A selection of images including the cover to Titanic Terastructures, A Quiet Afternoon 2, Thirty Years of Rain, New Maps, Shoreline of Infinity, K-Zine, Flotation Device and Magical Crime Scene Investigation.
In the centre are two painted images, one of a frazzled ginger haired woman drinking tea and one of a Sikh gentleman holding a bucket and sword and facing pink tentacles

Writeober 2021

October is often a month for artistic prompts and this year the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle has it’s own set for drawing and/or writing. The above was created by our own Jenni Coutts and as it’s only every couple of days I’ve given it a go. I’ll post up the bits of flash I create below to create something a bit more permanent than the Twitters where they first appear. I might even edit them as I do so, but no promise I can be arsed.

Prompt One: Reawakened Technology

    Bunny Rabbits, hiding from the rain and clearing out their cupboards, they come upon an old, dusty collection of buttons, switches, dials and levers in the deepest depths of the burrow. One reaches out with a tentative claw and taps at it.
    Nothing.
    Another presses a button.
    Still nothing.
    A third, now bored with the lack of activity, pushes a fourth who trips over a discarded broom toppling on to a large, red lever. You know the sort.
    There is a clunk. There is a hiss. There is a noise like a Radio 4 announcer preparing to say something of import.
    The Bunny Rabbits draw back, silent and afraid. Lights begin to cascade across the front of the machine and a CRT screen emits a green glow as eldritch sigils scrawl across it.
    A fanfare, crackly and muffled, comes from a speaker lost behind a stack of bric-a-brac.
    “Hello and Welcome to your new #Writetober2021 crafting engine. Please deposit your prompts and a dose of imagination, 20 gram minimum, in the slot provided and automatic generation of the requested flash fiction will begin.”
    The Bunny Rabbits back away slowly, close the door on the burrow, lock it, and leave to do something less disturbing instead.

Prompt Two: A New Face

    Colin had always told people he would regenerate one day but no one listened. They considered him to be obsessed with his favourite television show, but not in any way that harmed anyone, so they just smiled and nodded. This infuriated Colin and he made plans to prove them wrong.    Arriving at the pub he got a pint and then drifted over to the group. None of them recognised his new face. He sat down at the next table and watched them. Occasionally one of the group would look over at him and then whisper to a neighbour.    After half a pint Colin realised that he was probably looking a bit creepy, sitting on his own and staring at people who thought they didn’t know him. After all he’d done nothing to prove to them he wasn’t just some rando. So he got up and walked over.    “Hi, gang. Told you I’d do it, change my appearance, get a new face. Well, what do you think?”     The group stared. One, a girl he’d not know long called Anne, furiously typed a message into her phone. Another, Dave, slowly got up, holding his hands out as if to ward off something.    “Colin, is that you? It sounds like you.”     Colin smiled ruefully. “Yes, it’s me. I regenerated as I said I would. Totally new face but unfortunately still the same voice. Better luck next time I suppose. So what do you think of it?” He jutted out his chin and struck a pose.    It was at this point that the new face finally fully detached and slid down, dropping on to the table with a wet plop. An embarrassed flush filled Colin’s real cheeks, adding to the red already running down them, and then, for no reason he could understand, people started screaming and shouting.

Prompt Three: Sunken World

    “This sunken temple is shit!” Ray shouted loudly at the ancient walls as yet more freezing cold seawater slopped into his boots. When he’d discovered the ancient yogh shaped tablet and set out on this quest he’d expected more adventure and less wet feet than he’d got. As the echo of his voice bouncing from the ancient walls and columns died away a slow hand clap became audible over it. It came from ahead and, considering he couldn’t see anything in the gloom, was surprisingly loud. Ray forged on, sloshing along and round a corner.    The corridor opened out into a huge central area. Giant statues of hideous creatures held up a vaulted roof pierced by a shaft of light that was almost blinding in its intensity. This light arced down to hit the centre of a tranquil pool of water and make it dazzle. Surrounding this pool were smaller, toga clad, stone statues and beside it was a giant throne of green stone and on that sat a cyclops.     Ray gasped at the twenty foot tall giant, hefted the spear he’d found earlier amongst the ruins of a previous expedition and prepared to fight.    The cyclops sighed. “Oh, you’re not one of those are you?”     Ray blinked. “Pardon?”     “One of those adventuring sorts who attacks every creature they see? It’s been ages since one of them and, quite frankly, I’ll happily never see another one again.”    Ray lowered the spear slightly. “Umm, but that’s what happens when the adventurer reaches the inner sanctum on a quest. The guardian of the temple comes out, they fight, and then the adventurer wins their prize.”     The cyclops dropped its head into its hands and sighed loudly again    “Oh great, you are one. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why? Why come barging in and demanding to fight whatever you find? It’s not like I care if you get the prize out of the pool, it wouldn’t fit me anyway. Can’t you just take it and go?”    Ray blinked once more, the but of the spear dropping to the flagstoned floor. “I can just take it? Without a fight? I don’t have to kill you and fend off some sabre-toothed beast first?”     “You certainly dont need to fight Fluffles, that would be horribly cruel. As for me, that’s not much better. You have all the advantages.”    “Advantages!” Ray’s voice raised in surprise. “But you’re a huge dangerous monster.”     The cyclops placed a hand over its heart. “That’s harsh. I might be a bit big, but I was born this way.” The cyclops pointed to its face. “Also, if you haven’t noticed, I only have one eye. No binocular vision, mate. You jab at me with that spear and I’ll have no idea how far away it is. Now who’s got the advantage, eh?”    Ray dropped his head. “Oh, never really thought about it like that.”     “I’ll bet you didn’t. Come into my house, insult my appearance and threaten me with violence, it’s disgraceful. Now, why don’t you just chuck your tablet in the pool, get your prize and sod off.”    Ray blushed and dropped the spear. Then he pulled out the yogh shaped stone and looked over at the pool. “Really, just drop it in there and I get the Great Crown?”     “Yes, now get on with it would you, it’s nearly Fluffles dinner time.”    Ray walked to the pool and placed the stone in the water. The water shimmered with light, temporarily blinding him before settling down. Ray reached back in and pulled out the jewel encrusted golden hat that was revealed. It glittered in the light.    The cyclops leaned forward and smiled. “There you go, I’d get that outside and dried sharpish before it tarnishes. Now, bugger off home with that and leave me in peace. Oh, and mind and release the dragon on your way past, its the only thing keeps the rocs out of here.”    Ray waved a thanks at the cyclops, stuffed the crown into his satchel and hurried back the way he’d come, no longer worried by his wet feet.

Prompt 4: Forgotten Ruins

    It had always been assumed by the local population that the hill, humped up out of the surrounding plain like a beached kraken, was the remains of something from the before or the between, from the days of terrible apocalypse when Mankind nearly wiped itself out. Not that there was anything to prove this, it was simply local legend and every town had similar tales handed down from the times when all records were lost. Occasionally a local worthy might send a letter to a newspaper mentioning it, but they never peaked anyone’s interest.    Until, that is, the day after the Great Storm of 3972. A howling gale that lashed the eastern provinces, flooding out huge swathes of coastline and uprooting numerous trees. One of which revealed something under the hill. It took several days before the stones were spotted but once they had been shown to the local Laird he knew they would be of interest to an old university friend of his and so the news made its way to the provincial capital and, eventually, to the hub of the empire itself.    The first expedition was small, just one Professor and his student, but once he’d seen the uncovered wall and realised how old it was he quickly called in help and, over the next two years, the work site expanded. No one had ever found such a complete building from the Between.    The site was extremely fragile and as much time was spent keeping treasure hunters and amateur legend seekers away as was dedicated to uncovering anything but eventually they found the entrance and the greatest wonder of the age was revealed.    Inside was proof of the Between legends, of the strange creatures that had roamed then and society, both scientific and religious, would never be the same. There, on the wall, was a mural of four humanoids with images on their chests and aerials on their heads. There was even a hint of their skin colours, red for one and purple for another and a myriad of other images which society spent decades arguing over. But it was only recently that the words etched on the walls were finally translated and a greater understanding attained.    After more than a century of work and lost for thousands of years we finally have the names of four of the creatures from the Between. We have yet to understand the true hardships and horrors they saw, but we do know they were called Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-laa and Po.

Prompt Five: The Watcher in the Dark

    Far out beyond the edge of the Solar System, deep into the nothingness of interstellar space, it is dark. Trapped at the bottom of a well dark. But, like said well, starlight can travel across billions of light years and be picked up in that darkness. And other frequencies.    In a nowhere specifically picked for it’s interstellar darkness sat the array. Thousands of dishes covering a vast area, all pointed back to Old Earth and ignoring the tiniest light that Sol gives out. For they had more important things to watch.    The ship flickered out of hyperspace and into the vicinity of the array, taking great care to appear behind it. After all the expense it would not do for the crackle of their arrival to interfere with the great mission, corrupting the faint signals after so long. Once it’s body had fully shed the freakish radiations of tortured maths it manoeuvred carefully up to the array and docked to the array’s repository. As it did, data flooded into the ship and the crew began to analyse this year’s haul. It wasn’t long before they struck gold.    “Yaaasssss!” Carole punched the air in excitement. “We’ve definitely got something from the right time. Look, 1964.”     Zienia turned from the ships status panels to shake her head at Carole. “I’m all for the money, but really, how can this be what pays for something so expensive?”    Carole smiled. “Got no idea myself, with all the wonders of the universe at their fingertips you’d think they’d be less desperate for such things, but money talks, even if it is nerd money.”     Zienia nodded. “True. So, is it a BBC signal?”    Carole tapped at her controls and watched as the computer parsed through the data. “It’s the right frequency, certainly, and the date’s good, so fingers crossed it’s not more of that US nonsense. They don’t pay so much.”        Despite modern computing marvels it still took the ship a day to prepare the data. Filtering the tiny electromagnetic signal out of the eternal dark when it was only just visible above the microwave background was hard enough, but further separating the broadcasters was huge. It took the best algorithms mankind had produced and the phenomenal power of quantum computing but eventually, just after Carole had microwaved a disappointing lasagne, the ship pinged an alarm. The first pass was ready for viewing.    The two crew-members settled into their respective chairs and Carole activated the feed, piping it on to the main viewer. A crackly hiss came from the speakers and hazy black and white swirls formed on the screen.     “Needs more processing.” Carole muttered around her pasta.    Zienia peered into the snow as a ghostly tune played out. “Well it’s certainly the right programme, but which episode.” She craned forward more, as did Carole, her lasagne forgotten as a snowy mountain scene appeared. The camera panned down to show a footprint and then the title    Carole leapt in the air as the words “The Roof Of The World” appeared in the static. “Woo hoo, this is it, the one those idiots paid all this money for. The first missing episode of Doctor Who recovered from an ancient transmission in space. We’re going to be rich!”    Zienia grinned and then pulled out a cloth. “Rich, yes, but only if we get back to civilisation with it. So clean up the dinner you’ve just thrown everywhere before it breaks something would you.” Carole blushed and began to clean up as, now unwatched, Doctor Who met Marco Polo.    

Prompt Six: Can’t help programming

    “You’ve done it again, haven’t you, Roy?”     Roy grinned sheepishly as the robot arm handed him his beer. “It’s only a little bit of coding.”     Sarah sighed loudly and rubbed a hand over her face. “Yes, just a little bit of coding, but it’s totally blocking the door.”    Roy stared into his beer and mumbled, “It’ll move out of the way if you go up to it.”     “Yes, it will, eventually and with a noise that freaks the cat. Look, I’m all for you getting a buzz from solving these problems and I know how much you like programming, but it’s a problem now”    “It’s labour saving.” Roy’s voice took on a plaintive note.     “Labour saving, yes, but not time. You could have walked to the beer shelf and back twice in the time it took your robot to warm up, trundle out and do the job. And you’d have burnt a calorie or two.”    Sarah pulled a sympathetic smile on to her face. “Sorry to be moaning but all I’m saying is, you don’t have to program everything, just keep it to the best ideas. And saying that, where’s the controller for the pizza orderer? I’m getting hungry.”    “Just a minute,” Roy grabbed his laptop, “I’ve just finished a bit of code that can help find it for you.”     Sarah slumped back in the sofa, sighing, before tapping the button to action her favourite Roy program, the one that poured more wine.

Prompt Seven: Small but mighty

    It took many generations for the pollution to do its work but the humans were ignorant and kept pouring the cocktail of horror into the land over many years without a care so the mice got those generations. Generations of pain, disease and death but then the power.    Mike was born in the tunnels under the field and initially appeared to be a fit and healthy mouse. He had none of the deformities that the pollution still caused but did have the larger cranium and intellect that many of the mouse population had developed. His parents were proud of him and did all they could to see he got the best education the city could offer, working hard to pay for him to attend the college and learn to read and write. But this meant he stayed in the dark and did not realise his potential until that day.    It started out as normal, Mike scampering into college as the flickering bulbs the mice had stolen from the humans sparked fitfully into life and heading to the library but, as he reached there, the catastrophe began. With a tremendous shaking roar the ceiling of the cavern above the college was ripped away, soil raining down around a huge metal digger bucket that crashed through the ramshackle tunnels and shacks. Mice screamed and ran for their lives, lost in blind panic. Mike dived under a table holding sheets from a human book on river life and tried to hide but as wood and mud rained down the table flipped up and over, leaving him exposed to the sunlight. And that’s when his transformation began.    Lying amongst the dirt and debris Mike felt the warmth of the sun and, to his great alarm, he felt his body ripple under that warmth. It was as if strength was flowing into him, filling him up with an energy, a confidence that he’d never come near to before.His fur bushed out as crackles of energy ran over him. Burst of light played across his vision. His heart raced and his brain sang of potential.     The digger temporarily forgotten, Mike stood up, waving his hands around and marvelling at the colours that danced around them. But the warmth, the power, kept building. He was too hot now and the colours were too bright. He could hear the blood pounding in his head and an urge to get rid of this power, no matter how wonderful, came over him.    Mike pointed a finger towards the sky and let go.    A beam of energy shot out from him, arced upwards and burned it’s way through the great metal bucket above that had caused the destruction. Hot gobs of metal fell around, mixing in with the mud and the blood and the destruction of the college.Mike exulted at this, joyous that he could strike back at the human’s terrifying machine. He lifted his other hand and let out a second beam and, as that punched through the heart of the great yellow digger, he realised he was now floating up out of the hole and into the air    Mike looked around at the landscape above his home, the burnt, polluted and desolate scrub and the human’s machines that had started to tear it up and he made a decision. He had no idea what was happening to him, but he would use this to defend his home.     He attacked.

Prompt Eight: The shot not taken

    Twenty years of searching, thousands of miles of travel and uncountable hours of mocking but finally he felt he was on to dead cert this time. The reports were all consistent, the interviews believable. This time, he would find proof.    He settled down on the small canvas stool in his hide, crafted over many days from bushes, grass and trees and peered through the camera lens. The shady spot on the side of the pond was lightly ruffled by a gentle breeze and two ducks sailed back and forth. It was an idyllic spot and apparently where the most footprints had been reported. Everyone had been very clear about it.    He minutely altered the focusing of the camera, satisfying himself that the water’s edge was perfectly captured. Then he unwrapped his sandwiches. It was always a difficult choice, what to make that would last him all day but was not too monotonous or too hard to get in so many varied locations but today he had ham and mustard. A bit too sharp on the spice, but nice enough.    Just as he was thinking this, there was a noise and he snapped his head up. Looking down the camera, there it was. Finally, after so many false leads, he was actually seeing a Sasquatch. He’d hunted so many cryptids over the years but at last, one was actually real.    He edged his hand slowly up to the shutter button on the camera, not daring to breath. Through the lens he watched as the creature hunkered down and dipped a hand in the water, stooping to drink.     He pressed the button.     Nothing happened.    He pressed it again. Still nothing. He pressed harder, making the camera rock slightly. Yet again, no shutter action but enough noise to cause the creature to turn. As the Sasquatch looked around in fear, he hammered the shutter button and swore in desperation. The camera still did not work and the creature took off, vanishing into the undergrowth and leaving the waterside silent once more.    He slumped back and looked at the camera. He’d forgotten to turn it on.     He threw his ham sandwich to the ground and swore again.

Prompt Nine: Against nature

    Running. That, I thought, was against nature. It’s hard, my body constantly demands I stop, gravity claws me down and even the slightest rise feels like wading through treacle. If I even contemplate eating more to fuel the running, the running becomes harder. Just not natural. But today, it is required, and because of nature.     The thing is following me, padding through the undergrowth, just out of sight and just on the edge of hearing but close enough to make every nerve in my body scream in panic. I must escape and I run.    My feet pound on the ground, slipping on rotten leaves and splashing through puddles. Mud and sweat clart me as I rush, arms out to ward off branches swiping at my head. The air wheezes in and out of my lungs and the blood pounds in my ears but it can’t hide the noise of pursuit.    It feels like I’ve been running forever, always nearly away, hoping after the next bush it will open out or there will be shelter, always just catching the sound of the thing behind me pushing through the branches. I don’t know what it is, although I’m convinced it’s a creature, some terrible nightmare that has lain dormant, in wait, for millennia, patiently knowing some foolish morsel will cross into it’s domain. And there I came, running through the dark, turning the wrong way at a street corner, down a darker than usual lane and now I’m in it’s forest    It’s a vibrant forest, green and dappled and full of the rustles of life. So unlike the controlled and regimented woods of home. You can smell the sap flowing, hear the trees creaking as they grow and shift. It would be beautiful were it not for the thing that lives in it.    And so I keep running. Chest burning, muscles tearing, never looking back in case I see it and ever hopeful I will find a way out, a way back to the regimented streets where I started my run. Running may not feel natural, but it’s all I’ve got to keep me alive.

Prompt Ten: Peace Keeper

    There were battles, there were adventures, there were happy times, sad times, love and death and, make no mistake, I will write glorious ballads of all of them, but the epic quest came to its conclusion that day in that dark, dark tower locked in ice.    We’d journeyed north for over a month and supplies were running low. Constant attacks by the mage’s wolf allies and the betrayal of Fergus (long may he rot in the bottom of that crevasse) had brought us to the point of starvation when we reached the outer gate. Edwin, the farmboy who had unexpectedly (unless you’re an expert in heroic ballads such as I, in which case it was blindingly obvious) become the hero of our quest took his magic medallion and blew the doors in. Orcs tumbled from the walls and snow giants cowered.    The mage Ascoutus called up the last of his power and poured flame across the inner courtyard and then the Princess Epiphany raced into the dark lord’s inner sanctum, bursting through his poorly thought through male-only wards. The way was open and all Edwin had to do was strike down the Peace Keeper and the quest would be won.    Sadly, at this point, he slipped on burning Orc residue, went arse over tit and smashed his head off the flagstoned floor.     There was an awkward silence.    Ascoutus, Epiphany and the Peace Keeper looked on, all equally shocked at the abrupt ripping up of the prophesy. Clearly none of them knew what to do. I, on the other hand, knew that so long as the dark lord was struck down, my ballad (and so history) could still say Edwin did it. Narrative truth would win out.     I snuck round the edge of the throne room, took up a large candlestick thick with eons of wax and quickly clubbed the evil one over the head. While he crashed to the floor I threw the stick towards Edwin, unfortunately catching him on his temple.    As the stick came to rest and Edwin groaned painfully I pointed to our enemy and proclaimed in my best Saturday night theatre voice, “As prophesy foretold, the Peace Keeper has been defeated and the weapon that did it is almost in this humble farmboy’s hand. Let Peace be freed!”    As is only narratively correct, it was at this point the old man died and his grasp on his magic finally ended. A wave of warmth and light burst out from him, swirling around the chamber before rushing out, melting ice and scattering corpses as it went. The energy, centuries of hoarded and pent-up peace, rushed across the land, ending wars, stopping feuds and generally making the whole world that bit nicer to live in, if only the weather would improve. Peace was no longer kept by just one man.    As the mage and the princess hurried to Edwin’s aid I spotted the entrance to the Peace Keeper’s kitchens. Time for a flagon of ale and some note taking, I felt. This would be a glorious ballad and make a fortune in the taverns of Emwash if I got it published first.

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