Sample Fiction


Thaumatrope (Twitter Fiction)

November 16, 2009

The tooth fairy awoke in a generous mood, so that night she brought pliers.

January 8, 2010

Still trying to look hip: piercings, tattoos on striped and mottled skin. The dinopunks swish their tails and hobble off in search of prey.

February 17, 2010

With a toothy grin and tail whipping in the wind, it zooms down the street. You try, but you can’t outrun a velociraptor on a velocipede.

March 29, 2010

I stretched to the high closet shelf and tugged at the flat bundle. Something tugged back. I’d found the afikomen, but I wasn’t the first.

May 7, 2010

His halo faded, but his dove-like wings remained. Kate cleaned her knife on crumpled white feathers. Holier-than-thou really pissed her off.

May 30, 2010

When the statues in the ancient temple came to life, I didn’t have to run very fast. I just had to beat out the other tourists.

Outshine (Twitter Fiction)

August 3, 2009

The cybercat on metal paws stalks cyber-savvy prey. The übermouse’s EMP, though, lets it slip away. A better mouse: the lab’s cause célèbre.

January 2, 2010

Shmuel sighed. His tofubees pollinated, made honey, even stacked themselves up to feed millions. But still his rabbi declared them unkosher.

Opening of “The Experiment”

“An aetheric what?”

Professor Edwards treated me to a withering look, one that said quite clearly my uncle must have been suffering a brain fever when he’d sent me to him.

“An aetheric integrator, Hodgins. Do keep up.”

I hadn’t been. In fact, I had no comprehension whatsoever of the strange contraption that hissed and rumbled on the workbench in front of me. Just then, it gave off a small jet of steam. It seemed to me a reproachful sigh from the device itself for my failure to grasp its workings on even the coarsest level.

Read the rest of this story in Jack-o’-Spec: Tales of Halloween and Fantasy and in the eBook Spec-tacular: Fantasy Favorites from Raven Electrick Ink available here....

Opening of “Phobos”

Surveying the wreckage, I imagined Kyros laughing at me on the deck of his ship.

Parts of the Ianthe lay scattered all around me on the rocky landscape. Other parts rained slowly onto the surface of Phobos. Still others would circle Ares until the stars grew dim and time wound down.

I’d survived the crash, but I wouldn’t survive my brother’s treachery. Not for long. This far from the sun, the aether grew icy cold. Without heat from the Ianthe’s engines, I’d soon freeze to death.

At least I wouldn’t starve.

Read the rest of this story in The Aether Age: Helios from Hadley Rille Books and M-Brane Press....

Opening of “R101 Is Burning”

I kicked open the door just as the engine noise peaked. The R101 would soon be underway.

Dr. Erich von Drachen sat up on his bed, mindful of the top bunk. He smiled boyishly: the airship's secret passenger, barred from public appearance.

“You might have knocked, Fräulein.”

I smiled back. “Had you checked, you’d have found your cabin locked. Your friends do not entirely trust you, it seems.”

He raised an eyebrow at that. “Interesting, Miss...?”

I entered swiftly. The damaged door did its best to close behind me.

“Keating. But please, call me Miranda.”

Read the rest of this story in Retro Spec: Tales of Fantasy and Nostalgia from Raven Electrick Ink....

Opening of “The Celestial Sea”

They fell like silver rain out of the black sky. Hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands — the droplets impacted softly on the grey surface. They spread, flowing like quicksilver across the barren landscape. When they met one another, they merged into puddles and rivulets.

In a widening circle they tasted the dust, examined impact craters, and studied the dimensions of rocks. The large moon was tidally locked to the planet it circled, and the explorers had landed on the outward-facing side. For this phase they remained spread out, moving slowly towards the inner hemisphere.

Tiny machines formed these puddles of the celestial sea, individually quite unintelligent. But they knew how to map and record, how to share information. Each one carried parts of larger programs within itself, to be assembled as needed on an ad hoc basis.

They ran the first such program when a small puddle crossed a row of regular grooves, followed by a thin indentation and a second row of grooves. The puddle crept a bit further, found that the odd markings didn’t resume, and returned to the two rows with their central indentation. It spread itself thin, covering the full width of the feature. It flowed first one way, then the other, along the grooves’ path for more than sixty meters in each direction.

Being just one of many small puddles, it contained relatively few of the tiny machines — some 640 million — but the simple algorithms available to it determined that the feature had an 86% chance of being artificial.

So the puddle called to its nearest neighbors, which by then were each over three kilometers away. Five puddles answered the call. On arrival they merged into a single pool, one with greater intelligence, a larger catalog of known natural features, and a fair-sized library of analytical tools.

Using all these resources, the pool determined the tracks, if that was indeed what they were, were more than 99% likely to be artificial.

This result triggered a major restructuring. All parts of the celestial sea exploring the lunar surface began converging on that spot.

Time passed. The machines arrived.

The resulting pond churned, then coalesced around two rising columns. They began shaping themselves into a pair of beings, gradually growing harder, forming sharp-spiked armor reminiscent of chitin. Each one resembled the biological creatures who had once learned to make smaller and smaller machines. Three-meter tall, multi-eyed, bipedal insectoids, they had four arms ending in hands with paired opposable thumbs. Translucent wings hung off their backs, merely ornamental in what was essentially a vacuum. Their creator-ancestors had evolved on a planet of warm seas and lush jungles. Kilometer-tall trees broke the surface of the water to form elaborate interconnected structures. Here, in a landscape as different from that world as could be imagined, the machine-formed beings carried the memory of home like a lantern in the night.

Wari and Valra, famous poets and scientists, examined the landscape around them. As major currents in the celestial sea, the pair had instances treading on planets and moons, or orbiting stars all over this part of the galaxy. For more than ten thousand years the celestial sea had been spreading, out from a star somewhat closer to the galactic core. In that time, the sea had explored a rough sphere four thousand light years in radius. Nothing artificial had ever been detected.

Until now.

Read the rest of this story in Footprints from Hadley Rille Books....

Opening of “Kraken's Wake”

Sandra Lynne-Dutta began having doubts a few minutes into the first take. Given her co-star, few would have blamed her.

A kraken lived for centuries, possibly millennia. No human had ever gotten one to admit just how long. But every colonist on Proteus knew which one had lived the longest. Old One had been willing, so the planet’s most ancient kraken had been cast to play herself.

Only very young kraken had ever acted in films, and none of them had been willing to play Old One. Sandra’s director could have gone with a virtual kraken, shot the underwater scenes in studio. It might even have looked more like the footage from the original dive. But the studio craved the authenticity angle and had hired a director who agreed. So Sandra followed the real Old One down into the depths of the world-sea, into ever-deepening gloom.

The aquatic camera bots trailing her failed to relieve her sense of isolation. The further she got from other human beings, even from larger robots that might extract her, the more nervous she became.

She chided herself for such nebulous fears. It’s not as if the real Alice Chaudhury hadn’t been scared half to death when she swam with Old One. She’d had no idea where Old One was leading her.

Preparing for the part, Sandra had read Chaudhury’s writings, as well as half a dozen books on kraken psychology — not that the psychologists agreed with one another, or with Chaudhury’s insights. But Old One had a contract with the studio. As far as Sandra knew, kraken always honored their contracts.

A gargantuan tentacle brushed against her smartsuited leg. It coiled away in front of her, urging her to greater speed, greater depth. Her replica of Chaudhury's smartsuit held the latest technology. It could withstand greater pressure, but it still had to look like the original. That meant swimming manually.

I've trained for this. I'm ready. Down into darkness she swam, following tentacles that curled around one another. She knew Old One had exactly thirty-four, but their sizes, textures, and functions varied. Some of those functions were still unknown.

Her retinal prompter highlighted her first line, so she blinked on her microphone. Her amplified voice boomed shockingly loud in the vastness. “Two hundred meters, Old One. My suit can go no farther than five.”

Several tentacles twitched in time with her words, just like in the original footage. Though Sandra had watched that footage dozens of times, seeing it happen in front of her, around her, felt altogether different. One of the tentacles stretched out, probed Sandra's back, head, and stomach with a gentleness that would not have seemed possible. Then came Old One's rich, somehow grandmotherly voice.

“Your suit will hold, Alice Chaudhury. I can feel its strength. Still, we should go faster. May I carry you?”

“Yes,” she said with the same inflection that Chaudhury had used: half-fear, half-excitement. Yet she found herself thinking of Fay Wray as a tentacle wrapped itself around her. A moment later she felt water whooshing past.

Darkness enveloped them. As Chaudhury had done, Sandra blinked on the smartsuit’s external lights, catching the writhing mass of tentacles with its faint red glow. Her replica suitcam wouldn't record very much, but the robots could film in the dim artificial light.

Three hundred meters, the suit told her. Her newer model was rated to eight hundred, though the sunken city where Old One had taken Chaudhury lay a little past six.

Four hundred meters. Five. Six. Now Old One would be slowing down, unwrapping her and letting her smartsuit’s lights play across the ruined city, built not by the kraken, who had no need for such structures, nor by any other native species. The first colonists of Proteus had not been human.

But Old One didn't slow down. Seven hundred meters, her suit told her. The director yelled “Cut!” in her ear, but the sound seemed distant, static already obscuring the voice. While her suit had been rated to eight hundred meters, her antenna had not, she remembered.

Read the rest of this story in Cinema Spec: Tales of Hollywood and Fantasy from Raven Electrick Ink....

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Cliff’s story “The Call of the Sky” was reprinted by the Escape Pod podcast and can be read or listened to here.