Friday, March 16, 2012

Timed Writing: 3/16/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: Reflecting on the School Day by Lee Ratters

"What are we doing here?" I asked. "This place is a total dump."

We were in an empty classroom in the abandoned school house, up on the hill by the water tower. Big multi-pane windows looked down on the town. Several of them were open and some were cracked or empty. Holes in the roof admitted beams of sunlight and the entire floor was flooded with an inch or two of water. Wisps of algae grew beneath the reflected sky, clouds, and window frames. Random gusts of ocean air cut through the mildew stink.

"We need some place different. Some place you would not normally be," she said. "We will convince your mind brain that you are somewhere else. Then we will be able to transport you." Varja had been talking about aliens and hypnotism and "transport" since I'd first met her a couple weeks before. Some of the other guys had warned me that she was weird that way -- that she was always talking about cooky stuff. I didn't mind. She could talk about whatever she wanted. She was a girl -- a really hot girl -- and she was talking to me. If she'd recited nursery rhymes or instruction manuals for a sewing machine, I would have been happy to listen.

Varja was an exchange student from Croatia and it didn't seem like she got along well with Anna, her host family's daughter. Anna was alright, but she was awfully serious and not much fun to be around. Once Varja came to live with her though, Anna started getting invited to all the parties and stuff, and she knew why. I think it kind of pissed her off, 'cause on the one hand, she was mad that she'd never gotten invited before and then she was mad that she had to go and take Varja along with her, just 'cause her parents said she had to be a good host. Anyway, as soon as Varja discovered that I'd listen to her talk about weird stuff and even ask questions and act interested, she quit hanging out with Anna except when she had to. Most everyone thought we were going out and I wished it was true, but there wasn't anything like that.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Timed Writing: 3/15/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: Llanberis Lake by Kathleen Williams

A shadow crossed the wood floor, but in the instant it took me to rais my head, whatever had cast the shadow had moved on. Then I heard pattering on the boardwalk that ran from the cabin's door to the swimming hole. It sounded too heavy to be the paws of Bart, my black labrador retriever, but I peeked around the corner into the kitchen, confirming that Bart still lay in his over-stuffed bed by the wood stove.

I'd been working inside all morning and thought a breath of air would do me good, so I slipped on a pair of rubber clogs and opened the back door, expecting to see the retreating tail of a deer, or possibly one of the children from the neighboring farm. I didn't see anything, but the rapid footfalls on wood planking continued, presumably coming from the lower section of the boardwalk, which was not visible from the porch. I followed the sound, but when I reached the first set of stairs and had a view of the rest of the path to the river, there was nothing -- or no one -- to be seen. All was silent.

I stood looking at the water for a few moments, the dark green-gray surface, beneath which cut-throat trout and the occasional steelhead swam. I was about to return to my work in the cabin, when something struck the water with a tremendous force, sending waves splashing in all directions from the center of the swimming hole. I hadn't seen anything fall. I would have, if there'd been anything -- I'd been staring straight at the point of impact -- but all I'd seen was a sudden displacement of the water, and then an indistinct cloudy shape, larger than a man -- maybe the size of a cow -- sinking into the churned up river silt. Or maybe it had just been frothed water and bubbles that I'd seen. In only a few seconds, all that remained of the disturbance were ripples on the surface and a increase in the opacity of the brown water.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Timed Writing: 3/14/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: [untitled] by Hotori

The monks' tunics provided welcome splashes of sunshine to the drab cold of the subway terminal. A train pulled in and the doors slid apart. Egress and ingress occurred, the doors slid to, and the train moved on. The two orange-clad figures remained. They shifted their weight occasionally and they appeared to be conversing, though they never turned toward one another and the ambient noise was such that no syllable of their discourse reached my ear.

One monk seemed older than the other. Both stood straight and bore the glossy-shaved pates of their order, but one of them exhibited greater repose in his stance than the other. I had the distinct impression, as I watched, that he remained entirely stationary while his companion, the trains, and everything else moved about him. Even what I had first registered as shiftings of his weight might only have been shiftings of the floor beneath him. He embodied a point -- dimensionless and motionless -- the point around which the universe revolved. I orbited him, along with all else in the terminal. A synchronous, unconscious orbit.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Timed Writing: 3/13/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photohh1 slab by Beukiegirl

"Alright, pathologist, tell me me how he died." The person speaking to Ernest wore the body of a young woman in ragged jeans, a tank top, and sandals. Her hair clung to her head in matted braids of twisting multi-colored rope. The voice with which she spoke was that of an obese sixty-year-old man who had smoked two packs a day for most of his life.

"I will..." Ernest began. He was still reeling, dizzy, from the sudden change of scene. One moment he had been standing up from his desk to demand what this dirty, hippy was doing in his office, and the next, he was in a cold, dark room, looking down on the face of a dead man. "I will need..." he continued.

"Your instruments?" The possessed woman laughed, grunted, coughed, and spat. "Your tools of the trade -- your knives and saws?"

"Yes," Ernest said. "And more light."

The flashlight that the woman had been holding over the face of the deceased went out, but a moment later, several fluorescent tubes flickered to life overhead. They stood in a windowless square room, twenty feet to a side. White tiles, many of which were cracked and stained, covered the walls and the floor -- a floor that wasn't flat, but slightly depressed in the center, where a round metal grate allowed washings from the room to drain. Two massive concrete autopsy table stood to either side of the drain, each with its own spigots and hoses. Only one of the tables was occupied.

"These ought to do," said Ernest's abductor. She heaved a bundle onto the empty table and released its clasp. It rolled open to reveal several large kitchen knives, sewing scissors of multiple sizes, a pair of pruning shears, and an array of pliers, tweezers and exacto-knives that looked to have been acquired from a hobbyist's emporium.

"Who was he?" asked Ernest, turning back to the body. Well over six feet in length, well-muscled, with gray-brown skin, transitioning to dark cherry-red in the dependent areas. Black hair and several days of stubble growth. The facial features could not be ascribed definitively to any one racial clade. The nose was both broad and long, the eyes low and narrow, but the irides bright blue. Dark curly hair, almost thick enough to be called fur, carpeted the chest, abdomen, and groin, and the hair on the limbs was almost as dense.

"You haven't even asked who I am," said the woman. "Guess you must be pretty smart though. That it, doc? You smart enough to figure someone with the know-how to whisk you away like this'll decide what and what not to tell you about himself? Same goes for the stiff. No call for you to know anything about him. Less you know the better. You just tell me how he died and I'll have you and this pretty little wannabe witch back to your homes 'fore morning."

"Adequate information about the deceased and his habits, medical history, and family, may facilitate accurate determination of the cause of his death."

"Get started with the autopsy doc. I'll answer direct questions about the dead man as I see fit. Talk your thoughts as you go -- you know, dictate. I'm your recorder."

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Timed Writing: 3/12/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photoWohlf├╝hloase Wellnestempel by Michael Sander DU

The toilet offered to Jesse was only a little less inviting than the one featured in Trainspotting's famous submarine exploration scene. Jesse, however, sought relief of type the first. Had his body required a a receptacle for type the second, he would have held on a bit and sought solace elsewhere.

Through gauzy shreds of curtain that fluttered above the porcelaine appliance, Jesse contemplated the scene of children kicking the life -- or at least the stuffing -- out of a plush toy dog in the alley. The sight did little to assist him in expelling waste humors from his corporeal vehicle -- a body equipped, most unfortunately, with an aging and reticent prostate -- but he was in no particular hurry, so he stood and waited, allowing his mind to wander back to tortured toys of his own youth.

Pangs of guilt punctuated recollections of the barbarous machines  -- racks, wheels, guillotines and voltaic thrones -- built for the express purpose of inflicting imagined suffering on one or another of his eldest sister's dolls -- as well as very real distress on said eldest sister. The pains of the dolls did not go unavenged, however. Several of his own toy soldiers and leaden figures of knights and horses met with horrible fates of their own -- long flights from high cliffs, watery graves, hell-fires of the blacksmith's forge. Then his sister had discovered that there was a market for the old books from their grandfather that Jesse kept in his room and considered his own. For each of her hand-painted porcelain dolls that went missing or was found dismembered, crushed, or burned, a subset of his library would be spirited away to the bookstalls in the market and a new doll would soon grace his sister's shelf.

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Timed writing: 12/11/2012



Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: Strawberries by { Sweet life }

The alien brought us pans of strawberries. The entire cargo hold of his flying saucer was stacked with blue-and-white-checked baking dishes, full of fresh, ripe strawberries. He didn't say anything. Perhaps he couldn't -- he had nothing on his long head that looked like a mouth. He might well have been a she, for that matter -- he had nothing on his long body resembling a penis. We referred to him as a he because when he first knocked on the door, Mamma called from the back room, Your father must have forgotten his keys again. Go let him in, would you? and I opened the door and it wasn't Papa, so I yelled back, He's not Papa! and she came to the kitchen and started to ask, Well, who is he, and then she stopped and said, Oh, and then I said, He's got strawberries, and she said, Well, I guess we'd better invite him in and offer him a chair, and so we called the alien him and he and we ate his strawberries, even though he might have been a she. Papa called from town to say that he was running late and did we need anything and Mama told him to pick up some whipping cream, and then she made shortcakes while I showed the alien the guest room and my legos and my books. He flipped through Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. I couldn't tell for sure, because he didn't have a mouth, but I think he was smiling. And then he took me outside and showed me his flying saucer.

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Timed Writing: 3/10/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: exhibition | lonsdale | spring by Jade McGregor

Late afternoon sun drew menacing images of black, tree-like monsters across the buildings gray brick facade. Shoppers glanced left, right, up at the sky, as they exited the glass-fronted boutiques of the ground floor. A man in a charcoal business suit and sapphire tie stopped to look over his shoulder at the dancing shadows. Windows of the second floor -- the lowest residential level -- gaped black and empty, drinking the shadows from without and giving nothing back.

I waited for a gust of wind to mask my flight, then tumbled from my perche and skittered across the street to the black iron door in the center of the building's face. A boy with dark curls and red shoes watched my crossing and laughed -- a surprised, fascinated laugh.

"Look, Mamma!" he said. "The paper is going the wrong way!"

"Hmm? What's that, honey? Come along, we mustn't be late for your piano lesson."

"But didn't you see? The leaves were going one way and the paper flew the other way -- against the wind!" He kept glancing back at me as he followed his mother up the street.

"... just some trick of the air currents in the narrow space between buildings, I imagine," she was saying. "Turbulence, eddies -- we'll look it up online when we get home."

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Timed Writing: 3/9/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: 50/52 by Jade McGregor

It started as just one ladybug. One ladybug on the outside of the screen door. Emma saw it as she entered the kitchen with a basket of raspberries. It was the typical kind -- red with black spots -- not one of the muddy-yellow ones that she'd learned about during last year's invasion. Still, just that one, crawling up the mesh, sent a shudder through her scalp and spine and she felt sure that she could already scent the acrid stink of the flamboyant little beetle.

Emma set the raspberries on the counter by the sink and ran into the living room. Her mother sat typing a letter and her father and James, her brother, were folding the laundry.

"They're back," said Emma. "The ladybugs. They're coming."

"You sure?" asked her dad. "How many?"

"Only one -- so far," she replied.

"Did you kill it?" asked James.

"You'd better bring the shop-vac up from the basement, Howard," said Emma's mother.

"I'll get it as soon as we finish here," Emma's father replied. "I guess we're gonna need it."

Emma felt sick. Nauseous. She wanted to leave -- to just get on her bike and ride away, to some other part of the island. Some place that didn't attract the invaders.


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Timed Writing: 3/8/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: Fence by Katka S.

They discovered the body on the second morning of the first winter fence run. Because the wood plank barrier stretched more than thirty miles over mountains and valleys, running its length for defects and effecting the necessary repairs always took at least three days. Jonathan had never been on a winter fence run before. He was frustrated by how slowly they progressed, as compared to the summer runs. They had to carry more equipment with them in the winter -- tents, heavy sleeping bags, more food and fuel By Jonathan's estimation, they would be out for another four days, assuming no severe fence damage was discovered.

Andrew didn't seem to mind the "more leisurely pace," as he called it. He had been on the fence maintenance crew for most of his fifty years, and he relished the extended outings, rain or shine, wind or snow. There was plenty of snow this time. The pack mules made no complaints, but Jonathan figured they'd just given up on complaining. They certainly couldn't be any happier than he was about spending so much time in the cold.

Jonathan walked a hundred feet from camp to relieve himself before the morning pack-up and move-out. He found a tree beneath which to squat and waited for his bowels to cooperate. His eyes wandered across the snowfield. Occasional rocks and shrubs interrupted the white. Two crows pecking at something a little way down the slope provide the scene's only animation. One of the crows caught hold of something with its beak and tugged it free. It was long, ragged, and blue -- a surprisingly artificial shade of blue.

When Jonathan finished under the tree, he went to investigate the crow's find. They croaked their anger at him as he approached, but they yielded the ground, winging off a dozen yards to watch from a jagged rock. Despite the cold, a faint smell of spoiled meat assaulted Jonathan as he approached the place.

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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Timed Writing: 3/7/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: IMG_2752 dpp i by Lotraw

The moon's face waxed large in the forward viewfield. I tried to look at the pocked, scarred visage with new eyes -- eyes like those of my passengers, eyes that had seen her only from Earth's surface. Some of the travelers may never have even looked at the moon through telescope or binoculars. The naked eye misses so much. It paints over details with a soft brush, blurring the edges. The cracks and fissures heal and the craters collapse. Depth is lost and the sphere becomes a coin, shiny, pretty, inviting.

Now I can feel the wonder and fear mounting in the hearts of my charges. I bear them to the ancient monstrosity -- to their new home.

As a child I looked at pictures of skulls in picture books about science and the human body. Later I held a skull in my hands and I learned the surfaces, the foramina, the fossae. I came to recognize origins of muscles and perforations for penetrating nerves and vessels. I numbered the teeth and probed the sinuses. A picture of a skull is not a picture anymore. It is a key to my more intimate knowledge. Even a jolly-roger flapping in jest in an earthly breeze reminds my fingertips of the smooth dry concavities of the orbits and the gentle curve of the zygomatic arch.

My passengers, now that they are seeing the moon's true face -- and even more, when the have lived and worked upon it -- will never see her from a distance again and think of her as a pretty coin. They will never remember her as warm, soft, smooth, or inviting.

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Timed Writing: 3/6/2012



Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: Dopo tanto pallore, Domani by GiCi

The woman that I followed through the reddening haze of the cobblestoned alley shifted her purse straps on her shoulder and rummaged for her car keys. I would have to act now, before she drove off, and certainly before the sun rose fully, burning off the protective mist.

"Excuse me, ma'am," I said. My voice sounded faint and distant, even to me -- a tiny tinkling of sand against the cristal walls of her hourglass. "Please, wait a moment," I said. This time I spoke with greater force. The waves that my voice created in the fog rolled over her, causing her to shudder. She truned around and peered into the dark.

"Down here," I said, and then she saw me. She dropped her keys and I think she might have screamed if she'd been able to get a decent breath. In her panic, her breaths came rapid and shallow and the only sound she managed was a series of little half-moan wheezes. Each tiny inhalation fed her feelings of suffocation and caused her greater stress. A stifling spiral into complete mental chaos.

I took a few steps toward her, and, to my surprise, she found her voice.

"No. Stop," she said. "Please don't come any closer." There was enough light now that I could see tears sparkling on her cheeks. They left slick masquera-stained trails through her rouge like ritual warpaint -- or the decorations on one destined for human sacrifice.

"I only have to touch you, ma'am," I said, as I closed the distance between us. "You will hardly feel it. Just a little brush on your skin and it will be done." She was sobbing now and she collapsed to her knees on the rough pavement. Her purse fell open, spilling a toothbrush, tampons, eyeshadow and lipstick, pens, notepads, and a crucifix on a string. I pushed these aside, gently, carefully. I cleared my path and moved forward until I stood mere inches from her face. Her forehead was pressed against the ground. Her body was curled into a fetal ball of tension and terror. With minimal force and great deliberation, I extended my fingers.


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Timed Writing: 3/5/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: P1250178 by mjulius

Pillars of natural stone rose from either side of the rain-scrubbed dirt road. Bare rock faces on the hillsides peeked through festoons of bushes and hanging vines. I had a momentary impression that the mountains in this part of the world had experienced late growth spurts after all of the soil and foliage had been distributed, such that the earth's skin tore and its bones showed through.

I had more opportunity to admire the view on that day than on many previous. The rain had stopped, the air was clear, and the road over which my bicycle rolled was clear of debris and pot-holes. I still hadn't seen any sign of civilization -- except, of course, the road itself -- for almost a week, but the recent decrease in fallen trees and unrepaired clefts across my path suggested that I might be approaching a more habited region.

I was, as it turned out, quite correct, for by mid-afternoon I had saw herds of domestic cattle and small shacks with some regularity. To each building were strung electrical power lines, from mains that had appeared parallel to the road at some point when I wasn't paying attention. Before I saw any actual human beings, however, something occurred which, though seemingly insignificant at the time, would prove important.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Timed Writing 3/4/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: Clouding Over by Steven Fudge

In Olivia's dream world, the water is all that matters.

There is air for her to breathe and there is a sun above to give light and heat. There are no stars in the sky though, nor a moon. Perhaps, if Olivia were concerned about what made the water move, about tides, she would have dreamt a moon. If she had cared more about what gave the ocean its color or if she had ever spent time looking up, while awake, she might also have dreamt a blue sky, Rayleigh scattering, all that. Instead, the sky of her dreams is black, or maybe partially clouded, but the water is always sapphire.

Some physical laws and other features of reality are present in Olivia's dreams. The gas laws, pressure differentials, effective volumes of compressed air, rates of consumption at specified depths -- these are important. Maximum safe bottom time, as calculated by PADI dive tables, by US Navy algorithms, by her wrist-mounted Suunto dive computer -- these matter. Dissolved nitrogen in her bloodstream, decompression stops, adequate numbers of spare bottles tethered at fifty feet on the anchor line. These are fully textured. They are painted on the canvas of her dreams in exquisite detail. Where life and limb, lungs, sinuses, air embolisms and rapture of the deep are concerned, Olivia spares no mental expense, cuts no hallucinatory corners. Safety is fixed, assured, closed for discussion. When she is under the water, no accidents or injuries can distract her from the work.

I asked her why she even bothered with all of the equipment. It was her world, after all, built by her. Why did she not just allow herself to breath under water or turn herself into a fish or a mermaid. She said that her work required all of her concentration and that she couldn't afford to imagine any such frivolous luxuries.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Timed Writing: 3/3/2012


Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: Stones by Johanna Blankestein

"There's another cairn over here!" Philip shouted, despite the mere twenty feet separating him from Andreas.

Philip always employed vocalizations of excessive volume for a situation. In church, he whispered his criticisms of the sermon with enough sibilant force to enlighten the congregation in a six-sinner radius. In the espresso shop on the corner, he characterized the pedestrians passing the open windows in tones that carried to the far side of the alley. The pigeons and stray cats looked up, annoyed; the targets of his attention made great show of ignoring him.

Here, isolated on this baren beach, where the two men had spent the past fourteen hours, walking, waiting, arguing, despairing, and hoping anew, Philip's voice cut through the sea breeze and crashing of breakers to find that narrow band of Andreas's auditory reception that most nearly equate to physical pain. It was the range normally reserved for the wailing of tortured babies and the yowling of distraught animals.

"I'm right here," Andreas said, very quietly. He wished to be anywhere else -- or to be exactly where he was, but with anyone else.

"Of course you are," Philip yelled, even louder than before. "Where else would you be? But look here! Somebody else has been here! This cairn wasn't here three hours ago!"

(about my timed writing exercises)

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Timed Writing: 3/2/2012

Time: 10 minutes
Source photo: Lindisfarne Castle by Mark Mullen


I was running flat out, sprinting towards the castle, when the first projectile chattered off the stones to my right and careened another hundred yards, over a wilting split-rail fence into the field beyond. I flinched, jumping a bit to the left, as I ran -- as though to avoid the blow that had just missed me. I tried to run faster, breathe harder, push farther with each stride. Something brushed my shoulder, catching briefly in my tunic, tearing a hole, as it screamed past to chip shards from a cobblestone forty feet ahead. It pulled me off a fraction of a step and I caught my toe on an upturned ledge. Down I went, too fast for outstretched hands to slow my fall. Hip, elbow, shoulder, chin -- whack! -- flat into the ancient mosaic path. The sky went dark. I was awake, conscious, but lights sailed across my eyes and the horizon jittered. Another missile flew through the air above me -- where my body had just been. It was heavy and fast enough to have shattered my spine. It dislodged three paving stones, where it hit, leaving a head-sized crater. I pushed myself up and ran on. Another three hundred feet and I'd make the turn of the road, where it spiraled round behind the castle, where I'd be sheltered from the fusillade. If I could get there. Faster. I had to run faster. Brown, grey, moss-covered black, the smooth, hard faces rushed past below my feet, my bare, bloodied toes finding purchase in the cracks, clawing and grabbing, shoving with every muscle and sinew for more speed. Just a hundred feet to the shelter of the sod wall and my left arm exploded in pain. Sharp, ripping pain, at first, then a dull hammer-blow ache pounding through my shoulder and chest, rolling through my head and body, threatening to steal my consciousness. I reeled, nearly fell, staggered on. Something was wrong with my balance -- something out of sync. My right fist swung forward and back with every stride but my left flailed wildly by a hinge of soft tissue. The humerus was snapped above the elbow and blood flowed freely from where ragged ends of bone protruded. A spray of red painted the road with ever pendulous arc of the maimed appendage. I had to ignore it and run on. I was nearly to the curve. A dull thud to my left and a splash of mud and grass marked the site of another near miss. If I could make it another thirty feet without taking another hit, I'd be able to crawl the rest of the way. They were a mile away and moving slowly. Only their cannons and catapults could stop me. I panted hard, unable to take breaths big enough to compensate for the blood I'd lost. Just ten more steps. I stumbled, caught myself. Six more steps and I could rest, make tourniquet of my belt, limp the rest of the way to the gate. Four steps to go. Almost there. If I could close the gate behind me, activate the defense grid, signal for help. Two more steps. So close.


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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Timed Writing: 3/1/2012



Time: 10 minutes
Source Photo: [untitled] by Miri Berlin

"Last robot standing wins!" Karen shouted across the barren waste between us.

We had picked this place -- an abandoned gravel quarry, from what I could tell -- after monitoring it for a month with remote cameras that we'd set around the periphery. We had cams on other sites too and some of them had been even quieter (there had been two high fly-overs of this place by traffic cam-bots taking shortcuts), but here we had the advantage of the barriers -- the gravel piles. Fifty feet high or more, rocks, sand, crushed gravel in two parallel rows, half a mile long each, with no breaks. We were walled in on either side and anything that the robots fired or hurled at one another would have little chance of causing trouble. We were reckless, foolish kids, sure, but we weren't stupid. Quickest way to get ourselves shut down would be a stray bullet or a careening flywheel shattering somebody's window.

"Standing?" I yelled back. Then I remembered the headsets, pulled mine out of my back, and waved it over my head to remind her. I put it on and flicked the power. "It should be 'last robot moving autonomously,'" I said. "Three of mine are rollers." Anticipating plenty of flat terrain, I'd rigged half of my squad with wheels this round, two with steel treads, and the last one with my favorite hexepedal-plus-one walker assembly. The rollers had such wide, heavy wheel-bases, that regardless of how trashed they got, they weren't likely to be knocked over like the bipedal walkers we'd used at our last meet.

"OK. Whatever." Karen's voice crackled through my headset. This happened a lot -- we'd get excited and start shouting before we remembered that we didn't have to.


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