Tag Archive | jan31

Poise-oned, a commissioned continuation

After Poise, to [personal profile] thnidu‘s commissioned continuation.

The question of was I poisoned was not as easy to answer as one might assume.

I did not, say, keel over (that is, turn my bottom over top) and die. But as I said, sometimes someone can poison your mind as well as just your body.

I knew I had what it took. My displays were perfect. My speech sounded unrehearsed and off-the-cuff and covered exactly everything I needed it to with no stuttering or humming or hawing. And the core product was sound. More than sound, it was brilliant and necessary.

But as I walked into that building – chin up, laptop bag in hand, looking like a million bucks and walking like I owned that place – I was secretly terrified. Five people had turned it down. Six of my friends had told me it was a long shot. Seven relatives had laughed in my face. To sum it up: I had been poisoned in my mind. I was ready, or I wanted to be ready, to make this presentation.

But was I ready? The doubts crowded onto the bus with me, shoved for a place in the elevator with me. I looked prepared. I looked proper. I looked prosperous. (Three more words that had no root in common, much to my surprise).

I was terrified.

I made my posture perfect. I smiled sweetly. I swallowed as if to bring more of that potion of poise into my body, into my mind.

I ran over all of my lines. I debated pertinent points sub-vocally. I told myself, once again, that my product was predestined to win this contact.

And in the back of my head, the poison continued to war with the potion. I was poised — but I was tainted by doubt. Two different sorts of weight were pulling at me.

The situation was grave, and it deserved gravity. Yet I found myself giggling. Here I was, pulling in two directions by the same thing — by a potion. By a great weight.

And that, my friends, was the lift I needed. The giggle, the laugh — the joke. By the time I left the elevator I had cut the strings weighing me to the criticism and doubt — if only temporarily, for those strings are very persistent — and I was buoyed up, walking on air, poised but yet no longer poisoned.

But had it even been poison? For if it had not been for that pun, I may not have been smiling, they might not have smiled, and the day might not have been won.

Funny things, potions and words, both.


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January by the Numbers 28: Everyone Eats Everything, a ficlet

January by the numbers continues deep into February…

From sauergeek‘s prompt Everyone eats everything: a ficlet, although more of a start of a story than a story.

As far as strange rules and regulations go, the colonies usually didn’t rate too far up there. When they were colonies, at least, they had far too much to worry about to spend time making rules, other than the very direct: “everybody works” sort of regulations. It was only as time went on and they found themselves in situations where their original survival-based rules were insufficient that most places started coming up with more and more elaborate rules.

Egdarton Seven was a little unique in this matter. It was settled by a small, closed group – one of the few cases where that was allowed, but there was a trend for that around that time, social or avocation groups gathering together and filling a colony. It worked best if the group had wide enough skills to fill all the positions, because one or two outsiders in specialized, necessary positions led to some pretty bad social dynamics on some colonies.

Egdarton Seven, however, had none of the common problems, but it did have a long-standing hobby group with a wide range of skillsets, both within and outside the hobby group and, more, a wide range of already-extant rules and the sort of personalities who enjoyed enforcing said rules. The rules you need to know were posted at their rudimentary spaceport, and woe betide the visiting ship’s-crew or scientist who didn’t read and follow the rules. For a first offense they might be warned, if the person who caught them was feeling generous. For a second offense, they’d be escorted back to their ship and politely told not to come back.

(“What happens if someone part of the community breaks one of those rules?” asked a disgruntled scientist who hadn’t understood the severity or sincerity of the Oxford-Comma rule. The persons escorting the scientist to the ship had clucked in disapproval and not answered. If the scientist had been, perhaps, an anthropologist instead of a xenobiologist, things may have gone very differently for the colony on Egdarton Seven. Certain things were not actually allowed, no matter how they were written into the colony’s charter.)

The one rule that threw almost every visitor, the one rule that got more people evicted from their station, was one that every single member of the colony agreed on wholeheartedly: Everyone Eats Everything. In practice, this meant that if you hated a dish, you could eat a tablespoon-sized scoop of it and be done, but in theory it meant that every person on Egdarton Seven was eating the same things, and that the entire colony ate together.

Like every other rule on the colony, no official explanation for this edict was ever offered, although one teenaged member did like to whisper, melodramatically and none too seriously, “poison!” any time any visitor asked.

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January by the Numbers 27: Blustering Bishop: a ficlet.

January by the numbers continues (We’re in February now but hey)

From sauergeek‘s prompt Bombastic bishop blusters, bristles: a ficlet.

The Bishop of Bettenhurst had gotten his position in the usual manner – or at least, the usual manner for the Church of St. Besri, especially the Bishopric of Bettenhurst. That is, the previous Bishop had met an untimely end, and the current one had been closest to his mitre when that happened.

Now, normally in such situations, there was a reasonable grieving and transition period before anyone started thinking about jockeying for the position or moving underlings out of the way. In Bishop Bodrick’s case, however, the man was so bombastic, so obnoxious, so full of bluster and impossible to talk to, that the attempts to remove him began almost immediately.

The problem was, it did no good to get rid of the man if you couldn’t be close enough to grab the mitre, and nobody was getting close enough to this guy to touch his headgear. Bishop Bodrick wasn’t only blustery, he was bristly, and he had a staff composed entirely of lay people (who could not become Bishop no matter how many times they grabbed the hat) and Order of Saint Koben monks, who had sworn to never hold any position of authority. He was crafty, unfortunately, and cagey, and a little bit prone to catastrophizing, and he met fellow priests in a long, narrow hall with a very wide desk between them.

But he was so bad. He would stand in front of the populace of Bettenhurst, chest puffed out, and pontificate on this and that and everything. He would make up new regulations, regulations not ratified by the Pontiff or even the Cardinal, and he would declare harsh punishments for anyone who disobeyed. Soon, the parishioners of Bettenhurst lived in fear of new regulations and dreaded going to hear the Bishop speak. But that, of course, was required.

Something had to be done. Someone had to stop him. They whispered and they moaned about it, complained and muttered and plotted, but nobody did anything. Something had to be done. Someone ought to stop him.

The day he ordered that nobody leave Bettenhurst except with his express permission should have been the last straw. The day that he declared the fourth day of every week a holiday to his name should have been the last straw. The day he stopped all classes for a week so that he could re-write the entire curriculum, and ordered the children to spend the time off writing paeans to his name — those should have been the final straw.

The day he ordered the execution of a baker for spitting in the wrong direction, however, someone finally moved.

Lots of people moved, to be fair, screaming in the streets, rioting, leaving the city — overwhelming the guards, who were feeling not entirely sanguine about the whole matter anyway — tearing down banners to Bishop Bodrick’s honor, singing angry songs.

One monk of Saint Koben moves aside all of the anger and screaming and rioting and quietly stole the Bishop’s mitre and his vestments, his ring and his sceptre. He drugged the Bishop’s food and left the man — in baker’s whites and no shoes, no hat — sitting on a park bench an hour before curfew.

The symbols and trappings of a Bishop were found on a quiet priest’s bed, while that priest, like many in the Bishopric, also dozed in a drugged stupor.

Bishop Pace had quite a bit of mess to clean up, and could anyone really dun him for not looking too hard for his predecessor?

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January by the Numbers 26: Deep Delving Dwarves: a ficlet.

January by the numbers continues (We’re in February now but hey)

From sauergeek‘s prompt Deep delving dwarves discover dragons; discussions, disagreements develop: a ficlet.

The Dwarves of Daunaiya were not, as a rule, the deep-digging sort. They were, as a group, a little taller, a little less stocky than, say, their Northern Yudarsha cousins, and there were some who thought that they, not the nearby fae, were the cause of the “under-hill” myths. After all, the Daunaiya Dwarves dug under hills, not mountains, their tunnels following veins of silver and copper and lapis that wound under Darrenshire, the tallfolk land above Daunaiya.

Divisha cha-Doathshin was not born for the shallow digging. Some said it was in her blood — a grandfather from Yudarsha, a great-grandmother from Pellaye up in the Pellasher Mountains — some said she was just contrary, and some thought she was too proud for the team-based work of most dwarven mining.

But she was good, and when you are just that good at swinging your ax, just that good at sniffing out new veins, just that good at knowing exactly when to stop mining a seam, you are given some leeway. So when Divisha said she wanted to dig down, she encountered far less resistance — the political and social sort, at least — than another dwarf might have.

Down they dug, finding a vein they had not discovered before, down into metals only their ancestral records had words for, down into stones that glistened and shined like the sun itself, like grass after a rainfall, like lovers’ eyes. They were not deep-digging dwarves, and every hand-width down became that much harder, became that much more tempting, became that much more maddening.

They were twice as deep and half again as any Daunaiya dwarf had ever dug when Divisha suddenly called out “Stop!” And every single one of them know what that meant. Knew to hold onto their pick and hold their breaths the second she said it.

But there were diamonds and fesk-faturn glittering in young Dreniall’s eyes, and she swung her pick one more time.

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January by the Numbers 25: poffertjes (a ficlet)

January by the numbers continues (We’re in February now but hey)

From kunama_wolf‘s prompt poffertjes: a ficlet.

It was said of the humans that there were certain things they would always bring with them.

(To be fair, it was said of the Yonra that they always brought everything with them, and of the Pish’teck that they never took anything, never needed anything, and never kept anything. There were sterotypes about all of the space-faring races, and about the three non-space-faring but space-capable races who populated the same region of the galaxy as the others.)

It was said that as soon as there were five humans anywhere, one of them would start selling food to the other four. As soon as there were ten, one of them would start selling art to the other nine. And as soon as there were twenty, one of them would start making laws for the other nineteen.

And one of the things every single space-faring human group brought was food carts.

The Ella Fritzi was a human-run ship out of Luna, carrying a full-time complement of crew and staff, as well as passengers and crew. It wasn’t a luxury liner, not by a long shot, but it was safe, and comfortable, and it got where it was going in decent time.

Decent time was a leisurely ride compared to some of the new ships — it might take a week between stops, or it might be a month, depending on the distance and the spacing of the wormholes. SInce that meant its crew and staff were on the ship most of their lives, and since the Pish’teck crew members, especially, got kind of loopy if their chronobiological rhythms got messed with, the ship had artificial seasons as well as artificial day and night. “Summer” got a little warmer, the light a little brighter. “Winter” got downright chilly, but the Ordalian down blankets packed up tiny and puffed up warm for each cabin.

In the “summer”, Fervin the assistant chef brought a food cart full of hotdogs and hamburgers and gyros around the socialization decks. It always surprised the alien passengers when humans — who had three meals a day included in their passage — would pay extra credits for this strange sausage-inna-bun sort of food.

In the “winter,” Fervin’s cart carried poffertjes and hot cocoa, and the aliens and humans alike ate them up. Once, the elected ship’s-mayor (a civilian position, not related to the running of the chip, the navigating it, or anything except how people spent their off time) tried to regulate what Fervin could put in his poffertjes.

The riot lasted three days and threatened to destroy the Ella Fritzi. After that, the new mayor declared that, as long as Fervin’s foods consisted of things edible to at least humans, no regulations could be made about it.

After all, humans might have a need to govern each other — but their need to be sold food to seemed to trump that.

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January by the Numbers 24: Forgiveness Forbidden (a ficlet)

January by the numbers continues (We’re in February now but hey)

From [personal profile] thebonesofferalletters‘s prompt “Forbidden, forgotten, foreshadowing, forgiving
;” a story? At least a ficlet.

You could call it foreshadowing, but in some way, that suggests forethought. This wasn’t planned. It wasn’t fought-out or thought-out or talked out.

It just… happened. The way sometimes you mean to go south and end up north, or you mean to do the dishes and just… don’t.

Except we’re not talking about a person, a misstep, a sink full of dishes.

We’re talking about the Forgotten.

It started with a forgiving, or, at least, something they called a Forgiving. It was a day declared first by the grass-roots groups, then by the astroturf groups, and then, within three short years, by the Leader of the Nation.

Forgiving Day was supposed to be about amnesty – little amnesties and big amnesties. It was a day for libraries to forgive fines and for courts to reduce back fees and paperwork charges. It was a day, originally, for friends to move past small quarrels. It was a day to let people admit to knowledge of large crimes in return for forgiveness from small crimes.
Then someone got up in arms about what, exactly, should be forgiven.

And once one person had made a stink, then other people started stinking, and soon the whole place just stank.

First, you could only bring back ten books to the library and they couldn’t be more than 10 years overdue.

Then you couldn’t be forgiven a crime with a victim.

Then it was forbidden to forgive angry words.

There were many more steps along the way, of course, but soon the only things that could be forgiven were very minor offenses — jaywalking, perhaps, or swearing in public. And anything that couldn’t be forgiven… was absolutely forbidden.

Soon, Forgiveness day became an empty ceremony, and all of its history forgotten. Since it was forbidden to tell stories of the way things had been…

You could call it foreshadowing, I suppose, that first argument on the Council Steps: whether or not it was acceptable to forgive everything.

But that would suggest premeditation and that, of course, is forbidden.

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January by the Numbers 23: Void (ficlet)

January by the numbers continues (We’re in February now but hey)

From [personal profile] thebonesofferalletters‘s prompt “Void;” a story? At least a ficlet.
Every Bureaucrat had their stamps. Validated. Approved. Rejected. Further Review needed. The stamps held the power of their words, and every honest citizen feared having their chit marked Rejected.

Most wore their chits on a necklace, or hung off an earring. They weren’t large things, and one didn’t want to lose them. To lose your chit meant to not be a citizen anymore, and to not be a citizen anymore meant crimes against you were, at worst, littering. Public noise nuisance. That sort of thing.

Some people — people like Chalene, cautious people — had their chit tattooed on them by a registered, Approved tattooist. That way, nobody could take it from there, and they could not lose it.

(Identity theft, chit-theft, was known to happen. There were children born against regulations who never had a chit. There were people who had gone chit-less but needed to pretend for some reason. There were the Void, who had more cause than most to need to pretend).

If you lived your life within the regulations, staying within your Approved position, engaging only in Approved hobbies, you almost never ran into a Bureaucrat: birth, graduation, hiring, retirement, death.

But if you broke the rules — no, if you broke the rules and got caught, you would encounter a Bureaucrat. If you wanted to pair-bond permanently, to move into a new residence, to have a child, you would encounter a Bureaucrat. If you wanted to move cities, you would encounter a whole slew of Bureaucrats.

Chalene had three Rejected stamps on her chit — new house, new pair-bond, new child. You had to have at least one, or you were a little too straight-and-narrow. If you had too many, you risked seeing a High Bureaucrat.

She had three, and she was staring at a Bureaucrat with her phlegmatic expression, daring the man to give her the fourth. She had filled out all the forms for promotion perfectly. She had her four character witnesses and her five quality appraisals. She had seven hundred dollars, the price for this interview.

“Chit please?” The Bureaucrat was nervous. Chalene was pleased. He should be nervous. Giving someone their fourth Rejected was the equivalent of sending them to one’s superiors and having all of that work reviewed. It meant they would likely be subjected to a life audit — and all of the Rejecting Bureaucrats decisions would be subjected to the same.

Chalene held out her arm and met his eyes. The tattoo on her arm said there is no escaping this decision. People had been promoted by less-intimidated Bureaucrats than this.

But her file said Do Not Promote, and there were no positions in the bank where she worked open for promotion anyway.

The Bureaucrat’s hand shook. He grabbed a stamp and pressed it onto Charlene’s arm.

Further Review Needed.

He swallowed. “Tenth door on the right, tenth floor, in ten minutes. Go.”

Chalene stared at her arm. She had expected an audit. She had expected a review of her file.

But she was being passed to a High Bureaucrat. And only the High Bureaucrats had the power to Void someone.

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January by the Numbers 22: xerographing xanthiums (ficlet)

January by the numbers continues (now seven days off but I’ll get there).

From [personal profile] rix_scaedu‘s prompt “xerographing xenophobic, xanthophyllous xanthiums;” a fiction vignette of sorts.

Did you Know:So I grew up in Rochester, home of Xerox, and I always thought that xerography came from Xerox, and not the other way around… Nope!
“So, tell me again why exactly we want to photocopy a noxious weed? It’s not exactly pleasant to handle, it’s no fun to look at, it doesn’t taste good, and it’s all over the place.”

“Well, one.” Xavier had his lecture-face on, which was not his most pleasant expression, but Xadrian found that he liked it. “It’s not exactly photocopying. Xerography is just making a reproduction of an image…”

“Right, right. I mean, we could just take pictures and copy that, and it would probably be less unpleasant.” It had fallen to Xadrian to gather the stuff, and even with gloves involved, his hands were not pleased with him. “Wouldn’t that be a lot better?”

“The problem is, as unpleasant as the xanthium is, it has an advantage nothing else on this blasted island does. It’s xanthophyllous.”

“It loves yellow?”

“It makes a yellow pigment. And that may not seem like such an important thing to you at the moment, but the thing is, we don’t have any yellow anywhere else here. Nothing but clothes we brought with us, and those are fading. Not to mention, they protect eyes from ionizing blue and ultraviolet light… anyway, this noxious mess is important.”

“So we’re photocopying it.” The thing was, Xadrian might have been a xenozoologist rather than a xenoherbologist, but he knew what he was talking about. He just loved teasing Xavier. It got him this lovely lecture-face reaction, and sometimes increasingly detailed explanations until Xavier figured out he was being put on. “This nasty thing.”

“We’re dupli – yes. And maybe you should be the one to pull it apart for the duplicator, too. And then you can make the yellow dye we’re going to use, and feed the rest to the chickens, and…”

“Next time I want to play dumb,” Xadrian muttered, “I’ll go bother Xena.”

“She’d have you xerograph the proto-xenops. And those things hate outsiders.” Xavier’s smile was far too pleased with himself. “Now, take your gloves off. You’re going to need your dexterity to get these thorns into the machine.”

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January by the Numbers 21: Ambiguity (worldbuilding babble)

January by the numbers continues (now FIVE days off but still going strong).

From [personal profile] clare_dragonfly‘s prompt “ambiguity;” worldbuilding for a world I’ve just barely started. It’s a little unclear… but that suits the prompt.
The world known as Calepurn has many nations, sprawling across the mainland, the islands, and the connected piece of land known, for no good reason, as the Appendix.

Many of these nations have their own languages, and all of them have their own dialects, but almost everyone who travels between nations can speak Lengraffa, the language of Firrset.

Lengraffa is a language evolved from many different tongues over thousands of years, and while it has a root here or there in English, it bears even less resemblance to Modern English than Modern English does to Old English.

(Spaston, a language spoken almost solely in a tiny mountain nation on the Eastern coast, is much closer to Modern English, with many loan-words from Spanish. But that is a story for another day.)

Lengraffa is a language drenched in ambiguity. Like Modern English, it drips with homophones. Words sometimes wander the continent, only to come back wearing a similar-looking coat but having an entirely different purpose. Casual usage changes words, until the same word can mean both a thing and its opposite.

Now into this language of uncertainty, where a simple sentence can be as clear as mud, throw a magic system which required precise geometry and very clear intention.

Magic was found in Firrset, they say, but nobody outside of Firrset truly believe that — and neither do many within Firrset. In a system of magic where the faintest ambiguity in phrasing can ruin an incantation, how could magic have ever risen in a place that speaks Lengraffa?

As further proof, many non-Firrsets point out that when an incantation goes wrong, the magic leaks into the environment, causing occasional eruptions of strangeness. And in Firrset, there is more strangeness than there is anywhere else on Calepurn.

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January By the Numbers Twenty: Yoke (ficlet)

January by the numbers continues (now four days off, sigh)!
From [personal profile] clare_dragonfly‘s prompt “yoke;” a ficlet. Warning: this came out dark.

“It’s not supposed to be a fucking yoke.”

The voice trickled into Vester’s consciousness. She did not look up, could not look up. She had work to do. She stared at her table and kept working, kept Working.

“Get that fucking thing off of her. Get it off her or I’m going to break your fucking face.”

She was listening now. It made her Working lumpy and clumsy, but exhaustion did that on its own.

She didn’t speak except her Workings. She wasn’t allowed to speak, any more than she was allowed to stop.

But she could listen.

“You don’t understand.” That was Him. “I’ve got a business here. I’m just running a business. And she volunteered.”

If she could have spoken… Vester might have told the shouting person that He was telling the truth. She might have told the shouting person more — but probably not. She had seen what happened to his producers who spoke out.

“Let me say this slowly. Get. The Thing. Off of her. Or I will break every bone in your body.”

“She’s Mine. You can’t tell me what to do with —”

Vester was Working on whispers now, so she could hear everything. She heard the crunch as a body slammed into the wall.

“Give her to me or I destroy you.”

Vester heard bones crunching, and then He was screaming. He was screaming, he was screaming… “She’s yours! Vester, you’re his! You belong to him!”

Another thump. Vester stopped Working.

“Get that thing the fuck off of her.” The growling man was coming closer. Vester wanted to turn to look at him, but the yoke and harness wouldn’t let her. “Now. It’s not supposed to be a yoke, you bastard. It’s supposed to be a collar, it’s supposed to protect her. You fucking bastard.”

Vester found that she could speak. And, as He — no, just he, her former master — unlocked the yoke holding her in place, she found she knew what she would say.

“There’s three more in the back,” she informed the shouty man. “Behind the hidden door. There.”

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