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: Techtet the ballerina, Macawl the parrot-woman, and Vince the alligator wrestler. They see the minefield before them, knowing little, and walk forward.
Techtet the ballerina and Macawl the parrot-woman didn’t bring anything with them when they passed through the fog and into the minefield. Techtet would have liked to, her technomancy slippers were no use without any machines about, but she didn’t have the time. The apocalypse was so rude to her in its timing. She was going to have a final show just before its last hurrah stole her thunder.
Vince the gator wrassler did bring something with him: an ornery crocodilian. The two women were forced to back up as soon as they saw him, unaware of his control over the situation. Though he was quite aged, and the beast quite bulky, he fought it off with relative ease, eventually throwing it back into the fog, where it would surely perish. Once it was gone he spat back in its direction, the glob disappearing as well.
“Don’t you think there was enough room here for it to live as well?” Macawl asked him. He turned and scrutinized her appearance. Her loud shirt had a collar of fluffy green feathers, so her penchant for decorating herself like a bird was obvious, but they couldn’t see how deep it went.
“Do we need gators?” he asked, voice like smoke and bourbon dripping from a stalactite. “I’m under the impression folks would say no. I love ’em and all, but survival of the fittest. Whoever makes it out is the one who deserves to live. I bested them thousands of times, for my own amusement and others. They had their chances.”
“I hate to interrupt, but do either of you have a cell phone?” Techtet asked, her voice an octave higher than she was going for. Already she was nervous. Vince looked like a bumpkin, and she hadn’t even needed to use the word bumpkin in five years.
“What’s a cell phone?” Vince asked. The other two rolled their eyes. He had denim on, so it seemed he had the unfortunate luck to be from an era of their world between industrialization and cyber-culture. He would know nothing of the internet, robotics, or the possibilities of integrating those things into a human mind to treat or worsen neuroses.
“I don’t have one,” Macawl told the younger Techtet. “I was on vacation, disconnected and all that. I was in the Locree Mountains studying the behavior of the social parrots there. Important research too, though I suppose it isn’t anymore.” She suppressed a disappointed squawk. They didn’t need to know yet, especially with one of their group already inclined to wrestle animals back into doomsday.
“Is someone going to tell me what a cell phone is? I know phones,” Vince offered. He was never much of a reader, but his parents used to take him to drive-in movies. He knew science fiction when he saw it. He saw, once he managed to tear his gaze from her baby blue costume, that the ballerina had slippers covered in lights. Maybe they were cell phones. Maybe people in the future tap-danced messages to each other in code.
“It’s a phone that doesn’t require a cord,” Macawl explained. Techtet started walking. It was time to get moving. They couldn’t see much of anything but grass, boulders, and strange goldenrod clouds. She wasn’t going to find civilization by standing around and explaining it to the stubbly bumpkin. The others followed her while they spoke.
“Let me take that to its logical conclusion,” Vince said, trying to demonstrate his intellect. He knew they didn’t realize that you had to outsmart gators as well as out-wrestle them. He’d beaten one in a game of checkers once. He could handle whatever light and pony show they threw at him. “That means people always have their phones? That sounds terrible.”
(Audience-Chosen) Mine! (Everybody Saved)
“Oh, would it be so awful?” Techtet whirled around and cried. “Would it be so awful if we had our machines in here? I could make them do whatever I like… if we had them! All I have to do is dance!” To demonstrate, she hopped about and balanced on one foot angrily. It would’ve been quite beautiful if not for her mood.
Normally, her stage show involved her high-tech slippers acting as remote controls for all the other robotic dancers on stage. It created a synchronizing effect a human troupe could never match. She thought there was nothing to manipulate there, but she was proven wrong when the ground shook.
Macawl and Vince had to dive out of the way as something rose from under them, throwing off boulders and dirt in amounts big enough to crush them. Out came an industrial mech with room for four pilots. Its vibrant paint job and many advertisements suggested it was meant to act as a mechanic on the gigantic race cars of the the twenty-sixth century. Techtet leaned over its head and smirked at them. Now they had transportation.
Techtet couldn’t help being smug about it. They were all safe inside the mech-anic now, complete with air conditioning and cushioned seats. The machine marched through the minefield with ease, even as they found themselves in the midst of a forest of thorns, some of their vines thick as fire hoses. They snapped like licorice under their mech’s power, and all Techet had to do was keep marching forward.
“So did this come before or after the cell phones?” Vince asked nervously, gripping his arm rests with white knuckles. He’d spent much of his life avoiding getting eaten, and the entrance to the mech had looked an awful lot like a gullet.
“A ways after,” Macawl answered over the intercom. They were each in separate pods, so they couldn’t see each other. Techtet helped herself to a cold cream soda in one of the mech’s mini-fridges while she walked. They had stocked it well, probably so some executive responsible for one of the brand stickers on its metal thigh could have a bit of a joyride.
Vince was busy adjusting, never dropping his bottom into the seat fully. Macawl took greatest advantage of the privacy, using it to perch on one of her armrests and preen. She hadn’t revealed to the others her current condition, her bird-brained bifunctionality, and she was going to keep it that way unless it became relevant. She did look out her cockpit glass and notice the vines getting ever thicker.
They continued on for nearly an hour, but then the mech ground to a halt and tripped on its face, one foot thoroughly tangled in the thorns. On the way down they heard them scratching across the hull. The three of them were forced to converse in order to find a way out.
The gullet was blocked by the ground, as was the emergency release on each cockpit. They were stuck, and they were stuck separate. The intercoms crackled to life.
“What do we do now ladies?” Vince asked. The thorns he could handle, if somebody would just uncork the damn bottle they were stuck in.
“I can’t move him,” Techtet whined. “I’m certainly kicking hard enough; he’s just not responding.”
“I also notice it’s getting a bit hot in here,” Macawl added. She searched her mini-fridge and found a can of lemonade to hold against her forehead.
“Do we have to go out the ass end?” Vince asked.
“It doesn’t have an ass,” Techtet told him.
“What kind fo miserable hell are we living in?” he asked nobody in particular. “No ass, my ass. There’s always an ass.” He undid his safety belt and began searching the back of the cockpit for its ass.
What he found was a panel, tightly screwed into the wall. There was no way he could pry them loose with his fingers, but his teeth on the other hand… Vince could open bottles with his teeth. He could open cans with them. He wasn’t too proud of his family; the never went further than the shade of the swamp and they never bought anything fancier than a refrigerator, but they did have perfect, stone-like, predatory teeth.
He twisted around the edges of the panel like a snake getting a grip on its prey. One by one he spat out the screws and then crawled into the mech’s inner workings. It was much hotter in there; every other wire scalded his skin.
“Where’s Vince?” Techtet asked, suddenly suspicious. She had a slight itch on the side of her foot, like an ant crawling. He didn’t respond. Macawl said she had no idea. He was just a little too far away to hear them, but he got much further when he failed to notice a dip in his cluttered surroundings and fell all the way into the left foot.
His body smashed into some very sensitive receivers, causing the leg to twitch and kick wildly. The whole mech rocked. In the process of shaking its passengers like the last few cashews in the tin, it managed to break free of the vines and propel itself forward by gouging out ditches in the soil underneath. Techtet tried to get her feet on the ground or the glass, but it was moving too erratically; they had no control over its direction at all.
Macawl and Techtet weer eventually shaken too violently, losing consciousness after hitting their heads on either the glass or their own chairs. Vince was already out as he had been violently shocked upon collision with the sole of the foot.
The mech continued on its own, kicking wildly with one leg, until they were out of the thorns and back into a field of boulders. If nothing had obstructed it, the machine would have turned them around and moved in giant circles, but it was forced back and forth in a largely forward direction by the oddly perfect slopes of the stones around them.
Macawl was the first to wake. She blinked until her vision was clear and then felt the welt on the side of her head. There was a spot of dried blood. The goldenrod clouds were above her. The mech had finally stopped and the glass was cracked. There was a hole big enough to squeeze through.
She tried to fly up and out of it, but then remembered she didn’t have wings. Her feathers were only decorative. The desire to fly, coming from her brain stem, which was fused to the brain stem of her lost pet parrot Mr. Fidget, was still strong enough to let her leap out of the mech in one bound.
She whirled around to see where they’d wound up. Stone everywhere. Around the ground it was disorganized and natural. Ahead of them a tower made of the same stone rose into the sky, almost as high as the goldenrod clouds.
All of its columns were perfectly intact, except for the one their mech had run into at the base. It had collapsed and buried the still-twitching leg. It was one column among layers of hundreds, but she couldn’t help but think the structure leaned slightly, in their direction.
A rock the size of a St. Bernard fell while she stared straight up. It crushed one of the mech’s hands. There could be more. She needed to get the others out. She could just leave… but that didn’t feel right. Birds of a feather and all that. The chaos had thrown them together and they all had that in common. Perhaps there was a family knocked out in that mech somewhere. At least a friend.
Techtet was easy enough to free once Macawl popped her cockpit open from the outside and dragged her under the tower’s shade. The stone floor didn’t look very comfortable, but at least it was smooth. Getting to Vince was another matter. She had no idea where he was in the jumble of servos, wires, and pistons.
Macawl gently nudged the ballerina, but she did not rise. Her shoes showed far more activity, wiggling her feet back and forth and blinking all sorts of different patterns. She would have to do this herself, and birds weren’t very fond of tunneling generally.
If the tower was going to fall, it wouldn’t wait. She took a deep breath, cracked her knuckles, and got down on all fours to crawl back into the machine. She found his open panel and dove deeper, managing to avoid the fall he hadn’t. She braced herself on both sides of the leg chamber and slowly shimmied down.
A few exposed wires sparked. She panicked and squawked, but the situation was too dire to worry about the others hearing it. She just wanted to keep her pet with her. Mr. Fidget had been in the family for seventy years; he was more than two decades older than her! So, she had the procedure and kept a part of her best friend in the back of her mind.
The wires sparked again, burning up all the feathers around her collar. She was forced to rip it off and let it drift down to the sole. It landed on Vince’s gray shirt, its heat finally rousing him.
She reached out her hand and he took it. Even in that state his grip was strong, like one of those nutcrackers that resembled pliers. She avoided wincing and pulled him up. Together they slowly made their way back out of the mech. The tower still loomed, and it was groaning now, but they thought they would be fine.
They sat down near the unconscious Techtet and noticed something troubling. Her slippers were gone. Her stocking-covered feet wiggled their toes, as if she hadn’t taken them off in weeks.
When she awoke moments later she was livid, insistent upon chasing the slippers. Apparently, when she didn’t use them for long enough, their A.I. got ideas about escaping from her. They didn’t know how she had a trail to follow, but she took off, silently on her dainty feet, into the tower. They ran after her. Moments later they spotted her chasing the animated slippers as they flipped and flopped up a spiraling set of stairs.
Around and around they went, challenging their stamina. They ran out of breath after ten minutes, but the tower had strange stations every so often: things that resembled gumball machines full of blue and white bubbles. They found that by turning a knob on them it released one of the bubbles from the chute. They could then swallow it and gain a second wind. It even drained the burning from their muscles.
Six times they were forced to stop and take breathers in pill form. After that, they were at the top of the tower. The slippers stood on the edge, contemplating throwing themselves off to get away from Techtet.
“You get back here right now!” she scolded them, pointing at her toes. The slippers swiveled back and forth nervously as Macawl and Vince took the sides to flank them. It was either over the edge or back on those skilled feet…. or…
The chamber at the top served a purpose. The center of its stone floor focused the energy of its heights and became a swirling vortex. The slippers took their chances and sprinted over to it. Techtet’s shoes dove in toe first, disappearing to somewhere else entirely.
The tower groaned. They didn’t have much choice either. It could fall at any time. Techtet took the lead, plunging into the portal. Vince knew the adventurous instinct, and so went next. Macawl was the most nervous, but she still din’t have wings, she still couldn’t soar away from those heights. So down it was for now.
Moments later all three found themselves fully transported through the minefield and to its other side. They were in the new world, and they were being eyed by some equally strange people. There was a park ranger, someone Vince couldn’t help but smile at. There was a clean-shaven man; he had some sort of eyeless furry pet with him.
This was the new world. They took deep breaths, wishing they could keep one of those second wind machines by their side at all times. This was going to be stressful.
Minefield Traversed! Techtet, Macawl, and Vince 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.