Spring Ceramic DMô: WINNER POSTED! - Page 30
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    Cleansing

    WanderingMonster Vs BardStephenFox (AKA David Moore)

    Cleansing

    I stepped outside as the October rain splattered on the asphalt, plastering the fallen leaves to the pavement. My boosted senses pulled out faint traces of a score of commercial agents. It was going to be an acid rain tonight. Not very nice if you are Meat, but it would wash the blood off me pretty well. I left the door to the mind-docís house open. The Meat cops would probably think it was some sort of burglary gone bad. Not that it mattered what they thought. They would never catch me and I had paid her back for rejecting my augmentation application again. The Meat had screamed at the end. I hate it when Meat does that. But, Meat is weak, as I always say. I guess the mind-docís Meat wasnít as strong as she thought it was. Still, it always spoiled the moment when the Meat screamed. The perfect moment was when the Meat could keep composed as itís life drained out of it. Perfect beauty is watching the Meat just fade and die away. Moments like that make you think. But no, this time the Meat screamed and broke the moment. It was a bad day all around. Time to fix that.

    The plan was to come through Thailand and Burma with a string of forged ID chips. It was a good plan, but it was a slow one. Still, I am the best in the business and I have patience. I once waited in a tree for three days for my target to arrive. The Meat was boosted a little and tried to dodge out of the way. One of the funniest things I remember seeing was the Meat twitch itís head out of the way. Too bad I was aiming at the Meatís heart. The Meat did not expect to see me way up in that tree either. But, thatís why I am called Monkey. Iíve always been Monkey. Well, at least as long as I can remember. I remember being a little boy hiding in the trees behind all the leaves waiting for my friends to find me. I was always the one that could climb and hide, and I could wait for an eternity while everyone else looked for me. Itís my only memory of being a kid. The mind-doc always said it was important.

    Now, why am I thinking of the mind-doc? I pressed my foot on the gas pedal and watched the trees blur as the kilometers disappeared beneath my wheels. The mind-doc? She has been dead for at least 4 days. It was that last augmentation rejection that proved she had to go. What was one more augmentation? I already have more than 100 bones in my body that have been replaced. I have entire muscle groups that have been replaced by smart
    polymers. My reflex boosts are getting outdated and I need Dr. Singhís latest boosts if I am going to stay on top of the Game. Dr. Singh might be all Meat, but he is smart Meat. His boosts are top-notch and they are always pushing the limits. They arenít cutting-edge, they are monofilament! The mind-doc shot down my augmentation application again though. The road was a black snake that I was riding through the trees as I remembered the mind-doc rationalizing her rejection.

    "Iím sorry Mr. Stevens, I know you think you want your augmentations, but I cannot allow you to drift further." I hate it when people use my old Meat name. Call me Monkey!

    "Címon Doc, I need those augmentations to keep doing my job effectively." Her lips were colored red with some sort of makeup and matched her dress. I couldnít help but wonder if her blood would match.

    "Mr. Stevens, you are a psychopath that displays complete disdain for everyone on this planet that isnít half machine like you."

    "Címon Doc, I like Meat just fine." She cut me off this time.

    "That is exactly what I am talking about. You refer to other people as Meat."

    I shouldnít have let the Meat comment slip. "Oh címon Doc, you canít hold that against me. Itís a joke, get it?"

    This time, her tone was firm. "No Mr. Stevens, you are not joking. You have learned to say the right things to a lot of psychologists, but you are not fooling me. More augmentations will simply fuel your delusions of being a god."

    "But Doc, my job..."

    "Mr. Stevens, you are a Security Specialist. There are plenty of people in your profession that do their job quite well with half the augmentations you have."

    I sat there and simmered. I am a Security Specialist, that's what my ID says. But, I ainít no guard. I keep the assets of Kendo-Tech secure. Meaning, I aggressively eliminate the competition and protect our assets from being transferred or eliminated. Iím good and I mean to stay that way. To stay on top, I need the reflex boosts that Dr. Singh is constantly refining! Problem is, some upper level Meat manager at Kendo-Tech got a little concerned last year when I blew up a 10 story executive apartment unit to keep Miyozawa Industries from absconding with one of our engineers. I figured it was better if he were
    dead rather than working for the competition. Besides, I also eliminated three of MIís best extraction agents at the same time. Sheesh, it was only 200 families. Now, I have to see a mind-doc three times a week to Ďreintegrate with humanityí. Worse yet, the mind-doc has final say on whether I get any more augmentations.

    I stayed the night in a no-name hotel in Sittwe. It was fun. Entering the lobby, I could spot three punks watching the Meat come in. They had some minor augmentations and were all decked up ripperjack style. To the locals, they were probably pretty scary and tough, but they had no real sense of style. I made sure to accidentally wave too much money around and then I headed out to my bungalow, one of tried to surreptitiously watch me open the door and walk in. I turned on the shower and was out a rear window before they were halfway from the lobby. I slid into some bushes to watch the action near the door. The ripperjack wannabes knocked on my door. Then, they listened and could hear the shower. With a grin, shiny blades slid out of their wrists. Ripperjacks, just a couple of boys looking for a good time tonight. I thought about letting them go, I still had to read over my dossier on Dr. Singhís defection, but I couldnít resist a little bit of fun. Besides, they were more Meat than Machine.

    I dropped out of the tree behind one of the ripperjacks. With a whistle, they all turned toward me, surprise and malice on their faces. One gestured toward me with his bladearm and started to say something. Probably a demand for money. I went into a low spin and knocked two of them to the ground with a kick. Then, I somersaulted forward and brought my fist up against the third ripperjackís jaw. The bones in my hands were replaced with high impact ceramics long ago. With my boosted arms, it made a mess of his face. His head snapped back and I grabbed his arm and leg. Spinning on my right heel, I launched his body across the courtyard into a tree. I heard the snapping of vertebrae and laughed. The other two ripperjacks were starting to sit up so I kicked the nearest one in the throat. He made a gushy sound as he fell back down and I heel-stomped the armblade of the last ripperjack.
    The blade was good steel, but it gave under the pressure of my heel and the stone pathway. The ripperjack grimaced in pain, but he bit back his scream. I respect that.

    I knelt forward and looked him in the eye. "Remember kid, Meat is weak. Now, run!"

    I took my foot off his arm and he looked at me with confusion. Damn, I forgot, he probably speaks Myanmar and I didnít have a lang chip socketed. I gave him a moment to figure out what I meant. He was smart enough to start crawling away.

    I spent the rest of the evening reading the dossier. It seems Dr. Singh had gone back home to Bangladesh to celebrate some religious holiday. The Durga Puja festival, blah, blah blah. The netjocks always do their research, but they have a hard time sticking to the facts. I donít care about Meat religion. Anyway, it seems one of our competitors has a new operative. The netjocks are still trying to track down which conglomerate she works for,
    but her codename is Durga. Dr. Singhís security detail was wiped out in the defection, everyone except his Meat handler. The handler claims that Durga told him he could leave because he was free of demons. I had to admire Durgaís style. She setup Dr. Singh based on his silly Meat religion. It was a nice touch and it will be a shame when I have to kill her.

    I slept restlessly that night. I kept having dreams about climbing in trees and hiding in bushes.

    The next day I took a hovercraft up to Chittagong. It was cargo hovercraft, but a little bit of money spread around does wonders. I stood there staring out at the ocean. The salt spray was annoying and the trip was boring beyond belief. Gazing vacantly into the haze, I remembered one of my first sessions with the mind-doc.

    "Mr. Stevens, take a look at this photo. What does it make you think of?" She pushed a photo across the small table to me. It was a picture of a bad accident. A heavy-duty cargo hovercraft had run over a car. The driver was laying on the road, a mess of blood and limbs. I laughed.

    "It shows me that Meat is weak."

    The mind-doc was startled. "Mr. Stevens, thatís a picture of you, and the accident." She said it like it was a big deal or something.

    With a chuckle I said, "No Doc, that was my Meat. That ainít no picture of me. Iím right here."

    The mind-doc never understood that the Meat is just a container. It means nothing and all those people that prattle on about the great gift of it just donít get it. Meat is meat. Meat canít be upgraded, but Machines can. The mind-doc went on for weeks asking me what I meant. She thought I was spouting some stupid philosophy or religion thing. She kept asking me about spirituality. I don't buy into that stuff. It's just Meat ideas to deal with the fact that they are meat. Iím a machine and I will outlast them all. Especially if I get my boosted reflexes from Dr. Singh!

    The drive to Dhaka was quick, but distracting. I kept feeling like I needed to stop and climb a tree or play in the bushes. It comes from thinking of the mind-doc too much. I started to make a vow to kill her when this job was done, but then I remembered that I already had.

    My contact was some Meat I had worked with in the past. A guy named Mani. Not a bad guy considering he was just Meat. We met in the lobby of a swanky hotel.

    "Good afternoon Monkey. I am pleased to inform you that I have the information on where Dr. Singh was last sighted." Mani bowed his head slightly in greeting then held out his arm for a western style handshake. I passed him the money and he passed me the data chip. "Monkey, one thing you should know. This Durga, she claims to be a goddess and she has said that
    anyone with augmentations is possessed by demons. She has said that she is here to purge the demons and send the tainted souls back to be reborn. I know you do not believe in such things, but the people here feel that she speaks of Truth. If you do not want to attract undue attention, I thought you might want to know what the people are hearing and believing."

    I did my best to smile at Mani. "Thanks Mani, Iíll keep that in mind. Though, almost all of my augmentations are beneath the skin." Mani nodded.

    "That is good Monkey. I just wanted you to know." He turned to walk out of the hotel. Mani didnít insult me by stopping to count the money on his way out. Smart Meat.

    The data chip provided directions to Durgaís house. Nobody had seen her since the end of the festival. Nobody had seen Dr. Singh since then either. My guess is that they were debriefing him somewhere in, or more likely, below the house. This is a critical time. If a competitor can extract most of the research that an engineer is working on, there is very little reason to recover the defector. Better to eliminate them and the extraction squad.
    Still, Dr. Singh is a genius and it would take quite a while for any extraction to get to any useful research. I decided to play it conservative and scout the place for two days before moving in. It sure would be a shame to have to eliminate Dr. Singh.

    That night, I dreamt of my youth. Playing in the trees and the bushes of my grandparentsí farm. I have always loved the trees and the outdoors. In my dream, I could smell the leaves. I havenít stopped to smell the leaves of a tree in years.

    Morning found me high up in a tree watching the house where Durga was holed up. Mani was right about the people on the street. With my boosted hearing I could hear their discussions on demons and how Durga was going to purge them from the world. I could learn a thing or two from this Durga. She lured Dr. Singh in by appealing to religion, then she turns the street on so they are looking for a recovery team. She really did her research. Anyone obviously augmented would probably be harassed by these people. Not that Meat could hurt a serious recovery team, but the time it took to deal with that would give Durga time to prepare a counteroffensive. Fortunately, I am good enough to be a one-man team myself. Even among machines, I am the best.

    As evening came, I found my attention wandering. A few months back, the mind-doc, Hannah, had asked me to draw for her.

    "Draw the first thing that comes to your mind Mr. Stevens".

    I took the pencil and paper and put together a shark mouth, smiling and added an eye. Looking at it, it just wasnít enough. I threw in a cutlass for good measure. Then, I added a sharp fork. Yeah, thatís cool.

    Hannah looked at it and asked me if I hated myself. She went off on some jibber jabber about how it was a reflection of what I saw in myself and how it reminder her of a shark demon. I hate mind-docs.

    I stayed in the tree all night popping stims to keep awake. Nothing moved in the house the entire time. If Dr. Singh was in there, he was definitely below it, especially since there really werenít any defenses anyway. Around dawn, I slipped down out of the tree. I paused for a moment and admired the smell of the leaves. Sliding around the back of the house, I approached a white gate. A simple chain had been passed through and welded shut to keep
    anyone from entering this way. I laughed as I reached through the bars and grabbed the chain.

    Hannah, the mind-doc, said I should do more things with my hands. She said it would help me feel more human. I guess she didnít know that my hands were one of my first augmentations. I slowly pulled the chain apart. I could feel the skin slipping, but polymer muscle over a ceramic endoskeleton wasnít troubled by it. Meat couldnít pull that chain apart, but Machine does just fine.

    I advanced through the rear courtyard without finding any further defensive measures only to find the back door unlocked. What kind of debriefing is this? The thought occurred to me that perhaps Durga had taken Dr. Singh elsewhere and this was just a herring. I had to check though. I passed through an unused kitchen then down a hall until I could see the front door. I slid into the main room soundlessly. Incense was burning and a mirror was
    on the far wall. Rugs and cushions were scattered about the room. I paused there, confused. Who lit the incense? There was something bothering me as well. I quickly searched the rest of the rooms. There was nothing else to be found. Obviously, there was something about the big room. The second time, I stood at the door for almost a minute. Then I realized what the problem was. The mirror was not reflecting the rest of the room. Very clever, but not clever enough.

    I crossed to the mirror and noted that the frame was carved, "The Being Within." Some sort of art? Looking in the mirror, I stepped back quickly. There in the mirror was an image of a shark mouth with a cutlass and a fork! What the ...

    The incense drifting in the air swirled just a bit and I swung around. There she was, Durga. At least, I assumed it was her. How she got there, I am not sure. She must be boosted pertty heavily to sneak up on me. Beautiful Meat, thatís for sure. She was done up in makeup and clothing to look the part of a goddess. Then she spoke, and her voice was flawless. So beautiful it hurt, if that makes any sense.

    "Welcome James Stevens."

    Nobody calls me James. I looked her over and took a combat stance.

    "Iím sure it would be interesting to chat with you and find out your real name Durga, but I am here for Dr. Singh. You can make this easy, or you can make this fun. Hand over Dr. Singh and I will pretend like I didnít find you." I licked my lips. "Of course, I kind of hope you donít do that, in which case I will have to kill you. Thatís going to be fun."

    Durga looked at me with anger, then pity before she breathed out.

    "You truly do not understand do you? It is not you that hates the world, it is the demon within you. A foul beast that permeates the machinery you think you revere. Did you not see it when you peered into the mirror? It is that demon that speaks with such disrespect."

    Most operatives, when faced with competition, are eager to fight it out. We always want to know which one of us is better, faster and stronger, especially when you are going against somebody with a reputation. And believe me, I have a reputation. But, this Durga was not ready to fight. I could see the scheme now though. They had sought to use the mind-doc to keep me crippled. How else would they know about the drawing and create a hologram of it. Well, I wasnít going to be mind jobbed. I leapt forward for the attack.

    I'm fast, but her arms fanned out impossibly and in my mind I counted 24 of them. She must be boosted so fast that it looked like she had 24 arms! Impossible, nobody has reflexes boosted that high. Not even Dr. Singh has created anything that fast compared to me. So, I clearly must be under the affects of some sort of drug. Damn, the incense! Durgaís arms settled into a defensive position, all ten of them, with blades in each one. I was almost across the room and concentrating on blending those ten arms back into two when I jumped toward her, fists aimed to smash into the beautiful mouth of hers.

    She caught my wrists. Then, as I tried to spin my body to kick her, she grabbed my ankles. She held me there for a second while she reached up to caress my cheek. It was torturous. There is no way one person could catch two arms and two legs and hold you there, while caressing your face, unless they had more than two arms. Durga leaned forward and spoke softly, gently to me.

    "Iím sorry James. We failed you. We let you think that flesh is not divine, that machine is better than man. That is what let the demons take you. But, I am here to repair the damage. Do not fear. The demons will be purged again and you will be reborn. We will make sure you have a better chance this time. Close your eyes Monkey and think of your trees. You will see them again soon, even if you donít remember."

    As she spoke, I could feel more blades digging into my chest. Briefly, I remembered scanning the dossier on Dr. Singh and what it said about the Goddess Durga. How she fought the demons and finally slew Mahish by driving a spear through his heart and cutting off his head. Was that what was happening to me? I thrashed in her grasp for a moment. She seemed to have multiple arms and incredible strength. There is no way known to graft more arms to a person. Could she really be a goddess? Something inside of me raged against this as I struggled to accept it.

    Polymers ripped and then my mechanical heart stopped. For just a moment, I could see Durga holding me. Were those tears in her eyes? It made me sad, sad for the first time in almost a decade. With a shriek, I saw a shark swimming in the air above me. Two more arms came up from Durga and the shark was no more. Then, blackness.

    ~~~~~

    A young boy hid from his mother in the bushes. He pushed giant, green leaves out of the way as he peeked out. His mother saw him and laughed.

    "There you are Jimmy, come in and wash up for dinner you little monkey."

  2. #292
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    OK, there it is. Wish I had a little more time, but I will be busy all Wednesday through the deadline. Ack - I better get to bed. I need some sleep tonight.

  3. #293
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    Quote Originally Posted by Daulnay
    This contest ought to be double elimination.
    After reading mythago vs. orchid blossom, I thought perhaps you should have 12 (or 14) contestants in the first round, leaving 2 (1) spots open for the best runner-up(s).

  4. #294
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    Quote Originally Posted by mythago
    The best part about winning is that I can now say just how much Orchid Blossom's story rocked. I was moderately pleased with mine, and then read "Disruption" and thought "Whoops. I suck."

    "You underestimate the power of beer and bratwurst, Professor. Believe me, they're ready to roll out the barrel." Best Ceramic DM line. Ever.

    The bad part about winning is that Orchid Blossom isn't going to advance. That is, frankly, everyone's loss.
    I was rather proud of the beer and brats myself. I keep telling Ao being from Wisconsin is a good thing.

    Isn't it strange how the person who writes something rarely has any idea of it's quality? It'll be a couple months before I can go back and look at the story with a stanger's eye. It's too fresh when you've just finished; you can't see the holes or lack thereof.

  5. #295
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    I know that feeling. I could read the story several times, but whether it really works or not I can only see by reading it with a lot of temporal distance to its conception - that's why I usually give them to someone else to read.

  6. #296
    Damn... that was close.

    I'm almost willing to say that if I win I'd be willing to give up my spot to Orchid... just to see more from her. Please, please, please compete again Orchid.

    And now, to wait for my judgement.

    I hope I win, as I'd love (and be scared s***less) to go up against mythago.

    Zhaneel

  7. #297
    I'm biased, right? We take that from the get go. I drew one of the pictures and so I have a relationship with it that affects my judgement. THis is why I am not judging, among other things.

    In my opinion Orchid Blososm absolutely captured the mood of "Rest" and filled it with the kind of story that I wanted it to have. She saw 90% of what I meant to put there, and she made us see it, too.

    When I saw the set come together, I realized that there was almost no way to put together that picture with the mantis without somebody's head coming off in the story, and I was pretty sure that it would be the accordianist's.

    What I liked was that, given that obvious conclusion, Orchid Blossom's story didn't fall into cliche. It told it's own story, and it wasn't about what a breeding female under laboratory stress will do, but more about a relationship with death that I was trying to express in the female character's eyes. The laboratory stress element is there in the story, too, with the disjunction between the archaeologist's view of the situation and Devakiri's, but it doesn't make her into a monster. Er, not an unsympathetic one, anyway.

    Mythago's complete throw away of the image made me feel the same way I'd feel seeing a world class olympic ice skater fall on her can during a compulsory element. It was a beautiful routine--quite the nicest thing I've seen in a long while, but she blew one of the requirements of the competition. The action of the story was progressing in one direction, another creature is introduced, and by way of descriptive background for that character--an illustration of how they sleep? If I were illustrating to the story (instead of the other way around), there were a lot of better moments I would have picked to illustrate, and a portrait of the creatures should have been a whole lot scarier and more active looking. It's not that the story failed at that moment--the story was moving along fine-- but if you printed this in a book with these illustrations, you'd feel that the illustration was lousy and intrusive in this place, failing to illustrate or advance the story.

    Given the general level of quality of Mythago's writing, I was curious about why this sudden change from her usual effort. Did the illustration not work for you that badly, or was there some other reaosn you caught an edge?

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    Hmm, interesting point Sialia. OK, I probably shouldn't comment right now since my story is unjudged, but I will anyway and I will trust that the judges will use this opportunity to look away from my post until later.

    It is interesting how picture use comes to us. For my little yarn above, the picture that I think turned out to be the weakest use was one of the original lynchpins of my inspiration. Seeing that pic gave me a few ideas on some possible stories. The rest fell into place after that. But, I had to work a bit harder to bring the rest in. Last competition, I focused a lot on not having a "throwaway". I did in this competition as well. What I have found is that the first pic that my muse points out to me is the most likely to be my weakest use. I think, for me, that it is a matter between inspiration and integration. With the pictures that I have to work harder to integrate, it comes across as a stronger use. I look for different ways to bring a picture in if it isn't "obvious" to me. So, the amount of work I have to put in seems to have a positive affect on the outcome.

    I also see this reflected in my stories when I am trying to finish them up too late in the night. When I get tired, I start missing elements that I was sure I had typed. I have gone back over my stories and found sentences that were "missing". I never typed them, though I thought them through. Very weird feeling at times. The problem with this is that I might miss the communication explaing why the pic was important. I forget to 'set the hook' if I am too tired.

    So, the lesson for me is to strat writing these things earlier in the day!

    I'm not sure that helps much Sialia. But, you asked and while I can't answer for Mythago, I can point out some of the reasons why my picture usage might not have the same impacted I _wanted_ it to when I started typing on the keyboard.

  9. #299
    I'm also going to respond about picture usage, even though my story isn't judged either.

    I have done other similiarly styled competitions where a list of elements to include were required. When the judging happened (7+ judges, 100 point scale, anonymous judging, one round best score wins) the picture usage was worth 10-15 points out of 100. The other things were plot, realism, dialogue, characters, description, overall story quality, sex [it was an erotica competition], title, and something I can't remember. So while the items [sometimes names, situations, lines, physical items, etc.] were important, they were only 10-15% of the weight. The rest was how well the story was told. So, yes, you could win, technically, with poor usage. I never saw it happen, though.

    Here, I tend to think along the same lines. The pictures need to be used. However, great picture usage with a poor story will not win. And I think that a great story with okay-decent picture usage should win over a mediorce story with great picture usage. Now, Orchid did not write a poor story. She wrote a great story. Mythago did too.

    My opinion on picture usage:
    Accordian: Orchid wins
    Mantis: Tie
    Mountain: Mythago wins by a landslide
    Rest: Both seemed throw-away to me.

    Rest wasn't my picture. I didn't see a great story in it. I thought both were fine usages. True, I agree that if I were illustrating the story, Orchid did better for rest. But I wouldn't have illustrated the mantis for Orchid's story, but maybe for Mythago's. I know we are supposed to write as if the pictures were illustrating. OTOH, it is a damn hard thing to do, and I also think a poetic license is taken with the pictures. I've seen great usage of a portion of the picture rather than the whole thing. I've seen a metaphoric usage over a literal. I think there is a lot of lee-way here and I think Mythago did a good job overall.

    I loved both stories. I'm glad I didn't have to judge. But I think I would have gone with mythago's 'cause I think her usage of climb was original and compelling. One of the best usages of a picture I've seen.

    Zhaneel

  10. #300
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    Sialia, the short version is trying to keep it down to a manageable length--if you want me to go into more detail about it, I'm cool with that. But I'd rather do it off-thread because I don't want to hog the discussion, honestly.

    And again not meaning to distract, but there is a thread over in Story Hour specifically for people to post non-competition, art-inspired writings. I highly recommend Sialia's art gallery as inspiration for anyone who feels moved *cough* Orchid Blossom and by the way has anyone seen Sparky? *cough*.

    One of the coolest secondary effects of Ceramic DM is that it gets people writing.

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