Click on the titles to link to the stories below.
Adult Honorable Mentions - with Judge's Comments
Click on the titles to link to the stories below.
Youth Honorable Mentions - with Judge's Comments
"Silk" by Kate Marshall
Dania wove her prophecies in silk, and merchants and mothers and fools came to buy them. Most she turned away, and even the rest never heard her voice. She spoke only to her worms, whispering thanks as they wove themselves away from the world. Some she set aside for a season, until they broke into the world for a brief, flightless life of frenzied lust. The others she bathed in steam, and the salt of her few tears crusted at the lips of her pots. Each thread was thick with failed transformation.
The dye-maker came each day to paw her lengths of braided and knotted silk, every one of them raw and pale.
"I've a blue made from crushed snail shells," he said. "I've a yellow scraped from the bark of a tree that grows only on children's graves. I've a red bled from the veins of adulterers. Make me a prophecy from those."
She gave him the same small smile she offered kings and urchins, and sent him away.
She was not alone for long. A girl crept in, a pale thing with blue veins like tangled thread at her wrists and white hair falling to her waist. "I want to buy a prophecy," she said. "Any will do. Even a sorrowful future would be better than none at all, and that is what I have."
Dania read the delicate traces of the girl's veins as she would her own work, and saw it was true. No future at all, and that was not a thing she had seen before. She shook her head and smiled sadly.
The girl caught her hand; her touch was cool, her hands thin but her grip strong. "It's a hard thing, to live without a future," she said. "I make no mark on the world. No person has ever been changed by knowing me; I don't even leave footprints where I walk."
Dania shook her head again. A prophecy shaped a future; it didn't create one. She lifted a thumb to the girl's cheek to smooth away a tear.
Dania nodded at last. She would try.
She could not weave such a thing from silk. She took her shears and cut that long, white hair; it was thin, and sleek, and slid away as she tried to knot it.
When it was done, she held it up: an ungainly thing of lumps and bristles, all its beauty ruined. But the girl took it, and wrapped it around herself, and laughed. It was a hard future Dania had woven, and one with little laughter. But it was the nature of thread to loosen, to slip, to tangle. The girl's path could change, now that she had a path to walk at all.
The girl danced out, and Dania watched, and the fading light fell on footprints in the dust.
This piece uses traditional storytelling without sounding stilted. It flows well, draws the reader in, sketches the two protagonists lightly but firmly. I could picture both them and their setting with ease. The ending satisfied me, yet left an intriguing sense of mystery, which I liked. It's quite good the way it stands, but could also be expanded into a longer work.
"New Job" by Brianna Apling
"Amy, are you sure this is going to work?" Marco asked in his monotone voice.
"For the hundredth time, yes."
"Because you have said that before. Like that time on Torbin and on Hetcha."
I paused in my task and turned to look up at him. I could see the servos in his eyes spin as he focused on my face. Damn androids never forgot anything. "Neither of those were my fault." I turned back to the panel in front of me, removed the last screw, pulled the panel off and handed to Marco.
"On Torbin you said you knew how to fly a Borso ship. And on Hetcha the timer went off five minutes before it was supposed to," he continued.
I stared at the tangled mass of colored wires, trying to concentrate. Hotwiring a Somarrian interstellar freighter was difficult enough without his commentary. I located the connections to the thrust drive and started cutting wires. "That Borso ship wasn't standard. The controls were all screwed up. And you didn't tell me time on Hetcha runs slower. That stupid timer was calibrated for Earth time."
Marco handed me a soldering laser and I quickly reconnected the cut wires. He didn't say anything else but I could practically hear the gears in his titanium head spinning. I got the thrust drive rewired and screwed the panel back in place. "Now for the Nav-Con."
Marco continued to stare at me.
"WHAT?!" I finally shouted.
"I do not think there was anything wrong with that Borso ship," he finally said.
I gritted my teeth. "We're not talking about this. Now hand me the resequencer and be quiet."
Thankfully he complied. I hooked the resequencer into the Navigation Control input and within a few seconds cracked the ship's encryption. "See? I told you this was going to be easy. Now read off the coordinates for the rendezvous point."
Marco didn't say anything; instead he just stared at me.
I let out a long sigh and rubbed my head. I could feel a massive headache building. "All right, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have told you to be quiet. We're partners and I'm sorry."
If androids could smile I swear he would have be wearing a huge tooth-bearing grin. Some days I really regretted saving him from that scrap melter on Forcia-7. "The coordinates are 345.894, 498,775, 197.297."
I punched in the numbers and disconnected the resequencer. "That should do it." I made my way to the helm and fired up the ship. Everything looked great. Finally a job was going to go my way.
Marco sat at the communications station. "Everything is ready, Amy."
I eased the ship away from the dock and pointed it towards open space. A squadron of Allied Planet Consortium ships filled the viewscreen. Marco turned to look at me.
"If you say one word, I swear I'll turn you into a toaster," I growled.
This was fun, and had a good plot for its size. Excellent characters, snappy dialogue, and a snarky ending. There was enough tension between the human, the A.I., and the situation so that it didn't go over into Smart Alec 101.
"Famous Last Words" by Cat MacLeod
Gerald saw the last mourner out the door. "Mrs. Lane, I don't think I can shake another hand."
"Would you like me to see about paying the undertaker, sir?"
His father's housekeeper was the only thing he'd miss about this place. The sooner he could auction off its contents, the better.
His father's collection was going first. The hundred silver vials were a valuable set; but it was their contents, his father had insisted, that made them priceless. "They contain famous last words."
Gerald had always found his father's obsession horrifying. He could've afforded first-editions. Old coins. Rembrandts, even. Gerald thought his ghoulish fascination with last words had begun after his mother's murder when he was two, but his father would never talk to him about it. Or anything else. Growing up, there had been no concerned questions, no fond jokes, no useful advice.
That morning his father had received one new email, from LASTWORDS200: "Have procured Amelia Earhart. Usual fee." Gerald had deleted it. He was tired of the lunacy.
He'd never been allowed to touch the vials, but opened one now.
"Josephine." He spun around, startled. No, he was alone. Nerves, he thought, and read the label on the vial.
He opened another. "Go away. I'm all right." H.G. Wells.
Okay, he'd definitely heard that. But-it must have been some stupid joke. Maybe there was a CD player running somewhere.
He spent an hour looking and didn't find one.
"How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?" P.T. Barnum.
"I must go in, the fog is rising." Emily Dickinson.
He opened the other vials quickly, still horrified, but finally believing they held last words. And that his father had been searching for his wife's.
"Excuse me, sir?" Mrs. Lane's voice was wonderfully present. She glanced at the vials around his feet as she took another from her apron. "I forgot to give you this."
"It's all right. Where was it?"
"On the floor beside your father's bed. I think it was his favourite. He always kept it open under his pillow."
"Thank you, Mrs. Lane."
An hour before, he wouldn't have even considered the possibility, but- What if his father had found a way to save his own last utterance? Had managed to seal the vial before dying?
He always had been close with his words.
And Gerald suddenly wondered why he cared. In his own way, he'd been as obsessed with words as his father, and he was tired of that lunacy, too.
He picked up the last of the collection, thumbed it open, and heard, "Throw out your dead!"
That, he thought, was advice he could use. His father had never been able to do it, but there might still be time for him. Whatever was in his father's vial was too little, too late. He set it on the desk and walked away.
I really liked the basic idea of this story. It was intriguing enough to keep me wondering where it was going. I applaud the writer for being willing to let the quotations tell part of the story and thought the ending was quite good. It could use a little tightening, but not much.
"Whisper" by Emily Polson
"I'm coming!" I cry, chasing after it as it falls, falls, falls. I reach my butterfly net out as I run, the tips of my fingers barely able to hold on as I take one last stride. "Gotcha!"
"Help! Help!" it continues to cry.
"It's okay," I whisper sweetly into the net at the flickering object, trying to imitate its voice as best I can. "You're not falling anymore."
"Help ... help ..." it whines feebly. I want to cry, it sounds so sad, but I don't want to upset it further. I take a deep breath and stand up straight.
"You're rescued. Come on." I say, even though it's still in my net and I'm the one that has to do all of the walking. Quick steps bring me to the back of my house, where my mother opens the door for me.
"Not another star, Jess?" she asks hopefully, though she can already see the evidence in my net.
"I couldn't let it die," I tell her. "Jason's brought home three comets already this month."
"I know," she sighs. "At least your stars aren't so noisy. Up to your room, then."
I creep down the hall and up the stairs, gazing at my star as I do. One of Jason's comets flies over my head, and I cringe at the crackling sound, turning and watching its tail curve around the corner and continue down the stairs. I check to see if my star is frightened, but hear only a slight whimper. Its light is dim; it must be very old.
"Help," it says, almost like a question.
"I am helping," I tell it. "Are you all right?"
"Falling ...." it tells me.
"Shh. I know."
"Cold. ... lonely...."
"Not for long," I whisper to it as I bring the net up to my face. The star flickers a little, and I know it's hope that made it do so. It's always hope.
"Pain ..." it says as I poke a threaded needle through its faintly glowing surface. I wince. I have to poke hard to get all the way through.
"I'm sorry," I tell it. "It will only hurt for a little while." I pull the needle out the other side, and tie the thread in a big loop. "Here we go," I say, my voice shaking as I hold it gently in my left palm and open the door to my room with my right. This is my favorite part. I walk into my room, and the star sputters in my hand. It's hope again, but this time the kind of hope that comes with assurance.
As I hang this one from an empty hook above my nightstand, they begin to whisper to each other in star language; a sweet, piercing music like crystalline bells. I sit atop my bed, simply staring up at them, watching them twinkle as they continue to whisper. I lie back and listen.
I love this story. It has a good voice, nice progression and use of language. Although it stands on its own, I could see this as a longer piece. Very well done.
"Pastimes" by Alysa Banks
"Hey," I say to the darkness. "You know, I've been working really hard lately...."
"And I was just thinking, maybe I could get a little, you know, break...."
"Just a little fun time. For pastimes. Please?"
A deep sigh echoes toward me. "Very well, spirit one. You shall be granted freedom 'til sunset for your ... recreational uses ... as you have been working to your fullest. Go now."
"Yess!" I whisper to myself, then shut my eyes as a strong wind passes over me. When I open them, I find myself standing in a small public bathroom, facing a dented mirror that hangs over a sink. I look at my reflection and laugh. "Ha. Teenage girl. Perfect." I run cold water over my hands and then flick droplets onto my face, with my (perfectly manicured) nails. Then, popping ear buds into my ears, I stroll out the door as casually as possible.
Outside is a little cafe busy with vigor-thirsty customers. I ignore them, exiting out the door, and am instantly engulfed in the thickness of the city. Taking note of the bridge in the distance, it's San Francisco.
As I'm hurried along the sidewalk, I notice two recycle bins at the end of the street. Ah, first fun. I summon all of my focus on them. Concennntrate, concennntrate ... My eyes narrow. My fingers tremble.
Boom! The two bins explode and pieces of recycling rain over the crowd like multicolored confetti. Shocked conversation rises.
As I'm laughing under my breath, I feel another presence watching me, separate from the crowd. Uncomfortable, I make my way through the people and go over to the crosswalk.
While I'm crossing the street, I become aware that the sign that tells you when it's okay to cross has a lighted figure of a walking man on it.
It only takes focus and two seconds for that man to become a dancing man with a hat and a cane.
People stop and stare. Children giggle furiously. So do I.
How fun is this!
Suddenly I become aware of someone else watching me again and walk faster.
I pass buildings and see a man in a suit slip on the sidewalk. The only thing is, he didn't slip on anything. Virtually impossible. That wasn't me. Then as I'm walking by Henry's Pizzeria, a stuffed zebra being held by a girl in a stroller becomes alive and waves at people passing by. That wasn't me. The horrible feeling of the presence gets so strong that it seems almost ... friendly.
Then I realize it is.
I stop and look back at him, the teenage boy trailing behind me, who looks just too realistic to be true. Like me.
He winks and all of the neon lights in the Henry's Pizzeria sign shut off, except for the letters H and I.
I laugh, and fifty-two cars begin to honk.
If you listen close, it sounds a little like a song.
A little jumpy here and there, but it was fun to read. I liked the dialogue, and the surprise of all the mischief.
"The Log of Captain Xant Starhand" by Samuel Elijah Parkhurst
Galacta Nuba; Stardate 1094
We arrived in this sector three days ago in the Supernova, following rumors that a government ship with lots of money will be pass through this area. My first mate, Ijod is unoptimistic and thinks that we're wasting our time.
Galacta Nuba; Stardate 1095
No ship came through today. I've picked an ambush spot, a perfect nook in an asteroid just big enough for the Supernova. The government freighter doesn't stand a chance. I am very confident in our ability to capture that freighter.
Galacta Nuba; Stardate 1096
Rotten luck; those blasted rumors were wrong. Luckily, we found out that the freighter will be passing through Galacta Delta. We're moving tonight.
Galacta Delta; Stardate 1098
We are now in Galacta Delta. I picked a new ambush point today and we're ready for some plunder. Ijod still thinks we are wasting our time but I am going to prove him wrong.
Galacta Delta; Stardate 1099
Success! We ambushed the freighter today and succeeded in taking its over 70,000 clacks. (That translates to 800,000 Earth units, which is where I plan to finally settle down!) It was a close match between the Supernova and the freighter's escort, the General. But we won! We came out of our ambush point and demanded that they surrender. The General sent us their answer in the form of two A-29 plasma missiles. Good old Idjod; despite being the most glum person on board, he coordinated the launch of intercepting missiles. He followed with a shower of photon rounds. My bungling rivals then charged up for a super-beam. If it weren't for that new upgrade, we would have gone down. As it was, I thrust us forward and the beam missed. We retaliated fire with four E-7 Kappa missiles to finish them off. The General was disabled but not destroyed. We boarded the freighter without event. The weaklings just handed the clacks over.
Alpha Gamma; Stardate 1101
Yesterday began a long 59 krips. We are all needing rest. Apparently the galaxy control has been tracking us. We only intercepted one transmission. (Our system must have a malfunction. Will order diagnostics.) We had just started booting hyperspace computers when galaxy control arrived. I saw, with great astonishment, they had employed EX-15 superfighters. We barely entered a hyperportal in time. I felt a slight jolt right as we left hyperspace. Hence, I fear we are being tracked. I will check at our exit. This is the closest the fools have ever come to the Great Captain Xant Starhand!
Alpha Gamma; Stardate 1002
Ship being boarded. Furtive exit. Sorry, Ijod. Audio transmission stop.
Tight and well written. Darned good SF. Excellent ending.
"Prejudiced and Persuaded" by Angela Weng
The glittering stars formed an intricate mosaic in the sky. Warm wind rustled the leaves of an old oak tree in the silent night. In the corner of the small town of Moonville sat a dusty old cabin, which seemed to consist of blocks of wood stacked upon one another.
In that dilapidated house lived an old man, hardly to be seen anywhere other than the outskirts of town. The children feared him because of illustrious tales, and the parents detested his distinct behavior. Anyone acquainted with Mr. Wood was shunned in Moonville. This prejudice resulted in an altercation early in the morning of August fifteenth.
"But, Mom, I assure you. He's perfectly gregarious. You're being too cautious," Daisy stated simply.
"Sweetheart, if you want to go into the outskirts at all, I'm coming with you," said Mrs. Butterweed firmly.
Daisy sighed in capitulation, and walked out of the house, irritated. Mrs. Butterweed brought a can of sweets just in case, and followed close behind. Within a few miles worth of trekking, the mother and daughter finally arrived at Mr. Wood's cabin, which presented a look of desertion.
"Are you sure about this, Daisy?" inquired Mrs. Butterweed unsurely.
Daisy nodded and impetuously knocked on the dusty door of the cabin. Hollow footsteps radiated from the cabin, as Mr. Wood appeared in the doorway.
"Oh! What a wonderful surprise. Please come in, Daisy. Is this your mother? I am gratified to have the privilege of meeting you, Mrs. Butterweed," welcomed the old man cordially. Daisy shot her mother an "I told you so" look, and smiled.
"Yes, Mr. Wood, this is my mother. She came to thank you for accompanying me on my little scavenges every month," replied Daisy. Mrs. Butterweed vigilantly shook the man's hand. With a tense composure, she asked, "Would you like some sweets? We made them especially for you, as a token of thanks."
Mr. Wood grinned, and accepted the gift.
"Your daughter is a wonderful child, and I believe she has a great gift of persuasion and intelligence," he murmured.
The conversation resumed as Mrs. Butterweed and Daisy entered the small kitchen of Mr. Wood. The old man toyed with his pocket watch as he conversed. Talk about education was instigated immediately. Mr. Wood, aware of Daisy's impatience, suggested that she go to the balcony and see the view. Immediately, Daisy accepted the invitation, briskly escaping the attention of her mother.
Soon after, an hour had passed, and Mrs. Butterweed has no choice but to admit the absurdity of her former judgment of the old man.
"I must say, my interpretation of his personality was not only far from the truth, but ironic. He's really just a sweet, lonely fellow who needs companionship. I feel perfectly secure that you befriend him, Daisy," blabbed Mrs. Butterweed afterwards, unaware that she was hypnotized.
Well-written and entertaining to read for Austen fans, of which I am one. I think the ending could use a little help, though. I don't think Miss Austen would have used the word 'blabbed'. I would suggest 'mesmerized' rather than 'hypnotized', for the same reason.