Monday, May 26, 2014

WisCon 38 Spontaneous Writing Contest

Below are the 8 submitted entries in the 2014 WisCon Spontaneous Writing Contest. Each contestant was given 60 minutes to build a story around a couple of paragraphs of supplied dialog.

There were 13 registrants, and the 1st 8 who were physically present on Saturday morning became the official contestants.

Many thanks to our judges for generously taking time out of their convention schedules to read and rank the entries:
  • F. J. Bergmann, editor of Star*Line, the journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association
  • Darrah Chavey, chair of next year’s Tiptree Award jury
  • Anaea Lay, caster of Strange Horizons pods

  1. You must be a registered member of WisCon 38 to participate. There is no registration fee. There are no age limits or other restrictions.
  2. You must provide your own computer.
  3. Register for the contest by e-mailing your name to with the subject line “WisCon SWC”. Your name will be numbered in the order in which it arrived.
  4. The 1st 8 people on the list who are physically present at the WisCon (not the hotel’s) registration desk at 8:30 AM on Saturday morning (for example, #s 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 11, and 12) will be the contestants.
  5. Each contestant will get a USB flash drive which contains a single RTF (rich-text format) document. That document will contain a few lines of dialog. Your task is to load the document onto your computer, construct a story that incorporates the supplied dialog, save it back to the flash drive, also as an RTF document, and turn it in within 60 minutes. We’ll take care of printing them out.
  6. A panel of judges will read each story and rank them from #1 to #8. The best average score wins 1st prize (fame, honor, and $50). Next best wins 2nd prize (nod of appreciation and 30 bucks). A crisp Andy Jackson to #3. The other 5 get their stories posted on a wall.
  7. Can you do this? Check out last year’s entries at and judge for yourself. Yes, WisCon retains the right to publish your story in similar manner. All other rights revert to you.

Story A: Politics and Religion, by Cislyn Smith

Story A
Politics and Religion

“Backwards, you say?”

“Yes. Left to right. Idiots human subset write also top to bottom.”

“Surely the preferred direction of writing is arbitrary.”

“Gods say not. See also stupidities your other. Zones time many. Nouns follow descriptors. System measurement adequate but universal not. Flow electricity plus to minus. Humans backwards ways many.”

“Well, we don’t have a single planetary government to set or enforce standards.”

“Problem also. Gods like not. Humans sloppy. Query: we fix.”

"No!" I took a deep breath and answered again, without shouting at Zarr this time. I sat down on the edge of my bed. "No. I don't even know what that 'fix' would look like."

"Stupidities none! Same all. Problems gone." It flashed colors at me and waved its forelegs excitedly. I rubbed my temples. I had a headache. Zarr insisted on waking me up early on therapy days, and I just wanted to go back to bed for a nap.

This wasn't the first time Zarr had offered up some universal cure that sounded more like poison to me. For all I knew, these were morality tests, or even jokes. Zarr seemed to love tempting me with ridiculous power, and had been doing so for months now. I had no idea if Zarr - either the individual or the collective - and its so-called Gods could follow through. I couldn't take the risk, though.

"Zarr, I don't want that. We don't consider homogeny a strength. You say we're sloppy, but diversity is -"

The phasefrog cut me off mid-sentence. "Gods say sloppy. Not Zarr."

Great. Now we were going to go in circles talking about Zarr's religion again. It really is a universal rule to never talk about religion or politics. I needed to find a way to short-circuit this conversation. "Zarr, my therapist says you're not real." This never failed to divert it.

"Therapist backwards also! Never considered Zarr potential reality."

Interesting. It was still stuck on this backwards thing. "She says I'm making you up. That you're a delusion. I have to say, she makes a pretty persuasive case. More persuasive than yours. Humanity doesn't need fixing."

Zarr flattened itself in mid-air, sprawling on nothing near my shoulder. I'd learned that this was the phasefrog equivalent of a dejected flounce. Good. I admit, I was taking some pleasure in Zarr feeling down, for a change. I'd had a hard morning. Taking it out on Zarr was only fair, since it was to blame.

"I have to keep going to her - we've had too many conversations where other people could overhear only my half. My point is that you could solve everything by just showing yourself to other people. She says there's no good reason some transdimensional super intelligent alien being would choose to only converse with me!"

"Backwards thinking again you are! Special emissary Zarr chose. In the title it is!"

"Look, you're either a quirk of my psychology - and proof that I'm special in that way, because you're a damned persistent quirk and a very odd one, too - or you're not. But for all the time we've been together, you've never really told me why only the special emissary can interact with you."

"False. Gods decree. We many times said."

I flopped backwards onto the bed. I just wanted Zarr to go away and leave me alone. Not forever, you know? Just for a few hours.

"Your gods are about the same as ours, it seems - all arbitrary rules and going on about what they don't like. They're probably just as real as you are."

"Gods more real."

I waved a hand at it. "Yeah, yeah. Prove it."

"Query accepted! We fix!"

I swear I thought it was safe. We'd never gotten anywhere with religious topics before. I'd been so careful ever since Zarr first appeared. I took my responsibility as special emissary seriously!

I know what I'm asking for is difficult, but miracles are what you do. My appeal to the Zarran Gods was denied. I was given the choice to be a Zarr special emissary and find another civilzation to infect, but that doesn't appeal to my sloppy human nature, you know? You could undo what the Zarran Deities have done. Please. There's only one way to undo the damage, only one way forward. And that's through you.

Transcript of the Terran's appeal to the Murquan Gods for divine un-intervention. The request was conditionally granted. Terra will be under holy quarantine until a Murquan prelate finds the world free of Zarran influences.

Story B: We Service All Imported Vehicles, by Tucker McKinnon

Story B
We Service All Imported Vehicles

"Jovan, that sign's just gonna get us into trouble," Shana said.

Her brother grinned. "Bring in business, is what it'll do. Besides, between you and me, nothing we can't fix."

"It's a bad idea."

The phone rang.

"Just answer the phone! And remember to sell it. We've got the tools and the books, we can fix anything."

She sighed and picked up the receiver. "Jordan Repair, Shana speaking. We service all imported vehicles."

"Service required." The voice sounded sharp and squeaky.

"Sure thing, sir. We've got an opening now, if you want to bring 'er in we'll take a look."

"Service onsite required."

"Whoa now," Shana said. "We can do that, but we charge extra for house calls, and it'll be a few--"

There was a bright flash and a scent of ozone. The telephone receiver clattered against the wall.

"SHANA!" Jovan bellowed from the garage. "I told you not to drop the phone!"

But Shana was gone.


For the past several hours, Shana had been shut up with the bird-man and the tentacled ... thing ... in what they said was their engine room. Zrglf, the one with the tentacles, had tried to explain what had happened. One or the other hadn't been paying attention, and they'd cut too tight a turn around the sun, and burnt out some component or other. So they'd had to go into orbit around Earth while they waited for an intergalactic tow truck. Zrglf, who'd been past Earth before, had gotten the bright idea of calling a local mechanic.

In that time she'd gotten as far as explaining the concept of the Chilton repair manual, with detours into Kelley Blue Book, Jiffy-Lube, and the economic history of Detroit. Thankfully she was saved from having to explain 'white flight' when the replicator finished spitting out what was supposed to be the repair manual for the ship.

The bird-man -- Kreearr -- squinted at the book. “Backwards, you say?”

“Yes," oozed Zrglf. "Left to right. Idiots human subset write also top to bottom.”

“Surely the preferred direction of writing is arbitrary,” Shana interjected.

“Gods say not. See also stupidities your other. Zones time many. Nouns follow descriptors. System measurement adequate but universal not. Flow electricity plus to minus. Humans backwards ways many.”

“Well, we don’t have a single planetary government to set or enforce standards.”

“Problem also. Gods like not. Humans sloppy. Query: we fix.”

Shana laughed. "Fix how? You can't just wave your hand and expect everyone on Earth to listen to you."

Kreearr and Zrglf stared at her.

"Hands," said Zrglf, "stupidities additional."

"On that at least we are agreed," said Kreearr. "All one needs is a firm grip in one's beak."

Zrglf waved its lower tentacles in the expression that Shana had come to recognize as a shrug. "Regime change irrelevant. Priorities current include repair to drive bay."

Shana looked around at the still-smoking ruin. "I keep telling you," she said, "I can't fix this."

"Sign says otherwise," Zrglf said.

"What sign?"

"The sign on the structure where we retrieved you," Kreearr said. "SHIPS IMPORT ALL FIX WE, or whatever it was."

Shana stared. "That's it? That's why you brought me here? That stupid sign? I told Jovan not to put that up. Boy can't even tell the difference between a metric and standard ratchet set."

"Nevertheless," Zrglf said. "Sign says."

"It's just advertising!"

They looked at her, uncomprehending.

"You know. When you're trying to get a customer, you oversell yourself. Figure you can make it up as you go."

Kreearr sat down abruptly. "The sign... an untruth?"

"Well, not exactly an untruth, but..."

Zrglf had wrapped its tentacles around its head. "Blasphemy, blasphemy!"

"Don't tell me this is something your gods don't like either?"

Kreearr covered its eyes with its wings. "Text is to be used only for truth or for believed-as-truth! Blasphemy!"

Zrglf let its tentacles fall. "Worse," it said. "Human fix cannot. Stuck. Parental units call."

"Perhaps," Kreearr said from under its wings, "the human is wrong?"

"What?" Shana said.

"True!" said Zrglf. "Idiot human subset misunderstands sign! ALL VEHICLES FOREIGN."

"Now, wait a minute--"

Kreearr turned back to the control panel. "We should be stable enough for one more jump. Service onsite, you say?

"I don't think--" She paused. Then she grinned. "Sure. Service onsite, I say."


Another bright flash of light. The ricketty wooden garage structure exploded out in a shower of splinters as the aliens' ship materialized inside it.

Jovan, grabbing a beer from the fridge in the back, turned around and stared at the ship. An off-white panel in its side slid up, revealing a bright blue light. He could just make out the silhouettes of three figures.

"Jovan!" Shana shouted. "I got a job for you!"

Story C: The Boron Carbide Lathe, by Philip Edward Kaldon

Story C
The Boron Carbide Lathe

How the hell did she get into this predicament? Sal Small was just a mechanical engineer on a Fleet repair ship – the Runtel Lathe (UUR-30) – a junior grade lieutenant. She certainly wasn’t a command officer or a main engines officer.

But there she was. The last surviving officer aboard in the middle of a battle with their implacable Enemy.

It had to be worse for Ray Dantrell. He was just a medic.

She wasn’t sure that the whole crew was dead, but it seemed likely. The giant space doors in the main hangar bay had been holed in the first thirty seconds of the attack and no one had gotten into space suits yet. No one but Sal and Ray.

Sal had run into the medic in a corridor and dragged him into the airlock leading into the aft engine compartment.

Main Engine was littered with half a dozen bodies. A close thermonuclear detonation had set off the fusor engine and flooded Main Engine with a neutron blast. The maintenance ship hadn’t stood a chance against a heavily armed warship.

“I’m just a girl from Missouri,” Sal complained as she tried to make sense of the main control panel. “Joined Fleet so I could learn thermal superconductors and help with Dad’s HVAC heating and cooling business.”

“How’s that working for you?”

“I’ve spent the last three years working on artificial gravity systems – superflow circuits.”

“Of course.”

“A-ha!” At least there were tutorial screens. “I’ve restarted the engines. We can move.”

“Can we jump now?”

“No. The jump system is down and we aren’t anywhere close to jump speed.”

“Oh. What about fighting?”

Sal sighed. “I had one course on starship management and one on space warfare. The Runtel Lathe is a utility maintenance ship – the war shouldn’t have been in this system.”

“What’s a Runtel lathe anyway?” Ray asked.

Sal shook her head. “You’ve been on the Runtel Lathe for nearly a year and now you think to ask such a question?”

“Yeah, well, it never seemed important before.”

“A Runtel lathe uses a boron carbide cutting tip – it’ll turn anything you can put in front of it. Kind of important when you’re working with superflow conduits.”


“It’s a lathe – you spin the stock and then cut it with the tools. Turning.”

She wasn’t sure that Ray knew enough about machine tools to make any sense of that.

“So, what do you know about the aliens?”

“We don’t know anything,” Sal admitted, “except they seem rather insistent that they kill us all.”

Ray nodded. “Humans are so charming to each other, why am I so surprised that we pissed off an alien race?”

“I don’t think it worked that way. Anyway, we’ve never had any communication with them. We know nothing about their culture. We’ve never exchanged greetings or threats or anything.”

“Could be a religious war. When you’re set in your religion, you aren’t going to spend a lot of time trying to talk with the heathen.”

“I hadn’t thought about that,” Sal admitted.

“Probably is nothing more than we aren’t doing things The One True Way.”

“What kind of things?”

Ray shrugged. “Anything I suppose. I mean, look at that sign – SAFETY EQUIPMENT MUST BE WORN AT ALL TIMES. Maybe it written the wrong way. It offend me. The alien me, that is. Writing wrong. Must be evil.’

“Wrong? How can writing be wrong?”

“Structured backwards. Bad magic.”

“Backwards, you say?”

“Yes. Left to right. Idiots human subset write also top to bottom.”

“Surely the preferred direction of writing is arbitrary.”

“Gods say not. See also stupidities your other. Zones time many. Nouns follow descriptors. System measurement adequate but universal not. Flow electricity plus to minus. Humans backwards ways many.”

“Well, we don’t have a single planetary government to set or enforce standards.”

“Problem also. Gods like not. Humans sloppy. Query: we fix.”

Was it as easy as that? Sal didn’t know.

An alarm sounded on the master control board.

“Shit. The mass cancelation system is about to fail. If I was a genius, I could reroute the artificial gravity system – they’re all superflow systems. But there isn’t time.”

“What are we going to do?” Ray asked.

She wanted to scream at him that she didn’t know – she wasn’t a combat officer or a main engineer.

“Okay, what’s the stupidest thing we could do against your righteous, superior aliens?” Sal asked.

“I dunno. Stop?”

“Exactly. We can do that,” she said, rapidly typing in a chain of commands. “Or at least slow down as much as possible.”

“What are you doing?” Ray asked, pointing at the spinning display on one screen.

“Turning us end-over-end. Now the engines will slow us down. And the exhaust is pointed away from the Enemy – they might not see what’s going on.”

“But they can still see us. Track us. Shoot us out of the sky.”

“Yeah, but before they get here I’m shutting everything down. It’s a lot harder to target a dark ship.”

Waiting was the hardest part. It took six hours for the Enemy ship to return – jumping out and back into the system – and search them out.

“If this was a movie,” Sal commented, as they sat on the deck against the bulkhead, “this is where the plucky heroine and the tough male warrior would fall into each others arms and irrationally screw like bunnies. That wasn’t a suggestion, by the way. Just an observation on how dumb the movie version would be.”

“The long conversation when they should have been doing something to save themselves.”

“Exactly. Thank god that isn’t going to happen here.”

“We’re smarter than that,” Ray said. “Besides, I’m gay.”

“So am I,” Sal said.

“Definitely smarter then.”

A display chimed. Sal got up to look. “Thirty seconds to intercept.”

“Do we have any weapons?”

Sal shook her head. “The forward weapons systems are all light stuff – designed to repel opportunists, not fight a major interstellar war. But…”

Rapidly tabbing through several screens, Sal could see that the bulk of the weapons were offline from the first attack. Except… for one missile.

“Wish us luck,” Sal said.

“Luck. What am I wishing us luck for?”

“The Enemy ship is about to pass us. As soon as it does, I’m going to shoot this missile up its engines – just like they did to us.”

“Karmic,” Ray observed.

“And… they passed by. Didn’t see us.”

“Good luck, lieutenant.”

Sal fired the missile.

Story D: The Choice, by Katie Clapham

Story D
The Choice

“Backwards, you say?”

“Yes. Left to right. Idiots human subset write also top to bottom.”

“Surely the preferred direction of writing is arbitrary.”

“Gods say not. See also stupidities your other. Zones time many. Nouns follow descriptors. System measurement adequate but universal not. Flow electricity plus to minus. Humans backwards ways many.”

“Well, we don’t have a single planetary government to set or enforce standards.”

“Problem also. Gods like not. Humans sloppy. Query: we fix.”

Maura sighed. If it wasn't enough that the Glim spoke just on the edge of comprehension, they insisted that she do the same. Then the meaning of their last sentence hit her. "What? NO! Most humans value their own individuality. Outside ..." She struggled for a word that would politely express her outrage. "Outside intervention is not desired." She knew that was not strictly true. There were many groups of humans that would eagerly embrace a means of changing all others to follow their vision of truth. She really did not want any hint of this offer to reach those groups.

"Being against Gods allowed not. Universe unstable makes. Danger to all."

Each of the groups that came to mind would say much the same thing, with different definitions of what was at risk. The Universe, the proper order, the soul...

She stared at the Glim around her. The three of them were different in color, one glowed with iridescent purples and blues, another with shades of forest greens to swamp browns, and another in oranges and yellows. The flickering lights that originated the name of their species flowed across their skin. They were distracting, but she had learned to recognize the signs of agitation, calm, excitement. She had not seen joy, did not know what that looked like. Agitation was faster and more jagged than excitement, and agitation is what she saw now.

"What would be necessary to leave humans as they are?"

"Sealed away necessary. Access to Correct beings never."

"How would you do that?"

"From Universe removed. Gods no longer to reach."

"What of our colony here?"

"To Earth returned. Traces removed."

The human race had encountered one other sentient species before this. They spoke as the Glim, but not with the arrogance of them. She had always had a sense when she encountered them that they were looking over their shoulders, if they had shoulders. Which they didn't. Now she knew why they were so nervous.

The Glim posed a choice: be cut off from any chance of further exploration, from any chance of escaping the limited space and resources of Earth, and perhaps, if the Glim were generous, the small colonization that had been done within the solar system, or lose the diversity that made humanity something more.

She didn't think they could survive either.

Why was it that one of the first species the human race encountered was a bunch of religious zealots, a bunch of all-powerful religious zealots, for that matter? She had seen some of what they could do. She did not doubt that they could do as they threatened.

"One in alignment proper repaired must make decision."

Before Maura could react, the three Glim touched her head. She felt an electric shock coursing through her body.

Decision difficult not. Clear all.

Maura nodded.

Story E: Alpha and Omega, by Anna Black

Story E
Alpha and Omega

“Backwards, you say?”

“Yes. Left to right. Idiots human subset write also top to bottom.”

“Surely the preferred direction of writing is arbitrary.”

“Gods say not. See also stupidities your other. Zones time many. Nouns follow descriptors. System measurement adequate but universal not. Flow electricity plus to minus. Humans backwards ways many.”

“Well, we don’t have a single planetary government to set or enforce standards.”

“Problem also. Gods like not. Humans sloppy. Query: we fix.”

The possibilities ran rampant as the two continued to hash over the implications of the project. It was not the first time the two had been in agreement on the why of a situation but differed as to the how. Considering the number of planetary systems the pair had worked together on, stretching over eons of time incomprehensible to most, one would think they’d, excuse the pun, would have it down to a science.

But every system presented its own set of variables and perspectives. Over time which, again, you must realize is so vast as to overwhelm the mind, the two, whom we should give a name to and which we shall call Alpha and Omega, and merely because to try and translate their names into a nomenclature comprehensible would take far more time than this narrative would allow.

Suffice to say, it was Alpha who suggested that they just initiate a planet wide erasure of the idiot human subsets’ brains and then reinitialize their consciousness to one more pleasing to the gods, while Omega, who was the more patient and linear of the, but also possessing a bit of a wild and wooly side that oftentimes drove Alpha to distraction, suggested creating a pantheon of religious beings who would not only incorporate all that humans appeared to require in their deities, but, and where was Omega was certain the sheer brilliance of the idea shone most bright, give those deities the actual powers that so many of the human subset gave to their religious figures. The manifestation of actual miracles, the reanimation of the actual dead, the reabsorption of actual souls into what Omega envisioned as something akin to the concept of heaven, but which would exist on a quantum dimension that Omega would create out of the leftover dimension the two had installed on other worlds.

But Alpha, who was always impatient and always wanting to move on to the next big thing, vetoed that idea immediately.

“Always this you do,” Alpha said testily.

“Why not?” Omega replied. “Initiative given. Gods decreed it should be so”

Alpha shifted its bulk so that it was able to more closely examine the crystalline lines crisscrossing its viewers. “See this? What does that you tell?”

Omega leaned closer, not wanting to touch Alpha as the last time that happened, the two merged and it took them twenty thousand of what we know as centuries to untangle themselves. “The human subset is depleting the resources of their planet faster than it can evolve to restore them.”

“And?” Alpha said, drawing the word out in such a manner as to indicate derision coupled with impatience.

“Time we have not. So no pantheon.”

Alpha nodded sagely and with no small degree of satisfaction. Every few millennia Omega was prone to these bursts of creativity that, although could be thought of as endearing, usually led to prolonged bouts of depression on Omega’s part once the project was completed. It was never good enough, Omega would moan, even after the two had long departed from the system. Perhaps I should have incorporated more levels of indoctrination or maybe I should have aligned the layers of belief and made sure that there was no room for accusations of heresy among the conflicting sects.

Alpha was all about getting the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Therefore Alpha never experienced these post-creative depressions. Omega, on the other hand, wanted everything to be just so. To make certain that after they left a system, there would be something remaining that was beautiful, even glorious.

But, since the human subset was so eager to wipe itself out of existence, and the two were, as Alpha like to say, on the clock, an expression Alpha found wonderfully accurate, there was no time to create a pantheon or any of the other ridiculous ideas that Omega was prone to want to suggest.

“Agreed we are?” Alpha queried. It was standard speak before initiating a project.

Omega hesitated, which was Omega’s way of expressing discontent, but Alpha had no doubt Omega would do as expected.


Alpha shifted again, aware that Omega quickly moved away to avoid their touching, for it certainly wouldn’t do to accidentally merge and fail to save the human subset from itself.

Once comfortably situated, Alpha initiated the planetary wipe of the human subset consciousness. While Alpha waited it hummed a song it recalled from a world similar to the ones the human subset inhabited. Once the wipe was complete, it decided to let Omega perform the reinitiating of all awareness with, of course, the requisite paradigms that were pleasing to the Gods.

Omega always wanted to wait around and see the result of their handiwork, but Alpha was ready for this. Before Omega could speak a work, the two were on their way to another system.

Story F: Dorm Room Drama, by Genta Sebastian

Story F
Dorm Room Drama

Tomas woke in his dorm room with bright sunlight prying open his lids. This, however, confused him as he was sure he’d drawn the shades before crawling into bed just after dawn. He really shouldn’t have partied into the wee hours with a test coming up this afternoon. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he tried to focus on the light source, but it was so bright his eyes watered which didn’t help his vision much.

“Gods say wake now. Planet which am on?” A strange, chittering type voice came from somewhere behind the light.

“Huh?” asked Tomas. This dream was taking on some interesting elements. Next he’d be talking to a two humped llama. He stretched his lanky eighteen-year-old body and scratched his head.

A sharp electric jolt hit his bellybutton and traveled in all directions through his body at once. “Hey!” His hand twitched as he tried to shade his eyes to get a glimpse of whoever was attacking him.

“Planet,” demanded the disembodied voice, “which am on?” The bright light flickered for a moment before returning to blind him once more. “Hurry, am we. Response immediate enforced. Speak.”

“Get that light out of my eyes. Did you jolt me with electricity? Is this a dream, or what? Simon, is that you, you goddamned bastard? Is this payback for the night with Shannon?” Half convinced he was being played, Tomas blinked hard. “You sumbitch… I said, get that light out of my eyes.”

“Limited am you.” The bright light went out, cloaking the bedroom in darkness. “Met needs, answer must.”

Tomas ran his fingers through his hair, tousling it a bit. His eyes quit smarting, but he still couldn’t see anyone, Simon or otherwise. “I’m going to turn on the light. Don’t jolt me or anything, okay?” He reached across the bed and switched on the lamp. His eyes grew huge and round. “What are you?”

“Stupid, you.” A tall, spindly spider-like creature stood in the corner of his room, like a monster who’d just jumped out of the closet. Pale orange mandibles snapped shut below yellow eyes on short stalks. Four of the legs were placed squarely on the ground, two others were cleaning the eyes with swiping motions, and the last two seemed to be pointing a weapon of some kind in his direction.

Tomas bristled. “Hey now, I got B’s on my finals last month. Who you callin’ stupid?”

“Hurry must. Answer planet which am?”

“You’re on Earth, pal. You think I’m stupid and you don’t even know which planet you’re on? Gimme a break.” Tomas took another long look at his visitor. “And put those things down. You tryin’ to hurt someone or something?”

“No Earth. Stupid you. Wrong am you.” Mandibles clicked and clacked but the creature put the weapons in a long pouch attached by a belt around its slender middle.

“Hey listen here, you… you nightmare. I’m telling you this is Earth and I should know, I’m a human.” He swung his legs over the side of the bed and started to stand, but was shoved rudely back by the top two legs, or were they arms. “This is the weirdest dream I’ve ever had.” But the spider’s arms were hard, and he felt bruises rising under his t-shirt. “Okay, it’s clear you’re not a human, so just where are you from?” He was now convinced that he was no longer dreaming.

The creature ignored Tomas and began scanning the room. It walked over to his desk and picked up a book, tearing the cover off.

“Hey, I need that,” Tomas said, jumping out of bed and grabbing it from the monster’s mouth. “Don’t eat my textbook.” He moved back as the spider-like creature advanced on him, mandibles clicking.

“Me give now, or die will you.”

Tomas quickly handed over the book, backing away from the monster as it leafed through the pages. “Okay, okay, keep your shirt on. No one has to die over a book.” He looked at the cover that had been discarded and now lay on the floor. “What do you want with a book on the animal kingdom anyway?”

His monster visitor ignored him, its entire head glowing a bright orange for a long moment. It turned the book upside down and started leafing through it from back to front. Tomas started to edge toward the door, but quickly one spider-like leg blocked his exit, while another shoved him again. Tomas rubbed at his chest, watching as it tore one page after another out and threw them around him, all over the room.

“Backwards. Gods right.”

“Backwards, you say?”

“Yes. Left to right. Idiots human subset write also top to bottom.”

“Surely the preferred direction of writing is arbitrary.”

“Gods say not. See also stupidities your other. Zones time many. Nouns follow descriptors. System measurement adequate but universal not. Flow electricity plus to minus. Humans backwards ways many.”

“Well, we don’t have a single planetary government to set or enforce standards.”

“Problem also. Gods like not. Humans sloppy. Query: we fix.” Once more the creature’s head glowed as he seemed to be listening to something far away.

“Answer, no! Don’t fix what ain’t broken, pal.” Tomas had stopped trying to make for the door and was instead now inching toward the bathroom. “Maybe you’re the stupid ones, ever think of that?”

“Gods say we species superior to humans.”

“Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Otherwise you wouldn’t think of them as gods, now would you?”

The creature’s eyes stopped weaving through the air as it considered Tomas, staring him down. The orange glow enveloped his head, then traveled down to cover its entire body.

“Gods say Earthlings stupid. Must fix to prepare for we.”

Tomas had reached the bathroom door. Without saying another word, he darted inside and locked the door. The eighteen-year-old began frantically searching the cupboards under the sink. A strange boom sounded just outside the door and it shook. He scrambled on all fours away from the door, clutching his weapon. Two more booms and the door shattered.

Standing on its bottom four legs, the top four all wielding weapons, the tall spindly spider-like creature stared him down. Every part of its body glowed bright orange. “Gods say exterminate must.”

“I totally agree,” Tomas answered evenly. He rose on his two human legs, took aim, and let loose a long stream of pesticide, aiming right for the mandibles and eyes. Walking toward the creature, he kept spraying. As the nightmare alien backed up, Tomas began stalking him, following his every move. He paused only long enough to shake the can, then continued spraying.

The creature sank down until all eight legs were on the ground, now no larger than a malamute. The orange glow slowly faded away. Tomas kept spraying until the monster stopped quivering, and then a little longer just for good measure.

“Gods be damned,” he said as he stepped over the dead body and headed for the door. “We need another religion here on Earth like we need a plague of spiders. We’ve got enough trouble without your Gods here.”

He gathered up the scattered pages of his textbook. “How will I explain this to Professor Crumb?” He stared at the dead body on the floor. “Never mind. I’ll take him this instead. That ought to bring my grade up to an A.”

Story G: Plotting Everest, by Zora Quynh

Story G
Plotting Everest

The summit of the planet offered the greatest single clue to the demise of the human inhabitants that once lived there. The mountain itself, unlike like the rest of the planet had remained a preserved, icelandic museum whose treasures had thus far eluded me.

I was determined to make my name in this however, inscribing me forever as the premier planetary archeologist of this era of exploration. The discovery of the brown black planet less than a galaxy away had alighted scientist throughout our home galaxy. Most of the remnants of its denizens and the markers of its people had been destroyed, marked by extremely high levels of radiation and buried under tons of rubble and debri that may take decades to rummage though.

Up here however, where the air is crisp and thin, lay frozen 200 or so specimens of humanity, each bearing a plethura of symbology in both their attire and their well preserved body parts. I was overjoyed with the prospect.

As my companion, I chose Vat of the Beta Signari Charter planets to join me. Vat was a highly qualified forensic scientist who had accompanied many an archeological excavation. Xe was over a thousand years old, having the capacity to live much longer than our own species and had experience with more diverse life forms and biological systems than I could even fathom to explain.

Moreover, I could not escape the fact that xe had proved to be an extremely amicable companion on these deep space explorations given xe’s polymorphic sexual tendencies. Already xe’s heavy musk was perpetrating through the air and a mixture of salt and sweetness mingled in the back of my mouth remembering the last time I had laid with xe so many moons ago.

But I digress…for this I had to put up with xe’s most flippant disregard for the intelligence of the humans of the planet who had, for reasons we had not yet uncovered, simply disappeared under a cloud of radioactive debri about, if the carbon dating technology developed by Strami Laboratories is correct, about 10,000 of the solar systems’ cycles ago.

Vat and I examined the markers left by the human bearing a pair of green boots which must have protected his feet from the blistering cold of the mountain top. 10,000 solar cycles ago, the mountain top was believed to have been even colder than it is now. The specimen, which we had been charmingly referring to as “Green Boots” had been left in tact and in place on the mountain top. Vat and I argued the ethics of removing the specimen despite the delay of our partner planets to determine the legalities of our exploration let alone any restrictions for the blue black planet.

I carefully examined the symbols on a frozen rectangular thin artifact that had been extracted with great care from a small square rectangular enclosement on the back of Green Boots’ pants. The artifact appeared to be a frozen parchment of some sort with symbols scribbled on it in.

I found the round script enticing. It was one of the few specimens of writing that had been uncovered from the actual surface of the planet. From the many satellites that orbited the planet dozens of artifacts had been collected, however, I prized myself with the discovery of the first on planet evidence of human script.

“Backwards, you say?”

“Yes. Left to right. Idiots human subset write also top to bottom.”

“Surely the preferred direction of writing is arbitrary.”

“Gods say not. See also stupidities your other. Zones time many. Nouns follow descriptors. System measurement adequate but universal not. Flow electricity plus to minus. Humans backwards ways many.”

“Well, we don’t have a single planetary government to set or enforce standards.”

“Problem also. Gods like not. Humans sloppy. Query: we fix.”

I considered Vat’s words. In truth I did not find the script to be “sloppy” at all. It was beautiful in fact, moreso than the horizontal and vertical lines of our script – or the circular series of dots of Vat’s. The language of Green Boots’ people swirled in mysterious curves and interconnected lines.

“Remove you will? Violation your actions may be.” Vat frowned at me. Even so, I could still feel xe’s animal heat which sought to drown me in its seduction. I turned away from Vat, determined to remain focused on the task at had.

“Vat, the greatest discoveries can sometimes be found regardless of political protocol. You and I will go down in history and everyone will be so far fascinated by all that we will reveal that no one will bat a follicle.

I envisioned my great thesis laid out for the intergalactic counsel. Daydreams began to run through my mind thankfully replacing the series of sexual forays with Vat that kept intrusively invading my mind. Ambition has always been my greatest vice.

The theories wrestled within me and I struggled between my belief that at one point the great Gods of this blue black planet dwelled in the clouds as they do on our planet, on Vat’s planet. And this great questor had been attempting with all of his might to reach that those Gods in search of the answer to save this dear planet on its last days of death.

My other competing theory was that Green Boots was seeking to escape the noxious gases that had consumed this bleak planet on its last breaths as the fires below swallowed the planet whole, the Gods angry as Vat believed, breathing fire upon the entirety of the planet, punishing it for whatever wrongs it had inflicted upon the planet.

Whichever of the truths it was I would find it here in the script of Green Boots own hand. My heart swelled with excitement.

Vat reached across from me, a small smile creeping into xe’s face, sharing this moment of discovery with me. It was then that ambition failed me and the only thought I had in my mind was allowing xe to take me right her, right now, right near Green Boots, right at eve of my greatest discovery.

I laid the rectangular artifact gently in the ice beside me and turned to look at Vat expectantly.

“Take you now I will…”


Tsewang Paljor lay feeling the slow mummification of his body in the coldness of Everest, the summit and the dream of it still evading him.

He still was the first member of the First Indian team to reach the summit of Mount Everest and for that he would die knowing that he had reached the single most important goal in his short life – to bring his the quest of his countrymen to the forefront of the history of Everest – which he knew would live long after he and any other creature on earth would.

His descent had been harrowing. The blizzard had attached their team as they descended the summit. The blizzard had knocked the breath out of him, causing him to stumble, barely able to crawl the distance of the descent.

It was May 11, 1996. That will be the day that will remain his forever. His and everyone else that had climbed Everest on this fateful day when the mountain had decided to reach down and choke him and his companions.

Everest was his and will always remain his. His remains will forever be a marker of his success.

Story H: An Innocent Question, by Joe Blaylock

Story H
An Innocent Question

“Backwards, you say?”

“Yes. Left to right. Idiots human subset write also top to bottom.”

“Surely the preferred direction of writing is arbitrary.”

“Gods say not. See also stupidities your other. Zones time many. Nouns follow descriptors. System measurement adequate but universal not. Flow electricity plus to minus. Humans backwards ways many.”

“Well, we don’t have a single planetary government to set or enforce standards.”

“Problem also. Gods like not. Humans sloppy. Query: we fix.”

My heart raced as I considered the offer of Zyrgi Subcommandant Rax.

We had been chatting, I thought idly, over refreshments at an interstellar reception being held at the Utopia Planitia Assembly House. It was an honor that I'd even been invited – my invitation specifically said I was not permitted a guest – and I hadn't expected face time with any Zyrgi, much less the Subcomanndant. Nor had I thought he'd put such a query to me.

We'd been on Mars for nearly a hundred years when First Contact came in the form of a swarm of evangelical Zyrgi spontaneously docking to airlocks from Neptune all the way in to Upper L1 just ten years before. They wanted to tell us about their gods and their mathematics.

Mathematics, we had a use for. Gods, not as much. Certainly, some people converted, but lots of them were just window shopping, and the total human population of Zyrginix Faithful was barely a half million. Not even enough to justify their own space station, but there were a few places – mostly on Earth – where they had significant enclaves. Owensboro, Kentucky springs to mind.

A decade before, I was on Charon Station, operating remote survey vehicles assaying some of the larger Oort objects for suitability as superstructures for human habitation. It was a boring job, and I didn't actually believe the project would fly. Mostly I was there to get away from my old life. My ex boyfriend had emigrated to Europa to join a post-human collective and I, so attached to my heartbeat and lungs, hadn't gone with him. I figured I needed to stay busy, and really get far out. You can't get much further out than Charon.

I was at the controls of the core sample driller operating on Eris when power generation at the station failed, and everything became eerily quiet and terribly dark. I unstrapped from my control chair and opened the hatch to the corridor, where weak phosphorescent paint applied to the walls and floor would allow me to safely navigate towards the backup generator.

Charon Station is tiny. A single hallway, with the living quarters at one end, the power plant at the other, and in between, the control room on one side and the airlock on the other.

It was also unreliable. The Station had originally been dug by a group of pioneering asteroid miners in the mid last century who had this idea they would built use Charon as an outpost for surveying the Oort cloud for usable material. They went over budget just getting the automated diggers out that far, and the vacuum-sealed tunnel sat unused for more than sixty years. When it was refit for an exoplanetary observatory a few decades before, it had been done mostly by grad students and not very well. My project, funded by the United Nations and Habitations, was underfunded and understaffed and the Station got only the most cursory of updates before I was moved in.

All of which is to say, I wasn't particularly surprised the power had gone out. I had the procedures for bringing up the backup power systems, debugging the primaries, and switching over pretty much by rote at this point. I wasn't worried about the power outage.

What surprised my was that the airlock across from me was occupied by an octopus. If you've seen pictures of thy Zyrgi, you know what I mean. They're not octopi, of course, but the resemblance is remarkable. I admit that the exterior lung is a giveaway, but I was pretty fixated on the tentacles. I stepped to the window, and it waved. I waved back.

A tentacle flailed, and the intercom button was struck, and the being I would eventually know as Raxix said, in that remarkable parrot-like voice, “Greetings we send. Zyrgi Blanu we are. Grant you the peace of the gods we will.”

The peace of the gods could sound like a threat, but I'd grown up around door-to-door preachers and I thought I knew what was going on. It turns out, I'd guessed right.

The Zyrgi organized every aspect of their lives along the lines of their religion, and the Zyrginix Gods were an awfully persnickety lot. What they wore on what days of their calandar, what they ate, how they mated and procreated – almost every aspect of their lives was circumscribed. I suppose it's not so different from many of the remaining human religions.

Still, while evangelical, they weren't pushy. They didn't have a concept of holy war – or really war at all – organizing everything along the lines of commercial exchange and voluntary participation. But their ideas of voluntary and their ideas of commerce could be slippery.

A few years before, a minor Zyrgi functionary was visiting one of the larger Zyrginix Faithful enclaves on Luna, and asked them what they wanted. They said they wanted to serve the gods better. Within hours, a nanobio swarm much like those used by the posthuman collectives had infiltrated the lunar air ducts, and every human being with a sucker-shaped tatoo on their arm had begun to transform into a Zyrgi.

So I had to consider carefully. It was absolutely within Zyrgi technological capabilities to alter the neurobiology of every human in the Sol system. On the other hand, if we insulted their gods, they would leave, and take their advanced physics with them.

Was Submcommandant Rax asking me whether humans should be fixed? Or whether human institutions should be fixed? Or whether they should show us a better way?

“Please, no. We must struggle towards the gods on our own, or the reaching them won't mean anything. But we must struggle among the stars.”