Monday, February 27, 2012
Spookymilk Survivor X: Machine of Death
He knows I’m in the room. I’m half surprised he can’t hear my heart beating. He’s flipping desks, scattering chairs and cursing loudly. I don’t even know what the suitcase contains, but they’re very insistent that I return it and promptly die. My free hand slips into my pocket to pull out the vial. I’ve never had to use it before, but it’s always at the ready.
He’s getting closer, and he’s definitely getting angrier. “When I find you, I’m going to…” he doesn’t finish. They never really do, these low level thugs aren’t really the imaginative types. I just need to wait him out for couple minutes, but that’s going to be tough to do in a room this size.
The thug finally reaches my row. I try to scramble around to evade his line of sight, but I’m not quite quick enough. He utters a quick profanity and starts after me. I hear his gun go off and feel a quick burst of pain in my back. The vest takes the killing force of the bullet away, but it still hurts like hell, and in the time it takes for me to gather my wits, he’s on me. I turn around just in time to see his fist coming in. The foresight allows me to duck mostly out of the way, but he still connects enough to knock me to the ground.
For the next punch he throws his weight behind it. This one strikes true, and my world goes dark.
Five years ago, I was nobody. I lived under a bridge and spent my days as a pickpocket. The one thing I had going for me was the fearlessness of a very specific Machine result. I was to be killed by Grapefruit. The barrio is a terrifying place for a teenage girl; it’s a slightly less terrifying place for a girl who knows that all the guns and knives in the world can’t touch her.
That sort of fearlessness gets noticed after a while. I had attracted the attention of a local radical group called The Collective, they used me a courier. The longer I stayed with them, the more they felt like the family I had never had. I began to do more…dangerous work for them.
The Collective’s exploits gained more and more notoriety, until finally, the law took notice. One night, agents began to pour into one of The Collective’s local hubs. During the raid, one of the agents drew down on me and demanded that I stand down. Instead, I beat him senseless with his own weapon. I was about to end him when a man stepped out of the shadows.
I pointed the weapon at him, “It would seem you are, too. Either fearless or stupid.”
“Don’t mistake this for stupidity. ‘Gunshot’ might not be in the cards for you, but there’s nothing that says that I’m going to kill you.” he motioned off to my left and right, where agents were beginning to accumulate, tranquilizer rifles drawn. “How would you like to put your boldness to a more… constructive use?”
“I won’t betray my brothers and sisters.”
“I don’t doubt that. The name’s Henter, by the way. We’ll be getting aquainted over the coming months.” he said. With that, he motioned to his men. I heard the shots of the tranq guns, and the lights went dim.
Over the next months, I and the other recruits were trained. Project Samson was filled with a group of people like me – people whose ultimate fate was a strange, non-violent death.
By day, we trained until our bodies could scarcely take any more; by night, we sat around drinking and concocting different scenarios in which the incense candles, aloe vera plants, and grapefruits from our machine readings could do us in. We all hated our handlers, but the hatred gave us purpose, and we felt a kinship in it. Over time, I began to feel the camaraderie that I had felt with The Collective.
Then, one day, Henter came and told us that our training was complete. We were herded into vans and shipped out to our assignments. I never saw any of my Project Samson friends again.
I come to a few seconds later to find him hovering over me, briefcase in one hand, pistol in the other. He gives me a slap to make sure I’m awake before rudely demanding to know who I am and who sent me. The guy is an amateur. If he knew anything he’d know that I’m not going to tell him anything, and he hasn’t even gotten around to restraining me yet. Maybe he doesn’t think a woman could do any real damage to him, but that’s a sexism that I can use. I tell him to fuck off, and he points his gun at me and furiously repeats his demand. A smirking head shake is all he gets. Completely losing his cool, he shouts so loudly that spittle flies out of his mouth, and he pulls the trigger.
Judging from the slack expression on his face and the quizzical way he stares at his gun, he wasn’t expecting that. Unfortunately for him, I was. I jump to my feet and drop him with a quick but potent kick to the knee. He screams in agony as he goes down, he has the sense to swing the gun around toward me, but as he does, I kick it out of his hand. I smile at him and speak a single word,
“Grapefruit”, as the charge blows out the window across the room. The helicopter is right on time. I’m a mile away by the time the bomb I set goes off, obliterating the facility.
Henter takes the briefcase from me and opens it. He smiles and pulls out the pulls out a couple of pages of paper.
“What are they?” I ask him.
“The locations and Machine readings from everyone in Project Samson.” he says. “Good job, Grapefruit”.
“Always a pleasure, ‘Concrete’.” I say.
It takes him a second to take in what I just said, he face goes ashen. “Where did you find that out? What are you do…”
He reaches for his gun, but I’ve already unlatched his seat-belt. The pilot activates the emergency hatch to Henter’s left and I quickly shove him out of his seat and into the black night.
“Where are we headed now, Claire?” the pilot asks.
I flip through the report. “‘Footstool’ is closest to our current location. Let’s start there. We’ve got some old friends to look up.”
Here's what the judges thought of it.
K: Okay, I LOVE this concept. The fearlessness that comes with knowing a person’s mode of death has been touched on by a few writers in the book, but this group – this larger idea – is something so obvious that I feel like it should be official canon. I would have spent more time with Grapefruit here, and I like that the writer didn’t feel the need to explain her death in this story. But… “we’ll be getting antiquated?”
DK: This one, on the other hand, I kind of wished there was a little more of. The flashback section could have used a little more fleshing out, I thought; I did really enjoy the action of the present-time sequences. I try not to comment on mistakes like this, but I couldn’t stop chuckling at “We’ll be getting antiquated” and that kind of threw me out of the mood that the first section set up really nicely.
Okay, a couple things. First of all, against my better judgement, I've edited this. When I first typed this all up, Henter (the name 'Henter' is a nod to the best pitcher in Bases Loaded for the NES, besides which, it's just a cool sounding name) simply said "I don't doubt that" before ordering his men to sedate the protagonist. I had already typed everything up and copied it into Hotmail to send off when my attention got drawn to that and how... fulfilling it looked. Because of my tight schedule (we'll get into that in a second), I added the sentence you see above - unfortunately, I made a typo on the word 'acquainted', which was instantly caught by spellcheck. Any other time, and I would've taken my time and checked which word I was pulling from the spellcheck list, but this time I rushed it and sadly chose the word 'antiquated'. Now, antiquated is a kickass word... a perennial favorite, however, it makes zero sense in the context, and ended up standing out horribly. Truly unfortunate.
When I first figured out that I was going to be getting to this point in the game, I was excited, because I've had an idea rumbling around in my head for quite a while. Long story short, I was simply unable to cram it into the confines of this week. I started a few times, but each time, the concept felt forced, and the word count (3500 words!) felt insufficient. It's a good idea, I know it is, but I just ran out of time to make it work for this week.
So I punted. I came up with a brand new concept on Sunday morning with about an hour to round it out. My mother-in-law's birthday was yesterday, and Linds was already irritated that I was sitting on the computer writing instead of helping her get ready to go and cook her mom's birthday meal. I came so close to non-subbing this week that it isn't even funny. I went to bed Saturday night an absolute annoyed wreck, just knowing that there was no way I was going to able to come up with a decent concept and hammer it out in time. Luckily, I came up with a concept that I liked (how has that not been touched on before? the military would jump on that in about 2 seconds), and was able to come up with a semblance of something decent. I really wish I had started the week with that concept, and I might actually expand on the middle section as DK suggested, and see what I come up with.