#FlashFiction: The Stories – Hitman for Hire

Family Business

My name is Theodore and I’ve been a Hitman for Hire for four decades now. I’ve been training my eldest son to take over from me, just as my father did with me, and as his father… well, let’s just say it’s been a family business for generations back. It’s not always handed down to the eldest son –  I’m a youngest son myself – but my elder brother don’t have the requisite skill.

He’s got no aversion to killing, it’s just he’s not able to see our clients. But there’s still room for him in the business. You see, I pride myself on doing a job clean and quick, whereas my brother is a downright messy killer. I save him for those jobs when a client wants the hit to suffer. In truth, those jobs offend my sensibility, so I make good and sure that the hit really deserves it before I take the contract.

After my folks died, I lived a solitary life as a result of my line of work, for I only wanted a wife who would be understanding of what I did. I had to move around lots, for each time I shared my secret with my sweetheart, her reaction meant I’d be attracting the wrong sort of attention. But, if the family business was to continue, I had to keep trying.

I was in my forties when I met Dorothea. She was younger than me but had a calm practical way about her. I could see she was shocked when I first told her, but she gave me the time to explain instead of screaming right off. When I’d finished saying my piece, she nodded, then asked a few questions to satisfy herself before expressing her agreement that I was providing a valuable service. We were married a month later. I’d agreed we’d let our boys attend college and not talk about the family business until after they’d graduated. I gave my word there was to be pressure – for I know this must be a choice freely taken. But both our boys displayed they had the requisite skill from quite an early age, so that marked them out as separate from other folks anyhow.

My eldest boy attends all client meetings with me and he’s a real natural with them. He’s been shadowing me on the hits too, just to see how I go about it. I’m not rushing it, he’ll let me know when he’s ready to make the step up. The youngest boy is champing at the bit to join us. He refused to go away to college but is attending classes locally. He’s promised his mother he’ll graduate before he joins his older brother and me, so she allows him to help out with the research on potential hits, so long as his college work is up to date. He’s a real flair for it, and I believe my boys are going to make a great team when I retire.

Twice a month, we go up to the cottage to do our practical training. Dorothea packs up the truck for us with hearty stews, big steaks, lots of fresh veggies and salad, plus plenty of home-baked bread and pies. There’s always the fixings for good hearty breakfasts, and she never forgets to include some pancake batter together with a big old jar of maple syrup. We drink cowboy coffee while we’re up there, but no beer. We enjoy our time together, but it’s work and not play. We take beer with us when we go fishing – those are the weekends just for fun.

My brother hasn’t been quite so lucky in a wife, but has three fine sons. Like him, none have the requisite skill to see clients, but they get on well with my boys, and who knows – maybe there’ll be a place for them in the family business should they want to join.

The current hit we’re working on has a real sad backstory. Our client is a real nice lady, very gentle and genteel. She’d no idea her charming boyfriend was going to turn into a wife-beater after the wedding, but that’s what happened. Not just an ordinary one either, but a real nasty piece of work. She’s one that wants him to suffer, and she showed us photos and her physical scars in support of that. From our research, he looks to be – what’s the word now – grooming, that’s it. He looks to be grooming a young gal who’s the spitting image of our client. He’s such a piece of work that I’ll be happy to set my brother on him.

We have the meetings with our client in the church graveyard. She always waits for us seated on her family crypt. She was an only child and is the last of her line, for she’s had no children. We slip in once the minister goes home, and some nights it’s a long wait if he’s struggling with his sermon. But she’s always there, waiting for us. She says she’s looking forward to going, to be with the rest of her family. She’s tried to join them many a time, but the pain always drew her back. She saw us meeting with another client one evening and decided we might be what she needed to get free. I sure do hope it works for her. Sometimes it does, but other times it doesn’t – and it’s real sad when we find our ex-clients still here after we’ve completed our contract.

Maybe only the minister could help them… if only he could see them. I’ve suggested it once before to a minister, but we had to leave town real sharpish that time, and Dorothea made me promise not to do it again. She realises I’ve a soft heart and feel for my old clients, but I’ve given my word and she knows to rely on it.

Although we’ve done our best for them, the boys and I always greet our old clients when we see them still here, and we spend a bit of extra time with each one when we can. It’s a lonely life when you’re stuck between this world and the next, and I’d hope someone would be kind enough to do the same for me.

© Debra Carey, 2021

Pete looked at the magnificent silver-back gorilla through telescopic sights.  Although he was hundred of metres away, the gorilla appeared to right in front of him.  Only his professionalism kept him from shuddering.  He really wouldn’t want to go toe-to-toe with the creature.  The gorilla was sat like an untidy sack of mail in a small clearing across the valley from the hide that Pete had created.  The intel was good, and today would be the day.  He’d set up his forward base a week ago, settling in with a patience borne of years of training and experience.  Not much longer now and he would swiftly retreat, leaving not a sign that he had ever been here.

Taking a couple of calming breaths, Pete exhaled, focussed and let off the first shot.  A poacher fell to the ground; another had barely enough time to register his comrade’s demise before searing agony spread out from his chest.  One by one, the small group of hunters were picked off, the suppressor on the rifle ensuring that they never heard the shot that killed them, nor realised where the sniper’s nest was located.

Pete didn’t really like the suppressor as it changed the whole feel of the rifle, but it was good for this relatively close work in the jungles, where lines of sight were much more limited.  He keyed the short-wave radio’s speak-button and listened to the static become interrupted as he toggled the button on and off.  Dash-dot-dot-dash.  He waited a moment and there was an answering dot-dash.  Pete policed his brass and then any other gash that he hadn’t already dealt with over the last few days.  As he did so he took frequent glances to where the fallen poaches were already starting to attract flies.  His mucker Slade appeared from the nowhere he’d hidden himself on the same side of the valley as the gorillas and checked that the poachers really were all dead.  Pete had just finished stowing his gear when the radio hissed out another staccato message.  Dot-dash-dot, pause, dot-dot-dot-dash, pause, dot-dash-dot, dot-dot-dash.  Pete grinned.  He’d been through a lot with Slade, one way and another, and still his mate could find a way to make him laugh – a race to the RV, yeah, right…

Three hours later, and Pete was back at the land rover.  Bob was providing security whilst Jag was stowing the last of their gear and ensuring that the vehicle was in tip-top condition – or at least as tip-top as could be achieved in the middle of nowhere.  In a matter of minutes Slade joined them.

“Looks like the beers are on you, old son” Pete drawled, attempting to make it look like he’s been back at the rendezvous for a lot longer than a couple of minutes.

Jag picked up the handset of a bigger radio than the little short-wave jobs that they used for local comms.

“Stanley calling Attenborough. Stanley calling Attenborough.  Livingstone and Tarzan secure repeat Livingstone and Tarzan secure out.”

Pete and Slade slung their packs into the back of the Landrover, climbed in themselves and were just seated when Jag tore off down the dirt track.  Not for the first time, Pete wondered what the real Attenborough would think of what they were doing here.  Not an awful lot, Pete suspected.  Was this a case of two wrongs not making a right?  Would there always be others to take the place of the men who’d died today, trying to set traps for creatures that should be left alone to live their lives in peace?  Still, from Pete’s perspective, there were wore ways to make a living, and with the skill set he’d developed over the years there weren’t exactly a lot of career options. 

“Attenborough calling Stanley, come in, over.” The radio crackled to life.  Bob picked up the handset while Jag continued to weave his way down the mountain track at speed.

“This is Stanley, receiving you loud and clear Attenborough, over.”

“Congratulations on successful mission, Stanley.  We have reports of poachers heading towards a herd of elephants.  It’s on your exit route.  We can provide you with an alternate route, or provide intel for engagement. Over.”  Bob looked around and collected nods.

“Understood Attenborough.  We will engage, but we will need a re-supply on route. Over.”

“Affirmative Stanley.  Standby for co-ordinates for resupply by drone.  Out.”

“Looks like those beers will have to wait”, Slade grinned.

“Reckon so.  And a shower if it comes to that.”

“I’ll miss the beers more.”

“We won’t!”

Pete and Slade settled down into the watchful doze of the trained professional who doesn’t know what the future held.  Yeah, Pete thought as he drifted off, there are worse ways to make a living.

© David Jesson, 2021

#FlashFiction Prompt: Hitman for Hire

You’re a hitman for hire, but with one twist – your clients are all supernatural. Your business motto is “… because ghosts need revenge too.”

Tell us your story, or tell us their story.
As ever, any genre you like.

Word count: up to 1,000
Deadline: 8am GMT on Sunday, 10th October 2021

If you can’t make this deadline, don’t forget you can use our #TortoiseFlashFiction page.

A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

Comic Timing

The Bandleader blamed the Comic, for adding extra material.  The Comic blamed the Bandleader for coming in too early, drowning out the punchline.

Less than an hour after the end of the show, the Comic stood in a darkened doorway.  He’d arrived early, and removed the light-bulb.

As the musician fumbled with his keys, a voice tickled his ear:

“Laugh this off.”

Puzzled he turned, only to see a figure turning the corner at the end of the street.  His back began to itch as if it were on fire.

He turned and, in extreme discomfort, ran to the shower.

© David Jesson, 2018


A little bit of Flash Fiction, which I submitted to one of Janet Reid’s competitions a few years ago now, but which has kept on getting bumped from FCBF for one reason or another.

There are a number of rules, but the key ones are:

1. Write a story using 100 words or fewer.

2. Use these words in the story:


To compete for the Steve Forti Deft Use of Prompt Words prize (or if you are Steve Forti) you must also use: Fortran

3. You must use the whole word, but that whole word can be part of a larger word. The letters for the prompt must appear in consecutive order. They cannot be backwards.

Thus: early/pearly is ok, but light/sleight is not. Hours is fine, but grouch is not

(You might have to look twice, but I did manage to get Fortran in there :0) ).

#FlashFiction: The Stories – Journal on a Train

“How did I meet Emma? It’s a good story actually. Emma do you want to…?”

Taking a moment to go back to that fateful day, Emma started…

As we pulled into the station, I was wondering which train would leave first, for I’d observed on previous journeys that this is where two lines converged, with trains pulling in on opposite sides of the same platform. As the first two stations on the route are the same before the line goes on to split, commuters – you know what they’re like, ever in a rush – make a dash across the platform to get onto the train which leaves a minute or two ahead of the other. I’d not studied the timetables in order to work out which was which, so I was on alert to follow the dashing suits.

Having made the cross platform dash, I pulled out my tatty old paperback I could squeeze in a few more minutes of reading before reaching my stop. But my peace was disturbed when an impeccably be-suited woman caught her high heels in my laces as she tried frantically to exit from the moving train. Fortunately, another passenger (Emma gesticulated at Bill) grabbed the woman’s flailing suit jacket and pulled her to safety. Nevertheless the door swung open with a crash, for she’d had reached the handle with her desperately flailing fingertips.

“Get that door shut!”

Unbelievably, I obeyed instinctively, only later recognising the military tone of the passenger who had his arms wrapped firmly around the crying woman, holding her back. With the door shut, the fight went out of her, and she burst into tears.

“Deal with this! Err… please deal with this.”

Yes, I recognised that this other passenger felt I should be handling the crying woman for no reason other than that I shared her gender. I threw him a look but, seeing he’d positioned himself to block any more ill-considered exit attempts, I accepted my lot, grubbed around in my rucksack for a tissue and waited. Between sobs we heard…

“I left my journal on that train… One minute it was in my hand, but when I got here, it wasn’t… I must’ve put it down on the seat as I went to get out.”

“No need to go leaping out of the train. You can get out at the next station, wait for that train to arrive, get on it again and reclaim your journal!”

I knew was making sense, of course, but I really wished he’d drop that military tone, as it had started the woman off again.

“No, it’s no good… My boyfriend was sitting on the same seat as me and he’ll pick it up.”

Jumping in before military man – as I now thought of him – I suggested “but that’s good surely. He’ll keep it safe for you.”

Much to my horror, the sobbing unexpectedly descended into wailing, and I couldn’t avoid the raised eyebrows and somewhat smug expression appearing on military man’s face. Responding with a shrug and a wry smile, I settled down to waiting till the wailing subsided, which it only did as they pulled in to my station.

It turned out all three were getting off at the same stop – the final one before the line split. Military man opened the door and got out, offering a hand to first the crying lady and then to me. I’ll admit I tried to be annoyed at that, but couldn’t because I could see he was visibly struggling not to laugh. We fell into step alongside one another watching as our charge answered her mobile phone. Hearing raised voices coming from both her and her phone, we’d – as one – tried to step around her and speed past, but she flung herself at us, in flood of tears once more.

Even the gentleman, the military man (Emma made air quotes as she said that) steered their charge to a nearby bench and settled down to hear the sorry saga…

“He’s read it… Well enough of it.”

We waited…

“He’s seen what I wrote about that guy I spent the night with last night… And that bloke from the weekend… And…”

As one, we stood up and left her to her recitation of indiscretions. As they walked away, I know I was shaking my head and trying to keep from laughing but him, good old military man only laughed out loud once we’d got through the exit. I’ll admit I joined in, and we did laugh in a decidedly uncontrollable manner for a while, getting all kinds of looks from the other passengers as they streamed past us. When we’d finally managed to stop, he introduced himself and asked if I fancied a drink. Turned out I did, and I seem to remember suggesting that pub down by the river.

Bill picked up the story, for they’d remained in that pub until closing time as, despite their many exterior differences, it transpired they agreed on the important stuff.

“So, do you think it’ll make a good addition to my speech?”

“What, how some random’s woman’s journal of indiscretions brought you together – I should say so!”

“You can have it for your speech, but only if you agree to wearing a kilt!”

Bill knew he was beaten. Emma had been trying to persuade him on that front for the past week or two. He suspected he’d been well and truly set up.

© Debra Carey, 2021

#FlashFiction Prompt: Journal on a Train

Journals have become ubiquitous – so many of us keep one, whether that be as a device for managing our time better, for downloading our thoughts, for keeping notes for an on-going project, for development of our ideas …

But what happens if you leave it behind? What caused you to forget something so important? What might it mean to a stranger who finds it?

Tell us the story from whichever point of view you choose – the loser or the finder. As ever, in the genre of your choice.

Word count: up to 1,000
Deadline: 8am GMT on Sunday, 12th September 2021

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page

A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

Filling time

Today was the day.  The handover had been completed without a hitch, and Joe sidled out of the rendezvous with the brown paper bag clutched in his hands.  There is an art to being unobtrusive: Joe had watched too many of the wrong sort of films and over-did his nonchalant departure.  Still, if his skitter from the protection of one doorway to another was attracting the attention of the crowds, it was shielding him from the one set of eyes that he was trying to avoid.

He’d spotted his stalker, quite by chance, when he stepped out of the office block on his lunchbreak and had become dizzy with indecision.  Why was his nemesis here now?  Should he abandon his plan?  No!  Audentes fortuna juvat, he muttered under his breath.  Very well.  If fortune favoured the brave, he would be brave.  He strode onwards, away from his destination, attempting to throw his stalker off the scent.  He walked down tiny side streets, aware of eyes on him.  Suddenly he twisted into a department store, zig-zagging amongst shuffling shoppers and exiting from the main doors on the other side of the building.  From there, Joe tried to keep out of sight, moving quickly until he reached his target.

There could be no question of returning to the office to open the bag.  Every one of his colleagues would come sniffing around.  But he had thrown off his pursuer, so perhaps he could risk opening it in the park…?

Joe looked around nervously as he sat on the bench and started to open the paper bag.  He’d lived on lumpy homemade cheese and pickle sandwiches all week so that he could save enough to buy one of the exotic creations from the Café Du Sept Hippocampes.  It would, perhaps, have been safer to eat his lunch in the café itself, but the extra cost was beyond him, and the bohemian nature of the pretentious venue brought him out in hives.  But the sandwiches…he drooled at the merest thought of them, which had led to one or two embarrassing moments when he’d started day-dreaming in long meetings.

He drew in the smell first, the aroma being the first part of the feast.  There was always the temptation to nibble, to take mouse-like bites and so make the sandwich last as long as possible, but he’d discovered that to do so was to miss the point of this culinary sensation.  The only way was to take a deep, hearty bite and so draw in all of the separate ingredients in one mouthful and undertake some gastronomic alchemy and deliver an explosion of taste to the tongue.

Joe bit deeply, and lost himself in an instant of perfection.

His pursuer, that had followed him for just this moment, swooped over his shoulder and took its own bite out of the sandwich.  Landing on the grass in front of Joe, the seagull smirked, and eyed up the sandwich for a second go.

© David Jesson, 2021

#FlashFiction: Expenses – The Stories

“Jones, you need to report to the Finance Director – pronto!”

Evans was positively out of breath and – remarkably – appeared to have been running. Regarding his breathless colleague with a raised eyebrow, Jones responded with a lazy wave of his hand, before straightening the papers on his desk. Calmly finishing his tea, he reached into the top drawer and pulled out a tie which he slung casually across his shoulder. Evans regarded him with growing alarm, probably totally unaware that he was hopping nervously from foot to foot. When Jones finally made for the corridor, Evans followed with some relief. Then, just as all appeared to be going to plan, he was horrified to see Jones taking a sharp left into the gents.

“No, no, noooooo…”

Wringing his hands in the corridor as he regarded the door, visibly unable to make up his mind what to do, Evans finally pushed the door open, only to find Jones whistling as he adjusted his flies.

“Jones, you must come now…” his voice now almost a squeak, beads of sweat appearing on his forehead.

“Just a mo old son, got to wash my hands you know.”

Jones indicated the sign on the wall with a wink and proceeded to wash his hands in a most deliberate manner. Visibly breathing hard, Evans had resumed hopping from foot to foot. Anyone watching would have had serious concerns for his health when Jones started to fiddle with his tie – tying it and re-tying it multiple times. Finally, with a rueful smile, he turned back to Evans.

“Right you are, let’s get on with this then” and giving a little bow, he ostentatiously waved Evans ahead of him.

By now, Evans was so nervous, he walked down the corridor backwards, determined not to lose sight of Jones. Jones, of course, gave no warning of oncoming traffic – be that with person or… so the collision with the stationery trolley was particularly calamitous, spreading small items far and wide across the corridor. Jones, naturally, insisted they must stop to help, which caused Evans to return to hopping while also wringing his hands. Even though Jones was clearly enjoying himself enormously, they were waved on their way with a firm “I’ve got this, thanks.”

They managed the remainder of the walk to the Finance Director’s office without incident, mostly because all oncoming traffic were at considerable pains to avoid Evans. Some gave Jones an amused glance, yet others looked at him pityingly, but by far the greater number regarded him with what could only be described as contempt.

Now worrying that his joke may have backfired and wishing he’d put on his jacket, Jones stood back as Evans rapped nervously at the Finance Director’s door. Sticking his head round the door and announcing “Jones for you sir”, Evans fled without a backward glance. With no option but to face the music, Jones entered. He heard the barely repressed anger in the barked instruction “and shut the bloody door behind you!”

Shutting the door, Jones pulled up a chair and sat down, crossing his legs in an attempt to appear calm. But before he had a chance to speak, that anger was repressed no more and everyone within a wide radius heard the blast “no-one invited you to sit down Jones!”

Recoiling visibly, Jones jumped back to his feet and wondered what to do with his hands. Rejecting the option of putting them in his pockets, he wisely assumed the “at ease” stance with his hands clasped nervously behind his bank.

It would be misleading to call what Jones experienced that day a dressing down, for he was systematically torn apart with the only weapons the Finance Director had at his disposal – his famously sharp tongue. When he exited the office, Jones looked visibly shell-shocked. He’d not spoken a word, not a single one. It was abundantly clear to him that his point of view – let alone any excuses – were of no interest to the Finance Director. From his pallor, it was clear to all he knew he was lucky to still be employed.

Evans found him in the gents, and handed him a mug of hot sweet tea at the behest of one of the kinder first aiders. No more fooling around this time, Jones accepted the mug with a gratitude he couldn’t quite express. Evans waited as he drank it and shooed away anyone trying to use the gents, directing them to the next floor. Unusually, no-one complained, but then the word had probably spread far and wide.

Jones finally spoke “I really need a drink” which caused Evans to smile “I’ll get your coat shall I?” Returning with both coats, Evans slipped Jones quietly off the premises and sought out a pub. Not their local mind, for this conversation needed to be had where their colleagues wouldn’t find them.

Waiting till Jones had drained the first pint and had the second one in front of him, Evans finally asked the big question “so, what did you do?” The noise Jones made was somewhere between a strangled laugh and a sob.

“It was a joke you know – I heard he had a sense of humour.”

Now it was Evans’ turn to laugh – and he did so heartily and loudly. Finally composing himself, he asked “who told you that?” Jones named a mutual colleague, only to have Evans laugh again “you’ve been had lad, totally had. Come on then, give me the gory details…”

“My old car – the BM – was acting up and I was complaining about it one evening in the pub. He sympathised and asked me what I was thinking of replacing it with. I was chucking about the usual candidates, when he told me he saw me as someone who drove something with a bit more pzazz – something like a Porsche 911?”

Evans was giving him a quizzical look, so Jones replied “Naturally I said I didn’t think the company would pay the petrol, but admitted I’d love one – I mean, who wouldn’t? That’s when he suggested I both try it on a bit and play a little joke. Told me a mate of his had one and he could get me a month’s worth of petrol receipts. So I submitted those for my last month’s claim as he said it would give the old man a good laugh.”

“He didn’t tell you the friend of his with those petrol receipts was the FD then?”

Jones looked aghast.

“Or that the MD gave him a dressing down during a full Board meeting for even thinking he’d get away with claiming it as his company car?”

 That second pint went down without even touching the sides.

Evans headed to the bar “You’ll be needing a whisky with that.”

Jones offered no argument.

© Debra Carey, 2021

Lt Goode sighed. 

“What’s the matter Lois?” Lt Harris asked from the door.

“The matter is that.” Goode indicated a pile of paperwork with a belligerent chin, and somehow managed to look daggers at the stack at the same time.  The laws of physics precluded spontaneous combustion or, failing that, the stack toppling from the pressure of disapproval, but it was a close-run thing.  “I’d barely caught up with everything from the last incident and now there’s three times as much!”

Harris laughed in as sympathetic a manner as possible.  “Isn’t that your job though?  You must admit that you’ve had it pretty quiet until now.”

“Laugh it up fly-girl.  Pretty much everything every one on this bucket o’ bolts does on a daily basis racks up a cost that has to be accounted for not to mention your salary – you’d be singing a different tune if you didn’t get paid on time.  And you might not if I can’t get this lot sorted out.”

“Is it that serious?”

“Yes.  The Chief Engineer may be the hero of the hour, but he and the skipper have turned the whole ship upside down with this emergency refit.  Everyone is coming forward with claims for broken equipment or bits and pieces that have been requisitioned.  This one’ the irate accountant flapped a piece of paper ‘is for knicker elastic!  Knicker elastic!  I have no idea what it was used for yet, so now I have to work out whether to just give them the two credits, or waste my time reading the nonsense and trying to work out if it’s true or not!” Lois Goode broke off with an hysterical squeak.

“Errm…this probably isn’t the best time to give you this then?”

“What. Is, It.?” Goode asked with icily murderous intensity.

“Well you know that I flew the marines to the first Roc-55?”

“I don’t think there’s a person on this ship that doesn’t.”

“No need to be catty.  I…well…erm…I had to used some duct tape to hold somethings in place.”

“So?  We carry that in stores.”

“Yeah…it was a bit last minute, and I had to use my own.”

Goode shot out a hand and snatched the piece of paper from her friend’s hand.

“Not just any duct tape then.  You are a grown woman!  Why do you even have Mr Men duct tape?  Wait, I just remembered – I don’t care.”  Goode carefully placed the expense claim at the bottom of the teetering stack of forms.

“Is there anything I can do to help, Lois?”

“Yes, you can get out of here!”

“I meant is there anything that we can do to help get the paper work sorted?”

“Yes, you can get out of here!”

Lt Harris, pilot, navigator, scourge of terrorists, fled.

“Petty officer!” The accountant yelled.  “What are we going to do about this fleet of Roc-55s the skipper seems to have acquired?”  Goode was on a short service commission.  She’d thought she lucked out with a boring scientific survey to pay back the Navy for getting her off her back water planet and through one of the better universities available.  She seemed to have found herself in a war-zone anyway though.

The petty officer scratched what little of his hair was left.  “Well ma’am, time was they’d be counted as prizes and every man-jack on the ship would have got a bonus.  Weighted by seniority o’course.  Still, we’re talking hun’erds of years ago.  Certainly never in the space navy.”

“Thank you for the history lesson” the accountant said caustically, “but what are we supposed to do now?  How do we sort out the expenses we’re racking up, like all the fuel they’re using?”

“Yes ma’am, thank you ma’am, very good question ma’am.”  He snapped his fingers and started rummaging in the filing cabinets for different forms.  “We’ll shift the problem over to Fleet HQ ma’am, and this is how we’ll do it…”

“Well done, petty officer, I knew you’d have a plan.”  Goode smiled for the first time in a week.

©David Jesson, 2021

Author’s Note – Things have been a bit hectic of late, so I’ve taken a rather loose interpretation of the prompt.  The spirit is observed if not the letter that I’d imagined when I first suggested this prompt!  This little story is also linked to a story that I’ve been delivering tweet by tweet all this year.  I’ve been telling the story of Captain Alleyn and her spaceship since just before the New Year, with each daily installment inspired by the #vss365 prompt.  Lt Goode is named in homage to one of my favourite sci-fi authors, with a riff on one of her (tertiary) characters.

#FlashFiction: Now with Added SciFi – the stories

From DebsI’m a science duffer, and while I enjoy reading science fiction and SciFi (with space opera being a particular favourite at the moment) my story is a bit like me…

“I thought this was a creative writing class – why is the reading list wholly science-based?”

Melissa’s hand had been up for quite a while before the tutor got round to her. She spotted his eyes roll and the unmistakably brusque tone in his response.

“If you’d read the syllabus notes in advance, you’d have noticed the first piece of writing is going to be science fiction, and the one thing that will ensure you alienate your readers is if you get the science wrong. That list also includes successful authors, who’ll showcase how to do it well.”

“But the module is entitled Research. Oh… I see.” Melissa started to argue, before tailing off in a shamefaced manner.

The class broke up in a buzz of excitement, for all but Melissa were geeks or nerds, appearing to be well in their element with this one. Melissa, with aspirations of writing literary fiction, felt like the proverbial fish. The rest of the day passed in a blur of self-pity and disappointment, so Melissa felt positively entitled when she picked up that bottle of wine despite it being a school night. Pouring her first glass as she threw together a pasta dish, she multi-tasked as was her wont by checking her email. To her surprise, there was one from the creative writing tutor.

“I wanted to re-assure you it’s pure bad luck you’re the only non-science person in the class as the first module on this course has always been a piece of science fiction. I know you won’t feel it now, but you’ve actually got the best chance of high marks. What you need to do is to demonstrate you know how to use research in your writing. Honestly, most of the others will think they know enough and wing it, whereas my marking will be based on what each of you make of the same research materials. And yes, that fact is also in the syllabus notes.”

Melissa put her wine glass down in a hurry to read the syllabus notes properly, before logging into the campus library. Swearing under her breath, she saw he was right on both counts. And no-one else had booked the items on the reading list, despite there being multiple copies of each. Putting the wine bottle away, she resolved to drive the next day rather than having to lug the pile of reading material home on the bus.

Home again, she started with fiction, and was surprised to find one of the offerings absolutely engrossing. Yes, it was science, but the story had great characters and a good plotline. Melissa began to see a glimmer of belief. She might be able to produce something which showcased her own preferred style, but in a science fiction setting.

Her joy ended all too quickly when she came crashing down to earth after reading the non-fiction. There was so much which went over her head, it was all such dense learning and she felt utterly overwhelmed.

Taking herself out for a walk to get away from the wine bottle, she pondered how on earth she was going to choose what area of science to incorporate into her work… when she remembered. The first work of fiction she’d read had been unremarkable, but she was sure it was in there. Rushing home to re-read it, Melissa gave a little “yes!” before stopping to make tea for fuelling a long session of copious note making. She was right, she had spotted a McGuffin – one she thought she might just be able to use.

Checking the author hadn’t written anything more on the subject, Melissa threw herself into outlining her tale. Her story would be a prequel, ending where the McGuffin is uncovered in the original book… but with entirely different characters, a plotline, and maybe even a timeline of its own. Of course, she had to ensure that her story would lead seamlessly into the already published work, for the link between her world and that of the published work would need to be believable.

On the reading list, Melissa found was a fascinating book on worldbuilding, quickly becoming buried in creating the world her characters would inhabit. Religion, culture, clothing, politics, geography, geology, gender identity, hobbies, transport, education – nothing escaped her. As she researched each subject, she found ideas for building the direction her plot would take.

As she developed her plot, she kept returning to the original ethos – her storyline mustn’t jar with that of the published work, it mustn’t be a copy, but it must have a believable link. Whenever Melissa faced a conflict in what direction to take her story, she returned to this important requirement.

Slowly but steadily, Melissa saw how it would work. Producing a detailed plot and full character profiles, she wrote the beginning and the ending. Now she just had to make sure she had enough understanding of the science for the middle. It would be a struggle, but she was fortunate in having an entire class filled with geeks and nerds at hand, most of whom had appeared terribly keen to display their cleverness to her.

Melissa smiled. This could work.

© Debra Carey, 2021

From David – I’d probably be one of the nerds and geeks in Melissa’s class who would try to wing it, if I’m honest, although Debs will tell you that I’m also likely to go digging after a detail to ensure verisimilitude – I hate unintended anachronsims! Creatively, I’m in a funny place at the moment, so I hope you’ll indulge me in the fact that I’ve written two shorter pieces rather than one longer one. I think they both meet the brief. I’ve put the slightly more dystopian one first, and the absurdist one second…

Testing times

The alarm goes off.  Just once I’d like to be able to say that with enthusiasm.  I spit onto a fresh test, spike a finger with another and head to the bathroom.  They say that it doesn’t really matter when you do it, but I figure it’s best to get it out of the way early.  It’s not like it’s a treat to hold on for.  Once or twice, when I was younger, I tried to get out the door without doing the tests.  They’re supposed to be voluntary, after all, but the increasingly serious warnings as I delayed spooked me too much, and I caved in. 

I’ve timed my ablutions to perfection, thanks to experience.  I’ve no idea what the results are, but I touch the tests to my watch and it tells me what my meals for the day will be, what supplements to take, what exercise to do.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to catch something – not fatal obviously – and to see my meals emerge from the slot in the wall, but I’ve always been sickeningly healthy and so, as usual, I wend my way down to the hustle and bustle of the refectory.  All the adverts make them look glamourous and lively, try and get you to move to a new Residence on the basis of the great meals you’ll be served.  There’s only so much you can do with yeast and myco-protein though, and every refectory I’ve ever been a member of serves the same series of drudge-fare.  There are one or two choices on the menu that it’s worth getting excited for, but usually the biggest buzz about the menu is when they decide to change the order.  I’ve heard stories of places that added something new to their menu, but I think they’re just urban legends.  I’ve never met someone who’s seen a menu change, they’re only ever stories from a friend of a friend.

The refectory is still filling up at this time of the day.  I collect my tray and look for somewhere to sit.  Some people favour corner seats as there are fewer people around you, but I tend to avoid them as you get more people passing by.  There are a few seats though that are optimal.  My favourite has been taken, but my second favourite is free.  Some would see this as an omen for the day. 

There are rumours that refectories may have to bubble eating groups.  Idly, I wonder how one would ensure that you ended up with an optimal seat, how you would ensure that you had a good mix of chat-friends. How long before the lack of change would stultify conversation.  I wonder if they would allow changes to the bubbles over time? The self-elected table monitor is talking about an article they read of old villages, no more than 250 people, how the brain is wired to remember this many people and struggles with more.  I wonder what it would be like to know that many people so well.  I know more people than that – there must be at least a 1,000 people in the Residence alone, but how many of those do I know well?

I’m clearing my tray when the police-nurses file in and seal the room.  Such stories play out on the news every day, but again, never to anyone you know.  They call out a name.  It is the self-elected table monitor from a table on the other side of the refectory.  Something is jabbed in their arm and they are taken away, dangling between two police-nurses.  The remaining police nurses escort us back to our rooms, a table at a time.  Senior police-nurses sequester those closest to the person who has just been removed.

I miss the rest, but can imagine the process of testing and injecting, as our table is escorted out of the refectory and back to our rooms.  I’m handed a test kit, and the door is locked behind me.  It will open to the touch of the test – if all is well.

I’ll have a story to tell, maybe.  I wait for the results.

Designer Pets

“So what are you going to call it?” A useful phrase, in the right circumstances, although a less self-involved person would have noted the lack of enthusiasm and an overabundance of doubt.

“I had thought of ‘dig’ or ‘pog’, but I’m not really sure.  I think I’ll hand that over to the PR people and see what they suggest.

“Probably wise…although I think they might have some bigger issues to deal with first, like the fact that you’re not licensed as a genetic engineer, not anymore, not after, you know…”

“Details, details.  I couldn’t let all that expensive equipment sit around idle – “

“You could have sold it.”

“- and the point is, it worked!  The Institute will be begging to give me back my license!”

“Maybe…” Still more doubt than enthusiasm, to be honest.

The creature before me was, basically, a dog.  A very enthusiastic dog, with a long, licky tongue, and bottom that was shuffling back and forth as its tail whipped back and forth in a creditable attempt at a vertical take-off.

“I used a Labrador, to begin with, for obvious reasons, but the process would work with any dog type.  I can imagine it being popular with police forces and the military if we make the splice with Alsatians and Dobermans and so on, and we could make quite a cute handbag version for the fashionistas.”

I really wasn’t sure cute was a go-er.  One of the things that I notice about dogs is that they don’t have teeth, they have fangs.  The creature before me had tusks, not like an elephant but more like –

“Similarly, I used a Gloucester Old Spot for the pig part, but again we could probably use other types if there are other characteristics we want to go for.  I quite fancy trying to resurrect the Lincolnshire Curly Coat.  I shied away from wild boar-”

Uncharacteristically restrained of you, I thought.

“-but that might be good for the military version, perhaps.”

Ah, there we go.

“I feel like I’m missing something.  Does the world need a dog-pig or pig-dog or whatever this thing is?”  Its hard to use the word monstrosity when the thing in question is looking at you pathetically, licking your hand and drooling over your shoes.

“Ah, but here’s the really good bit!  It’s not just a dig or a pog or whatever we call it – it’s a living biorefinery!  You can feed it on just about anything organic, and some stuff that isn’t.  And then, you can tweak a few genes or the gut flora and it will produce whatever chemical you want.  Medicines, turpentine, alcohol, petrol, spider silk…”

“Forgive me, but aside from questions of scale, I really can’t see aspirin extracted from a pog’s backside catching on.  Further, can you imagine the havoc reeked by porco-canine produced illicit drugs?  And whilst it might be great that pigs will eat anything, pigs eat EVERYTHING.  I can’t see that being great round the home, frankly, not to mention all those mob hits and crazy farmers where they disposed of the body using porcine reclamation.”

The noise he made in response wasn’t quite rude, but was somewhere on the raspberry spectrum.

The creature looked up at me with pleading eyes.

© David Jesson, 2021

#FlashFiction Prompt: Now with Added Sci Fi

A little throw back to James Pailly’s post that kicked off our #NowWithAdded series. A simple enough premise: look around you, think about your life…what would the consequences be if something ordinary became a bit more SciFi?

Word count: Approximately 1,000 words
Deadline: 8am GMT on Sunday 11th July 2021

Don’t forgot, if you miss the deadline, you can always post your story to our #TortoiseFlashFiction page

A reminder to new readers/writers, please post on your own site and add a link in the comments section below.  If you don’t have your own blog or similar outlet, do send us your story via the contact form on the About page and we’ll post for you, with an appropriate by-line – you retain the copyright.

One caveat, if you want to go down this route: this is a family show, so we reserve the right not to post anything that strays into NSFW or offends against ‘common decency’.

Whither goest thou?

“Quo vadis?”

It’s a busy day today.  There’s a long line of people struggling up the steep hill to our gate.  Our optio, Marcus, delivers the traditional challenge.  The voice in my head always wants to shout out “It’s bloomin’ obvious, they want to get in, don’t they?”.  But rules are rules, and the optio must challenge the travellers, and the rest of the squad must look smart, two with ceremonial spears blocking the narrow archway into the building, two to pat down the supplicants, and apply the wands that check for illicit chemicals and EM signatures.

That’s me – the spear-holder to the left of the arch, attempting to look impassive, disguising the fact that I’m clenching my buttocks in time to show tunes to keep the blood moving around my body whilst I stand here.  It also helps to alleviate the boredom, a little.

The optio is a twenty-year man.  He’s mulling over whether to stay on for another twenty years or take his land-grant and retire.  He looks good in his uniform.  His skin is leathery from years spent out under suns on myriad worlds, but it contrasts nicely with his body-armour, the chest plate embossed with the traditional abdominal six-pack, the golden emblems indicating his rank, length of service, valour.

Me?  Yeah, I’m the odd one out for sure.  I’m not from Nova Roma.  I’m a refugee.  Military service seemed like the simplest way to gain citizenship, although who knows what that will mean in the long run.  I’ve been lucky though – no off-planet wars to fight in so far.  Instead, gate-duty.

It’s strange how quickly you get institutionalised though.  This guy here, with his super glossy black hair – he’s not a local.  It’ll be subtle, but he’ll get worked over just that little bit more than a home-grown Citizen.  The next senior person in our squad is Francesca, and she really doesn’t like off-worlders.  Yep, there it is, an extra pat down, legs kicked a little further apart.  She’s not going to get promotion though – she’s a good enough soldier, but not leadership material.  Cassie will get promoted before her, but new optios don’t get the squad they came from, so if we lose Marcus and Cassie, there’s a good chance they’ll break us up and ship us to different squads, possibly completely different postings.

Titus is the poet.  That’s him, with Francesca, doing the pat downs.  He won’t do the full twenty.  He’ll probably just do his National Service, get his SPQNR stamp on his docket and…he says he’s going to travel, but I reckon he’ll just end up back in the family bakery.

The guy with the thick black hair is waved on.  Cassie and I stamp to attention, spears to the upright to allow the man to pass.  He glances up at the aquila carved into the archway and makes his way inside the cool marble halls of the Senate building.

The next traveller steps up.

“Quo vadis?”

© David Jesson, 2021