This week's Odd Prompts writing challenge at More Odds than Ends
was from Fiona Grey: "The stuffed toy astronaut was clearly a warning."
I immediately thought of a plush Buzz Lightyear doll that we'd carried for a while in our retail business -- but how to work it in a story? Maybe in the Big Messy Project, as an anachronistic element in the 70's small town setting of the first part?
And then I thought of Phoenix in Cyberspace
, and the connections started falling into place.
A Warning to the Wise
Playing the Rim Merchant game was fun, but Roger knew that he couldn't stay here all the time. If he didn't take breaks from time to time, people would start asking questions for which there could be no acceptable answers. Even a freelance software engineer, who wouldn't have the issues of being "on the clock" still had to get his work done sometime Not to mention time to sleep, eat, and take care of other biological necessities.
All of those things meant he needed to be logged out and back in Toni's LAN before the next Federally mandated Identity Break. He'd given the last three a perfunctory response, and Toni had said recently that there had been problems with obsessive gamers using bots to fake their Identity Breaks. If the watchdog software was getting an upgrade to detect those sorts of things, it would be even more important to do nothing that attracted their attention.
At least the game provided a convenient way to put your character on hold while you took care of Life Stuff in meatspace: put your character in his bunk. The berthing areas aboard this ship might be small and austere compared to the staterooms paying passengers got, but they still beat enlisted quarters aboard a Navy vessel.
However, when Roger got to his bunk, he noticed something lying on it. An object he most definitely had not put there.
Looking closer, he saw it was a plush doll, a cartoon astronaut with a white spacesuit trimmed in green and purple. However, he didn't have time to ask about it, not with an identity Break bearing down. Better to just move it aside and hit the rack.
Moments later he was back in Toni's LAN, back in the little bubble house on the Moon that he'd created for her on Yuri's night. Toni wouldn't be back for at least another hour, which gave him some time to research that doll.
One benefit of being post-bio was being able to access images from memory as digital files, which made for convenient Internet searching. On the other hand, he had to be careful about how he uploaded those images, because the search engines had their own watchdog software. Although Toni doubted that they would be looking specifically for evidence of machine entities, it was best to avoid anything that cause them to flag his search for closer inspection.
On the other hand, all of Digital Dreams' games did offer the ability to do in-game image captures. As long as he made sure it looked like an unremarkable search by a bio gamer, it shouldn't be any trouble.
Moments later he got his answer: the doll was one Buzz Lightyear, a character from a series of movies that had been quite popular around the turn of the millennium. The character had been inspired by Buzz Aldrin...
The name awakened a multitude of memories from Roger's astronaut days – and once again the question of just how many of those memories Toni had painstakingly pieced back together from all the sources she'd amassed, and how many were proof that consciousness was indeed conserved, that the universe was in fact a sort of quantum hologram.
He pushed them away, deciding that no, he would not indulge his curiosity as to how Aldrin's career and life had proceeded. No, better to be satisfied in knowing that at least some members of the third astronaut selection group had come to such prominence that they would become figures of popular culture.
Not to mention that he could not afford such sentimentality when he needed to figure out just what message had been intended by depositing the doll on his bunk aboard the Morning's Bright Child
. Was it merely someone's observation that he'd shown a little too much interest in the technical aspects of spaceflight, to the detriment of enjoyability of a game that was supposed to be pure handwavium in a Space is an Ocean world? Or did someone suspect what he was, and thus select a toy specifically tied to one of his fellow members of the Fourteen?
Perhaps it would be well done to find a way to get back off that ship on the next port of call. His character was a civilian on a commercial vessel, so jumping ship wasn't quite as serious as going AWOL from the Navy – but it wouldn't exactly help him advance his character, which wouldn't help him find the player whose avatar looked so much like Martha.
This week Fiona Gray and I swapped prompts. My prompt to her was: "Under the bonsai oak tree is a tiny house, with footprints coming in and out the door." Although I was thinking of the pixies of Maroa in the Ixilon 'verse, her interpretation of the prompt ended up being quite a bit darker
I also got an entry in for this week's Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Writing Challenge
. My effort ended up drawing upon the tradition of HP Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos
, and particularly "The Colour out of Space."
As always, if you'd like to participate in Odd Prompts, just send your prompt in to firstname.lastname@example.org
to be assigned a prompt of your own. Or if you're not up to the commitment of trading prompts, you can always check out the spare prompts and see if any of them tickle your creativity.
There will be a new word and picture prompt up at Indies Unlimited on Saturday. Until then, the polls will open tomorrow for voting on the Readers' Choice Award, and will close at 5PM on Thursday.
In the meantime, keep writing