Howdy there, settlers of the internet. What lengths are you inspired to go to in order to chase inspiration? Would you cross the badlands and risk starvation with a venture into brave new lands? Would you explore new cultures and the conflict inherent in those inadvertent miscalculations? Would you dare monsters, freak weather, and disasters beyond your imagination?
How about a head start with a writing prompt?
|AC Young||He pressed send on the e-mail only minutes before the deadline.||Cedar Sanderson|
|Fiona Grey||“I’m told this is the least human time of year.”||Leigh Kimmel|
|Padre||He couldn’t sneak anything past her.||Becky Jones|
|Leigh Kimmel||Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get worse…||AC Young|
|Becky Jones||The little rabbit was crouched on her doorstep.||Fiona Grey|
|nother Mike||Underneath the leaves by the trail, there was a baby dragon.||Padre|
|Cedar Sanderson||The sagebrush lent a blue tinge to the horizon||nother Mike|
Didn’t send a prompt in? Grab a spare, there are plenty!
|Spare||The magic brought balance to ____.|
|Spare||Who let the sea witch out? Who? Who? Who? Who? Who?|
|Spare||The Conversion Bomb was not a matter-energy device. It was a psycho-religious device.|
|Spare||“You get away with a lot by looking innocent.”|
|Spare||As the counter in every department store will tell you, making up is hard to do…|
Westward ho, writers! We’ll see you in the comments.
Header image by Fiona Grey, Badlands, South Dakota
In this week’s prompt cycle, I received Leigh Kimmel’s: Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get worse…
My first thought was the straw that broke the camel’s back. So welcome to the Bactrian…
The Bactrian, an automated cargo vessel, made its way through d-space. Its owner and captain, Henrietta Alanson, reviewed the position and speed data. The ship was travelling at d3.11 (approximately 150 times the speed of light) and was approaching the d-limit for the New Bromwich system – the point at which interstellar law (and common sense) required vessels in d-space to return to normal space and sublight velocities. (To travel too far into a star system in d-space was potentially fatal. At d-speeds the time between realising that the vessel was headed straight for a star or planet and crashing was seconds – at most.)
Henrietta waited a few more seconds, then with the Bactrian almost on the d-limit, she flicked the switch that returned the ship to normal space. Despite expecting it, the deceleration effect was significant. If she hadn’t been braced, she would have fallen forwards out of her seat. She hadn’t notified the crew because there wasn’t any.
The Bactrian was the latest type of medium automated cargo ship. It was designed to be operated by a crew of one. It was the largest single-operator cargo ship on the market. Which meant that outside of high-volume-low-value goods it was cheaper to transport goods via this class than via the traditional multi-crewed large cargo vessels.
Henrietta had been working on cargo vessels all her life. She had worked her way up the ranks of her family’s fleet, gaining the necessary qualifications to captain her own ship along the way. Then she branched out on her own, initially with a rented small, fast vessel transporting high-value goods needing to be moved quickly. Then she invested her savings in the deposit for the mortgage on the Bactrian.
She had been transporting goods from star system to star system in her own ship for a year now. The profits she had made so far had enabled her to keep up with the payments on the mortgage – only just, but the payments were the interest on the principal plus a fixed sum that reduced the principal, so as she continued to pay off the principal it would become a lot easier.
Henrietta checked and then adjusted the Bactrian’s course. She was planning on docking at New Castle trading space station in orbit around New Bromwich III. It would be about two hours before she could initiate the automated docking features.
In the meantime she reviewed the latest news from in-system. What she read horrified her.
War. While she’d been incommunicado in d-space the Fifth Empire had declared war on New Staffordshire. Fuel prices were increasing by the minute, with New Staffordshire declaring that the military had priority and rationing the rest.
And that was a huge problem. To travel each trading leg fast enough to get paid full transport rates Henrietta needed to refuel at each stop. The fuel prices now at New Castle would wipe out any profit for this leg, and she’d be lucky if her profits from the next few legs made up for the losses on this one.
She read on. Half an hour later she read worse.
Goods on a list of military necessities were subject to special regulations. Any vessel carrying anything on the list had to sell it to the government at a specified price – the local business that was expecting delivery would be compensated.
Everything in the Bactrian’s holds were dual-purpose. While they were intended for peaceful uses, they could be used in military systems. So everything Henrietta was transporting was on the list. And now she would receive even less for transporting them than she would under the contracts she’d signed back in New Newport.
For about half a minute Henrietta fantasised about turning tail and going elsewhere to sell the goods in the Bactrian’s holds. But then reality struck home. The Bactrian was running short of fuel, and had barely enough left to make it to another system – and even then only if she travelled slowly (perhaps d2.5 at most – she’d have to run the calculations carefully before entering d-space – and that was about a third of the Bactrian’s normal speed). And even if she was willing to risk it, she’d be in breach of contract the moment she decided she wasn’t docking at New Castle. With the resultant bad reputation, she’d never get any decent cargos, and without that she had no chance of paying off the Bactrian’s mortgage.
No sooner had she finished reading that little piece of bad news than she reviewed the cargos available for transport.
All of the high value cargos had been stripped from the list – presumably confiscated for military use. And those goods that were left were only promising half the transport fee that she could have got on her last visit to New Castle.
Henrietta reviewed what she could get. Her heart sank as she confirmed what she had feared. Not a single cargo or combination of cargos would pay her more than the cost of the fuel she’d expend transporting it (at normal prices, and she might have to pay more). Whatever she did she’d make a loss on her next trading leg as well as this one.
‘It can’t get any worse,’ she thought to herself, as she read on.
At the bottom of the news, in a throwaway line, was the information that the docking fees at New Castle had tripled.
Henrietta suddenly felt as if the last foundation had been stripped out of her universe. The only thoughts in her mind were a conviction that she’d keep losing money on every trading leg, to the point that the banks repossessed the Bactrian. She pictured herself on her knees, begging her grandfather to re-employ her – for nothing less would persuade him to hire a trader that had failed that badly.
She stood up, went through the door into her bedroom, and curled up on her bunk. She burst into tears.
About five minutes later the waterworks stopped, and her brain started to come back online.
‘When the hull fails, build a new one.’ It was a cliché, but it gave her a new purpose.
She made her way back to her bridge.
First things first. She opened up the records of the ship’s trading account. Yes, there was enough in there to pay for the docking fee and the fuel the ship needed. Just, as long as she was paid for her cargo before she refuelled (and the price of fuel didn’t increase further).
She’d have to go to the bank on station and transfer some of the money in her personal account to the ship’s trading account, or the ship would be bankrupt at her next stop. It would mean that she’d fall behind on her mortgage payments, but she’d take the risk. As long as she started making money again, she wouldn’t fall too far behind, and she wouldn’t lose the ship.
Next step. She had to have a cargo. She reviewed the options again. The choice wasn’t any better this time, but this time she was systematic. How much would she receive for transporting it? How much fuel would she use doing so? How much money would she lose as a result?
She decided to take a set of cargos to Lucerne. It wasn’t the least worst option on the table, but it was the one that would lose her the least when destinations in New Staffordshire were excluded – she didn’t trust her calculations on the cost of fuel for those. She logged on to New Castle’s cargo booking system and put the Bactrian down for the cargos she’d selected.
Right. Only a few minutes before she needed to dock. She had time to get herself a large mug of tea from the galley.
Mug in hand, sipping away, Henrietta flicked the next set of switches and the automated docking sequence began.
She prepared to meet the customs and immigration officials. It would be more complicated than normal thanks to the war, but she’d survive.
She’d survive this visit, and then she’d thrive.
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[…] You can read all of the prompt responses, and take part in the challenge yourself, over at More Odds Than Ends. […]
I’m managing to write again, finally. A bit of drabble for this week, not in a work in progress. https://www.cedarwrites.com/2022/10/31/odd-prompts-haunted/
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I now have my effort up on my LiveJournal at https://starshipcat.livejournal.com/1236088.html. It’s a little bit different take on the idea of the Straight Road than in the Big Messy Project.
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[…] to believe we’re less than ten weeks from the end of the year! My prompt challenge for Week 43 at More Odds Than Ends came from Padre: He couldn’t sneak anything past her. My challenge went to Fiona Grey: The little […]
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[…] more out at MOTE, and please wear your […]
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Oh, dark rabbits! Nicely shivery…
Cedar Sanderson sang of the old west with…
The sagebrush lent a blue tinge to the horizon.
[oh, boy. That almost cries out for a western, with tumbleweed and cactus and sand. Maybe a mesa too? Hum, if I get carried away sketching in the setting, maybe I won’t get tied up with the horse and his bridle and that old worn saddle. Hey, he’s nickering at me, I think he’s laughing. Hum…]
Harvey pulled back on the reins, stopping his horse. Then he looked across the land. It seemed to roll softly off into the distance. There were tumbleweeds here and there, grey-green brushes, and a few white-green saguaro standing tall, but mostly it was just the reddish-gold dirt of the plains. The sagebrush lent a blue tinge to the horizon. He thought he heard the yip-yip-yip of a coyote somewhere in the distance.
He looked around, and shook his head. There must be some water out there somewhere.
The horse dropped his head, and pawed at the ground. He must be wondering why they had stopped.
Harvey chuckled, and leaned forward to stroke his neck.
“Don’t worry, I’m just thinking what we should do next.”
Then he straightened up, and looked over that landscape again. It was stark, but beautiful, if you liked the badlands.
That’s when he thought he heard some voices, singing. He cupped his ear.
“Happy trails to you…”
The horse’s head came up, and he looked off to the left.
Harvey laughed, and shook the reins.
“All right, let’s go see who that is.”
They trotted off across the arroyo, following the haunting old tune.
[well, it’s a start…]
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did he find the ghost of Gene and Roy sitting around a campfire?
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‘Nother Mike prompted me with “Underneath the leaves by the trail, there was a baby dragon.”
This looked to me like another one about the dragon babysitter. It gives us a little more of the world, I think.
“Come on, Sapphire. We need to go.”
Bonnie’s exasperated voice rang out across the field, trying to get her charge to heel. The little dragon continued to ignore her, running away, then coming back close to her.
“What is up with you?” Bonnie asked. This was not normal behavior for the little dragon she was babysitting. Normally, it minded her very well. If she said it was time to go, the dragon would come back and walk next to her back to her house. She would definitely be talking with its mother about this.
She followed after Sapphire as the dragon ran off deeper into the park. The trees in this area were thicker and it was harder for her to follow her charge, but she took off after it. The weather was starting to get cooler and there was a bite in the air that spoke of fall, not that that meant much in Southern California, though the nights would definitely be chilly soon.
She finally caught up with the little dragon in an area where the leaves were thick on the ground. Sapphire was nosing around in a pile, rooting around and nuzzling up to something hidden there.
Bonnie stepped off the trail and laid a hand on Sapphire’s neck. “What is it?” She asked. She looked closer, then reached out with her left hand to clear away the detritus. Underneath the leaves by the trail was a baby dragon.
It looked very young, almost newborn. It looked up at Bonnie and peeped. She looked over at Sapphire. The little dragon looked back at her and seemed to nod gravely. It was clear the older dragon had sensed the baby and had led her here. “Am I supposed to take this one along with me?” she asked Sapphire. She was not exactly clear on the etiquette on this one. Dragons, like most faerie creatures were quite touchy about these things. Interfering with the baby dragon could get her in all kinds of trouble, even lose her babysitting job.
Sapphire would know these things instinctually, though, and Bonnie felt she could trust her charge’s feelings on this matter. Sapphire nodded to her, so Bonnie looked down at the other little one.
“Come along, then,” she told the two of them. “Let’s see if we can get you two back to your mommas.”
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