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
The minefield has been moved. It now connects the Trap to a new world, a new game. There is no destruction this time, nothing forcing them to flee. Only the brave, curious, and strange will take the journey. Who will step through the fog and face the myriad dangers of the field?
Three enter: Grayjay the angry resident bird, Mack the disconnected robot, and Sashonne the jovial judge.
A new party of three entered the Minefield and left their old world behind. They were already deep in conversation, as one of them, a simple robot with a matte brass finish, suffered from communication withdrawal. His name was Mack. He used to be part of a massive communication network full of scholarly thoughts and engineering ideas, but the fog had cut him off entirely. He listened intently to the plump jovial woman walking next to him. She grabbed his arm and pulled him along while she spoke.
“But I would say the hardest contest I’ve ever had to judge was the Bastion County winter bake sale. I just couldn’t decided who should silver and who should gold between the fruit-flavored icicles and the roaring fire baked bean pie. It haunts me to this day.” Her name was Sashonne, and she had a lovely deep purple dress adorned with a dark rainbow sash. It read judge, as if that was all the woman ever did.
Mack tried to adjust his audio receptors, circular dials on the side of his head, but the creature nesting on the shelf of his forehead objected, pecking noisily at his metal fingers. It was a gray bird with a crest like the wild hair of an aged physicist. The Minefield might not have any twigs, so she couldn’t let a single one go.
She was mostly an ordinary animal, but the owners of the residence where she used to nest in the gutters called her Grayjay. If they didn’t have the deed they might’ve thought the bird owned the house. The creature was always irate and territorial, though she never bothered to lay any eggs. Perhaps she she thought they would ruin her expertly-crafted nest.
“Best leave her alone dear,” Sashonne advised. “If she were competing I would judge her as utterly determined and indefatigable.”
“I’m a machine,” Mack whistled plainly. “We are closer to any definition of indefatigable than any feathered beast.”
“It is just me now. I will have to alter my vocabulary. A single voice in my head. I can hardly believe it, but I also know it’s inadequate. Please, keep talking. I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t hear anyone else.”
“My pleasure,” Sashonne purred. She had a thousand stories of a thousand competitions. She would be an excellent communication ration for the whole of their journey through the Minefield. Still, with an eye for optimization Mack was always scanning the horizon in search of any being that might be better at it than her.
After their first night of travel the robot found plenty more to scan. They reached an abandoned town that stretched for miles. It was a clean place full of bike lanes and sandy brick roads. It had more safety signs than trees, and it had a planter every few feet. Grayjoy was excited to see so many twigs; she sampled them greedily and built her nest up quite quickly. Before Mack knew it, the collection of leaves, wood, straw, and clovers was wider than a sombrero and a little heavy.
“Where do you think everyone has gone?” Sashonne asked the robot while Grayjay fixed up the brim of her nest. “I would live here. This town is at least an 8.3. Anything over an eight should get a standing ovation.”
“Perhaps there’s an 8.4 just on the horizon,” the machine whistled back. “In my experience humans are never satisfied with their lot in life. None of them ever stayed in the network I was connected to for very long.”
“Are you saying we don’t know how to appreciate things?”
“I’m saying appreciation and loyalty are closer to to being synonyms than you think.”
“Then why did you leave your precious network behind?” she asked, checking both sides of the abandoned street before crossing it.
“I was an acceptable loss,” Mack lamented, stopping in the middle of the street. He didn’t speak for a moment, prompting Sashonne to urge him forward, flailing her chubby little hands.
“Tell me more, but first get out of the street. You never know when a car might come, or one of those boulders heaven forbid, and there’s no traffic signal.” Mack paid her no heed.
“It’s how a network works,” he said, resuming his explanation. “We can only share thoughts and files harmoniously if we have a regular scapegoat for all negative emotions such as anger and jealousy. The scapegoats are chosen at random every six months. My number was pulled two days ago. I was cast out to maintain the integrity of the system. Cast out to die in the silence.
“All the silence is in the middle of the road there, so join me on this side,” Sashonne urged.
In the end she had to rush to the middle of the road, grab his limp pipe of an arm, and drag him to safety. It was just in time to avoid a riderless bicycle as it slowly moved down the road. Its front wheel wiggled back and forth drunkenly as it went. They didn’t know if it was some kind of smart-bike or cursed object, so they didn’t dare approach, but Gray jay wanted the four of clubs playing card pinned to its tire, so the bird swooped in and swiped it.
“It doesn’t seem to care that it lost its decoration,” Sashonne noted. “I guess it’s peaceful. Oh, I know. Let’s follow it. Maybe it’s like a lost little doggy returning to its owner.” Mack agreed, using only the tiniest of nods so as not to disturb Grayjay as she found a place for the card. If it had an owner, that meant one more voice to help Mack restore his droning peace of mind.
And so they followed the bike. Whatever force animated it must not have been functioning properly, given the way it occasionally hopped up on the curb and nearly toppled back into the street. Eventually it took them onto what should’ve been a very busy freeway: a giant steep bulge of concrete that was somewhat difficult for the hefty Sashonne to climb.
“Maybe I should try riding it,” she wondered aloud, panting a little. It might have been cursed, but avoiding an uphill battle might have been worth one teeny tiny little curse. She wavered on the decision, moving closer and further from the bike every few seconds. By the time she made up her mind they were already at the top.
The bike slowed, its frame creaking. It fell over unceremoniously. Mack approached it, extending a sensor from one of his fingers. He ran it over the bike’s frame, hoping to find some clue to intelligence. He did get a few spikes in energy, but nothing helpful to his plight. He raised the sensor; it wiggled in the air like a car antennae.
“The energy on this bike is fading,” he told Sashonne. “If it had any intelligence it must have sensed its own death and sought the highest point in the town in an effort to release that energy to the winds, like a zombified insect releasing the spores of a behavior-altering fungus.”
“Can you trace it?” she asked.
“Do we want to find out what callously brought that bike to life?” Sashonne asked. “It could be cruel. I’ve judged cruelty competitions, some of the worst work I ever had to do, and this feeling in the air reminds me of the man who took bronze for ripping the legs out of giant beetles.”
“I seek more voices,” Mack said plainly. “I appreciate your help up to this point and must ask you to continue on until we find more. You are my oxygen supply deep in a dark sea. Even if the source of this energy is cruel, I wish to hear it speak. I will even become cruel if it means I can be part of a network again. Togetherness is all I live for.”
“Alright, I’ll go with you,” Sashonne said. “If the bike is… dead… I can ride it now, yes?”
“As long as you don’t object to riding a figurative corpse,” the robot answered.
“I mind it less than going uphill,” she said as she gently picked up the green bike. She rang the bell; it didn’t sound like the war cry of a bat out of hell, so she assumed it was safe enough to get on. Grayjay took note of how smoothly the vehicle moved under her power and made the decision to move.
With strength the other two never would’ve guessed, Grayjay picked up up the sombrero-sized nest and moved it to the front of the bicycle, turning it into a sort of makeshift basket. There would be no more clanking metal bucket feet to disturb her rest. Once the bird had nestled down Mack pointed them in the right direction, which was downhill. Sashonne couldn’t help but giggle as the wind took up her hair and sash. They hurried down, back into the town.
Th new neighborhood was far less peaceful than the old. As they followed the signal the buildings became increasingly dilapidated, but also showed signs of recent damage. All the windows were broken. Occasional shards of glass stood and waddled around like shocked bombing victims, clearly animated by the same force the bicycle had encountered.
They found claw marks ripping through brick walls, roofs torn back like the tops of soup cans, and vehicles with all their tires chewed off. A monster had been through here, and its destruction somehow spread a brief curse resembling life. A bent lamp post moaned as its lamp followed the travelers. A manhole cover rolled alongside them for a while before it gave up and fell over, wobbling like a flicked coin.
After a while they couldn’t tell if they were still in the remnants of the town or a junkyard. Any animate piece of trash fled at the sight of them. Grayjay perked up and moved to the edge of her nest. She tittered madly, like a dog barking at something its owner couldn’t see. This so disturbed Sashonne that she stepped down and walked the bicycle the rest of the way.
“Do you sense anything else?” she asked the machine. Her voice was finally getting hoarse after regaling him with competition stories for so long. She cleared her throat.
“There is interference now,” Mack told her. “A partly naturalistic phenomenon. A wall of weather, something like the fog we walked through to get here.”
Eventually they found the wall. They didn’t know it was the shredded remains of the fog dividing the Minefield from the Trap. They didn’t know what they stepped in when they walked through the wreckage of the information kiosk. They tried to pass through the jumble of vapor and movement, but it would not accept them. The barrier had a guard now. They had to find him first.
“We’re very close,” Mack told her. The tip of his finger was glowing now, but they didn’t need it, as Grayjay’s beak pointed them in the same direction with the precision of a compass.
The trio found the guard, lying upside down in a pile of debris from his destruction, kicking at the air in some sort of dream state. It was a dachshund, but with a few strange features like owl wings on the middle of its sausage body and matching giant eyes.
Its bed was composed of both shreds of fog and some of the debris from the town. A piece of tire rubber inched along, crawling out of its open drooling mouth. This thing loved to destroy, and yet seeded the debris with life. Mack theorized it was a unique property of the monster’s saliva. Together they had another theory: it was best to sneak around it while it slept.
(chat-determined) Mine! Grayjay saved.
Their footsteps were soft as could be, but the owlhound had senses beyond their understanding. It could hear time and smell antimatter. It was a speck from a world lording over theirs, and the hound would do with them as it pleased.
Acting solely on instinct, it rose from its dream and lunged at them. As the guard of the Trap, it took the appropriate amount of prey: two of every three. Despite its small size it had no trouble ending the lives of both Sashonne and Mack. It tore them apart, mingling their parts and fluids as it rolled around in the remains.
Grayjay survived by virtue of being the smallest and least interesting. With the guard sated, the bird flew through the tattered wall and into the Trap. She had to leave her basket nest behind. The skies of the Trap were gray and empty. There wasn’t a twig anywhere to be seen.
Minefield traversed! Grayjay will join in the stories ahead. Three more must be recruited before the rebels of the Trap can make their move.