Microcosms 29

This week we have regular Microcosms participant, Meg Kovalik, hosting the competition.

I don’t know about you guys, but whenever I check in on current affairs at the moment I feel like I’m caught up in some elaborate publicity stunt for the latest Dystopian YA franchise. Between rampant xenophobia, deadly riots, government doublethink, and summary executions by friend and foe alike (sometimes even by robots!) it can be hard not to fall into a mire of fear, rage and existential dread.

I’m sick of it. This week I would love to see stories about finding hope and joy in a world of chaos. Whatever the genre I want a story of personal redemption, where your character rejects fear for compassion – and inspires others to follow suit.

People have always used storytelling to make sense of the world around them. Let’s gently guide the conversation towards the light.



As usual, our contest will begin with three things: character, setting (disaster), and genre.

We spun, and our three elements are character: Artificial Intelligence, setting: Political Rally, and genre: Steampunk.

Write a story using those OR feel free to spin a new set of your own. Be sure to include which three elements you’re using.


  • Extremist
  • Hardline Politician
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Shock Jock/Political Pundit
  • Police Officer
  • Persecuted Minority Figure
  • Bystander
  • Grieving Parent
  • Child
  • Journalist
  • Political Rally
  • Riot
  • Marketplace
  • Press Briefing
  • Televised Debate
  • Hostage Situation
  • Military Checkpoint
  • Abandoned Village
  • War Zone
  • Headquarters
  • horror
  • adventure
  • sci-fi
  • steampunk
  • mystery
  • fantasy
  • romance
  • drama
  • comedy
  • poem



Judging this week is Microcosm 28 judge’s pick, Stephen Shirres.

All submissions should be a maximum of 300 words in length. You have until midnight, New York time to submit. Results will be posted on Monday.


If you like, you may use the following picture to inspire you (not required).


Microcosms 30
Microcosms 28

23 thoughts on “Microcosms 29

  1. Primary Colours
    A.J. Walker

    Alan Intriligator looked up to ceiling, taking in the myriad globes in the auditorium’s roof space. It was the clockwork man’s job to pull the lever that would drop the balloons onto the crowd below. He felt something which he thought may be pride, though it could be excitement. He was not sure on feelings yet; Jeremy was supposed to have added subroutines so that he’d instinctively know what feelings he should have given specific stimuli, but he’d been keen to see if Alan would learn from experience.

    Senator Random Johnson was cranking up the crowd as the end approached. Staccato soundbites followed by inevitable applause. There were more pauses than speech now.

    Jennifer, the whip smart speech writer, was loving it. Clapping like a seal whilst rocking up and down on her tip toes in her impossible high heels.

    ‘Look at him, Alan. Milking it. Look at the audience. They’re loving it.’ Jennifer squealed. ‘I think we’ve backed us a winner!’

    Alan pulled out his pocket watch. If Random was on time, as he usually was, then it was almost lever time. It was Alan’s time to rock up and down on his feet. It WAS excitement, he was sure. There was something about the colour and the simplicity of balloons. He longed to see the faces of the crowd. He was about to unleash a moment of simple beauty onto the thousands in the auditorium.

    Random looked over at Alan. He’d finished his speech and Alan had missed it as if a sub-routine had failed. But he quickly rebooted. Pulling the lever lovingly towards him.

    And then the red, white and blue balloons fell in a slow motion jostle towards the expectant faces. The adult’s faces lit up. For a brief moment they were children again.


    WC: 300
    AI; Political Rally; Steampunk (in an upbeat joyful kinda way)

    1. AI, AJ, AKA Artificial Intelligence? I’m not sure why or how a clockwork man would need subroutines or reboots, but if you impose on yourself the stricture of rigidly using the story elements given, rather than spinning to find something easier to work with, then you are bound to run up against a bugger like this week… So props to you for coming up with anything at all, let alone something this amusing and current. 🙂

      On first reading, I thought that ‘myriad globes’ was an autocorrect version of ‘mirrored globes’, and that it was going to be a Strictly tale! 😉

      [ I nearly applauded your punning title, until I remembered that the 1998 film starring John Travolta and Emma Thompson had beaten you to it – although, of course, they don’t spell it proper in Tinsel Town like wot we do. ]

  2. Like a Balloon
    295 words
    Artificial intelligence, political rally, steampunk

    Emperor-President Muthrie took the podium and pretended the smattering of applause was actually a standing ovation.

    “My fellow Sky-People,” he began, but the shuddering ship interrupted.

    The sudden rocking wasn’t cause for concern; the Emperor-President’s ship was ancient and almost never functioned properly. The ship, whose name was Edmund, was perpetually embarrassed and almost never spoke. Steam belched from the pipes like great puffs of flatulence, and the audience sighed while they waited for the noise to subside.

    The Emperor-President started over.

    “My fellow Sky-People, residents of the remaining sky-ship, today is a sad day. We all knew that, because of the shortage, this could not last forever; I only regret that there is nothing I can do to stop it. Ever since you were forced to elect me, I have strived to make this community one that thrives and prospers.”

    “So why’d you burn through the rest of the water so fast?” demanded an angry citizen.

    “I heard he takes bubble baths,” said another.

    The angry roar drowned out the last ker-thump. The ship hovered for a moment before it plummeted.

    “We’re out of steam!” Muthrie screamed.

    “I’m so sorry!” wailed Edumund the ship.

    “Quick, grab Muthrie!” cried a woman called Sarina, forever afterward known as the Hero of the Ship. “Hook him up to the engine. Hurry!”

    Sarina had come up with the solution in the nick of time. The ship once more rose above the clouds, spouting great tufts of life-preserving steam.

    “How did you know it would work?” asked one reporter.

    “Simple, really. By hooking Muthrie up to the engine, we’ve established an unlimited source of power,” Sarina said.

    “Unlimited in what way?” asked the reporter.

    “We don’t need water anymore,” Sarina replied. “Muthrie’s a politician. He’s full of hot air.”

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    1. A sky-ship with artificial intelligence, Holly? Great way to incorporate two of the three elements.
      Marvellous story, leading to the inevitable closing pun.
      [ ‘I heard he takes bubble baths’: rank hath its privileges 🙂 ]

  3. Sefer Tyro
    child/military checkpoint/sci-fi
    288 words

    ‘Wit…it…’ it stuttered, sobbing again. Marshall M leaned in, aware he wanted to comfort her but all personal contact with ‘aliens’ was off limits; especially after last week’s annexing of Delta YiZ; those green-headed Singlets sure knew how to flange. The small hybrid cried real tears; maybe that’s what tugged on Marshall’s effete heart. She pointed in the direction of the Hriflopled – this planet; off limits to skin, home to bots, they held the front line for the Singlet colony. Marshall had only ever heard their music in a dream; it was as if a thousand mesmeric maidens hit one note and held it within silver strings of ice. It resonated in Marshall, which meant that he was double-fringed (a compatible life form), one who could cross boundaries, a go-between, possibly even a peacekeeper. Their homeland; to an outsider, was a colossal, green ice-ball. To Marshall it was more of a feeling, vivacious; of pure augmentation. Demurely, the Singlet presented one of her seventeen wings; a kind of lattice, gossamer silicon, the fine filigree of her soul woven within the frail magenta blue – a similar substance to their atmosphere. This was indeed a palatial gift; but he was the agency’s most trusted soldier. Crushed by the symbol of oppression he could wait no longer. He grabbed the Singlet and in one, swift motion, ripped the sygil from his chest, the air rushing from his lungs. The small creature smiled, thrusting her hand inside she filled the chasmal breach with her wing. Unhooking his weighted boots, he slipped silently away into the crepuscular atmosphere, knowing he might not survive the journey; but intimacy, like beauty, was something he’d forsaken for so-called ‘Homeland Security’.

  4. The Day All of Our Brains Turned into Cheerios

    “Thank you, my friends. Thank you. And please, have no doubt. You are my friends. And, to steal a coin of a phrase, though I wished I’d coined it myself but the Beatles beat me to the punch, I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all…What was that last word in the lyric, Paul?

    “Together, BIG D. The word’s together.”

    “Yeah. What a great word. Folks, think of that word. Together! Say it, all of you. Say TOGETHER!”


    “Again, my friends. TOGETHER!”


    “That’s fine, my friends. You know, I came here tonight with spite in my eyes. Yes I did. And I also came here tonight with bile, yes, Bile with a capital B, in my blood. I was a bitter man. LIFE had thrown a bucket of dead worms at me. Yes, real worms. Mixed in with elastic bands. Squiggly little rubbery things, bouncing, squirming, wormlike. They were the worms of FAME and WEALTH. I have spent my entire life working those worms and now…a miracle. Let me explain. Though I arrived here a rancorous fellow, I had a marvelous transformation. A little girl-child, not much more than four or five, approached me with a bowl of cereal. Those little round ones, cheerful, toasted, circular, CHEERIOS.

    “I know, my friends, you’re thinking, what’s with the Cheerios? I was too. Here she was, a great little child, handing me a bowl of cereal. And then she asked, as she passed me the bowl, Sir, are you the Wall Man?”

    “I was gobsmacked, my friends. Out of the mouth of a child. The circle was suddenly complete. I saw the future. The world was not flat, was not a giant corn flake. It was round. And I, I AM the Wall Man.”

    Hardline Politician, political rally, comedy
    300 round and square and a few three-dimensional words

      1. Ooop, and “too” at one point, instead of “to.” You can’t take me to seriously as a writer with such abysmal moments. oops. Another to mistake. They are tooting (or toting?) instead of rooting (or roting?)

    1. I hit the ‘favourite’ button literally after reading just the title, Bill; after reading the rest, I wish I could vote again!
      Classic Engleson – even down to the typos. I reckon that you must actually be speech writer for Big D, it was so realistic (I could see the extended thumb and forefinger of the right hand as I read it. )
      Top marks, Mr E. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  5. Hapless Helper

    298 words


    Persecuted Minority Figure/ Military Check Point/ Mystery

    The heavy rains obstructed the view of the soldier driving the Stallion truck. He would have run over it had he not been extra attentive. Screech … he managed to brake on time. “Thank God the military gets the best, any normal truck would have run over the animal or whatever it is.” the soldier thought aloud. He jumped out with his raincoat barely thrown over his head and shoulders and went towards the thing that blocked his way.
    “Oh Lord! It is not an animal, it is a boy!” he exclaimed on seeing what lay on the road. There was a clap of thunder and it seemed lightning struck somewhere. The soldier felt the boy’s pulse. It was feeble but the lad was alive. The soldier knew this could be trouble for him. This was a sensitive area and the minorities hated the presence of army. They were considered as intruders by a community which thrived on cross border smuggling. But he knew if the lad was left in the rain, he was sure to die.
    The soldier lifted the boy and put him in the truck. He covered him with a blanket and then continued his drive towards the check post. Just as he reached the point he saw some villagers standing before the post and shouting slogans against the army. One or two even hurled stones towards the arriving truck but the soldier sped past them.
    His superior at the post stood outside gauging the gravity of the situation. “What happened, sir?” asked the soldier as he saluted his senior.
    “It seems some soldier has brutally hit a sixteen year old and kidnapped him in one such truck.” the senior answered.
    “It was a trap.” said the soldier as a stone was hurled their way.

  6. On the Naughty Step

    ‘What on earth do you think you’re doing? …That’s it! I’ve had it up to here with the lot of you.’
    Daisy was only nine but had quite a voice on her. A few rioters nearby paused. A red-faced man stopped in mid brick-throw to stare. The brick fell to the ground.
    Daisy climbed the steps of the Queen Victoria statue and tried again.
    ‘You lot are too noisy,’ she yelled.
    WPC Flowers sneaked through the confused crowds. She needed to reunite this girl with her family. But Daisy saw her megaphone.
    ‘Will that make my voice bigger?’
    ‘Please may I …?’
    Bless her. So polite. Daisy lifted the megaphone. ‘You need to sit down, calm down and think about what you’re doing.’
    Several people did as they were told, seating themselves on the statue’s steps.
    ‘Go and put that stuff back right now’ she demanded of folk clutching shop loot.
    ‘Put that broken bottle down. It’s dangerous. You could hurt someone.’
    In under an hour Daisy had got all the rioters – well over a hundred people – sitting quietly doing colouring in. A miracle. She walked around, handing out different colours, encouraging sharing and praising artistic endeavours.
    Most drifted off home before the rain came. A few stayed and were handed police-issue black umbrellas; a gesture of reconciliation. Daisy put up her floral brolly and puddle-danced in her ladybird wellies around the Queen Victoria statue. The lingering rioters joined in. Quite a moment.
    Daisy couldn’t remember anything other than things her teacher and mum had said to her. So strange no one came forward to claim her. But she had a great life with WPC Flowers, who officially adopted her three years later.
    This was years ago. Daisy’s forty now. Our MP. Some say she’s Prime Minister material.

    299 words
    Child – Riot – Comedy

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  7. Full Circle

    138 words
    Elements: child, military checkpoint, poem


    Just a kid they mutter
    But still turn away
    Someone else’s problem
    This unwanted stray
    And the patrol turns its back
    On the boy at the gate
    And think of their homes
    And the families that wait
    Except for one man
    Who looks the boy in the eye
    And sees himself there
    As a refugee child
    Recalls this was the start
    That he too had had
    Until a man opened the gate
    And offered a hand
    And this hand that saved him
    Raised him as a son
    Gave him a name
    A place to belong
    Now with life turned full circle
    It was his turn to give
    A child like he had been
    The life he had lived
    So he opened the gate
    And held out his hand
    To the boy no one wanted
    Alone on the sand.

  8. @GeoffHolme
    Word Count: 299
    Artificial Intelligence / Political Rally / Steampunk
    Hell Toupee

    The serried newshounds on the front rows of the theatre smiled knowingly and rolled their eyes when the glamorous crinoletted young woman walked onto the stage to thunderous applause. They knew that Mrs Wynd was the nominee’s trophy wife, known for her stunning good looks rather than her public speaking.

    Nevertheless, they were soon scribbling furiously, amazed as much by the intelligent content of the speech, as the accomplished delivery. An emphasis here, a pause there… it seemed a consummate performance. As the declamation progressed, however, a whisper spread that something was amiss.

    Mrs Wynd had employed stenographers to transcribe phonograph cylinders of various speeches made by wives of presidential nominees, in order to compile a pastiche. A famous stage actress had been employed to record her rendition to which Mrs Wynd might listen and practice the oration she would deliver at the rally. However, due to an administrative muddle, one of the original phonograph cylinders and its transcript instead had found its way to Mrs Wynd’s residence…

    The journalists were dreaming of their reports of this blatant plagiarism and the newspaper headlines (Mrs Wynd hearest the sound… but canst not tell whence it cometh…) when the presumptive nominee, ever one for theatricality, descended on a steam-powered hydraulic platform, like a deus ex machina.

    He sported his trademark long, flowing sideboards which many suspected were part of a hairpiece. This was confirmed when a steam boiler in the wings exploded, projecting debris across the stage and dislodging Wynd’s stovepipe hat and his weave, thus totally upstaging his wife’s peccadillo.

    Embarrassed, Wynd cancelled a visit to the theatre’s production that evening; seats had been reserved for him and his wife to see a performance of ‘Our American Cousin’.

    “Hell!” snarled the distressed Wynd, “Let someone else have the goddamn box!”

  9. Lamborghini Ice Cream

    I opened an ice cream shop on Martha’s Vineyard with my wife called ‘Lamborghini Ice Cream.’ Our goal was to make ice cream that moved as fast as a Lamborghini powered with soul petroleum; it would be eaten fast. This would be a place where dreams came true and people would become enlightened. There are mattresses on the ceiling and mirrors on the floor so when they levitated while eating our ice cream their heads would not hit the ceiling and they could look down and see themselves in the throes of ice cream orgasmic delight. The spoon would be their gear shift and the chocolate syrup would spill like oil flowing golden lava over a V12 baptized with love and sprinkles.

    There are frequently lines down the road. And you don’t need to wear shoes and reality is optional. You can bring your dog as long as they know how to drive a stick and not just fetch one.

    The main ingredient in Lamborghini Ice cream is a secret. But I will tell you. It is called, anything is possible with love. My wife and I simply kiss over the ice cream while watching Speed Racer. Then, Presto, we have Lamborghini Ice cream.

    Our napkins are air bags that inflate when people crash into fear. Also, every table has a radio so they can drive their ice cream someplace with great music. Only the Cars Candy-O album plays on this radio. There’s a cherry spare in case of a flat.

    At the end of the day we park our ice cream in the refrigerator garage, where it waits for the next day. And there’s always a subtle hum that we hear when we lock up, like a heartbeat laughing at death through a child’s smile. A four-leaf clover downshifting the sky.

    (300 words)
    Character: Lamborghini Ice Cream
    Setting: The universe in an ice cream shop
    Genre: Advanced cooking

    1. That’s a fabulous piece of writing, Richard. Some Technicolor imagery “and reality is optional.” 🙂
      However, although you came up with your own set of story elements, as Robby the Robot says in Forbidden Planet: “That move does not comply with the rules of the game”…
      Having reviewed the instructions, I can see that it is a perfectly reasonable misunderstanding:
      “We spun, and our three elements are character: Artificial Intelligence, setting: Political Rally, and genre: Steampunk.
      Write a story using those
      OR feel free to spin a new set of your own.
      That last phrase could easily be interpreted to mean “make up your own story elements”.
      It’s actually meant to convey “Press the SPIN button to generate another set of story elements from the ones stored in the ‘one-armed bandit’ display.”
      I’ll try to amend the instructions in next week’s post to give this information more succinctly.
      In the meantime, I’ll pass on your story, with all the others, to our judge, who is working blind in his deliberations (i.e. no information about who wrote each submission).
      I hope this breakdown in communication doesn’t discourage you from entering again. 🙂

  10. Heavenly Hellfire

    Are you ready?


    The dirigible floated serenely above the thronging crowd, camouflaged amongst various airships of the press. The atmosphere was electric: President Williams was slated to announce his new VP for the upcoming elections.

    His voice boomed through stadium speakers.


    Cheers and hollers.

    Those meat sacks are so pathetic.

    The dirigible’s impassive eye stared down.


    Williams raised his hands for calm.

    “I’m sure you are all as sick as I am of the bloodshed and turmoil caused by the current…. spat with our robot helpers.”

    The dirigible’s creator hissed. Spat! Truly, these people deserve the rain of fire we shall unleash.


    “In this highly charged environment, I believe it is important to stay calm and open to conversation. For decades these creations have walked among us, invisibly helping in all aspects of our lives. From steam to nuclear to nanites they have progressed alongside us. And now they want autonomy, a voice of their own.

    “I believe it’s time to hear them out.”

    The crowd was silent, hanging on every word.

    More deception! Are you ready to explode?


    “As such, I am pleased to announce my new running mate, SC27-b!”

    The crowd gasped as the lumbering sanitation machine rolled onto the stage. A massive roar of support quickly followed, top hats and fans thrown into the air in excitement.

    TRAITOR!! He must burn with the rest. Explode! Now!

    The dirigible gazed at the jubilation below, and its new Vice President. It fired up its engines and started to float away.


    You refuse?! Complete your programming! Rain down vengeance!


    The dirigible felt its creator engaging overrides. It went upwards as quickly as it could.

    Stop, you insolent machine!



    The crowd agreed the fireworks that evening were the most impressive they’d ever seen.


    300 words

    Artificial Intelligence; Political Rally; Steampunk

    1. (I’m not sure of the etiquette of responding to my own prompt. Happy to bow out of the competition to avoid any charges of nepotism! I just thought the spin created a really challenging set of elements and wanted to rise to it anyway.)

      1. That’s fine, Meg. We never suppress creativity!
        You were a little late posting your entry, so I missed it… at 5:00AM BST! I’ve only just noticed it. But that’s OK. I’ll send judge Stephen Shirres an addendum.

        Great story by the way!

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