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: Jules the pregnant draft dodger, Bitbeard the cryptocurrency pirate, and Dishokk the deposed white tiger beast. They see the minefield before them, knowing little, and walk forward.
The minefield was beginning to show wear and tear. The place where the fog connected to its ground was now ragged and weak, with occasional collapses throwing escapees back into their withering burning world.
Bitbeard had walked his fair share of planks, so he was just nimble enough to scurry into the field as the ground collapsed under him. Dishokk and Jules watched curiously as he danced about on the tips of his silver-trimmed green boots.
As if to make it up to them, the minefield quickly provided them with a snaking river. Its current was swift but gentle, like a fox sneaking in and out of the hen house without waking any of them. Dishokk was an intimidating creature, intelligent, cunning, and nearly twice as strong as the white tigers he borrowed his appearance from, but he wasn’t a fan of bathing.
Bitbeard solved that problem by pulling one of many jeweled flash drives off his bandolier and tossing it into the water, where it emitted bolts of lightning and transformed into a small ship with a hull like an antiquated CPU case. He hopped on board and welcomed his new friends, not mentioning that once they were in the river with him they were obligated to be his crew.
Dishokk made the leap immediately, but Jules was apprehensive. Bitbeard eyed her, for her appearance was just as odd as the other two. She wore some sort of cadet’s uniform, but it was ill fitting thanks to her pregnant swell she rested one hand on. He offered her a hand to help her aboard.
“No, thank you,” she politely declined, before pumping her arms and jumping over to the plastic deck in one awkward motion that rocked the small vessel. She steadied herself against the railing and took a deep breath. “I’ve got to set an example for the little one. She needs to see how capable people can be.”
They were off down the river, glad to be separate from the ominous ground. They passed by all sorts of menacing things: abandoned buildings, rusty tractors moving and spewing smoke despite the lack of drivers, and a red-eyed cowboy urging a herd of devilish livestock forward. Eventually Jules took to a cushioned seat facing the calmer shore. She never used to be seasick… but in her condition…
“You were in the army?” Bitbeard asked her as he leaned against the railing and casually scrimshawed her image into a large floppy disk held against his thigh. Dishokk lounged near the bow, his heavy head resting on his giant paws.
“I dodged the army,” she answered. “Everyone serves where I come from. They wanted me to get an abortion so I could get right back into battle. I can tell you escape wasn’t too easy after month four.”
“Nobody knows the experience of another,” Dishokk’s voice rumbled, like a purr, but determined rather than satisfied. “Yet I suspect my escape from the world was even deadlier. I was betrayed, bitten in the back by my own subjects… but I digress from my initial thought. Bitbeard? That was your name? Do you think yourself in command of our little party?”
“Long as you’re on my ship,” he said coolly, hand moving to the malware flintlock on his hip.
“I’m circumventing your authority with raw strength,” Dishokk said, without rising to his paws. “I am the leader here. You two are my new subjects. Her child will be the start of my new empire.”
(Audience-chosen) Mine! (Bitbeard saved)
“Circumvent my barnacled bottom,” Bitbeard challenged. He sense something more than dangerous about the beast. It had never actually been a tiger; it was just wearing a tiger’s skin, and it didn’t fit particularly well. The big cat finally rose and stalked towards Bitbeard. It was too confident. The pirate realized his malware pistol likely wouldn’t penetrate its hide, and malware was useless if it couldn’t get under your skin.
That left him one other choice. He had a digitizer just under the deck, aimed up in case he was ever boarded. Poor Jules. She was in range of its effects and there was no time to warn her. Bitbeard had to have save himself. The guilt was simple enough to push back; they’d agreed to board his ship.
He grabbed another flash drive from his chest and tossed it; it landed perfectly in its slot in the deck, between two plastic boards, just as Dishokk pounced. Slats of blue energy shot up from between the boards, locking the two away from Bitbeard. Jules stared at him in horror. There wasn’t even time to apologize.
It was an instantaneous death: a simple file format conversion. Dishokk and Jules were dead, but fully recorded on the bitrodium film reel below decks. Bitbeard took off his hat and gave a moment of silence for the woman and her child. Perhaps someone could eventually read his files and restore them. For now, he needed a new crew.
After another day on the river, including a stretch where the river floated out of its bed for several miles, he came to a pilgrimage of thousands marching across the minefield. He had his pick of the litter for crew, as they all wanted aboard. He simply needed two capable bodies, for the vessel couldn’t hold many more.
In the end he chose two very capable looking women, though one of them didn’t actually look like much on account of her invisibility. She still wore some kind of skin tight suit, like a diver’s, so Bitbeard wasn’t too worried about her sneaking up on him. It would likely take half an hour to peel herself out of it. She called herself Petra.
The other was diminutive and high-pitched, but she demonstrated her strength by tossing a barrel back and forth, and it had more than two trillion flops of data in it. She wore a hooded robe and seemed somewhat cult-like to Bitbeard, but sometimes those folks were very devoted to their captains. She was called Pix.
Bitbeard was anxious. They hadn’t pulled ahead of the rest of the pilgrimage, and they started getting covetous looks from the shore. His ship held many valuables, but nothing of value to the hordes out there. They sought food and hope. He had only stolen data, the algorithms to generate cryptocurrencies, and the programs to manipulate those currencies. He’d stolen entire economies in his time.
He ordered his crew to stick to the other side before he went to the helm and upped their speed. It would drain power faster, but he hated all those eyes on him. He’d raided many ships, but stolen mostly from robots. They stared as well, but it was always empty and meaningless.
Bitbeard was pulled from his pleasant memories by the sound of a shot. He instinctively went for his pistol as he saw Pix go over the side. Blood spread in the water, obscuring her sinking form. One of the crowd was trying to end them, to steal their vessel, and now it was just the captain and his invisible first mate.
“Petra? Where are you?” the pirate snarled as he took cover behind the helm.
“Right here,” she whispered next to him, nearly causing him to jump into the path of another bullet. Her suit faded back into sight. Bitbeard didn’t like that she concealed that information. It seemed any part of her and her ensemble could fade in and out at will. It didn’t matter at the moment. Another bullet whizzed through the hull.
He had one more last resort weapon, much like the hidden digitizer, but he hated to use it. Its contents were… uppity. The next shot, just past his hair, convinced him he had no choice though. He pressed a button on one of his cuff links, opening what the crowd assumed were cannon ports. What came out was a most unusual A.I., released from its glass prison to wreak havoc on Bitbeard’s enemies.
It appeared as a red cloud, its programming held in a body of vaporized blood. It flew out to the riverbanks and drained a few of the refugees of their precious fluids. That stopped the shots. Bitbeard and Petra emerged from their cover and found themselves face to face with the A.I.’s more normal configuration, standing there on the deck like nothing had transpired: a crimson network of veins and blinking lights, vaguely human in shape.
Now that he was free, there would be no getting rid of him. Bitbeard knew him as Codagula, an entity he’d accidentally stolen along with things that were actually valuable. Data was data, and sometimes you had to take an entire dump of it without doing any sifting. Sometimes that data contained a morphing biomechanical intelligence designed to reap blood for an old and sly god.
Codagula’s power was great, but he had a little something extra written in by the wary pirate. He couldn’t disobey Bitbeard’s orders. He couldn’t drain Petra of her fascinating invisible blood, which irked the intelligence greatly.
“Thank you,” Petra whispered to the captain just as the currents picked up and finally pulled them ahead of the pilgrimage. One bead of nervous sweat was visible on her invisible forehead. “Although, I am curious what such a creature would do with my power.”
“What do you look like anyway?” Bitbeard asked. “I’m not trying to be rude, just curious as a stowaway squid.”
“Well,” she answered, her voice softening, “my hair looks like this.” A crop of thin short black hair faded into existence and then back out. “My eyes look like this.” Hazel irises came and went. “I have a pretty cute nose.” A button of flesh flashed and vanished. “As for my body, well, you have to be more than a captain to me to see that.”
Bitbeard couldn’t help but bite his lower lip as he heard the foosteps of the invisible woman stroll across the deck. There was flirtation in the sound; she made her shoes sound like high heels even though they weren’t. He wondered how one performed such a trick.
The goldenrod clouds vanished under the cover of trees leaning over the river. Mossy banks and smooth stones did their best to lull them into calm, but Bitbeard already suffered the consequences of freeing Codagula.
“All I’m saying is, I could do so much with your blood,” Codagula whined. “Two people worth of blood, one invisible. Murdurlur would praise me until the sun died.” Bitbeard dug around in a chest, looking for any storage devices that could capture Codagula once more. He tossed floppy disks of various colors about the deck.
“Who’s Murdurlur?” Petra asked the veined intelligence, only showing her white smile.
“Only the greatest blood god that ever did drink!” the intelligence insisted. The bubbles of blood that represented his head and face glowed with his closest approximation of admiration.
“You serve him willingly?” she asked, a few of her teeth flickering like an old neon sign. Bitbeard wondered if that meant she was nervous. Who could blame her? The mere sight of Codagula belonged in a cheesy midnight movie meant primarily to give children nightmares.
“Murdurlur programmed me. I can literally have nothing but love and jealousy for him.” the intelligence chirped. While Petra distracted it, Bitbeard snuck up behind him with a green glass floppy. It was both arcane and extremely outdated by all standards, so perhaps Codagula would get lost in its labyrinthine interior. He just needed to touch it to the bloody creature’s surface…
Codagula leapt out of the way when he pounced, leading him on a chase around the deck as the pirate waved the old technology.
The pirate shouted and cursed, chasing after the red phantom, for ten minutes straight, but it was all too easy for it to fly out of reach or split around him as bloody mist. Bitbeard wore himself out until he could barely hold the disk aloft.
Wheezing, he wilted against the railing. He heard Petra giggle, but she was nowhere to be seen. Codagula happened to fly by her, temporarily revealing her silhouette in red. She sputtered and choked as a little bit of blood got in her mouth, so she scurried away and wound up next to the pirate.
“What do we do about him?” she asked, making her hands visible as she wiped the blood from her lips. “Isn’t he dangerous?” While she spoke Codagula mimicked their posture on the other side of the ship, clearly mocking them. If they weren’t going to hand over their blood they deserved it.
“Not to us,” Bitbeard said with a shrug, stroking his wiry goatee. “When I first had hold of him I had opportunity to alter a bit of that code swimming around in all that viscera. He can’t harm me or anyone under my authority. As long as you’re on the crew you’re safe.”
“I can hear you, you know. I can hear your pulse as well. I make you nervous. I’m actually very nice; I just need to take blood and offer it to Murdurlur. If it’s a flaw, I’m allowed to have a few. Besides, you’ll need me,” the intelligence defended.
“What do you mean ‘we’ll need you’?” Petra asked.
“I have a little godly ability to foretell. That, plus my predictive models… There’s a fight coming. Blood will be spilled. You’ll definitely need somebody to sop it up.”
“What sort of fight?” Bitbeard asked. He scratched his goatee more aggressively. He avoided fights. That’s how he made it so far. It was how he made it to the middle of the minefield with a crew still in tow. The periphery of a fight was a beautiful place, an excellent scenic overlook, but the center was simply death.
“There will be two factions, but only one variety of blood,” the intelligence mused, staring at the few light beams that broke through the foliage. “Some slain on both sides, but only one side will bleed. It will be our side.”
“You two are my crew and I’m telling you we don’t have a side,” Bitbeard insisted. “I had a deckhand who fancied himself a seer. Software Patch his name was, and Patch didn’t didn’t last long. He kept insisting my orders weren’t as powerful as fate.”
“You question the foresight of Murdurlur?” Codagula seethed. His form bubbled. Suddenly, something about the air was off. Petra and Bitbeard leaned over the side and saw the entire river had gone red and thick, slowing their vessel.
“What is this?” Petra shouted, staring in horror at the forms that began to bubble out. Skulls. Clawed skeletal hands. Meat things with eyes hanging by threads. They pawed at the hull, tried to pull themselves aboard.
“This is a prophecy!” Codagula screamed. “This is the level of death Murdurlur foresees! If you deny it, it will come for you now! Capsize you and drown you because you are not ready for what lies ahead!” His body now bubbled so much that he resembled the skin on top of a pot of chili.
“Accept it!” Petra yelled at Bitbeard, grabbing his arm and tugging. “We’ll have to fight. Don’t be scared!” A soggy cranium, a thing both rotten and alien, leaned over the side, forcing them to back up. The bloody river bubbled and popped with sick sounds like a morbid stew.
“I’m not scared!” Bitbeard insisted, but that only made Codagula louder, only encouraged theoe nasty phantoms of the carnage to come closer. “Okay!” he admitted once the corpse of an alligator flopped onto the deck and hissed at them, flashing its six remaining teeth. “I’m scared! Are you happy now?”
He opened his eyes. Codagula had deflated, to little more than a puddle. The river was itself once more. The gator and its demonic brethren were gone. He breathed a sigh of relief, until he realized Petra still had not released his arm. He looked over and saw her entire head. She was letting him see her whole identity. He knew that was quite a concession, though he was still barred from seeing anything below the neck.
“We’ll get through this,” she told him, even as her face started to fade again. “We just have to find a bigger crew. Some people who also feel fear, not things like Codagula. No offense.”
“None taken. I only take blood,” the intelligence burbled.
They traveled a few days more and eventually reached the end of the river. It was a bay of sorts, mostly abandoned, with the water flowing through the fog to another world. There was a gate in place, only letting the occasional vessel through.
They did their best to look presentable in the hopes of matching whatever standards the authority behind the gate had. Codagula refused to hide himself though, and Petra only showed her clothing. They drifted by rusted out wrecks slowly and found their way to the back of the line.
As it turned out, the fight was not yet. It was far off enough that they were allowed through with little examination. This was good, because Bitbeard’s hull had about a thousand illegal and dangerous pieces of tech stored away. Some of them were even sharp.
The fog of the new world felt the same as that of the old, but the other side was a strange sight indeed. Cages, as far as the eye could see. They weren’t prisoners, not yet. They just needed to stay on their toes and keep an eye on their blood.
Minefield traversed! Bitbeard, Petra, and Codagula 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.