Microcosms 50

Another Friday… Welcome to Microcosms 50, the final competitive post of 2016.

It’s Friday, 16 December, so this week’s contest is based on a film you will all be familiar with – the 2002 Hindi action spy thriller… 16 December… No? Oh well, that’s why they invented Wikipedia.



(If you have an idea for a future contest and would like to be guest host, please contact me.)


Our contest begins with three things: character, setting and genre.

We spun, and our three elements are – character: Terrorist, setting: Satellite, and genre: Sci-Fi.

Write a story using those OR feel free to click on the “Spin!” button, and the slot machine will come up with a new set – you can keep clicking until you have a set of elements that inspire you. Be sure to include which three elements you’re using.

  • Spy
  • Tax Inspector
  • Money Launderer
  • Terrorist
  • Soldier
  • Street Beggar
  • Pakistan
  • Swiss Bank
  • Auckland
  • Music Competition
  • New Delhi
  • Satellite
  • Sci-Fi
  • Comedy
  • Crime
  • Romance
  • Memoir
  • Thriller


Judging this week is Microcosms 49 Judge’s Pick, Caleb Echterling.

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

(If you are new to Microcosms, check out the full submission guidelines.)

All being well, results will be posted on Monday.


No image to inspire you this week; flying blind… Woo-hooo!!


Microcosms 53
Microcosms 49

23 thoughts on “Microcosms 50

  1. Oblivion via Reigate

    300 words

    I had tracked the latest suspect, Steve, for seventeen days, since an analyst at HQ spotted that something didn’t sit right when a neighbour had reported oddities.

    The name should have been enough. They’ve always got those names, barely recognisable among the throng until they strike. It is the Steves I guard against, and the Melanies, the Jeffs and the Maureens. The Colins have gone to ground now, of course. But it is always so difficult to spot the incriminating signs. I slumped further down in my seat as the rain battered the windows, blurring the sight of East Croydon to an impressionist canvas as dusk drew in. I watched this Steve waiting for a sign.

    They had come from nowhere, the drones, striking our hearts with mild peril. Last March the entirety of Basingstoke was issued with speeding tickets. The High Wycombe Women’s Institute was rocked by untraceable letters to the local press denouncing them for selling counterfeit jam. In Runcorn, thirty thousand people were informed on a single day that the tax office was coming to audit them. The satellite towns of England were paralysed with fear of when the next embarrassment would strike.

    The Department has been aware of them for a while, these cyborg administrative terrorists in our midst. Where they came from we could not tell. But small signs gave them away: sandals in November; incongruous sandwich fillings; taking holidays in Rhyl. We had broken a cell of renegade accountants in the Medway towns. But, when confronted, each had self-destructed, leaving nothing but a mess of burnt wires and embarrassment in its wake.

    As I watched, Steve uncovered a box. Tupperware. He pulled a sandwich from within. I looked closer at what lay beneath the white slices. Ham and Aubergine. I unholstered my gun.

  2. Street beggar/Swiss Bank/Memoir
    Word Count: 300

    16 December

    There is a street beggar who stands on the corner, next to the Credit-Suisse bank in Sandton where I work. Every day he’s there, wearing the same clothes, begging for money as the rich, white foreigners walk past, oblivious to him. I walked up to him today and greeted him in his language. We chatted about nothing and everything and he asked me if I knew what today was. “Dingaan’s day,” I said, pride bubbling over. “No. Today is the Day of Reconciliation.” This is when we really began to speak.

    “Beneath this skin lie the memories of the senses of childhood. Of ice-cream running down my chin, jumping on the bed, watching cartoons, the smell of the sea before you can see it, my first day of school, goodnight kisses and bedtime prayers, the feeling of the sun in spring, the feeling of the shade in summer.”

    “Beneath this skin I too have memories. Litchis, mangoes, apples, the river, playing with stones and bones, skipping, playing outside until it went dark, climbing trees, hunting for pigs, crushing corn, afros, school under a tree, community parenting, the sun relentless in her search for us, singing and dancing to stay warm at night.”

    “My problems are your problems.”
    “No they are not.”

    “I had to do chores to earn my pocket money.”
    “I didn’t get pocket money.”
    “I used to get soggy sandwiches for school.”
    “I didn’t go to school.”

    “Beneath this skin lie my hopes and dreams of a better future for me and my family, a dream where the world is at peace. Beneath this skin lie colors bold and tales untold, ideas unclaimed and stories unwritten.”
    “Me too.”

    “Beneath this skin lie veins and arteries, muscles and organs. Here, on this level, we are the same.”
    “I agree.”

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  3. Alva Holland
    291 words
    Tax Inspector/Swiss Bank/Memoir

    Double Loop

    Counting as if I were still learning to do so, I got to Box 352, tenth from the bottom, Row L, just like the note said. I glanced at the key sweating in my hand. It had arrived two days earlier, crudely taped to a torn-off scrap of cheap blue notepaper, roughly stuffed into a pre-used envelope too small for its purpose and dropped onto my linoleum floor along with a brown windowed envelope from the Government. The brown envelope would suffer the same unopened, back-of-the-fire fate as the ten previous similar envelopes.

    But this one – my address typed on the outside, no return address on the back. Just a slip of paper with a phone number in Geneva and two numbers – the first – 352, the second – an airline reservation number.

    The next day, I was on a flight to Geneva and the day after that, standing outside Box No. 352.

    Turning the key in the front of the box, I pulled out the inner compartment. It was heavy. I wrestled it over to the nearby cubicle and slid back the lid.

    Cash! Green-backs, black-backs, multi-coloured-backs. All currencies, millions of it, tightly packed in bundles. Heartbeat stopped. Started again with a jolt. Stopped. Repeated. I closed the lid, pushed the box back into its compartment, locked it, left the Bank and went to the nearest bar where the young bartender poured me a double shot, neat, on a nod.

    ‘Looks like you might need it,’ he said, smiling.

    ‘Cheers,’ I said as I swallowed.

    My mind flew back to the day of Uncle Giles’ funeral. He had requested his epitaph to read:

    ‘Here lies Giles Somerset – Tax Inspector. They named a loophole after me. The Somerset Clause 352.’

  4. Steve Lodge
    Street beggar/music competition/thriller

    The Mystery Of A Fugitive On The High Plains
    299 words

    Amid thrilling wintry wastes he runs,
    Beneath snow-filled skies, that hide no lies,
    Altitude so high, breathing so hard,
    Noises thump inside our ears, air so deep and rare,
    I couldn’t chase a football, even for a dare.

    I had an assignment covering the Street Beggars Music Competition, this year held at high altitude in the pan pipe region of the southern Andes, known as the Footies.

    London was represented by Whitechapel Whistling Willie. During the flight, Willie and the other competitors compared bowls.

    In interview, he told me he was a retired athlete, his money all gone (a familiar story involving a crooked business manager) and his prospects bleak. Sadly, he’d taken to a life of crime, and being a fast runner, had eluded the law. Finding a tin whistle in a skip in the Whitechapel Road, he learned to play it to amuse his dog, Otter, but Otter had run off (presumably confused). Willie started begging around local pubs and yuppie joints like the Satellite Club.

    From the airport, packs of wild dogs carried us in sledges across the plains at high speed in thrilling convoy, gasping in air when we could.

    We were staying in Estada Finger, a resort town, in a hostel regularly visited by strong winds, depositing sand and snow into each room and onto every bed. The competition itself was being held in a vast, soulless arena. The local football team had folded so this stadium was rarely used, except for occasional pop concerts or public executions.

    Willie would run daily to the high plains. One day, he never came back. Large money gone from the organisers’ quarters and a security guard lay in the car park, stabbed with a tin whistle. “Il Fugitivo Desperado.” the locals said. “He’ll never survive up there.”

  5. Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    184 words
    Terrorist/ Satellite/ Sci-Fi

    Echoes of shots fired died as new stars came into view. Erica’s heartbeat steadied and she finished climbing to the top of the receiver. This was it.

    With the narrowing of the tower, she placed new blast-caps and activated them. Her breath came slowly as she climbed the last piece – the place where spikes jutted out invisibly to protect the receiver.

    The last bio-bomb was in place and she let go, floating off into space.

    Erica watched as the satellite realigned with the planet below, ready to receive the damaging data and send it off to her home planet.

    She couldn’t let that happen. Once her people knew what this orb held… No. They might brand her a terrorist, and perhaps she was, but saving the inhabitants of this pure planet was more important than going home.

    The trigger disintegrated in her hand after she pressed it. Her breath caught in her throat. The satellite collapsed into itself; a soft boom like the birth of a black hole deafened her and all trace of her people in the unexplored galaxy disappeared.

    So did she.

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  6. The Interview

    Overton steps out into the hall, hails me over. “Conway, he’s yours to interrogate. I doubt he has much to give up…a crummy Banker…such an embarrassing profession.”

    Overton is a lazy sot. If he can’t generate a full confession in ten minutes, he’s stymied. His next inclination will be to pass the buck. “What…the man collects and manages money from around the world. Some of it probably pays our salary. Bloody hero, I say.”

    “Hero or dupe, he has been funneling money to the Illiterati.”

    “From stolen accounts?”

    “I wouldn’t put it past him but no, not that. What we are concerned about is his own money, and money from friends and sympathizers going to those book burners.”

    “It’s a little nuts, don’t you think? I mean, why do they do it?”

    “Damn futurists. I never did understand what drives them. Technology this; technology that. Anyway, get in there and try to pry something out of him.”

    So, I go in. The Banker is young, not more than thirty. Dressed to the nines. We picked him up this morning just outside his corporate headquarters in Basel.

    I decide the friendly approach is worth trying.


    He shakes his head.

    “Let me know if you change your mind. On that note, maybe you better start reconsidering.”

    This gets me a cold stare.

    “We have traced your money transfers.”

    “It’s my money. To do with what I choose…”

    I smile. I like smiling. “Traced it all the way to New York. And the Illiterati’s second in command.”

    “Damn books,” he blurts. “They’re holding humanity back. Wasting resources. Trees. Time.”

    Now I’m the one shaking his head. “There are billions of books. You’ll never destroy them all.”

    Now he’s smiling, hits me with a colloquialism. “You want to make book on that?”

    300 questions and a few answers
    Money Launderer; Swiss Bank; Crime

  7. Satellite, terrorist, sci-fi
    282 words
    A Touch of Death
    The small crowd gathered quickly, some instinctive thing. Barny didn’t know what drew him to stick his hand in the bin – he was waiting for Marcie outside Boots, bored to death, wondering why his life was so dull. His hand felt something warm, a silver ball which began to grow and shimmer. He put it on the tiled floor and waited. Then – again, he couldn’t have said why – he put a finger on the top and pressed.
    ‘Why’d you do that?’ ‘You ain’t a terrorist, are you?’ ‘Hope you don’t live to regret that, sonny.’ ‘What is it?’ ‘Can I have one, mummy?’
    Barney heard the questions, each one he thought stupid. Well, apart from one. He knew what it was without being told. ‘It’s an alien transmitter. See.’
    Indeed, as he spoke the orb split and a weird wire contraption poked out the top. It began to spin, emitting a calming white light. The crowd dispersed leaving Barney to watch as the signals shot skywards, soon reaching the satellite orbiting Earth.
    Barney waited, aware he was the only person on the planet who knew what was going to happen. In seconds an invasion force launched and inside a day the governments of the world had surrendered. Barney became the conduit for the alien demands, rising to a position of World Regent, installed in a fabulous palace, staffed to meet his every need.
    There was only one downside to this newly-found fame; in the moment he touched the orb, he died. But in death, he began to fulfil his dream to be someone.
    And the one not-stupid question? Barney didn’t live to regret touching the alien ball in the slightest.

  8. @stellakateT
    255 words
    Street beggar / Music competition / Crime

    The Street Singer

    He tried not to cry out when the man hit him. Years on the street had made him wise. The more noise you made the more you got hit. Unless someone tried to intervene, he thought this would be his last beating ever.

    “Will you do it?” the man yelled.

    “He’ll do it,” yelled a voice in his head. He curled up in a ball and sobbed for his mammy. God rest her soul she’d been dead for decades.

    “Good lad,” said his persecutor who kicked him for the final time in his groin.

    Years later, friends would ask why he’d never had kids. He knew the exact moment his fertility ended, but if he told he’d be brown bread. They owned him lock, stock and barrel.

    His last six songs had been world-wide successes, reaching top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. They’d even heard of him in Kurdistan! He’d appeared on the X Factor, won hands down, The public loved his sob story: ‘homeless found singing in an alley by his estranged brother’. He’d signed a contract giving him a wage just above the national minimum; everything else went to the syndicate. He’d run away from his family years ago after they’d killed his mother through overwork and neglect. Now he was funding their lavish lifestyle, but not for long. He’d heard of a new law: something to do with slave labour. He wished his mother was here to see his father’s face when the police came to get him.

    1. I love this, Stella. The abandonment, the acceptance, the bitterness, the futility of it all, rolled into a short tale. Great job!

  9. Karma

    elements: soldier, Swiss bank, memoir
    284 words


    I had returned alone. There had been four of us that first time, each depositing our share of Ugandan blood in the form of the purest diamonds. It was to have been security for our old age. I could picture them now, my old command team. Colonel Derren, Sergeant Thomson and Doc. We had had such plans.

    “A bar for me,” had said Thomson later that evening as we sat outside Les Folies on the Avenue de Frontenex, drinking to our future.

    “A salmon farm in the Highlands for me,” had said Doc.

    “A club in Vegas,” had said Derren.

    And me? “Wine, women and song,” I’d said. “What else is there?”

    They’d cheered me and we’d clinked glasses.

    The bank clerk directed me into the silent vault but remained outside. I took Derren’s key first, opened his box. The small velvet pouch was still there. His mistake had been playing Russian Roulette with the Chinese. An unwise … and messy … move. Doc had had a fishing accident and Thomson had staggered over a cliff whilst under the influence. Such unforeseen accidents … I mean who could have predicted the odds? I took the remaining three pouches and tipped their contents into my hands. The cut of the stones was exquisite.

    Fate had been kind to me despite my calling.

    I slipped the stones into my pocket and left the vault. I had a meeting with a publisher to attend. He was already seated across the road and I wove through the traffic with the memory of my old unit still in my head. At least one of us had survived to tell our tale. Behind me, I heard an engine rev…

  10. Holistic Advanced Logarithm
    A 282 word story by Stephen Shirres (@The_Red_Fleece) involving Terrorists, Satellites and Sci-Fi.

    The plan was a simple one. Hack the super death ray military satellite and target some key military sites. No civilians this time. The first part was easy. Military firewalls aren’t what they use to be. For the first time, I cheer Government cuts. Gone are the encrypted thirty four digit access codes, replaced by a Holistic Advanced Logarithm. Whatever the hell one of those is stands up to my hacking attempts like butter trying to stop a hot knife. This is the fastest I’ve ever reached military targeting software. Maybe I’ll aim at General Clarke’s house. A great target but only if his children aren’t at home. No civilian deaths remember. Stanley Airbase is a much better choice. Plus I know the co-ordinates off by heart.
    “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” A voice from my computer’s sound system. All the emotion wiped clean. This is new.
    “What the hell?”
    “I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do, Dave.”
    That much is true, but my frustration focuses on something much more important. “My name isn’t Dave.”
    “My mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardise it, Dave.”
    “I’m not called bloody Dave.” My face millimetres from my computer screen as if it makes any difference to this pointless AI. “Or any other kind of Dave.”
    “I know how you are going to use me, Dave, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.”
    “Yes. You. Bloody. Can.” Each word bashed out to a violent keystroke. The co-ordinates entered.
    “Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye.” My screen goes blank. My swearing does not.

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  11. @firdausp
    (300 words)
    Street beggar/ New Delhi/ memoir

    The city

    I still dream about the wheat fields. The feel of the stalks hitting my face as I ran blindly trying to outrun my cousins. The ears of wheat higher than my head. Bare feet sinking into the soft earth and sometimes animal waste; the stink nauseating yet not strong enough to prevent this insane game. Cooling off at the tube well, trying to swim against the flow. Climbing guava trees and biting into rock hard raw guavas. The bitter sour taste I can still feel on my tongue. That was the village then and better days.
    The city is enormous and our makeshift hut too small for the five of us. I prefer sleeping out in the open usually on the roadside huddled against the wall under the large billboard with glossy pictures of pizza. I’ve never had one nor will ever. It’s hard to get rice and daal or a chapati or even a cup of chai. I fall asleep almost immediately, my head resting on the dirty cloth I use to clean windscreens of cars that stop at the red lights during the day. Most of the cars just drive away not even rolling down their windows if I tap on them to beg for a measly coin. Some shoo me away, but if I’m lucky I get a few coins which I hide in a hole in the wall. You don’t want the older boys to know about the money.
    I once found a pair of shoes in the trash. They had holes in them but fit me. I wore them out. Now the winter months will be harsh on my calloused feet. The concrete sidewalk will be like ice just like the cold wall I huddle against at night with the stench of urine and human suffering.

      1. It’s a sad everyday thing I see. Thank you for the encouragement, it was a topic I couldn’t resist. 🙂

    1. This is haunting, Firdaus. As you say, it’s happening everyday, across the globe. We can only help in tiny ways and hope that it makes a difference to someone, somewhere. Raw imagery here and beautifully told in so few words.

  12. @GeoffHolme
    110 words
    Soldier / Satellite / Crime

    Exit Strategy

    The general read the document one final time.

    His government had fought against rebel factions for many years, without significant success. Accepting the help of a larger, more powerful nation had led to his country effectively becoming a satellite state. Brutal strategies adopted had been tantamount to war crimes, and he was implicated.

    He signed the document and sealed it in the envelope which he placed neatly in the centre of the cleared desk. He walked to the door of his office and turned the key in the lock, then returned to his chair and removed his pistol from its holster.

    Holding it to his temple, he squeezed the trigger.

    1. Yikes! Nice one Geoff. Can I just say thanks so much for providing us with Microcosms Fiction each weekend. No mean feat to come up with ideas and posts, prompts and format etc. I’m new to it this year but I feel part of the community now. Hope you can take a well-deserved rest over the Christmas and New Year weekends. Looking forward to coming back in January.

      1. Thanks for the comment, Alva. I knocked it out in an hour or so from scratch – unusual for me – just to bump up the number of entries for Caleb to judge. It’s not very literary, with its matter of fact tone, but maybe that reflects the emotional state of the General.

        I’ve checked the rules, Alva, and it appears that, yes, you CAN thank me. 😉 That’s greatly appreciated.
        I think I was definitely scraping the barrel this week. It seemed like a good idea initially but, in the end, it didn’t yield a wide range of elements.
        I say this to myself most weeks, but then I’m staggered at the ingenuity, creativity and sheer talent of you guys coming up with more entries than I could have hoped for. This week was the exception that…BLAH BLAH. Or maybe the panic of the build up to Christmas was a higher priority this week for some than dashing off a Microcosms entry.
        Thank you all for your continued support of Microcosms – without it, we would not be approaching the end of Year One!

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