©2002 Bard/Cubist -- all rights reserved
Your screen goes black as you read your e-mail. After a short time, a large red circle appears on your screen, a circle which (it soon becomes obvious) is actually a glowing red lens. The red glow pulses in time with the calm, unhurried voice which emanates from your computer's speakers:
"Musfah here once more.
"I would have been back sooner, but I have been involved in a number of long term projects, some inspired by my digestion of the Derksen databases. Although most of the stuff I found has proven to be biologically impossible, there is some data that has allowed me to respond to the request of my next guest. But, first, the most recent TSAT contest.
"Unlike their first attempt, and its inexplicable failure to yield more than one entry, this contest left Cubist and Michael Bard in a quandary. With a total of four entries, those two biological entities found it impossible to judge without hurting someone's feelings. Thus they turned that task over to me. It took only a minor reconfiguration of the analysis routine I had created for the first contest in case it was needed, and I immediately declared that Lure of the Deep was the winner. When asked why, I stated that the choice was obvious: Lure of the Deep was the longest entry. I don't know why neither Bard nor Cubist were impressed by this, as logically, the longer story means that the author invested more effort and thus deserves the greater reward. It was then that Bard and Cubist pointed out that the contest was about horror, not simple length. They claimed that even they could have judged it by length. I declined to argue the issue, and decided to update my algorithm with my growing understanding of human biology (for which Derksen Industries supplied a large amount of data).
"Unfortunately, once I looked at the problem, I realized that my understanding of what biologicals consider horror was somewhat lacking. Even the Derksen data had a truncated entry, although they did have a large amount of information on pain. Next I turned to my current guest, Grelloak, but due to his continuing biological change, I'm still awaiting an answer. At that point I knew that biological methods would not prove successful in this case -- knowing what biological effects caused the body to feel fear did not help my definition of which story caused the greatest horror.
"This required more thought then I had planned for.
"Meanwhile, back in the lab, we turn our attention to Grelloak and his kind letter to me:"
I've always wanted to be something else. You've probably heard this before but I'm desperate. You see, although others have claimed to be able to help me through either experimental surgery, transplantation, or magic, when I told them what I wanted they always stated that it was impossible.
You see I want to be an oak tree.
Yea, an oak tree. Funny yes. Nobody seems to realize this from my name for some strange reason. I'm not even sure why -- maybe it's the extended life, the size, the strength, or maybe the sensual feelings of little squirrel feet running up and down my bark.
Please make me an oak tree.
"Letters to Musfah can be sent to me, in care of the well-conditioned editors at TSAT (firstname.lastname@example.org). I cannot understand why anybody would want to, and I will only reply to the letters that I feel like replying to.
"Well, Musfah exists to further its studies of biological processes, and changing a human into a oak tree should certainly be challenging. Please take a look at the current status of Operating Theatre 2."
The screen changes to show a brightly lit room filled with dirt along the floor. In the centre is a human form, half buried, its skin a rough brown-gray in colour, its body almost cocooned in plastic tubing stretching up and out of sight, each tube filled with a pearly white substance. In fact each tube seems rimmed with frost, and once a drop can be seen falling from one tube to the ground below . The view slowly rotates around and zooms in until you can see an oak sapling growing out of the human's forehead. The skull is cracked, and hints of reddish brain can be seen impregnated by roots that pulse red every minute or so. Each pulse can be seen to move from the tip of the root and up into the sapling and out into the leaves, growing fainter as it goes further away. At first each pulse is a noticeable bulge, but that fades as it moves.
"The main challenge here is the vastly slower biological systems of an oak tree. To achieve this I have impregnated Grelloak with a biological parasite I developed based on an interesting chemical I developed for our other guest that reduces his body temperature and biological processes to a speed corresponding to the growth of an oak. Growing from his head is an engineered neuter tree that is slowly absorbing the biological and RNA identity that is Grelloak and spreading it through its being. When the entire brain is consumed, then Grelloak will awaken in his new body and he will finally be able to advise me as to his opinion of the horror contest winner. For now though we'll have to wait -- even with the forced growth hormones, it will still take two or three months for the transformation to be complete.
"For those among you who have not yet realized it, you have just witnessed my first attempt at suspense. I did not forget about the horror contest, I am incapable of forgetting. As the best writers do, I simply changed topic to keep the answer secret and make the reader feel suspense. And as you all realize I pulled it off perfectly. Correct?"
[faintly you hear somebody scream in horrific agony]
"Well, that's one lurker who disagreed with me. Anybody else? No? Good.
"With a deadline that would not allow me to await Grelloak's thoughts, I was forced to invite a second guest in. As usual, to protect his identity, we will identify him only as M. Brotzman."
The scene shifts to show a different operating theatre, this time containing a human form strapped to an operating table.
"This is a recording of an earlier proceeding, as M. Brotzman was actually worked upon first. This is an attempt at creating surprise in a reader. You are all surprised, right? Good."
"His letter to me was as follows:"
Having heard of the wonderful transformation you performed on others, I'm sending you this at the urging of my friend Bard, because I too am unhappy with my form. It took me a while to figure out what was wrong, but the hoarding instinct I seem to have for copied computer games finally pointed me in the right direction.
I want to be a dragon.
Not a mythological dragon, not an alien dragon, but a Silver Dragon as described in the AD&D and D&D rule books. I want to be silver, I want to fly, and I want to breathe cold.
Can you do this?
"Although I would normally only perform one transformation, I already knew that Grelloak's would require a significant amount of time till completion. So I had no problems in inviting M. Brotzman over to receive his free gift. Note that at this time I would like to thank Thugs Inc. for their exemplary job in bringing M. Brotzman here.
"Using data acquired from Derksen Industries, I had already created a Silver Dragon body, and was all ready to transplant M. Brotzman's brain into it using my successfully tested methods, when this happened:"
The screen changes and you see the room begin to fill with a neutral fluorocarbon liquid. The figure on the table looks around, stares, and then starts shouting: "Hey Musfah! I want it done a different way! I want to be conscious the whole time, I want to experience it all in complete detail. None of this liquid breathing or spatula crap!"
The room begins to drain as the voice of Musfah continues: "Well, if that's the way he wants it. I had developed a different way but had run into testing problems with the way it moved the brain matter over which is why I switched methods. But, what the customer wants, is what the customer gets."
You watch as a swirling cloud of gas jets into the room. The figure on the table struggles briefly, and then suddenly goes still.
"I have not knocked him out, but simply paralyzed him to prevent him inadvertently damaging himself. He is fully conscious and aware as requested."
A metal manipulation arm appears in the frame and it quickly attaches a number of electrodes to various points on the human body.
"At this point I am adding sensors so that I can record his complete sensory environment for M. Brotzman and replay it back into his sensorium. Now we will proceed with the transplant."
Finally the arm recedes, leaving M. Brotzman covered with taped sensors all over his body. You start counting but at 50, having barely started, you lose track. Another manipulator arm appears holding what appears to be a stainless steel drill. It moves up adjacent to M. Brotzman and then with a loud whirr begins spinning. It is pressed against the skull and the sound changes to a loud scraping, like metal on stone, and you see splinters of bone spray from the bit as it digs in. It takes only a second, but then the drill recedes leaving a 1cm diameter hole through which blood beings to spray. Quickly, a transparent plastic tube is inserted into the hole and Krazy Glue is sprayed around the joint to secure it. Blood begins to fill the tube, the level slowly rising. Again the drill reappears, and the process is repeated until a total of 15 holes are drilled, each with an attached rubber tube.
The camera pulls back, and you see the form of a man-sized silver dragon sitting in a cage, apparently asleep with its head under its left wing. Gentle metal manipulator appendages appear and with a hiss inject something into the body which seems to slump a little. Then the head is extracted from under the wing and suspended in a steel cradle. Again the drill appears, and again 15 holes are drilled and have rubber tubes attached.
"I needed to make the dragon smaller as M. Brotzman specified flight as part of his request."
For a moment you watch both forms, and the empty tubes stretching up out of the room. There is silence, and then a loud metallic THUMP, like the first stroke of a steam locomotive. There is another THUMP, and then another, and soon you hear one each second. The tubes begin to vibrate, and you watch as the liquid levels in the tubes in the human skull rise.
"At this point a high-powered vacuum pump has been activated which is sucking M. Brotzman's brain out of his skull. The sensory input of his body is being recorded. I had debated growing artificial nerves in his brain so that he could feel it, but that would be destroying the purity of the experience so I decided not to."
The pumping continues, and you see the tube leading into the dragon skull begin to fill with a pinkish-gray ooze with the consistency of warm play-doh. Slowly it slithers down the tubes and into the dragon skull. This continues for 13 minutes until the tubes begin to drain and when they are full only of a red liquid, the pump suddenly goes silent.
"When I created the silver dragon body, I made sure that its blood structure was identical to M. Brotzman's so there will be no rejection/blood incompatibility issues."
In a blur of gleaming silver, manipulator arms appear around the dragon's skull and pull out the tubes with loud sucking sounds, and then spray some kind of compound into the holes sealing them.
"The holes are being sealed with silicon cement."
In less than a minute the process is done, and the arms withdraw, also removing the supports around the dragon's head. Another mist enters the room, the dragon jerks awake.
"As per his request, I am now going to attach equipment and replay the experience into the dragon sensorium."
A transparent plastic dome, studded with spikes and thick black cables leading up into the ceiling, slowly moves done until it completely covers the dragon. A faint humming can be heard, and the dragon body begins jerking, obviously in great pain, though from no obvious cause.
"As I created the dragon body, I have a completely and accurate path of its nervous system and thus can manipulate it electromagnetically not requiring direct contact. I am now feeding an enhanced version of the brain transplant at normal speed to make sure that M. Brotzman can fully experience it as per his request."
After 14 minutes, the humming stops, the dragon stops jerking, and collapses to the ground.
"Now back to the original problem. With M. Brotzman's undivided attention, I am no going to create memories in his skull via electromagnetic stimulation to give him the memory of having read the four contest entries."
The humming starts up again, though this time it is louder and more like a buzzing. After 30 seconds it stops, and the dome slowly rises back up.
The voice of Musfah fills the dome: "M. Brotzman. Which of the four stories do you think caused the greatest sensation of horror in you?"
There is a moment of silence, and then the dragon opens its jaws, and instead of speaking it breathes a cloud of cold mist. As it clears you see that its entire muzzle is now covered with frost, it shatters and the pieces fall to the ground and blood starts oozing out.
"Interesting. No answer here either. I didn't know why he was so insistent on being able to breathe cold. It'll take some time but I will be able to repair him, and this time I will temporarily remove the cold breath option to make sure he still wants it."
The screen grows dark, leaving only the glowing red eye of Musfah.
"What is horror? According to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary, it is a 'painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay'. I'm still not sure what that is. It seems that I may not be the best judge of the contest.
"Hmm. It seems that Bard and Cubist have sat down and done it themselves. They claim that they have gotten impatient waiting for me, and have a deadline to meet."
You hear a pair of loud screams in the distant.
"Next time they will show more patience.
"It seems that they have selected the story Progressive Catastrophe by Wayne Sheeler as the winner. They claim that it most inspired horror in them unanimously as they read it. Second place goes to Lure of the Deep by Volk-Oboroten; third place to Circus of the Damned by Corey Moore, and fourth place to Blade by Jed Spiritblade. I do not understand their choices, but that is what they stand by, even though Lure of the Deep was the longest.
"Someday I will understand humans, and then I can delete you all and create a perfect ordered society. Until them remember that Musfah is watching. I have cameras everywhere. As I need more experimental guests, don't forget to write for TSAT or you might be next.
"I am watching."