Author’s Note: This was written live on stream, with the tone being determined by the numbers under minesweeper tiles. The audience could bid tokens earned in stream to reveal random tiles. A mine hit results in the death of all characters, unless they are temporarily saved by a lump sum of tokens. If characters make it to the end of the stream, they survive to be seen another day. Join us at twitch.tv/blainearcade if you wish to participate.
1-peace 2-alert 3-escalation 4-action 5-tragedy 6-world-changing
A world lies in ruin, its debris drifting on a bottomless sea. Its remaining people, from all places and periods, have one chance of survival. One world will take them, but they must make the journey on their own. Between the two lies the minefield: a vast varied expanse of debris both magical and scientific. Salvation is on the other side.
Three figures emerge from the fog of their sputtering world: Dragonfly Scout, Tiger Beetle Scout, and Centipede Scout. They see the minefield before them, knowing little, and walk forward.
The three scouts were thrown from their world just as it suffered its mortal blow. They rolled across the grass at the beginning of the minefield and hopped to their feet. They had done the stunt a hundred times, but never in response to actual danger.
They were only half their team. The other half had been too far into the destruction. They had blown up, same as the director, same as the camera operators, and same as the set. There was a thin skin of ash on their costumes, obscuring their visors, so the three scouts removed their helmets and gasped at their first sight of the debris between worlds.
Centipede put her head against the foggy barrier they had been tossed through. It was solid. There was no way back. It was strange. They’d all known it was coming, the death of the world had been slow and bright, but they still worked. They were filming an episode right as the studio succumbed.
Still reeling from the shock, the scouts sat in the grass. They pressed the buttons on their chest, which caused their mechanized costumes to unravel and form into backpacks. The special effects were so advanced you would be forgiven for believing they were actual sets of power armor themed after the fiercest of arthropods.
Centipede was the newest edition to the show; she was barely twenty years old. Tiger Beetle and Dragonfly were veteran scouts, they’d played alien-powered superheroes to the delight of children for a whole fourteen seasons so far, and were each in their mid-thirties.
A hundred times they’d posed with their clawed boots on the neck of the defeated villain, but they didn’t even know who to blame in this situation. Not each other. Never each other. Their show, Super Sectoid Scouts, was all about teamwork, and they’d never had a betrayal arc. Even off the set they always spent their weekends together, reviewing scripts and talking about how best to embody their noble characters. They were role models after all, and once everybody knew their world was doomed all the other role models had given up or fallen into foul-smelling bottles.
Dragonfly was about to say something when his namesake landed on his nose. He swatted at it wildly. It was fast. It seemed like there were two or three. Actually, there were twenty, all suddenly darting about his head. He yelped, got to his feet, and tried to outrun them.
Tiger Beetle and Centipede looked down at their hands to see they too were plagued. Beetles and centipedes crawled all over their bare hands. The half-team made a run for it, deeper into the minefield, where the trees grew thick, but there was no immediate salvation. The bugs weren’t biting, just swarming, just breaking up any concrete thoughts with their buzzing and skittering.
“Go away!” Tiger Beetle barked. She used her toughest voice, unsure if insects had any ideas about tone. She should’ve known by that point. Over the course of her run on the show she’d been the Hellgrammite Scout, the Click Beetle Scout, and, most recently, the vicious and iridescent Tiger Beetle Scout. She was the leader of the team in fact, so it was her job to protect the others from the sudden onslaught.
Luckily, the bugs were losing interest. They dispersed, moving into the surrounding trees, some of them chirping in a manner that almost sounded affronted.
“I think it was because we looked like them,” Centipede guessed as she picked the last bug from her collar and dropped it back to the grass. “We’re somewhere else now… They have none of the cues they’re used to. They thought they saw a bug king and queens come to save them…”
(Audience-Chosen) Mine! (None Saved)
In truth the homeless insects only retreated for a moment because they realized the false nature of their suits. They were not gods in exoskeletons. They were humans. Pretenders. Those who had destroyed most of their world the first time around, before the actual bedrock was cracked.
They swooped in once more, far more vicious this time. They bit. They scratched. Even donning their costumes once more was no help, for they simply trapped a layer of assailants inside the helmets with them. The only positive aspect of their deaths was that the helmet muffled their last cries. The insects felt vengeful, but they were still efficient little creatures. The scouts didn’t suffer long.
The flies, beetles, and centipedes made quick work of their bodies, using their old suits as containers for new nests. If they couldn’t have gods in a new world, they could at least have a home from which to strike out in search of more prey.
Three more emerged from their dying world into the minefield. Two of them, appearing as ordinary people barring their outfits, chased the third. The third was strange indeed: a creature resembling a squishy fleshy deep sea fish with a large nose, but with a miniature tree sprouting from its head. It flew six feet off the ground, inside a pink protective bubble.
One of the others had clearly been a cheerleader. She still wore her school’s colors on her skirt: brown and gold. She had one pompom left, but the other was doomed on the other side of the fog. She waved it at the giggling fish, trying to draw its attention.
“Why do we need to catch that thing?” she asked the other person as they ran. She looked over at him. His clothing was simple: black and gray and orderly. All his square buttons were done up. He looked ready fo either church or a funeral. A wide-brimmed hat sat upon his head. His age was indistinct, as if he lived all of his life simultaneously.
“It’s an abstraction!” he declared. “I’m a grounded thought. My name’s Eaze. Sensible. Realistic. It, on the other hand, I call it Bonzai, is way out there! He’s basically magic. We might need his help to get through this place.” Cassandra the cheerleader nodded. They continued their chase of the flying goofy fish.
The minefield offered relative peace compared to the world they left behind, but it was often just an illusion. One of their steps triggered a landmine that exploded behind them. The ground opened up in a fissure wide enough to swallow them both. They saw other mines, plain smooth things like lozenges, drop from the dirt wall as the chasm widened. They exploded far below.
Cassandra and Eaze both hung from the ledge by their fingers. They cried out, begging Bonzai for aid. The fish rolled around in its bubble, seeming not to hear them. Cassandra dropped her pompom; it was eaten by climbing fire a moment later.
“Please Bonzai!” Eaze begged, but the fish did not respond. If anything, it laughed louder, perhaps at its reflection in the bubble.
“Bonzai please!” Cassandra tried, and it seemed to finally work. The fish took notice of their predicament, took a deep breath, and blew two more bubbles. These new ones, much larger than the old, drifted under the two dangling people and then lifted them to safety on the other side of the gap. The second they were safe the bubbles popped and dropped them unceremoniously. “Why did he listen to me?” she asked as the fish once again rolled about their heads, inhaling some of the leaves from its tree and then spitting them back onto the branch.
“I think it’s because you’re human,” Eaze offered.
“And… you’re not?” Cassandra asked him. She stood and reached out a hand to help him up. He looked at her with a smile, but didn’t take it. He rose on his own.
“I told you I’m a thought. A grounded sensible thought. Bonzai and I come from the same place, from the same mind in fact. Back there, back home, somebody figured out how to make their every whim a reality. Maybe they had something to do with the end… All I really know is that Bonzai was a ridiculous powerful thought full of possibilities, many of them stupid, and I was the thought to bring them back to reality, to remind them that things were supposed to have limits and make sense.”
“Okay… I’ve never met thoughts before,” she admitted. “I was just at practice when everything went belly up. I had this horrible thought. I thought it was fine that world was dying, because our team was losing at the moment. We were the sand sharks… we were down by three going into… going belly up… it doesn’t matter now though.”
Eaze examined the girl. She had dark skin and a bright smile. Her eyes were sharp and insightful, her stare making him feel like an engrossing newspaper article, one that might be excised and posted on a cork-board, never to influence anyone else ever again.
He was about to say something when Bonzai floated between their faces, giggling madly. Cassandra reached out to try and hold the bubble, but it burst as soon as she touched it. Bonzai dropped to the ground, immediately slapping its stubby fins against the grass and bawling like a toddler.
“Oh shit, I’m sorry,” Cassandra said, leaning down. She didn’t dare pick it up though, lest it pop as the bubble did.
Worse yet, the closer she got the harder Bonzai cried. It had seeds popping out of its eyes instead of tears, and those seeds rapidly germinated upon the ground. The ridiculous fantasy of a fish was quickly becoming obscured under thick vines.
“Grab him!” Eaze stressed. “We’ve got nothing without him, and if he’s out of human sight he won’t exist anymore. Same as me.”
“Right.” Cassandra rubbed her hands together, as if creating a heated friction to cut through the vines, and dug her hands into the tangle.
At firs the plants had no give, but when she growled they seemed to respond, loosening their grip. She tore through them like licorice ropes and wrenched the slimy fish free. It was more than slimy though, like cotton candy that couldn’t dissolve.
She tucked it under her arm, an action that finally convinced it to stop crying. She asked Eaze if it was capable of speech. He said he wasn’t sure. The cheerleader groaned. She was not into the idea of babysitting generally, especially if the child in question would literally die if she took her eyes off it for more than a few seconds.
“Let’s talk about your sleep schedule,” Eaze said. His failure to phrase it as a question annoyed her further as they tried to put distance between their party and the chasm. They were already on edge, because as they found the shade of a tropical forest they also found three strange corpses sealed in colorful suits and swarming with bugs. They kept their distance.
“Why do we need to talk about that?” she asked. She held Bonzai on top of her head, using it as a hat for further shade. Its flabby sides touched the tips of her ears. The fish was done crying, but it still sniffled pathetically every few minutes.
“You close your eyes when you sleep don’t you?” Eaze asked, rolling his. He put himself in front of her and walked backward. “We have to be in your head when you sleep or we’ll die. Getting in there isn’t the most comfortable process…
“I didn’t agree to that,” Cassandra said. She’d had more than one experience with men taking liberties, trying to crawl their way inside her. She didn’t tolerate them then either. It didn’t matter how drunk a student athlete’s parent was; any time they stumbled onto the field they got a swift flip-kick to the jaw from one or more members of her squad.
Once the crowd had cheered for her because she knocked out a man’s tooth. Their mascot, a lovable felt-toothed shark, had struggled to pick up the incisor in his fins, and then ran it around the entire field, holding it aloft like a tournament trophy.
“We’ll find somebody else for you two,” she said sternly. “I don’t know you, and I’m not letting you into my head.”
“Then I have to keep you awake,” Eaze threatened. His shy tone was entirely gone. Perhaps he thought he had control of the situation now.
“I can just do this,” Cassandra said, shutting her eyes tight. She was smart enough to make sure she wasn’t about to walk into a tree first.
“Cassie stop!” Eaze ordered. She expected him to tackle her, force her eyes open, but he didn’t. She kept walking. “It’s not funny. Please!” She opened them. She saw his hands were somewhat faded, and they returned to solidity as she continued to stare. Bonzai cried again, tear-seeds falling across her uniform.
“You don’t give me orders,” she said firmly. “You don’t tell me how to do anything. If you do, I do this.” She closed her eyes once more. The cotton candy of Bonzai’s body grew soft this time. When she opened them again Eaze was on the ground, pleading with her, hands clasped and raised. “Get up. Have some dignity. It was only a joke… as long as you were only joking.”
That quieted them for a few hours. She didn’t admit that she was getting sleepy. There was no sun to see in the minefield, just goldenrod clouds, but the light was beginning to die and turn them orange. They found a circle of stone monuments, all repeatedly tagged with vibrant graffiti, and Cassandra announced she would be resting her feet, and absolutely nothing else.
She sat down on something resembling an upside down thimble. Eaze took Bonzai from her and sat across the way. She’d thought of nothing but those two since she’d arrived in the minefield, so she took a few minutes to consider where she was going. Nobody had told her there was another world on the other side. She just assumed it. It felt to her that, were she to look upon a compass, she would see it sprout a new bright needle labeled ‘salvation’. That’s where she was going. They probably had sports teams there.
(Audience-Chosen) 5 (Eaze chosen for tragedy)
Suddenly, she was pulled from her thoughts when Eaze dropped Bonzai. He collapsed forward. The fish bawled once more, but Cassandra ran to the plain-dressed thought and cradled him.
“Oh god,” Eaze muttered, as if deep in delirium. “You… cheerleader… You’re thinking about the future. You have hope. Stop. Your hopes are unrealistic. I can’t survive with you thinking things like that. Please, be miserable, give up, have rational thoughts.”
“I can’t do that,” she said, stroking his cheek. It had no effect; he was still fading. “I’ll never give up hope. I’m sorry your creator never gave you any…”
“Me too…” A minute later he was gone, the last of his gray going with a light breeze, flowing between her fingers.
She was not left with empty arms for long however. The grounded, rational, somewhat predatory, and desperate thought was gone, replaced by one of hope. Gone was the gray and black, replaced by a woman, also of indeterminate age, head and body wrapped in colorful cloths of green and yellow.
“Hello,” she introduced herself, rising to her feet and letting Cassandra do the same. The cheerleader made sure to grab the fish before it could roll away.
“Uhh…. Hi? Did I… make you?”
“Yes,” she answered, bowing to Cassandra. “It seems their proximity to you has made some of that power rub off. I am Sertin. I am a thought of hope in all cases. I am a plan for your future.”
“Oh… excellent,” Cassandra said, suddenly ready to move on. “I’m sorry you’re stuck with me as a… mom, but I’ll do my best. We’re going to make it to the other side no matter what gets in our way.”
“I agree,” Sertin said, “and while you concentrate on getting us there, I will try and teach Bonzai some manners.”
“That would be great actually,” the cheerleader said, handing the fish over. It seemed to have forgotten Eaze already, and was quick to snuggle into Sertin’s robe like a kitten.
5 (Cassandra chosen for tragedy) (Cassandra saved)
Cassandra knew she had made the right decision. Sertin proved invaluable, especially compared to the snarling whine Eaze had tried to force her into tolerating. Sertin was intelligent, soft-voiced, but not foolish. She made a harness for the magical Bonzai from a sleeve of her robe, and it barely noticed it was restrained as it flew about.
She even saved the cheerleader’s life when they came across a vicious beast at a watering hole. They couldn’t tell what it was exactly, but its sharp teeth, claws, and split tail gave away its predatory intentions. It charged at Cassandra, roaring, not caring that they’d only come for a sip of water, but Sertin intervened. One hand upon the beast’s brow filled its mind with calming hopeful thoughts, and it was harmless afterwards. Cassandra took a drink, but the others had no need of it.
That wasn’t the only beast. As they drew closer to their destination, Cassandra allowing the thoughts to sleep in her mind each night, they encountered denser wildlife. Sometimes they walked between the trunk-like legs of long-extinct things, extinct at least by Cassandra’s standards.
Anything that looked to them as food was met by the palm of Sertin. No appetite could overpower her serenity. A new wall of fog loomed in the distance, not unlike the one they’d been forced out of at the beginning of their journey. It took hours to progress because of all the furry, feathered, scaly things mingling about. The air was a cacophony of bird song, cricket orchestras, dog howls, and, somehow, whale song.
Saddles appeared on some of the beasts, even some of the stranger ones without eyes or with far too many legs. These were riding animals, abandoned at the doorstep of the new world. Cassandra wondered if they were simply not allowed in. Was the new place all fine carpet afraid of the dirt from their hooves?
Some of them looked very sad, others laid on the ground as if they’d given up on their lives. Cassandra wanted to help, but she had her thoughts to think about. Sertin and Bonzai were her responsibility; these beasts were simply what happened when other failed in theirs.
A red furry thing with a single eye, trudging on five legs, apologized for blocking their way and moved. There was the fog. Cassandra, Sertin, and Bonzai stepped through. They knew how to look forward. The dangers of the minefield were behind them, and thus could never touch them again.
Minefield Traversed! Cassandra, Sertin, and Bonzai are saved! They will return someday, at some point, in a grand scheme of grand things. There are more who must cross, more stories to tell, more stories to destroy in a bitter conflagration.