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Thread: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

  1. #1

    Default Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    I was browsing the Writing Prompts subreddit the other day when I ran across this:

    The Sol system was an experiment by aliens to determine if life would evolve under hyper hostile physics. Unfortunately, it was forgotten about. Years later, humans are leaving the solar system, only to discover that upon passing an invisible barrier, they essentially gain superpowers.

    Now I usually just read a few select entries and mosey along. But this one stuck with me, and the gears started turning. What started as a couple paragraphs ballooned into several pages. It would sneak up on me at the store or gym or before sleep. It stalked me from the closet.

    How could I approach this story from the other side?

    In essence, it's only two or three scenes, but I'm stupid proud of it. Unfortunately, I think the entry level is a little steep, so I don't think it'll get much traction. And complaints so far I think stem from the unique choice in dialog. It's all experimental, really. I don't write much. But I trust the people here to be a little smarter than average.

    I'm not sure write what I was going for; Neil Gaiman meets sci-fi? An irreverent Jeff Vandermeer? A straight up Seth Dickinson rip off?

    A science fiction fairy tale?

    Anyways. After the mobile Diablo reveal debacle, I decided to pop in at SCL and see how it was going over with everyone here. And, seeing as how there still are some people here (why is that again?)... Well, for what it's worth: my first writing prompt response.

    In a Grain of Sand


    Through-Tides-and-Time watched the beauty of a breathing, star-besotted universe flow past the malleable and curvilinear hull of the Formless. He-She-It -- three-quarters male -- fed on the craft's myriad sensoria, and drank deep from that well. Contentment radiated in calm blue and green bioluminescence across his integument. The thin no÷podial mass that lay over top his radial body pulsed rhythmically, reflecting the contentment in his displaced mentality.

    In that fluid state of mind, conjoined with so many others, Through-Tides-and-Time perceived a surging in the Deep Night, an inhalation in the universe that swelled. To compensate, he adjusted the third and eighth etheric rudders on the second starboard outrigger, then the first and last rudders on port outrigger --

    Four? A very inauspicious number.

    No, then. Hm.

    ... The third etheric rudder of second starboard outrigger, last rudder on first port outrigger, and... Fifth etheric rudder on third starboard arm. One, another. A third.

    The navigation collective radiated its pleasure at the tireless efficiency of Through-Tides-and-Time, and he basked in that summer tidal pool warmth.

    This was the fourth time in two cycles the Formless navigated this newly discovered star route. Tides had formulated his own private collection of constellations during the trip: there was the maned Gutheral, a collection of needlesharp lights suggestive of the creature's majestic bulk, 35 arc seconds north of the Kairyc Archipelago. And... There was the Litoral Bastion. And in just a little while, if Tides trained his perception due starboard, the Thulian Cross would emerge (at this private inauspicious symbol of four and 90 degrees, Tides blushed red biolumen), pointing the Formless and her crew their way back home. Already he could make out the stars that would eventually arrange themselves into the Cross's western-most arm, tipped by what he called the curious Shielded Star.

    A tenuous circlet of light aurioled the star. It was nothing like a yagış's eye, of course, faceted and beautiful... But Through-Tides-and-Time always had the curious impression that it looked back at him, watching and waiting.

    Through-Tides-and-Time interfaced with the Formless' spin-cooled archives on the subject of the star, already knowing what he would see: a main sequence star, traces of carbon, iron, neon evident in the photosphere. The circlet, Tides assimilated, was an optical phenomenon; star light reflected and refracting when viewed at a 22 degree angle through a cloud of ice particles -- the remnants of several collided worlds, now millennia dead. A stellar parhelion.

    Then why could the parhelion always be observed, no matter the degree? On a whim, Tides scrubbed through the Formless' various sensoria systems, finally settling on a dorsal spectrometer. He trained it on another nearby star, some 238, 000 stellar cycles distant. An older main sequence, its levels of iron, carbon and orichalcum elevated as it senesced. (Somewhere aboard the Formless, Tides' body clicked its tripartite break like an approving physician.) Proper sigma radiation profile. The specimen of perfect health!

    Satisfied the spectrographic sensoria were well adjusted and operational, beak still clicking, Tides slowly swung the aperture towards the Shielded Star...

    So it was that when the pion burst was caught up in the Formless' sensor skein, its sharp and bitter taste shocked Through-Tides-and-Time from his yagışk-curious reverie. He fell from the collective and became small.

    Tides sat there at his station, stunned, staring at the sensor interface, his awareness having withdrawn entirely from the sensoria gestalt and back into his body proper. Reflected red and yellow lights danced at the edges of his vision. The no÷sphere continued to hum in the background, awaiting his return.

    Through-Tides-and-Time felt himself jostled by the feather-gentle touch of Ripples-Across-Shallows, and he felt immediate embarrassment. Tides accepted the proffered connection, all the while calming his own heated luminescence. No÷pod joined no÷pod, and mentalities touched.

    "Moonlight dances over the stirring surface," imaged Ripples-Across-Shallows, a female by two-thirds.

    Is something wrong?

    In embarrassment, Tides blushed light. His third root foot lengthened and curled in an arc. The pion burst fresh on his minds, Tides responded across the connection: "Anemones recoil against unexpected hot plume," he conveyed his confusion to her.

    It's probably nothing; I was caught off guard by... Something strange.

    "Anemone, emboldened by curiosity, reaches out questing limbs," was the imagery conveyed by Ripples. Well, don't keep me waiting, what was it?

    In his muted state, Tides didn't appreciate the implied snark of the incongruous imagery, but chalked it up to Ripples-Across-Shallows' queer sense of humor coupled with her superior rank. Anemone don't just immediately REACH OUT the instant they sensed...

    Sense what?

    Taking a calming breath, Tides allowed a portion of its mentality to be once more subsumed by the Formless' sensoria. He reviewed the last few moment's logs, confirming the pion burst was a one-time event and hadn't repeated while his awareness was withdrawn.

    Ripples-Across-Shallows coaxed him away from the gestalt and back into integument space.
    "A lazing fish basks in summer warmth of the tide pool. A moment passes, then another. A third. Then a falling leaf gently ripples the surface, sending the drousing fish into panic."

    You were day dreaming again, weren't you?

    Another blush of light. Through-Tides-and-Time immediately assumed a forah'shoal position, a yagış salute: the scutes across his integuments stiffened enough to ward off predators but remained relaxed enough to go with the flow of a current; eye stalks high and on-alert, pointed in the five cardinal directions; three feeder gills diligently filtering; five rooting feet firmly planted in place and curved. Through-Tides-and-Time even extruded a series of questing no÷podia across each foot, waving in tandem in an imaginary current of water.

    Day dreaming? Me? Never. Look at me. I'm the picture of diligence and observation. No, the paragon of dedication was modeled after ME. I am the liminal scout, watching for predator and prey alike, filtering phytoplanc and orchestrating efficiency of the pod across the noetic web --

    Ripples-Across-Shallows swatted a no÷pod in the amnion. Oh, hush. You're not in trouble. In fact, you're the most sensitive of yagış when in-gestalt; you perceive things well before the others.

    Again, she intoned the image of curious anemone. What did you see?

    Through-Tides-And-Time relaxed from forah'shoal, one eye turned towards his sensoria interface, considering. Then, looking inward, he summoned the entirety of his memory of the pion burst from his hindbrain. It played before both of the yagis, letting them relive the moment and make sense of it.

    "A tempest. Within the eye, there is an absence. Raindrops follow precise, curling vectors, cutting through cloud." As their faster-processing, rolling no÷podial portion watched the memory, Through-Tides-and-Time and Ripples-Across-Shallows both appended mathematical notation to the imagery.

    Pions.

    Pions meant a matter-antimatter conflagration.

    Ripples-Across-Shallows sketched out a frown in orange light. "Shining moon petals. Swallowing undertow. The in-falling mating dance of two dervish coral-fish." Could it have been the result of an exotic solar flare? Perhaps accelerated accretion from a black hole? A collision between two neutron stars?

    Tides flashed his annoyance once, tracing the particle paths, the masses. No, pay attention! He reinforced the tempest imagery, highlighting the precise way the raindrops cut their course. In the shared noetic space, at Tides' behest, the tempest rewound itself through time; water droplets that were once split came back together in unmistakable symbolic arrangements.
    Pions converging, forming from antimatter and matter. Small masses. Wavelengths of hydrogen.

    Precision.

    Calculation.


    This was a controlled reaction, an engineered detonation.

    Ripples-Across-Shallows' integument stiffened, and Tides felt something queer in their shared space. "Ammonia. A landlocked hypersaline sea, too brakish for life," she articulated. This sector is uninhabitable.

    Through-Tides-and-Time lit a brilliant blue-green. I know, isn't it exciting? There's life out here anyways!

    Despite herself, Ripples-Across-Shallows mirrored Tides' optimistic lighting. Tides sighed inwardly; ship captains were all so uncharacteristically cautious for yagış. But Tides leapt at his opening and conveyed the origin point of the pion burst, a mere several parsecs away.

    "A rock skipping across the surface of placid waters," Ripples-Over-Shallows agreed. Not far at all.

    Let's check it out.

    * * * * *
    At the yagış' request, the universe exhaled and contracted, and the Formless skipped across the intervening space like a smoothed pebble. A simple thing, when you knew what words to use.

    And really, who didn't?

    When the Formless splashed down -- sooner than expected -- Through-Tides-and-Time eagerly began to search. Alas, it was Silvered-Riparian-Bredth that found the origin point. Lucky.

    The Formless' outrigger arms flared out to catch the stellar winds and slow to a stop. Deceleration took longer than it should have.

    When he saw the object, revulsion rippled across Tides' fluid noopodial layer, and his biolumen across his integument faltered out of sync. His filtering gills instinctively shut themselves in disgust. The craft-thing was a dead-carbon grey, all straight lines, none of its alien geometry aligned in recognition of a Breathing universe.

    The Formless continued its approach. Though nausea continued to swell up within him, Through-Tides-and-Time couldn't help but study the thing in submission to yagış curiosity.

    Ever so slightly, the no÷sphere dimmed. Nobody else likes the look of the thing either, Tides surmised.

    The Formless circumnavigated the object, finally coming upon a mortal wound; a hole gaped in its far side, having bled out all that it could. Somewhere aboard the Formless, in recognition of the loss of life, Through-Tides-and-Time's five physical eyes drooped.

    Tides continued to trace the gash in the alien craft as it ran its length of hull. He saw decks and queer machinery, stiff corridors of unchanging lengths and widths. He caught a glimpse of row after row of cylinders, cracked and ice blue and full. (Here, Tides immediately thought of translucent eggs, though he did not know why.) Finally, the mortal wound tapered to a collection of pores. No, apertures. Great holes that bled small frozen green-grey crystals.

    Oh. Oh, you're kidding me.

    Fuel?!

    Not a single etheric rudder or stellar sail in sight. A motor whose lymph was fuel. No recognition in design of a Breathing universe.

    "A shanah-squid, expelling water like a jet," envisioned Tides. The alien craft depended on a burning jet of matter and anti-matter.

    The no÷sphere dimmed more, and Tides finally understood. The craft pierced the Deep Night with jets of flame, because the ether did not exist for it. The universe itself recoiled and shrank from the craft, it's breath stilled. The universe lost its hue and sabled around it.

    And that was when he saw it. The wiggling thing, made of mass and matter that only bent at intervals. A broken cylinder behind it. Tides' five root feet curled into curlicues in revulsion.

    It was practical Silvered-Riparian-Bredth that voiced the inevitable question: "A submerged rock, crankily and reluctantly opening, revealed to be a crab."

    Is that thing actually... ALIVE?

    The creature was all pale integument, no biolumen lighting. No flowing noopodial surface, no change or mutability, it's form anchored and set. Each of its limbs ended in five smaller ones that could only curl in one direction.

    At Ripples' behest, in service to trusting yagis curiosity, the Formless reached out a single outrigger to the thing. Filament unspooled and gently gathered up the slowly writhing thing and brought it close, like a parent with its newborn polyps.Through-Tides-and-Time counted the limbs.

    One. Another.

    A third.

    ... A fourth.

    Very inauspicious.

    And, on the thing, eyes so unlike yagış eyes opened. Eyes like the Shielded Star, round and wide and unfaceted and frightened.

    Through-Tides-and-Time focused the sensoria on the Formless itself. Around the living, four limbed, two-eyed, incomprehensibly solid thing, the universe died; the breathing physics decayed into mindlessness. Where ever the dying creature looked, the all-embracing Deep Night came undone.

    The no÷sphere was eclipsed. Yagış was disconnected from yagış. The ether boiled away, and the Formless' etheric rudders found no more purchase.

    Finally, thought no longer traveled faster than light. Nothing traveled faster than light around the four-limbed creature. The no÷sphere died.

    "A crab eye. A fish eye. A yagış eye. The shielded star," he intoned, to no one in particular.

    "Yagış and polyps in warm tidal pool shallows. The four-limbed creature in an ice-blank nothing."

    Is this how they see the world? Tides thought sadly.

    The Formless drifted then, helpless, in this alien geometry, a dead, stiff, alien thing in its grasp; there was no breath, no warmth in the Deep Night. It was all just empty... space. The Formless lazily rolled. Through-Tides-and-Time finally spied the Thulian Cross, inauspicious four-limbed thing that it was, tipped by the watching Shielded Star.

    And the dead-carbon grey hulk of alien craft eclipsed Through-Tides-and-Time's personal, private signpost pointing home.
    Last edited by Visions of Khas; 11-17-2018 at 08:11 AM.
    Aaand sold.


    Be it through hallowed grounds or lands of sorrow
    The Forger's wake is bereft and fallow

    Is the residuum worth the cost of destruction and maiming;
    Or is the shaping a culling and exercise in taming?

    The road's goal is the Origin of Being
    But be wary through what thickets it winds.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    Maybe it's because it's 1am and I'm going to bed after this reply..but this was really hard to read! You made me google quite a few words and I had to re-read some paragraphs to understand. Part of it was intentional and thematic I guess so if that's the case I can't fault you for it.

    I liked it though. You painted a pretty interesting picture for your aliens.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    You made me google quite a few words and I had to re-read some paragraphs to understand.
    Haha yeah sorry about that! XD I've always found that stories that made you struggle to understand, participate in the narrative, were always the most engaging to me. I've always loved stories where you are immersed into something alien en media res and have to piece everything together, like N K Jimisin or Seth Dickinson. I guess I tried to emulate that.

    Anways, I've formatted some of the dialog translations (because that's what the now-italicized words are, translations of yagış thought-imagery) to help better parse things out. I think that's what's giving people the most problems.

    You painted a pretty interesting picture for your aliens.
    Thanks! I've been toying around with different alien psychologies lately for this and other projects. (If that's something you're into, check out CJ Cherryh's Forreigner series.) I guess the yagış psychology may have been loosely inspired by Peter Hamilton's motiles, but with a more trusting and inquisitive nature, in stark contrast to the (very real) "uncaring universe" mentality in which humanity lives.
    Last edited by Visions of Khas; 11-17-2018 at 07:54 AM.
    Aaand sold.


    Be it through hallowed grounds or lands of sorrow
    The Forger's wake is bereft and fallow

    Is the residuum worth the cost of destruction and maiming;
    Or is the shaping a culling and exercise in taming?

    The road's goal is the Origin of Being
    But be wary through what thickets it winds.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    I like your attempts at making the yagis alien. I dig the abstract descriptions of their physiology, how they sense things and operate their ship but it kinda does seem like a dense word salad when it's all given to you right from the beginning. It may have been digested a lot easier if it were spread out a bit more or being interspersed with more ruminations of Tides/the protagonist of the story.

    The ending is somewhat difficult to parse and understand what actually happened were it not for your pre-amble describing your story to be the flip side of another story about humans gaining superpowers once they got far enough from our solar system. I take it to be that the human they found, woke up in fright and used his/her powers to disable the yagis ship. Were it not for that preamble, I would've thought that the yagis were some dream-like entity that came into contact with reality and that they became undone/lost coherence when the human they discovered, woke-up and observed them fleetingly (which is kinda Gaiman-esque when I think about it).
    Yes, that's right! That is indeed ME on the right.


    _______________________________________________

  5. #5

    Default Re: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    Quote Originally Posted by Tura
    but it kinda does seem like a dense word salad when it's all given to you right from the beginning. It may have been digested a lot easier if it were spread out a bit more or being interspersed with more ruminations of Tides/the protagonist of the story.
    Yeah. I'm realizing I left this story too much in a vacuum, with too few legs to stand on. The communications -- and overall experiences -- of the yagis is envisioned to be somewhat stream-of-thought, given both their psychology and how their universe works.

    The ending is somewhat difficult to parse and understand what actually happened were it not for your pre-amble
    So the intent was this: the rest of the universe is actually a caring, trusting place conducive to life. As the prompt said, humanity was created in conditions unlike the rest of the galaxy, in a cold and unforgiving place. But when humanity left their "cage" (Sol implied to be the Shielded Star), they took those conditions with them; as humanity expands, the the universe itself is infected by those cold and lifeless conditions. FTL, psychic powers, the quantum ether? None of those things exist in a human world.

    The yagis experience a cooperative, protective world. Humanity perceives one that is lifeless and uncaring.

    I guess another interpretation is that humanity, like the yagis, do have their own no÷sphere, and it's the Anthropic Principle itself.
    Last edited by Visions of Khas; 11-17-2018 at 01:30 PM.
    Aaand sold.


    Be it through hallowed grounds or lands of sorrow
    The Forger's wake is bereft and fallow

    Is the residuum worth the cost of destruction and maiming;
    Or is the shaping a culling and exercise in taming?

    The road's goal is the Origin of Being
    But be wary through what thickets it winds.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    I like that you're trying to put in depth and strangeness, but the description is a bit fanciful as to be a bit off-putting. That, and using fancy words to describe things which we already understand is a gimmick. At the same time, your aliens are nice. I like the way that they think.


    "Seeing Fenix once more perplexes me. I feel sadness, when I should feel joy."
    - Artanis.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    I was wondering when you'd stop by, Nissa! Kinda feel like you went easy on me though.

    Okay, if you were to tackle this story, how would you change it? Maybe you're thinking, "The necessary changes should be obvious!" Humor me.
    Aaand sold.


    Be it through hallowed grounds or lands of sorrow
    The Forger's wake is bereft and fallow

    Is the residuum worth the cost of destruction and maiming;
    Or is the shaping a culling and exercise in taming?

    The road's goal is the Origin of Being
    But be wary through what thickets it winds.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    Oh? You really want me to? Okay, but if I do this, I'm probably going to force you to beta one of my works sometime in the future.

    I'm going to work soon, but let me copy this and look at it tonight to really take the time and deal with it.


    "Seeing Fenix once more perplexes me. I feel sadness, when I should feel joy."
    - Artanis.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    In a Grain of Sand


    Through-Tides-and-Time watched the beauty of a breathing, star-besotted universe flow past the malleable and curvilinear hull of the Formless. He-She-It -- three-quarters male -- fed on the craft's myriad sensoria, and drank deep from that well. Contentment radiated in calm blue and green bioluminescence across his integument. The thin no÷podial mass that lay over top his radial body pulsed rhythmically, reflecting the contentment in his displaced mentality.
    Okay, this is not ideal right here. You're describing too much weird stuff at once. The hyphenated name is weird, but fine in and off itself. However, you're mixing the description of the character with both descriptions of its surroundings and of its actions. Since all three of these are described with extremely fanciful description, it's hard for the reader to visualize the creature, what exactly is happening, and where. Most people don't know what an "inegument" is, so you need to find words that create an image in the mind of the reader. Writing is a game of balancing style and communication, and right now you're unbalanced on the style side. Write what will put images in the readers' heads.

    I'm also curious about what "three quarters male" means exactly, but of course there's time enough for that later.

    In that fluid state of mind, conjoined with so many others, Through-Tides-and-Time perceived a surging in the Deep Night, an inhalation in the universe that swelled. To compensate, he adjusted the third and eighth etheric rudders on the second starboard outrigger, then the first and last rudders on port outrigger --
    Okay, now I'm getting a better sense of what's going on -- he's on a ship, in some sort of ghost-ish world ("ether"), and is exploring the universe. This is better, but since the ship is so weird, it bears some visual description.

    Four? A very inauspicious number.

    No, then. Hm.

    ... The third etheric rudder of second starboard outrigger, last rudder on first port outrigger, and... Fifth etheric rudder on third starboard arm. One, another. A third.
    These actions are cute, but I the reader don't know what they mean, so it's basically technobabble. A little of this is fine, but too much is just confusing.

    The navigation collective radiated its pleasure at the tireless efficiency of Through-Tides-and-Time, and he basked in that summer tidal pool warmth.
    There is good worldbuilding here.

    This was the fourth time in two cycles the Formless navigated this newly discovered star route. Tides had formulated his own private collection of constellations during the trip: there was the maned Gutheral, a collection of needlesharp lights suggestive of the creature's majestic bulk, 35 arc seconds north of the Kairyc Archipelago. And... There was the Litoral Bastion. And in just a little while, if Tides trained his perception due starboard, the Thulian Cross would emerge (at this private inauspicious symbol of four and 90 degrees, Tides blushed red biolumen), pointing the Formless and her crew their way back home. Already he could make out the stars that would eventually arrange themselves into the Cross's western-most arm, tipped by what he called the curious Shielded Star.
    The sentence that starts with "And in just a little while..." needs to be edited into two or three sentences. It's trying to do too much on its own.

    A tenuous circlet of light aurioled the star. It was nothing like a yagış's eye, of course, faceted and beautiful... But Through-Tides-and-Time always had the curious impression that it looked back at him, watching and waiting.
    "circlet" and "aurioled" are redundant together. The latter word is laughably fanciful. Remove the "...But" and just make those two separate sentences.

    Through-Tides-and-Time interfaced with the Formless' spin-cooled archives on the subject of the star, already knowing what he would see: a main sequence star, traces of carbon, iron, neon evident in the photosphere. The circlet, Tides assimilated, was an optical phenomenon; star light reflected and refracting when viewed at a 22 degree angle through a cloud of ice particles -- the remnants of several collided worlds, now millennia dead. A stellar parhelion.
    This is a strong worldbuilding paragraph.

    Then why could the parhelion always be observed, no matter the degree? On a whim, Tides scrubbed through the Formless' various sensoria systems, finally settling on a dorsal spectrometer. He trained it on another nearby star, some 238, 000 stellar cycles distant. An older main sequence, its levels of iron, carbon and orichalcum elevated as it senesced. (Somewhere aboard the Formless, Tides' body clicked its tripartite break like an approving physician.) Proper sigma radiation profile. The specimen of perfect health!
    Too far into the technobabble. Remember, narrative is supposed to communicate with the reader. Everything you say should be traceable to an image in a reader's mind.

    Satisfied the spectrographic sensoria were well adjusted and operational, beak still clicking, Tides slowly swung the aperture towards the Shielded Star...
    What do the sensoria look like?

    So it was that when the pion burst was caught up in the Formless' sensor skein, its sharp and bitter taste shocked Through-Tides-and-Time from his yagışk-curious reverie. He fell from the collective and became small.

    Tides sat there at his station, stunned, staring at the sensor interface, his awareness having withdrawn entirely from the sensoria gestalt and back into his body proper. Reflected red and yellow lights danced at the edges of his vision. The no÷sphere continued to hum in the background, awaiting his return.
    Wait, he wasn't in his body? This bears more description.

    Through-Tides-and-Time felt himself jostled by the feather-gentle touch of Ripples-Across-Shallows, and he felt immediate embarrassment. Tides accepted the proffered connection, all the while calming his own heated luminescence. No÷pod joined no÷pod, and mentalities touched.

    "Moonlight dances over the stirring surface," imaged Ripples-Across-Shallows, a female by two-thirds.

    Is something wrong?

    In embarrassment, Tides blushed light. His third root foot lengthened and curled in an arc. The pion burst fresh on his minds, Tides responded across the connection: "Anemones recoil against unexpected hot plume," he conveyed his confusion to her.
    Separate spoken words from the narrative proper.

    It's probably nothing; I was caught off guard by... Something strange.

    "Anemone, emboldened by curiosity, reaches out questing limbs," was the imagery conveyed by Ripples. Well, don't keep me waiting, what was it?

    In his muted state, Tides didn't appreciate the implied snark of the incongruous imagery, but chalked it up to Ripples-Across-Shallows' queer sense of humor coupled with her superior rank. Anemone don't just immediately REACH OUT the instant they sensed...

    Sense what?

    Taking a calming breath, Tides allowed a portion of its mentality to be once more subsumed by the Formless' sensoria. He reviewed the last few moment's logs, confirming the pion burst was a one-time event and hadn't repeated while his awareness was withdrawn.

    Ripples-Across-Shallows coaxed him away from the gestalt and back into integument space.
    "A lazing fish basks in summer warmth of the tide pool. A moment passes, then another. A third. Then a falling leaf gently ripples the surface, sending the drousing fish into panic."
    What is the difference between gestalt and integument? Also, the descriptions here are pretty cute.

    You were day dreaming again, weren't you?

    Another blush of light. Through-Tides-and-Time immediately assumed a forah'shoal position, a yagış salute: the scutes across his integuments stiffened enough to ward off predators but remained relaxed enough to go with the flow of a current; eye stalks high and on-alert, pointed in the five cardinal directions; three feeder gills diligently filtering; five rooting feet firmly planted in place and curved. Through-Tides-and-Time even extruded a series of questing no÷podia across each foot, waving in tandem in an imaginary current of water.

    Day dreaming? Me? Never. Look at me. I'm the picture of diligence and observation. No, the paragon of dedication was modeled after ME. I am the liminal scout, watching for predator and prey alike, filtering phytoplanc and orchestrating efficiency of the pod across the noetic web --

    Ripples-Across-Shallows swatted a no÷pod in the amnion. Oh, hush. You're not in trouble. In fact, you're the most sensitive of yagış when in-gestalt; you perceive things well before the others.

    Again, she intoned the image of curious anemone. What did you see?

    Through-Tides-And-Time relaxed from forah'shoal, one eye turned towards his sensoria interface, considering. Then, looking inward, he summoned the entirety of his memory of the pion burst from his hindbrain. It played before both of the yagis, letting them relive the moment and make sense of it.

    "A tempest. Within the eye, there is an absence. Raindrops follow precise, curling vectors, cutting through cloud." As their faster-processing, rolling no÷podial portion watched the memory, Through-Tides-and-Time and Ripples-Across-Shallows both appended mathematical notation to the imagery.

    Pions.

    Pions meant a matter-antimatter conflagration.

    Ripples-Across-Shallows sketched out a frown in orange light. "Shining moon petals. Swallowing undertow. The in-falling mating dance of two dervish coral-fish." Could it have been the result of an exotic solar flare? Perhaps accelerated accretion from a black hole? A collision between two neutron stars?

    Tides flashed his annoyance once, tracing the particle paths, the masses. No, pay attention! He reinforced the tempest imagery, highlighting the precise way the raindrops cut their course. In the shared noetic space, at Tides' behest, the tempest rewound itself through time; water droplets that were once split came back together in unmistakable symbolic arrangements.
    Pions converging, forming from antimatter and matter. Small masses. Wavelengths of hydrogen.

    Precision.

    Calculation.

    This was a controlled reaction, an engineered detonation.

    Ripples-Across-Shallows' integument stiffened, and Tides felt something queer in their shared space. "Ammonia. A landlocked hypersaline sea, too brakish for life," she articulated. This sector is uninhabitable.

    Through-Tides-and-Time lit a brilliant blue-green. I know, isn't it exciting? There's life out here anyways!

    Despite herself, Ripples-Across-Shallows mirrored Tides' optimistic lighting. Tides sighed inwardly; ship captains were all so uncharacteristically cautious for yagış. But Tides leapt at his opening and conveyed the origin point of the pion burst, a mere several parsecs away.

    "A rock skipping across the surface of placid waters," Ripples-Over-Shallows agreed. Not far at all.

    Let's check it out.
    The dialogue here is very strong. I like the imagery of it very much, because it relates a scientific item to a natural occurence. Both of these things are comprehendible to a reader.

    * * * * *
    At the yagış' request, the universe exhaled and contracted, and the Formless skipped across the intervening space like a smoothed pebble. A simple thing, when you knew what words to use.

    And really, who didn't?

    When the Formless splashed down -- sooner than expected -- Through-Tides-and-Time eagerly began to search. Alas, it was Silvered-Riparian-Bredth that found the origin point. Lucky.

    The Formless' outrigger arms flared out to catch the stellar winds and slow to a stop. Deceleration took longer than it should have.
    Catching winds would make someone move, not slow down. At least, that's how it works with sailing ships. As the readers of this story are going to be human, they'll be put off by using a propellant technique to slow down a ship, even if it makes sense with the technology you have created.

    When he saw the object, revulsion rippled across Tides' fluid noopodial layer, and his biolumen across his integument faltered out of sync. His filtering gills instinctively shut themselves in disgust. The craft-thing was a dead-carbon grey, all straight lines, none of its alien geometry aligned in recognition of a Breathing universe.

    The Formless continued its approach. Though nausea continued to swell up within him, Through-Tides-and-Time couldn't help but study the thing in submission to yagış curiosity.

    Ever so slightly, the no÷sphere dimmed. Nobody else likes the look of the thing either, Tides surmised.

    The Formless circumnavigated the object, finally coming upon a mortal wound; a hole gaped in its far side, having bled out all that it could. Somewhere aboard the Formless, in recognition of the loss of life, Through-Tides-and-Time's five physical eyes drooped.

    Tides continued to trace the gash in the alien craft as it ran its length of hull. He saw decks and queer machinery, stiff corridors of unchanging lengths and widths. He caught a glimpse of row after row of cylinders, cracked and ice blue and full. (Here, Tides immediately thought of translucent eggs, though he did not know why.) Finally, the mortal wound tapered to a collection of pores. No, apertures. Great holes that bled small frozen green-grey crystals.

    Oh. Oh, you're kidding me.

    Fuel?!

    Not a single etheric rudder or stellar sail in sight. A motor whose lymph was fuel. No recognition in design of a Breathing universe.
    Everything is powered by something or other. Is there a particular reason why they don't use fuel of some kind? Probably they'd be in awe of what kind of fuel it is, rather than the idea itself that it runs on fuel.

    "A shanah-squid, expelling water like a jet," envisioned Tides. The alien craft depended on a burning jet of matter and anti-matter.

    The no÷sphere dimmed more, and Tides finally understood. The craft pierced the Deep Night with jets of flame, because the ether did not exist for it. The universe itself recoiled and shrank from the craft, it's breath stilled. The universe lost its hue and sabled around it.

    And that was when he saw it. The wiggling thing, made of mass and matter that only bent at intervals. A broken cylinder behind it. Tides' five root feet curled into curlicues in revulsion.

    It was practical Silvered-Riparian-Bredth that voiced the inevitable question: "A submerged rock, crankily and reluctantly opening, revealed to be a crab."
    I'm a little astonished that they have crabs on their homeworld just like earth does, but eh, it's not that big of a deal.

    Is that thing actually... ALIVE?

    The creature was all pale integument, no biolumen lighting. No flowing noopodial surface, no change or mutability, it's form anchored and set. Each of its limbs ended in five smaller ones that could only curl in one direction.
    I kind of like that "integument" is slowly defined for us here.

    At Ripples' behest, in service to trusting yagis curiosity, the Formless reached out a single outrigger to the thing. Filament unspooled and gently gathered up the slowly writhing thing and brought it close, like a parent with its newborn polyps.Through-Tides-and-Time counted the limbs.

    One. Another.

    A third.

    ... A fourth.

    Very inauspicious.

    And, on the thing, eyes so unlike yagış eyes opened. Eyes like the Shielded Star, round and wide and unfaceted and frightened.
    If there's a hole in the hull, why isn't this person dead? If there was an airlock, how did these yagis get past it?

    Through-Tides-and-Time focused the sensoria on the Formless itself. Around the living, four limbed, two-eyed, incomprehensibly solid thing, the universe died; the breathing physics decayed into mindlessness. Where ever the dying creature looked, the all-embracing Deep Night came undone.

    The no÷sphere was eclipsed. Yagış was disconnected from yagış. The ether boiled away, and the Formless' etheric rudders found no more purchase.

    Finally, thought no longer traveled faster than light. Nothing traveled faster than light around the four-limbed creature. The no÷sphere died.

    "A crab eye. A fish eye. A yagış eye. The shielded star," he intoned, to no one in particular.

    "Yagış and polyps in warm tidal pool shallows. The four-limbed creature in an ice-blank nothing."

    Is this how they see the world? Tides thought sadly.
    Okay, so they're reading the human's mind, right? Their ship is fine, right?

    The Formless drifted then, helpless, in this alien geometry, a dead, stiff, alien thing in its grasp; there was no breath, no warmth in the Deep Night. It was all just empty... space. The Formless lazily rolled. Through-Tides-and-Time finally spied the Thulian Cross, inauspicious four-limbed thing that it was, tipped by the watching Shielded Star.

    And the dead-carbon grey hulk of alien craft eclipsed Through-Tides-and-Time's personal, private signpost pointing home.
    So....the human destroyed their etheric ship? They're trapped? Is that what's happening here?


    I like the overall plot, but the story is pretty confusing. The yagis and their vessel could do with more description. Desperately. Something that the reader can visualize. It's really difficult to hang out with a character when we don't know what he looks like. Though at the same time, your overly fanciful vocabulary is sometimes pretty fun, and there's a time and a place for forty-dollar words. Just make sure that you aren't writing technobabble.

    So what's the purpose of this story? Is it just the beginning of what you have in mind? It's not really a short story, because short stories are encapsulated, and need not exist after they have made their point. This feels more like the beginning of a novel.


    "Seeing Fenix once more perplexes me. I feel sadness, when I should feel joy."
    - Artanis.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Short Story: In a Grain of Sand

    Very heart touching story. thank you for sharing.

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