Saturday, February 28, 2015

Building a Language Part 2: Symbols

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley

     Last time we talked about selecting the sounds for your language, and this time I'll be showing you how to make letters for them. I've divided it into three steps: choosing a style, designing the letters, and assigning the letters.

     1. Style:

     First is choosing the style of your alphabet. For example, do you want letters with the level of complexity of a Chinese word? A Latin (what's used in English and Spanish) character? Greek? This would obviously affect the time it would take to write, so keep in mind the practicality of the nation, as well as who uses the written language. If only the rich, who have time anyway, can read, then it could be very complex. If everyone uses it, it will probably be simpler for convenience.
     Of course, just like English, there could be different versions, some more complex, some more simplified. A wonderful example would be the Forerunner language found in Halo. Though it wasn't actually invented, the books give fairly good descriptions. Cortana explains that they tend to embellish on their base symbols, making it look like they have way more letters than they really have. It is also show that the Forerunners had a 3-D version of their letters. Wouldn't that be cool, letter sculptures? But I can imagine that only aliens with the ability to construct worlds would have the leisure time to make such a complex writing system.
     Another part of style is the type of shapes and lines used. Would it be flowing, like Arabic? Geometric like Russian? A mix of simple shapes like Latin? This can change the feel of your language quite a lot, and helps to define the culture that uses it. For example, my language, New Orcish, is similar in style to English, but a bit more complicated, and with more flowing shapes.
     Another question to ask yourself is, how is the punctuation (if it exists) differ from the letters? Punctuation tends to be smaller, and in English it's mostly just small dots, and dots with tails. Is yours similar? Is it a part of the letter? Does it go directly under the letters? Etc. Also, do they have number symbols, or are their numbers always written out?

     2. Design:

     These last two can actually be switched around in a way, as you can make a letter specifically for a sound, or you can make all of the letters, and then assign them. Obviously these steps are a lot more straight-forward, as well. Basically, for this step, all that you do is implement the design elements you decided on in the last step. This maybe be harder than you expected, so don't worry if it takes a long time. Also, make lots of different letters. Don't erase the ones you make, just make more next to them. Take on base letter and make different versions, make lots of completely different ones too. This will help you to explore what you want better, as well as give you lots of options to chose from. Once you have enough, proceed to the next step.

     3. Assign:

     Now you just decide which symbol applies to which letter, and which punctuation mark, and which number. This is basically just personal preference, so I can't really instruct you here.

     One extra tip I have for you is a website called FontStruct. It allows you to build your own font, so you can just input your letters instead of the English letters, and then you'll be able to type in your language. And other people will be able to type in your language too! A wonderful thing to have when your books become bestsellers, huh?

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

For the next post in this series, click here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Building a Language Part 1: Sounds

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Recently I've begun making a language for one of my worlds, and I can say, it's a pretty interesting process. I started by deciding on the sounds, so that's what I'll be talking about today. If you're going to make a completely new language starting from scratch, it's important to figure out which sounds your language will and will not use. One of the most helpful things for this is the IPA, or International Phonetic Alphabet. It has all of the sounds used in any language. I had some trouble finding something that actually showed me how to pronounce the IPA symbols, but I did eventually find this, which showed how to pronounce all of the ones used in English.
     You can choose to use sounds that don't exist in English, like how New Orcish (my language) uses the Spanish rolled R, or you can cut out sounds that are actually used in English, just like how New Orcish doesn't use the W sound. One of the cool effects of this, is that you begin to automatically create an accent, which you can continue to develop later. Another example from my language, would be that an orc wouldn't be able to tell the difference between "was" and "oo-uh-z".
     New is also a nice time to decide how different sounds are pronounced, exactly, and also which sounds are more common. Does your language have the curled-tongue vowels used in India? Is it tonal? Which vowels are most common? Do they use more burst-like sounds, (B, P, D, T) or more continuing sounds (M, L, S, R)? Do they tend for sharp sounds, (S, T, H, K) or warm sounds (M, N, R)? Are there any dialects? Which sounds would be dropped in sloppy speech? These all work to make your language unique and give it the depth of a real language, and you haven't even translated anything yet! Many of these things will help to make the accent more pronounced (pun unintended) so that even if the people who speak this language could speak English, it would be very obvious that they are not native speakers. Cool right?
     Though this may seem like one of the more boring parts of making a language (If you think this is boring, though, just wait until you're paging through the dictionary trying to find new words to translate.) it is the most basic and fundamental part. This allows you to make your language, at its foundation, unique from your own, or any other one on the planet. Also, even in the process itself is not all that exciting (really, no part of making a language is) the results certainly are. Starting to hear the accent, creating a particular sound to the language through use of more common sounds, and other similar mini-epiphany moments make it a really cool process. Just like writing a novel, it takes time and dedication.
     Once you have decided on which sounds to use for your language, you can make your own alphabet, or go straight to translating if you want.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

For the next post in this series, click here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Some of the Most Annoying Mistakes in Romantic Subplots

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     In honor of Valentine's Day, I decided to compile a list of things that people find most annoying in a romantic subplot. I've gathered these responses from the One Year Adventure Novel forum, so that would be why there are such odd names attached to them.


     The girl who doesn't think she's pretty, but in reality she's smoking hot.

     The guy who says, "You're not like the other girls."

     Love triangles. But a love octagon would be interesting.

     One person always needs to be rescued by the other.


     When they don't belong.

     I hate it when a romantic sub-plot is not relevant to the characters outside of the actual's existing for itself. Plenty of character dev. results from it...but only in relation to romance. In other does nothing to actually do anything to the there's no reason for it. Why should I care?

     Or, when it's the flip. When it becomes all you're supposed to care about. Like...I don't care about if you get the girl or not dude, go stop the Dark Lord...seriously.


     A disregard for what people would actually have time for in the story. Romance will probably not work when you're on a massive all-consuming mission to save humanity and the whole galaxy from a near-unstoppable force. If you have the time and energy to engage in romance, why on earth are you not focusing more on the mission instead?


     Love triangles are demons kill it with fire please.

     I hate when a guy/girl chases someone who doesn't feel the same way for a long time and then suddenly they're like madly in love. That annoys me so much i can't even express it properly.

     Also it annoys me when people fall in love basically at first sight. a week, maybe even a month goes by and suddenly they will do anything for each other and can't keep their eyes off each other.


     Physical expression always being portrayed as the epitome of a romantic relationship, no matter the situation.  This is perhaps more of a moral issue with me, but is that REALLY the only way you can show the recently-widowed Ally's relationship to Ally II (for a random example)? 

     The guy and girl who hate each other and can't stand each other, only to come to love each other desperately by the end of the story.  This annoys me so much, and I've developed a pretty good ability to call it, occasionally even at the INTRODUCTION of Character II.  It can be a good plotline, I suppose, but I've seen far too much of it.

     Turning the Ally into the Love in the second book because the opposite-gender friends are older now, so, of course, that's just how it must work.

     Romantic relationships = best possible kind between any two characters.  Even when they've been firmly established otherwise/ it's forced/ etc.

     Characters in a relationship who nonetheless communicate as well as if they spoke totally different languages, leading to all the conflict.


     Characters that claim they 'need' the other person, and when they would literally let the entire world end just to save that person, and then they do it and it becomes an actual thing that happens in the plot. 


     Number one problem: They're all about The Kiss. Okay, I'm a hopeless romantic and a sucker for cuteness, but love is about more than your first kiss. It's commitment and sacrifice, something that a lot of romance plots and subplots completely disregard. Tangled vs Cinderella, anyone? If you can convince me (by showing me) that these people will stick together through whatever is thrown at them, support and protect each other no matter what, than yes, sure, I'll believe that they're meant to be together. If all you can show me is them making googly eyes and mooning over each other, you can forget it.

     So, there you have it. What a variety of readers/authors think about common mistakes in romantic subplots. Hopefully your readers will be shipping your fictional Valentine's like crazy.

When either person in the romance has no definition outside the other. I.e., they're only there for the other one. They have no thoughts, ambitions, hopes, behaviors, dreams, etc. Ex: Girl is there so the guy has someone to save, but has no purpose. (Not that having to have the guy save her is bad, but it's a negative thing when that's literally all the girl is there for.) Basically the love interest doesn't even have a character outside "the love interest".

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have an art contest open for submissions, see the guidelines here. We also have a poetry contest open, which you can find here. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

3 Things You Can Learn About Villains from J. K. Rowling's Mistakes

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

      Hated Villains

     Fact is, you probably did hate Umbridge more than you hated Voldemort. Why? Because Umbridge was an awesome villain. She's so wonderfully hateable. It's kind of fun to hate her, and it's really fun to see her punished. However, doesn't this show a little problem? Why do we hate the lady who was mean, cruel, and unfair over the guy who probably murdered hundreds personally, and maybe thousands through his followers?
     One of the reasons, is because she's there. You watch her do these things, and you see the immediate emotional reactions of the characters. Voldemort, well, you only really hear about what he does. This makes it much easier to simply shrug aside his actions and jump onto the sympathy that Rowling presents.
     Possibly worse is the way that Umbridge acts and appears. The simper, the ridiculous clothes, the kittens, the little cough. These things makes everything she does even more infuriating.
     Remember when Harry found out that Umbridge was still employed by the Ministry of Magic? Yup, that's the other thing. She gets away with it for so long. And it's not like Al Capone who everyone knew was bad, because people still thought she was good. People like Fudge condoning her actions was adding insult to injury. But, this wasn't a bad thing, was it? It's a part of why we kept reading; we couldn't stop until we had seen her punished.

     Realistic Power for Villains

     Another sub-villain who has the "up-and-close" advantage is Draco Malfoy. However, there's a problem with him as well. Think of the things he does. He reschedules the Quidditch match. He makes Ron do all the preparing of his ingredients when he's "injured". He takes over the practicing period. And so on. But seriously, would he be able to do all this? I suppose all the stuff pertaining to Buckbeak he could accomplish, because that all relied on his father and Snape. Within Snape's classroom, he had free reign, and that makes sense. But how could he possibly reschedule a Quidditch match? While he may have been Snape's favorite, he wasn't Dumbledore's. This lack of realism takes away from the effect that the injustices should have.
     So, just as you shouldn't let your hero be overly powerful, you shouldn't let your villains be unreasonably powerful. Being evil does not give you perfect acting skills, unlimited knowledge, or a massive wallet. They can have these individually, but they have to have them because they gained it themselves (or inherited it, if you're talking about the wallet) rather than because it makes things harder for the hero.

     Descriptions of Villains

     What does Umbridge look like? A toad. If you've read the books, you understood that. If you only watched the movies, you're going "Huh?" And that's the problem. J. K. Rowling had a love of using animals, or other odd things, to describe people. As a result, when I read her books I find them to be full of talking toads, pugs, and piles of dirty rags. This is extremely annoying, but no matter how hard I try, it's pretty much impossible to erase that first impression from my head. And thus, Pansy Parkinson looks like a pug and Mundungus looks like a pile of dirty rags.
     This is especially problematic with Dung, because a pile of rags simply cannot fit the shape of a human, so I have trouble imagining him as something with even vaguely normal proportions. But is wasn't all bad. Describing Pettigrew as rat-like worked quite well for me. So, a word of caution, don't go over-board with the creative descriptions, though they can sometimes work well.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have an art contest open for submissions, see the guidelines here. We also have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Acrostic Poem Contest

     We're back to a poetry contest, so we thought it would be cool to do an acrostic poem contest. No theme, you can write about anything you want (that's appropriate) as long as it's an acrostic.

     Include "acrostic contest" in the subject line.

     Submit to

      Submissions must be attached in doc., docx., or txt format.

     You may include a short, 200 word bio, plus a picture.

     You may also include links, either in your bio or separate from them.

     Submissions must be PG-13 or cleaner.

     ALL rights remain with the creator, we only ask that we be allowed to display your poem and bio on the website and newsletter, but if you would rather we didn't, let us know in the email. It will not impact your chances of winning.

      Please do not include your name in the attached document, only in the body of the email.

     You must be the sole creator of your poem, or have the permission of all the other creators and have been an integral part of making it.

     Previous and simultaneous submissions are welcome.

     You may submit as many pieces as you'd like.

     The deadline is March 20th.

     Results will be published April 1st.

     Send any questions to I hope to see lots of submissions, we love reading your work, and even if you don't win, you have put yourself out there, which takes bravery. Trust me, I know how terrifying the submission process can be.

We have one other contest open, an art contest, which you can find here.

Sacrifice Contest Winner

     Sorry for the lateness, guys, life sure does like to get in the way, doesn't it? Anyway, our first contest with a prize has concluded, and we would like to thank those who submitted. Now, who has won Leah Good's Counted Worthy?
     Daniel Kemmits! Conratulations, Daniel, you have won a digital copy of Leah Good's debut novel! And now, for Daniel's story:

Human Sacrifice


     The two armed men in lab coats stood from behind their desks and saluted as I approached the blast doors. I returned the salute, my ungloved right hand brushing against the fresh scars on my forehead. I dropped my hand and pressed it against the biometric sensor beside the desk, flashing the two guards my ID badge as I did so.

     “You’re clear for entrance, ma’am,” one of them said into the mike on his desk. The triple-layer security was cumbersome, but necessary for what was imprisoned behind these doors.

     The access opened with a hiss of hydraulics, and I strode between the half-meter-thick steel and concrete doors into the containment cell beyond. A brisk wind accompanied me as negative air pressure took over, ensuring nothing kept in containment would leak out into the rest of the base.

     “Gentlemen,” I said, acknowledging the two scientists who stood before a cell wall made of transparent polymer. They nodded at me, barely registering my approach. I reached them and stood for a few moments, tapping my boot toe against the ground. When neither of them looked up I cleared my throat.

     “Gentlemen,” I said again. “The General wants me to assess your progress.” Finally one of them—a scrawny, bearded man with glasses named Finley Cowper—looked up and met my stare.

     “You can take this to the General,” he said, handing me a hard-copy printout. “We got nothing.”

     “Nothing new,” his taller, clean-shaven associate—Sorenson, if I read his name badge right—amended. “It just keeps saying the same things. Over and over and over and over and—“

     “Fine, just let me see it,” I interrupted. Sorenson looked miffed but the two men stood aside. I took their place and stared into the cell.

     I’d seen it before, but the thing still made my skin crawl.

     It was made completely of black metal, coated in a matte oxide finish that reflected almost no light. Human in shape and height, it was skeletal and functioned via gears, hydraulics, and servomotors. Its body was covered in—or consisted of—a segmented armored carapace that allowed complete humanlike movement.

     Most unnerving was its head. An egg-shaped metal case, it had only three angular plates where a face should be, a crest of metal like a deranged Mohawk, and a rounded skull atop a segmented neck. The only feature on the dull surface was a pair of glassy black sensor clusters, roughly where eyes should be.

     It looked like something out of a nightmare, and seeing it sit here, before me, head on one hand like a bored man who’d fallen asleep in his chair, just made it all the more uncanny.

     “What has he been saying?” I asked. Cowper raised an eyebrow.

     “He? Why would you call it that?”

     “I don’t know. It just looked so much like a person—never mind. What do you have for me?”

     “He just keeps saying: ‘What do you want me to do? How can I prove I’m human?’ That’s it. Over and over and over.”

     “Interspersed with the occasional expletive and the opinion that maybe it made the ‘wrong choice’ to ‘defect’ to our side.”

     “Turn on the intercom,” I said, gesturing to the mike by the cell. Cowper shrugged and walked over, flicking a switch and activating a green light.

     “You’re good,” he said. I stepped up to the mike and asked,

     “Can you hear me?”

     The thing’s ‘head’ came up, the lens-eyes focusing on me.

     “I can hear you.” The voice was grating, mechanical, made even worse by the distortion of the intercom system.

     “Are you the one they’ve finally sent to destroy me?” The head seemed to shift, the lenses tracing an invisible line to the Calmsworth-Thompson M49 grenade pistol strapped to my thigh.

     “No, not unless you give me reason to,” I replied, brushing a lock of my fiery orange hair out of my face. “I’ve come to evaluate you, see if you’re as big a security risk as these techs say you are.”

     “Oh, trust me, if I were let out of this cell, I’d kill twenty-five percent of the people in this base before anyone could put me down.” I thought I detected a note of grim humor in the distorted voice.

     “Keep saying things like that, and we’re not very likely to let you out,” I responded. The thing stood up, folding its arms across its chest like a man ready to debate his position.

     “Exactly. But if I’d been programmed to infiltrate this base, saying things like that would be the last thing you’d expect me to do. I’d be saying everything I could to get out. No, like I’ve told these two lab coats here, I’m not a threat. I want to fight for your side. I don’t look it, but I’m human.”

     “No, you are most definitely a machine,” I said. “That is a physically confirmed fact.”

     “That’s not what I meant,” it snarled, unfolding its arms and clenching its fists. A very, very human gesture.

     “I’ve told these two over-educated squints and I’ll tell you: I am the consciousness of a wounded soldier, copied moments before death, into a robotic body.”

    “Prove it,” I said. I heard a little gasp behind me and muted the intercom.

     “Please tell me you already told it that,” I said, without looking over my shoulder. Both men stammered for a moment, then Sorenson said,

     “I thought proving it human was our job.”

     I growled under my breath. The thing had kept asking them the question, how to prove it was human, and the two idiots had completely ignored it.

     Well, good thing I was here. I turned the mike back on.

     “Is there a problem?” the machine in the cell asked. “I was just asking how you want me to fulfill your request.”

     I thought for a moment, thinking back over everything my mother taught me, everything I learned in Sunday school and Church, everything I thought the war had burned out of me…


     “What?” I asked. Though distorted, the tone was not of incredulity but simple incomprehension.

     “Sacrifice something,” I replied.

     “Alright, give me a weapon and assign me your most dangerous missions.”

     “Not good enough,” I said. “As a soldier for the other side, you performed many dangerous and daring tasks. That’s no sacrifice, that’s what you were created for. Regardless of how that creation came about. No, I mean for you to sacrifice what matters most to you. What you want. Assuming, of course, you have any wants at all.”

     The machine stepped closer to the cell wall, arms crossed again.

     “I want to be human again. I want to feel. I want to be able to touch someone and feel with my skin. Not just the rough facsimile I get through these.” It held its fingers in the air and waved them back and forth in front of me.

     “But you’ll die. You said you were injured.”

     “I believe, if they were not looking for candidates to this program, I could have been saved. Besides, who would want to outlive everyone they ever knew? Who would want that, even if it came with being able to shrug off bullets or fall from ten stories and walk away unhurt? No, I’d rather die and feel my death, than go on in this touchless prison."

     “But if you want me to prove I’m human, I’ll destroy the facility that created me. Make sure that nobody else goes through what I have. And in so doing destroy my only hope of escaping this living Hell.”




     “I think he’s telling the truth.”

     I leaned forward on crossed arms, resting my elbows on the cool wood of the conference room table. Around me, other officers sat, their somber blue and green uniforms blending well with the muted light reflected from the dark wood paneling of the room. From beneath the tattered Old Glory hanging at the head of the room, Army General Archer Fleming cocked his head.

     “Excuse me, Major?” he asked. “You actually believe that thing?”

     “Yes, General, I do,” I replied. “I think it—he—is telling the truth, and will do what he says. I request authorization to release him and accompany him to this facility.”

     “Has he told you where it is?”

     “Yes, sir, he has.” I reached out and inserted a card into the projector at the center of the table. It flashed a map up onto the blank white wall at the far end of the room. Twisting in my chair, I pulled out a laser pointer and aimed it at points on the projection.

     “Here, as you can see, is the facility. It’s located in the center of Rochester, Minnesota. My guess is that the Rebels took over the old Mayo Clinic surgical facilities there and started using them. They used to have a lot of computer and manufacturing business there, so it’s not a bad choice, really, to create a mechanical soldier like this. The infrastructure is in place or could be easily rebuilt.”

     “That’s assuming this thing is telling the truth.” That comment came from Major General Harriet Oswald, representing the Air Force. She raised a delicate grey eyebrow, her smooth skin and sophisticatedly salt-and-pepper hair at odds with the tough fighter I knew her to be.

     “I don’t understand, General,” I said.

     “We are talking about a Spartan X3 Combat Drone here. They’re the nastiest piece of hardware the Rebels have come up with yet, and there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t have programmed some basic lying into its survival coding.”

     “There’s no reason to believe they did, either,” I replied. “And to be honest, General, what the drone in the holding cell came up with is far from basic. I mean, it’s highly improbable, on the face of it. Requiring far more creativity than the average combat drone, or even an above-average one, should be able to display. No, I think he’s telling the truth. We know these facilities exist in Rochester, and we know the Rebels hold the city. It’s not out of the question for them to be manufacturing these things there.”

     “We’re all busy, General, so how about we cut to the point where Major Tymon tells us her actual proposal.” I looked to my right, locking stares for a moment with Colonel Anton Alens, the Marine Corps representative. “It’s always interesting to hear what you Army types cook up.” Though his words were mocking, I heard the grudging respect in them as well. Though our branches were bitter rivals, the dark-skinned Colonel and I had worked together too often not to develop a rapport of sorts. Though he was only a Colonel, he acted in the capacity of General since the death or defection of his superior officers. His opinion carried a lot of weight with the Armed Forces Council, and if I could get him to agree to my plan, I was almost assured a green light.

     “Thank you, Colonel,” I said. “I propose a strike on the facility, to knock it out if it’s a simple manufacturing operation, or to reunite these men with their bodies and then destroy the facility if it is indeed a transfer site for human consciousness. We’ve known for some time the Rebels were working towards a goal of Transhumanism of some sort, so if this is true it wouldn’t be a complete surprise.”

     “And who do you propose to participate in this strike?” General Fleming asked.

     “Myself and the drone. No more.”

     “What?” General Oswald tried to turn the exclamation into a courteous question halfway through, but failed. “You intend to accompany that thing into enemy territory? On questionable intelligence and for questionable gain?”

     “Yes, General, I do. My reasons are thus: If he is telling the truth, a small strike force will be more likely to succeed than a large one. If he is lying, we will lose only one person rather than an entire squad or company.”

“There’s another reason, isn’t there?” Alens asked. He knew me too well.

     “Yes, sir, there is. He—the machine—proposed that, to prove his humanity, he be allowed to destroy the facility that made him what he is. He also offered to destroy his human body, effectively trapping himself in a world he referred to as a ‘living Hell.’ If he is willing to do this, it will prove that he is human. All combat drones are programmed to preserve the facility that created them. That’s why we can’t get hijacked drones to fly into factories. It’s hard-wired into them. If he’s telling the truth, it’ll prove he’s human.”

     “And if it’s lying?” Oswald pressed. I shrugged.

     “Then I’m standing next to him with a grenade pistol to blow his head off. Any sign of false motives on his part, I’ll blast him and make my way back to enemy lines. It’s not like I’ve never done that before.” Even Oswald smiled a bit at my wry humor. I’d become known as the “Cat-soldier” for my seemingly inexhaustible amount of “lives” I possessed. Presumed dead more than once, I always came back alive.

     “When would you propose leaving?” Fleming asked.

     “Yesterday,” I said. “I’d need minimal time to prepare weapons and gear, then arrange transport into enemy territory. I think, actually, that our drone could be of great help in that regard.”




     “Keep moving. No stopping.” The drone behind me—whom I’d taken to calling Razor after his head ridge, prodded me with his rifle. “Prisoners are not allowed to cease moving until they reach the processing area.”

     Razor kept pushing me forward, occasionally with his hand, sometimes with his gun. We advanced quickly, but not so fast that I couldn’t see what was around me.

     It had changed quite a lot since I came here before the war.

     The glass-and-marble buildings of the clinic complex, some of the soaring to over twenty stories that made a Kansas flatlands girl like me feel tiny and hemmed in, were now mostly repaired. I marveled at how quickly the Rebels had fixed the damage their takeover of the city had caused.

     Razor pushed me down a street between the largest of the buildings—and edifice of shining glass and forbidding grey marble—and a garrison building that I think started life as a parking garage. We meshed in with the other prisoners crowding the street, some being herded into the building to my right, some into the barracks to the left. Everyone shrank away from Razor as the menacing black machine pushed me onwards. As he shoved me through the throng of disheveled, dispirited souls, I picked out the tattered remains of some Federal uniforms. I didn’t recognize them, but then even with half the population of the old country the Federal States still fielded a massive army.

     We arrived at what had once been an expansive glass-fronted entrance. Now, instead of the gently undulating transparent panels and revolving door, it was a simple slab of concrete straight across, with a single metal door that retracted upwards as we approached. The two human guards didn’t even bat an eye as we passed.

     Razor took me inside the building, across the atrium. Once it had glittered with marble and blown glass sculptures. Now it glowered dull and concrete grey, with no hint of the former splendor. Razor turned left, took me down a high, arch-ceilinged hallway, and stopped at a set of elevators. He punched a button, summoning a car. The door opened to the steel-walled interior, and he stepped in after me. The door closed and we began ascending.

     “Do you trust me?” he asked, not looking at me. I glanced down at his rifle barrel, with almost brushed my stomach as I stood beside him. One twitch of his finger and he could open me up like a sack of rotten fruit.

     “You haven’t given me reason not to.”

     “What a lovely, evasive, answer.” Razor reached into the combat chest rig he wore and pulled out my grenade pistol.

     “I am trusting you.” He handed it to me, along with a magazine of grenades. The variable-munitions pistol was capable of blowing the drone’s head off from twenty yards. In the confines of this building, if I wanted him dead, he’d have no chance.

     The door opened on the third floor and we stepped out.

     “Follow me,” Razor said, turning right and coming up against a walled-off hallway and a trio of guards watching over the door.

     “Hold it there, drone,” One of them said, putting out a hand to forestall Razor’s progress. “You’re not allowed in here. Humans only.”

    “I am human,” he intoned, his inflectionless voice somehow growing more menacing. He took a blindingly fast step, grabbed the guard in a wrist lock, and hurled him to the side. He crashed into the wall with a sickening thud and lay limp.

     The other two guards tried to bring their weapons to bear but were too slow. Not using his rifle at all, Razor moved like a kung-fu master. He leapt into the air and scythed out a leg, catching one man on the temple and sending him crashing back into the door. As he completed his midair spin he snapped out a fist, catching the final guard in the sternum and flinging him over his shoulder and past us to land in a heap in the hallway behind us.

     I hadn’t even chambered a round in my pistol.

      “The cameras will have seen that,” Razor said, gesturing to the recording devices in the corners above the door. As he finished speaking, an alarm began blaring around us. I guessed the delay was due to the fact they hadn’t expected a rogue drone in their facility.

     “Open the door,” Razor said, gesturing to the lock panel. I took aim and fired. One of the miniature rocket-propelled grenades streaked out, its shaped-charge warhead detonating against the lock plate and burning through it and the door. Razor stepped up and kicked the door inward, then rushed through.

     The light inside was all in the red spectrum, throwing shadows into deeper darkness and casting the reflective points into high relief. All along the walls were tanks or pods—I wasn’t sure what to call them. Inside were bodies. Human bodies.

     All of them were male, most of them young, and all bore the scars of grievous injuries. They were being kept alive by breathing apparatuses, their flesh surrounded by some kind of preservative fluid. The sight of it, scores if not hundreds lining the hallway and the ones branching off from it, made my flesh crawl.

     “My God, you really were telling the truth,” I breathed.

     “Now do you trust me?” Razor asked.


     “Good. Then let’s get started.”

     I followed him at a dead run down the hallway. Halfway down a guard came barreling around a corner and slammed into us. Razor used his rifle like a club to smash the man out of the way. Behind us I heard shouts, a shot cracking though the sterile, chilled air, and a near-miss sparked off a pod divider. I turned and fired a round, blasting a crater in the ceiling and showering our pursuers with tile fragments.

     Razor raced around a corner and yanked me into a control room. He slammed the door behind us and locked it.

     “This room is triple-secure. They will need to bring in a cutter to get at us.” He brought the lights up to workable level, and I looked around.

     It was a small control room. There was a large bank of computers on the left wall, and a variety of surgical equipment on the right hand side of the room. Across from me was one of the pods. Inside was a handsome man of middle height, with the rakish look of a Mexican bandit prince. His good looks were only marred by the horrible burn on the left side of his face that continued down onto his shoulder and emanated from a terrific slash wound scar across his collarbone.

     “Say hello to me,” Razor said, gesturing at the pod while he began rattling away at the keys on the computers.

     “This is your body?” I asked. He swiveled his head, and his eyeless face seemed to glare at me.

     “No, that is me. Now let me work.” I held my tongue, focusing on the door to the outside. I could hear angry voices shouting and boots banging against the metal surface, but so far nothing seemed to be getting in.

     “What are you doing?” I asked. Razor didn’t look at me.

     “I’m turning on the fire suppression system…now.” He hit a button, and from outside I heard a hiss coupled with shouts of alarm and panic. I heard a mad scramble as feet beat a hasty retreat from the door.

     “That should clear the hallways,” he said. He tapped at a few more keys, then cursed.

     “What?” I asked, coming to stand next to him. A great red lockout icon flashed on the screen.

     “I tried to download the consciousnesses of the drones back into their bodies. I can’t get into the system.” He handed me his rifle, then continued tapping away at the keys.

     “Do you think you can get out of this building alive?” he asked, not looking at me.

     “Probably. This is my specialty. Why?” A sneaking suspicion began to coil in my gut like an icy snake.

     “Because I can’t get into the download function, but I have gained access to the killswitch protocols. I am going to destroy every drone on the battlefield.

     “But you’ve exempted yourself, right?” I asked, trying to keep the worry from my voice. I failed.

     “No, it is a looser-take-all system. We all go at once.” He twitched his head to take in the body he’d never use again.

     “I have initiated an overload of the floor’s independent power plant. They designed me too well. I was meant for infiltration and assassination; now they have to live with the consequences.” He turned to look at me at last.

     “You have twenty minutes to make it out of the building.”

     “You don’t have to do this,” I whispered, placing my hand on his metal cheek. He lifted his own cold steel digits to cover mine.

    “Even Oswald will believe you now. Come with me, we can bring something back to prove this place is what you say.”

     “No. I gave my word I would sacrifice myself. This is the only way.” He pulled my hand away from his faceplate and folded it in both of his.

     “Thank you, Major Tymon.”

     “Call me Ember,” I said, forcing the words past the lump in my throat. He nodded once.

     “Thank you, Ember.” He let go of my hand and poised his finger over a key. You had better start running.”

     I swallowed, a single tear running down my face. I barely knew this man, trapped in his mechanical body, but he was willing to give his life for me.

     “The hall should have cleared of gas. Go while you have time.” He shrugged off his combat rig and handed it to me.

     “God bless you,” I said, not knowing what else to say. Was it my imagination, or did the light reflect off his face like a smile?

     “He already has. I’ll see you again, Ember. Now go.”

     He pressed the button and collapsed into a heap of parts on the floor. Biting back a sob I opened the door and raced out.

     I made it down and through two blocks before the lab floor detonated.

About Daniel Kemmits: I am a 20-year-old Christian writer, homeschool graduate, and art student. I enjoy time with family, reading, history, shooting sports, the outdoors, art, and of course writing. I scored semi-finalist in an international novel competition with my first and second novels and have been published in the outdoors journal Backwoodsman Magazine. 

We have an art contest, which you can find here, and a poetry contest, which you can find here.