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    Competition Writing Competition #7 - Voting CLOSED

    Writing Competition 7 vote.png

    EDIT - Aaaaaand take two, actually including the poll this time! (Poll is at the bottom of the post)

    Hello everyone, and welcome to SciFiFur's seventh writing competition!

    The prompt was to include 'It had never happened before' somewhere in the story. Please give all four stories a read and then vote for your favourite.

    We welcome all participants to vote, but please do not vote for your own story. There is unfortunately no way for us to stop you doing that, but just on principle we ask that you only vote for other member's submissions. After all, this is about fun!

    Voting has been extended, and will now close on May 28th, with the winner being announced on May 29th.

    -----------------------------------------------------------

    Open ContentBrutusRat

    BrutusRat

    "Hey, you ask anyone on the street, they'll tell you the same thing." The rat pressed a few buttons on his gauntlet, his visor fading down in color to retain some kind of secrecy.


    "They'll tell you about when it happened. 'Bout a year and a half ago now, I'd think. Things sure weren't as positive as they have been these last couple of weeks, not back then. Gangs, crime, Political dissent, you name it. You couldn't go down the street without seeing some kind of deal going on or a protest going violent. Place was on the verge of total anarchy, I tell you."


    Hidden away back in an alleyway, the rat slumped against the wall, holding out a camera with a faint blue light to shine on his face. Looking borderline broken, he resumed his story for the camera to see.


    "But that, as I figured you'd already known, changed one day. About halfway downtown there was a fairly alright market that showed up on Thursdays. More like a bazaar than anything, but hey, whatever. Point is, that place was usually pretty crowded. So of course when the first shell hit the dirt, there were plenty of civilian casualties to go around."


    He had to pause for a moment to steady his hand, his eyes almost drained of color at his recollection. "I think I was maybe forty meters away, give or take, but it was complete carnage. Everyone ran in whichever direction. Nobody knew where it even came from, but next thing we remember is the city walls being raised right before a barrier went up. Took all of maybe two minutes to bring the thing up, and not a few seconds later we could see explosions riddling the outside of it, nullified by the energy. Hell, I don't think I've ever seen people so thankful when they saw."


    Bowing his head for a solid minute, it almost looked like he'd fallen asleep while telling his story. When he finally lifted his head back up, he wiped a few tears away from his face, the streams leaving a slight stain across his golden-yellow fur. "Nobody was allowed within a mile of the barrier. They had a whole area cordoned off to keep us from getting someplace where we could get hurt, and if we so much as took a single step out into the open, we got a single warning before the gunshots came. Only took one warning to get that message across, turns out."


    The sound of heavy footsteps could be heard echoing throughout the alley where the rat was, and he went very still. The light around his face dimmed, the whole video having gone silent until the footsteps finally left. Exhaling in relief, the rat rubbed one side of his face. "I'd better finish quick. So anyway, with nowhere else to go and being stuck in this hellhole, the locals took up arms against the gangs and the like. If they were stuck here, they sure weren't going to be dealing with a crime spree. Only took a year or so before there wasn't even a pickpocket you could find. Cleaned up real nice."


    His face going dark, the rat took in a deep breath, clearly deliberating his next words. "Two months later the shellings stopped and the barriers dropped again. We got told the war was over and we were safe again. Things were finally looking up. People never left the city though, and nobody ever showed up. At least not until last week. Another bombing. A missile. This time it hit one of the major armories uptown and took a huge chunk of the military's weapons out. It took longer for the barrier to go up this time, but not before I made sure to send out an alert to my guys in the other cities. I told them the city was under attack again, and that we apparently hadn't fought them back the first time like the big-wigs said.


    And that's when I got the message back. Just one sentence.

    "It had never happened before."



    Open Content'Flight of the Brick' by Terrapun

    'Flight of the Brick' by Terrapun

    Long fingers of fog caressed the forest of mighty conifers and hovered over the calm waters of an ancient river. Last tender embrace before the light of dawn, already shining from behind the mountaintops on the horizon, would chase away the white ephemera. Nestled amongst the trees, sprawling in all directions a city stood. One could easily miss it when looking down while flying above, as very few buildings actually reached higher than the treetops, and many had vegetation growing over them. Until, of course, one would rise its gaze to see few of the most noticeable exceptions from that rule, like the massive artificial mountain of a building, with it's many terraces and domes that housed the University, or the Spire. Port built on the city outskirts servicing most of the long distance flights to and from the city, and one of the best vantage points there was in the area. It had many landing pads arranged around it's central spire, not entirely unlike the branches of the trees below, only the trees did not usually have equally spread “branch free” zones to allow large docking engines to crawl up and down their trunks, assisting in docking procedures of the largest of airships and occasionally dragging them down to the vast airship hangars at the spire's base.

    Dawn was coming fast, marking the end of another busy night and most of the city inhabitants were preparing to get themselves some good day's sleep, barring the exception of foreigners like the Plainsmen that were just starting their day. Thus the city never slept, always bristling with activity... albeit in a calm and discreet manner that the majority of its inhabitants enjoyed. Yet in this brief transitional time everything became exceptionally still and you could easily forget that you were in the centre of a metropolis.

    Merithia stood near the edge of one of the landing pads, about half way up the Spire. Her transport ship “The Brick” sat behind her, taking up most of the space on the pad. She had just finished routine maintenance on the old thing and now, she was taking in the view. Wind whistled in her long, pointy ears and tousled her ample mane of lengthy, black and dark blue tipped down feathers. Most welrehi preferred to grow out impressive manes that smoothly transitioned into down feather coating that run along their backs and on top of their tails. Merithia was not an exception. She decorated her mane with strategically placed strings of silver, glass and wooden beads that while looking pretty also kept the longest strands of her mane out of her azure eyes, most of the time. She inherited most of her features from her mothers side, like her matte black scales and a frill that could be pitched up at her whim, she usually did not do it because it ruffled the feathers that grew on it too much. From time to time she wished that instead of the frill she could inherit her fathers impressive horns. They looked positively fearsome. Then she reminded herself that they would only make her life as a pilot that much more difficult, as every head movement in the control den would have to be deliberate, as not to push or flick something by mistake. Her father was a plainsmen, a colloquial term that locals called folk from nations and coalitions that dotted the wide plains beyond the Therthys Ocean. While she did not get awesome horns from him, the fact that her scales were adorned with fantastical patterns of dark blue stripes that snaked all over her body, was a consolation. Even if it was a far cry from her fathers lush blue and green coloration. Still, she liked her scales colours as they made her stand out from the crowd with mostly plain black scales.

    Not that it mattered much now as she wore a grey jumpsuit most pilots used that covered her scales. Its chest and flanks adorned with her ships name and designation along with a logo. Plain old, vintage clay brick with two black scaly wings growing from its back, ready to take flight. Much like Merithias own pair, that was tightly folded along her back, yearning to be spread out and used. She walked closer to the edge, on all fours, a nonchalant stride. She had no cargo to deliver, no flights booked, she was free. She crept even closer to the platform's edge. If she just jumped off for a short flight, who was there to stop her? She stood up to walk only on her hind legs to free up her hands. Like her many ancestors before her she reached out with her mind piercing the Veil to draw minuscule amounts of akasher, just enough for her purposes. Then, unlike them, she allowed her implants to deal with the rest, as she need not bother with the minutia of simple Metaphysical manipulations. The stuff that stuff the reality was made of roiled and bent by her mind. Injected with purpose, it flowed through her and formed a pattern that reified itself, forcing photons and electrons into existence with the act of will and slaving their dance to her augmentations conduct. In her hand a construct of sheer light appeared. Massless, unreal... Yet solid, interactive. She flicked through it with her other hand, navigating through the options to check out her calendar. Yeah, no jobs. Boring. She could have just prompted her augments to give her the answer directly to her brain, but she liked to think of herself as a “classy” person. Enjoying the tactile sensation of actually using a Metaphysical construct.

    Content with affirming her suspicions she was ready to take the plunge into the abyss, spreading her wings as she fell. She could almost feel the rush of wind on her sharp, long muzzle...

    - Miss Merithia? - an unfamiliar voice gave her pause. She turned around facing the intruder that apparently wanted to rob her of her free morning and frowned.
    - Yes, what is it? - she barked. Some welrehi that she never saw before was walking towards her across the landing pad. Sizeable freight container followed close behind him on a pair of self driving cargo pellets. The stranger smiled at her and when he was closer, he stood up, wiped his hands reflexively, despite wearing dirt-proof gloves that made the gesture meaningless, and walked closer to her on his hind legs, leaving his hands free to gesticulate. He was a local, despite being unnaturally big and stocky built for one. It was hard to tell if it was an effect of gluttony, or some foreign genes in the mix, possibly both. His dark-grey, black tipped mane, was rather sizeable and in some disarray, it hid his frill almost completely. His grey eyes had glints of dark red in them. Similarly, his matte black scales had some barely visible dark-red stripes, definitely foreign influence. He wore baggy, plaid clothes that hanged from his flanks and covered most of his body, and a high visibility jacket over them.
    - I'm terribly sorry to intrude, but it is a case of utmost importance... - his voice was calm and pleasant. He looked... benign and out of his element, judging by the movements of his long pointy ears, he was genuinely embarrassed. Merithia felt her irritation rise. Whoever sent this man her way to plead for her to do some last mihrra work, decided that sending someone pitiful would net better results. She hated being manipulated. Her frill rose involuntarily, making her mane look bigger. The man either did not notice her display of annoyance, or ignored it. - I'm from the municipal water, matter and sewage management, my name is...
    - I see you are a sewer worker, I can read what is written on your bloody high-vis vest! - Merithia interrupted him - and I don't really care. I am, terribly busy, and some unexpected 'important mission' would seriously mess up my schedule! - she snapped. The man shuddered as if she had smacked him in the muzzle and looked at her perplexed and lost. Despite herself she felt stupid for losing her temper like that over, essentially, nothing. - Right, I... may be able to reschedule... But! I expect to be compensated for my time. So what is that “mission” of yours? - chubby's ears perked up when she said that. Not wasting any time he started speaking quickly, as if worried, that she will snap at him again before he would be able to make his case.
    - I... I mean we... the muncipial... ah right, you know... Um... so we need to transport a very dangerous cargo up to Mernith, so it can be safely disposed of at the High Energy Metaphysics facility there - he gestured needlessly towards the sky where the pale disk of Mernith was setting. - Yesternight one of our teams found an unopened tomb of some of the late epoch god-priests while laying new pipes. Nobody expected something like that so close to the surface, so the guys sent there were not accustomed to dealing with that sort of artefacts... long story short, they triggered an alarm, and now the god-priest sarcophagus has become active. We've shielded it so it cannot draw akasher from beyond the Veil, but we believe it has internal supplies, so we only slowed it down.
    - So what's the emergency? Some ancient Metaphysical crap is waking up, the ground here is full of that shit. It was god-priest central before the uprising, shit sometimes floats up. It's not like It had never happened before, you guys are supposed to deal with that, right? If it's such a big deal, just gather up some more folks and give it a good trashing!
    - That... - he paused, lost in thought for a moment – is not completely out of the question, especially if the sarcophagus is not delivered in time. But it should only be used as a last resort. Those priests are ancient as are their formulas, but they have ruled over the known world once. They would not be able to stay in power for so long if they were not cunning. I'm not so interested to see what they may have in store for us.
    - So better to endanger one pilot and her ship? Why not use the blink drive? It would be way faster.
    - We can't, HEM and the Institute of astronomy are cooking up a big project together. All the terminals are overbooked - he winced. - We do not have enough time units to outbid them for access. Energy and reaction mas exchange rates are not that good right now. Frankly, we are the victims of our own success. We dealt with those artefacts without any fuss for so long that now, when we may have a real problem on our hands, no one wants to treat it seriously. Give us special clearances. So, as usual, we need to improvise – he let out a heavy sigh. Merithia looked at him and at the container for a moment then asked.
    - How many pilots have you visited thus far?
    - You will be fourth.
    - And you will mope around the Spire until you'll find some looser that will take you rotten egg?
    - Pretty much, yeah... or the egg hatches, whichever comes first.
    - Riiiight... I will regret that but, load it up. I can't let you endanger innocent pilots with your stinker... Am I getting any escort for that apparently dangerous thing?
    - Yeah, you're looking at it... I mean me, you're looking at me, the escort...
    - You can't be serious? - he only gave her an apologetic smile, it was her turn to let out a heavy sigh - Get on board. Just don't touch or brake anything.

    Brick, while similar to it's namesake in appearance, maybe a bit more flat and broad, flew arguably more gracefully than a common, vintage, brick. Four articulated engine booms extended from the crafts flat top. They sucked up air, pushing it through the reactors heat exchangers, heating it up, milling it in the turbines and spiting it out with enough force that the unsightly craft swiftly broke the sound barrier as soon as it was high and far enough from the city. Its speed was to increase more and more along with its altitude until the atmosphere became too thin to provide enough reaction mass to the engines. Then the craft would make use of the metallic hydrogen cassettes that port maintenance drones loaded up before lift-off.
    Inside, the acceleration was hardly unpleasant as the on-board Metaphysical grid did it's magic to turn the excess g-force into heat fed back to the engines. Merithia was in her element. Sure, flying under her own power was fun, but there was something endearing in the “subtlety” of her craft's flight that resonated with her soul. Her “escort” was sitting strapped to his crash couch in the passenger area, just behind the pilot den. His tail coiling around the base of the seat a few times in a “do not disturb me” gesture. He tried to start some small talk about a recent movie or some other nonsense, but she firmly put an end to that. She did not need any distractions. After some grumbling he, ostentatiously, started working on some unreified pattern that he visualised before him. As if trying to show her that he also had important things to do. The same as with all pure akasher constructs the structure was invisible in the natural light and could only be perceived “in the minds eye”. To the man's credit, he worked on his little project without mumbling under his breath or flailing his arms like some fool, trying to jog his mind. That took some practice. The cargo was also uneventfully taking up the centre of the cargo hold, one measly container was easily dwarfed by the size of the hold. It was a travesty, flying with such a small load. At least the craft was more nimble than usual that way.

    Trouble started while they were coasting outside of the atmosphere, still on a suborbital trajectory. Shortly before they reached apoapsis, and way before their Mernithar insertion burn. Temperature inside the hold started rising rapidly, the container glowed brightly and melted. Fire alarms started blearing over the alarms informing them that combat Metaphysics was in use... the container was breached. Her escort reacted before her. She'd felt a strange, mentally deafening, sensation of a null-field being erected. The feeling had stopped abruptly when she and her ship were added to the list of authorised users. Every other entity within it would be stopped from pulling akasher from beyond the Veil... as long as the field was not breached. When she looked out the door behind her, she just saw the tip of his tail disappearing down the ladder. That guy was quite nimble, even in microgravity. She turned her attention to the cargo hold monitoring when her implants received a call request, she opened a line. It was the sewer worker.

    - I guess our cargo started getting bored, what's the situation with the craft? - he asked. His voice, calm and collected, sounded straight in her mind.
    - No damage thus far, but I've aborted our flight, it's of no use anyway. Emergency response is on it's way, and we will start hitting atmo in a few mihrra, better strap yourself in by then. - she answered in the same way, not even opening her mouth, busy operating the craft's controls.
    - Got it. - he stopped talking for a while but left the channel open.
    She monitored his progress on the screen, he approached the container that was slowly turning to slag, cautiously, ready to pounce away at any moment. Visibility was poor because the fire suppression system was doing it's best to contain the situation. Overheated metal boiled and popped like an overfilled balloon, and in the remains of the container, amongst the mist of the fire suppressant, something moved.
    - Fuck! There is something alive back there, you said that we were transporting dead guys!
    - Not alive, not exactly, it most likely is a sort of an engram of the priest of old. As a way to preserve their life... older ones are quite docile if you know how to deal with them. - his tone was still calm, but his words were more mechanical. He started sneaking through the mist, trying to find the “something” she had noticed. - When the “technology” to make them was still fresh, the “preserved individuals” were no more than a bunch of memories with a loose thread of a remnant vile personality holding them together. This technology advanced slowly as they not as much shared knowledge as stole or took it from each other, and they did not known of the scientific method. But, despite that, it still advanced and the latest “models” were much more closer to the real deal. - Something slithered in the swirling mist, and her console sounded an alarm that something was probing her ships Metaphysical grid. She checked the source of the alarm, while her escorts voice droned on, calming her down in the process. - After all, the goal was to live past biological death, not to leave behind a memory for others to pillage. Still, non of them can be considered actually alive as the technology was inherently flawed. See to make one they had to enter a special “sarcophagus”, designed most likely by trial and error on live test subjects. The Metaphysical grid inside would map out and store their minds pattern, while killing the one inside in the process. But it was not preserving life if it was only making an unchanging copy, see, when the consciousness stream is broken... - his monologue was cut short when a combat pattern reified inside the hold, filling it with intense heat that dispersed the mist.
    In the centre of the inferno was a peculiar creature. At first glance it looked like a normal welrehi, four legs, two wings, black scales. But it was not quite... there, also its tail was unnaturally long, snaking all the way back to the ruins of the container and the ancient sarcophagus within. It was wearing a coat made of many colourful feathers, that made it look quite dumb. So much so, that Merithia could not contain a snicker. Oh sure, the feathers looked like they were gathered from the hides of a bunch of fearsome beasts, probably were a symbol of status... and they still made the priest look like a joke. Still, the heat blast that was rolling through the hold was no joke at all. Sewer guy was barely holding on. His plumage smoking and burning in places, despite the defences he had put up. His plaid clothes were just a memory. They turned to ash the instant the attack connected. His hi-vis vest followed suit soon after, burning and melting, but not giving up without a fight, as minor patterns snaked all over it trying to cool it down and protect the user. All for nothing. She seriously considered leaving the controls to go help the guy, before he was turned to roast, when she saw that something more was happening there. The priest was so focused on turning his victim to a crisp that it did not notice a new pattern reifying beside it. She immediately recognised the unfinished pattern her passenger was toying with during the flight. It grew outwards, rearranging and unfolding itself, then it connected with the “scales” of the priest, and fused with them. She could almost see the surprise on the priest's muzzle. The construct did not gave it time for much else, it grew myriads of “spikes” and started spinning blazingly fast, while rapidly getting smaller and smaller... and sucking the god-priest's apparition inside of it, finally the tail itself remained and when Merithia thought that will be the end of that, the tail snapped and slithered back to the sarcophagus. While the peculiar construct rapidly shrunk and blinked out of existence with a loud bang, that shook the ship.

    - That could have gone better. - She heard in her head.
    - What...? - she asked but was cut off.
    - The darn thing is smart... “thinks” fast. I almost put all the akasher reserves from the sarcophagi internal stores down the drain, but it managed to cut and run before all was drained. It is a late epoch design, meaning It most likely has some sot of data storage, it can learn from its mistakes. It's safe to assume that this trick will not work again.
    - Trick? You almost got burnt to a crisp!
    - Got to keep the thing distracted, it still shows behavioural patterns from it's past life. - While they were talking the apparition formed again over the sarcophagi, this time it only stood there, watching intently.
    - But it almost got drained right? What more can it...?
    - They were quite fond of Metaphysically assembled toxins and pathogens...
    - Our bodies could deal with something like that, right?
    - We may soon find out. - Before he stopped talking, the whole ship rumbled, and the g-forces returned as they re-entered atmosphere. Ships grid once more informed Merithia of an intrusion attempt. She frowned.
    - I have an idea. Remove my ship from the null-field safe list and get yourself strapped in, this will get bumpy. - As she said that, she proceeded to manually turn off the reactors and severed connections with energy reserves, while subtly modifying the on-board Metaphysical grid. Her escort did what she'd asked. Time was short and she was the captain after all. She knew what she was doing... she hoped.

    Stupid thrall turned out to be more troublesome than anticipated, whoever sent him to rob his sarcophagi gave his toy too much freedom, fool. It was an impasse, some force was blocking him from accessing the divine power, but, the dimwits had left him an unguarded conduit. Once he breaches it, syphoning it's power, this annoyance will be resolved. Soon.

    Brick's computers were posed with a conundrum. The ship was plummeting through the atmosphere, without power and at lethal speeds. They were obliged to save the crew and the ship from any danger. Frustratingly, both the engines and the reactors were unresponsive. The grid could not access the Veil. All that was left was emergency power and some control surfaces, but that only stabilised their descent into oblivion. Their salvation came unexpectedly as a new device asked to connect with the grid. It was some sort of akasher storage medium. Brick eagerly accepted the connection and went through with the emergency protocols, it had to be enough.

    Brick pancaked through the atmosphere at breakneck speed, last seconds before the crash, Metaphysical tendrils shot out from the fuselage connecting with the ground. The vessel preformed a violent lithobraking moments later. Energy was transferred, energy was exchanged. Kinetic for thermal. The grass around the impact site turned to vapour in an instant, while the ground was boiled. In the end the akasher stores were depleted before the craft could prevent suffering damage, but it managed to reduce the impact to the crew survivable margins. That was good enough for it's computers.

    - You alive?
    - Yeah. - She groaned.
    - And the thing? - She checked the monitors, the ones that still worked.
    - Preformed one last act of kindness, cushioning our fall. - She chuckled. - You know what?
    - Yeah?
    - My payment just gone way up.
    - Add it to my tab.



    Open ContentGryphus

    Gryphus

    I saw her many times before that day. A fellow Seh'lai like me – proud of her ancestry and species as a whole. She caught my eye back month ago, when she appeared to Sila Station. Way out of my league, just by looking at her feathers and plummage – most of it red and blue. That sweet bird-wyvern female must had been from a noble family, I thought.

    I was unsure if my infamy as a womanizer reached her ears, but on that I didn't really care. After all, I didn't make any attempt to impress her. Yet... I couldn't really deny that she was gorgeous. But I think she noticed me a few times yet every time that Seh'lai girl looked at me, she groaned and looked away. At first, I thought I am indeed out of the board and she wasn't interested into me. All I knew about her was name – Silaka.

    One day, I got an odd job and I had been repairing some cables in the dock B7. I was all alone in the room, comsindering the late standard hours time. Everyone were either sleeping or drinking myself, so I had all the time for myself, without anyone disturbing my serene peace. I listened to some odd Earthling's ancient music, not able to understand a word from it – but I loved the tune. It was a mistake to have my ears covered by set of headphones at that time. When I had turned around for a tool from the toolbox I jumped up into the air and likely made a very immature sound, in the end dropping onto my rump. Then I felt a very fast regret.

    It was her! Dressed in clothes of a commoner, having pants and simple shirt with some Earthling word I couldn't decipher. I had felt like an utter idiot for being startled like that, but when Silaka smiled down on me I had to raise my brow a bit. I took my headphones away from the ears. I had wanted to say a word, but that Seh'lai female placed her finger onto my mawbeak as if she wanted me to keep silent. I looked into her deep green eyes I could almost hear her breath by being so close to her.

    Without uttering any word, Silaka sat onto my lap. She placed her hands against my chest and I could feel her claws through fabric of my shirt. Her mawbeak met my own in a deep, very affectionate kiss A storm of very strong pheromones hit me, confusing my senses and unabling me to do anything. The Seh'lai female quickly took advantage over me, almost ripped my clothes into pieces and... Ah, well. You know what happened next.

    But such a woman taking on a low-born like me? It had never happened before – at least to me.



    Open Content'Contact' by SliceOfDog

    'Contact' by SliceOfDog

    “And this is the main receiver, linked of course to the antenna array you all saw as you arrived. It is powerful enough to pick up transmissions from thousands of lightyears away.”

    The students crowded around the entrance to the small, cylindrical room, staring in fascination at the complex sprawl of machinery and monitors that filled it. A single chair, currently empty, stood sentinel as the room’s constant hums and blips conveyed information about all sorts of readings and projections. A few of the group members added to the ambiance of the room by scratching notes onto near-full pads, while others tapped or took photographs on the devices which had been approved for the tour – they had been warned that others would interfere with the delicate balance of the station’s receptors.

    One of the students, the youngest and perhaps most eager, peered at the screens before her as if she wanted to get physically closer, but was being prevented by some invisible force. She was a hedgehog, and apparently some kind of super-genius, although Parker was beginning to wonder if that was true after some of the questions she had asked so far. He could have got into Oxford at the age of twelve too if he’d really wanted to, he was sure of it; they were obviously letting in anyone these days.

    “Have you received any transmissions so far?” the hedgehog asked in that annoying manner of hers, as if she were holding a job interview and everyone else was the candidate. The Professor chuckled, which covered up the sound of Parker’s scoff.

    “No, not yet,” the greying squirrel said, gesturing to her equipment with a practiced paw, “Every now and again we pick up feed from some natural event beyond our planet, such as a solar flare, but to this date we have never been on the receiving end of an intelligent communication from off-world. Still, information takes a long time to travel across the vastness of space. Perhaps a broadcast was sent one hundred years ago, and we might only receive it tomorrow! In any case, we have faith that our technology is ready. We can detect the most minute transmissions from thousands of light-years away. If we’re not alone, it’s only a matter of listening, and waiting.”

    Many of the students nodded. They continued to peer around the room, rooted to the floor, until Professor Mullaney seemed to notice the lack of movement.

    “You can take a closer look, if you want,” she prompted, and then tapped one of the larger panels next to her, “As long as you leave this one untouched, which directs the array, you can fiddle with the rest of them as much as you’d like. They’re all for analysis, the worst you can do on those is not discover something, and not discovering things is 95% of what being a scientist is about!”

    The hedgehog chuckled. Of course the hedgehog chuckled. But then the rest of the students surged forwards and started to explore the technology in front of them. Parker remained prowling at the back for a moment – as a wolf he was used to prowling – but the tantalising draw of investigation got the better of him, and he soon made his way over to the only part of the room that was still empty; a plain looking monitor with several constantly advancing lines, like a polygraph test of a particularly calm subject. Every now and then, the line would bulge just slightly, but there seemed to be no pattern to this, and it was barely noticeable when it happened.

    Reaching forwards and finding the screen was touch-sensitive, Parker absent-mindedly scrolled back across the line. Times, and then dates, went whizzing past him. The lines remained the same. The readings at 14:27 this afternoon were much the same as 03:55 last week and 10:12 on November 8th three years ago. Despite himself, Parker found it a little disappointing. He didn’t know what he had been hoping for, but it was something more interesting than this. Behind him, students were hurling questions at the Professor, but Parker wasn’t listening. He just kept scrolling along the lines. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

    He blinked.

    Back and forth.

    He paused.

    Back. And forth.

    “Erm… Professor?” he called out. The squirrel disengaged herself from an interrogation by the young hedgehog and made her way over to Parker.

    “Ah, these are the raw feeds from our central antennae,” she informed him, “updated in real time. Not the most exciting of data, I’m afraid, but very important.”

    “There’s a… bump,” Parker said, his ears perky and twitching. Mullaney waved a small, casual paw.

    “Yes, the antennae have to be particularly powerful, so they are always picking up some signal or other, whether it’s local radio stations or satellite broadcasts or even underground tremors. We call it background noise, or ‘noise pollution’.”

    “No, Professor. I mean this bump, at 1:48 this afternoon, about the time you greeted us at the gate. Was anyone in this room at that time?”

    The squirrel didn’t answer him. She frowned and peered close, until the light from the monitor was reflecting off of her glasses.

    The bump Parker was referring to wasn’t immediately obvious. It was less than a fiftieth larger than the next biggest bulge in any of the lines, something just marginally stronger than the background signals, until it was almost drowned out by them. But it was there. These recordings went back almost four years, and there was no other signal that strong. And now, the way Professor Mullaney was looking at him, Parker knew he was right.

    It had never happened before.

    Without a word, the Professor leapt across the room to the panel she had stated was off-limits, and almost too quickly to observe she was tweaking dials and swiping at screens. This took almost a minute, and then Mullaney stopped, staring into the air as if expecting something to materialise in front of her. The entire student group stood silent, waiting.

    “What is th-” began the hedgehog, but she was hushed quickly back into silence. Parker was holding his breath.

    Then they heard a crackle. The lines came alive beside Parker, and he watched them wide-eyed. Only one remained unchanged, at the bottom of the screen. Until the sound of the static altered, and the line began to jump.

    Beneath the static, indecipherable, monotonous, almost unheard, was a voice.

    -

    A month passed before the expedition was ready.

    Further analysis of the sporadic transmission, between days of utter silence, had shed little light on the content of the message itself, but provided some shocking revelations about the source. If the results were to be believed (and most media outlets were inclined not to), the broadcast had come from within the solar system – an extraordinary suggestion considering the scientific community’s previous certainty that, while alien life was likely to exist further out into the galaxy or beyond, the only planet possible of containing intelligent life within their own solar system was Terrus itself. Yet test after test pinpointed the transmission’s source as Larthron, an inhospitable rock planet and their fourth closest neighbour. Not only this, but the technology used in the mysterious signal was indistinguishable from Terran communication devices. It could almost have been a report or distress call from a far-flung pilot, but no manned mission had ever gone as far out as Larthron before. One of the unmanned probes then?

    But probes didn’t speak. And that voice, that softly-pleading, ever-repeating voice whose words no one could quite work out… it was certainly no robot.

    So scientific organisations across the world had joined together to scramble an investigative mission, and as a reward for his discovery, Parker had been invited along on the journey - an offer he hadn’t even hesitated to accept. It would be a half-year round trip, and the scientists he was now working alongside continuously reminded him that the signal wasn’t hard evidence of life among the stars; it could be an old broadcast echoing around satellites, or even a stray loose wire. But if there was even a chance that the journey would lead to some major discovery, Parker had to make sure he’d be there.

    The training was intense. While the physical demands of space travel had diminished with advancing technologies, it was essential that Parker prove to be an asset on-board, because a floating liability could prove fatal if mistakes were made in the vacuum of space. As such, he had to learn his craft inside and out, and it was fortunate that the wolf was such a fast learner, because the mission wouldn’t have waited for him to finish learning otherwise. As it was, within the first two weeks he was able to perform emergency repairs on his space suit, allocate emergency rations with all his key nutrients included, take apart and rebuild the ship’s transmitter by hand and all manner of other feats. By the final week, he had moved on to researching the various drones that had so far landed on Larthron’s rocky surface, analysing the reams of data that the machines had sent back to Terrus, just in case any of it might prove useful.

    After what seemed more like thirty minutes than thirty days, the ship was finally ready to launch. Parker said his goodbyes to his family, had a final pep-talk with Professor Mullaney (his unofficial tutor, and his official first-contact at Mission Control), and took his seat in the small, four-crew shuttle that was to be his home for the next six months. Then, while the countdown began around him, he closed his eyes and imagined what lay ahead for him to discover.

    -

    The journey went as planned, except for one curious detail. It had been expected that the signal would increase in strength the closer the ship got to Larthron, but months later it was still indecipherable. Parker was beginning to get worried; did this mean it wasn’t coming from Larthron after all? But the ship’s information was being relayed live to Mission Control, and they soon provided an explanation. The transmission, it seemed, wasn’t being sent out on a general frequency. It was targeted. It was being sent, in fact, directly to Terrus, and was so faint that the small craft Parker was boarding simply couldn’t pick it up any better than the now-distant antenna of the Terran space stations. They could land right next to the source of the broadcast, it seemed, and have no better idea of what was being sent.

    Indeed, the intermittent static haunted Parker’s dreams. Weeks had passed, but it felt like he had been listening to that broadcast for most of his life. And that voice. Still no one had managed to pick out any words clearly, but Parker was convinced it was a Terran language. There was something so recognisable about it, even underneath all of that crackling. But what was it saying? What could possibly be transmitting from the empty landscape of Larthron?

    Another month passed, and right on schedule Parker’s ship entered orbit around the dull rock of the planet. Just as his analysis of the drones had suggested, Larthron was a barren place, little but dark blue craters and white deserts, punctuated by wild storms that swept across the planet’s surface seemingly at random. He doubted anything could live here for any extended time.

    “Mission Control, we have entered Larthron orbit,” Parker heard one of his crewmates report, “Requesting permission to proceed to stage three of the mission, over.”

    With that, she returned the communication device and glanced around the cabin. It would take around five hours for that message to reach Terrus, and another five for the reply, so the ship had a long wait ahead of them.

    “What do we do now?” Parker asked, still staring through the thick glass at the cold planet below. The rabbit who had sent the message shrugged.

    “Anyone fancy a space-walk?” she asked.

    -

    Ten hours passed, much of it gazing in wonder at Larthron, closer than any of the crew had ever seen it before. It was eerily beautiful, and the thought that, just possibly, some form of intelligent life might be gazing back up at them sent a thrill through Parker that he simply couldn’t shake. Yet when the time came, there was no response from Mission Control. Frustrating, but they had trained for this – sometimes the odd message got lost along the way. The rabbit sent the same message again, and then repeated it at hourly intervals just to be sure, while the fox was sent back out the ship to check that the aerials were undamaged.

    More hours. No response.

    Eventually, the crew gathered together, their enthusiasm beginning to dampen.

    “I hope you don’t mind,” Parker told them, “but I’ve been looking over the data. I think it’s the electrical storms around the planet, they’re interfering with our ability to send long-range communications.”

    “Is there anything we can do?” the rabbit asked. Opposite her, the fox sucked in a frustrated breath.

    “We could, if we had the right equipment. The rovers are designed to maintain contact through all kinds of interference, if we had one to scavenge we might be able to boost out own signal. But…”

    “We don’t have one,” the rabbit finished, looking around darkly. The mood had sunk to its lowest since they entered orbit.

    “Well, it’s not too bad, is it?” Parker asked, “We all know the plan, and everything has occurred within mission parameters. Can’t we just go on to stage three ourselves?”

    At that, the bear Orlov scoffed.

    “Not possible, little one. If we can’t get verbal affirmation, we can’t proceed with the mission. Imagine if we continued and then had some kind of emergency. They’re probably already worried that they haven’t heard from us in so long. No, we gather our supplementary findings and then abort the remaining stages of the mission.”

    He had expected that reply, but Parker was still crushed. To have come this far and not be able to send short-wave signals down to the planet’s surface… there might be life below their feet, capable of sending and receiving broadcasts, and it wouldn’t even know they had come to visit. What was worse, it was likely Parker’s invitation wouldn’t extent to the second trip; whether he wanted to or not, they wouldn’t send him back out into space straight after returning.

    And so the crew returned to their duties, all quite crestfallen, as they scanned and recorded the planet drifting below them until they reached a point at which they could exit the orbit.

    They were close to the exit-point, Orlov getting the ship ready to set back on course to Terrus, when they all heard the rabbit’s voice.

    “Oh god! You have to come see this! Now!”

    The other three piled into the small compartment she was occupying to find her staring at a magnified image of the planet’s surface. In the centre, barely visible, was a tiny white object, something clearly not part of the natural rock surrounding it.

    “This is what we are directly above right now,” said the rabbit carefully.

    “What… what is it?” Parker breathed.

    It looked like… a shack? Or was it a ship? Somewhere in between? From this distance and with such a build-up of dust coating all sides of the thing, it was hard to know for sure.

    “Send a transmission,” said Orlov, large black eyes locked on the shape. The others looked at him, shocked, but he waved a heavy paw, “I know, I know, it’s breaking protocol, but we’re set to leave orbit within the hour. If we try to make contact, we’ll at least have some concrete data to help the next mission they send out here. It won’t have been a complete waste.”

    Parker didn’t need telling twice. He moved over to the communication panel and targeted a broadcast towards the object below them.

    “Calling Unidentified Object, coordinates 38.88 N, 77.01 W, this is Terrus Explorer, do you copy, over.”

    After he had finished, the wolf became aware of three figures pressing in behind him. Every single member of the crew held their breath. In the background, the ever-present crackle of the mysterious transmission continued, as it had done for the entire journey, but now Parker felt like he was listening to it in a whole new way. Would there… could there be a reply?

    “Calling Unidentified Object, coordina-“ he began again.

    The voice beneath the static spoke out. Still unclear, but the tone was urgent now, the noises different from any that had come through in the months prior. Something below them was responding.

    The fox grabbed the device from Parker’s hands.

    “Unidentified Object, this is Terrus Explorer. Maintain your position. We’re coming down. Over.”

    Orlov wheeled round.

    “What?!” he hissed, “Don’t be ludicrous, we can’t make contact without permission from Mission Control!”

    “We already did,” the fox shot back, “and whatever’s down there contacted us back. We can’t leave now, without finding out what it is.”

    “But we-“ the bear continued, but the rabbit jumped in.

    “You must have wanted this, Orlov. When you told us to send a transmission, you must have known there was a chance it would contact us back. By sending that, we’ve already breached the mission restrictions. We can’t stop now. We have to find out what it is.”

    The bear’s face was thunderous, but he said nothing. They were right. Part of him had wanted this. After what felt like eternity, he nodded, just once.

    What followed was a blur. After a fiery debate about who would be sent down to the surface, someone suggested drawing straws, with the longest gaining the honour of making what may be the first ever contact with another intelligent species – and taking all the risks that went with it. Parker didn’t remember who it was who made the suggestion. He was simply aware of staring at the winning straw in his hand, and stepping numbly into the small craft that was to be sent down to the surface of Larthron. His crew plied him with last minute advice, reassurances and wishes of good luck, all of which failed to make an impression on Parker’s buzzing mind.

    “And remember, we’ll be right here if you need us, on the other end of your radio.”

    Then the craft dropped, and the young wolf was plummeting towards a rumbling storm below.

    -

    The landing was softer than Parker had expected. The clouds above him were gathering ominously, a constant crackling and occasional flashes of brilliant light emerging from within, but on the surface of the planet all was calm. With his protective suit firmly on, and safety-checked a thousand times, he opened his craft’s hatch and stepped onto the rock below. A thrill ran through him as his boots made contact.

    This was really happening.

    “Terrus Explorer,” he spoke into his radio, too distracted to even be embarrassed by the nervous cracking of his voice, “I have made ground contact. Unidentified Object is not visible from my current location, but I believe is just ahead.”

    Static was his only reply. Perhaps the storm was affecting that communication device as well.

    Shaking his head, the wolf set off, determined to find the answer to this scientific mystery.

    It took him the better part of an hour, but Parker’s sense of direction was strong, and he had been looking out for the surface landmarks as his craft descended from the Explorer. Sure enough, just as he thought he should be getting close, he pulled himself up the side of a ridge and felt his breath forced from his body.

    There it was. Straight ahead.

    No wonder they had struggled to identify the thing from orbit; it looked like an old ship had crashed to the surface, half-covered in slopes of stone that had scratched off all the craft’s identifying marks. Yet it hadn’t been left unaltered. At seemingly random intervals the old metal had been patched up and repaired, or modified with what appeared at first glance to be scrap car parts, but on closer inspection were dismantled, scavenged probes. Those couldn’t have survived the landing. They had been added while the ship was on the planet.

    Parker approached with trepidation, his heart beating painfully in his chest. He barely noticed the raised mounds he walked over, and the crude metal crosses impaled at the end of each. Nor did he notice the building of the storm above, so focussed as he was on a hatch on the craft’s side. The hatch was familiar. Very familiar. He shook his head again within the protection of his helmet.

    DéjÃ* vu, Parker thought with a scowl. But as his hand reached out for that cold handle, the oppressive silence of the planet bearing down on him, the fur all over his body stood on end. He almost pulled back, but there was something magnetic about it, drawing him in. He couldn’t come this far and not find out what was sending the signal on the other end of the hatch.

    One deep breath. And he grasped hold of the handle and pulled.

    It opened with the slightest of hisses to reveal a tight airlock.

    Whoever… whatever was inside… were they expecting him?

    He stepped in, and the hatch closed firmly behind him.

    A familiar whoosh as the vacuum of the compartment was invaded and replaced with air. The process was identical to that of the Terran ships he had trained on. In fact, it was identical to the Terrus Explorer, right down to the size.

    Footsteps.

    Footsteps were approaching from the next hatch.

    Parker was shaking where he stood. He had to force himself to remember to breathe. Just as the door began to slide open, he remembered to hold his arms just out from his sides, his hands open and unthreatening. And as it swung open, a figure was revealed beyond.

    It was a wolf.

    A regular, Terran wolf. His fur was long and grey, his body frail, his eyes wild, but he could easily have passed Parker in the street at home, and the younger wolf would never have looked twice at him. Except the stranger felt oddly familiar.

    “Thank god!” the old wolf gasped, his voice croaking and dry, but with a native Terran accent, “I thought I’d die out here! How long has it been? Please tell me you have a way home? I’ve waited so long!”

    “Are you… are you from Terrus?” Parker asked.

    The old wolf blinked.

    “Of course. Aren’t you here because of my call? To rescue me?”

    “We couldn’t hear exactly what you were saying,” Parker replied, reaching up to remove his helmet. He would be disappointed, he was sure, by the time they were on their way home. The contact hadn’t been alien life after all. Yet how this wolf got here was still a mystery that Parker was eager to discover. “But yes, we have a ship, and we can get you home.”

    But after one look at Parker’s face, the old wolf recoiled as if he had been physically struck. His eyes widened and his jaw dropped in horror. Parker flinched at the sudden reaction.

    “No!” the old wolf screamed, as he stumbled backwards, “No, it’s not possible!”

    “What? What’s wrong?” Parker asked, alarmed. He was certain he’d done nothing wrong.

    The stranger didn’t respond, instead turning and scrambling into another compartment of his grounded ship. Parker ran after him, heart beating wildly.

    “What is it?” Parker demanded.

    The wolf had ran into a communications room, bursting to the brim with wires and components that appeared to have been harvested from a variety of ships, drones and rovers. In a quick scan, Parker identified parts that seemed to have come from several of the rovers that had been on Larthron for decades, as well as some from… from the Terrus Explorer.

    In fact, the entire layout of this ship was exactly that of the Explorer. The viewing screen that the old wolf was now desperately pressed against was indistinguishable from that which Parker had used only hours before to view this very planet. His fur stood on end. Everything about this felt odd. Felt wrong.

    The strange wolf was talking to himself, urgently, almost impossible to make out any specific words, just like the broadcast Parker had listened to month after month.

    “The storm…” the old wolf breathed, “it was the storm…”

    Parker joined him and looked out of the screen. The clouds had built up during his short time within the craft, and now blocked out any view of the sky beyond. Bright energy crackled viciously across the roiling mass, and while it was hard to make out any details in the constant flashes and bursts, soon a dark dot could be seen falling from those clouds. A dot that got bigger and bigger as it plummeted to the surface. A dot that turned into a blot that turned into a ship and crashed into a blazing crater on the horizon.

    A dead ship.

    The Terrus Explorer.

    Parker cried out, and turned to the wolf beside him, who was staring back with horror.

    Staring with eyes that Parker swore he knew.

    And the old wolf whispered.

    “This has all happened before…”
    9
    BrutusRat
    33.33%
    3
    'Flight of the Brick' by Terrapun
    22.22%
    2
    Gryphus
    11.11%
    1
    'Contact' by SliceOfDog
    33.33%
    3
    SliceOfDog's Signature


    My Insatiable Curiosity RP character - Haheen Jaquoi
  • #2

    May the best win.
    Okay, bad pun, will show doors myself...

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    • #3

      Good luck everyone! All great reads!

      Comment

      • #4

        Whoops, I have just noticed that I set this to close tomorrow, and I don't feel I've publicised it enough yet! Anyone opposed to extending the deadline for another week and I'll slap together a link to get this on the front page like the competition announcement had? Also maybe bug a few members who I talk to off-site
        SliceOfDog's Signature


        My Insatiable Curiosity RP character - Haheen Jaquoi

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        • #5

          No objections from me!
          Daryn's Signature

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          • #6

            It's not I'm going to win, but ye.

            Comment

            • #7

              Right, that's done now, and this topic has been featured, instead of the original competition post! The new deadline is the 28th. Sorry about all the delays with this, but I'll know for next time to get this topic featured the moment I upload it! Live and learn, and all that.

              Thanks to everyone who has already voted so far. It'd be great if we could get just a few more in before the deadline
              SliceOfDog's Signature


              My Insatiable Curiosity RP character - Haheen Jaquoi

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              • #8

                Hello everyone! The vote is now closed, and I am pleased to announce that...

                Drumroll please...

                There has been a tie! BrutusRat and myself have three votes each!

                Now normally I would try to find some compromise prize or else do a run-off vote. However, given that mine was shamefully late (I had to extend the deadline for it) and Brutus' was so early, I think it's only fair that this tips the balance in his favour. So with that in mind, I happily announce BrutusRat is the winner!

                Your prize will be a commission, relating to your story, worth at least $30. You also have a choice of one of three Steam games, 'Space Engineers', '[The Sequence]' or 'The Ship'.

                Thanks as always to everyone who took part and to everyone who voted, and one last request; I'm planning on our next competition being a little different - a Choose Your Own Adventure style Twine story! Please check the system out here and give feedback on whether you'd be up for that or not. I think it might be interesting: https://scififur.net/forum/emblemati...-twine-stories

                So that's all from me, and congratulations Brutus!
                SliceOfDog's Signature


                My Insatiable Curiosity RP character - Haheen Jaquoi

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                • #9

                  o.o Well I wasn't expecting this in the slightest.

                  W-Well uh...I humbly thank you for your graciousness, and thank everyone who voted in the competition!

                  I'm still trying to comprehend this o.o!

                  Comment

                  • #10

                    Hah, well it's not so hard to understand from where I'm sitting. You submitted a clever, well-written story! You deserve it

                    Have a think about what commission you might want (bearing in mind that the more complex it is the less detail the final work will likely be, given the $30-odd budget ) and drop me a message about it over the coming days.

                    Also, any of those games take your fancy?
                    SliceOfDog's Signature


                    My Insatiable Curiosity RP character - Haheen Jaquoi

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                    • #11

                      Oh, I'll add in a couple more games to the pot. They're classics and a lot of fun. The original Torchlight and the original Defense Grid with all of its DLC.
                      Daryn's Signature

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                      • #12

                        Originally posted by SliceOfDog View Post
                        Hah, well it's not so hard to understand from where I'm sitting. You submitted a clever, well-written story! You deserve it

                        Have a think about what commission you might want (bearing in mind that the more complex it is the less detail the final work will likely be, given the $30-odd budget ) and drop me a message about it over the coming days.

                        Also, any of those games take your fancy?
                        Oh uh, yeah! Space Engineers looks like something right up my alley!

                        Comment

                        • #13

                          Oh, thank you Daryn! I really appreciate that!

                          Also, not a problem Brutus! Do you have a Steam account? If you'd like to message me with it I can get that sent to you once I've added you. Also, drop me a message when you have an idea for your commission
                          SliceOfDog's Signature


                          My Insatiable Curiosity RP character - Haheen Jaquoi

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                          • #14

                            Looks like it needs to be an odd number Writing Competition for me to win. xd Congratz to the winners.

                            Bright side is it makes me on 3rd place. Yay! I'm on the podium.

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                            • #15

                              Aww... I really thought that my dragons will give me the win, oh well... Congratulations on the win, you had earned it!

                              (Also, it makes me wonder, how many of us have Space Engineers? Maybe we should try making some SciFiFur Engineering Consortium or something? I mean, check how multiplayer works in this game.)
                              Terrapun's Signature
                              "A smart machine will first consider which is more worth its while: to perform the given task or, instead, to figure some way out of it."
                              Stanisław Lem "The Futurological Congress"

                              "The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there's no good reason to go into space--each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision."
                              xkcd

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