The Next Great Adventure

Writing Prompt: Mighty Beasts


There were many ways to die inside an undersea research facility. Crushed beneath a poorly stacked food crate. Asphyxiated due to a faulty CO2 converter. No one had ever told Commander Mark Sullivan what to do if a mile-long leviathan crushed his station.

Somehow, those topside left that out of the emergency manual.

Claxons blared as Mark led his survivors through the increasingly deformed plastic corridor connecting Central Command with Hydroponics. Again the monster outside Echo squeezed, compressing his undersea facility with tentacles thicker than corridors. Metal buckled and plastic popped.

“Could we get someone to shut off those goddamn alarms?” Chief Engineer Jean Rosseau shouted over the racket. “They’re making my headache worse!”

Undersea Research Station Echo was a cluster of domed habitats that would very soon be a cluster of metal and bodies. Mark didn’t know how the tentacled monstrosity crushing his station had come to be. He just knew he had to get his surviving crew to Hydroponics before they all drowned.

Plastic buckled and the frothing ocean burst from a rip between bulkheads. Mark’s husband, Desalination Officer Ron Sullivan, slogged through rising water lugging a metal backpack. Ron squirted superheated quickseal above and below the water. He stopped the cold ocean at their waists.

“Won’t hold long,” Ron said, gasping as he recovered from wielding the bulky sealer. He glanced into the dark behind them. “Where’s Rosseau? Angeloro?”

“Not drowning,” Science Officer Angeloro said as she hopped around the corner clutching Rosseau’s shoulders. “The water helps. It’s easier for me to move when I can float.” Despite her mangled leg and bloodied face, Angeloro remained as calm as any of them.

“We’re going to make it out of here,” Mark reminded the survivors. He forced himself to focus of those still alive and not the twelve others, now floating in briny seawater behind the sealed hatches at Central Command. “If we keep our heads, we survive.” He couldn’t save people who were already dead.

Ron grimaced at the sealed round hatch ahead of them, at the baleful light casting shimmering red across the seawater flooding the corridor. “Rosseau,” Ron said, “might need you to override this hatch.”

“Keep your pants on, Sully!” Rosseau handed Angeloro off to Mark and sloshed through the waist high water, broad shoulders squared. “It’s not as simple as changing a filter, you know.” She grunted and pulled at a deformed plastic panel beside the doorframe. “Dammit, man, help me get this off!”

“You know,” Angeloro said quietly, “the thing crushing our station might be one of those unknowns topside warned us about.”

“You think?” Mark didn’t have any idea what was squeezing his station to death – a giant squid? A giant octopus? – but he did know it was cracking Echo open like an oyster shell. Nothing was strong enough to do that. Nothing from Earth, anyway.

“Either way,” Angeloro said, “it’s vital we get logs of this attack topside. In case you didn’t notice, this leviathan went after our communications tower first.”

Mark fought a chill as he helped Angeloro toward the sealed hatch. “Which implies intelligence.” That made it even less likely the thing strangling his station had originated on Earth. “You think it’s alien?”

“If you mean extraterrestrial,”Angeloro said, correcting him with the calm indifference of a woman who remained as precise as her undersea experiments, “I’d say there’s a very strong possibility.”

“Well,” Mark said, as Ron and Rosseau snapped off the stubborn panel. “That’s terrifying.”

Rosseau swapped out wires as bits of panel sparked. The corridor groaned and shifted as the monster outside squeezed again, like a boa constrictor wrapping itself tighter around prey. Another bulkhead popped, seawater frothed, and Ron sprayed quickseal while shouting curses at the sea.

The light above the hatch chimed green as seawater sloshed up to Mark’s armpits. Ron grimaced and shrugged off his metal pack. “That’s it.” He took a shuddering breath. “I’m out of quickseal.”

For one blissful moment, Mark was alone with Ron as they climbed Mount Everest together. It was adventure that had driven them together, adventure that led them to accept a year-long tour on an undersea research facility. Echo had been one more mountain for them to climb.

Strained machinery groaned as the hatch leading into hydroponics rattled open. Mark felt a tug that quickly became a riptide. He locked his arm around the guardrail at the elbow and wrapped his other arm around Angeloro’s slim waist.  “Hold on!”

Water pulled. Mark’s fingers and arm and elbow hurt as hissing seawater struggled to rip them away from the bulkhead. Finally the current slacked enough for Mark to unclench his pulsing, pain-filled arm. He and Angeloro sloshed through the ankle deep water that had equalized between Hydroponics and this corridor. It seemed Hydroponics was, as Mark had hoped, intact.

This dome made up Echo’s center, protected by six other slightly smaller domes in a hexagon formed of metal and plastic corridors. Mark had known this would be the last dome to crack. What he didn’t know is how much time they had left. Small windows topped Hydroponics and Mark could just make out the mottled purple body of the leviathan strangling his station from above, bathed in emergency lights.

“Pods.” Mark pointed to the two closed hatches on the far side of the Hydroponics dome, metal circles surrounded by green emergency lights. “Each has enough oxygen for four people.”

There were pods across the facility, of course – every dome had at least two – but Mark suspected the other pods were already lost, crushed just like Central Command. Ron took Angeloro’s other arm and together, the three of them sloshed through ankle deep water behind Rosseau. They hurried beneath heavy gantry after heavy gantry festooned with hanging vegetation. Humid air choked everything.

Something groaned outside the station, a chilling sound like a great whale. It was loud enough that when it finally stopped, Mark couldn’t hear anything over the ringing in his ears. The whole room buckled. Rosseau turned, shouted something, and then a falling gantry crushed her like a grape.

Ron screamed beside Mark as they stared at where Rosseau stood one moment ago. Mark willed Rosseau to rise from that gantry with a smirk, howling like a madwoman and grateful to be alive. Rosseau didn’t rise. She wasn’t going to, and now that gantry was between then and the pods.

Mark pushed forward, pulling Angeloro and Ron with him. Seawater continued to rise, lapping at their thighs, and that told Mark Hydroponics had new leaks they couldn’t seal. Mark left Angeloro with Ron and dived, two minds working as one, and wriggled beneath the gantry. He popped up on the far side.

Ron and Mark locked eyes, and Angeloro didn’t argue or question them. She closed her eyes and dived. Ron dived and Mark did too, and a moment later Angeloro surfaced, gasping in Mark’s strong arms.

“Move!” Mark shouted at his husband.

Ron dived, but as soon as he went under the room buckled again. The gantry shifted and Mark’s world stopped. Then Ron burst from the water, facing the metal gantry and clutching it like a drowning man.

“Okay!” Mark shouted. “Time to claim our medals!”

Ron grunted as he wrapped his upper body around the gantry, but he didn’t push off. “Gantry shifted as I came up.” He looked almost embarrassed as water swirled. “Trapped my leg.”

“Well,” Mark shouted, “we’ll untrap it!”

“No time.” Ron grimaced at seawater sloshing about at Mark’s waist. “Get to the escape pod.”

Mark glowered at him. “You don’t give the orders down here.”

“We’ll get him out together.” Angeloro dropped off him into water high enough to let her float. “On three-“

“No.” Mark pointed at the green circles. “You get to those pods.”

“Respectfully, sir-“

“You said it yourself,” Mark interrupted. “Something extraterrestrial snapped off our communications tower. Someone has to let topside know what happened down here.”

Angeloro looked between the two of them. “Is that an order, sir?”

“It is.”

Angeloro pushed off him and splashed away, jaw clenched and eyes narrowed. She dove into a strong breaststroke, fighting swirling seawater to reach the half-submerged escape hatch. Not looking back.

Mark clutched Ron’s hand as Angeloro struggled with the panel. It opened, water rushed inside, and Angeloro did too. As the hatch closed, she watched them both and sketched a shaky salute.

A thump echoed as Hydroponics groaned and Angeloro’s escape pod whooshed away. Safe, Mark hoped, from the thing that struggled to drown them. Above them, plastic windows crackled and split.

“What’s next, commander?” Ron asked, as seawater rose to their necks. “Where do we go from here?”

“Where else?” Mark closed his eyes as bulkheads shifted and popped, squeezing his husband’s hand and sagging against the metal gantry. “Our next great adventure.”

Ron squeezed his hand back. They had done all they could, together. Topside would learn the truth.

The frothing sea crashed down.



About the Story:

With the theme “Mighty Beasts”, my mind initially defaulted to dragons (which I’ve seen more than often enough) or classics such as Godzilla or King Kong. The one thing I did know (from seeing similar movies) is that any drama to be found in a story about some sort of massive creature would come from how those tiny humans it attacked reacted.

Once I’d decided I was going to do the typical “ground level” kaiju story (seen in the newer versions of Gozilla, Cloverfield, and similar films), I tossed around ideas until eventually settling on something closer to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in this case, a monstrous aquatic creature that could believably be hiding in the ocean depths.

Finally, I’d had the last lines exchanged by Mark and Ron in my head for several months (I’d initially concepted a far different story) but the closing dialogue ended up fitting very well in this one. People who would volunteer to man an undersea research station strike me as both risk takers and adventurers, and I tried to write characters who fit that mold.

Cover Photo Credit:

<a href=”″>under the ocean.</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;



The Translator

Writing Prompt: Politics, Scheming, and Betrayal


Hana Varstow steeled herself as the doors to Prelate Garil’s council hall rolled open and a stench poured out: recent slaughter mixed with too much disinfectant. Hana’s gorge hopped but she dared not show weakness, not to the Confederate Elites who flanked her, not to the exhausted Kavil militiaman barely keeping his feet, and not, above all else, to Prelate Garil herself.

The unarmed soldier accompanying Garil was a concession to the Prelate’s station. Hana had suggested it. Their war was over – for now – but a treaty had yet to be signed. This meeting would finalize that surrender or the Confederacy would resume its orbital bombardment. Many more would die.

*Please, Prelate, be seated at the head of the negotiating table,* Hana said. *It befits your station.*

The Confederacy had already taken Garil’s husband, her son, and her army, and then slaughtered her council in this very room. Executed for refusing to surrender. Hana wouldn’t take Garil’s dignity, too.

Prelate Garil sat, soldier at her side. The Elites flanking Hana shouldered their rifles and took up position by the door, sending a clear message. No one left this room without the Confederacy’s permission.

*Where is your High General?* Garil stared at the silent Elites. *Or was this simply a pretense to reunite me with my council?* There might still be blood on her chair.

*The High General has been delayed,* Hana responded in perfect kavish, skating along a lie. *He appreciates your cooperation in avoiding further bloodshed, and will arrive soon.*

*You speak our language well.* Prelate Garil’s own kavish had a lyrical lilt to it, despite the fact she’d been up for over a day, and it was obvious she was a talented speaker. *Did they enslave you, too?*

*I am a loyal citizen of the Confederacy,* Hana said, because she wouldn’t put it pass the Confederacy’s infamous ISec squads to have installed archiving devices. *We better mankind.*

*Of course you do. You were courteous enough to shoot my husband in the head.*

Hana said nothing else. The Confederacy wanted loyal city states, not bombed worlds, and both Prelate Garil and High General Tourmaline would agree to that. So long as she reminded them, often.

The militia soldier standing by Garil, a towheaded man young enough to be Hana’s son, looked dead on his feet, but pride and rage kept him standing. Last night, the Confederacy had killed all his friends.

Finally, the room rumbled as Tourmaline’s shuttle landed – twenty minutes late. Shortly afterward the High General strode into the conference room, flanked by Golden Elites, and wrinkled his nose.

“What,” Tourmaline asked, in confederese, “is that godawful smell?”

*Took your time, didn’t you?* Garil said. *Massacres to conclude?*

“High General,” Hana said in confederese, “Prelate Garil of Kavil bids you welcome. She looks forward to negotiating Kavil’s surrender and incorporation into the Confederacy.”

“Tired of getting her ass kicked, is she?”

*Prelate Garil,* Hana said, *the High General apologizes for the delay. He wanted to personally assure our ceasefire agreement carried across our fleet.*

Garil scowled. *What are a few more bombs between friends? I think we still have a few hospitals.*

“The prelate only wishes to avoid further bloodshed,” Hana translated.

“Fine,” Tourmaline said. “Tell her to get out of my seat.”

“High General,” Hana said, “I should first clarify kavish customs. In kavish society, it is the supplicant who sits, to show humility. The victor stands in judgment.”

Tourmaline glowered. “You should have mentioned that earlier.” He clasped his hands behind his back. “Fine. The bitch can sit.”

*Wants me to move, does he?* Garil asked.

*In respect for the brave kavish who fell defending your planet,* Hana said, *our High General refuses to sit in judgment upon you. He will stand for these negotiations.*

Garil raised one elegant eyebrow. *A … surprising concession.*

“What did she say?” Tourmaline demanded.

“She looks forward to your terms.”

“Good.” Tourmaline crossed his arms and leaned forward. “Concession one. She disarms her people.”

*In the interest of avoiding any further bloodshed on both sides,* Hana said, “the High General asks that all private citizens turn over their guns.*

*So you can slaughter us face to face?* Garil scowled. *This is a rough planet. My people need guns to defend themselves.*

“High General,” Hana said, “the prelate does not refuse, but she does ask that Confederacy soldiers take over the defense of the kavish wheat farms. There are hundreds outside the walls.”

“Why do I give a shit about their wheat farms?”

“Local predators may otherwise devour their wheat, leading to famine,” Hana said. “The kavish shoot those that come near, but cannot protect their farms without their weapons.”

“I’m not tasking my Elites to guard a bunch of dirt-mucking farmers!”

“Then perhaps,” Hana said, “we could allow some kavish to keep their rifles? Outside the walls only, for protection from predators?”

“Fine.” Tourmaline waved her off. “Our new taxpayers can’t pay anything if they starve to death.”

*Prelate Garil, the High General understands your concern,* Hana said. *As a compromise, the Confederacy will allow your citizens to keep their rifles, so long as they carry them for defense and only outside city walls. You must not brandish them within the city.*

*He really agreed to that?* Garil narrowed her eyes.

*He understands your citizens must protect themselves.*

Garil considered, lips pursed. *Agreed.*

Hana nodded to Tourmaline. “The prelate appreciates your understanding of her people’s need to protect their farms, and offers thanks.”

“Concession two,” Tourmaline said. “She appoints an ambassador of my choosing as Protector of Kavil.”

*The High General asks you coordinate with our ambassador to ease your government’s transition into a partnership with ours,* Hana said. *So we can both benefit from your Confederacy membership.*

*So long as I pay my taxes?* Garil asked.

*Your taxes ensure the Confederacy protects your planet from pirates and skitterships, Prelate,* Hana reminded her, *and also grants you access to medical advances and gene therapy.*

Garil rolled her eyes. *I don’t think that’s what your High General said.*

“She’s refusing?” Tourmaline asked. “Remind her I have an orbital cannon pointed at her capital.”

“High General, she only worries for the ambassador. The kavish have a complex system of government, with ancient relationships and customs that can be difficult for outsiders to grasp.”

“I don’t care what the locals get up to,” Tourmaline said. “She can handle city law. Just make sure she recognizes my ambassador runs Kavil in all global matters, including Confederacy law.”

*Our new ambassador will facilitate communication within the Confederacy*, Hana told Garil, *while you continue to handle local matters of state. Is this acceptable?*

*Another concession I hadn’t expected,* Garil almost smiled. *Very well.*

“The prelate agrees to defer to the ambassador in all matters of Confederacy law, High General, and looks forward to educating him on the more delicate matters of kavish internal affairs.”

“Poor bastard.” Tourmaline chuckled. “That’s all I have, other than the boilerplate. You have the treaties?”

“Two copies,” Hana produced them, “in confederese and kavish.”

These treaties were nearly identical to those Hana had brokered – on High General Tourmaline’s orders, of course – with the last three planets the Confederacy had conquered. The people on those planets, unlike Hana’s now dead world, remained alive and fed, if not entirely happy.

“You verified she understands it?” Tourmaline demanded.

“Yes, High General.” Hana bowed. “The Prelate understands perfectly.”

“Then tell the bitch to sign away her planet.”

*Prelate Garil,* Hana said, *the High General appreciates your cooperation. Again, he honors the sacrifice of your soldiers. If you have no further concerns, he asks that you sign the treaties now.*

*So he does.* Garil stood, eyes hard, and for a moment Hana was terrified that she had failed. Garil would die rather than surrender and, with her death, doom Kavil’s people.

*Tell your general he is a skilled negotiator.* Garil walked over and signed one treaty, then the other.

“High General,” Hana said, “the prelate thanks you for your gracious invitation to the Confederacy.”

“Whatever.” Tourmaline signed both treaties. “Get these ratified, Hana. I’m heading back up.”

Hana bowed deep. “I will see it done.”

Tourmaline left and his Elites did too. The room emptied. Hana rolled and pocketed the treaties and then bowed to Garil. *The High General wishes you long life, and hopes you will soon come to understand the benefit of living under the Confederacy’s protective wing. You are free to leave.*

“it seems I’m having dinner after all,” Garil agreed, in perfect confederese. “Care to join me?”

Hana barely hid her shock. “I’m … not sure that would be wise, Prelate. Appearances-”

“Are important,” Garil agreed. “In fact, they’re everything.” She offered a slight nod, a gesture of sincere respect from one of her station, and headed out. *Thank you. For saving my people from my rage.*

Hana looked after her and swallowed, picturing her own dead world. *It was the least I could do.*



About the Story

The theme for this month was “Scheming, Politics, and Betrayal”, which didn’t immediately conjure an idea to mind. After a day or so of mulling it over, I fixed upon the theme of translators and how they must do convert words in one language to another – especially words and concepts that may not have an equivalent in the other language. Then, of course, the idea came about to explore how a translator could influence post-war negotiations without obviously appearing to favor either side, and this story emerged.

This also gave me the chance to experiment with alternate dialogue tags (using * * for Kavish, and ” ” for Confederese) and from there, I simply had to decide how my character, Hana, would translate the statements from two people bent on further war in an attempt to broker peace and save innocent lives. This, to me, incorporates all the themes of the prompt – politics, scheming, and betrayal, though in this case, Hana’s “betrayal” of General Tourmaline could arguably also be considered working in everyone’s interest.

Cover Photo Credit:

<a href=”″>On The Shores of Darkness.jpg</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Hitting the Arch

Writing Prompt: Space Opera


When the enemy bombardment finally stopped, it left Captain Diego Harker’s scout ship drifting in the void. He ran his hands through his black hair and waited. They had evaded the enemy fleet. Now, they had to warn their own.

“Give me our energy reserves.” Together, their shields and engines had burned unprecedented mass. His ears still rang from the impacts, but they were alive.

“We’re empty, cap,” Carter said. Diego’s XO was all bare skull, bent frame and hard eyes. “It’s all burned.”

Without the shielding from their universal reactor, any further impact would turn their ship to scrap. That had been a big enemy fleet. “Suggestions?”

Laster spoke first. “We can burn anything for fuel, right? Let’s burn our rations.” He was nineteen, fresh out of gunnery school. He shaved his head to look like Carter and that pissed Carter off.

“That much mass would get us two burns.” Carter steepled his meaty fingers. “Three, if we’re lucky.”

“Not enough.” Woo rubbed at his eyes. The math to elude the enemy fleet had almost finished him. “To hit the archway we need at least thirty, and what would we eat?”

“Each other,” Laster quipped. No one laughed.

“What about our bulkheads?” Woo asked. “Can’t we pull off some scrap?”

“You pull anything off the inside of this ship, you’ll kill us all!” Mainard was a good engineer, but he had a temper. “We’re built lean. Nothing here can burn.”

“If we don’t close the archway,” Diego reminded them, “the Imps will bombard Ariadne and God knows who else. Woo, how’s our path on the arch?”

“What path? We can’t path without mass.” Sweat glistened on Woo’s forehead. “With the frequency this particular archway jumps around, we’ll never hit it.”

“So we guess,” Carter said. “Burn once a day, split the difference between the archway’s position today and tomorrow.”

“That’s a sixteen percent chance!” Woo snapped.

“Do it,” Diego ordered anyway.

It didn’t work. The archway skipped five times in twenty hours. Diego and Carter split a ration inside Diego’s tiny cabin.

“We need more mass.” Carter chewed. They both knew what that meant.

Diego saw no other options. “I’ll tell the crew.”

“They’ll mutiny, cap.”

“They won’t. We owe them the truth.”

“At the cost of Ariadne?”

“I’m not feeding anyone to this ship without explaining why. I’ll lead by example.”

“Don’t be an idiot. You go last if you go at all.”

“I’m not killing my crew in their sleep!”

“They’ll understand when it’s over.”

“We’ll draw straws.” They broke the news on the bridge when they rationed out that day’s water.

Woo had already figured it out. Mainard looked like he was going to blow chunks, but he didn’t. Laster was oddly introspective about the whole thing.

“But, a human … a body, I mean. How many burns do we even get?”

“Eight to ten,” Woo said.

“You said we needed thirty.”

“Learn to multiply.”

“Enough.” Diego held out the straws. They were actually strips of Crack-Seal. “If the Imps were gunning for your families, would you give your lives to stop them?”

Woo nodded. Laster did too. Mainard didn’t. “There has to be another way.”

“Name it.” Diego waited a bit.

Carter drew the short straw. If mutiny was on the crew’s mind, Diego trusted no one else to watch him while he slept. They all went to the reactor room together.

“I’ve got a daughter,” Carter said before he stepped inside. “On Ariadne’s moon.”

Diego’s throat went dry. “You never said one word.”

“Didn’t matter then. Her info’s in my file. Tell her I died saving the universe.”

Laster sketched a salute. Mainard and Woo did too. Diego just squeezed Carter’s shoulder. “She’ll know.”

Carter’s body bought them nine burns. Diego didn’t sleep that night. No one tried to kill him.

Now two days from the archway, Diego conferred with Woo. They had hit forty-two percent. The archway moved that night and Mainard drew the short straw. There was a scuffle.

“You can’t do this!” Mainard shrieked. It took Laster and Woo to muscle him to the reactor room. “It’s murder!”

“I’m sorry.” Diego snapped his holster open and made his face a mask.

“My wife’s on Ariadne! Our son!”

Diego opened the reactor door. “They’ll know.”

Woo lost his grip and Mainard got an elbow free. He almost took Laster’s head off before Diego shot him in the face. Mainard’s body bought them nine burns.

With one day left, they got lucky – seventy-four percent on the archway. Laster pushed away the straws.

“You don’t need me.” He was too calm for nineteen, too ready to die. “You need command and navigation.”

Diego shoved them at him. “Draw a straw.”

“I’m married too, sir. The Imps will bomb her back to the dark ages.”

“Captain.” Woo grabbed his hand. “We’re close, the math is simple. You do the burns. I’ll draw for you.”

Laster moved. Diego blocked him. “I said draw.”

“Put in it my report.” Laster held Diego’s eyes.

Laster bought them nine burns, close enough to warn the archway ahead of the enemy fleet. Diego sent his report with a Commendation of Valor for all his crew, even Mainard. Then he sent a message to Carter’s daughter.

As drones towed them in he and Woo sat on the empty bridge. The garrison captain guarding the archway had known Imps were in the system, but no one had known just how enormous the enemy fleet actually was. Retreating through the archway and collapsing it was their only option. That would keep Ariadne safe for decades.

“Captain,” Woo said then. “You’re from Helio Two.”


“Family there?”

“Two sons. My wife is dead.”

“If this archway leaves the network, it’ll take two-hundred years to get back there at sublight.”

“I know.”

Woo sat back and interlaced his fingers behind his head. “I’m never getting married. Too much to lose.”

“They’re worth it. They’re the reason I can do this.”

“Then I’m having five.” Woo forced a false smile. “If two got you through this, I’m hedging my bets.”

A rescue ship soon docked. They boarded. Together, they went through the archway one last time.

Diego never saw his sons again, but they knew.



About the Story:

The theme for this month was “space opera” and my starting point was actually the Mass Effect series, which is some of my favorite space opera to date. This story spawned from a rather simple language question – “mass effect” is the way “jumping to hyperspace” is described in that game’s universe, but it got me thinking about engines and, from there, engines that use mass. From there, of course, we go to “what if it could burn *any* mass?”

That idea, combined with the knowledge that war of any sort costs lives on both sides led me to take the (extremely literal) approach of soldiers sacrificing themselves in warfare, but not by bravely charging into enemy fire. By literally giving their lives to ensure their ship got home. When the circumstances are desperate enough, I wanted to explore how people asked to literally feeding themselves to a reactor might react, and how the survivors would deal with the guilt.

Cover Photo Credit:

<a href=”″>eric_claeys_-_02</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;