#AtoZChallenge: Zoology

Zin looked down from the glowing monitor and made a note on the Labpad on his wrist. All the enclosures were secure. The specimens carried on as normal, oblivious to their captivity.

Each specimen was the inhabitant of a different universe, an entirely separate dimension. They had been trapped into pocket universes that ran on a loop, like a video that restarted after ending. They were all so different, so fascinating to observe.

There were 25 specimens in all, each identified by a letter of the human alphabet. Zin couldn’t remember why that system was chosen above other that were far more suited to categorization, but he had long ago learned to stop questioning such trivial details.

He ran through the subject logs.

Subject A was testing out his simulated city again, reprogramming certain quirks.

Subject B had developed supernatural abilities that transformed her into something else. It was an intriguing development, though Zin was glad she used her new abilities to help others.

Subject C’s ineptitude at his work was amusing. Zin would often play that loop again in his off hours.

Subject D made Zin uncomfortable. There was a lot of darkness to her world and her life. Zin almost wished they had taken a larger slice of her life.

He was intrigued by Subject E. Her story sounded familiar, but he hadn’t been able to find a record of her homeworld or species in the pandimensional archives.

Subject F deeply unnerved him. Zin hoped that he could be terminated, but that wasn’t his decision to make.

Subject G was confusing at first. The lack of color fascinated Zin, though not as much as when the colors finally bloomed in that world.

He made a note to brush up on his Earth mythologies after observing Subject H. He had quite forgotten what those creatures were called.

Zin couldn’t tolerate Subject I for long.

He was reminded of a parasitic race that his own people had once contained when viewing Subject J.

Though he was a detached observer, there was something about Subject K that brought many emotions to the fore. Zin missed his own family. Some days, he couldn’t even remember them and it frightened him.

Subject L posed a dilemma. Were Zin’s people like the doctor in that world, conducting experiments that their subjects never consented to?

He buoyed his spirits again by looking at Subject M’s report. She reminded him of Zela, his wife, in many ways. He made a note to save that report when the experiment was over. Even if he never saw his family again, at least he could keep that as a memory.

Subject N brought a smile to his face. He needed that.

Subject O’s journey was interesting. Zin wondered if any of her kind still existed in any universe. They were supposedly immortal, but time’s erosion could not truly be stopped.

Subject P hit close to home. The leaders of Zin’s world had made compromises in the name of diplomacy and while he was glad of the overall results, he could never forget the lives that were lost along the way.

Zin remembered Subject Q well. They had encountered each other once when the subject phased himself onto Zin’s ship for some nefarious purpose. He had managed to escape, but now Zin could study his methods more closely.

Subject R posed an intriguing mystery and Zin was frustrated about not knowing more. That was a world he would have to revisit on his own time.

The eerie silence of Subject S and her world reminded him too much of the emptiness on his ship. He scrolled past that part of the log fast.

He remembered the chaos that was caused by Subject T and how it had almost caused a total universal collapse. It was fortunate that it had been handled without the intervention of galactic authorities.

Zin liked Subject U. Her story was inspiring, and it made him proud to be a chronicler.

Subject V’s containment was probably best for many people in the universe. Zin couldn’t help sigh with relief.

Subject W was a truly odd case.

Subject X had been the cause of much debate between Zin and his superiors They believed that ancient technology could be resurrected for the benefit of many, but Zin was forced to remind them how Subject X had wound up.

At last Zin came to Subject Y. The monster. The hunter. Whatever it was. Zin didn’t like it. It deserved to be contained.

With his observation complete, Zin logged out of the Labpad.

The stars looked so beautiful outside, suspended in the darkness. Zin could not remember how long he had been out there in that station. He hadn’t run out of rations or fuel, so he must have been within the planned schedule. But it had been so long since he had any contact with anyone from his planet. So long that he had forgotten the original purpose of the containment experiment.

For him, it had become his own private menagerie, full of living exhibits that he viewed at his leisure. It gave him some comfort during the long, lonely voyage.

With a sigh, Zin tore his gaze from the stars and opened up the Labpad again. He tapped the file marked ‘Subject A’ and made his way through the logbook.

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#AtoZChallenge: You’re It

It was just a game. At least, that’s what you believed at first.

Hiding from my eyes, making me find you. Making me hunt.

Don’t get me wrong, I had fun. It was a good game.

But all games have to end, don’t they?

How long could you possibly hide? I found you out eventually.

Truth be told, I had discovered your location some time ago, but I didn’t go there right away.

It was all part of the game. I wanted you to believe that you were still hidden. That you were safe.

That just added to the fun.

And when I was done enjoying myself, I ended it.

I found you. And I changed you.

Transformed you into a creature of myth, a nightmare.

Now my time is done.

It’s your turn.

You will find the hidden. You will hunt the fearful. You will play the game until it’s your turn to win.

You’re it.

The game begins anew.

#AtoZChallenge: Xerography

They called it Human Xerography: the process of imprinting the physical characteristics of one person onto another with the use of nano particles that could be molded around the human form.

One person could become another’s exact duplicate without any messy surgery and with zero recovery time needed after the procedure. The process was initially developed for medical applications – patients with severe burns or scars could instantly revert back to their previous appearance and find peace of mind again. It was a boon for wounded soldiers, especially when combined with the process of limb regeneration. Other uses soon followed.

It took only five years for the xerographs to become a common feature in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Even less time for it to end up on the black market for less altruistic purposes. Have a hot date? Want to make an impression? The xerograph could imprint the best features of any celebrity (or even your better looking friends) onto you. Brothels used the xerographs to alter the features of their girls to match their clients’ preferences. Anyone could be a supermodel for the right price.

Like me, for example. I was just your average Joe, the kind of guy that nobody would give a second look if they passed by me on the street. I saved every penny I could to be able to afford a xerograph session. I chose the features I wanted from the available catalogs. A broader chin, thicker hair, a more chiseled torso. Just half an hour was all it took for me to be a new man.

I enjoyed luxuries that were never available to me before. Women smiled at me and wanted to get my number. Some men too. Storekeepers, waiters, security guards all showed me more respect. I was treated like royalty simply for existing. But it wasn’t enough. I still found flaws.

My chin wasn’t dimpled enough. There was still some flab on my sides. My nose was more crooked than I’d remembered.

I took more money out of my savings. Had another session. Some more changes.

Life got even better. I was flying high on my new looks. My nights were no longer lonely, and I couldn’t remember a time without companionship. I relished the jealous looks I got from other men, ones who looked just like I had before. Or did I look like that once? I couldn’t really remember. I threw out every reminder of my old, ugly life. That person never existed, as far as I was concerned.

But even this life grew old. I needed a change. Something fresh. Something even better. Thanks to my new job, saving up wasn’t a problem anymore. I booked another xerograph session.

This time, I opted for a completely new face, based on one I saw in the catalog. He was perfect. Just completely perfect. I wasn’t going to take bits and pieces anymore. I wanted to be him, this lantern-jawed specimen staring at me from a photograph. And soon, I was.

Life really couldn’t get any better.

I was soon to learn that it could only get worse.

Days after my session, I was at one of the fanciest new restaurants in the city (there was a six-month long waiting list, but not for me) when I was approached by two men in black suits. They asked me to come with them, though I knew it wasn’t really a request.

As it turned out, my new face belonged to a spy who had gone rogue and on the run. I tried explaining that it was a mistake, that I only looked like him because of xerography. But in a world where everyone lies about their face, why would anyone believe me? It’s not like I had any old photographs to prove my claims. And even those could be expert forgeries.

There’s a long list of crimes associated with my name, or rather, with my face. I don’t know where the real spy is or what he looks like. Maybe he looks like the old me now. Maybe he gets the luxury of blending in with a crowd while my face gets displayed all around the world.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Walled In

Where’s my cellphone?

That’s the first question that pops into my mind when I wake up.

I fumble around in the darkness, feeling what seems to be smooth stone under my hands. It’s cold.

Where am I?

I figured that would come up sooner or later. The room doesn’t feel cramped. If it is a room, that is. The darkness makes it feel much smaller, though, as if I could reach out and find the walls closing in.

But how did I even get here? And where is here anyway?

Could be a jail cell, though I don’t think I was arrested. I feel like I’d remember if I were a felon.

Was I kidnapped?

That’s a possibility, though I can’t think of why. Maybe I’m famous, a celebrity or tycoon. Maybe someone I know wanted to ransom me. It’s honestly a bit hard to keep my thoughts straight. It’s so dark. Not even a sliver of light from a doorway. There must be a doorway. I couldn’t have just materialized in this room.

Just how big is this place anyway?

I extend my arms to the side as much as I can and feel nothing but air. I pick a direction and walk toward it until my hand bumps against a wall. Good, we’re making progress. Slowly but surely. The wall feels solid, but it has a little give to it. Like soft wood.

Is there a door around here?

I start walking parallel to the wall, keeping my hand on it. Let’s see how far this thing goes. After about 60 paces, I hit a corner. Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. I turn 90 degrees and follow the next wall. This time, it’s about 40 paces till the corner. Okay, so it’s a rectangle. Another wall, and 100 paces this time. Seems I was pretty much in the middle of the room. I trace a path along the fourth wall, and then cover the length of the first one. Still no door.

How did I get in? And how the hell do I get out?

Weird. I push against the wall again, which has a rough, pebbly texture. But it’s not stone. I give it another push, stronger this time, and I hear a scraping sound.

What the hell?

I think I just moved the wall. I push it again. Another scrape. I give it one more push before my arms give out. I have no idea what I’m doing. There still isn’t any light or any other sound or anything. It’s just me and this bizarre room. I want to scream, but I have no idea if anyone will –

The hell was that?

I just heard a voice. I’m sure of it. I strain my ears. Nothing. I’m starting to hear things. That can’t be good. I – okay, that was definitely a voice. It gets louder. Really loud. It sounds like a woman. I start yelling to get her attention. I hope she can hear me. Then the floor starts to vibrate.

An earthquake?

I plant my feet firmly on the floor, bracing for the worst as the floor vibrations get more intense. Then the light almost blinds me.

Am I dead? Is this Heaven? Or..?

“Look, honey! We got one!”

I look around, my eyes adjusting to the light. There’s a small rectangular hole above me, in the ceiling of the room. It’s enough for me to get a sense of my surroundings. I’m in a house. A very big house. And I don’t mean a mansion. I mean just…big. There’s a woman standing over me. She might be thirty feet tall. Or forty. It doesn’t really matter.

“Ha!” she says. “And you thought they weren’t real! I told you there’s little people living in our house! See?”

She pointed down to my cell. A large man joined her.

“Well, what do you know, Wendy. Guess it’s true.”

He leaned forward and peered into my cell.

“Hey there, little guy. Now what are we gonna do with you?”

It’s coming back to me now. The bar last night where I met that strange man. His crazy story about magic beans, fairy tale nonsense. Getting near blackout drunk. I think we planted the beans somewhere. I climbed up into the clouds. There was the big house, with the huge kitchen. The mousetrap that had some food in it. I was hungry.

But the man. Where did he go? Did he just leave me here?

The man picks up my prison and carries me into a back room. There’s a faint buzzing sound from somewhere around me. There’s a small black object on the floor of the trap.

Well, I guess I found my cellphone.

 

 

#AtoZChallenge: Village of Villainy

The village of Bösedorf lies nestled somewhere near the Vogelsberg mountains, hidden away from most folk. It is often referred to as the Village of Villainy.

You might wonder why, and that would be a perfectly valid question to ask. Though really, if you think about it, the answer lies right in the name.

The Village of Villainy is a village full of villains. Hence the name Village of Villainy.

Thieves, highway robbers, cut-throats, swindlers and misers inhabit this sorry hovel of a village. They spend their days plotting their next heinous acts, and their nights in drunken revelry and debauchery. Oh, so much debauchery. I could spin a tale just out of that, but it would be inappropriate for most readers except those of a particularly saucy disposition.

But enough about the debauchery.

Many rumors and legends abound about the founding of Bosedorf. Some claim that the notorious robber baron Heinrich Heinrich had fled his homeland and created the village as a haven for vile fiends and rogues. Other believed that an ancient order of monks had founded Bosedorf to aid mankind but that their plans had gone horrendously awry when one of their own made a pact with dark forces and cast a shadow over the whole village. A more mundane theory suggested that escaped prisoners had settled there to hide out from the law and ended up forming a community over time. It’s the more likely explanation, but people usually go with the monk story.

Now in fairness I must admit that Bosedorf is not a bad place to pass through, provided you don’t have too many valuables on your person. The roguish sort do know how to have a good time, after all, and they know their way around an alehouse. But try not to stay there too long, or you may find yourself missing a few items, such as clothes or money or limbs. But if you can ignore the potential for destitution and doom, Bosedorf is not too bad a place at all.

 

#AtoZChallenge: Untitled

Uther The Bold.

Unther The Dashing.

Ungular The Narcoleptic.

Urden looked at the plaques under her ancestors’ portraits and sighed. They all held great titles and were known throughout the kingdom for their mighty feats. At the end of the hall was a space for her portrait and an empty plaque. One day, it would read ‘Urden’. But what would follow her name? What would be her title and legacy? She had not achieved anything worthy of a title so far in her life, and she had no idea where to even begin.

Her father, Ulasfur The Firestarter, was legendary for his bomb making skills, which he used to defeat invaders and, well, anyone that upset him.

Her mother, Undilien The Hammerer, inspired awe and fear with her feats of strength, most of which involved using her fists like hammers and the heads of her enemies like nails.

Her brother, Urdar The Knife Eater, built his reputation on a most bizarre appetite.

And then there was Urden. Just Urden. She was not extraordinarily strong or skilled with weapons. She certainly didn’t like the taste of knives.

All she had was her imagination, dreaming up impressive acts that she might one day perform, such as defeating the Five-Mouthed Narglebeast or conquering distant kingdoms.

As she pondered her future and the name that would one day be inscribed on her plaque, she put her imagined feats to parchment, penning fantastical chronicles of a mighty warrior. She didn’t want anyone to know she was writing about herself, so she made up a name for the heroine of her story: Ularda Toothsmasher. That sounded good.

She would sometimes read aloud from her stories, giving voice to Ularda’s many exploits. One day, her father’s cup bearer overheard part of the story, where Ularda was fighting the Narglebeast with her bare hands, and mistook it for truth. He then told the story to her mother’s armor polisher, who told some of her friends. Thus did the tales of Ularda spread, causing quite a stir throughout the kingdom as everyone pondered over this fearsome warrior they had only just heard of.

Urdar would talk about her at length, of how he would one day like to meet her and impress by devouring an entire battleaxe. Ulasfur wondered if she would be interested in adding some bombs to her arsenal, and Undilien vowed to fight alongside her to the death. Urden remained silent during these discussions. She neither praised nor condemned this mysterious new warrior.

Cults were built around Ularda, fanatics praising her name and trying to divine every minute aspect of her life. Where she was born, where she grew up, who her family was, if she had any suitors. Urden’s little tale had gotten out of control.

She could keep it a secret no longer. Urden confessed to creating Ularda and her stories. Her parent didn’t believe her at first, but she showed them the parchments and the little portraits she had made. Once the truth was out, she expected the worst.

Much to her astonishment, there was no punishment. Rather, people were amazed at her storytelling skill and asked that she tell them more tales about Ularda Toothsmasher. Urden was more than happy to oblige.

She wrote many more stories about the fearsome warrior and, over time, wrote about many others as well. Wizards and mages, proud orc chiefs and conniving goblin shamans. The kingdom was enraptured by her fanciful tales.

At last the time came to add Urden’s portrait to that of her ancestral line. There was only one title that seemed fitting:

Urden The Author.

#AtoZChallenge: Time Lapse

It was another quiet summer day. Tina Davis was in the kitchen, washing the dishes after lunch. she was trying not to cry too audibly, lest her seven year daughter Sandy hear her.

Sandy had been diagnosed with leukemia only a month ago, but things were already looking grim. It wouldn’t be too long before she had to be put into hospice care. Tina didn’t want to dwell on what would happen after that. How could things possibly have gone so wrong? She put the last plate on the rack to dry and walked out the back door into her yard.

She pulled out a pack of cigarettes from her apron and put one between her lips. She’d given up smoking almost a year ago, but it was the only solace she could find from everything that was happening.

As Tina fumbled in the pockets of her apron for a lighter, she saw a strange flash of light in the small wooded area behind the house, right near the neighbors’ yard. A glowing door had appeared there. Through squinted eyes, Tina could just make out a shape emerging from the door, which closed immediately after.

The figure that emerged from the door was dressed like an astronaut, or rather, a child’s idea of what an astronaut looked like. It wore a bulky rust-colored suit with a large chestplate that had a timer on it. Black tubes ran from the plate to the helmet of the suit, which was opaque. Yet somehow, Tina had the sense that the thing was looking right at her. It flipped open the visor of its helmet to reveal darkness. It had no face or head. Just a swirling void. Tina felt her mouth go dry and an odd tingling sensation all over her body, as if she had just touched a doorknob after shuffling her feet on the carpet.

The sensation stopped.

Tina couldn’t remember why she had come into the yard. She looked around at the cloudless sky, the lush trees, the empty space by the neighbor’s yard. What was she doing out here?

“Mum!”

Sandy’s voice jerked Tina back to the present. She turned to see her smiling face on the other side of the kitchen door. Tina smiled back. She still couldn’t believe the miracle that was standing in front of her. It was close to two years ago that Sandy had been diagnosed with leukemia, doomed to never recover from it. But then, she got better. Tina didn’t remember how. In fact, she couldn’t remember the past year at all. All she knew was that Sandy was alive, and one of the happiest nine year olds she had ever seen.


 

Dr. Adam Wilfrey walked up the steps to the Bureau of Time Management, fumbling in his coat pocket for his ID card. Doris at the security desk buzzed him through.

“Ah, thanks, Doris,” he said, still trying to find the card as he walked to the elevator. “Oh, and good morning!”

Doris smiled and shook her head.

The Bureau of Time Management was a nondescript office building in London’s West End. It had been established a few years ago, when time travel had started to become commonplace, and temporal anomalies started popping up from misuse of the technology. The Bureau was formed to track and contain the anomalies and to make sure that there were no lasting disruptions in the time stream.

Adam Wilfrey was in charge of the Bureau and liked to get in early to make sure everything was running smoothly. He made himself a cup of tea in the break room and walked into the main laboratory to check on the chronometers. They were running as expected. Dr. Wilfrey took a satisfied sip of his tea, but didn’t get to savor it for long. He was staring at one of the chronometers, which was showing something rather odd.

The previous year was missing. All of it. But there were no alarms, no notifications. Nothing at all to indicate that something was wrong.

Dr. Wilfrey put down his tea and picked up the phone on the desk. It was going to be a very long morning.