Prompt #324

This is the back-up Bradbury's Jar. Each week, members post a response to a given prompt.
Post Reply
User avatar
ElectricWhite
ISO Mechanic
Posts: 1109
Joined: Sun Jan 28, 2018 2:43 pm
Location: Indiana's sultry southern shore

Prompt #324

Post by ElectricWhite » Sun Mar 11, 2018 1:29 pm

Well, now that the Gatchamania diaspora has a place to return to, let's see if the Magical Mystery Medicine Bottle will produce a slip of paper with an appropriate prompt....

And, fellow Gatchamaniacs, Bradbury's Jar Prompt #324 is:

Needle

It has potential, don't you think? Get your thread and stitch together a response!
When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before. -- Mae West

User avatar
GrumpyGhostOwl
ISO Janitor
Posts: 248
Joined: Fri Jan 26, 2018 9:38 pm
Location: An owlery in a mysterious hidden valley in the far Antipodes.
Contact:

Re: Prompt #324

Post by GrumpyGhostOwl » Tue Mar 13, 2018 10:16 am

“You’re absolutely sure you’re okay?” Mark pressed. He listened to what sounded like an exasperated sigh at the other end of the comm channel.

“We’re fine,” Director Anderson said. “Really. Don’t divert to pick us up. Keep searching for that base!”

“The car breaking down could’ve been sabotage,” Mark pointed out. “Besides which, it’s the middle of winter, it’s getting dark and the temperature’s falling fast. I really think we should divert.”

“Mark, I’m ordering you not to. Maintain your search pattern.”

“I can override that order if I think it’s in the best interests of the Federation!” Mark said.

“Mark,” Anderson said, “I’m standing by the side of a road in the middle of nowhere with two armed security officers and my own sidearm. It’s in hand!”

“This is an off-world mission,” Mark said. “Different rules. We’re diverting. Get over it.” He closed the channel. “Tiny, bring us around and descend.”

“Big ten, Commander,” Tiny Harper said with a shrug.

“Mark,” Princess said, “I hate to be the fly in the ointment, but I’m picking up an anomaly on the geophys’ scan.”

“How much of an anomaly” Mark asked.

“Enough of one that I’m bringing it to your attention, Commander,” Princess said. “It might be nothing, but it’s the most significant one we’ve picked up so far.”

“It’s not another iron-age burial mound, is it?”

“Wrong shape and way bigger. Come take a look.”

Mark studied the readout at the tactical station. “Regular shapes, pretty deep… this could be it. Okay. Princess, send the coordinates to the nav system and let’s go check it out.”




On the ground, in the figurative middle of the proverbial nowhere in question (although the people who lived there might have argued the point) G-Force Director Anderson glared at his palm unit. “Did he just tell me to get over it?” he muttered.

“Sorry. Wasn’t listening,” Lieutenant Colonel Jones lied, keeping her expression neutral.

“Didn’t hear a thing, sir,” Lieutenant Maxwell said, avoiding eye contact.

"It's getting dark,” Anderson said. “Let’s see if there’s anyone at that farm shed over there. We can settle in some place warm, call for someone to collect the vehicle and let the Ambassador know that we won’t be able to make the meeting.”



Ing rubbed irritably at his nose, which was tickling horribly. "Why do we always get stuck with the worst jobs in the entire army?" he grumbled.

"Could be worse," Harek pointed out.

"How?" Ing wanted to know. "We're inside a haystack." He sneezed and fumbled for a tissue. He blew his nose loudly.

"Remember the time we were stationed in a bolthole underneath that camel stable on Alpha Three?"

Ing put the tissue in the disposal bin. "Okay," he conceded. "It could be worse... except I'm not allergic to camels, but I'm pretty sure I'm allergic to... to... aaaahh.... aaaahhhh - CHOO!" He sniffled. "Hay," he finished, then pulled another three tissues from the box and blew his nose again.

"Keep it down," Harek warned. "We got company coming."

"Where?" Ing leaned over Harek's shoulder and sniffed again. Harek gave him a look of distaste.

"Three people crossing the field, headed straight for us. There's no ID ping so if they're ours, they're not carrying transponders."

"Call up a visual," Ing suggested, and covered his nose with another handful of tissues to muffle the sneeze.

"Too dark to make out much detail," Harek said. "These old scopes are useless when the infra-red goes on the fritz! Looks like two males, one female."

"And we're in a haystack," Ing said, rolling his eyes. He smirked. "This could be one for the boys back at the base." He picked up a headset, settled it over his head, and plugged it in to an audio jack.

Three shadowy shapes approached on the screen. The audio pick-ups transmitted the crunch of their feet in the stubble, then the video screen turned to snow as Harek tried to zoom in.

"That's as good as it gets," Harek muttered.

"... Isn't exactly what I would have envisaged if anybody had told me I'd be taking a walk in the moonlight with you this evening," a male voice said. It sounded like a weary attempt at injecting humour into a difficult situation.

"I'm not going to ask what you would have envisaged," a female voice replied. It was oddly accented, with rounded vowels and consonants that had edges like a bread knife.

"That's probably a wise move," the male voice said.

"Anyway, the last time I walked anywhere in the moonlight with you, the Rigan Embassy got demolished."

Ing and Harek exchanged glances. "They're offworlders!" Ing breathed.

"It wasn't demolished," the male voice corrected. "It was just... damaged. A lot."

"David, the roof fell in and one of the walls collapsed after we left."

"So sue me for being rough on buildings."

"As I recall, the Rigans did sue."

"They sued the agency. You'll also recall that we settled out of court."

"How do I resist your charm?" The tone of the woman's voice softened to one of fond exasperation.

Ing sneezed. Harek elbowed him in the ribs.

"What was that?" another male voice asked.

"Probably a bird," the female said dismissively.

"A bird?” echoed the second male. “Uh, ma’am, It sounded like someone sneezing."

"Birds sneeze. My Uncle Ethel had a scarlet macaw that developed a smoker's cough."

“Wait a second,” the first male voice said. "Uncle Ethel?"

"Well, more of a second cousin, really."

"Right... Um... Al?"

"Yes?"

"Is this what I think it is?"

"That depends. What do you think it is?"

"I think," the male voice said thoughtfully, "it's a pitchfork."

Ing and Harek exchanged horrified glances, then leapt for their lives as four rusty iron prongs hit the scanner unit and sent it crashing to the ground. They tore their headsets from their heads and scrabbled to get as far away from the walls of the haystack as they could.

"Yep," said the male voice, now clearly audible through the hay. "That's a pitchfork, all right."

"Agreed," the female voice remarked. "This, however, is a point four-oh magnum."

The haystack seemed to explode and implode at the same time. Ing and Harek dived out as the bullets started flying.

Ing got slowly to his knees. In the light of the full moon, he could clearly see that the three offworlders were armed. The shorter of the two men was wearing a Galaxy Security uniform. The light also meant that the taller of the two men was instantly recognisable. Ing swallowed the lump in his throat. "S-security Chief Anderson?" Ing breathed.

Anderson gave Ing the kind of look that suggested he was making a very unpleasant list of things that could happen to Ing in the immediate future. "Not any more," he said. "It’s ‘G-Force Director Anderson’ these days. Only half the things you've heard about me are true," he said. "The interesting part," he added with a smile that Ing found fundamentally disturbing, "is deciding which half."

Terror curled slow, clammy fingers around Ing's vitals and squeezed.

"Both of you," the uniformed man said, "hands on your head." He relieved Ing and Harek of their guns and tossed them over to where Anderson could pick them up while the blonde woman kept her own weapon trained on the prisoners. "Now, right hand stays put, left arm out to one side." The Galaxy Security lieutenant returned his own gun to a shoulder holster under his tunic and drew a utility knife. At Ing's stricken expression, he grabbed his left sleeve. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said. "Not unless you give me any trouble." He cut the stitching and pulled the sleeve from his shirt. "Hands behind your back," he ordered, and bound Ing’s wrists with the sleeve. Ing was frisked, had his own knife confiscated, then was pushed forward so that he sprawled uncomfortably on his belly while the G-Sec officer repeated the process with Harek.

"Now that we're all cosy," Anderson said, "let's start by introducing ourselves, then we can break the ice by telling each other where we're from. You know who I am. This nice lady is Colonel Jones and she'll stay nice just as long as you cooperate. You’ve met Lieutenant Maxwell. Now, we're from a place called Earth. I'm sure you've heard of it, little blue planet, gets invaded a lot?" He pointed his gun at Ing's head. "Tell me all about yourselves," he invited, "starting with the location of your base."

Ing swallowed. Anderson was smiling that disturbing little smile again, the one that seemed to imply that if he didn't like the answers, Ing's family would be getting sympathy cards any day now.

"Don't tell 'em anything!" Harek growled. He yelped as a bullet kicked up the dirt next to his left arm. "On the other hand," Harek reconsidered, his voice quavering, "maybe we shouldn't be hasty..."




“Sorry, Mark,” Princess said. “It looked significant.”

“It did,” Mark agreed, “and you were right to flag it.”

“Well,” Jason said with a shrug, “it isn’t every day we discover an ancient temple complex that doesn’t turn out to be a Spectra base.”




"Thank you," Anderson said. "That's extremely interesting."

Ing and Harek squirmed uncomfortably on the ground. Ing sneezed again.

"Perhaps," Jones suggested, "we should send Zoltar a note, complimenting him on how helpful his soldiers are."

"Don't do that!" Harek pleaded. "He'll have us boiled in oil!"

"Or worse!" Ing added.

"Just take us prisoner," Harek suggested. "We won't be any trouble!"

"We'll be good," Ing promised.

"The sensible thing to do," Jones said, "would be to kill them."

"But then you'd have to bury us!" Ing argued.

"They can dig the holes themselves," Jones countered, addressing Anderson.

"But we can't fill them in once we're dead," Ing babbled. "You'd get your nice suit all dirty... and... and, you'd get a run in your stockings... and... and you'd... you'd wreck your shoes! They look expensive... are they designer?"

"He's got a point, there, Al," Anderson conceded. "I really don't feel up for burying anyone right now."

"You're not seriously thinking of keeping them alive!" Jones put one hand on her hip.

"Dead bodies have a way of being found," Anderson pointed out.

"It isn't as though killing these two would be a crime," Jones said. "Under the Proxima Convention, prisoners can be legally executed if their numbers are such that they constitute a risk to the unit holding them!"

"Ing, is that true?" Harek whispered urgently.

"I don't know!" Ing hissed back.

"I know the Convention allows for the culling of prisoners if they can't be safely managed," Anderson said, "but I think we can deal with these two."

"Oh, you can," Ing told him fervently. "You can manage us in complete safety, no trouble at all. We're probably the two most manageable soldiers in the history of the Spectran armed forces, I swear!"

"Oh, yes!" Harek agreed. "Very manageable! We've been in prison lots of times!"

"You have?" Anderson's attention was suddenly focussed on Harek. It was the kind of focus usually found on laser targeting systems.

"Military detention," Harek confessed. "You know... the brig?"

"So you are trouble," Jones surmised.

"Only for our superiors!" Ing insisted. "We're model prisoners! We have plenty of experience!"

“I’m pretty sure we can manage ‘em, sirs,” Lieutenant Maxwell said.

Anderson and Jones exchanged glances. "Al," Anderson said, "don't kill them. That's an order."

"As you wish, Director." Jones' expression and icy tone made it clear that she was complying against her better judgement.

"Let's get them secure,” Anderson said.

Lieutenant Maxwell spoke up again: “We could put them in the hay shed. It should be safe enough."

"All right," Jones agreed, "but no jokes about haylofts or the connotations that go with it."

“The thought never even entered my mind,” Anderson said, unconvincingly.




Ing sneezed again and sighed. He was securely bound to one of the loft supports in the hay shed, back to back with Harek, while the Earthlings bickered among themselves in the loft overhead.

"I still think we should kill them and keep moving to get as far away from that base as we can!" Jones said. Ing could just make out her words. She had lowered her voice, but not enough. Those sharp-edged tones carried in the night.

"Bertie," Anderson said again, "will you quit being such an extremist? We can just wait here."

“And if they miss a sked call and their friends come looking for them?” Jones argued.

"We’re in an ideal position," Anderson said. “High ground, good visibility, clear line of sight. It’s better than being caught out in the open. Speaking of which, do you see anything, Josh?”

“All clear, sir,” Lieutenant Maxwell said from his post by the window. “The farmhouse looks deserted but there are cattle in the adjacent fields. It’s all pretty quiet down there.”

Calm settled over the hay shed for a few moments.

"Uncle Ethel?" Anderson said, breaking the silence.

"Hmmm? Oh, yes,” Jones said. “He had this scarlet macaw --"

"Uncle Ethel?"

"Ethel felt that gender reassignment was no reason to justify changing your name."

"Oh."

"He taught the macaw to recite left-wing social protest slogans."

"Al?"

"Yes?"

"I’m sorry I asked."

Ing sat in the hay, sniffling softly. Behind him, Harek had fallen asleep and was snoring. The Earthlings were still bickering. Ing tried to relax. He'd rest a little, then he'd find a way to get free of his improvised bonds and go for help. He could warn the base commander, and maybe even come out of this whole sorry mess as a hero…

Stars flashed before his eyes.

Which was all wrong, because he was inside the hay shed.




"Ing?" Harek mumbled. "Ing, wake up!"

Ing woke up, sneezed and spat hay. He was cold, and his head throbbed. "Wha'?"

"Wake up!"

"I'm awake... oooohhhh, my head..."

"Ing, I think they're gone. They must've knocked us out and then left us here. Alive."

"They have?" Ing brightened, despite the chill in the night air. "We can see about getting out of here!"

"I don't know about that, Ing," Harek said.

"Why not?"

"Because our clothes are gone, our hands are still tied behind our backs, and a bull stuck its head in here a few minutes ago. A big, grumpy bull."

Ing's anguished cry drifted across the field, but only the bull heard him.




"You have a decided sadistic streak, you know that?" Aboard the Phoenix, high above where Ing was discovering the extent of his misfortune, Anderson was certain Jones was looking downright cheerful.

"I most certainly do not," Jones said, "and if you ever call me Bertie again, I shall take the rule book and --" She outlined her plan.

"How else was I supposed to let you know I was lying?"

"It was obvious you were lying!"

Tiny would normally have engaged the autopilot and made himself comfortable at the flight console, but with Anderson and Jones at the tactical station and Josh Maxwell leaning against the rear bulkhead behind him, he didn't dare. He sat with his back straight, shoulders squared, the very picture of alertness while the Phoenix described slow, lazy orbits, waiting to hear from the rest of the G-Force team down on the ground.

In the absence of anything better to do, his acute hearing was focussing on the available sounds, which were coming from the quiet conversation taking place at the tactical station.

Anderson and Jones fell silent for a few moments.

"Penny for your thoughts?" This was Anderson.

"I'm thinking about how to word my report."

"What about it?"

"The part with the Spectrans in the haystack."

"We found two enemy soldiers engaged in covert intelligence-gathering operations, took them prisoner and interrogated them."

"I was actually thinking about that business with the pitchfork. I'm not at all sure you're supposed to do that sort of thing with farming implements."

"Al, we're at war."

"Yes, but what if you'd impaled someone?"

"Then there would have only been one Spectran to interrogate instead of two."

"That's a bit callous, don't you think?"

"You were the one who kept saying we should kill them."

"Not with a pitchfork! And anyway, that was all part of your tactical ruse. I don't believe in physical cruelty."

"I see. That would be why you threatened to cause me grievous bodily harm with a copy of the Officers' Handbook."

"I was under duress," Jones said. "You were being particularly annoying, and I'd ended my day standing in the middle of a field waving someone else's underwear at a large farm animal! And how am I supposed to explain that for the record?"

"I thought it was fortuitous that the short one was wearing red flannel long johns, myself."

"Well he isn't now, is he?"

Tiny began to think that Jones' report might make intriguing reading.

"Anyway," Anderson reasoned, "any number of men would be delighted to have you waving their underw-- ow! Al, that was my foot."

"I'll aim higher, next time," she warned.

"I thought you said you didn't believe in physical cruelty."

"I'm prepared to make an exception."

“Tiny, you got ears on?” Mark called over the comm channel.

“Right here, Commander,” Tiny replied. “You ready for pickup?”

“We sure are,”
Mark said. “Rendezvous to the south east of the base!”

“On my way!” Tiny said, and trimmed the Phoenix for descent.




“Keep up, you idiot!” Ing cried, running for the fence. He and Harek had finally managed to get free, found the remains of the uniforms under a hay bale in the loft, dressed and were making a run for it. Ing could feel a sneeze coming on and tried to suppress it as he reached for the nearest fence post and vaulted. His foot caught in the sagging, rusted wire and he fell heavily on the other side of the field.

Into something soft.

And wet.

Clutching his red long johns and with the bull in thundering pursuit, Harek managed to clamber through the ancient three-strand fence and kept running.

The bull pulled up to a stop and snorted angrily.

Harek doubled back to where Ing was lying. “Ing?” he ventured. “Are you okay?”

From the depths of the cow-pat into which he’d fallen, Ing started to take a deep breath, and choked on the stink of manure. “The gods hate me,” he groaned.

A distant detonation shook the ground.

The bull uttered a frightened bellow, turned and ran away. In the distant farmhouse, lights flicked on.

Ing squelched to his feet. “That… that sounded like the base going up,” he rasped.

“Oh, ignots,” Harek breathed.




“There’s just no way you can avoid trouble, is there?” Mark said as he stepped off the lift platform onto the bridge of the Phoenix. Jason, Princess and Keyop followed. Jones vacated the chair at the tactical station, then she and Anderson joined Lieutenant Maxwell at the rear bulkhead.

“We got the location of the base for you,” Anderson pointed out.

“We would’ve found it eventually!” Mark said.

“You were looking for a needle in a haystack,” Anderson said. “We found the haystack. Literally.”

“Man, I give up!” Mark declared. “Tiny, set a course for ISO Planetary HQ so we can file our report and go home.”
Never trust an atom: they make up everything.

User avatar
ElectricWhite
ISO Mechanic
Posts: 1109
Joined: Sun Jan 28, 2018 2:43 pm
Location: Indiana's sultry southern shore

Re: Prompt #324

Post by ElectricWhite » Tue Mar 13, 2018 7:32 pm

Drip...drip...drip...

The cell was cold, damp, and smelled of mildew...or mold...or maybe some fungus previously unknown to Earth. Five Gatchamaniacs -- KT1972, Chris White, Katblu42, GrumpyGhostOwl, and ElectricWhite -- sat close together; the first four ladies squeezed onto a short bench that also doubled as a bed, and EW sat in her wheelchair, facing the others. The only sounds were the unseen drip and the occasional sniffle or wheeze.

"I wish they would've left my inhaler." EW finally said as soon as a slight squeak escaped her lungs.

"Or at least give us some allergy meds." CW added as the thought of her sinuses exploding and spewing gallons of green snot again crossed her mind.

"Hang in there," Cep's voice replied from a communicator disguised as a black FitBit on EW's wrist, "help's on the way."

Looking more and more like a barn owl wondering what bastard frightened the field mice back into their homes, GrumpyGhostOwl sat there and muttered, "Not soon enough."

Drip...drip...drip...

"So...." CW said.

"What can we do to pass the time?" EW asked.

"Don't say 'count the drips'," Katblu chimed in, " 'cause I got bored and stopped at 752."

Drip...drip...drip...

"Well," EW finally said, "I'm not sure why this popped into my head --"

"Uh oh," KT muttered, "this can't be good."

" -- but I just thought about this thing some classmates and I did once. We took the names of our first pets and combined them with the names of the streets we grew up on. For instance, if you grew up on Main Street and you had a cat named Fluffy, your porn star name would be Fluffy Main."

KT was the first to respond. "I can't imagine Kez Byland doing anything for anyone somehow." she said with a chuckle.

"Tiny Pineberry?" CW said, "Yeah, not doing it."

Katblu added, "Sooty Katupna. Or, alternatively, Lady Francis Greenway."

"Hmm..." KT replied, "Those don't seem to do much, either."

"I doubt a name like Spot Ninth would inspire anyone." GGO said in a tone that surprised everyone -- in spit of her facial expression earlier, she didn't sound as if she was ready to seriously maim anyone.

"Right away I wanna say 'Spot the ninth what ?" EW giggled.

"Rusty Maple it is!" Cep proclaimed.

"Looks like Cep wins." KT said. The cell was filled with softly spoken agreement.

"Hold it!" GGO cried. Her eyes locked onto EW and a finger pointed in her direction. "You haven't told us your porn star name!"

"I haven't?" EW replied innocently, "Huh."

Drip...

A low volume cacophony of "Come on!" and "We told you ours, you tell us yours!" as well as other words to coax or demand that EW join in the game filled the room.

"All right!" EW hissed, "If you all keep needling me, I'm gonna start bleeding!"

Everyone fell silent. Even the water didn't drip. EW took a deep breath, and...

"Woof-Woof Larkwood."

Silence.

A sonic boom of belly laughs filled the cell.

"Woof-Woof?!?"

"Let me guess -- Woof-Woof was the name of your cat!"

"Where in the hell did you get Woof-Woof?"

"Woof-Woof!!! "

"When I was about two my mom let me name one of the poodles, okay?"

Just then the door flew open and three Spectran soldiers stormed in. One grabbed EW's wheelchair and spun her around to face him while the other two kept their guns trained on the other four Gatchamaniacs. The soldier who turned EW pressed the muzzle of his assault rifle to her forehead.

"Where's the transmitter?" he barked. While EW fought to keep her eyes from rolling back into her head, her companions gave the Spectrans confused looks.

"Don't act stupid!" the one to his right snarled, "We traced an unauthorized signal to this room."

"Speak up," the first one continued, "or you'll be inhaling the fine mist that was once your friend's brain!"

There was a low rumble. The room shook. Plaster dust rained down upon the group. Klaxons sounded. The Spectrans darted out of the cell, slamming the door behind them.

"Sounds like our ride's here!" CW shouted over the din.

Suddenly, the foursome on the bench rushed over to EW, who was slowly sliding out of her chair after fainting
When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I've never tried before. -- Mae West

User avatar
GrumpyGhostOwl
ISO Janitor
Posts: 248
Joined: Fri Jan 26, 2018 9:38 pm
Location: An owlery in a mysterious hidden valley in the far Antipodes.
Contact:

Re: Prompt #324

Post by GrumpyGhostOwl » Wed Mar 14, 2018 2:06 am

ElectricWhite wrote:
Tue Mar 13, 2018 7:32 pm


"Right away I wanna say 'Spot the ninth what ?" EW giggled.

I would probably have said, "Legion." Although to spot the Ninth you'd probably have to dig up a fair bit of Britain, assuming the presumption that the Legio IX Hispana were wiped out by the northern tribes around 120AD is correct.

I could see Galactor or Spectra mounting an attack using robot zombie/skeleton Roman soldiers rising up out of the ground (or busting out of a museum exhibit) to lurch around with glowing red eyes while waving rusty swords to terrorise the population. In the BotP version, they would of course say, "Braaaaaiiiins!" in the approved manner.

... and there's a story idea, right there.
Never trust an atom: they make up everything.

Post Reply