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 twitch.tv/blainearcade if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.
Thisskelicious Explodactive Bumpawhumping
Larson forced his bent car door open and stumbled out to examine the damages. The damages to his person were more than mild, as a stream of blood overtook one of his eyes. He leaned against the crinkled hood and rubbed it away before putting one hand over the laceration.
His vision was blurry, but he knew some of the flashing lights and strange shapes were natural. He had to go, today of all days, and get into an accident in the lowest neighborhood in the entire cybercity. The alley under his feet was extremely dirty, as none of the cleanliness bots made it that far down. All the signs were animated and obnoxious, shouting things at him that he couldn’t understand even if he didn’t have head trauma.
“Close, close, close!” a voice shouted angrily. “Mity explodactive! You-we in tro mity now. Givover.”
“What?” Larson hissed. His vision cleared a little, allowing him to finally assess the accident. His car had collided with the right tail light of another, forcing both vehicles up on the sidewalk and into some sort of booth that spilled merchandise everywhere. Since the sidewalk was blocked, passersby clumped around them. He immediately felt surrounded, sitting on the hood of his car to at least get off the filthy pavement.
“He wants your insurance information,” someone else said. Larson looked over and saw a nearly-normal looking person, with the exception of all the little hologram dolphins swimming around her single earring. She pointed at the other man, the one full of wrath and nonsense.
He did not appear so normal, at least by Larson’s standards. His hair was so altered by various gels, dyes, and plastic molds that it resembled a child’s model of a roller coaster. His sunglasses had no lenses, but they had to be sunglasses, because his irises were completely black when viewed through them. Larson had to stop himself from recoiling. He knew people had their own culture down there, but even in the bits of their television he had watched he had never seen one of them this confrontational.
“Why doesn’t he jus say that?” Larson asked. He leaned back in his car window and popped open the glove compartment. He fumbled for his insurance drive through piles of stacked napkins he would never use in the car anyway. When his head came back out the coaster-headed man was even closer, practically bumping Larson’s chest with his.
“He did say it,” the woman with the earring informed. “It’s just the dialect down here. You know how it is. After the internet divisions, every six blocks or so started having its own dialect. He’s speaking one we call ‘Ductify’.”
Larson had the suspicion there was an easier way to figure out exactly how angry the man was. All he had to do was examine the damage to the other vehicle. He leaned to the side and saw that it was quite extensive. The front was smashed up, and at least one wheel was at an odd angle, like a coaster leaning against a beer glass.
Address Woman Address Man Attempt to Flee
“Yo explodactive ass get trapacaught uppin!” the man shouted. Something on his hairdo moved; maybe there was a little roller coaster cart decoration in there somewhere. Larson swallowed, the words shouted in his direction getting caught in his throat like a large stone. He had to get away before they settled in his stomach and weighed him down.
He whirled around and dove back into his car. By the time he was in the seat the man was perched on the hood, knocking on the glass and waving a finger. Larson pressed his thumb into the side of the steering wheel anyway. It scanned his print and activated the engine. It could still move. He slowly backed up to try and shake the man loose.
Larson was forced to stop when five different people stood behind him and rapped their knuckles on his trunk. The woman leaned in the open passenger window. The holograms from her earring, which now included sea turtles, sunfish, and manta rays, made themselves at home by swimming around inside the vehicle.
“Guy, what are you doing?” she asked, blowing a bubble with her gum and letting it pop. Larson flinched, forcing his foot onto the brake even harder. She reached in and put his car into park for him. “You can’t leave the scene of an accident.” She was young, and already he didn’t like her attitude.
“I, well, I, Uhh… Look, I can’t understand this guy. I’ll just get his license from the dashcam later and send him my info that way. People like me aren’t even supposed to be down here.”
“Don’t be such a coward,” she said bluntly. “I can translate for you. I know like ten different dialects. Oh and I’m from where you’re from, so you don’t need to worry about my grubby throat getting your words all dirty.” He looked at the man on the hood, who now had his legs crossed and gazed back like a king cobra.
“Fine,” Larson conceded. He stepped out of the vehicle, insurance info in hand, and marched over to the sidewalk, just to make sure he had a good view of the other car. He didn’t want the man exaggerating the damages. “Alright, so tell him to give me his.” The woman and the man came over slowly. He leaned on his car and she leaned against the wall near the destroyed merchandise booth. Larson kept his other hand in his pocket, nervously picking at his nails.
“I told you, I know how you work,” she said. “This isn’t how you’d do it over in one of your clean districts with all those robots on leashes. Be polite. Names first. My name’s Vivi.” She turned to the coaster-headed man. “Yo, whatag onya top?”
“Borne,” he answered.
“Okay, so his name’s Borne,” Larson said, eager to show he could understand at least that much. “My name is Larson and I’m very eager to leave. I have a meeting in forty minutes.” He took a step away from the wall, bu this foot caught on something that rolled underneath him. He tripped, ripped open his pants, and skinned both his knees. He heard laughter from the bystanders and more slang he could never decipher. They called him ‘tiebump’ and ‘grayfizzle’. They had to be insults.
Tripped on Candy Tripped on Toys Tripped on Movies
Rather than look at all their distorted faces and nasty piercings, he instead looked to the objects he had tripped on. Apparently the booth they had destroyed sold candy. The sidewalk was littered with a hundred different shiny wrappers. Some of the bystanders took their pick of the free food.
There was a golden wrapper stuck to his skinned knee. Vivi crouched down and gently removed it, but they all saw a drop of something caramel-like split off and strike his exposed flesh. The impact had split the wrapper and caused the candy to leak. Larson pulled himself back to his feet, but them almost immediately fell against the wall.
“Wha?” His vision spun once again. “What’s in that stuff?” His tongue felt fuzzy, like a hampster that had gotten lost in a dusty basement only to crawl back to its cage.
“Tho be mity swee,” Borne said. “Thisskelicious.”
“They’re just Dusty Nutties,” Vivi said, tearing a different one from its wrapper and popping it in her mouth. “They’re great, but like half their ingredients are illegal in your neighborhood. It’s mostly chocolate, caramel, hazelnut, pistachio…”
“Pistachio!” Larson exclaimed, his tongue now heavy and lolling. “Ahm awergic to pishtashio!” By now his face was likely extremely red. “I need to go to the hothpital.” He pulled the collar of his workshirt open to give himself a little air. His vehicle still worked; he just needed to…
“Woahslo! Slo man!” Borne warned, putting himself under one of Larson’s shoulders so he wouldn’t collapse.
“Yeah, we’ll drive you,” Vivi said, helping them to his car. “Besides, nobody can understand you when you talk like that.” They put him in the back. Larson silently hoped Vivi would drive, but it was Borne who got in that seat. He flashed a smile as his fingers flexed on the leather of the steering wheel. Larson’s mind filled with images of a hand doing the same thing on a bullwhip. Borne reached back and grabbed him, but only to press his red thumb into the side of the steering wheel and start the car.
“The nearetht hoth…” Larson tried to say.
“Don’t talk,” Vivi warned. “We know where the nearest hospital is. We need to go…” her finger landed on the windshield, marking a spot on the digital map displayed there, “up. Borne you’ve driven one of these climbers before right?” He nodded with his eyes, but kept his head tellingly still.
Larson strapped himself in with the seat belts of both seats. He had a very bad feeling about this. Climbing meant they were going into his neighborhood. People like Borne didn’t drive climbers because they had no reason to ever go up there. Without Vivi the man would be lost in minutes, babbling his dialectic in every direction like vomit.
Borne can’t Climb Vivi has to Climb Borne is an Expert Climber
They took an exit and found themselves in line at the first upturned road. Borne fumbled around the console, looking for the button to activate Larson’s climbing hooks. Vivi sighed, slapped his hand away, and immediately climbed over him, forcing him into the passenger’s seat.
She found the appropriate button and engaged them. The three fully intact wheels grew a series of black gripping spikes that would allow the car to travel up the curve and its eventual ninety degree angle. She also tapped in the data for priority movement, given their medical emergency. A lane was cleared just for them, and the vehicle began its assent.
“You know,” Vivi said as her hair hung back behind the headrest. Larson could barely listen; he heard his heartbeat pulsing under the tight safety straps. “This would be an excellent opportunity to educate you about the dialects. It’s not like you can go anywhere.” She laughed. They were perfectly vertical now, but couldn’t see the white spire that was the hospital yet. They still had a few loops to go.
“He shy’n to break uppin this,” Borne told her, glancing back at the red swollen businessman. “Ballooned. Explodactively.”
“Oh he’ll be fine,” she said with a wave of her hand. She spun the steering wheel expertly, and the vehicle turned upside down in response. All the burning blood in Larson’s body went straight to his cheeks. “Now let’s use what Borne just said as a test case. You’ll find all these dialects aren’t so different after all. You listening back there? Do you need a pen?”
Larson actually listened more than she thought. He needed something to focus on other than his tightening lungs. He hung on her every word now, too sick to judge any of them, too swollen for his biases to creep back in.
“Now the first thing that you would erroneously consider to be out of the ordinary,” she explained, “is his use of the term ‘shy’n’. ‘Shy’n’ is simple enough; it simply means someone is at the edge of something, perhaps being too shy to actually pass over into the other thing. Then he said ‘break uppin this’, referring to you chance to explode within the vehicle.”
Larson’s mind drifted for only a moment. His eyes rolled out the window and he saw the colorful neighborhoods below. Each was distinct, and each was formed by the divisions of the internet decades ago. It codified an already divided species. People started spending their time with only a subset of everyone else, usually those with similar opinions. Different slang flourished in each virtual neighborhood and then leaked back into reality. Before anyone knew it, people like Larson could only get angry when they heard people like Borne speak.
“Then he said ‘ballooned’, referring to your swollen appearance.” Vivi looked back and snorted, somewhat amused by how the swelling had worsened. “Obviously, he’s an intelligent adult and does not actually believe you are ‘ballooning’; he was simply being figurative. We do all have that capacity you know.”
Larson mumbled something, but the people in the front couldn’t quite make it out.
“I’ll assume you’re asking about the word ‘explodactively’,” she guessed. “Borne does seem to have an affinity for it.”
Hostile Word Exaggeration Word Impressed Word
“Explodactive is a fascinating one,” she went on. Were they slowing down? He could see the hospital’s spire. “Let’s break it down to its roots. There are actually three roots to consider here, all extremely important. First is the most obvious: explosive. In this case it does refer to the amount of messy damage something causes.”
They swerved. The vehicle stopped upside down, in one of the hospital’s parking spaces. The dizziness had prevented Larson from realizing what was wrong. The internal compartment with the seats was separate from the outer shell. It was supposed to adjust when the car climbed, always keeping people upright. Vivi had a finger jammed on one of the buttons, keeping it locked, keeping her hair in free fall and Larson in dazed confusion.
“The second root is where we get into the more complex stuff. The ‘D’ in explodactive comes from ‘redacted’, in this case referring to the government’s tendency to overlook certain explosive things when they happens in certain neighborhoods, like the one we just came from. Like Borne’s home.” Borne glanced back at Larson, but he didn’t seem hostile anymore. He looked almost worried, as if Vivi was the one taking this too far. Did they know each other? Larson had assumed she was just a passerby.
“The third and final root…” She spoke, even though the engine was off. She needed to finish before they could go in. Larson fumbled with the latch on his belts, but his fingers were too clumsy to undo them. “Do pay attention Larson.” She pressed her earring, causing all the holograms to vanish. “The third root is ‘radioactive’, referring to the negative invisible after-effects of the first two roots combined.”
“Explodactive,” Borne said, staring into th rear view mirror, as if hearing the word for the first time himself.
“So if you put it all together you get something that says an awful lot,” Vivi insisted. She turned in her seat and stared Larson. He gasped like a fish now. “And you, being who you obviously are, thought it was nothing. A throwaway word. Slang. Poor people refusing to learn proper English. In reality it was a one word summary of their state in life, typified by your car running into his and its resulting damages. It is all the cultural criticism Borne needs.”
Something banged on one of the doors. It was a robotic stretcher, come to investigate the car in case they needed assistance. When its fish-eye lens spotted Larson in the back seat, it extended two arms like white pipes and opened the door. It pulled the sputtering man out and strapped him down, rushing him to right-side up, and then into the building’s automatic glass doors.
Larson’s eyes finally swelled shut. He heard nothing but the occasional shout and the beeps of his stretcher. He couldn’t tell if there were footprints near him, if Vivi and Borne followed him into his room. They could lie, claim they were family. Borne would have to be a black sheep, but the distracted hospital staff and tone deaf robots might let him slide. He passed out of consciousness.
A Gift A Theft A Conversation
When Larson awoke his wife and daughter were there, each holding one of his hands. He was to make a full recovery, though there hadn’t been much time to spare. His wife demanded that he smile as soon as he was able, and he obeyed her as he usually did.
His daughter brought in some of her art projects to show him. Her paintings were terrible, and he loved them. When they asked him what happened he found he didn’t have the story he wanted to tell arranged very well. He needed time to stack and alphabetize all the little experiences involved. He needed a new word to describe that feeling…
When he finally got around to it he told them he had been in the car, distracted, which was true, when he rear-ended someone. He paused. Yes. The truth. For that part anyway. They didn’t need to hear about the linguistics lecture. He simply said that some concerned citizens, upon seeing his allergy, took him back to the car and drove him to the hospital.
“But… then where’s the car?” his daughter asked. Larson gritted his teeth. So, thieves after all. Was that the price he paid for trying to leave? Or for having a reasonable haircut instead of the theme park ride Borne sported?
It would be fine. He was insured for that anyway, though he missed all the personal touches he’d invested in it: the stack of fourteen napkins he would never use, the internet channels he had programmed on the rear view mirror, and the floor mat depicting a bloodhound practically melting under his feet, with its adorable droopy eyes and ears.
It wasn’t until six hours later, when he was allowed to check out, that he grabbed his pants off the bedside chair and went into the bathroom to change. In the pocket he found something strange: Vivi’s earring. He pressed the button on it and observed the resulting hologram. No swimming animals this time, just a message.
A donation has been made in your name to the ‘Understanding our Dialects and Divisions’ fund. Thank you very much for working to reunite our species under one roof and tongue. Your donation of forty five thousand Essential Cents will live on in the words of the future.
Larson sighed. Forty five thousand was the exact value of his car. Explodactive indeed.