All general officers of the Seb’q Order were required to take new names upon promotion, and the future General Quern chose his because he expected to be the millstone upon which the reaped grain of his enemies would be sown.

His subordinates quietly said that the millstone was instead around their own necks, dragging them down.

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In an era when social engineering makes two-factor authentication increasingly unreliable, rather than escalating to three-factor authentication, GesteBank has done something new and original. Say hello to our new Liberal Arts Account!

In a LAC, all transactions must be accompanied by written work–the longer and more complex the task, the longer and more complex the composition required. Check deposits, for instance, must have a rhyming poem written under the endorsement:

If deposit ye must
By electronic mail
A poem ye must write
Or else it will fail

Opening and closing accounts, receiving cashier’s checks, and most wire transfers will require an essay, while certain transactions like leveraged buyouts and mortgages will require a thesis or dissertation. A short story, novella, or novel can be substituted at the branch manager’s discretion. A timed written test, administered live when the account is opened, will keep patrons from cheating by plagiarism, writing mills, or generative predictive text.

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Nan Livil

Nan Livil

Nan Livil, the first cyclops to play Major League Basketball, was long ridiculed for both his lack of depth perception and his determination to succeed in a sport that required it.

However, his 8’1″ frame, intense athleticism, and ability to shoot a ray of paralysis from his one massive eye five times per long rest helped sway public opinion, and Nan wound up making the Major League Basketball all-star list every year he was on the court, as well as being a seven-time Player of the Year winner and a record-tying four Helmsman Trophy wins. His number/letter combo, 1BDI, was retired when Nan left the game after a torn ACL, as well.

Nan was even the first cyclops to have his name and likeness used on a video game cover, though he was said to dislike the photo that the publisher used and declined further offers to decorate video or computer game boxes.

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Grade 4M4, quartermaster. Pay was less than 3M2 engineer’s mate but better than 5M6 able spaceman. Most military ships had long since replaced their quartermasters with algorithms, but they persisted aboard civilian craft as both a badge of honor and a bit of a luxury. An algorithm wasn’t able to grease palms for fresh and local ingredients, wasn’t able to provide the cooks with what they needed, and certainly wasn’t able to jury-rig repairs and replacements.

Lorne, Grade 4M4 Quartermaster aboard the SS Junebug, had assumed that this would continue to be the case. He kept the small passenger ship outfitted with everything it needed, from oxygen to oysters, and had done so for eight years. So when the message arrived informing him that the next contract–and voyage–would be his last, with an algorithm to take his place, he kept the bottle of vintage champagne intended for the passengers for himself.

Along with Klaus, the cook, who was also slated for replacement by an algorithm hooked up to a set of T-22b manipulators, sat in the observation lounge as the Junebug cruised along its usual Saturn route. They had ringside seats, as it were, for their final cruise.

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I wrote a strongly worded email today
Broke off a piece of my soul and sent it
On the wings of inconvenienced electrons
Heart beating like we were knife fighting
Weeks in the making, days in the dreading
A digital scream, every 0 gaping open
Through the rest of the day and into night
The echoes of that polite aggression
Still leave my hands visibly trembling

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“Do you deny that you twote in support of D-ah, of Mr. X?” Ojrah said. “Do you deny that you took money from the sales of your books and donated it to Conversion Ministries?”

“Of course not,” Weatherall said. “But those are my deeply held personal and religious beliefs.”

“He admits it! Gentlethings of the jury, Mr. Weatherall admits to holding abhorrent personal and religious beliefs,” Ojrah crowed.

“Now, that’s a value judgment that I-”

“There are goblins in your books,” Ojrah continued. “Goblins not unlike my distinguished peer Muhrot, who performs a distasteful task honorably in defending you. You write them as inherently untrustworthy beings who will not hesitate to kidnap and murder to attain their aims.”

Weatherall glanced at Muhrot, red-faced.

“And you go on to paint them as obsessed with money, finance, and profit, going so far as to own goblin stocks and goblin corporations!” said Ojrah.

“The very idea!” Muhrot sat up violently. “That I would sully my hands with currency, stocks, or publically traded shares!” The fact that he was supposed to be defending Weatherall seemingly dawned on him a moment later, and he sat with a mumbled apology.

“The fact is, gentlethings, a reasonable foolish human reader might conclude that Mr. Weatherall has done his research, and that we fey support Mr. X, reject identities that do not accord with superstition, and cleave to harmful sterotypes of commerce and avarice.”

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“Now, we don’t want to bring any names into this. We don’t want to prejudice the jury, heavens no, nor wind up in court ourselves. So we will refer to Mr. X, Mrs. Y, and the like.”

“Why?” Weatherall cried.

“Exactly,” Judge M’Tusk replied. “Prosecutor Ojrah?”

“Gentlebeings of the jury, Judge M’Tusk, welcome,” Ojrah said, standing and putting its thumbs in its suspenders. It also appeared to conjure suspenders for the sole reason of inserting its thumbs. “Our case is quite simple. By writing books and stories featuring fictional versions of we, the fey, the author Jon Koenning Weatherall is trading in defamatory stereotypes. There’s your libel. Furthermore, the author Jon Koenning Weatherall is giving the appearance that we, the fey, endorse his viewpoints. That’s your slander.”

“What?” said Weatherall. “Now look, I went to law school for a while, and slander does not-”

M’Tusk snapped his fingers. “There will be polite silence in the court until the statement is finished,” he said, in Weatherall’s own voice. Snapping again, he added in his own gnomish voice: “One more outburst and I’m keeping it.”

“Thank you, Judge M’Tusk. Now, I will present evidence that proves this. What say you to that, Muhrot?”

The goblin briefly rose. “I will attempt to cast doubt on it through a combination of cherry-picked facts, doubts that play on the prejudices of the jury, and technicalities.”

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“Now, according to ancient fey tradition, you must be tried by the laws of your own kind,” Judge M’Tusk said. “So we’ve put everything in order. Two lawyers with knowledge of human ways, one to defend you–Muhrot–and another to prosecute–Ojrah.”

“What about a jury of my peers?” Weatherall said, gesturing to the group empaneled–emtoadstooled?–nearby. “There’s not a human being among them!”

“Oh, I’m rather proud of this,” the fairy prosecutor, Ojrah, said. “These are all your peers. They’re all authors! X’xxxgax there writes curses, McWildie is a poet, and of course old Tweat is weaving together the threads of fate that bind the universe together.

“Charmed,” the strange creature said, pausing its knitting for a moment to lift its cap, which was a black-eyed susan. Weatherall might have been imagining things, but he felt like the world stuttered for a moment until Tweat took up its needles again.

“All very above-board and very much done in the human fashion, I’m sure you’ll agree,” said M’Tusk.

“This is ludicrous!” cried Weatherall.

“Thank you,” M’Tusk said. “We really tried to get human justice right, even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

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“Un-sack the defendent.”

Obligingly, the ogre flipped his burlap sack, and out tumbled Jon Koenning Weatherall, the best-selling fantasy author worldwide 1996-present. Dazed, Weatherall looked up at his surroundings and the many stranges voices and visages that surrounded him.

He’d landed on soft moss in a forest glade, bisected by a small creek. Before him, behind a great stump that had been lopped off cleanly, a wizened gnome with reddish whiskers peered down, an acorn clutched in one hand. Across the creek, seated on three lines of heavy toadstools, was an assortment of other fantastic creatures. Some, like the pixies, Weatherall recognized; others, like the stick insect that appeared to be on ablaze, were totally alien.

Jon Weatherall had landed in front of a green-skinned little being with pointed ears and a suit, seated at another stump who appeared to be looking through a series of elm leaves with notes written on them. Across the creek, a similarly besuited fairy was doing the same with maple leaves.

“That’s enough, bailiff,” the gnome said, shooing the towering, warty figure away. “Stay at the glade’s edge until called for, yeah?”

“Aye,” the ogre croaked, stomping off.

“What…what is going on here?” Weatherall groaned, still not entirely convinced he was awake.

“Quiet,” the goblin in front of him snapped over its shoulder. “You’d best speak when spoken to, or this is going to go badly for you.”

“What is going to go badly for me?” said Weatherall, wondering if it wasn’t some sort of bad trip, a flashback to the time he’d taken acid in 1987.

The goblin turned around. “Did the bailiff not tell you?”

Weatherall shrugged helplessly.

“Ogres are admittedly not the best messengers, I suppose,” it said. “Very well. You, sir, are on trial. My name is Muhrot, and I am defending you.”

“On trial?” Weatherall bristled. “On what charge?”

“Defaming magical creatures, slandering the magical world, and libel against the same,” Muhrot said. “At least, those are the gravest of the 160 charges, anyway.”

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The h’Tath and the e’Arae were both designations given by a later civilization; in their tongue, h’Tath roughly means men of battle while e’Arae is women of death. It’s thought that one was a patriarchy, the other a matriarchy, both struggling for hegemony over a divided world in the face of limited and dwindling resources.

The traditional narrative is that the h’Tath were great warriors but undisciplined and backwards, while the e’Arae were less martially skilled but had superior organization and subtlety. The conflict between them played out over millennia, with other smaller factions as pawns, from their mutual origin on 0660-2112 to their eventual expansion to local galactic powers to their collapse and ultimate extinction. Indicative of this disunity is the fact that the denizens of 0660-2112 were never able to agree on an appellation for their own planet or species, nor was the gu’Tath’le or gu’Arae’le tongue ever able to establish supremacy. If a name is needed beyond the Sector Survey number, they are occasionally referred to as the Araetath of Tatharae (or vice versa).

It was the species’ reliance on their home planet for reproduction that doomed them to extinction, ultimately; they were never able to replicate the precise environmental conditions off-world, so the empire was limited by the need to return to Tatharae periodically, which was time-consuming even at trans-relativistic speeds. The exact cause is unknown, but it appears that a final war between the h’Tath and the e’Arae broke out during one such gathering, when the better part of the species had returned to their homeworld for reproduction. The conflict that followed was so violent that it cracked the crust of the planet, exposing the molten mantle and rapidly rendering it uninhabitable.

The later observers made some efforts to assist offworld survivors, but colonists from the h’Tath and the e’Arae refused to work together, and in the end little progress was made beyond a few genome sequences.

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