I know. Who'd have thought it.
As described last Thursday, Seismic Stan and I faced off this weekend in what Arydanika of Voices of the Void has dubbed variously, The Ultimate EVE Online Bloggist Throw Down, The Ultimate Blog-Off of Destiny and The Throwdown Showdown in Blogtown. Personally, I prefer The Ultimate Blog-Off of Destiny. It makes be feel all Indiana Jones and stuff.
Beginning at noon on Friday, we each received the three-word trigger for our stories which had to be under 1,500 words and be completed in twenty four hours. I finished with twenty minutes and two words to spare. My story (Postmortum, which appears below) was a conventional fiction piece involving an upper class Gallentian boy who brings an Eve Capsuleer home to mother. Stan's entry was a two character radio play; a Monty Pythonesque romp with no less than four titles (I prefer The Accidental Capsuleer) which you can read over at Freebooted.
Then it was off to the recording studio. Without intending to, we'd each rather hobbled the other when if came to performance. Stan loves radio drama and I'd given him a conventional "bed time story". On top of it, the primary characters in Postmortum are both female and, according to Stan, female character voices are not in his sweet spot (though I think he does very well).
I on the other hand, was handed a radio drama featuring two very obviously English men that would have to be laid down on at least two tracks. My voice is fairly distinct and, while I can do multiple characters, there is absolutely no hope of playing both at once in a single dialogue and maintaining any illusion that they are being voiced by separate actors. On top of it, I am not the man you want doing an English accent. Let's just say that one character's accent is all over the map, as if possessed by a throng of ghosts from a BBC casting call.
After some hours of wrestling with the audio recording software, my contribution went over the wall to Arydanika over at Voices from the Void. Dani took both Stan and my contributions and slaved long into the night in order to bring the whole mess into a coherent whole and add it to the latest V and V podcast. Go listen. Go vote.
Sure, instead of blearily toiling away at one o'clock in the morning Greenwich Mean Time, Stan could have been abed and sweetly dreaming. And Aridanika could have been out last night, tipping back a beer with friends and enjoying the urbane Texas night life instead of toiling away at her editors desk. It seems they're both suckers for a bit of silliness.
Props to you both, Dani and Stan.
~ ~ ~
“Mother, you said you’d give her a chance.”
Emma Javix glanced nervously toward the door that led from the kitchen to the dining room.
“I know, Thomas” she said quietly to her son, “I want to. I mean she seems perfectly lovely, but…”
“You hate her.” Thomas, a young man with the patrician features of the Gallentean well born, crossed his arms
“No, I don’t hate her," Emma said. “She’s just…just….”
“Bizarre?” Thomas offered sarcastically, “Grotesque?”
“Don’t be coarse,” sniffed Emma, primly. "She’s exotic," She patted his arm. “Sweetheart, I understand perfectly the attraction. She must seem…a refreshing change from the local girls and the women at university. But you must think of your future.”
Thomas frowned. “You said as long as I married a professional…”
“I meant a doctor. An interstellar trade lawyer. Not a…”
“Capsuleer, Mother. Molls is a capsuleer. It’s not a dirty word.”
His mother’s eyes narrowed and she leaned in close. “There are influential persons who would say otherwise,” she hissed.
“You know, I can hear you,” a young female voice called from other room.
Emma Javix froze, her eyes darting toward the door and then back to her son in an unspoken question.
“Perception implants,” he said, smiling grimly, “Hears like a cat.” He turned on his heel and went into the dining room.
Molly Stark sat slouched in a high-backed chair talking with Thomas’ father. She had one leg slung over the chair’s arm and the opposite foot propped on the dining table. She was a slim, long limbed woman. She wore form fitting glove-leather pants and a snug black t-shirt. A heavy looking pistol was slung under her arm in a shoulder rig.
Her head was shaved and, at various places on her scalp, were small colored plates beneath which, Emma understood, were implants; small cybernetic units wired into her brain, augmenting senses and reflexes. The sockets of Molly’s eyes were covered by matte green lenses; ocular implants, Thomas had said. They were opaque, decorated with a circuit-board pattern and melded to the flesh around the eye. As Molly turned to smile at Thomas, her blank gaze reminded Emma of a predatory insect.
“Hello lover,” Molly said, raising a clear glass of colorless liquor to her lips.
Thomas’ father Drew sat close by, a broad grin on his face; obviously engaged by the girl’s novelty, much to Emma’s irritation. He had set aside his usual red wine and was drinking the home made “hooch” Molly had brought with her.
As Thomas sat in the seat next to Molly, she grabbed him by the front of the shirt, pulled him toward her and favored him with a deep kiss.
“It seems,” Drew said to Emma, “That Miss Stark here dies on a regular basis.”
“Mmmm. Occupational hazard,” Molly said as she released Thomas from their kiss.
“How…interesting,” Emma said as slipped into the chair opposite Molly. “I’ve heard capsuleers clone themselves and, ah, wake up in them if they die in combat.”
“Well, not just in combat,” said Molly. “I’ve known capsuleers to off themselves ‘cause they were unhappy with a tattoo or a bad haircut.”
“Facinating,” said Emma shakily. She took a sip of wine. “Tell me, Miss Stark….”
“Call me Molls”
“Molls. Ah, tell me Molls, how often have you, um….”
“Died?” asked Molly. She took a sip of her drink and appeared to be calculating in her head. “You know, after the first fifty or sixty times, it all sort of blurs together. I’ve kinda lost count over the years. Last time was a week ago, just before I shipped planet-side.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Hurt? Hah! Lessee, your ship’s been blown, your pod’s lost integrity, everything’s on fire and you’re starting to suck vacuum. Then your pod’s systems jam a fat needle full of neurotoxins into the base of your brain.” Molly tossed off her drink.
“Hurts like a sonofabitch,” she said as she poured herself another. “But it’s over quick.”
Emma’s hand shook as she set down her wineglass. “I see,” she said. “But I would find the idea of copies of myself lying in vats in this star system or that, waiting for me to die, disturbing. I mean, what if one woke up while one was still alive. ”
Molly snorted. “Sweetie, clones are tightly controlled and the systems have safeguards on top of safeguards.” She smiled and shook her head. “There’re old spacer stories about it, but I’ve never heard of it actually happening.”
“But what about the bodies?” Drew asked. “I mean, if you’ve died so many times there must be, you know…corpses. Your corpses, floating about in space.”
“Hell yeah!” Molly laughed. “There’s regular traffic in celebrity corpses. A famous pod pilot will run you a half billion easy. Hell, I’ve got three of my own corpses on ice at home.”
“You keep your own corpses?
“Sure. On ice,” nodded Molly. “In a display rack.”
She slapped her free hand on Thomas’ thigh. “Hell Tommy and I screw on the rug in front of them every time I die.”
Thomas’ face flushed and Emma looked back and forth between them. “That’s…that’s ghastly!” She stammered.
“Hell no,” Molly said. “It’s all life affirming and shit. Sort of ‘look at me, you dead ‘ol cobs!’ I’m alive and they’re not and I’ve got a young stud to do me proper while I look up at them, all cold and packed in ice.”
The synthesized voice of the house computer spared Emma Javix from the need to respond.
“Mrs. Ravix,” it said. “A fault has been discovered in the oven.”
“Oh, what now?” Emma groaned. “Computer,” she said raising her voice. “What is the matter with the oven?”
“A fault has been discovered in the oven,” the voice repeated.
“But what sort of….” began Emma
“A fault has been discovered in the oven,” the voice persisted as the smell of smoke began emanating from the kitchen.
Emma clenched her fists “Oh, now this is just too much.”
“A fault has been discovered in the oven.”
Molly rocked her chair forward and stood up. “Want me to have a word with it?”
“With the oven?”
“Well, yeah,” Molly reached back behind her right ear, grimaced for a moment, and then produced a small plastic disk about the size of a fingernail. “See? AI interface.”
“But Darling,” said Emma “Isn’t that for, ah, interfacing with your ship.”
Molly looked at the disk and shrugged. “Small component diagnostics,” she said as she left the table and walked into the kitchen. “Not a lot of difference between an antimatter injector and a dishwasher. Software is software.”
“See?” Thomas muttered to his mother under his breath. “She’s handy.”
“Are you alright, dear?” Emma called toward the kitchen.
“Heh. All I’m getting from your oven is ‘Destroy all humans’,” Molly called back. “You might want to hit the autoclean once in a while.”
And then the front door to the apartment blew in.
They heard the sound of the explosion before the shock wave that twisted the door off its hinges knocked them from their chairs. Smoke filled the living room as they staggered to their feet and through its choking haze a slender figure strode toward them.
“Molly,” said Thomas under his breath.
The woman standing before them could have been Molly’s twin. But her clothing was a motley collection of rags and the side of her face, where it wasn’t bandaged, was horribly burned and swollen. The left ocular implant had been shattered and the eye beneath was swollen almost shut. Her left arm was bound up in a splint, but the right hand held a large bore revolver on them, and was steady as a rock.
“Where is she?” she woman snarled.
“What the hell is going on out here?” yelled an identical voice behind them.
Emma turned to see Molly standing in the kitchen door, her automatic drawn.
“Oh my god,” Emma said looking back and forth between the women. “Molly’s clone.”
“Bitch!” Molly’s ragged twin yelled and fired first, her shots riding high and to the right. Explosive rounds tore huge chunks from the dining room wall as Molly rolled to the side and came up firing. With a hiss, her doppelganger leapt backwards into the living room, disappearing into the smoke. Molly ran past the table, snatching up a steak knife as she did, and dove into the room after her.
Through the smoke the family heard the sounds of struggle; a gunshot, breaking furniture and bodies slamming against walls. Suddenly there was a cry that gurgled down into silence.
Minutes passed. The household fans kicked in to vent the smoke, and a figure emerged from the haze and slumped to her knees in front of the family. Molly adjusted her ragged clothing and wiped bright arterial blood from a bandaged cheek.
“Wow” she panted. “Sorry I’m late, Tommy.” She smiled wearily at Emma’s son.
“Come give me a kiss.”