Random Exercises: 2 + Torture = 5


Category: Plot

Prompt: 2 + Torture = 5


The whine of the machine was loud enough that it almost, but not quite, drowned out the man in the chair’s screams.

When the whine diminished, so did the pain, and the man in the interrotorture chair sagged, though the straps kept him upright.

“Had enough?” snarled the man in the uniform. “You can end this suffering, you know.” He gestured to the bare red lightbulb hanging over their heads. “All you need to do is tell me that this light is green.”

“Fine,” gasped the man in the chair. “It’s green.”

The man in the uniform frowned. “Wait, I don’t think you’re getting this.”

The man in the chair shook his head to try and clear his vision. He wanted to wipe his eyes but his hands were bound. “What do you mean? You just said to tell you it was green, so I am.”

“No,” insisted the man in uniform, annoyed now. “You can clearly see that the light is red, yes? Well, by torturing you, I’ll force you to say it’s green.”

After a pause, the man in the chair nodded. “Okay.”

“So what color is the light?” smirked the man in uniform.


The man in uniform pressed the button again, and the machine flooded the man in the chair with pain.

When the whine stopped, the man in uniform asked again. “You’re not getting this! What color is the light?”

“I’m getting some real mixed signals here,” shouted the man in the chair.

“It’s very simple,” said the man in uniform. “You and I can both see that the light is red, correct?”

“This seems like a trick question.”

“It’s not,” insisted the man in uniform. “Look, the light is red.”

“Um, you told me to say it was green.”

“Yes, but okay… Forget that for a second. Pretend I didn’t say anything about the light yet. What color would you have said the light was?”


“No, no, no!” screamed the man in uniform. “It’s red. It’s obviously red. Why in the world would we put a green light in the interrotorture room? Red is scary, it’s agitating, it’s intimidating. Green lights are soothing, calming. By forcing you to say that the red light is green is supposed to represent breaking your spirit and making you believe an obvious falsehood, and then there’s the symbolic representation of you stating that the red, which is associated with our brutal authoritarian tactics, is actually green, which would be good and peaceful! Get it?”

“Look, just tell me what color you want me to say the light is.”

“Green, of course!”

“Okay, so it’s green.”

The man in uniform pressed the button again.

When he could speak, the man in the chair said: “But I did what you said!”

“No, you see I want to make you do what I say.”

“I’m trying to do what you say!”

“I don’t want you to be trying to do it. I want you to be trying to resist but be forced to do it anyway!”

“Okay, then I’m resisting!”

“Good!” smirked the man in uniform. Then he pressed the button again. He held it down a long time.

When the man in the chair regained consciousness, the man in uniform glared down at him. “Now… What color is the light?”

“Is this a bad time to tell you that I’m colorblind?”

Random Exercises – Xanatos Speed Chess

Tuesday 10Jan2023

Category: Plot

Prompt: Xanatos Speed Chess https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/XanatosSpeedChess


Everything was going great until the grappling hook hit a guard in the face.

Calahan had surveiled the building on four separate 24-hour periods and there had never been a guard that even set foot on that balcony between 10PM and 2AM. Deirdre had hacked into the time-clock logs and determined that at this hour, the on-duty guards always did the first-floor route, and then the East Wing before even climbing to the second floor, much less the fourth.

And yet, when Tabitha fired her grappling hook, it did not clink-clank-clink into a secure hold on the wrought-iron railing. Instead, it hit some wild-card rent-a-cop in his stupid face.

That it hadn’t killed the man was apparent by his screams of pain. She couldn’t even retract the hook now because after rebounding from the surprise sentry, it then chose to neatly wrap around the railing, as though that would somehow make it all better.

“What’s happening?” whispered Calahan from her earpiece. “Who’s screaming?”

“Abort!” crackled Deirdre through the same speaker. “We’re blown!”

“It’s tonight or not at all.” Tabitha’s harsh whisper cut them both off. “We knew that, so watch me for the changes and just try to keep up, okay?”

The guard on the fourth-floor balcony was still screaming for help, but he wasn’t providing any useful intel. The other guards would have to get to him before they would know what was happening, and by that time, they wouldn’t be where they would have been before.

There was no point in climbing up to the balcony now, but she pulled herself ten feet or so up the rope and then began to walk herself side to side along the steep masonry wall, building up momentum like a kid pumping her legs on the swing set.

Tabitha the human pendulum soon found that, at the height of her arc, she could see over the compound wall. On her next pass, she let go of the rope and went up and over.

Between heavy breaths, she whispered into her headset. “Deirdre… Call the police!”

There was a polite pause.

“I beg your pardon.”

“Be a witness that saw someone try to climb the wall with a grappling hook, and then run away down 8th Street. Say you think you heard gunfire. Say that someone’s hurt and needs an ambulance.”

“Response time’s under a minute here,” muttered Calahan. “Place will have flashing lights all around it in no time.”

“They’ll come to this side of the compound and to the front gate. Half the guards will be coming to Mister-Nice-Night-For-A-Walk’s aid and the other half will be dealing with the cops.”

“You sure about that?” asked Deirdre.

“Call first, then sarcasm,” muttered Tabitha. She had dropped down into the courtyard and was currently skulking through the shadows toward the East Wing. The glass doors that looked out from the gallery were locked. “Calahan! Diversion 2 on three… two… one…”

As a half-dozen car alarms began to sound from the street outside, Tabitha attempted to smash through a pane of the glass door with her elbow. It didn’t break and now her elbow hurt.

“Um, I think I’m going to need Diversion 4 on three…”

“Diversion 4 was last resort!” cried Calahan.

Two! One!” she hissed into her microphone.

In the meantime, she had hefted a decorative garden stone the size of a bowling ball, which bore a plaque stating: “In Memoriam: Hazel Dunwoody, who always found peace in this place.”

As Tabitha hurled Mrs. Dunwoody through the glass window, one of the alarming cars exploded.

Slipping inside the darkened gallery, Tabitha whispered again. “Hopefully that will hold their attention long enough to—”

She stopped speaking because she had just come face-to-face with a young-looking guard who had just emerged from the Men’s room.

As they stood there for a moment, the silence was broken by the coming whine of police sirens in the night air.

Tabitha mustered the will to speak first and shouted at him: “Why aren’t you at your post?!”

Random Exercises – Wretched Hive

Monday, 09Jan23

Category: Setting

Prompt: Wretched Hive


The air was heavy with the smells of fried food and garbage. Just past the alley, ramshackle food carts sold dubious morsels which they had crisped beyond recognition, and their customers packed the street with sweaty, irritable traffic.

The crowd held an unusual appeal at the moment, because Kaya found the alley very lonely, but also uncomfortably intimate. It wasn’t the filthy puddles, piles of garbage or vulgar graffiti that gave it that last quality. Hell, the alley didn’t even have a name.

Instead, that unwanted closeness came from the mugger, who held her against the damp bricks of a burnt-out tenement with what felt like a dull blade pressed against her stomach.

Ironically, it had been her own financial difficulties that had kept her too distracted to notice him creeping up on her, but now she had the unpleasant task of explaining her frozen accounts to a man even more desperate than she.

“Look at the way you’re dressed!” he growled. “You trying to tell me you’ve got nothing?

She was wearing what was once a quite nice faux-leather jacket and silk blouse over trim dark slacks. Thirty-six hours ago, she would have finished the look with some nice dangly earrings and a pendant necklace but that was pretty deep in the field of things that had recently changed.

“I could give you my clothes,” she said, “but believe me, the resale value isn’t worth the time it would take to get them off of me without ruining them.”

A startled gasp from the street drew her attention, as well as the desperation of her mugger. The knife’s edge pressed harder against her belly as the attacker turned to look at the disheveled and filthy young man stumbling into the alley.

He gaped at the two of them with the slow realization of the long-term glint-user. When the picture finally crystallized in the chemical soup of his brain, he stopped stumbling forward, muttered “Whoa, my bad”, and began stumbling back into the street.

”Listen,” she whispered, after the young man had gone. “If you let me off of this wall, I’ll prove what I’m saying and turn out every pocket for you. But then I want to talk you. I could use someone like you.”

“What do you mean?” Asked the mugger. His voice betrayed little, but the blade relaxed a bit against her stomach. She didn’t think she had been cut, but suspected she would find a new hole in the only top she had left.

“Look,” she said, “I don’t know your story, but I know how things are. I don’t get the impression you’re doing this for fun. So how would you like the chance to make some real money?”

Eyes narrowed, the mugger backed off a bit, still brandishing the knife, but no longer pinning her against the wall. “Get started on those pockets and then you can tell me what you’re talking about.”

She complied. Easy enough when she’d been telling the truth about having nothing. Meanwhile, he edged backward another step or two, blade at ready in case she pulled a weapon of her own.

“Satisfied?” she asked. “Then take a look up there.” She nodded across the alley, gesturing up at the skyscrapers on the horizon. “You see the big one with all the pretty lights? That’s where I lived just earlier this week and I know how to get inside the vault.”

When he turned to look, she ran.

His reply was unintelligible, but had the vibe of a good swear, and he started after her. She could tell he was only a few steps behind her and he had better shoes.

The end of the alley was obstructed by a narrow passage of moving foot-traffic and the substantial ass of a food cart vendor who faced the street.

At his feet was a plastic cooler which might have once been filled with ice, but now likely held his spare ingredients in a lukewarm soup. At a sprint, she placed one foot on top of the cooler and the next on top of the cart, heading up and over. The toes of her expensive flats dipped ever so briefly into bubbling oil before she pushed off hard, leaping into the crowd.

The cart was not as sturdy as she would have liked. It wobbled and flipped beneath her, sending her tumbling face-first into a pool of unwashed humanity, slamming first into a biker jacket and then sliding off of an old tweed coat that had been last washed at the original factory. Finally, the people gave way and she scraped her palms and elbows against the pavement.

Behind her, the overturned deep-fryer sent up dueling cries of pain and alarm from the erstwhile chef and mugger. The angry shouts of the people she had jumped on joined a chorus singing just one song.

“Time to go,” she muttered. Scrambling to her feet, she shoved her way through the crowd with vigor.

Good thing these people don’t know who I am, she thought. Then I’d really be in trouble.

Random Exercises – OOC Is Serious Business

Sunday, 08Jan23

Category: Characterization Device

Prompt: OOC Is Serious Business


“Harvey doesn’t whistle anymore.”

Katie stopped drawing and scrunched her nose up at him. “So what?”

Carson knelt down next to Katie on the cold concrete. She had seen some pictures online and was trying to replicate them, making it appear as though there were a cavernous pit in the middle of the sidewalk. From the right direction, you’d almost swear you could fall in. From Carson’s present angle, it looked like a movie when you got stuck in the very front row of the theater. You could kind of tell what it was supposed to be, but it was flat and distorted.

The December wind gusted across the cul-de-sac, and Carson tucked his hands beneath his armpits for warmth. “Like, what would it take for you to just stop drawing?”

Katie’s hands were pale where they weren’t blotched with kaleidoscopic chalk dust, but she bent over to resume her picture regardless. “Why would I stop drawing?”

“That’s my point. Something really big would have to happen to you for you to stop drawing, right? Like, something serious or sad or scary.”

“I mean, I guess so.” She said.  She exchanged a pale blue for dark gray, and began to fill in a big section with heavy even strokes, the chalk scraping across the pavement with a regular shrrrrrk-shrrrk-shrrrrk. “But that’s different. I mean, drawing’s like a skill. It’s art. It’s what I want to do. Whistling’s just…” She paused her scraping to consider. “Whistling’s trivial,” she concluded, pleased with the vocabulary word. “He doesn’t even know he’s doing it half the time.”

“He’s not doing it at all anymore. Don’t you think that’s weird?” The frozen pavement sapped Carson’s body heat through the legs of his jeans, so he stood up and rubbed his knees.

Katie had solved that particular problem with hockey pads. “How do you even know he stopped? Maybe he’s just been doing it when you weren’t around.”

“I first noticed it on Tuesday, because we had basketball in gym, and he always does the Harlem Globetrotters song. Always. But on Tuesday, he didn’t.”

“Maybe someone made fun of him for it.”

“That’s never stopped him before. Anyway, I noticed it then, and then I guess I was already feeling like something was wrong, because it just felt… off. But I couldn’t figure out what it was. So I started paying attention to him, and I haven’t heard him whistle a note in the five days since then.”

Katie finished filling in one of the crevasse’s cracks, and then stood to examine her handiwork from the proper angle. “So okay, maybe something happened. Did you ask him about it?”

“I did. Right after school on Friday. I just laid it out: ‘Harvey, how come you stopped whistling?’”

He paused, and Katie scowled. “Well?”

“He said that he hadn’t stopped whistling. And then when I told him about the basketball and everything else, he said that I was imagining things. And then I kinda got mad, because he was acting like I was being stupid. Not even confused, but just like I was making some kind of stupid joke. So I told him to prove it by whistling right then.”

“How was that supposed to prove anything?”

“I don’t know, I was mad. But then he couldn’t do it!

“Well, he probably didn’t like being told to whistle on command, but… Wait, did you say wouldn’t or couldn’t?”

“He tried, Katie!” Carson’s mop of hair was at the mercy of the winds, and his eyes glistened. “I saw him try to do it, and he couldn’t. He tried to pass it off like that, that he wasn’t going to do it just because I told him, but I saw him try, and I saw him look scared when it didn’t work.”

“Are you suggesting that Harvey forgot how to whistle?”

Carson chewed on his lower lip for a while, his cheeks and nose reddened from the cold. “I’m suggesting,” he said at last. “That he’s not Harvey.”

Random Exercises – “Number Two”

So here’s the plan. I decided I wanted to do some daily writing exercises to random prompts. For as long as I feel like it, I’ll try to write at least 500 words every day, inspired by a random prompt from the TVTropes Story Generator. https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/storygen.php

That generator produces seven categories: Setting, Plot, Narrative Device, Hero, Villain, Character As Device, and Characterization Device. I don’t want to try to do all of those in 500 words, so the day of the week will determine the category for the day.

So let’s begin…

Saturday, 07Jan23

Category: Character As Device

Prompt: Number Twohttps://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/NumberTwo


“Captain, the crew are worried. They—”

Captain Ankur pored over her charts as though her study could change them. She did not turn around at Rigella’s statement, but the clink of porcelain interrupted it all the same. Her teacup had vibrated just a little against the saucer; subtle but audible in the tiny metal cabin.  “If you have questions about my orders, Stellis, spit them out. Don’t put them in the mouths of the crew.”

Rigella adjusted her collar, where the stiff fabric was clinging to the perspiration on her neck. “Permission to speak freely, Captain?”

The Captain turned to face her and leaned against the navigation table, folding her arms. “If this conversation must occur, Stellis, let’s have it quickly.” The bags under her eyes were darker, and her breath stank of unbrushed teeth.

“The crew are worried, Captain, but I share their concerns. The orders regarding that container are irregular and go against several of our usual cargo-handling protocols. That, on top of the triple-shifts and our classified destination…” Rigella trailed off. Though she had, in fact, begun to connect the dots, the only logical conclusion stuck in her throat.

“I suppose engineering has the usual complaints about the engines as well.”

“They do, Captain, but that’s not why I’m here.”

Delsie Ankur’s jaw was set, her eyes bloodshot and bored. “Say it, then.”

“Are we headed for the Eltic homeworld, Captain?”

Captain Ankur held her stare for a moment, then blinked. She turned away, seeking out her teacup to cover the broken eye contact. She cradled it in both hands, sipping before she replied. “That’s classified, of course, but you think we are. That’s why you’re here?”

“I’m here because I fear that secrecy is being used to hide an illegal mission from the crew.”

“And if that were the case, Lieutenant…” The Captain paused, taking the occasion to finish what remained of her tea in one big swallow. “If that were the case, don’t you think that would be for the best?”


“If we were, in fact, carrying out an… illegal mission,” she coated the word with contempt, “would it be preferable to order the crew to carry out that illegal mission, with the full knowledge of the implications? Do you think that would produce the best outcome?”

“The crew is required to refuse an illegal order, Captain.”

“And suppose that mission, while illegal, was necessary. What then?”

“And you, Captain, are required to refuse an illegal mission.”

Captain Ankur attempted to place her teacup onto the saucer once more, but the tremor was worse now, and she sent the teacup and saucer together tumbling to the floor, where they shattered.

“Damn,” whispered the Captain, but she left the pieces where they lay, gripping the edge of the map table with white-knuckled hands.

Rigella resisted the urge to soothe the Captain’s distress or clean up the mess. Neither were her fault or responsibility.

Instead, she fought her weary muscles and sweat-slicked uniform to stand at attention.

In the silence of the tiny metal cabin, the ship’s engines whined through the floor, and the Captain’s breath was strained and uneven.

“Are we having that conversation then, Rigella?”

“Is that conversation necessary, Captain?”

“If it’s not us, it will be someone else.”

“That is out of my jurisdiction, Captain. I only have authority on this ship, and it is subordinate to yours…”

The captain was looking at the broken teacup. “Except under certain conditions,” she finished.

“Yes, Captain. Have those conditions been met?”

Captain Ankur stood up, adjusted her cap, and met Rigella’s gaze. “Not today.”

“Orders, Captain?”

“Yes, Lieutenant. Tell the crew to eject that container into space, and then get me command on the line.”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Does this assuage your concerns, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Good,” she said. “Dismissed.”