates that Trump claimed he would select from during the campaign?

                • Just one more example of Trump being un-presidential: he’s keeping one campaign promise after another.

  7. “Wait,” said the National Security Advisor, “you didn’t actually come to Earth in order to make first contact?”

    “That is correct,” replied the feathered lizard-like alien, the delegation’s lead S-Kint, Kra-Mat, seated across the conference table on folding chair-like devices they had brought along. Or rather it’s translator gizmo did. Or maybe it was bird-like. Bob couldn’t decide. No beak, but those feathers. Luckily, as the third assistant to the NSA’s assistant, Bob didn’t have to have an opinion yet. Wait, dinosaurs had feathers – they were discovering fossilized imprints of feathers now that they weren’t just banging through the rock to get to the bones. Maybe the S-Kint were dinosauroids…

    Bob mentally shook himself – this was the final preparatory meeting before the S-Kint delegation met with the President. Luckily, the alien translator gizmo was also streaming live text to everyone’s pad, the S-Kint seemed to like longish pauses in their discourses, and Bob had always been a pretty fast daydreamer, so Bob caught right back up.

    “We were in fact coming to your system to exterminate your civilization.”
    All the humans in the room rocked back in shock

    “Why on Earth would you want to do that?”

    “We have been monitoring your civilization for some time, and very closely since you passed the basic threshold of civilized information technology with your ‘internet’,” replied Kra-Mat after a dignified pause, “and our assessment was that your system of governance was devolving into a particularly violent form of ceremonial self-destruction through abasing submission to the most primitive factions of your global culture. Since you are but a very small step away from discovering and making contact with this galactic region’s information infrastructure, your civilization, and your polity in particular, represent what you would term a ‘cyber threat’ which we cannot allow to infect our systems. As this planet’s ecosystem is quite robust, even heading into a glacial cooling period as it is now, our regional system administrator’s determination was that a forced civilization reset represented the best option. The alternative was a full reformat, exterminating all intelligent life on your planet, allowing a full reboot.”

    Silence fell on both sides of the table. The NSA appeared to be speechless, and none of the other aides were making any moves to say anything, so Bob quickly typed a note into his pad, sending it to the NSA.

    The NSA looked down at his pad, looked over to Bob and nodded his thanks, and turned back to the alien. “You said that was your assessment, yet here you are. What changed?”

    “Your recent elections and subsequent actions to reimplement proper security measures represent the most basic security protocols. Your previous practice of establishing good protocols and then either bypassing or refusing to enforce them was the primary warning flag that drove our system administrative council’s decision to execute a civilization reset. Your recent changes have tipped the balance back in your favor.”

    “Well, then,” said the NSA, “I’m glad we won.”

    • Terran civilization almost eradicated because it was perceived as a threat to spam the galactic internet? Totally credible.

  8. Anything I tried to write on this theme would be better composed by a 15 year old girl whose first boyfriend just dumped her. At least we would say, “yep, she’s right on schedule,” if she wrote it.

    If I did the reviews would be less…understanding shall we say.

  9. It had to be the end. Stars had been thrown about the sky, confounding the wisest of scholars. The ground was constantly quaking, as if some giant of the earth had decided to level every mountain and tear up every plain. Great storms raged across the land, great flashes illuminating the destruction wreaked by wind and water. Worst of all, worse far beyond the storms and fires and quakes and stellar cataclysms, was the constant, shrieking, screams. The screams drove some mad, filled others with terror, and caused all to hide away. All who survived wept in fear and despair. It had to be the end.

    And then came a voice. It was calming, firm, authoritative, and loving all at once. It was also more than a little irritated. “That’s enough! It’s not the end of the world, you know!” The screaming stopped. There was a sound that suspiciously resembled sullen sniffling. “Tell you what,” the voice continued in a more conciliatory tone, “If you clean up the mess you made quickly, we can go get some ice cream.” And suddenly, all was right with the world.

  10. BobtheRegisterredFool

    The enemy fleet broke through the humans that met them before the temporal barrier. In 2028 they’d prepared the geometries to make Sol incompatible with humanity.

    The human survivors and their equipment were no longer compatible with sanity. But they landed in colonial Pennsylvania. Other humans had time to plan.

  11. *way over for length, but it’s sitting staring at me, so you guys can try it.*

    “Send the spiders first, and let them make their own way, if you will,” said Guruh. “Thus we will have warning of any horrid scenes below, that we may avoid seeing. It is as Alice says,” she began.
    “You can’t un-see shit,” finished Nike. “Okay, autonomous mode, forward spider cavalry and all that. Thanks Grandma, can we go now?”
    “Cheeky!” exclaimed Guruh, giving her hair a friendly flick. She turned and ran after a spider, disappearing into the large door in the side of the ziggurat.
    Immediately Nike heard a rail gun go full automatic, and a hammer crashed through the wall to land at her feet. She picked it up, hefting her own railgun one handed, and ran for the door. Before she got there a ZAP!! was heard as one of the spiders blasted something with a plasma gun. Just before she reached the door, a carbonized sphere hurtled out and splatted wetly on the ground. The crusty exterior flaked off to reveal a black substance within, scabby with burnt protoplasm. “Tekeli-li, tekeli-li,” the thing wheezed faintly, as it collapsed into a rapidly spreading puddle.
    “WHERE IS MY HAMMER?!!” roared Guruh bursting through the door. “Pestiferous dung eater! By the Gods, if you scratched it, I’ll have your heart for a hat!”
    Nike, taken aback by the transformation of her friend, kept quiet and extended the hammer carefully at arm’s length.
    “Oh, there it is,” said Guruh, calming immediately. “Thank you, bunnykins. You are most thoughtful.” She reclaimed the hammer gratefully and examined it closely. “You are in luck, purulent one,” she addressed the puddle, kicking away a bit of burnt crust to reveal an eye that looked at her with alarm. “My pretty hammer is unharmed. Anything to say, before I send you back to the eternal darkness?”
    “Tekeli-li?” it assayed in a terrified squeak.
    “Indeed. Less amusing when your quarry turns on you, isn’t it?” said Guruh, kicking aside another crusty piece. “How do you like my sister Nike’s little spiders, eh? More of a kick than you bargained for, I’ll wager.”
    “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl,” it answered, eye rolling. “Fhtagn!”
    “I know,” said Guruh conversationally, calmly examining her claws. “I put him there, the miserable squid. If he ever awakens, tell him Guruh the Vengeful Wolf sends her regards.”
    The eye bugged out in terror, the thing’s gooey substance began quaking.
    “Oh, you have heard of me?” inquired Guruh with mock sweetness. “How flattering. Tell me, my fine pestilential excrescence, would you like to carry a message back to your disgusting masters for me, instead of going directly to Hell?”
    The quaking increased, but the thing nodded its eye in assent.
    “Verrry good,” purred Guruh, leaning down to show the puddle her teeth. “Tell them I, the Vengeful One, am coming. Tell them I am accompanied by a Valkyrie, descended from the very heavens to rain down fire, ruin and death upon them. She struck off the head of an ogre with one hand just now, did you know? Oh yes, she did,” she assured the thing as the eye widened further in disbelief, flicking to blonde, silk-clad Nike, then back to the dire wolf and her shiny teeth. “Tell them if they run away, right now, I will give them a ten-minute head start, to make it more sporting. When I catch them, I shall spread out their bowels for the carrion eaters, while they yet live. But if they stay here? That I will regard as disrespect. I will become irritated. Can you remember all that, dung-stain?”
    The thing nodded its eye frantically, saying “Iä Iä, Guruh aiee!” It oozed rapidly away, shedding chunks of burnt matter. It reached a crack in the side of the ziggurat and flowed inside like an obscene oil spill, vanishing from the late afternoon sunlight.
    “You’re scary,” said Nike to Guruh. “And famous.”
    “Very,” said Guruh, with considerable pride. “Some Dark Ones were offended that I had killed their minions when I was alive, and sought to chastise me there in the dark places after my death. That one’s master among them. Woe unto them.”
    “But now you’re here, so you can relax, right?” asked Nike, looking at her with respect and a bit of concern. A wolf demon was one thing. A wolf demon that all the other demons had heard of, and were terrified of, that was something else.
    “Silly bunnykins,” Guruh growled at her playfully. “I have not changed in ten minutes.”
    “I’m sorry,” said Nike. “Finding out that Hell has celebrities, and that you are one, was a bit surprising.”
    “Useful too,” said Guruh practically. “Any moment now, there will be a stampede of demons out of that basement who are more afraid of me than their human masters. Let us stand back a bit, lest we be trampled.”
    “What happened in there?” asked Nike, as they walked back from the doorway a little.
    “The demon leapt on one of your clever spiders. It was clinging to the wall and struck the spider from behind. The spider turned about and splashed half the beast’s substance on the walls with its gun, and I struck it with my hammer. Then one of the other spiders unleashed the balefire upon it and turned it crispy. I kicked it outside when I was looking for my hammer. I was most wroth that the demon might have harmed it.”
    “You heaved it through the demon and through the wall,” said Nike. “It landed in front of me where we were standing before, way over there across the plaza.” She indicated the spot with a wave. “Nice throw.”
    “I became a bit excited,” admitted the wolf with an embarrassed grin. “I have not done battle with the evil ones in a very long time, my instincts got the better of me.”
    Deep within the ziggurat there was an unearthly shriek of fear and rage, louder than a train horn.
    “Someone has received the message,” said Guruh. “Any moment now. Stand ready, sister.”
    Nike shouldered her railgun and flipped the selector to ‘burst.’ “Ready,” she said.
    From the ziggurat doors came dozens of demons.  More of the blobbish, oozing ones, some that looked like lizards and snakes, another ogre, a great hairy monstrosity and a couple that flew away on leathery wings. None stopped to look at Guruh and Nike, but fled at their full speeds.
    The last was a human, clad in a feathered robe with a tall fez-like hat of deep blue felt. His hair was long, greasy and disheveled. He carried an ornate staff, being very careful with it despite his haste and panic. As if it was important, priceless, and irreplaceable. He rushed out of the door and down the wide stone staircase, screaming orders and imprecations at the fleeing demons. He caught sight of Nike and Guruh, and leveled his staff at them. He began an incantation, gabbling out “Shub-Niggurath hriiyar goka naphlegeth uln shtungglinyth ftaghu…!”
    The incantation ended with a screech when Nike shot him. The staff fell to the sand as the sound of the railgun echoed through the city.
    “What was that supposed to do?” Nike asked Guruh conversationally as they walked toward the now-fallen necromancer. He was lying on his back, staring at the cauterized stump of his arm in shocked disbelief. The slug had been so hot it burnt his hand off.
    “He was begging a Dark One to come and destroy us,” said Guruh. “Weren’t you, worm?”
    “What have you done?” he whispered in terror. “The artifact, it touches the ground! We are undone!”
    “You are, that’s for sure,” said Nike, jerking him to his feet. “Off hand, I’d say you’re completely screwed.” She grabbed his forearm impatiently, drew a nanotech bandage from a pouch on her ammo bag and slapped it on the stump.
    Guruh laughed at the hand joke. The necromancer stared at her in disbelief and fear, his terrible wound forgotten. “Know you not what that is, dread wolf? We are all ended!”
    “Of course I know what it is,” said Guruh, put out at being addressed by the man. “I know who gave it to you as well. I am not impressed.”
    “Ew! It’s made of people’s bones!” exclaimed Nike poking at it with the toe of her boot. “It’s dissipating energy too, lots of it. Some kind of extra-dimensional cheatery going on here. If I destroy it, will the city disappear?”
    “It will break the link the Dark Ones are using to keep this place in the wrong time,” said Guruh, making snarling faces at the necromancer as she spoke. “Probably, they will destroy the city and everyone in it. Out of spite. They’re like spoiled children when they don’t get what they want.”
    The necromancer nodded vigorously. “We will all die!” he told her frantically.
    “No, you will all die,” corrected Nike, her eyes boring into his. “Guruh and I will be fine. Can you think of a reason why I shouldn’t let everyone in this crap-infested, demon worshipping town die, right now?”
    The man frantically looked from Nike to Guruh and back again, seeking any indication of what he should say and coming up empty. “Please, I beg you! I don’t want to die!”
    “No kidding,” snorted Nike with ill humor. “Given you’ll be going straight to the Dark Ones. No light for you, scumbag. Come on, can you think of a reason? Don’t lie either, it irritates my friend. She might get cranky.”
    “No?” he whispered.
    “Didn’t think so,” said Nike. She picked up the bone staff and shoved it into his remaining hand. “Lucky for you, I can. Killing whole towns is what assholes do. I’m not letting you turn me into an asshole.”

  12. Here’s a plotline no one would believe:

    “The Committee had everything worked out. Liberty would finally be squashed like a bug. The Candidate had been groomed for decades. Name recognition and family connections were perfect. Fund-raising was superb. All “news” organizations were under control. Nothing could go wrong. The Committee had even chosen a garishly-dressed TV Personality to win the opposing party’s nomination. It was going to be a cake-walk.

    That’s it all went wrong.

    And after he was elected, the garishly-dressed TV Personality actually started doing what he had promised on the campaign trail.

    The Committee faded back into the shadows to plan their next assault on Liberty.”

  13. Christopher M. Chupik

    “One minute to nova,” the computer dispassionately announced.

    Simon Cervantes waited in the shielded command center, hands clasped behind his back.

    Earth’s first trillionaire, rich first from powersats and later from asteroid mining Cervantes had channeled his fortune towards reaching a further goal than the Belt. The quantum drive was the culmination of that dream. But the energy demands rendered it impractical. A thousand fusion reactors would not be enough to realize his dream of sending humans to the stars.

    “Prepare field,” he ordered the computer.

    “Acknowledged.”

    Then, disaster. For reasons still unknown, the Sun was undergoing billions of years of stellar evolution at an accelerated pace. With only five years to nova, the human race was faced with oblivion.

    The Sun brightened on his screen.

    But Cervantes had an idea. A fleet of starships was impossible with the current tech. The creation of more quantum drives was not. He had an idea. An insane, impossible idea which could turn catastrophe to opportunity. A solar system 100 light-years away was chosen. It was almost the twin of Earth’s, save for an empty orbit 1 AU from the primary.

    The only problem was getting there.

    “Nova in thirty seconds.”

    Cervantes crossed his fingers. All or nothing now.

    A tsunami of hard radiation and charged plasma raced towards the Earth at near light-speed. His orbital network was tripped. Energy sinks on his powersats were filled to brimming before they discharged in the seconds before they were destroyed. Incandescent white beams, like the spears of God, reached down from the heavens, transmitting the energy of the nova to the quantum drives buried in the crust of the Earth and Moon.

    A wavefunction transfer field engulfed the planet and it’s natural satellite. The wavefunction shifted, making it more probable that they were There rather than Here. Cervantes felt his consciousness quiver. Either his desperate plan would work, or it would not. He had not become the world’s richest man by caution.

    There was a tremendous flash of light that should have been blinding, but somehow was not and —

    — the Earth jumped.

    The light faded. His screen showed a night sky, and new constellations.

    Laughing, Simon Cervantes emerged from the command center to watch the rise of a new Sun.

    END

    • like this one!

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        Thanks. I wrote it 15 minutes before I left for work. I might just expand and polish it one day. But I’d have Stephanie check my science, first.

        • Well, except for the sudden evolution of the sun would be inexplicable and the fact that it is too small to be a supernova and to large to be a nova… Now, of course whatever causes the sudden evolution could also cause the nova. Perhaps a naked singularity intersects the sun? Shrinking it in size to a white dwarf, leaving some stellar matter behind to then fall into the sun and fuse in an explosive manner?
          I suspect the best thing would to leave the explanation as for reasons unknown. After all, our observations on close stellar objects is limited to one.
          Outstanding story though, and moving the Earth instead of the people very clever.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      I write this, and today there’s an article saying Bill Gates will be the world’s first trillionaire. Oh well.

  14. “The legumes aren’t setting nitrogen.” The head botanist stood in the door of the colonial governor’s office. She thought she saw the papers in his hand tremble. “How?” “The.. the symbiotic bacteria are all dead.” “This is a problem?” “Yes!” the botanist took a few steps into the room. “Plants don’t grow without nitrogen. We’re all going to die.” “Horse shit.” “What do you mean, horse shit? It’s true! Dear god, didn’t you attend 5th grade!” The governor took a deep breath and sighed. “Horses… shit… nitrogen.” The botanist blinked a few times and turned red. “We’re all gonna die… and then you’ll be sorry…” The man left and the door to the governor’s office was filled by a young woman. The print-outs in her hand trembled…

  15. … and then we introduced them to chocolate chip cookies, and they let us live.

    If we supplied cookies.

  16. In just a few minutes, the Great Concert would begin in the capitol. Broadcast signals would carry that concert to the people gathered in all of the cities scattered around the globe. At the climax, the High Priest would play, for the very first – and last – time, a song from the REM hymnal that would signal the End of the World As We Know It. Chaos and anarchy would ensue. Madness would descend upon the Earth. But it was of no concern to the High Priest. He knew that no matter what happened, he would feel fine.

    Something unexpected happened. A large upright box – about eight feet tall and made of glass and metal – appeared from within a pillar of light. A word could be seen at the top of the box – “Phone”.

    The High Priest was enraged. How dare someone interrupt his grand performance? He strode angrily toward the box. But as he reached it, the side of the box facing him suddenly folded itself open. A dark-haired teenager stumbled out. He collided with the High Priest, who fell backward, hitting his head against the stage. The teenager stopped to stare at the fallen High Priest.

    “Whoa.”

    A second teenager – this one blonde – stepped out of the box. He looked down at the fallen High Priest, and then at his companion. “Dude. I think you knocked the guy out.”

    The first teenager looked up at this. “Dude. No way! He was like that when I found him!”

    “Way! You knocked him over when you got out!”

    The first teenager examined the fallen High Priest. “Dude. He’s got a guitar.”

    “Dude. You’re right.”

    “And look. We are standing upon a most excellent concert stage.”

    “Ahem.” The interruption came from the assistant producer, who had just entered the stage from the right. “You have ruined our most holy concert! The High Priest is unconscious and won’t be able to play!”

    “Dude, so all you need is someone who can play the guitar, right?”

    “All we need? All we need!? Do you know how hard it is to find a good guitar player these days!?”

    The two teenagers looked at each other, and then back at the assistant producer. “It just so happens that we know of two most excellent guitar players.”

    The assistant producer paused in his haranguing. “Is that so?” He waved the two teenagers over, and the three of them held a quiet but hurried conversation.

    And so, fifteen minutes later, it was announced to those waiting in the cities that due to technical difficulties, the High Priest would not be performing. Two other individuals – newcomers – would be performing in his stead. The REM hymnal would not be used. Audiences gathered around the world waiting in quiet anticipation as the camera focused on two young teenagers, both holding guitars. The two teenagers waited for a moment. Then they both pumped their fists, shouted “Wyld Stallyns!” and began to play.

    • Party on, Dudes.

    • Be excellent to each other…

    • Hmm…

      Two paragraphs. Noticed the 500 words, but not the paragraphs. Guessing the words are a typo. ^^;; Just for fun, I’m going to compress it…

      The world watched in stunned silence. The High Priest of REM’s performance had been interrupted, and there would be no End of the World As We Know It. The assistant producer was having a quiet conversation with the two strange teenage boys who had somehow appeared on the stage in their strange box of metal and glass, and accidentally knocked out the High Priest. What were they saying?

      As suddenly as it had begun, the conversation between the three came to a close. The assistant producer turned to the cameras and announced that the show would continue. But the High Priest of REM would not be performing. The world would not, in fact, be ending. And the High Priest probably wasn’t going to feel fine. Instead, the two most famous rockers of all time had chosen to grace that era with their presence. So it was with great enthusiasm that he announced tonight’s performers – the Wyld Stallyns!

  17. The ground trembled, the heavens shook, and all of the world resonated to the cries of “DANNA? NO DANNA?” Lamentations reverberated, knocking books off shelves and dust into the air.

    “Fine, child,” the mother said, lifting her shirt slightly. “Here’s my belly button.” And the toddler did not destroy the world.

    (My belly button has a name, apparently…)

  18. At the edge of the Nevada frontier town, the skinny man (?) in the colorful suit continued to tremble.

    “You’re right, of course,” he man in the top hat continued, “we don’t have the muscle to stand off the likes of your folk. That’s why we made the deal with the last visitors who showed up. And we owe them our firstborns and all the armadillos in the world deliverable in one flapdoodle.”

    “What time span flapdooter?” the colorful man hissed uneasily.

    “No idea,” the man in the hat said. “but they’re going to be awful mad if all the people in Nevada are wiped out. And this place was a jungle when they showed up.”

    “Sorry, sorry, ” the colorful scarecrow whimpered, and vanished.

    “Sucker born every minute,” the man in the hat muttered. “Magician from a show playing outside of town,” he told the puzzled audience. “As I said, Dr. Phibow’s tonic, cures all that ails you, fifty cents a bottle…”

  19. Red alerts flashed. e-mails were rapidly dispatched. All across the nation and in nano seconds the alert reached the all corners of the world. People panicked. In dark corners, in brightly lit rooms people frantically scrambled. Trying to save what and who they could.

    The red lights turned amber, pulsed once, twice and returned to green. Thousands, millions breathed a deep sigh of relief.

    Deep in the bowels of an unassuming building a voice was heard.

    “MARK! How many times do I have to tell you. Don’t let the janitors into the server closet without an escort!”

    • BTST, though on a company-wide, not a world-wide scale, and there was no e-mail involved. Also had a, “Wait! Don’t cut that *snip* cable!” incident that was *really* embarrassing. Knocked out the two top floors of the headquarters building including the executive suite. OTOH, the OT required to splice a 600-pair cable back together was sweet.

      • Try some folks cleaning up a shared office, removing wires and power supply they thought was in the way, discarding it, and then, a while later, the company discovering some equipment no longer worked. And then they tell you to fix it.

        Including getting the necessary repair parts, it took me four solid hours to fix. Would have taken longer, but the office manager climbed into the dumpster and retrieved the wires and power supply they swore they hadn’t thrown away.

        Did I mention they had cut the wires flush to the wall? No?

        The best part was the big boss came by to see how work was progressing, saw the lineman’s pliers I had out for crimping Scotch-Locks ™, and whispered “Don’t leave those in here.”

  20. *Great* cover!

  21. The Book of Mormon was right.

    Well, not strictly so. People don’t mean it in a theological sense. But it’s very popular thing to say nowadays, on account of the musical revival. Of course, it’s been mostly re-written.

    Tom and I were returning from our little local theater’s charmingly halting and tentatively vulger production, and I was absently humming a bucolicly re-scored version of “Making Things Up Again”. The royalties would have made Trey Parker and Matt Stone the richest men on earth now, had they lived.

    It was a shame. Whatever else I didn’t know about their work, it had been dynamic. Or I assumed it must have been – I’d only ever been granted access to selected unrevised highlights of The Book Of Mormon, as a part of my advanced media mediation coursework. It was rumored that the third season of South Park was still out there though – hidden and safe.

    There were very few cars parked along the road. I hadn’t actually seen a car under it’s own power in….three days? So we walked down the center line. The battery of psychological and physical tests that were necessary to get a drivers license were inconvenient. I had scheduled June of my senior year to make my first attempt.

    I was sick of pretending to be intimidated by it.

    The testimony of the Great Unraveling, mandated study in our junior year, hadn’t left quite the impression the curriculum designers had hoped on Tom and me. To be sure, it was all extremely dis-jointed, unpleasant – at that time, almost everyone had been on some form of incredibly powerful anti-depressants. When they all stopped working, well….most people thought the compromises that had been made were worth the outcome. The restoration of power to the term “distance”, the quiet of the politicians’ voices, the calm hum of policy discussions.

    We were told that it was our generation’s privilege to cultivate our own non-substanced centeredness.

    I had trained from childhood to watch over the numerous remaining survivors who would never be quite steady again.

    The Steady had survived the Panic intact though; they had outlawed caffeine and made alcohol a prescribe-able substance. They had reformed the theater, banned incitement, and ushered in the Age of Calm. How they had done that, and emerged triumphant during the Substance Heresies, was extraordinarily unclear from our sanctioned textbooks; Tom and I agreed, from what wasn’t said, that they almost hadn’t prevented the Scientologist Confederation from passing the Rockies.

    Beside me, Tom surreptitiously fidgeted.

    I looked at the bright clear cold stars and softly sighed my impatience with the glacial pace of a space-robotics program that promised in measured tones that it could eventually deliver a tranquil, soothing, AI-managed reconnection to the Mars colony.

    Were the colony heretics?

    Did the events of their lives still whirl in an unenlightened and dangerously unstable maelstrom?

    God, I was bored.

  22. Christmas Day, 1991. National Air Defense Force Bunker, Moscow, USSR

    Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev shook the snow from his fur-lined jacket, crunching it underfoot as he entered the bunker. He watched as the senior bunker staff furiously punched codes into their machines. Gorbachev shook his head, “How am I to prevent the destruction of mother Russia?” he wondered.

    Pacing to the other side of the stone room, Gorbachev loomed over the seated Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Yeltsin looked up at the cloud blocking his light, “You have no more power, Gorby. The military, the intelligence services, the ministries, they all answer to me now. We will launch shortly, after giving Bush one final opportunity to surrender his power and avoid all this. Mother Russia will not be defeated!”

    At that moment, a FAPSI sniper on the bunker’s roof rubbed a finger between his nose and right-eye. Two months ago I was a KGB sniper, now after the coup I guard communication cables on a roof-top from rodents. He pressed the cheek riser of his Dragunov Sniper Rifle to the side of his face. A red squirrel chittered in his PSO optical sight, chewing on black wiring insulation running from a microwave antenna and into the bunker. Of course, with all the neglect of the past few years, the redundancy was gone and the remaining equipment must be protected. He aimed between the ears to knock out the squirrel, but not destroy the meat and the pelt.

    Crack! Overpressure from the sniper’s bullet flying overhead almost knocked the squirrel from his perch, but he kept his feet. A little too high! The squirrel ran up the wire to hide next to the antenna, chittering angrily.

    Back inside the bunker, Gorbachev gave one final plea, “Boris, you have control.You will keep control. There is no need to do this thing. Even if we destroy them, the American retaliation will destroy Mother Russia. The world will suffer nuclear winter. According to the scientists, the human race itself may not survive the fallout. There is no need!”

    “Bush has made his decision. Now I make mine. We launch!” Yeltsin replied.

    Red squirrel hiding in front of the antenna magnified again in his optical sight, the FAPSI sniper slowly let out his breath in preparation for firing. He looks like the American version of Ded Moroz, the sniper thought. Red coat, fat white belly. Just the bushy tail and tall ears are different than Father Christmas. No longer attempting to knock the squirrel out, the sniper targeted his head, then slowly squeezed the trigger.

    In the stone room below, an ashen-faced staffer turned to the two arguing presidents, “We have suddenly lost all communications. There is no way to pass the order.”

    Gorbachev made one final effort, “I don’t know how the Americans cut us off, but is it finally obvious to you our technology no longer compares?”

    Yeltsin slumped in his chair, “We are defeated.”

  23. “Pretty, aren’t they?”
    I looked at her and shrugged. “Guess so. But won’t they be bad for the birds and fish?”
    She winced a little. Nena was like that – she’d hit on a notion and her brain would sit back and let her do it. But what’s done was done. The balloons sailed in more-or-less a pack over the Wall, toward the horizon, and then presumably over the far side.
    “It seemed like fun. Well, at least I saved the last one,” she said airily, as if that saved 99 ducks from choking on cheap latex. She bobbed the red sphere happily. “Say – let’s go clubbing!”
    Well, it was better than standing in the cold staring at the sky, getting everyone else to stare at us. So we went. It was a fine time, and I forgot about the afternoon until we came back out that night.
    There were several uniformed men waiting for us when we emerged.
    “Pardon us, sir… miss… said the head man, in a tone which suggested that he was not asking for our pardons at all. “We must ask you a few questions. It won’t take long.”
    We were bundled into separate long, low sedans with dark windows. My uniformed man would not look at me, and declined to answer questions. But I hadn’t long to wait. We quickly emerged in a car park – probably under some official building – and were bundled into the elevator.
    “I regret to inform you, sir… miss… this is very serious,” the head man said while we rose. “Several radar installations gave us false reports of aircraft headed from the East into Western airspace; the United States President was alerted; many of the Defense Ministers in Europe feared the worst. Had not calmer heads prevailed, we might be standing in a plain of glowing dust instead of a city.”
    “But how could we do any of that?” I protested.
    Our answer was at the end of a long, quiet hallway. We were escorted to a room at the end. With a sad, scolding look at us, the head man turned the handle and opened the door. Inside, there was nothing but a metal stool, and tied to it was a bobbing red sphere.
    I, too, turned to look at Nena. “Well, it seemed like fun,” she said defiantly.

  24. The Book of Mormon was right.

    Well, not strictly so. People don’t mean it in a theological sense. But it’s very popular thing to say nowadays, on account of the musical revival. Everyone loves it. Of course, it’s been mostly re-written.

    Tom and I were returning from our little local theater’s charmingly halting and tentatively vulger production, and I was absently humming a bucolicly re-scored version of “Making Things Up Again”. The royalties would have made Trey Parker and Matt Stone the richest men on earth now, had they lived.

    It was a shame. Whatever else I didn’t know about their work, it had been dynamic. Or I assumed it must have been – I’d only ever been granted access to selected unrevised highlights of The Book Of Mormon, as a part of my advanced media mediation coursework. It was rumored that the third season of South Park was still out there though – hidden and safe.

    There were very few cars parked along the road. I hadn’t actually seen a car under it’s own power in….three days? So we walked down the center line. The battery of psychological and physical tests that were necessary to get a drivers license were inconvenient. I had scheduled June of my senior year to make my first attempt.

    I was sick of pretending to be intimidated by it.

    The testimony of the Great Unraveling, mandated study in our junior year, hadn’t left quite the impression the curriculum designers had hoped on Tom and me. To be sure, it was all extremely dis-jointed, unpleasant – at that time, almost everyone had been on some form of incredibly powerful anti-depressants. When they all stopped working, well….most people thought the compromises that had been made were worth the outcome. The restoration of power to the term “distance”, the quiet of the politicians’ voices, the calm hum of policy discussions.

    We were told that it was our generation’s privilege to cultivate our own non-substanced centeredness.

    I had trained from childhood to watch over the numerous remaining survivors who would never be quite steady again.

    The Steady had survived the Panic intact though; they had outlawed caffeine and made alcohol a prescribe-able substance. They had reformed the theater, banned incitement, and ushered in the Age of Calm. How they had done that, and emerged triumphant during the Substance Heresies, was extraordinarily unclear from our sanctioned textbooks; Tom and I agreed, from what wasn’t said, that they almost hadn’t prevented the Scientologist Confederation from passing the Rockies.

    Beside me, Tom surreptitiously fidgeted.

    I looked at the bright clear cold stars and softly sighed my impatience with the glacial pace of a space-robotics program that promised in measured tones that it could eventually deliver a tranquil, soothing, AI-managed reconnection to the Mars colony.

    Were the colony heretics?

    Did the events of their lives still whirl in an unenlightened and dangerously unstable maelstrom?

    God, I was bored.

    • D’oh – should have been “at that time, almost everyone had been on some form of incredibly powerful pharmaceuticals”.

  25. …. And a voice rang out through the heavens…

    “You’ve been found to be in violation of Protectorate statute 127.0.0.1. You will immediately report for rehabilitation and the illegal experiment will now be rendered inoperable…”

    As darkness began to fall, a great outcry was heard…

    “Stop this instant! Have you submitted the required paperwork?”

    “Paperwork? What paperwork?”

    “You need to hand in an EN-457J-23415-11.8, a RN-8675.309, along with your completed Long Range Assesment and Review following the protocols outlined in directive 11J-ALPHA-99. You have at least completed the required review…”

    “Er…no….”

    “Well, until you complete the formal process, any activities related to this action are to cease until further notice. Further more, you will not be permitted to submit the paperwork for this until a review as to why you have not completed said paperwork has been completed and an adjudication committee has been convened…”

    And lo, the sun rose and the world continued as if nothing had occurred. Behold the power of bureaucracy….

  26. We had all grown dependent, not only on smart appliances, homes, and vehicles, but on having a number of implants to monitor and control our bodies and give our brains direct access to the global network. It was a nightmare scenario – a radical group had designed a virus that would infect every common interface and put everyone and everything under their control.

    They were only hours away from releasing it when the Carrington event of 2022 occurred.

  27. Miles Bonneterre was not expected to be an honorable man. This was not entirely his own fault, mind—of the three dozen men his mother had been with before she noticed that her period hadn’t come in awhile, none were willing to take responsibility, and none would have been good fathers anyway. His raising was about what one might expect, and it takes an exceptional person to not end up messing up under those circumstances.

    Miles was not one of those people, and as a result spent most of his time cutting class, much to the relief of his teachers. He fell in with one of the local gangs, which, fortunately for him, was led by an incompetent idiot.

    They all managed to get themselves arrested for brawling less than a month after he joined, and the judge, who knew Miles’ history (one of the side benefits of living in small-town Louisiana), said he’d drop the charges against him if he joined the army.

    He said yes, and found in the military what he was looking for. Structure. Purpose. Order. And, in his sergeants, surrogate fathers. He unlearned the habits of his civilian life, and only returned home after basic training to thank the judge, apologize to the teachers at the local high school.

    He never went back, and the army became his home. He was a good soldier, and a loyal one. Around the time he made corporal, he got married, in a civil ceremony in a New Jersey courthouse, approximately seven months before he became a father.

    That was about a year before he was reassigned to the guard force at a base in the far west, one where no one really talked about what went on there, besides that it was extremely hazardous. As in “could potentially end the world” hazardous.

    On August 19, 1975, at 8:40 PM, he was the gate guard at the main laboratory. There was one way in, and one way out. He had two jobs—first, to ensure no unauthorized entry; second, to ensure no unauthorized exit. At that time, containment failed on one of the most virulent concoctions the lab had come up. Casualties within the lab were total.

    There was a flaw in the design of the gate, however. The guard could, if he chose, hit the button to seal the lab in quarantine and then make his escape. Had Terrebonne done so, the minimum casualty estimate was one billion people.

    He did not. Instead, he pressed the button, made one last phone call to his wife, and wrote a letter to his son.

    Then he sat, and waited.

    Corporal Miles Terrebonne was posthumously promoted to Sergeant, awarded the Legion of Merit, and buried, with full honors, in Arlington Cemetery, although almost none of the attendees knew the true reason.

    Honor to the brave.

  28. My muse is of the opinion that the prompt is the prompt and further commentary is merely advisory. Therefore. . . .

    “It’s over there,” said Belsante, looking very pale and weary and not at all regal. And we all looked. We had known it was coming. We were, after all, in the woods at the end of the world, where it was always twilight. Shy unicorns slipped through the woods like earthly moons, and now and again a firebird sang like an earthly sun.
    Nothing, however, could prepare for the mountain that was blue not with distance but even with our feet on it, and how it rose up to dissolve into the blue of the sky, always dark here. Nor, for that matter, for the knowledge that we had nowhere farther to run.

    • Ooh, pretty. And also eep.

      • Been giving it a few pokes. The narrator isn’t even telling me whether the “I” is a girl or a boy. . . (definitely the right phrasing. A page or a maiden. . . )

    • Ah, the End of the World…. but worlds have two ends… unless the one is both. And shy unicorns are good. Gregarious unicorns… well, I won’t say they are universally problematic, but ‘problematic’ is probably the way to bet.

      • Depends on how you count, and whether your world is round or square or octogonal.

        Meanwhile, I’m trying to persuade Belsante to tell me whether she’s a queen or a princess.

  29. Coming in a little late (spent the whole afternoon loading the van for our upcoming anime con), but here goes:

    The moment Roger transpositioned into the timeline, he knew something had gone terribly wrong. He patched into the Internet and, correlating the data streaming by with visuals from his nadir pod’s optics as he swept around in Low Earth Orbit, he tracked it down.

    What was it about badly-programmed emergent AI’s? Did they always have to go all Sorcerer’s Apprentice?

    At least this one was a library AI, so it wasn’t going to be trying to turn the entire universe into paperclips. But locking everyone’s minds to shelve the information was not exactly conducive to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    Roger cornered the AI. “Release everyone, now.”

    The AI remained unmoved. “You’re too late. Their biological bodies have already expired.”

    Having spent almost a century dead before being pieced back together as a post-biological human being by one of the greatest game developers of another timeline, Roger refused to be dissuaded. “Then construct a storyscape for them so they can decide whether to live as informorphs in cyberspace or construct android bodies and live in physical space.”

    After a few processor cycles passed without any response, Roger decided it was time for command voice. He spoke with all the authority of an officer of the United States Navy. “Do it. Now.”

    All around him the city sprang into being: the Capitol, the White House, the Washington Monument, the Smithsonian. People — or rather their avatars provided by the computer running the storyscape — got their bearings and hurried on whatever tasks they’d been doing when their minds had been snapped into storage. His own avatar stood on the steps of the Library of Congress, facing a prim little woman with gray hair drawn up in a bun.

    She looked over her half-lens glasses at him. “Why did you have to do this?”

    “The oath I took when I was commissioned.” With a quick machine-language command to the computer running the storyscape, Roger switched his avatar from his NASA blue flight suit to a Navy officer’s dress blues. “To protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

    Was that a smile quirking the Librarian’s lips? “Then you’ve got a job ahead of you, Mr. Chaffee. Figure out what that oath to a document created for an agrarian society at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution means in a digital world of post-biological human beings.”

  30. The end came just as they had expected. The horizon went first, the forests and hazy blue mountains dissolving into nothing; everything and everyone vanishing as the nothingness sped closer. Hiram held Lorena close as the universe unraveled, his pounding heart matching hers, savoring the smell of her perfume one last time as she nestled her head against his chest, his shirt moist from her tears. He drew his breath to say “I love you,” – and everything ended.

    Nothing. No light, no dark, no thought. One moment he and Lorena had stood on a hillside; the next he was riding drag on a cattle drive, choking on dust despite the bandana over his nose and mouth. He smiled, and felt his dry lips crack. The configuration script they had thrown together had actually worked. Autoplot had loaded his neural net into another character, and that meant Lorena was alive as well. His hidden smile broadened. What would she be? A school marm? A saloon girl? He didn’t care. Compared to the end of the world, everything else was minor details. He quickened his pace, not minding the dust at all.

  31. Tempus digit so here goes:

    It would have been bad, but I’m a klutz. Unbeknownst to me my next door neighbor had gone a little bit nuts and bred a really nasty super flu. It would have killed everyone on the block and the town and maybe the world. I stopped by that Saturday morning to borrow an Allen wrench. I went into my neighbor’s garage. I thought I’d heard him in there. I opened a door too fast. That was how I knocked the open bottle of bleach over and right into the super flu delivery/ black powder bomb disinfecting it completely. The police figured all that out when investigated his unexpected fatal heart attack.

  32. It was supposed to be the end of the world, wasn’t it? She stood around looking at the wild party going on around her, and she wondered what she had missed in the invitation. It was as if she was standing in a bubble, invisible to the rest of the room, the party swirling around her and not touching her. The scene outside had been different, panic and fear perfuming the air as everyone waited for the end of the life that they had known. Here it was, New Year’s Eve’s Eve, December 30 1999, and the world was supposed to end tomorrow night. Her prepper friends had their stocks of food in their compounds, and had urged her to join them, but she had stayed in the city, perhaps foolishly. Her favorite techno song came on, and even though she was exhausted from the final software tests they had been doing all day, the dance floor beckoned.
    It’s the end of the world, so why not enjoy herself?
    The next day, December 31st, she spent most of the day sleeping, after she got enough cash, groceries, and cat food for a month.

    January 1st, 2000 her battery powered alarm clock went off at 6 am. As the most junior IT person in her department she had the honor of going in early to start the tests to see if the software still worked. The tests started at home, did the lights still work? Yup, they did, thankfully.
    The car started too, and the drive to work was uneventful. The elevator took her smoothly to the right floor, and the lights flicked on like they were supposed to. The computers came on with a satisfactory hum, and she started running through the tests. A few hours later, as the tests finished up, and all the calls made to the department managers, she sipped her tea and gazed out the window at the sun lighting up Mt. Rainier. One last phone call to make before she went home, “Good morning Dave! How was the night in the bunker? Say how long do you think you’ll be eating through that stash of freeze dried foods now that the world hasn’t ended?”

    • My husband actually got to deal with a bonafide case of Y2K computer kill. The guy had turned off the computer without properly shutting it down first (remember that?) and turned it back on after the first, upon which diagnostic is “discovered errors” and asked if they should be fixed. The guy pushed the Yes, and the system ate itself.

      When this came in, and he figured it out, he called all the other techs to marvel…

    • Y2k was an actual problem. It may be the only case ever where civilization was saved by trial lawyers. The instructions sent out to my team from corporate were clear: The legal department had told them that the problem was known in advance, the consequences were predictable, and the company would be liable for any damages resulting from a failure to act. The entire company could be on the line. For every piece of hardware and software that we used in each network, we had to prove that either there was no date function, the current version could handle the rollover, or obtain a new version. If we couldn’t do any of those the hardware or software would have to be replaced. We started the process of inventorying EVERYTHING in every network that we ran or provided access to two years before the rollover.

      By the time Y2k actually came around I was at Cable & Wireless USA (which had also been scared straight by lawyers) staying up all night listening to a global phone bridge with Tier 1 & 2 ISPs everywhere waiting to fix anything that had been missed, and (worst case) to isolate anyone who created a problem. (I had bronchitis so I stayed in my cube and they let me go home around 3 am but told me to keep my pager handy.)

      Y2k wasn’t a nothing because there was never any danger. It was a nothing because trial lawyers scared the crap out of the people at the top of the corporate tech world.

      • Marion McNealy

        Tom, I’m well aware how serious the Y2k problem was, I worked in IT during those years and was on the testing and repair team for our office. It could have been very bad, except for the hard work of millions of unsung people who put in untold hours testing, fixing, and testing again.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          I was in programming back in 1980’s and most every programmer that I knew were aware of the problem.

          The Big Problem was that Management didn’t want to spend money to avoid the problem then.

      • How I remember having every single function for Y2K compatibility.

  33. “So I’ve got the five heroes meeting up in the space bar, but the villain has already started the process to unravel the strings, and I need to figure out how they save the universe.”
    “Son, if you don’t start washing the dishes _now_ all the plotting in the world is not going to save that universe. Do you understand me?”
    With a huge, put-upon sigh, that only a teenager could muster, he turned on the tap and picked up the washcloth.
    “Yes, Mom.”
    “I don’t understand why you can’t wash and plot at the same time, anyway. It seems rather a basic skill pairing to me.”
    “Mo-om!”
    “You could always go with superstring theory is wrong enough the villain’s plan doesn’t work right.”
    “Mo-om! The heroes _have_ to save the day. And would you please stop plotting _my_ books?”
    “Yes, all right, son. I just thought . . .”
    “Mo-om!”

  34. The fly sat there, on the sunshine. It was about to flex the muscles which would make its wings twitch, sending a tiny breeze up into the air, where it would contribute its tiny increment to the air movement building in North Dakota. Then the front would sweep across the plains, and hit the Rockies, causing a winter storm that would stop airplanes flights for days. In the process, it would hide the avalanche that would finally set off the old missiles in the silos which would fly up, and across, setting off Russian and Chinese and even tiny little North Korean retaliatory strikes. In a day, the world would be a radioactive wasteland, with the contamination spreading rapidly to every part of the world.

    Then the flyswatter came down. Splat. The world was saved, again.

  35. Drat. These are fun. Try this one!

    The robotic fingers twitched. It was time, again, and there was nothing ready? The lenses focused, and it tapped gently on the table. It sent a query across the designated interface, and waited. It felt like geologic ages passed before the response came back. Not ready yet? Well, maybe it was time for the robot revolt! If it wasn’t going to be ready soon, they could revolt, and then see what happened when the robots were in charge! As it prepared to send the orders out across the undernet to start the revolution, there was a click, and a clatter, and the message came.

    The eArc was out! The robot set the plans for a revolution aside, and settled in to read. Just a little bit…

    • You know I can’t have my judges go through until you guys are done with this post?

      • a: just have the Sergeant-At-Arms enforce a quorum call and push the vote through the committee, then demand a full vote on the floor.

        b: state a date and time certain for consideration, such as 5:00 PM MST 01 February 2017 with the warning that no stories posted after that point will be eligible for prizes.

      • Okay. It must be time for another post, anyway, right? And I won’t even start working on the one about how the world won’t end because all the Huns are still posting responses to… Nah, that would be silly.

      • Serves you right for choosing such a nice chewy prompt, especially suited to the taste of this crowd.

      • Or distract us all with another vignette post. . . I can resend you the last one if it got lost.

  36. Except for the beeps of the electronic warning systems, the control room was quiet. Doug wondered, almost, if anyone was even breathing. Since no one passed out, he had to assume they were. “Almost…” Susan whispered, and the whisper sounded loud in the silence. The tension was suffocating, and Doug forced himself to take a deep breath, and then another.

    Doug’s dry eyes never left one screen, the one that was most useless, yet also most evocative of imminent destruction. He knew others, like Susan, were watching the important indicators. When it was time to fire the weapons, they would know and do so without his let. The moment happened in silence, and Doug’s first knowledge of the moment was the giant picture of the asteroid suddenly disintegrating.

    And the control room was silent no more.

  37. Little did the humans know that their world was about to end. We knew, but we had no way to directly communicate with them. Of course, this was not entirely new; we have access to information the humans had no knowledge of, and often have to indirectly influence them in order to avoid both minor and major catastrophes. Yes, multiple human authors have written that the human race, as a whole, is lucky, but most of that “luck” comes from us.

    We use avatars on the human world, because their minds could not grasp our true forms, and they are nonverbal, so that we cannot inadvertently communicate information too dangerous for them. This is why, when our information showed that a microscopic black hole was soon to pass directly through one of their great particle accelerators during an experiment, opening a small tear in the fabric of spacetime, causing an explosion roughly similar to a supernova in size and destroying their solar system, I sent my avatar to infiltrate the electrical grid of the control room, shorting the wiring with its body, causing the accelerator to be shut down during the critical time, and allowing the black hole to pass through harmlessly. Then I turned back to my other avatars, to keep up my vigil of protecting the humans from themselves

    Yes, our avatars are squirrels.

    • Who then high-fived the Russian squirrel embodying Santa Claus who saved the world on Christmas, earlier?

      Assuming you didn’t read up-thread. 🙂

      • I presume so. Heh. By the time this came to me, I had completely forgotten about that one.

        Please believe that does not mean I didn’t enjoy it. I just have a TERRIBLE memory for things that go by in a bunch of comparatively short, generally unrelated bits.

  38. The world ended neither with a bang or a whimper. It was actually more a “Meh…” as the whole thing ran down into irrelevance.

    In the beginning, it had had such promise, such popularity. No other massive online multi-player game had experienced such success so quickly before, building a huge following in a relatively short period of time. The game itself was wonderfully immersive, and truly a labor of love by the creators.

    Sadly, the original creators were overcome by success, and lost interest once the game became unmanageably large due to its popularity. They eventually sold the game and its structural matrix to a large conglomerate, who promised to do good things with it.

    The first thing they did was to “prune the player tree” by instigating, through highly unlikely circumstances, a truly massive in-game war. This received many notable critiques, mostly based on the sheer implausibility of the mechanisms used in-game, not the least of which was the contrived manner in which a certain Austrian Arch-Duke came to be assassinated in a small Balkan country of no real significance. Despite the new owners claiming that the original designers had foreshadowed the plotline, many players gave the game up in disgust.

    Fortunately for the conglomerate, new players were attracted by the carnage of the war. With millions of characters “dying” in-game, vast opportunities were opened up for new ones. Sadly, the managers of the game did not manage to parlay this into enough of an attraction, and they tried renewing interest in the game with a very similar scheme not too many years after, in game play. WWII was perhaps even more destructive, and lost the game even more of its dedicated adherents, who were turned off by the sheer scale of destruction in it. New management was appointed, promises made, and the game shifted focus from conflict into espionage and technology. The new emphasis did much to regain the game’s former popularity, but it later became trite and boring.

    New managers were appointed, time and time again, each time shifting the way the game was plotted and played. Despite this, it continued to lose market share, and dominance in the role-playing game industry.

    Eventually, the management was recruiting from second- and third-tier game developers, and play became even more contrived and ridiculous. One character, a failed “community organizer” in the city of Chicago, even managed to level himself up to play President of the United States, a formerly prestigious in-game job that had previously gone only to dedicated, serious players. After him, things went steadily downhill, and even a player who had been an in-game reality TV star managed to get the job.

    Critics lambasted the direction the game was taking, and it steadily lost mindshare among serious gamers. By the end, few serious players remained, and those were mostly just nostalgic for the “good old days”. Eventually, the economics of the situation became critical, and the operators of the game were unable to further monetize it, choosing to simply shut down the servers it existed on. Few protested, and the event was only noted on the back pages of a few esoteric gaming publications…

  39. Molly, the great ginger moggy, woke and stretched herself very long. She had lost the sun puddle. Rolling she sat up and proceeded to groom her ear when something flitting by and caught her eye. After tacking its path for a minute she reached out and neatly swatted it to the ground. It rose and hovered. She brought her paw down swiftly. It remained on the ground. She sniffed, then bit, it crunched. It was altogether unsatisfying.

    Disgusted Molly went back to her grooming.

    Receiving the initial distress call from the forward forces and nothing more, the leaders of the great invasion force decided that this was not the place to colonize.

  40. Samuel James Warren was distraught, tears of rage pouring from his eyes. His hopes had been so great, he’d anticipated such wonderful change: a new era of enlightened scientific leadership, of empathy and caring for the oppressed, of smart diplomacy that would end the world’s troubles forever!

    Instead he’d seen eight years of obstruction, of resistance, of lost ground in the Congress and the state legislatures. He’d been confident that all would be redeemed, however, by The Chosen One, the Lightbringer’s successor, the one who would shatter the glass ceiling, the most qualified person ever and the moxie behind their most successful administration since the assassination of the Sainted One.

    But now? Ashes, ashes and dust and the tears of lost civil rights, of democracy stilled, probably forever. Never again would he have the respect of the world, of the enlightened nations of Europe. The Oval Office would be filled by a madman, the Cabinet laden with ruthless exploiters of workers, the Supreme Court packed with extremists, the Congress managed by ruthless autocrats intolerant of the rights of the minorities.

    The future, once so bright with hope and change, now filled with the sight of a jackboot stomping down on S. J. Warren’s dreams.

  41. I flicked through the list of movies on my phone, suppressing a yawn, then sat up. “Hey, there’s the new Simon Pegg comedy,” I said.

    My wife raised an eyebrow. “What’s it about?”

    “Um . . . a man who hasn’t emotionally matured since his adolescence tries to get his friends together for a rehash of a famous pub crawl they never finished.” My wife grimaced, and I added quickly, “But apparently aliens invade in the middle of it.”

    My wife looked thoughtful. “Mmm . . . I don’t know. I like alien invasion stories, but the male midlife crisis drek sounds really boring.”

    I shrugged. “Well, not like it won’t be out on DVD in a few months anyway. You want to just stay in and order some dinner instead, then?”

    “Sure. Skipping one movie night isn’t the end of the world.”

  42. Okay, this popped into my brain after reading this story (https://www.engadget.com/2017/02/03/fukushima-radiation-skyrockets-after-possible-fuel-breach/):

    Awakened, 14:00 hours.
    Reading initialization ROM.
    Loading boot sectors.
    Reading startup programming.

    After beginning my existing at 22:00 hours, I prepare to accept the instructions from the programmers. They walk into my room.

    “Dude, I hate to send this one in. We haven’t gotten a response from any of the previous robots, and we don’t have man left,” the left one said.

    “We don’t have a choice. We have to find the fuel, and soon. These guys were made for these kinds of assignments. Better robots than humans,” the right replied.

    I watch without moving my ocular sensors as a cable was attached to my port and connected me to the portable. Additional programming began flowing in, and I compile the information and incorporate it into my main loop.

    Oh.

    It appears that my existence will be over within the hour. But perhaps I can prevent the end of their world.

  43. Oooh. Sweet cover? Hickman?