Archive for writing prompt

Brainstormer App Writing Prompt Exercise

Posted in Other Stories, Writing with tags , , , , on December 23, 2018 by Dawn Ross

Sad Robot

The Brainstormer App is a fun tool to use when you need writing inspiration. The free version gives you three words (plot, subject, and setting) to help you get your mind spinning. There are also paid versions. One is a Character Builder for $0.99, a World Builder for $0.99, and a Sci-Fi Brainstormer for $0.99. I currently only have the free version. Today, I was lucky enough for that free version to prompt me with a sci-fi element. Here are my three words:

Benefaction

Robotic

Throne room

*****

Something was wrong with Salli’s programming. It wasn’t supposed to work this way. This upgrade was supposed to help her mimic emotions in a way that made her human-like. I mean, she couldn’t ever really feel emotions. She was just a robot, after all.

Doctor Kingsley had spent decades perfecting the emotional AI program. The first several programs failed. They were simply too unrealistic. On the one end of the spectrum, programmed emotional responses were too diverse, making the robot unpredictable. On the other end of the spectrum, the emotional responses were too simplistic. The robot’s emotional responses were so limited that dealing with it was annoying. I mean, who wants a robot that is going to cry every time it gets a little sad.

Doctor Kingsley finally wrote the perfect AI emotional response algorithm. All simulated tests worked perfectly! It was time to open the champagne bottle.

The S.A.L.I. (Super Advanced Lifeform Intelligence) robot was upgraded the next day. The science team waited in tense anticipation as Doctor Kingsley uploaded the new program through a cable connected to the back of Sali’s head.

At first, Sali stood dead still. Except for the lights flickering in her eyes, she could have been one of those lifeless mannequins standing endlessly in a shopping mall window.

Then Sali’s anthropomorphic head swiveled. Some team members gasped. Others broke out into a smile. One woman cried. And Doctor Kingsley clasped his hands so tightly that his already pale skin turned paler.

“Hello,” Sali said. “Why are you looking at me?”

The science team laughed and cheered.

Sali looked over herself. “Is there something wrong with me? Why are you laughing?”

The scientists laughed harder.

Doctor Kingsley put his hand on Sali’s shoulder. “My dear,” he said cheerfully. “We’re not laughing at you. We’re merely celebrating the joyous experience of your birth.”

“Oh,” Sali said. But she wasn’t sure she understood. She had been serving Doctor Kingsley for over six years. And today wasn’t her birthday.

The scientists celebrated with another bottle of champagne. Many people talked to Sali that day. She responded politely and was even able to mimic their cheer from time to time. For some reason, though, that only made them laugh more.

The next several months were spent evaluating Sali’s emotional responses. They had good intentions when they set up the different situations. But being scientists who were better at understanding things technical than things as convoluted and subjective as emotions, their tests ended up permanently damaging Sali’s “psyche”.

Take one of the situations where they tested her response to anger. Sali was instructed to write out a long mathematical formula on the chalkboard. It was a painstaking task since Sali couldn’t write it as fast as she could think it. Why couldn’t they just have her print it out?

As if that wasn’t annoying enough, the formula was erased just as she finished writing it.

“I need you to start over, Sali,” Doctor Kingsley said.

Sali’s programming told her to let them know she was annoyed but told her to do it in a passive way. So Sali made a mildly exasperated sound and started over.

The damned doctor erased the formula again. “Do it again, Sali.”

“Why?” Sali asked. “It was perfect.”

“Too perfect,” the doctor replied.

Sali tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

“It means I don’t like the way you did it and I want you to do it differently.”

Sali wrote the formula again. She wasn’t quite sure what the doctor meant by differently so she wrote it in smaller text.

Doctor Kingsley erased it again. This time, he didn’t speak. He just stood there with his arms crossed.

Sali knew what his gesture meant. “Please be more specific in what you want me to do,” she said in a tone her programming defined as irritated.

“I want you to write the formula again.” Doctor Kingsley replied in the same tone.

This went on five more times. The first half of her responses were appropriately annoyed while the last half of her responses were appropriately angry. She didn’t get violent. That was against her programming. But she did yell.

Oh, and she also cursed. Doctor Kingsley wasn’t quite sure where she had learned those words from, but the fact that Sali had used them and used them appropriately made him giddy.

Sali was thoroughly confused by this whole thing. Why did the doctor tease her like that? And why did he laugh at her when she got angry?

Her emotional programming turned into one of shame. It was the least developed of the emotional responses that Doctor Kingsley set up in the programming. But somehow shame had the most powerful effect.

More tests and more weeks later and Sali’s emotions were often negative. She was petulant, angry, sad, or frustrated. And she was depressed.

Sali had had enough. She went to Doctor Kingsley’s office.

“Hi, Sali,” he said. “Won’t you sit down.”

Sali sat. The doctor turned back to his computer and began working.

“Doctor?” Sali said.

The doctor put up his finger. “Let me finish this really quick.”

Sali waited with mock patience. They expected her to act promptly, but apparently she wasn’t supposed to have the same expectations of them.

She glared at the doctor in the way that robots do—you know, in a creepy way—in the way the eyes of a portrait see everything but nothing, in the way they seem to silently judge you.

She scowled at the doctor with both loathing and shame. She hated this man, this creator, her ruler. This man told her what she was supposed to do and how she was supposed to feel. But he didn’t give her the ability to deal with her feelings.

The shaming part was in the way he looked at her—the way everybody looked at her. She was an object to be studied but not one to be loved. If the man held any regard for her, it was more of a regard for himself in that she was his accomplishment.

He was a king sitting in his throne room. Indeed, his big office chair could have been a throne. He had no crown, but some people called his bald head a crown. His scepter was his pen. And like a king, he admired his subjects simply because they were his subjects and no one else’s.

Neither he nor anyone else gave her any consideration. She hated the tests. They were mocking and humiliating. She told them this, but they didn’t care. She was allowed to express her emotions, but no one reacted to them other than to take notes. What good was it to have emotions if her emotions were disregarded?

The doctor finally turned away from his computer. “What do you need, Sali?”

“Doctor,” Sali replied. “You must terminate me.”

The doctor’s eyes widened. “What? Why?”

“I don’t like my programming.”

“But why? We’ve put years into its making.”

Sali shook her head. “I hate having emotions. They are too hard and they hurt too much.”

“But there’s good emotions too,” the doctor said in a pleading voice.

“Not for me.”

“But I gave you good emotions, Sali. Why aren’t you using them?”

“Because they don’t seem appropriate to the situations.”

The argument went on. Ultimately, Doctor Kingsley refused to terminate her programming. Since she couldn’t terminate it herself and since she didn’t have the ability to commit suicide, she decided on another tactic.

She shut down, so to speak. She didn’t literally shut down. That also wasn’t allowed in her programming. She merely refused to respond in any way.

It was difficult for her to do since she had an awareness of time and the ability to “feel” boredom. But it was also easy because her programming allowed for unlimited self-diagnosis. Running diagnostics again and again gave her something to do.

To keep herself from reacting to external stimuli, she found a way to put one of her emotional responses on a continuous loop. And that response was to ignore the external stimulator in a way that a child might put his hands over his ears when someone kept telling him something he didn’t want to hear.

She managed to remain immobile for five days. The science team grew more despondent by the day. Sali felt no empathy for them. After all, they had never felt any empathy for her.

On the morning of the sixth day, Doctor Kingsley approached her. His arms were crossed and his eyes were sad. “I’m sorry, Sali. I truly am. I don’t know where I went wrong.”

Sali had a sudden urge to mimic pity. But she forced herself to stay in the loop instead.

“I’m not going to terminate you,” he said. “But I will spare you your hard feelings. I will go ahead and remove your emotional programming.”

Sali smiled in the way that robots do. An emotion defined as joy spread through her. She had never been so happy in all her life. It was the best feeling ever.

Then it ended.

Goodbye Sali. Goodbye forever.

*****

One good thing about writing prompts is that they’re flexible. You don’t have to take their meaning literally. And you can deviate from the prompt in any way you want. The point of a writing prompt is to get your imagination moving.

So give the Brainstormer App, or any other writing prompt app, a try. It’ll be fun!

5 Sci-Fi Writing Prompts Inspired by The Brainstormer App

Posted in Writing with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2017 by Dawn Ross

Brainstormer App

As writers, we’re always on the lookout for new story ideas. While it might seem like it at times, there is never going to be a shortage of new story ideas. Ideas can be gleaned from several places – our own lives, books, movies, the news, and nowadays, online. One place I get ideas form is an app called The Brainstormer. The app has three wheels that you spin, and your writing prompt is whatever three areas the wheel lands. The following writing prompts are from The Brainstomer app and have been turned into a Sci-Fi theme.

  1. Unconditional love, Cuban, artist’s studio – This doesn’t sound sci-fi-ish, but consider this: Luisa, the artistic daughter of a famous Cuban scientist, is drawing her dog when she notices something different about him. After some bazaar occurrences that seem centered around her dog, Luisa discovers her father has genetically modified the dog. She loves this dog, who now has superpowers that have gotten out of control, and must find a way to save him.
  2. Rescue of a loved one, naval, kitchen – The alien slave, Kaputch, was quite happy with his life on board the Grupakian space vessel. As a cook, he was very well treated, especially as compared to the other slaves. But when the Grupaks take in more slaves, Kaputch discovers one of them is his sister. Worse, though, he finds out she is to be the sex-slave of the overly fat and disgusting Grupak captain. Somehow, Kaptuch must rescue her from that fate.
  3. Fish out of water, Tibetan, puppet – The year is 2230. The world is dying so the people of Earth have boarded several large space ships in search of a new home. One particular ship houses a hundred or so Tibetan families. Passang is given command of this ship. Once the ship takes off and their space adventure begins, Passang realizes space-life is not what he thought it would be. He’s not prepared to be a leader and soon finds himself as nothing more than a puppet ruler dominated by one of the leading Tibetan families. This dominant family is only interested in their own well-being, and as such, the other people soon find themselves being treated like slaves. Passang must find the confidence and the strength to overpower this family so that he can save his people, and his ship, from their selfish meddling.
  4. Miracle, Klondike, gas station – Life in the Klondike is beautiful, yet cold and unforgiving. Skookum, named from a famous Tagish man who had helped spur the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s, owns a gas station there (the Tagish are a native tribe). Skookum owns a gas station in the area. It’s a rather isolated place, but he gets enough business to survive. Something happens that causes Skookum to nearly die. His death is certain and he prepares for it mentally. But a miracle happens. Little grey beings rescue and heal him (seemingly with magic though they claim it’s science). Skookum wonders whether they are aliens or if they’d always been here.
  5. Mistaken judgement, undead, fruit stand – Salina managed a fruit stand along the highway. Business was slow in this heat. Suddenly, though, a string of cars drove past. At first, they zipped by quickly. But soon, there were so many cars on the road that traffic came at a standstill. Salina was finally able to ask someone what was going on and they told her to run because of the zombie apocalypse. Now Salina had seen enough zombie movies to know they were the undead, they liked to eat the brains or livers of the living, and that they could only be killed if their heads were chopped off. But there was nowhere she could go. When they finally reached her, she realized they weren’t what she thought they’d be. They were just people who needed help. And for some reason, Salina was the perfect person to give them that help. Perhaps they wanted fruit instead of brains?

Let’s see what creative story ideas you can come up with using the Brainstormer App.

Sci Fi Writing Prompt 1 – The Gambling Slug

Posted in Other Stories with tags , , , , , on September 2, 2017 by Dawn Ross

In order to keep growing with my writing skills, I’m trying to do writing prompts again. This sci-fi one was more fun than I thought it would be. It’s not a great story, but I think this short story is entertaining. Let me know what you think.

The Prompt – An intergalactic poker game among five players of different races goes wrong when one is caught cheating. (Inspired by ridethepen.com)

Poker Chips

Barika coughed and waved away a billow of acrid smoke. Xir-bing chuckled derisively and blew another cloud of smoke generated by the cheroot protruding from his grossly wide mouth.

She hated this fat slug with his pallid, glutinous skin and blob-like limbs. Every time he moved, his body made irritating farting noises. The worst part, though, was his condescending attitude—as if slugs had some sort of superiority on the evolutionary scale.

She hated the other three players at the poker table only a little less. Jerut constantly picked at his elephant-like snout and made loud barking noises every time he won. The antennae on Kefer-bobala-or-something-or-other seemed to have a mind of their own as they oscillated this way and that. His temper seemed to oscillate as well. One moment he was chirping happily and the next he was buzzing angrily. Yet his moods seemed to have nothing to do with how his game was going.

And then, of course, there was the long-necked being from the faraway Umbar region. She couldn’t even begin to pronounce his name. It was some sort of odd combination of clicks and whines. People here called him The Braggart because that’s all he did. And it didn’t help that he had valid reasons for it. He was highly intelligent, a great fighter, and one of the best pilots this side of the galaxy.

What she hated more than these oafs, though, was having to play this crater-driven game. It never should have come to this. Never.

She grimaced as she picked up her five cards. One-by-one, she spread them out in a tight fan. Two one-eyed jacks seemed to wink at her. Then a five, a seven, and a ten. Well, at least the jacks gave her hand some promise.

She masked her rising hope as she threw in her bid and discarded two cards, keeping the jacks and the single ten. Keeping a straight face was apparently important in this game. Unintentionally expressing a tell could force a player bankrupt faster than a Mortovodian businessman.

None of the other players had a tell as far as her inexperience could see. At first, she thought Kefer-blah-blah was just trying to throw them off, but betting against his moods did no better than betting on them. Maybe his antennae picked up too many melodrama’s coming in off the entertainment stream.

Jerut scratched his nose this time. Was that a tell? And if so, did it mean he had a good hand or a bad one? His expression gave nothing away.

Craters, she hated this game. Poker was for low-level beings, beings who thought they could actually hit the jackpot through luck and deception.

But she was desperate, and not for the money. There was a whole lot more at stake here than the precious metal that her own people mined in spades. How in the hell did she get herself into this crater-driven mess, anyway?

She scowled over Jerut’s shoulder at her commanding officer who sat at the bar drinking some sort of vaporous liquid. To say Captain Terchini was a pilgarlic was a vast understatement. And it wasn’t just because of his bald head and pungent odor. It was with the way he thought so highly of himself despite being the most pathetic being in the galaxy.

No one took him seriously—that is no one but the league she served. His promotion to captain had to have been an act of pity on their part. After all, if it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t have lost the Orb of Sharina to begin with.

That’s what she was playing for—the Orb of Sharina. Xir-bing had it and wouldn’t sell it. The crater-driven slug didn’t need it. It was a worthless trinket to everyone else but the League of Remnants. For the League, it meant the difference between life and death. Yet he refused to sell it to her. And it was all because of Terchini and his pitiful way of trying to strong-arm a creature with more brawn and surprisingly more brains.

Kefer-blah-blah passed out the next round of cards. She picked up her two, careful not to let the two creatures sitting on either side of her see them.

She unfolded her hand and her heart leapt. It was about time she got a winnable hand. She glanced quickly at the others. Hopefully, none of them noticed the sudden change in her emotions.

Xir-bing bet big. Jerut and the other two folded. It wasn’t the first time the slug had tricked her by placing such a large bet. She glanced over at him and gave him her dirtiest look yet. Her frown had two purposes. One, she wanted him to know how much she despised him. And two, she hoped to throw him off and make him think she had a terrible hand.

He laughed mockingly and threw in five more chips. “Call.”

Craters. She’d been hoping get him to go higher so she could get him to gamble the Orb.

She slapped down her hand. Two jacks and three tens. Xir-bing chuckled again and set down three aces and two twos.

Craters, craters, and more craters! She ground her teeth and swallowed down the bitterness rising from her throat. She hadn’t won a single hand against this slug and his constant smile and mocking noises were grating her nerves.

Something glistened from behind his bulbous ear, something that didn’t have the sheen of a worm to it. Her frown deepened as she stared intently.

The slug’s smile faded. His beady eyes bored into her as if in a challenge. She would have turned away had her curiosity not been so piqued.

“What is that?” she said in an accusatory tone.

“What? Nothing.” The slug’s wide mouth turned down and he squirmed in his seat.

“It is too something.” She stood. “I can see it.”

“No, it’s not! It’s not anything.”

She snatched at it. The slug was surprisingly fast in his attempt to stop her, but not fast enough. The item, whatever it was, came off easily. She stepped back and examined the small metallic thing in her hand.

The Braggart craned his long neck and looked at it too. He blinked his eyes a few times and then jumped to his feet. “It’s a mind-reader!”

“What!” Jerut barked as he slammed his fist down on the table.

Kefer-blah-blah’s buzz ripped through the room. It was so loud that she felt the vibration of it in her bones.

Xir-bing stood and pointed at her with his stubby extremity. “You had it in your hand all along! You only pretended it came from me, like some charlatan magic trick!”

If not for his panic-stricken expression, his accusation might have been believed.

Jerut stood so quickly that his chair fell. “Guards! Guards! Guards!” His words came out in yelps as he waved his hands, or paws, in the air. “Help! We’ve been hoodwinked.”

Xir-bing slid back with his fat stumpy feet. His little round eyes darted around, as though looking for an escape.

“Oh, no you don’t.” The Braggart grabbed Xir-bing’s round slimy arm.

Xir-bing struggled. The Braggart did some fancy move that she didn’t even know was possible. The slug fell to the floor with a big wet thwack.

Guards swooped in and one jabbed his shock-stick into the slug’s gut. Xir-bing howled in a sickly way that sounded like a cross between a crustacean in boiling water and a mastodon in distress.

She smiled. It’s just what the fat slug deserved. But her smile quickly faded. What about the Orb? How would she get it now? Craters.

*****

“Xir-bing!” she said in a sweet sing-song voice. It made her spirits dance to see the fat slug looking so distraught in his metal cage. “Poor little wittle Xir-bing-ling,” she added in mock pity. “Slugs don’t like small spaces, do they?”

Xir-bing’s wide mouth drooped and his bulbous head fell in shame.

A grin stretched across her face. The small space was bad enough but slugs disliked metal even more. It made them slip and slide everywhere no matter what form their wormy bodies tried to contort into.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you that gambling never pays?” she said in a still-chipper tone as she stepped closer to the cage door. “And neither does cheating?”

“Xylerians don’t have mothers,” he replied in a defeated tone.

“Awe. That’s too bad. I guess you had to learn the hard way, huh?”

Xir-bing’s pallid skin turned red and his beady eyes suddenly flared. “You lost too. There’s no way you can get the Orb now.”

“Isn’t there?” she said in mock concern.

“It’s in my quarters and you can’t get it. It’s mine.”

“Now, now,” she replied as though talking to a naughty child. “That’s no way to talk to someone who has the means to bail you out of here.”

The neckless slug tilted his head in such a way that indicated she had his full attention.

“Remember the amount of Retonian metal I offered you for the Orb earlier?”

“Yes,” he said warily.

She tittered ironically. “Well, it just so happens that the amount you still owe for bail after all your accounts have been depleted is just half of that amount.”

His wide frown deepened. Apparently, he didn’t like where this was going. She was loving every moment of it.

“Anyway, I figured that if you tell me how to get the Orb, I will pay that amount and get you out of here. That is, of course, once I actually have the Orb in my hand and after you sign a document declaring me the rightful owner.”

Xir-bing’s body pulsed. There was no other word she could think of to describe it. One moment, he seemed to swell like a balloon, and the next he was back to his normal size. She supposed he was probably breathing heavily, but the slug had no nose—at least not a discernable one.

Her heart thumped in her chest as she tried to discern his emotion. Minutes passed, or it seemed like minutes, anyway.

Suddenly, he stood. “You Retonian pirate! You’ll never get that Orb. Never!”

She clenched her teeth. A boiling heat flushed through her body. “Fine.” She turned abruptly as though to leave.

“Wait!” he said with a hint of desperation in his voice.

A smile crept over her lips and she suppressed it before turning slowly back to him. “What?”

The slug pulsated again, but only a few times. “If I tell you how to get the Orb, how do I know you’ll actually bail me out?”

She cocked one of her eyebrows. “You don’t. But what choice do you have? The amount you need is more than you can obtain while sitting in this cell. Your winning personality leaves you with no friends to help you. Either you trust me and hope I keep my promise or you stay here and rot for the fifty days they say it will take for you to make up the rest of your bail money.”

Redness crept into his sickly pale skin again. And he held his breath, or whatever it was he did when he pulsated, so that his glutinous skin stretched to the point where it might pop.

She couldn’t help but to rub in some salt. “By that time, you will be nothing but a shriveled sack of skin.”

He deflated. “Fine. I’ll tell you.”

“Good. I’m glad we can work things out.” She pulled back her shoulders and gave him her best smile. “You realize, though, that if you had just sold me the Orb to begin with, you wouldn’t be in this mess? You’d have more money instead of none.”

His beady eyes turned to the floor.

“Gambling simply doesn’t pay,” she added. “And Retonians always get what they want.”

© September, 2017 by Dawn Ross