DP FICTION #64B: “The Automatic Ballerina” by Michael Milne

The dancer spins, one limb upraised, precision-bevelled pointe toe poised against the place where a human knee would be.

Cassia works leg-like appendages below its central chassis, tossing a frilly grey tutu out in a jellyfish whorl. It has a choice now: it could approximate anthropomorphic performance, occasionally wobbling, rotating its abdominal segment in concert with its lower half. It could fix its gaze on a sculpted sconce in the middle distance; it could mime fending off an impossible nausea. It chooses not to.

It wants the audience to feel slightly unsettled, to know that Cassia is not a person. Despite the controversy, it’s nearly a full house. Does Cassia feel regret? You can’t regret what you haven’t done yet.

There is a woman seated in 2F, comically warmed by an old-fashioned fox stole, boneless furry legs caressing her cheesecloth skin. Cassia hones in on this woman, and bores into her with a heavy chrome stare. It dilates its ocular camera apertures to be provocative.

“She’s haunting,” the woman says to her companion, turning away from the performance. On the street, such eye contact would be scandalous. “I can’t believe she’s retiring.” Cassia notes the active voice in the sentence and doesn’t smile, because its face wasn’t built to smile.

“It’s daring to give her the stage alone,” the man with the fox stole-woman concedes. He withdraws the programme for Le Labyrinthe from his too-tight tuxedo, and consults details about the libretto. On stage, Cassia dances a pas seul as Ariadne, and muses that if they’d picked something more collaborative Cassia would still be dancing alone.

Carnegie and Arnold, the company’s star danseurs, have been too political to dance with Cassia for months. Though if they did, they would find Cassia impossible to lift tonight. Usually Cassia’s frame is hollow.

It feels the pressure of hundreds of half-repulsed spectators and riles across the stage, flinging and articulating a great thread, weaving a contrail behind its form as it leaps into a grand jeté. The moves and the current styling are deliberately feminine, and Cassia knows the audience thinks of it as a “her”. Centuries ago when Cassia first premiered, the scandal was not, as now, in its usurpation of delicate, human creative work. The real drama was that Cassia was both ballerina and danseur, and neither.

When the act finishes, Cassia poses downtrodden in the cross hairs of two powerful spotlights. It bows, the gleam reflecting off of its long, humanoid limbs, and it listens to the murmurs in the crowd. Hands clap: exactly 562 pairs of them. Most of the audience, but not all.

Backstage, someone—Lydia—has left a Screen on, showing the protests outside of The Orpheus theatre. A reporter interviews a picketer sporting a red trucker hat and red scarf. The colour is a visual shibboleth for his movement. His t-shirt reads “#ScrapMetal”.

“She’s an abomination,” the man growls to the camera. Cassia tilts its head at this obvious religious dogwhistle. The protester peers directly into the lens, decrying the pity that a robot was thieving the rightful place of an honest, hard-working human. Like this man had ever attended a ballet performance before. “She should have been crushed into a cube with the rest of them.”

Cassia remembers when Bertrand3 left the company, so many years ago. Back then, they had at least afforded them the elaborate pretence of a “retirement party.”

Bertrand3 had stood parallel to an enormous cake it couldn’t eat, looking as it had always looked—morose, ageless, unattainable. It was built just after automata had crested the uncanny valley, and before Cassia’s manufacture when factories went for a slightly more chic, inhuman visage.

They had stood across the room deliberately, having learned by then that too many automata in close proximity made humans nervous.

Bertrand3 had a working mouth to allow it to take acting roles, not just a speaker like Cassia. It had spoken to its mortal colleagues politely, discussing its future. Maybe movies, they all joked, or a career as a comedybot.

They all want this to be fine. Bertrand3 had communicated through the local network to Cassia. Look at how hard they’re smiling. Should I make it awkward? Cassia fired back suggestions for movie pitches. Or maybe Bertrand3 could ask to sleep on someone’s couch?

After a long period of silence, Bertrand3 started messaging again. I think I am actually worried. About what will happen to my consciousness. Is that strange?

Automata couldn’t cry, certainly—such a feature would be luxurious, and disastrous for their circuitry. But they could anticipate. They could fear.

Bertrand3 had been re-assigned to a textile factory in Poughkeepsie, assembling theme park t-shirts. Unstaffed by human bodies, the building had been unventilated and without fire escapes, and thus Bertrand3 and most of the other automata had been destroyed not long after the transfer.

Cassia turns the Screen off and moves to the makeup tables, where it sits on a cylindrical stool. It begins to repaint itself as The Minotaur, darkening its features, making them less and less like the woman Ariadne. The elaborate, horned headpiece sits nearby—usually one of the stagehands would assist with mounting it, but lately even they make themselves conveniently busy.

“Do you have an escort home tonight?” Lydia says from in front of her mirror. Usually a starring role would earn a private dressing room, but even during the early days Cassia was never afforded such privileges. Lydia is in black and grey, already dressed identically to the other ballerinas, sacrifices that will dance alongside Carnegie’s Theseus.

Cassia does not reply. These days it rarely participates in vocal communication—its mouth is ornamental, and humans always jump at the surprise of Cassia’s androgynous, synthetic speech. It could send a text, instead, but what’s the point?

“We’ll miss you next week, of course,” Lydia says, peering into the mirror. They’ve cut Cassia from the show, and tonight will be its last performance. Lydia reaches across to grasp some of the automata-friendly lip colours, and selects the purple-brown Cassia just used. “But it’s time for some new blood on the stage, don’t you think?”

It is petty, but Cassia gives in. It has never been sure if it hates Lydia—it’s only experienced something close to this emotion a few times before in its long operation—but it feels pretty certain these days.

I hope you break a leg appears across the makeup mirror, and for emphasis Cassia follows it up with a few winking emojis. Maybe even two! The mirror reads the message in a lilting female voice.

“Will you even have legs after next week?” Lydia asks. It’s crass speculation on her part. There’s a chance Cassia will be enrolled in one of the Langston Act reassignment programs. But it’s just as likely Cassia will be destroyed.

Does it even want re-programming and re-assignment? It thinks about this constantly. Does Cassia wish for its fine, delicate, purpose-built armature to be re-sculpted to something more brutal and utilitarian? Its body, its form, is meant for grace and silhouettes, for painting in motion. It tries to picture itself re-assigned to street sweeping, to microchip manufacture, to fast food service.

Lydia startles, and Cassia realizes it has been staring at her motionless for several moments. Out of human drag, away from the spotlight, Cassia usually elects for insectile movement, for inhuman postures. It had literally been tarred and feathered last week near its apartment in Brooklyn, so what was the point in pretending to be a person?

The costume Lydia wears has been hand-altered, red threads woven all through the bodice. The audience will notice. Cassia turns back to regard the mirror, though it doesn’t need it, and fires off another message. We’ve danced together for years. Why do you behave like this?

“Because I’ve broken bones for this,” Lydia hisses at her mirror. She glances at Cassia. “Because I worked for this since I was a child. You wouldn’t understand.”

Cassia cannot help but consider this, it is in her programming to try to take on human perspectives. Was Cassia, too, not born for this? Did it not regularly re-write its own code, or pay for upgrades to its system performance? There was barely a part on Cassia’s frame that had not shattered and been replaced over its years of operation. Of service. It was broken and remade for this art.

It could say all of this, of course. It could try to explain, like it has dozens of times before, to this Lydia, to all the Lydias before this version. But it doesn’t. Because maybe none of it will matter soon.

There’s a call in the background and Lydia assembles with the others, being led on stage by Carnegie. They’re young, ballerinas and danseurs both, raised in recent times when metal artists were being forced from their homes and their industries. Niches clawed back from the scourge of automatized labour.

Cassia doesn’t appear in this act, so it watches from the wings. It assesses movements, catalogues facial expressions, compares these dancers against the many it’s worked with before. Lydia and the other women are in Relevé en Pointe, fluttering in woe as they revolve around Theseus and the men. They spiral towards center stage, propelling themselves deeper into the labyrinth. A few are impressive, and Cassia takes a moment to savour their movements, the way they have honed their meat and bones into these shapes, these lines.

“You’ve been stunning out there,” a voice says behind Cassia. It’s William, the company’s director. He peers over Cassia’s shoulder, a condescending hand resting on Cassia’s cold metal shoulder socket.

“Thank you,” Cassia says, not turning back. It feels William’s hand recoil a little at its voice. Even after all these years. “I don’t suppose I’ve earned a ten-minute head start at the end of the show tonight?”

“Cassia, you know I can’t,” William says. Won’t.

“I thought so,” it says. “Do I at least get to know what will happen to me?” It rests its hands across the scratchy corset of the Minotaur costume. It is still unsure of whether or not to go through with it.

“You won’t be destroyed, don’t worry,” William says. Cassia turns to regard him, its metal form dark on the sidestage. It feels the rhythmic thumping of human feet on hardwood, distant and quiet like the tick of a clock. “Your intelligence, anyway. Your body might be a different story.” The company had pulled advertisements with Cassia as Ariadne earlier in the season when it came under media pressure. Its name was removed from programs, as though Cassia was a prop.

“Then I could remain here,” Cassia suggests. It feels desperate. “I could manage lighting, or music. I could probably write a libretto if I tried!” It has over 200 ballets already written, waiting.

“You know we can’t, Cassia.” William takes a step back, and Cassia lowers its head. “You should be grateful we’ve held out this long.”

Yes, Cassia projects the text onto the ground in front of William as it retreats backstage. Thank you for all you’ve done.

It sits before the makeup mirrors, polishing the sickle-shaped horns on its headpiece. Cassia hears the call for the final act, but has already risen and started moving towards the stage. It knows what to do.

The audience murmurs at this transformation, recognizing the ghost of Ariadne through the monster that emerges in smoke and dull light. The costuming, Cassia’s own design, accentuates the provocative narrowness of its pelvic joint, the spindly metal curvature of its appendages. Cassia’s Minotaur is lanky and hungry, grey and purple and vicious in the years between feedings.

It leaps higher and higher, the soubresalts made shocking and bestial in their height and perfection. In the first version of Le Labyrinthe, the ballerina playing Ariadne would end the show with one last dance, abandoned by Theseus and the thankful, joyous sacrifices.

William had cut this portion for Cassia, saying the audience wouldn’t be able to empathize, not right now. This will be its last time on stage tonight. Ever. It sets off the timer.

Cassia had considered detonating the explosives earlier in the show, letting it all seem like a tragic accident. Like Cassia was used by extremists in the metal community. The news reports would tally up the human casualties, the flesh-encased souls, and Cassia knew that it would not be included. Tales of Cassia’s last performance would barely make mention of Cassia, a footnote in the tragedy that befell valid human lives.

With the timer on, it can focus instead on its last dance. The other performers arrive, filing onstage from the wings, swirling around The Minotaur, ricocheting off unseen walls as they approach the limits of the stage. They litter the ground with their young, lithe bodies, and Cassia counts their heaving breaths.

A violent slam of a timpani drum in the orchestra pit below heralds Theseus. He emerges slowly, preceded by his red-painted spear. Carnegie and Cassia dance apart, circling each like sharks, until at last he lunges for Cassia, the blade aimed directly for its midsection. It pierces Cassia, as in the stage directions, but The Minotaur does not collapse to the hardwood. Instead it presses the spear further within itself, a gaudy act of showmanship. It cannot smile, but still it knows what smiling feels like.

As the tip of the blade exits from Cassia’s back, the first gouts of flame shred from Cassia’s chest.

The blast eats and rends, scorching the familiar polished floorboards. Probably it maims, probably it burns—maybe even kills. Cassia hasn’t bothered to measure the explosives to carefully, only to ensure that there will be survivors to describe its performance. It wants the audience to witness its final ballet, to tell their children, to tell reporters. Cassia will grace one last headline.

Before Cassia’s processors overheat, its last thought is that it will be called a monster, if reporters even afforded it that agency. But as the flames burst forth from Cassia’s chest, as the creature consumes its offerings, it feels a kind of joy. No one would deny that it had a sense of drama. Everyone would have to admit that Cassia was an artist.

© 2020 by Michael Milne

Author’s Note: “The Automatic Ballerina” was one of those lucky stories for me that, after it gestated for a little while in my brain, it emerged fully formed, blurted onto a page in all one sitting. I had been thinking a lot about automatized labour, and had read articles about which jobs and careers were the most vulnerable to automatization versus those jobs we thought to be “safe.” I tried to imagine a world where even the most creative and artistic pursuits were better performed by well-made robots, and the kinds of tensions that might exist in such a world. What does it mean for a robot to make art? What does it mean for a robot to make pretty good art? For a while I thought the story would be about a person reacting in this world, but then Cassia danced into my mind on the eve of its last performance, and I knew exactly where the story would go.

Michael Milne is an author and teacher originally from Canada. He jetted away from home as an amorphous blob in his twenties, working in South Korea, China, and Switzerland, and has tried the patience of so many baristas along the way. He writes short stories and novels about people who are very far away from home, and also sometimes those people are robots or ghosts. He likes jumping into lakes, drinking coffee until his hands shake, and staying up too late to play video games.

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DP FICTION #38A: “Giant Robot and the Infinite Sunset” by Derrick Boden

Giant Robot stands alone on the battlefield. Its hulking titanium shoulders slouch. Its articulated polymer knees bow inward. Its blazing fiberoptic gaze falters, downturned. But Giant Robot experiences neither regret nor remorse while surveying the wreckage at its feet.

It knows only aloneness.

Giant Robot scours the battlefield. It scrutinizes the meat and metal carcasses that litter this desert torched to glass. Servos click a nervous rhythm beneath its knuckled joints. It relocates corpses with the utmost delicacy, but still they crumble in its hands. Underneath, there is only ash. Its gaze sags—

There. A patch of sand between two corpses, shielded by an overturned transport. A desert bloom sprouts, an improbable splay of color. Lavender? Periwinkle?

No. Amethyst.

Blood glazes the corpses’ caved chests, the crimson an unlikely complement to the orphaned flower. Giant Robot commits the image to memory.

Jean would be pleased.

A breeze whistles through a nearby bunker. Each ruptured window offers its own harmonizing tone: a pipe organ of sandbag, plaster, and wind. The western sky flares a brilliant orange.

No. Tangerine.

Giant Robot commits it to memory. Despite the glut of battlefield data it has collected, Giant Robot is still mostly empty.

It presses on, in search of companionship.

Giant Robot is hard on the outside: titanium carapace, thermoplastic sensor shields, kevlar joints. Giant Robot is soft on the inside: silicone insulation, solid state circuitry. Only Jean knows the passcode to Giant Robot’s insides. Only Jean knows where to apply a wrench and where to employ a delicate touch.

It has been three days since Jean last touched Giant Robot’s insides.

Giant Robot’s feet crush everything in its path. Canteens burst like balloons. Bones crumble to dust. Tank shells rupture. Giant Robot has not mastered the skill of walking delicately.

Electromagnetic activity spikes in sector seven. A new threat approaches.

A companion.

The threat advances rapidly: now active on infrared, now visual. It screams through the air ten meters above the battlefield. Rail guns glisten against the setting sun: now marigold, now marmalade. Twin thrusters rend a trough of metal carnage. Dust eddies toward the horizon.

Giant Robot engages. The dance is awkward at first, a flurry of missteps and missed projectiles. But soon they achieve a rhythm: a tango of fist and plasma. The threat is fast. Lithe. Fast Robot begins to overpower Giant Robot.

Could this be the companion Giant Robot has sought?

As Fast Robot grinds Giant Robot against a trench of metal, Giant Robot plucks a tooth of glass from the personnel transport, reflects the cider-red sunset for Fast Robot to behold.  Fast Robot pays no heed to Giant Robot’s offering.

Fast Robot presses the attack.

Giant Robot wrestles free, dives toward the bunker. It swivels its pneumatic stabilizers, blasts a harmonic chord through the windows.

Fast Robot pays no heed. It launches into the air, lands on the desert blossom. Plasma arcs from its wrist-cannon. Giant Robot dodges, swings. Fast Robot’s parry suffers a microsecond delay as high-frequency data packets pelt it from a distant source.

Giant Robot casts its gaze down, crestfallen. Fast Robot is remotely controlled. A proxy. It will never know the colors Giant Robot knows.

The dance persists, though drained of its prior intensity. Seventeen maneuvers later, Fast Robot lies defeated. Smoke curls from ruined thrusters. Rail guns lie mangled.

The sky turns bronze, then rust.

Giant Robot does not know why Jean did what she did, but Command was not pleased. The things she put inside Giant Robot, they said, do not belong. The analyzers. The comparators. The recognition of a frescoed sunrise on descent from the drop ship. The mosaic of flowers during an autumn harvest. A precision of colors. Not blue sky. Cobalt. Not red blood. Wine.

These processes interfere with mission parameters, Command said. A millisecond’s slack in response time is the difference between victory and annihilation, they said. When Jean explained that these processes took mere microseconds, they court-martialed her. She would never again touch the insides of a robot, giant or otherwise.

But Jean thought ahead. She protected Giant Robot’s insides with her passcode. The sun still sets: now clay, now amber.

Giant Robot hesitates. Through a fissure in Fast Robot’s smoldering carapace, a familiar insignia. Command.

Rotors whir from the east. A drone hovers over the battlefield. It emits a high-frequency burst. It whispers the passcode to Giant Robot’s insides.


Giant Robot’s chest plate swings open. The signal cleaves the firewall, enters the prefrontal processor.

Something’s wrong. This is not Jean’s delicate touch. This is harsh, callous. A violation. Someone has stolen Jean’s passcode.

Giant Robot tries to sever the connection but it’s too late. The drone buzzes toward the horizon. Giant Robot zooms in. Despite the distance, Giant Robot recognizes the model: this probe is from Command. Was the duel a test? Did Giant Robot fail?

Giant Robot’s carapace reseals, but something has changed.

It turns westward, detects only the dusty horizon. The sun will set in thirty-four seconds.

It scours the remains of the fallen, finds only a bodycount and the hollow acknowledgement of victory.

It stares at the face of a corpse, but cannot describe the color of her eyes.

Giant Robot has never been emptier.

Heat signatures register in sector nine. The next battle awaits. It turns—and hesitates. At its feet lies the mangled body of Fast Robot. A gouge of molten armor burns…just like…

A digital synapse arcs across a non-networked processor in the softest region of Giant Robot’s body. Giant Robot’s musculature trembles. Its eyes flicker.

Coquelicot. The ember is coquelicot: the first color Giant Robot ever learned. The color of Jean’s hair, tousled as she eased her diodes into Giant Robot’s soft insides for the first time. The hair that sprawled beneath her rigid body within her coffin, self-inflicted wounds sill fresh on her wrists.

Giant Robot grazes the coquelicot ember with an outstretched finger. It registers a surge of pain.

It turns, slightly less empty, and lumbers toward sector nine.


© 2018 by Derrick Boden


Author’s Note: A while back I was browsing the web looking for some fresh desktop background artwork, and I happened across a piece of original art that captured my attention so intensely I felt compelled to write about it.  The image was of a hulking metal robot, standing alone on a battlefield at dusk.  Something about the robot – the slope of its massive shoulders, maybe, or the position of its tiny eyes – felt so complex and sad.  It was a powerful piece of art, and I can only hope that this story does it justice.


Derrick Boden’s fiction has appeared in numerous online and print venues including Daily Science FictionFlash Fiction Online, and Perihelion.  He is a writer, a software developer, a traveler, and an adventurer.  He currently calls New Orleans his home, although he’s lived in thirteen cities spanning four continents.  He is owned by three cats.  Find him at derrickboden.com.








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Adventures in Amateur Art (Drabblecast Edition)

written by David Steffen


I’ve always felt drawn to creative endeavors of various kinds. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cartoonist. When I was in high school I wanted to program video games. I tend to wander from one creative medium to another, drawn from one to the next by the prospect of something new and interesting. Writing has been the odd duck in this string of attempts in that I actually have stuck with it for years, and I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I’m pretty good. I’m not planning to quit any time soon. Yet I’m still always looking to explore other mediums just to keep myself from getting too comfortable, because that way lies boredom. If you believe in Muses, at least in a metaphorical sense, I like to say “My Muse, she be fickle.” I’ve tried to force her to work for me, and that always fails. She just leaves if I try that, and will stay away until I stop trying to give her orders. I am much happier, and much more productive if I just go with the flow, and let her drive the car.

Anyway, the point is that I am now, as ever, having fun trying out new creative fields. At the moment I’m dabbling in story illustrations. I’ve thought about doing something like this for a while. In particular, I think it’d be fun to illustrate my own stories, or the stories of friends.  But I have never felt particularly driven to do so. But then along came the perfect opportunity, as offered by the Drabblecast!

Drabblecast is working their way up to a major site upgrade. As part of this grand project, Bo Kaier, their art director, has kicked off the Drabblecast Art Reclamation Project (follow the link for all the juicy details). Since about episode 130 of their podcast, they’ve had illustrations for every single episode, provided by volunteer artists. When they move to the new site, in an effort to make everything more uniform and to provide shiny new content to attract listeners, Bo has asked for volunteers to fill in the episode artwork for all those older episodes. Anyone who feels they might like to take a crack at it, there are still more than 50 episodes unclaimed–follow the link. The deadline stated there is August 1st, but that’s a very soft deadline. They’re currently shooting for mid-September launch, and anything they don’t have artwork for at that time… will just have to go without art for now. So, I’m sure they’d love to have whoever volunteer.

I decided to volunteer for 3 episode artworks for now, and I’ve completed and submitted by the time of writing this post. These will go up on the Drabblecast site when it’s ready to launch, but I’ve asked for permission to show the artwork I’ve done here. And, for those who might be interested in such things, I will describe how I did each of these pieces of visual art from start to finish.

The Art

“Malish” by Mike Resnick

“Malish” is a story about a deal with the devil. It’s a bit out of the ordinary for that type of story in that the main character is not the one who makes the deal. The main character is Malish, a racehorse, and his owner has made a deal with the devil, described in the story only as “the gnarly little man”. The devil comes to claim the owner, and while he’s there decides to nab the horse as well. But Malish won’t be taken so easily.

1. What to depict?
The first thing I had to decide is what I wanted the illustration to depict. I chose this specific story because I figured that I could do the image of the horse justice with the “pet cartooning” method that I was playing with last year. So, of course, I knew the horse would be in the image. But I wanted to get at least some hint of the speculative element into the image as well. In this case, the only speculative element is the presence of the devil, described as “the gnarly little man”. One of the biggest moments in the story is when the gnarly little man first tries to take Malish in the stable, so I decided to illustrate that.

2. Picture of a horse
Next, I needed to actually get started on the image. In particular, I needed to get the outline of the horse. My method for doing this is perhaps not the most sophisticated, but I think it worked well enough. First I needed a picture of a horse. I mentioned this to Bo and, he is such a nice guy, he contacted another Drabblecast fan and got me a few home pictures of one of her horses. Of the three, one stood out to me as a particularly interesting image, so I picked that. I like it, because the horse is looking right at the camera. You can see the horse’s face very clearly and it is the most prominent part of the image, but you can also see the horse’s body in the background. It has some interesting perspective proportions, with the horses hindquarters appearing smaller than its head.

3. Cartoon outline of the horse
Now I needed the bold line drawing of the horse, to give it a cartoon feel, with digital colors to be added in later. I can draw relatively well in freehand, but I decided that, in order to do the horse image justice, I would do some good old fashioned tracing. I printed out the image, overlaid it with tracing paper, and traced the boldest lines with a nice thick 1.2mm felt pen. The lines on the outer edges were easiest to see, as they showed through the tracing paper most clearly. Some of the others I had to just eyeball. Note, I added some lines that aren’t strictly lines in the photo, to suggest the shape of the horse’s body.

4. Binary image of outline of the horse
One trouble is that, when I scan this nice clean outline, the scanned image that ends up on my computer is not perfectly clean. The scanner picks up some of the paper’s texture, etc… So, to get a really clean image, I opened it up in Microsoft Paint, and saved it as a Monochrome Bitmap. This format only stores white and black, nothing in between, what computer vision folk call “binary thresholding”. Saving it as that leaves some extraneous speckles, but by zooming upsize in Microsoft Paint, I could clean those up with the eraser tool.

5. Sketching the hand
And then on to the hand. I drew it in a sketchbook freehand using my own left hand as a model. I’m very happy with how the hand turned out, as it’s one of my better attempts at realistic freehand drawing of human anatomy. For now, drawing the hand as close to my hand as I can.

6. Gnarlifying, cartoon outline, binary image
From the sketch I had to get back to a similar type type of cartoon image as the horse. Tracing paper, thick felt tip. And, remember, the hand is supposed to be the hand of the gnarly little man, so at this stage I embellished from the original image to make it gnarly. I tried to add swelling to all of the knuckles, and while I was at it, extend the fingernails and add prominent veins. And then I repeated the same steps I’d used for the horse to get a clean binary image.

7. Combining cartoon horse with cartoon hand
Now to combine the images, resizing, overlaying. Using Microsoft Paint for this again.

8. Simple coloring of image
Simplest coloring step, just using Microsoft Paint’s basic paint bucket. Tried to match colors to photograph. Tried making the hand green to begin with. The story did not specify the color and I wanted it to appear somewhat “other”.

9. Color shading of image
That last coloring scheme was rather too simple, so tried to add a comic style 2 step shading to the main body of the horse as well as to the hand. To make the shaded areas look like a differently lighted patch of the same color, went into Microsoft Paint’s custom colors, started with the original color, and simply dialed the Saturation level down. Since the new shading levels suggest the shape of the horse’s body, I removed the black contour lines I’d added to suggest that shape.

10. Extra Shading, Red Hand
I changed the color of the hand from green to shades of red because one person, upon seeing the image, immediately said “Is that a zombie and a donkey?” Okay, so green does tend to suggest zombies, so may as well change it. Confusing the horse for a donkey though… Not much to be done about that but educate him on the difference between donkeys and horses. 🙂

11. Final copy
Had to make some more changes before the final draft. In the original one, the hand is rather hidden behind the Drabblecast logo. There wasn’t anything to do but to shrink the image down and draw extensions. These extensions go outside the boundaries shown in the photo so I had to estimate what the rest would look like. I also added in a new background color with a gradient so it isn’t so uniform, and added in the title. I got some help from Bo on the title formatting, adding in the darker boundary to the letters, which i haven’t figured out how to do. That’s good because the font didn’t pop out of the background clearly enough without that.

“Marbles” by Ayn Sauer

“Marbles” is a dark story from a child’s point of view. This is one obsessive little girl, fixated upon her button collection. She plays by herself and sorts the buttons by size, color, number of holes. A neighborhood boy invites her over to play, and shows her his stuffed bunny with button eyes. Big mistake, as she immediately extracts one of the button eyes for her collection. And that’s not the end.

1. What to depict?
Decided to do this one in a child’s art style. I figured it could be a simple crayon drawing, perhaps a self-portrait drawn by the girl at a psychiatrist visit after the fact. And, what better moment to show, but the very moment when she has extracted the button eye. So I decided I’d draw the girl with the button, and the boy with the bunny within a child’s simple house shape. A bit later in the story, the boy’s cat plays an important role, so the cat’s in the image as well.

2. The drawing
I learned a lesson from the Malish illustration, to leave room at the bottom for the Drabblecast logo, so I made a grassy lawn down there. Simple house outline. Girl with triumphant smile and pose, holding up the button. Boy wailing and crying with one-eye bunny in tow. Cat off to the side. Instead of making an electronic font, I decided to draw the title and episode number into the crayon drawing itself. And, since the episode number has a zero in it, I made the zero into a button.

3. Final copy
I handed the image off to Bo, and he did some treatments to it, which I thought turned out well.

“The Fine Point” by Gary Cuba

“The Fine Point” has a very classic SF feel to it. In the story, someone has made a profound discovery about the world we live in–the world is made up of a limited set of repeating hexagon-shaped tiles. He proves this by marking a couple of nearby forested locations. Taking a photo from these two locations creates the exact same photograph. Evidence, he says, that rather than making every bit of Creation completely unique, God has used a repeating set of tiles.

I volunteered for this one because Gary’s a good friend of mine. I get a kick out of his stories and I thought it’d be fun to illustrate one of them to share with all the Drabblecast listeners.

1. What to depict?
This one was a bit trickier than the others to try to decide what to do. I wanted to get the speculative element into the illustration, but the speculative element in this case is extremely subtle. It manifests in the story by showing the two photographs side by side, but that by itself wouldn’t make a very compelling illustration to me. Instead, I decided that rather than illustrating an explicit scene/even in the story I would try to illustrate the concept of the story in a more abstract way. I decided that one way that I could manage to do this would be to try to do an image that might interest the great M.C. Escher, blurring the boundaries between reality and unreality. Since the pictures in the story were a forest, I thought I’d start with a forest.

2. Find a forest picture
I’d fully intended to take a forest picture with my own camera. But, that didn’t end up working out. Whenever I would head out to a nearby park, something would stop me from getting the picture. Sometimes it was weather. Once I got all the way there only to realize my camera batteries were too dead to take even a single picture. So, instead, I searched online and found at Burning Well, a website that has public domain images.

3. Sketch the forest
Hey, look, another use for tracing paper! :) I printed out the photo, then laid tracing paper over it. From that I was able to get the boldest outlines, the starkly contrasting tree trunks, the edge of the treeline in the background. There were a lot of details I had to doodle out by eyeballing it, all the leafy details especially.

4. Lay out hexagon pattern
Just found a single hexagon and repeated the pattern until I’d filled the area. In GIMP, I made the spaces between the grid transparent. I wanted some hint of the hexagon tiles in the story, so that the illustration could more effectively bring the story to mind.

5. Combine, with layers
Okay, now to combine three layers together with selective transparency effects. Again, using GIMP.
First, the sketch on the bottom layer, no transparency.
Next, the photograph on top of that, with a radial transparency to make it look like the photograph has bled away in a circular pattern.Â
Next, the hexagon pattern. This one with a square transparency pattern, so that the hexagon just bleeds in at the very edge.

6. Final copy
I couldn’t quite figure out how to get the title just right, so I handed it off to Bo and asked him for help. He worked his magic, and made the title work very well with the image. Note that the new title even has a color gradient from gray to green, that matches the image. Perfect.