Chat-your-own-Adventure #19: A Red Soak

Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience bidding tokens (earned while watching) to determine the path of the story.  The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways.  Stop by if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.

Alien Cocktail                                  Alien Pool Toy                                 Alien Game

The leisure dome had rarely seen such a glut of important individuals. Typically their customers were families overburdened by small children, but tourism was booming on the entire station, so the ambassadors had few choices when it came to renting a venue.

They’d just finished that quarter of the galactic standard year and it was time for their organization to relax, though they never did so completely. There was always talk here and there, hiding amongst the drinks and cheeses, of work, of war, of trade, and of money.

Morrat was not interested in any shadowy dealings over cocktails. She told herself that even if she heard something juicy she would tune it out completely. Step one of the relaxation process was narrowing her focus. She saw too many things in the leisure dome: its central indigo pool, her fellow ambassadors wearing far less clothing than usual, the bar with its assortment of bubbling and frothing concoctions, and the iridescent skin tones of some of their more exotic members.

She wasn’t one to ogle, but in her line of work she saw peoples from every corner of the universe. Some were alien, some only partly, and some were so divested fom human stock by time and space that their ancestry could not even be guessed at. Seeing them all in their swimming suits was an unusual sight.

Narrow. She had to narrow in order to relax, so she pulled her eyes away from the connecting ears and greenish skin of the x’terran ambassador and searched for something worth her time. Her eyes, her paltry two, landed on the shallow steps of the pool, where three individuals seemed to be playing a sort of game.

There was a small machine, red and flashing, floating between them. As Morrat approached she started to discern that it was the referee. The machine issued instructions and the players had to match them to the best of their ability. The wrinkle was, the machine analyzed the water rather than the players directly. They had to match splash and ripple patterns to earn points.

Being known for steady hands and affect, she thought it a perfect fit for her free time, so she stopped at the edge of the pool and asked to join. One of the ambassadors paused the machine so she could enter without disturbing it. She brought herself even with the others, up to her collarbone in water, and only then paid attention to the other players.

She knew all three of them by name and reputation. Veet, a woman with violet skin and eyes like firecrackers, was always ruthless when negotiating the rights of miners across her galaxy. Here she looked rather cutthroat, the lines of her suit just as sharp as her usual wardrobe. Goras, a plump man with a rather ornate horn, was excellent at greasing the wheels in artistic disputes. According to the machine, he was in the lead.

Metallic Man                  Effervescent Woman              Unidentifiable Creature

The fourth was Getts Schwettes: a man she was none too happy to see. He had cast the crucial vote on the last session of the quarter, derailing regulations she herself had penned. Weeks it had taken. She’d addressed the concerns of all forty-seven civilizations involved.

Along came Getts, with no excuse offered, and a big thumbs down. His race had particularly large and paddle-shaped thumbs too, so it looked all the more obnoxious. Here he was in the pool with everyone else as if he was contributing. She had hoped he would skip the event, that his iridescent metallic skin would rust in the pool. Alas, he looked quite comfortable.

Moratt had to double her resolve to not get into work matters. She could best him in the game; that would provide at least one bee sting of vengeance. The machine repeated the rules. It would create a splash or ripple pattern and then angle its sensors one by one at each contestant for their attempt at mimicry.

Her first round was simple enough: a soft pattern of three ripples, one, and then four. The machine gave her an 8.6 out 10. There were to be three more rounds before those scores were averaged together and they had a winner. It took much to hold back a wicked smirk when Getts’ turn came around and his plated hand made an absolute mess of the water. No subtlety at all. He was just a glinting wrench in the works.

The game continued. Moratt’s scores remained quite high: 9.3, 8.1, 9.2. Getts couldn’t even manage a 6. Yet, he did not look dissatisfied. He had that one look certain people always get when there’s a competition afoot. It was the look that says ‘no matter how good you are, it doesn’t matter; it’s all just a game’. She won. Her colleagues applauded her lightly. Getts’ applause was tinny and discordant.

How about we try a different sort of game?” he suggested, his voice like a tuning fork on the side of an empty bean ration can.

What did you have in mind?” Goras asked. His chubby hands had earned him third place, so he was game. Veet and Moratt just waited for an explanation.

Someone else has a different toy down in the deep end,” Getts teased. Moratt looked toward the darker water and saw there was in fact a glow down there: a mix of greens and blues. “It’s a bit more of a challenge.” Moratt’s eyes narrowed. That was his angle. He hadn’t lost because the game hadn’t mattered. The one in the deep end mattered.

How many people are down there?” Veet asked, her hawk-like eyes not quite capable of penetrating the water and light that far. “Are they all gilled? I haven’t seen anyone come up for air.”

That’s the interesting bit,” Getts offered. “It has oxygen masks on it. It’s a game of trivia and deception, except the information comes out of your head. The mask has a sensor that goes on your temple. It’s actually excellent training for lying, something useful in our line of work.”

Moratt disagreed. They were ambassadors. Openness was literally written into their handbook as the first rule. Of course, there were plenty who thought like Getts, that between the lines of the first and second rule there was a suggestion on the effectiveness of smudging the truth.

Play                                             Leave the Pool                                   Confront Getts

I wouldn’t find it useful at all,” Moratt challenged. “I have never once lied in the course of my duties. The people I represent expect honor. What do your people expect?”

Results,” he responded without so much as a blink. Goras grabbed the game machine and hugged it close to his chest. Apparently he was the owner and didn’t want it getting damaged in the argument they were clearly about to start. Veet simply leaned up against the side of the pool. She would only observe unless she saw an opportunity to profit.

We could play your passive aggressive cultish little game in the depths of the pool…” Moratt suggested. Crap. This was going to be about work. She realized halfway through the sentence. Oh well. Yelling at a fool and a jackass was basically her version of relaxing anyway. There were no cameras allowed in their retreats, so she couldn’t embarrass herself too much. “Or, we could entertain the rest of the ambassadors with a debate.”

A few heads turned immediately. Finally, someone letting the predatory undercurrent show itself. Many had been waiting for something to spice up the event, to drown out the ambient music with no lyrics except for random words from a hundred different languages. Heads popped up from the deep end. Somehow even they had heard the challenge. The glow of their game stopped.

One of them, an ambassador with a single eye on the left side of their face and an eyestalk on the other, currently being used as a periscope, swam over with their game machine. They tapped a button and let it sink, its light now dividing the shallow end of the pool into two colors: orange for Moratt to match her suit and gray to match Getts’

They gravitated to the center of their color and crossed their arms, as they had no podiums to lean against. Someone else, eager to watch, fixed that problem by throwing them inflatable rafts to put their weight on. Moratt’s had plastic eyes, but she had no idea what sort of animal it was supposed to be.

What exactly are we going to be debating?” Getts asked; he hadn’t lost a step in the entire confrontation. Moratt thought about what it would be like to be ready for an argument every single moment of the day. It sounded like draining torture.

I had no official opportunity to depose you on your negative vote regarding my regulation,” she said. “You simply cast it and killed the whole thing. I know where everybody else stands. All the others who voted it down had conflicts, obligations, or moral opposition, but as far as I can tell you had no reason not to give it to me.”

Everyone is here to relax,” Getts said, unshaken. He received several boos for they what perceived to be cowardice. “Alright. If all of you would rather have this as the evening’s entertainment, instead of this lovely water and all those fancy drinks, fine by me. I don’t anticipate having any difficulty.”

Form Teams                      Referee Appears                      Integrate Game Device

I have only one condition,” Getts added. Moratt was going to tell him to name it, she wouldn’t lose an ounce of face with her colleagues if she could avoid it, but Getts assumed her agreement. He stuck his torso into the water and pulled something off the submerged game machine. When he surfaced he brought a wire over to her, tipped with a small pad.

Moratt suppressed the feeling of trespass as he waded through her color, but held her tongue. He handed the pad over. His intent was clear. The game machine had a thought-reading element. She wouldn’t be able to simply use her words, her perfectly sculpted lexicon, sharp as anything in the galaxy, to win.

What does this add?” she asked.

We’ll let everybody vote,” he said, drawing their colleagues closer. “But if they’re going to make an informed decision, they’ll want all the available information. While our arguments will speak for themselves, the machine will display our confidence and sincerity, in the form of waves. If you are winning emotionally, your waters will be placid, but if you’re losing, you’ll sail rough seas.”

A few applauded. It sounded louder than it should have, as some of them had four hands each. Getts had decided it wasn’t a real debate. It was a show, and he was already glittering in the spotlight. There was one way it could work to her advantage, and he offered it right up. Come the beginning of their new session, he would be the one to call for a new vote and change his opinion. All she had to do was keep the waters calm and keep the viewers relatively satisfied.

Fine.”  She attached the pad to her temple. There were a few deep ripples in the pool, she could feel them across the soles of her feet, but nothing worse, not yet. Getts attached his and the waters didn’t stir. At this point everyone else had vacated the water to make the results as clear as possible.

You can ask the first question, since this is something of a deposition,” he told her.

My first question is the most obvious. Why the blatantly unprofessional tactic of voting my regulations down without submitting a reason in your minutes?” The crowd nodded. It was a fair question. There was no rule saying you had to provide a reason, but that was simply because, to some cultures, an empty page was statement enough. Usually it didn’t come up.

The answer is equally obvious, though I imagined you missed it,” Getts teased. “I have a negative vote readied for everything you propose or support. The content doesn’t matter, so I didn’t need to provide a reason.” There came the sound of lurching water, but no visible splashes thanks to the pool’s overhang. The force hit Moratt’s knees and nearly cost her her footing. She hadn’t expected such a blatant admission.

Why on the plurality of planets would you do such a thing? Have I wronged you Getts? Did you make it personal when it’s supposed to be anything but?”

Personal? No. I think you’re the one taking this personally. I wouldn’t expect most of you to understand. It is my job to oppose certain things, regardless of personal feeling, and the goals of Moratt’s people fall into that category.”

Blood Feud                        Genetic Colonialism                Long Term Investment

So what is the reason for the general opposition?” she asked pointedly. A step forward. Shouldn’t do that. She’d only disturb the water more.

I suppose it is possible that you don’t remember,” he said, tone suddenly darkening. “I imagine you were an ambassador’s child and you inherited the job. Maybe you’ve never seen the streets where our people coexisted.”

Moratt swallowed. His metallic skin suggested a general region of the next galaxy over, but no, she could not pinpoint his heritage. She knew her own to a tee, but only in the sense of the family tree. Her people had blood that doubled as hot sauce. They sweated salt crystals rather than droplets. They turned orange, but only when in the deepest of mourning. She could trace each trait back along the branches, along the planets, all the way back to India on Earth.

Getts however was a mystery. Nobody could be expected to memorize every lineage, even if they sparkled like veins of diamond. Something happened to the water on his side of the pool. She thought he would use his inscrutable tone to win the day, to never let a ripple show, but she was wrong. His water began to bubble, as if he was boiling, being prepared as stock like a marrowbone.

It was two hundred years ago, when the progenitors of my people numbered only one thousand, and all lived on one of your worlds. They had their own neighborhoods. They kept to themselves.” The bubbling intensified. The game machine changed the color of his light, from gray to bright red.

That has no bearing on…” Moratt tried to defend, but she was almost drowned out by the bubbles. Getts shouted himself now; his voice, which vibrated naturally, sounding like it would shake him apart: a tin roof under assault by hail.

Of course it has bearing. Your wrongs have not been punished. Your people complained about the neighborhoods; you complained about one thing: glint. Refraction. The light off our skins got in your eyes, irritating the wealthier side of the street.” He repeated the end of the last sentence, roaring it this time. The red of the water darkened. Yes. The hue had reached that of blood.

It came to war, because of course it did, because it takes people like me sneaking into pools like this, to get all of you to see blood!” he bellowed. “You wiped us out, all but a handful, over property values and errant beams of light. So yes, I am here simply to oppose you, to show you this blood, spilled in a name that you erased.”

The pool started to bubble over, forcing many of the ambassadors to take a step back, as if it were acid. Getts waded to the edge of his color, dragging it with him. The blood overtook her orange water as he approached. Moratt was stunned. She backed up, eventually colliding with the edge. How far would he go? Was his point not made? In her head, the part skirting the fear, she was already thinking of ways to get him expelled from their organization for this behavior. Then she realized that was what he expected. He’d been taught to see that coming.

Device Explodes                Ambassadors Remove Him         Pool Bubbles Over

He was getting too close. He was going to grab her. The old conflict would be brought back to life, and his people would have a shot at winning this time. Moratt panicked and froze, but the rest of the organization knew better.

He wasn’t a colleague anymore. He was merely a protester, perhaps even an assassin. He was one who thought it appropriate to spill blood on desks and podiums because there just wasn’t enough of it in the world.

They saw themselves as heroes as a few of the bloated politicians tossed themselves into the pool and restrained Getts. They dragged him out, letting him scream all the way. There were hands on her shoulders, but Moratt was still frozen in place. She watched the last of the bubbles pop as the blood died down, went back to its natural blue.

The patch that had been stuck to Getts’ temple floated there, like an old bandage ripped from its wound. There was something she had forgotten. Different as all they looked, it still took time to heal, and you should never soak an open wound in a public pool.

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