Week 39 of Odd Prompts

Herding writers is an impossible task, I’m told, by wiser minds than mine. But steering is possible, with prompts and suggestions. Though I’m quite certain everyone answering the same prompt would result in wildly different stories…which I’d love to read! That, however, is a different prompt group.

AC YoungThe warships of [Space Power] had the Black Ensign painted proudly on their flanks. When a warship was docked the flag was displayed outside the docking tube. It had the flag of [Space Power] in its top-left corner, with the rest of the field coloured the black of space.Fiona Grey
Leigh KimmelAn ancient ship, a relict from before the beginning of timeAC Young
Cedar SandersonIt was only an inch of oilnother Mike
nother MikeHe lifted his hand, showing the bloody eye in his palm. Which blinked at us…Cedar Sanderson
Fiona GreyIt was the strangest pizza s/he had ever seen, and that didn’t include the pineapple abomination.Becky Jones
Becky JonesMaple Avenue was always weird. Today it was raining in ten foot increments. Dry for ten feet, rain for ten feet.Leigh Kimmel

Not into commitment? Into the independent, loner lifestyle, wolf-style? Be free with the spares.

SpareThe new school exchange program is looking for volunteers to spend a year in prison…
SpareThe Christmas Eve bedtime story was fun, especially when we realized it was told by a real live elf…
SpareThe tentacle was turquoise and curious, but not menacing.
SpareInk splashed into patterns that moved entirely on their own…
SpareThe woman was pushing a baby carriage down the sidewalk, with a tentacle waving over the side…

Email oddprompts@gmail.com to submit (put “spare” in the subject line if you won’t want to trade). See you in the comments!

Header image by Fiona Grey



  1. “… One Prompt to bring them all so we on MOTE may read them …” I think I’ll leave the next line to someone else.

    This week I was assigned the prompt from Leigh Kimmel: An ancient ship, a relict from before the beginning of time.

    A ship. It would have to be a spaceship. Kept in a vacuum state to ensure that the mechanisms kept running.

    The result doesn’t look bad on the surface, but at the more detailed level it seems to be missing a few things.

    When astronomers first noticed it they thought that it was just a piece of interstellar rock that had been snagged by the sun’s gravity. That in and of itself made it very interesting, and plans were soon hatched by no less than three separate space agencies to send automated space probes to find out more about it.

    But as the telescopes got better and better pictures of it, they soon realised that this was a very strange piece of interstellar flotsam. In size it was similar to a small asteroid, being about 1km in length, but in shape it was very unusual. It had a double-ellipsoidal cross-section, and showed none of the large craters and mounds that would be normal for an asteroid of that size.

    In short it was so unusual that a manned mission was organised to investigate more closely.

    A six-man team of astronauts from across North America and Western Europe launched from Cape Canaveral in Artemis, a Hercules II-class space shuttle on top of a Hephaestus VI launch rocket.

    It took a few weeks for the crew of Artemis to pilot the shuttle to the mystery rock – via a very inefficient route, but the only one that would get them to their goal in time. The shuttle couldn’t attain the speed of the mystery object, so the crew would have to snag the rock with sprung grappling hooks – and would only have one shot at it. If they failed, what they were able to get on camera and scans from the one pass would be all that the mission would collect.

    It was von Hartmann’s responsibility to fire the cannons. The three grappling hooks struck the surface of the thing, but barely punched the necessary holes. As the shuttle accelerated the grappling lines unwound – the spring system was set up so that only some of the force transferred to the shuttle, ensuring that the shuttle didn’t accelerate beyond what the astronauts could bear. The forces tore two of the grappling hooks from the surface of the rock, and the imbalanced force from the remaining hook caused the shuttle to spin.

    Fortunately the remaining hook stayed attached, and before too long the shuttle was up to speed and the spring was winding the grappling line back up.

    Anderson in the pilot’s seat brought the spin under control, and lined the shuttle back up with the object. When the shuttle caught the object up, Anderson turned off the winding mechanism and decelerated the shuttle to match the object’s speed.

    Now the team reviewed the visible signs on the surface of the rock. It looked too uniform, and there seemed to be a faint circle etched into the surface in the middle of the object.

    Time for a spacewalk. Anderson remained behind, but Cook, von Hartmann, Hutton, d’Orleans and Russell suited up and headed out. At the strange circle Cook put his hand on the rock – and it retracted into the object. The thing was hollow.

    The team went in and explored. The thing had no internal atmosphere, and appeared to be filled with circular corridors. Moving towards the front the astronauts found a chamber. It looked like the bridge of a spaceship, with a number of dormant control stations, but what each of them did was impossible to determine.

    There was also a screen showing symbols. The one on the furthest right kept changing, then the one next to it changed at the same time. Sixty times the rightmost symbol changed before the second symbol changed again.

    “I think this is counting.” The feminine tones of d’Orleans sounded in everyone’s ears.

    “If it is we can figure out the numbering system, then calculate how long the timer has been running for.” Hutton sounded excited.

    “I think it’s a base 60 system.” Russell had butted his nose in.

    It took a few minutes, but the astronauts were able to decipher the numerical symbols, and read the numbers on each of the wheels.

    “Artemis to Control, come in please,” spoke Cook into his microphone.

    “Control to Artemis, ready,” came the reply a few seconds later.

    “We have found a timer we’d like your help translating into our units of time. The number system appears to be base 60. The units wheel cycles through completely every 31 secs. From right to left the symbols a few seconds ago read 0, 58, 2, 34, 7, 6, 2, 51, 23, 35 and 1.”

    “Please wait while we set up the translation.” It took a few minutes for Control to carry out the necessary calculations. Then a really excited voice came through. “If your readings are right, that timer has been going for over 15 billion years. That’s older than the universe itself! You have to bring it back to Earth!”

    “Control, we may not be able to do so. We will retire to Artemis, discuss our options and get back to you.”

    A return to the Artemis, and a short discussion later, and Cook got back on the communications system. “Control, we don’t think your request is possible. We haven’t found any instructions on powering up any engines – assuming there are any – and if we did we don’t think we could translate them in time. Could you send a Hercules IV to slow it down enough to enter solar orbit?”

    “We’ll start fuelling one up. It won’t reach the vessel before you have to disengage to return home.”

    “Understood. We’ll get as much data as we can just in case.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cedar Sanderson fantasized…

    It was only an inch of oil.

    Hum. Cooking oil? Oil on the road? What kind of oil? Extra virgin olive oil?

    Aha, pouring water into hot oil produces explosions, and trying to put out an oil fire with water is just asking for trouble… so let’s see…

    A quick sketch…

    Gil had just stepped into the kitchen when he saw Alf jump back from the range. The flames and black smoke poured up. Then John grabbed a pot of water and poured it into the big frying pan that was already blazing.

    That was when it exploded. Hot oil and flaming oil spread across the two young men, and around the range.

    Alice screamed, but she grabbed the fire extinguisher off the wall, pulled the ring out, and lifted the hose. She started spraying the fire, aiming at the base of the flames wherever there was a patch still burning.

    Gil ran forward, tripped John, and rolled him on the floor. The young man was moaning, and fighting, but Gil could see his clothes were burning, so he rolled him. Alice sprayed both of them, which helped.

    Then he looked over at Alf, who had dropped and rolled all by himself. Good, someone remembered their brainstorming sessions and practice.

    The rest of the kitchen crew were scattered, mostly back against the walls or out in the dining area. Several of the company employees were peeking through the serving counter.

    Oh, the fire alarms were sounding, too.

    Moments later, the security team members arrived, and the company doctor. They had a stretcher, and carried John off to the front lobby to wait for an ambulance. Another team turned up and carried Alf off, this time on a chair, used as an emergency stretcher.

    Alice was huddled over the fire extinguisher, crying. Gil walked over and lifted her face.

    “Thank you! You did the right thing, and I suspect you kept me from being roasted, too.”

    She blinked, tears running down her face.

    “But… but John and Alf were so badly burnt. I… I didn’t know what else to do, so I just kept spraying things.”

    Gil shook his head.

    “No, you did the best thing you could. You got the fire extinguisher, you sprayed the bottom of the flames, and you sprayed us, too. Great job!”

    She shuddered.

    “But what happened? I mean, I saw Alf cooking, and then there was a fire! And John tried to put it out with that pot of water, and boom! There was only an inch of oil in the frying pan! How could it…”

    Gil lifted his hand.

    “Slow down. First off, an inch of oil is plenty for a fire. I’d guess Alf splashed a little, and these gas ranges make it easy to catch fire. So that’s probably how the fire started.”

    She looked at him, and he nodded.

    “Now, an oil fire… about the worst thing you can do is try to put it out with water. See, the oil in the pan is way hotter, and when the water hits it, it changes to steam. Which makes an explosion, tossing oil into the air, which feeds the fire even more. That’s where we got the fireball that we all saw.”

    She gulped, and nodded.

    “Now, you remembered to try the fire extinguisher. Which was just what we needed. And I managed to roll John, and Alf rolled himself, to put out those fires.”

    She gulped again.

    “So, Alice, are you feeling a little better now? Do you want to get off the floor? Maybe sit down and have a glass of water?”

    She gave him a shaky smile, and stood up. She started to sway, and he grabbed her arm.

    “Take it slow. You’ve had a shock, but did what we needed. So… relax now, and let the rest of us do some work.”

    Now she chuckled….

    (Hum, that’s kind of rough and ready…)


    • Oddly enough, that prompt came from the Halloween goods on display here in Japan. One of them is a bloody eyeball, all set to put in the palm of your hand (they have an illustration showing how to use it). I don’t think the plastic accessory can blink, though…

      Liked by 1 person

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