Station 36: The Cutest Space Tale on the Market Today

Hey all, happy Thursday!

First things first, did you know that a) there’s an actual, real-life Topgun school (yes, like the Tom Cruise movie), and b) in said school, the staff can be fined $5 for referencing or quoting the movie? And here we all thought it was a men’s volleyball club (#CORNYJOKE).

Anyhoo! With that out of the way, we’re going to keep this week rolling with the original mission statement of this thang and make like an Autobot with an old piece, this particular one being near and dear to my heart (a liiiiittle unlike yesterday’s).

I think I’ve mentioned before that after taking part in one of NYC Midnight’s Short Fiction contests, I adopted a bastardized version of their system to form a short-lived writers’ club I called ‘Soapbox Writers’ (I know I went over it more in-depth in an interview with NightLight pod’s Tonia Thompson – if ya in tha mood). The gist is that you’re given a random genre, character, and object, and a 2,500-word limit. So I drafted up some lists and we gave ourselves some assignments as a sort of workshop.

Today’s is one of those.

Up at the top, the parameters for this little gem were as follows:
-Genre: Science Fiction
-Character: Floor Sweeper
-Featured Object: A Magician’s Wand

I think we did alright. But, without further adieu…

Station 36

“Gah!” shouted Mr. Lin, another gout of flame erupting beside him. The flames licked the sides of his jumpsuit and their heat singed his ears. He ducked below the spouting fire to the sound of more shrill cries behind him. The Specimen was getting close. He rounded a corner sharply and ran down the wide hallway to the Departure Bay, frantically checking the sides for any escape pod that hadn’t yet left. Amid all the blaring red lights, there was one still flashing green and so the custodian dove headlong into it, the door sealing closed moments before the Specimen came crashing against the glass. It was large and formless, an amoebic mass of green gelatin already littered with the polished bones of the other members of the station, and this was only part of it.

Breathless, Lin whispered a bit of thanks to the powers that be and pulled the escape pod’s manual release. He heard the thruster-mechanism whir and the cockpit shunted hard yet remained in place. “No, no, no,” Lin disparaged, but an encouraging beeping tone came in response from his shoulder. “What? Ah, Archie, no. I couldn’t ask you to do that.” The tone melodically beeped again and Lin sighed. “Thank you, buddy. This means…well, everything to me. Just find the command console in Maintenance, clear the jam, and get back here quick, alright?”

Archie gave a happy, affirmative beep.

*

The Automated Robotic Characterized Helper with Integrated Essentials, or Archie-unit for short. Resembling a metallic horseshoe crab with scrubbers, Archie was outfitted with an array of cleaning solutions and compounds, mobility scrubbers and stain-removal treads, a class C problem-solving matrix, as well as many other utilities to assist in his duties. Archie was Mr. Lin’s assistant and long time companion. He had known the Zora Railway-Station 36 as his only home since his manufacturing date in 2393.

The facility served many purposes. It’s position within Jupiter’s orbit made it a central stop for travelers and corporations of all walks and was thus suited to service every need from research accommodations to communications relay to munitions storage. Until recently, it had been a most fit facility to service, in Archie’s opinion. He puttered along the dark, half-collapsed passageways in search of the facility’s Maintenance command console, leaving a light trail of bubbles in his wake. The destruction of the station had been quite extensive, leaving Archie a bit at a navigational loss. That was when he heard the voice of Wand speak to him.

“Up ahead, facility diagnostics show a break in a nitrogen-duct line suitable for your traversal,” spoke Wand. The Wireless Archie-unit Navigational Device, Wand was Mr. Lin’s voice when he was not near or otherwise indisposed. Archie happily beeped, found the crevice Wand spoke of, and squeezed his way through. He made his way down the sloping duct and on the other side his audio sensors detected something. It was a sound like machinery under strain, understandable given the station’s current predicament, but Archie was drawn to it nonetheless. He exited the duct and found a WART-unit – a Warehouse Automotan and Regulation Transporter – with its left arm firmly crushed up to the shoulder in a mobile compactor.

The Wart-unit looked to Archie and the red lens of its optical sensor turned an expressive, pleading blue as it spoke. “Um, would you mind lending a hand? I seem to have gotten myself in a pickle.” Archie beeped joyfully in response, roved up onto the side of the compactor and began greasing Wart’s arm at the shoulder. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry about lubrication, it’s quite thoroughly crushed. Might you simply hit the safety nodes and give the release tab a good pull? My design never did put flexibility as a foremost concern I’m afraid, else I’d have done it myself.” Archie bubbled an acquiescent tone and, extending two rubber-tipped grappling prongs, did as he was asked. A moment later, Wart’s arm came free with only a slight crunching sound.

“Ah, that’s much better,” said Wart with an electronic sigh of relief. “Thank you for your help.”

Archie gave a jubilant beep and proceeded to explain his quest.

“Hmm, your dialect is strange. Are you an 0W-1 model?”

Archie affirmed with a series of tones.

“Hmm,” nodded Wart. “Well, that all sounds…problematic. Do you think you could use a little help?”

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of joyful acceptance as he bubbled down the passageway with Wart following closely behind him.

Wand directed the two down an old transport tunnel, normally reserved for shuttling Masters of the station between departments. The shuttle currently lied on its side, quite inoperable, and the two traversed the railway with measured caution. Archie would relay instructions and the counsel of Wand, and Wart would use his remaining good arm to clear wreckage as needed. This continued until they came to a collapsed portion of tunnel that Wart couldn’t clear and Wand advised use of a side access passage. The two did so and exited into a portion of the station designated to arcology research and development.

In the middle of the cavernous space stood an enormous structure, resembling a great pyramid, though with the intricate weaving aesthetic of a beehive. Archie searched his internal memory banks and recalled what this department had once looked like when he and Mr. Lin were called to clean a spill of synthetic amber dust. It had been as large, but vibrantly green and colorful with floura from Earth. Now, it was bare metal, all organic components of the structure thoroughly stripped by the Specimen. It had seemed to Archie this was the Specimen’s means of replication, through the consumption and conversion of organic material.

Archie relayed this thought process to Wart, who nodded. “My logic-processing matrices are limited,” he said, “but that makes sense to me. Perhaps this is why we may travel the station freely and the Masters either fled or expired.”

“Please proceed to Maintenance command,” informed Wand.

The two proceeded in the given direction, though found the room to be without a constructed exit. After minutes of searching, the droids came across a hole in the structure’s outer barrier. Examining its edges, Archie determined the damage that caused the hole was corrosion, though, according to his internal service-completion data log, nothing kept in the arcology department should be capable of such a thing. He suppressed the urge to erase the residue and informed Wart of his finding, who simply shrugged his good shoulder and said: “Curious.” Passing through the opening, they found themselves on a bridge-like platform in a space between departmental walls. Great structural support beams crisscrossed on either side and a dark void of empty space echoed below them.

Archie beeped a tone of caution and engaged his suction treads. Wart followed closely behind, the magnetic bolts in his feet thudding heavily across the metallic beam. When the two were halfway across, a creaking sound came from the platform and the two were forced to hurry. Archie puttered swiftly along and Wart attempted to run, but it was soon apparent the two wouldn’t make it before the beam broke under Wart’s heavy frame. Wart looked down to the little cleaning droid. “Thank you again for your assistance,” he simply said before picking Archie off the rail and throwing him to the other side, where he clattered to a stop and quickly turned around to see Wart fall into the darkness below.

This time Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of somber blue lines as he puttered in the direction that Wand had indicated.

As Archie explored the new room he’d been thrown into, he found a most curious sight. He’d landed in one of the station’s long-term storage spaces, loaded with crates, barred containers, canisters, and glass housings of all kinds. What he found so curious was more of the corrosion damage about the wall he’d come through as well as along the floor. Archie couldn’t help himself this time. He engaged his scrubbers, set them to [Mode: Abrasive], and began attempting to erase the copper-green residue about the floor. As he did this, he followed the trail back to its source: a rack of plasma-battery munitions. Archie’s odorant-fume detectors noted an improper seal in the battery. The utility bot calculated that the improper seal, combined with the duration of its storage, had led to the leak and thus the damages to the surrounding area. Archie continued his programmed obsessive cleaning subroutine when Wand’s voice broke over the sound of his scrubbing.

“Please continue north to Maintenance command, utilizing Exit 3A.”

Archie did as he was bid, but followed a trail of corrosion and in his inattention bumped into one of the area’s containers. He scanned the label on its side before maneuvering carefully around it: ‘Specimen Beta-F – Io sample’. Archie hummed his way through the indicated Exit3A, pondering the label’s meaning. The voice of Wand came through once more.

“Expedited task completion requested. Specimen incoming: Imminent. Operator expiration: Imminent.”

The little utility bot’s internal engine hummed as he sped down the hall toward Maintenance command. He found his way into the tiny office through the small flap made for him by Mr. Lin some years ago. He puttered up onto the console, accidentally spilling a receptacle of his Master’s caffeinated fuel, reserving to attend to the mess at a later priority level. He inserted his digi-key to the control panel and engaged the Departure Bay’s exhaust thrusters to clear the blockage. A diagnostic message displayed on the panel in return: ‘Error. Remote directive relay damaged. Unable to complete request.’

Archie’s ocular receptors displayed expressions of angry red lines as he bubbled hastily down the way he had come, cursing loudly in binary code.

The blockage would need to be removed manually.

As Archie passed back through Arcology, having found an alternate route between departments, his memory banks returned to Wart and the selfless act of utility that had gotten him to the command console. This thought interfaced with his ethics chip and, while it was a Mark I, it was enough for Archie to determine he still felt sad for Wart’s sacrifice. As Archie processed this, a sound gave him pause. His audio receptors detected a sound coming from the service tunnel and observed it to be a mass of Specimen Beta-F blocking his entrance into the tunnel.

“Expedited task completion requested,” came Wand’s voice once more. “Outer Lifeboat Class escape pod membrane at 19%.”

Archie’s problem-solving matrix hummed and clicked. His time was short and could not afford him the opportunity to be polite. He reconfigured his internal cleaning solution compartments and generated a selection of Solution 12-B. He readied his nozzle and sprayed the Specimen blocking his way, which began sizzling immediately. It withdrew into the corner as Archie roved through the mist of solution he’d created. It was then he heard the Specimen shriek wildly. Archie turned to see its form growing aggressively erratic and sped just out of reach as it lashed a whip-like tendril out his way. It was at this moment Archie realized the compound he’d used contained micro-algae: making the solution organic in nature.

Archie raced away as quickly as his scrubbers would carry him. Wand repeated her message and directed him along as he tore through duct after duct, through tiny crevice after tiny crevice, all the while with the Specimen hotly in pursuit. Eventually, Archie came to a section of the tunnel that was completely collapsed and turned to see the Specimen closing in. His problem-solving matrix grew hot as it calculated an exit, but was ultimately fruitless. He was just preparing a farewell message and apology to Wand when a heavy crash sounded in front of him. There in front of Archie, with a compromised right knee joint that sizzled and sparked, stood the heavy frame of Wart.

The automaton collided with the Specimen as it came upon them. The pneumatic pistons in his remaining good arm whined as again and again it struck the creature. The Specimen shrieked, jittered, and lashed out at Wart, damaging his frame and severing one of his fuel pumps. He began to slow greatly as the black oil gushed from a wound in his torso. At that moment, Archie chimed and he frantically beeped an instruction to Wart.

“You want me to what?” exclaimed Wart, a confused pink color adorning his lens.

Archie repeated himself in a wild, static-riddled tone.

“I sure do hope you have a plan, chap. Here goes nothing, I suppose.” With that, Wart redirected his pressure capacitors. Fuel jetted from his chest like hose, covering the specimen entirely. Archie went to work quickly. He used his rubberized prongs to grasp one of the many exposed, sparking cables and dragged it to the ceiling above the battling droid and alien creature. He beeped an apologetic message to Wart before dropping the cable onto the two of them. The mass of Specimen Beta-F erupted into flames and withered away, shrieking and bubbling, eventually growing still.

Wart stood up, his frame creaking and spasming horribly. “That was quick thinking. How did you know we Mk. II’s had a flame retardant coating?”

Archie beeped sheepishly.

“Ah, well I suppose a hunch is good enough. You…look well.”

Archie gave an electronic huff, quickly explained the pressing time, and bubbled away a short distance before turning to see that Wart followed.

“Yes, you’re welcome, of course.”

Together, the two droids made their way back to the Departure Bay, out an exterior airlock, and around to the exhaust port that contained the blocked machinery. From the new angle, Archie could observe directly what it was that was causing the jam: a broken piece of the solar array’s wing had gotten stuck in the pod’s release, like a sliver of steel pinned between links of chain. Archie set to work. He exhausted his oiliest cleaning solutions to grease the sliver and tugged at it with his prongs but it wouldn’t budge.

“Lifeboat pod hull integrity at 7%,” reminded Wand.

Archie pulled and pulled, but his frame was too light and his micro-engine muscle strands were too thin, meant for sweeping dust not hauling debris. Archie beeped pleadingly to Wart. The sturdy warehouse automaton crawled weakly onto the space with Archie. He grasped the end of the sliver, braced his good knee joint, and pulled. The sliver grinded some, but was stuck nonetheless.

“I’m sorry, little friend,” panted Wart. “I’m afraid I’ve lost too much fuel. I’m out of gas.”

Archie’s ocular receptors went wide with an idea. He began reconfiguring the last of his cleaning solutions, converting whatever ethanol remained in his system and beeped directly at Wart.

“You are full of ideas aren’t you, little master?” He reached down and grasped Archie and set him on his shoulder. Archie detached Wart’s back panel and fit his solution release directly into Wart’s fuel injector. His pneumatic pistons whirred and hummed and fired brightly. With a mechanical strain, Wart grasped the sliver again and pulled hard, drawing it freely from the pod’s release and holding it aloft to gleam brightly in the light of stars.

Together, they watched the pod detach from the station and float away before its thrusters engaged. Wand’s voice came through, and while the words weren’t coherent through the static, Archie could feel the tone of gratitude and farewell. Slowly, he turned to Wart. The two receded back into the station, now thoroughly abandoned by Mr. Lin and the other Masters, but their mission accomplished. Archie set to repairing Wart with scrap around the station as a long term project, before remembering the coffee spill in Maintenance.

END

The Take: Alright, first off, if you were one of the clever few that caught the ‘Sword in the Stone’ homages, I salute you. For those that didn’t, totally a-okay, because I had to do a lot of homework to think I got it right. But yeah, “Archie” being short for “Archimedes,” “Mr. Lin” as a spelling stand-in for “Merlin,” and “Wart” being Arthur’s nickname, so on and so forth.
Now, you’ll also notice that for Mr. Lin and all the acronyms especially, they really only work when you read them, which is why I’ll now confess I originally made the genius move to include all those elements for what was originally an oral presentation (don’t repeat my mistakes, kids – stay in school).
Overall, I like this one. Came together in a bit of a rush, and ended a bit abruptly (finished it five minutes after that night’s meeting started), but it’s always been a little near and dear to my heart. I find it cute. Tried to make the mystery intriguing enough without bogging it down with unnecessary detail, but really, I guess that’s up to y’all to tell me whether or not that effort succeeded.

Anyway, hope ya enjoyed it, and I’ll catch you fabulous persons Tuesday.

Ciao!

Today’s FableFact source: https://www.amc.com/talk/2011/08/story-notes-trivia-top-gun
(Link may be goofy. It may be my fault. It might be your fault. Could be the work of a masked man not yet befuddled by the Mystery Gang. Can’t say)

Congratulations, You’re a Time-Traveler now…

Happy Wednesday, everybody.

If you’re a fan of double entendres, you probably noticed the title of this post. So, just pretend today is Tuesday. It’s ALSO relevant today, because we’re getting back to our roots and digging up an old treasure.

Oh! Also, did you know that Australian wallabies have been observed recently eating opium poppies and then making crop circles while stoned off their gourd? What a world, down under.

So dropping right into it, today’s is an old one that was my VERY FIRST attempt at writing the horror genre, ever. It was part of an NYC Midnight Flash Fiction contest, and if you’re unfamiliar with how their contests go, you’re given a random genre, location, and item/object you have to feature in some way, all inside a word count of 1,000 or less. They’re a ton of fun and if you’re an aspiring writer in any way, I’d super recommend checking one out.

Without further adieu…

The Harvest

My nails grate against the window sill every time I hear another scream. The voices are still coming through the fog, but it isn’t really fog. At least, I don’t think so.

It was dad’s idea to come to the harvest fair. We were just supposed to “swing by” the farmers’ market here because he wanted to grab some corn to grill on the camping trip he was forcing on us. I told him I didn’t want to go, but he always thinks he knows best. He’s always babied me ever since what happened to my leg at soccer camp, then even more after mom died. Like it would fix things.

I was looking through some locally grown eggplant when the ground started to shake. We thought it was an earthquake until we looked up. If the sky was a big glass of water, it looked like someone spilled ink in it, like the night sky was webbing and bleeding across the blue. That was when we all heard this deep rumble that hurt your ears and stomach, like a fog horn in a cave. From there, people just started going nuts. They shouted about monsters, some just screamed, others started laughing. One guy had a pitchfork and was stabbing anybody who ran by and giggling about all the blood.

We tried to run with people, but we couldn’t make it to the car. With my leg, Dad picked me up and tried to make a break for it out of downtown, but there was something slithering in the road and more people screaming, so we broke into Kyoto’s.

And now we’re stuck here.

I pull out my phone and check Twitter again, but it’s all the same nonsense. There are posts of people apologizing, others filming themselves shouting “Fuck you!” at celebrities, live feeds of running away from…nothing? I scroll over another one and see a woman tied up in a chair being dragged by whoever is holding the camera. They shout “It’s you they want!” and push her out in the road. I turn it off when I see her get hit by a truck.

“You okay?” my dad asks me.

“Yeah,” I shrug. “I’m fine.”

I count twenty of us in the room. Most are hunkered down, muttering to each other and crying, but I see one in the corner by himself. He’s sitting at a booth and is hunched over something on the table. Dad must have seen my face.

“What’s wrong?” He follows my eyes to the guy then pats my shoulder and walks over to him. “Hey buddy, everything alright?” he says.

The guy doesn’t look up. “It’s funny,” he says and starts to cackle. Then I can’t tell if he’s still laughing or crying now, but he’s drooling all over the table. “We’re here selling vegetables and fruit, but we’re all made of meat. And bone! I teach science in middle school, to kids like you!” He points at me. “You see bones on skeleton models, but never think about your own!” He stands up and shows us the end of his thumb he’s cut off and squeezes the bone out of the skin. “There!” he laughs. “Just like edamame!”

My dad and another guy jump up as the man tries to tackle me. He’s shouting that it’s because I was staring. They hit him a few hard times and he stops moving, but the other guy walks away shaking his hand and shouting, “Fuck! He bit me!” He shouts about not wanting to be a zombie when the others remind him about the mist outside. We think it’s the mist that’s making people do these things. There’s almost a sense of calm after that, but not for me.

“Here,” Dad says, grabbing his pack from the bar counter. “I’ve got some disinfectant wipes.”

“That’s lucky,” says the guy.

“We were going camping before all this. Do you-”

I tug on his jacket sleeve and whisper in his ear about the hole in the window where the guy was sitting. I could see the mist slithering onto the booth where the guy was sitting.

“Tell you what,” my dad says to the guy, “I’ll trade you.” I know the tone he’s using. He always talks like that when he knows something you don’t. He’s running an angle.

“Are you serious? What the fuck am I going to-”

“You have a car? You can clean the bite for your keys.”

“You’re going out there? Don’t be insane!”

They go like that for a minute or two, and I can’t keep my eyes off the mist in the booth, but they finally wind up trading. We open the door and I hear someone shout about the window as we run out. We can hear the shouting behind us as we go, but soon it goes quiet and I start hearing singing. It’s gospel music and it sounds like my mom’s voice. I’m following my dad, but I trip and suddenly he’s gone.

“Dad?” I start shouting. “Dad, help! I don’t want to die! Dad!”

I hear his voice right next to me, but he looks different, and he’s smiling.

“’She’d still be here if you’d just let her fucking drive.’ That’s what you said about mom, wasn’t it, Casey?” I can see he has something in his hand. “Dying is the easiest thing to do, kiddo. After all, people have done it forever, it can’t be that bad.” He laughs and tries to lunge at me, but stops.

“Dad?” I ask. Then I see something with a claw sticking out of his chest. Whatever it is lifts him up into the dark and without even thinking I grab the keys he dropped and run.

It feels like forever while I’m running around clicking the remote on the keys, but eventually I find the right van. I get inside and try to start it, but a slam on the passenger window scares me. I look over and see my mom. She’s pounding on the glass and shouting something I can’t hear, so I crawl over the center console and try to unlock the door but it won’t budge. She has cuts on her face like I remember and some of her fingers are broken, but she doesn’t stop trying to get through the window. She points behind me. I look over and my dad sitting in the driver’s seat. He’s covered in blood and has a hole in his chest.

“I told you, I’m fine!” he shouts, just like last time. He sounds drunk.

I turn back to my mom and see her crying. A pair of headlights flare in the mist behind her and I hear the truck’s horn. I close my eyes, feel something slam into the van, and everything goes black.

I guess my dad was right. Dying isn’t so bad.

END

The Take: Weird, right? I remember this one was challenging for a number of reasons. First off, it was my first attempt trying to write something “scary,” and I figured one of the main components of that was to set the mood or tone of suspense, raise the stakes n’ all that; especially if you’re going for a psychological edge over straight gore porn. Pretty tough to do with that short of a word count.
The parameters I had to work with were horror (obviously), a farmers’ market for the location, and disinfectant wipes as the necessary object. And truth be told, I kind of skirted the rules a touch for the amount of time they spent in the restaurant. The way I figured it, writing in the present tense can be pretty tricky, but for the circumstance seemed like the right call if the action is happening now as opposed to a past-tense account of something. I also sort of cheated in that I included some helpful information in the following synopsis included with the submission:

“Casey’s mother died last year in a drunk driving accident that left her father Will at fault and her with a permanent limp, ruining a promising career in soccer. Now on parole, the last few months have been spent with her dad trying to reconnect while they both handle their grief, when the world suddenly becomes a cruel parody of the one they knew.”

Anyway, end of the day, I liked how it came together, but it’s not something I’m particularly proud of.

Ciao, catch you guys tomorrow.

Today’s Fable Fact source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8118257.stm
(link is being funny, apologies)

RE: 5 Big Reasons Employers Should Hire Gamers (and other Awesome Points)

Hey all, happy Thursday. [For those that notice, this is a re-post. I’m caught up working on some pretty exciting stuff I hope to have news about soon AND I liked this lil’ list. So, in case you missed it, check it out. 🙂 ]

No fancy intro. Here goes. Get ready for a loosely-structured, mostly ranting sort-of-essay.

The Five Big Reasons Employers Should Hire Gamers (and other Awesome Points)

  1. Problem-Solving Nature
    Boiled down to its basics, employers want someone who can problem-solve; and, at its barest, that’s all games really offer (and fun doing it, duh). Being a gamer means understanding the problem you’re presented with and all its parameters – or even sometimes working with incomplete information and making the most of that. This is going to be a hilariously extreme example, but I once heard a nugget of wisdom that went something like this: “You can learn how to perform open-heart surgery in two weeks, but surgeons go to school for years to learn how to handle all the things that can go wrong.” Does…does that make sense, what I’m trying to say? When starting a new job, you’re trained how to perform a task or serve a particular function – and that’s robotic. But having the baseline to foresee, anticipate, and correct aberrations where they arise (ie problem-solving skills), is just as necessary. Whether that’s exploring a ghostly mansion, outmaneuvering enemy troops on an alien planet, or doing your day job, absolutely every angle involves observing an obstacle and calculating a way of overcoming it – which is the heart of gaming in a nutshell.
  2. Knack for Optimization
    Employers want optimization. Whether that means someone who can manage their time really, really efficiently, or someone who can enter a situation with fresh eyes and suggest an improvement others haven’t seen. How does gaming relate to this? Have you ever heard of “Power Gaming” or “Min-Maxing?”
    The entire point for some gamers is to take what they have, view the systems they’re told to operate within, and get the absolute, objectively best result that they can. That can mean working with the bare minimum to greatest effect (like a lvl 1 Pyromancer speed run of Dark Souls) or obtaining the objectively best sword/gun/armor/meta deck in the business (like in just about any JRPG that’s ever existed).
    You may have even heard some gamers in your own circle talk relentlessly about trying to “break the game” (lookin’ at you, Bryce). For the uninitiated, while that may sound like a bad thing or something harmful, what it translates to is “trying to become so overwhelmingly good at a particular thing that you reach as close to 100% efficiency as is humanly (or, in my cousin’s case, inhumanly) possible. This usually, in gaming terms, refers to a character’s Strength stat or skill in Stealth being so goddamned high that they can use that and that alone to achieve anything; but it can absolutely also refer to the way your work space is organized, your priorities are stacked for the day, the way your orders are processed, or the roles those in your team play out.
  3. Familiarity with Flow State
    Sometimes the word “gamer” conjures an image of an either lackadasical kid in a beanbag chair with a glazed expression or sometimes a zealous young woman with a headset tuned into a fast-paced and loud FPS (“first person shooter”, for the laymen) like DOOM. When imagined this way, a Suit-n’-Tie might wonder, “What good could that person be for what I need?” To them, I would offer two words: flow state.
    Also known as “being in the zone,” “zoned in,” or “getting tunnel-vision,” operating in flow state is a particular state of mind I’m sure we’ve all experienced at some point or another in our lives. In it, you’re hyper aware, extraordinarily sharp and focused, make moves with dedicated efficiency, and even experience time differently.
    While it’s common enough with fast-paced video games, it’s not like it’s exclusive to that medium. I suck at it, but apparently it’s a common occurrence among chess players – being four, five steps ahead of your opponent (baker’s dozen if you’re playing against me), carrying contingencies, routes, and back-up plans in your noggin. Same thing goes for playing card games of all varieties. So of course it applies to the work place just as easily, and that makes for an incredibly handy state of mind to be well-practiced in, as many gamers are.
  4. “I just need this done.”
    Not all jobs are fun. In fact, if you listen to complaints around the watering hole or to your friends after they’re shift lets out, it’s not uncommon for people to complain about their jobs being boring or simple. I’m not disparaging shit, by the way, but be it flipping burgers, counting inventory, inspecting the same incoming products all day, or janitorial duties (all venerable trades), there’s yet another gaming mindset that ensures a dedicated performance…
    Have you ever heard of “grinding”…?
    Whether it’s defeating 500 of the same enemy type in a given region, saving the same generic peasant from the same generic wolves 100 times to become a legend, or collecting random bits and baubles of bullshit, it’s been a stable pillar of video games few would dispute. It’s pretty damn common in big RPG’s, World of Warcraft probably being the most notorious. “I need ten goat horns!” cries the farmer. “Come, bring me twenty bundles of molleybarrow weed!” shouts the alchemist. “Ah, the sword is yours, if you simply bring me thirty northern white rabbit anuses,” barters the eccentric merchant.
    The point simply being: menial, repetitive tasks done efficiently is just as within a gamer’s wheelhouse as everything else discussed so far.
  5. Crossover Skills
    This one is probably the least apparent, but the most important, and that’s the surprising infrastructure of crossover skills that video games can help develop. Best explained by example, I found that in my last job, XCOM 2 had weirdly prepared me rather well for what my job entailed. In brief, I was responsible for keeping a room stocked with necessary materials for the manufacturing process of the facility – making sure not to run out of particular substances, but also not to overstock as we didn’t have the space and that would result in a jam (essentially).
    For those not familiar, the XCOM games are centered around managing a para-military base tasked with fending off an extraterrestrial menace. This includes the well-being, training, equipment of a roster of soldiers, the layout of the base’s facilities, power consumption, queue of projects, so on and so forth, all while battling a computer-controlled alien force that wants to kill you and everything you stand for.
    It sounds a little funny, but the skills of resource and inventory management, logistics analysis, anticipation of needs, risk balancing, and orchestrating teammate synergy were all surprisingly appropriate skills developed by a video game and applied in a real world occupation.

And there you have it, a loosely-structured, mostly-ranting list of 5 Big-Ass Reasons for Employers to Hire Gamers. But one more point before we go and I do the whole “See ya Thursday!” thing: the ‘games as art’ argument.
It doesn’t really hold a place in the list of reasons games apply to work place efficiency, but it holds a place in my heart, as it should all of yours. Once upon a time, video games might have been all shoot-’em-up’s, Pong, and simple sports simulators, but nowadays the industry is transforming more and more into a place for pieces of interactive fiction with a driving focus and emphasis on the art of storytelling.
We still call them “games,” and they are as many include a failure state (Game Over screens and such), but to see works like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian, Detroit: Become Human, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, or the Last of Us and not see the creative beauty, energy, and genius that goes into those creations, then YOU CAN GO FU-
….

Sorry, that was going to be more aggressive that we really need here.
In a more measured sense, if we can take the traditional, romantic sentimentality we hold for curling up with a book on a rainy day and getting lost in the world between the pages and realize that other mediums hold the same capacity for imagination, empathy, and engagement…well, shit, I think the world would be better for it. Imagination’s part of the human experience, and one of the most beautiful privileges we enjoy as people. Why would you let a simple stigma close that door?

Anyway, yeah. Ciao for now, catch ya Tuesday.

5 Big Reasons Employers Should Hire Gamers (and other Awesome Points)

Hey all, happy Tuesday.

No fancy intro. Here goes. Get ready for a loosely-structured, mostly ranting sort-of-essay.

The Five Big Reasons Employers Should Hire Gamers (and other Awesome Points)

  1. Problem-Solving Nature
    Boiled down to its basics, employers want someone who can problem-solve; and, at its barest, that’s all games really offer (and fun doing it, duh). Being a gamer means understanding the problem you’re presented with and all its parameters – or even sometimes working with incomplete information and making the most of that. This is going to be a hilariously extreme example, but I once heard a nugget of wisdom that went something like this: “You can learn how to perform open-heart surgery in two weeks, but surgeons go to school for years to learn how to handle all the things that can go wrong.” Does…does that make sense, what I’m trying to say? When starting a new job, you’re trained how to perform a task or serve a particular function – and that’s robotic. But having the baseline to foresee, anticipate, and correct aberrations where they arise (ie problem-solving skills), is just as necessary. Whether that’s exploring a ghostly mansion, outmaneuvering enemy troops on an alien planet, or doing your day job, absolutely every angle involves observing an obstacle and calculating a way of overcoming it – which is the heart of gaming in a nutshell.
  2. Knack for Optimization
    Employers want optimization. Whether that means someone who can manage their time really, really efficiently, or someone who can enter a situation with fresh eyes and suggest an improvement others haven’t seen. How does gaming relate to this? Have you ever heard of “Power Gaming” or “Min-Maxing?”
    The entire point for some gamers is to take what they have, view the systems they’re told to operate within, and get the absolute, objectively best result that they can. That can mean working with the bare minimum to greatest effect (like a lvl 1 Pyromancer speed run of Dark Souls) or obtaining the objectively best sword/gun/armor/meta deck in the business (like in just about any JRPG that’s ever existed).
    You may have even heard some gamers in your own circle talk relentlessly about trying to “break the game” (lookin’ at you, Bryce). For the uninitiated, while that may sound like a bad thing or something harmful, what it translates to is “trying to become so overwhelmingly good at a particular thing that you reach as close to 100% efficiency as is humanly (or, in my cousin’s case, inhumanly) possible. This usually, in gaming terms, refers to a character’s Strength stat or skill in Stealth being so goddamned high that they can use that and that alone to achieve anything; but it can absolutely also refer to the way your work space is organized, your priorities are stacked for the day, the way your orders are processed, or the roles those in your team play out.
  3. Familiarity with Flow State
    Sometimes the word “gamer” conjures an image of an either lackadasical kid in a beanbag chair with a glazed expression or sometimes a zealous young woman with a headset tuned into a fast-paced and loud FPS (“first person shooter”, for the laymen) like DOOM. When imagined this way, a Suit-n’-Tie might wonder, “What good could that person be for what I need?” To them, I would offer two words: flow state.
    Also known as “being in the zone,” “zoned in,” or “getting tunnel-vision,” operating in flow state is a particular state of mind I’m sure we’ve all experienced at some point or another in our lives. In it, you’re hyper aware, extraordinarily sharp and focused, make moves with dedicated efficiency, and even experience time differently.
    While it’s common enough with fast-paced video games, it’s not like it’s exclusive to that medium. I suck at it, but apparently it’s a common occurrence among chess players – being four, five steps ahead of your opponent (baker’s dozen if you’re playing against me), carrying contingencies, routes, and back-up plans in your noggin. Same thing goes for playing card games of all varieties. So of course it applies to the work place just as easily, and that makes for an incredibly handy state of mind to be well-practiced in, as many gamers are.
  4. “I just need this done.”
    Not all jobs are fun. In fact, if you listen to complaints around the watering hole or to your friends after they’re shift lets out, it’s not uncommon for people to complain about their jobs being boring or simple. I’m not disparaging shit, by the way, but be it flipping burgers, counting inventory, inspecting the same incoming products all day, or janitorial duties (all venerable trades), there’s yet another gaming mindset that ensures a dedicated performance…
    Have you ever heard of “grinding”…?
    Whether it’s defeating 500 of the same enemy type in a given region, saving the same generic peasant from the same generic wolves 100 times to become a legend, or collecting random bits and baubles of bullshit, it’s been a stable pillar of video games few would dispute. It’s pretty damn common in big RPG’s, World of Warcraft probably being the most notorious. “I need ten goat horns!” cries the farmer. “Come, bring me twenty bundles of molleybarrow weed!” shouts the alchemist. “Ah, the sword is yours, if you simply bring me thirty northern white rabbit anuses,” barters the eccentric merchant.
    The point simply being: menial, repetitive tasks done efficiently is just as within a gamer’s wheelhouse as everything else discussed so far.
  5. Crossover Skills
    This one is probably the least apparent, but the most important, and that’s the surprising infrastructure of crossover skills that video games can help develop. Best explained by example, I found that in my last job, XCOM 2 had weirdly prepared me rather well for what my job entailed. In brief, I was responsible for keeping a room stocked with necessary materials for the manufacturing process of the facility – making sure not to run out of particular substances, but also not to overstock as we didn’t have the space and that would result in a jam (essentially).
    For those not familiar, the XCOM games are centered around managing a para-military base tasked with fending off an extraterrestrial menace. This includes the well-being, training, equipment of a roster of soldiers, the layout of the base’s facilities, power consumption, queue of projects, so on and so forth, all while battling a computer-controlled alien force that wants to kill you and everything you stand for.
    It sounds a little funny, but the skills of resource and inventory management, logistics analysis, anticipation of needs, risk balancing, and orchestrating teammate synergy were all surprisingly appropriate skills developed by a video game and applied in a real world occupation.

And there you have it, a loosely-structured, mostly-ranting list of 5 Big-Ass Reasons for Employers to Hire Gamers. But one more point before we go and I do the whole “See ya Thursday!” thing: the ‘games as art’ argument.
It doesn’t really hold a place in the list of reasons games apply to work place efficiency, but it holds a place in my heart, as it should all of yours. Once upon a time, video games might have been all shoot-’em-up’s, Pong, and simple sports simulators, but nowadays the industry is transforming more and more into a place for pieces of interactive fiction with a driving focus and emphasis on the art of storytelling.
We still call them “games,” and they are as many include a failure state (Game Over screens and such), but to see works like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last Guardian, Detroit: Become Human, The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, or the Last of Us and not see the creative beauty, energy, and genius that goes into those creations, then YOU CAN GO FUCK YOURSE-
….

Sorry, that was going to be more aggressive that we really need here.
In a more measured sense, if we can take the traditional, romantic sentimentality we hold for curling up with a book on a rainy day and getting lost in the world between the pages and realize that other mediums hold the same capacity for imagination, empathy, and engagement…well, shit, I think the world would be better for it. Imagination’s part of the human experience, and one of the most beautiful privileges we enjoy as people. Why would you let a simple stigma close that door?

Anyway, yeah. Ciao for now, catch ya Thursday.

Prompt Challenge: A Gift of Time

Happy Thursday, everybody – hope the week’s been treating you right.

We’ll just get right to it and not waste your time today, mostly because I don’t have anything funny to say- eh, that’s not true, actually. Recently, I watched a kid pee all over the front of his mom’s car just outside a busy cafe window, and besides the little dude’s equally little brother, I was the only witness. So…that was…it was pretty funny (I just… it feels weird mentioning that I watched a kid pee).

MOVING ON NOW.

The prompt for today is another one from the splendiferous Mr. Bacchus again and is (more or less verbatim) as follows: “You’re approached by a stranger on the street. He walks up to you briskly, hands you a package, and departs just as quickly. You open it to see an old fashioned pocket watch. The moment you touch it… [Must include magic.]”

You want magical shit? Let’s get to some magical shit.

You know how these go, but if you’re just joining us, the gist is I have thirty minutes to scrap together something we can all look at and say, “Huh, funny.” I set a timer and it goes off when it goes off. If I finish in time, great; if not, I either eat some pumpkins and add time or it ends abruptly and hilariously unsatisfying. So let’s get to it.

Starting time in 3…

2…

[Note: Hey everybody, Future Evan here. Post is all done and I just did a brief re-read before publishing it and want to say, to add to the experience, try reading the following story in your grandfather’s voice. Okay, peace out. Enjoy.]

1…

Old and Gray

I don’t know that why, of all the details, the thing I remember first about the day after I met you were the clouds. They were those ones, big and fluffy, but look almost like water stains on a backdrop. The edges are just a little too hard, and the light hits them like…well, just differently than you’d expect them to look. The best part also was that they weren’t dark. There wasn’t the threat of rain. They just felt there to be pleasant.

I was walking down Phelps road, on my way to Central Park Library. I think I was going to return a cookbook I’d checked out, something with old, Polish recipes – not important. But do you remember the side of town the library was on? It was a block over from the tracks and the train station. I always liked that because while most people complained about the train, I liked hearing it. It made the town’s usual quiet feel a bit busier, a bit more lively.

Anyway, I was just watching the clouds and listening to the train when that guy bumped into me, remember? He was dressed in an old-timey trench coat and hat, like he’d just stepped out of a 1920’s noir film. It was doubly weird, because we were the only two people on that sidewalk, so it wasn’t like it was a bustling crowd. We could have both been distracted, but something about the shove felt deliberate, I mean, other than the parcel he put in my hand.

It was like something out of those old C.I.A.-era spy movies where two agents make a pass, except I didn’t know I was one of the agents. I turned around to explain to the guy that I didn’t want to be involved in any of his shenanigans, but when I turned around he was gone. Just about immediately, I forgot all about returning that Polish cookbook.

I took a left on Lewis and went to the park, sat on a bench, and stared at the box in front of me. It wasn’t ticking. When I shook it, I could feel the packing fluff inside, and whatever it was wasn’t very heavy. All I knew is that I didn’t want to end up on a news story. Ultimately, curiosity (same stuff that killed The Cat, I know) got the better of me and I opened the box. Inside was a silver pocket watch on a thin chain.

Not what I expected, and still no ticking.

I clicked the little latch and opened it to the face of the watch. The hands weren’t moving and it looked like it was set to about two forty-five. I checked my own watch just to be sure and saw the time was about six o’clock. I looked for a little dial or key hole to wind it, but it was solid all around, save for the lid’s clasp. That’s when I noticed the engraving on the inside of the cover:

“Guide thine path hence forth,
so hands are held in the north.”

At first, I was cripplingly confused. “Hands held in the north?” Was I supposed to go somewhere, or was this a code of some kind? Was I supposed to wait six hours until the watch counted midday or midnight? Or wind it to be that way? But it wasn’t working and there was no way to wind it. And the time was off anyway. I had a ton of questions and no answers…

Until I started walking.

I started walking just to mull over this mysterious puzzle. I had nothing better to do that day – and come to think of it, I think I forgot the cookbook on the park bench. Oops. I started walking north on Copper just to amuse myself and looked at the watch.

Nothing.

After a few minutes of this, I knew the only thing further in that direction before the highway out to Coalton was a farm supply store. So I looped back down Main, and after a few minutes, I noticed something: the hands on the watch had moved. Both had moved up a little closer.

I really can’t say what the heck it was, but I started walking faster. I followed Main until the hands stopped, and soon they started getting farther apart. I turned down Spruce and they began closing in again. It was acting like a compass, or a metal detector, except I had no idea what I was supposed to be detecting. All I knew was that I wanted to know where this led.

I followed the signals from the hands of the watch, having them frustratingly grow near and then part several times. But eventually…ah well, you know this part.

I was standing at the fountain in Juliard and so were you. I’d spent all afternoon walking, so the sun was setting against the day’s strange clouds and I’m sure I looked a mess, but you were beautiful. You were in that red and white sundress, had that ribbon you always liked to wear, and you were just finished making a wish off a penny you flipped in the water. When you saw me, you smiled and said, “Hey, stranger,” since we’d met the day before at your shop.

You’ve called me crazy a thousand times for this, but I really did have that pocket watch. I put it in my pocket for just a second to shake your hand, and when I reached for it again, it was gone.

But I don’t care if you ever believed me, about the watch, about the mysterious man in the coat, or my goose chase all over town. Because whether you believed in the watch or not, we still had a lifetime together. We didn’t just hold hands in the north, because we went to so many places, but what really mattered was who I was with – even when we were old and gray.

I never got to give you flowers, because of course my wife had to be a florist and you don’t approach Midas with a gift of gold. But now, here on the family plot, I finally can.

I love you, honey, and I miss you already.

END

The Take: Well…you know what? Yeah, we went over time, but I don’t really care this time. Official time came in at 46 minutes, 16 over challenge-time, so I nommed down on some pumpkins (“Cheater-cheater, pumpkin-” you get it) and kept going. I would have called it out mid-post like that one time, but while that had been funny, it didn’t feel as right to interrupt this one. It wasn’t planned to take such a sentimental turn, but, well, that’s how these things go. Originally, when the stuff with the train started, I figured I might make the magical element have something to do with making it explode or fly, but ultimately – as you can tell – took it in a more subtle direction.

Anyway, hope you liked it and enjoyed the journey. If you thought this was cool, check out some of the others here, here, or here, and I’ll catch you guys again Tuesday.

Ciao.

“If you look out the window to your left…”

Hey everybody, happy Tuesday.

A couple months ago, I swore to do a post every Tuesday and Thursday, and despite life’s hurdles, we’ve kept to that pretty well.

Won’t lie, though. Today is…ah, kinda comin’ up with zilch.

Nada.

Goose egg.

Nothin’.

Also, been busy as hell so I’m just now getting to it 10:00pm my time.

So this is a fly-over post. You know how you have fly-over states (here in the United States, anyway)? The places you fly over (ha-ha, like the name!), look out your window, and there’s nothing crazy to see?

I have another premise to work off of, but don’t have even thirty minutes to throw it together today, so that’s gonna be Thursday.

In lieu of that, I DID have a personal story I thought of that would fit this time slot. It’s good, quick, qwirky, and has a nice little lesson attached to it.

Problem is, I forgot it. I don’t remember which one it was.

So really, if you’ve made it this far, I guess I’m talking to you now. Yes, YOU! And just you, because I’m sure between the timing, the quality of my words thus far, and how long this has already gotten, you’re the only one who’s made it this far. So, congratulations, I guess. It’s actually sort of cool, if you think about it. You’re the only person ON THE PLANET (in all likelihood, don’t hold me to that entirely) who gets to read these specific words. So, enjoy this. You’re seeing a thing that you and only you will EVER see.

Because really, who would make it this far? In earnest, I’m surprised even I’m still going. This genuinely should have ended a few minutes ago. And boy, if you’re new, like, you’re not a follower yet (ha-ha, I said “yet”, like this is a good advertisement for what this blog is about)…I…just, sorry, I suppose. You deserve better.

So hit ‘Heed the Call’, and we’ll do better from here on out.

Damn. I really thought I would have remembered the story I’d meant to tell by now. I’ve just been shamelessly vomiting a stream of consciousness for, like, ten minutes, which should be enough time, but still – zilch, nada, etc etc.

Well. Okay. It’s time this shit comes to an end. Um, how about a preview? The prompt for Thursday: “You’re approached by a stranger on the street. He walks up to you briskly, hands you a package, and departs just as quickly. You open it to see an old fashioned pocket watch. The moment you touch it… [Must include magic.]”

Got a fun idea for this one, but like always, we’ll work on it in the moment. Again, if you’re the one person who’s actually made it, see what you can do with the prompt and come Thursday we’ll compare. And-

HOLY SHIT I JUST REMEMBERED THE STORY

Okay, so for context, I’m not generally a believer in so-called “hocus pocus” or “woo-woo” things like crystals in one’s pocket, psychic visions of the future, past, or other lives, so on and so forth. If you’re down with those things, I would also say that I’ve been wrong about a ton of shit and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was here again.

Anyway, a few years ago, Amanda and I went to a festival in San Francisco called “The How Weird Street Fair”. It was basically an outdoor rave in the city streets. That said, had a whole ton of experiences in the span of an hour or two. I:

-Saw a dude in roller skates wearing nothing but whitey-tighties, a luchador mask, and saran wrap from the neck down.
-Saw a lot of naked people, including two old dudes with light-up cock rings (that was a hell of a thing)
-Hugged a monk named “Storm” who gave me a copy of the Bhagavad Gita.
-Was given a small necklace with the word “Peace” written on it in Hindi.

The one I wanna focus on is that neckla- Oh! Also, my favorite part: We saw a turd on the sidewalk. RIGHT on the sidewalk. And the best part? Someone solved the problem by putting an orange traffic cone NEXT TO IT. Not over it. Not cleaning it up. They put a cone next to it, as if to say, “Hey, check it, but watch out, there’s a turd here.” Anyway – let’s focus on that necklace.

Have you ever had an experience wherein you remained calm despite reasons not to?

I’m gonna keep this brief because I’m getting sleepy.

When I was taking a few classes at the local junior college, I always parked in the campus garage. On this one particular day, I remember I backed into my parking spot perfectly. Like, it was flawless – perfectly straight, perfectly even. Anyway, after classes, I came back to my car real quick to change out some books and noticed something weird: my car was askew. Looking at it now, my car was diagonal in the lines, and my first thought was, “Huh, I wonder who hot-wired my car just to repark it weird.”

Then I noticed the front bumper was peeled clean off.

Long story short, my car had gotten hit by someone coming around the corner too close and too quick. They left their information and everything got sorted out. But the thing I always think back to and chuckle about is how calm I was through the whole thing. I even found it funny that my first thought was that it got hot-wired (heehee, that’s dumb). It was just so unexpected the only choice was to find it funny.

Anyway, if there’s a lesson here, it’s either: plan out your posts because otherwise you wind up with a disappointing, aimless rant, or just don’t sweat the small stuff, ie don’t cry over spilled milk, ie don’t make mountains out of molehills, etc etc.

See ya Thursday.

Speed Prompt Challenge #3 – “Atomic Bacon”

Happy Thursday, y’all.

For full disclosure, this was going to be the intended post for Tuesday, but…well, stuff came up and kind of stole the show. But today’s a new day and truth be told I needed a little bit of time to outline today’s challenge.

“But Evan!” I hear you shout, “That’s cheeeeating! You’re only supposed to have thirty minutes!”
“Ah, gentle reader,” I would respond. “you’re absolutely right. So it’s a good thing all that time I could have spent really building it into a fully-formed thing only amounted to about five minutes of spit-balling onto some paper before starting this.”

All good? Cool.

We know how this goes. We have a prompt, thirty desperate minutes, the Law of the Honor System, and some kind of product at the end (featured below). This time, however, we’re going to do it a touch out of order. The prompt this time was a little unusual, and as such, I think it’s better to share what it was afterward.

You’ll see what I mean.

Starting timer in 3…

2…

1…

Atomic Bacon

Las Vegas, 1982

“I do not like these costumes.” Bucky scratched at his armpit. He was dressed in the uniform of a hotel bellhop and pushing a cart covered in trays and glasses.

“They are not costumes,” replied his partner, Foxhole. He was dressed in a tuxedo that was a size and half too small for him. “They are uniforms.”

“Yes, but they are not our uniforms. And so they are costumes.”

“It doesn’t matter if you like them or not, we have them to help do our job. Besides, they were someone’s uniform. So fuck you.”

Bucky spared a hand from his cart-pushing to give his partner the finger. Agent Foxhole was ready to protest, but the two were forced to calm as a group of large, sunburned, American tourists came bumbling down the hallway in their pool attire.

The two Russians adopted the friendly smiles of normal, American hotel staff as the gaggle passed them by, smelling of sun screen and tequila burps. When they were once again alone, scowls retook their faces. “You know what?” Agent Bucky asked.

“What?”

“American hot dogs. They are not all that bad.”

“But they make you shit like crazy.”

“You would know,” Bucky muttered under his breath.

“What was that?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Well, game face. And shut up, we are here.”

The two approached the door at the end of the long, long hallway. In front of it, was a behemoth of a man in a suit, with hair slicked back and sunglasses on indoors. As the two got close, his upper lip curled into a lopsided sneer.

“Hello,” Foxhole greeted. “We are here to deliver room service.” He smiled, showing all of his teeth.

“Ain’t nobody order room service. Get goin’.”

“Ah, you must be from Texas. Happy American ‘Lone Star State.’ Ha-ha! You are not one who ordered big steak here, under tray? We know you like things big in big Texas.” Foxhole nudged the giant’s tummy with a friendly elbow.

“Take your cart, take your trays, and take your steak, and get the fuck out of here before I shove it all up your ass. Boss didn’t call for no food.”

Agent Foxhole looked back to Agent Bucky and shrugged his shoulders, to which Bucky replied in the same. “We tried,” they said together.

Lightning fast, Foxhole kicked the big man’s knee to the sound of a loud crack, parried away the hand that reached for a stowed pistol, and pulled a blackjack out from between the tray’s napkins, whapping the juggernaut soundly over the head into the soft, sweet arms of unconsciousness.

“Oh, shit,” complained Foxhole.

“What is the matter?” Bucky inquired.

“I tore my pants.” The Russian agent indicated a long tear along the rear-end of his tuxedo’s slacks.

“Well, I mean, y’know,” Bucky stammered.

“What?”

“You know how you got your codename, do you not?”

“How did you get yours?”

“Oh, they just put me into a name generator. ‘Bucky’ was good, bland American name. I think like big stag, with horns and mean antlers, but that’s just for me.”

“Why did I get ‘Foxhole’ then, according to you?”

“It was from time you cracked porcelain in toilets at The Farm. You leave big old crater.”

Agent Bucky began to snicker and laugh, but Foxhole slapped him upside the head. “You ready to be serious?”

Bucky nodded, only smiling.

Foxhole nodded and knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again to the same response. He looked at his partner and again the two shared a moment of shoulder-shrugging. He replaced the blackjack on the tray and retrieved two silenced pistols, giving one to Bucky. They nodded together, and Foxhole slammed a heavy Russian foot against the door.

Back-to-back, the two whirled into the room and sprayed bullets at their targets, each firing quiet, whispered shots until their pistols were empty.

Then they noticed the people they were- um, the targets they were neutralizing were…

They were already dead.

The two stopped and looked at one another in confusion. They walked about the decadent Las Vegas penthouse that was, currently, littered with corpses. The followed the trail of bodies through the luxuriant space around to the master bedroom, which itself sported a bloodied doorknob. They opened the door and saw an man in a bathrobe, spread-eagle’d on the bed.

With a knife in his throat.

“Shit!” the two shouted. Foxhole threw down his bow-tie. “Second place is the worst.”

“Wait,” said Bucky. “Maybe…maybe they got kill, but did they get prize?”

Foxhole’s eyes lit up. “Maybe you are right. What was your half of code?”

Bucky cleared his throat. “‘Pull me to pieces, hear me crackle. Hungry for mushrooms, you’ll need my name.’ What was yours?”

“‘Not very tall, better avoid my tackle, but while I don’t play, without me there’s no game.’ What do you think it means?”

The Russians walked about the room, looking for clues as to what their riddle might reference. They searched between crystal decanters, liquor bottles, under the fabric of the card tables, inside the cushions of the furniture, everywhere.

“Oo!” exclaimed Bucky. “What about that?” He pointed a hairy finger between two lamps and underneath two hung portraits of the penthouse’s owner. Agent Foxhole followed the line of sight and saw a gleaming, golden statue of a hog.

They approached it together. Crackling bacon, mushroom-hunting pigs, the charge of a boar – everything checked out.

“What about needing for game?” Foxhole asked.

“Ah, dirty American passtime. Football. They refer to ball as ‘pig-skin’. Very silly.”

“Makes sense.”

“What do you think is inside? CIA agent names? Launch codes?” Bucky heard two hissed stings and felt a shock in his back. He fell to the ground and saw Foxhole standing over him with a pistol.

“Sorry comrade. Extra-curricular assignments, and everything. You know how it goes.”

“Da.”

END

The Take: Hmm…well, that was…weird. Okay, so the prompt here was this: “A story out of the three words ‘Boar,’ ‘Penthouse,’ and ‘Blackjack.'” The very first thing to come to mind was a Vegas story, obviously, wherein it culminates in some sort of high-stakes hand of blackjack at a card table, right? The thing that really throws a super wrench into that, though, is the addition of ‘Boar.’ The thought process went, “What the shit would a pig be doing at a casino gaming table?” soon met “Well maybe there’s just a pig playing cards, shut up” soon became “Yeah, like Animal Farm meets Ocean’s Eleven.” Like, that’s kind of awesome, but too much for what we’re doing here.
So that got dialed back to some kind of 1980’s spy-thriller but it got goofy really quick. That was in part because I wrote the title on the fly in a panicked moment, but still felt a sort of loyalty to it. It wasn’t until the end that I suddenly realized how weird and contrived it sounded to actually have nuclear launch codes stashed that way, so that’s why it ended abruptly. But hey! We were within time (sort of, I had to pause once or twice because of distractions outside of my control – but that’s not what we’re focusing on here), so yay!

Anyway, y’all are great. This one was weird. See ya Tuesday.

Ciao!