The Iron Writer Summer Solstice Open Preliminary Round
The Summer Open is a quarterly challenge consisting of champions of the ten previous challenges plus six additional authors who popular vote totals merits an invitation. The sixteen writers will be bracketed. The champion of each bracket will participate in the Summer Finals on July 17, 2014
Three minutes. Charles Lincoln sat on a stool next to the cash register of Carroll’s Shoppe: Antiques, Collectibles and Whimseys. He tapped the thinning soles of his brogues on the metal legs.
Shortly, Harold Carroll, proprietor in chief, called “You’re in charge, Charles. Do take your nose out of that magazine, please. Inventions and Inventors. Try ‘initiative’. That’s what will get you far.” He left to post letters in the Cotswold village. This would take 53 minutes.
Charles was decades younger than Harold Carroll, yet aware that he was not the last word in authoritative methods for getting far in life. Charles had worked for Harold for a number of years, and would for many more. Dust was gathering on his future like it coated the headboards lined six or seven deep along the back wall of the Shoppe.
But these 53 minutes were his. Once Charles had sipped tea from a porcelain cup – its dangling paper ticket claimed it had been used by Admiral Horatio Nelson. In a floor length oval mirror, Charles toasted with his left hand. He hoisted the other across his chest, a medal pinned sideways, not a stump. The mirror added six inches to his 5’6” frame. His cinnamon hair looked soaked by ocean spray, not pasted to his forehead from neglect. Once he spent the entire hour undersea in a diving helmet a Cousteau had used in a search for Atlantis. In the mirrors, his long nose showed purpose. His chipped uneven teeth looked earned.
Charles flipped up the edge of a tablecloth, revealing a brown box. A single brown wire reached to the wall. Charles pointed the mirrors at the old television. When he pressed a button, the box sprayed black and white dots. “Men Into Space” began playing. Charles kneeled before Ed McCauley as he went to space yet again. Charles studied the hero’s long nose, and his flattened hair, post-landing. When he grinned his teeth folded on each other. Charles crouched beside the screen and faced the mirrors. In each, the same man looked back. In some he wore black scuffed brogues, but in others, spaceboots.
The doorbell chimed. Charles ripped the cord out of the wall. It snapped. His doppelganger faded into black and white spots.
Harold sighed. “See you tomorrow, Charles. Lots to do, lots to do.”
There never, ever was. Charles hung his head. He shuffled to the back of the shop where he had tucked his bicycle early that morning. He backed it into the small courtyard and swung his leg over the seat. He began pedaling. Then he pushed a button below the handlebars. Six horizontal wheels began to turn. The bike lifted into the air, Charles atop it. He would be home to his stone cottage on the other side of the village in time for tea, and would return to the Shoppe the next morning.
Kyle B. Stiff
Niles, majority stock owner of Honkersdotcom, sat on a park bench waiting for delivery of his animated portrait. He couldn’t wait to see what his old friend, the great artist Ishikawa, had created.
Niles thought about other animated portraits made for Ishikawa’s wealthy clients. All were simple, elegant, melancholic, and expensive beyond belief. The CEO of Peacetime Arsenal (and inventor of the militarized electric flying bicycle) owned a tasteful piece that showed him viewing a lush Martian garden. His profile, marked by a sense of contentment, slowly turned away from the viewer before looping. And the power-broker behind Obscurity Inc., makers of cutting-edge, all-new black and white dramas designed to fit seamlessly alongside “actual” older vids, owned a piece that showed her standing in a stark, artfully lit foyer, where she gracefully touched a mirror before the image looped and the viewer was left with a sense of timeless space and curiosity concerning the value of the piece. Niles desperately longed to own a serene image of himself engaged in some inscrutable activity!
Niles saw Ishikawa approach, but his excitement waned when he realized it was only Ishikawa’s doppelganger, a reduced-intellect clone created to run errands for a genetic donor. Niles himself had dozens of doppelgangers finalizing deals all around the globe.
The doppelganger handed Niles his piece, then stared at him. Shaking, Niles took the black tablet and powered it on, heart fluttering at the thought that he would soon witness something so elegant that only a fortune could acquire it.
The portrait showed Niles strapped to a table in a dark, filthy restroom. He saw masked figures adjust a hose trailing upward from his stomach and leading to a glass jar. Someone turned a crank, an engine roared, Niles wailed and strained at his bonds, then his intestines were sucked into the jar with a sickening splat. While more innards collected through the high-pressure hose, spittle flew from his blubbering lips.
Then the image looped.
“This isn’t what I ordered!” Niles shouted at the doppelganger. “There’s nothing elegant about this! It’s revolting!”
The doppelganger blinked. “Every client says that. My owner told me that you wanted something that matched your preconceptions. Instead you got something unexpected. But your preconceptions are free, right? If you’re handing over money, why not expect something unexpected? Why not view the image and try to imagine the smell of your insides as they burst forth?”
Niles watched the awful image repeat once again. “Listen, clone. This won’t do. Your owner and I are friends. We used to-”
The doppelganger quickly shook his head. “My owner sold many memories from his younger days to collectors. An artist doesn’t get to live an easy life bloated with happy memories. Not like you do.”
Niles felt himself sinking because he knew he would show the piece to acquaintances and praise its daring statement. They would nod thoughtfully and his real opinion would be lost in a typhoon of stupid chatter. Like Atlantis he would sink and be forgotten. As if on cue the doppelganger smiled.
World of Wonders, Episode Six
Ang leapt from the top of the building, cursing as he did. Unconsciously, his grip tightened on the sack holding the stolen God Machine. The world stretched below him, seeming much, much further down than ten stories. More like a hundred stories, which would still kill him, but Ang didn’t like waiting for death.
As he plummeted, he turned his body to face the river, hoping his timing was right. Otherwise, no matter how far he actually fell, the result would be the same. Wind whipped at his hair, threatening to take the Stetson from his head. The sidewalk rushed upward, seeming eager to welcome him.
Nine Atlantis-series fliers sped by beneath him, one of them flaring its fans to stop. Ang smiled. He landed squarely on the seat behind Ang Number Four. The flier whined, its engines straining to compensate for the extra weight.
The flier carrying Ang and Number Four sped forward, easily catching up with the pack. Ang Number Sixteen had retrofitted the gang’s fliers with advanced mech, powering the flying ‘cycles with electric power – an advantage over what the police, with their diesel fliers, would send after them.
Sirens blared in the middle distance, rushing closer. “Speak of the devil and he shall appear, huh, Number Four?”
“Gods above, I can’t wait to get you plugged into the Machine.”
Ang shook his head, smiling. “Well, we’re not home yet. Let’s get there, shall we?”
“Orders received: escape and evade. Evasion pattern Delta.”
The speeders around him tightened into a triangle formation, its point forward and low – the formation optimized the engine output, speeding up the unit. Buildings whipped by, faster and faster. Amazed people stood at windows, mouths agape, watching the formation of seventeen Ang doppelgangers – cyborgs, really – speed by, faster than any fliers they’d ever seen.
“Disperse in 3…2…1… Execute Command.” Ang Number Four said calmly.
Formation broke as the first gunshots cracked. Eight fliers dispersed, some weaving between buildings, some pulling sharply up, and others diving. Angs Three and Eleven spun out, crashed into a building and exploded. Shrapnel from Eleven’s body cut into Ang’s chest, but he only felt pain in his heart.
Bullets whizzed past Ang’s head. Number Four juked and weaved, his movements erratic but precise. Ang looked back, seeing that the police fliers had taken the bait and dispersed, following his doppelgangers. With their cybernetic brains, the other Angs would have no problem ditching them.
A bullet caught the left engine. The flier spun, losing altitude. Ang Four reached back, bracing Ang against the impact on the street. Despite Number Four’s effort, Ang was thrown from his seat and impaled through his belly on a rod from the engine casing broken free.
“Take the God Machine…” Ang gasped, struggled for breath. “Become. . . Human. . . Live.”
“Command Accepted,” Number Four said, and dashed away.
Ang didn’t have to wait long for death. He greeted it with a smile.
The world faded from grays to black. The voice of God said “WORLD OF WONDERS WILL BE RIGHT BACK, AFTER THESE COMMERCIAL MESSAGES.”
He’ll Have To Go
Fergus gazed over the coruscating expanse of the Persian Gulf. From his vantage point, high above the Atlantis, Palm Hotel in Dubai, he could take in the marvel of the palm-shaped manmade islands. His face broke into a mad grin as he experienced the exhilaration of flying. Dozens of airplane and helicopter flights paled in comparison to soaring above the glittering landscape on his nuclear powered electric flying bicycle. He knew he’d never wait in security queues or exchange boarding passes for a seat again!
A quick glance at his wrist told him it was time. After months of surreptitious watching, he knew the man’s habits as well as he knew his own. Everyone knows about doppelgangers, but Fergus was shocked when he first saw him. He’d been looking in a shop window at television sets after his died in the middle of a particularly exciting episode of Whirlybirds, an old black and white adventure series. At first he thought it was his reflection staring back at him, but then the man moved quickly out of sight.
Why had he moved so quickly? Was he trying to hide from Fergus? The malignant seed of suspicion was planted and grew as he saw the man every day. Suspicion grew into mistrust, evolving into a plan to get rid of the interloper. He didn’t belong. He had to go. With the idea firmly established he had only to plan the deed.
Fergus landed the bicycle on the roof. Time was passing quickly. He had to get to the beach before the stranger arrived. He watched the sunset every night from the same desolate stretch of rocks. This would be his last one.
Sitting on the bench a few hundred feet away, the voice of Reason returned. “Why do you want to harm that man? He’s never done one thing to you, Fergus!”
“True, he hasn’t. But he’s up to no good I tell you. Why is he always in the same place as me, looking as much like me as I do myself, even down to the very clothes on his back? Answer me that and I’ll be off quick as a wink!”
The voice of Reason fell silent. “Sure he’s quiet; he didn’t have a leg to stand on, did he? Ah, there comes the devil now. Just let him get settled in his place and I’ll be behind him before he knows it!”
Fergus reached around furtively and slipped the knife neatly below the rib cage and gave a quick upward thrust, just nicking the aorta. He felt an odd sympathetic pain as the blade did its work. Holding him close, he could feel the man’s life force leaving him. Why was he feeling weak, too? He dropped the limp body to the ground.
“I’ll just have a quick lie down. The heat of the day must’ve gotten to me. Just for a minute. What’s all this wetness on my shirt? I’m sure to be seen on the way home!”