Ugh. This was a tough one. I’ll be kept up nights with this decision.

Brooks Maki

As Calvin attached the electrodes, the helium in the vessel burned electric blue. He floated the apparatus over toward Boris.

“Reading?” Boris demanded.

“206, holding steady.”

“Thank shit for that. If it starts growing we’re seriously fucked.”

Boris opened the stopcock at the top of the bottle and the vacuum of space pulled the gas through the spiral glassware attached to the top. When it reached the end of the tube, it condensed to a bright blue ball of liquid helium that seemed to hesitate before breaking contact. The light dimmed as the liquid lost contact and was dark well before it would have merged with the anti-matter.

“Fuck. We’ve got to get closer.” Boris moved toward the pocket that looked like any other part of space, but lit up their detectors with the unmistakable signature of anti-matter.

“That’s how we got into this mess in the first place.” Calvin ventured. Boris turned to him, glancing over his shoulder at the ship.

“You want a fucking apology or can I get this done so we can get the fuck out of here?”

“The mission was to determine the result of matter/anti-matter interactions, not dive headfirst into the first stuff that we found. You just had to get closer in the ship and now we’re surrounded by anti-matter. We don’t even know what happens if some of that contacts the ship.”

“I’m positive they’ll cancel each other; then we can jettison some cargo to clear enough of the cloud for a fucking path out of here. To prove that, I need to get closer. Reading!”

Calvin looked at the detector as Boris opened the stopcock again.

“Shit Boris, 208!”

The electric blue globules hit the border just as they separated from the tubing. The light diffused through an area about the size of a man’s fist, then winked out.

“209!”

The latest drop of liquid helium spread across the border, still connected to the gas inside the apparatus. The apparatus disappeared from Boris’ hand, followed by a rush of air as his suit depressurized through the newly created hole in his palm. The air froze instantly into a plume of ice until it disappeared behind the now expanding border.

A strangled curse came over the radio, but was cut off. Calvin floated alone watching Boris’ tether disappear in sections as the border expanded toward the ship.

K: When I get stories like this I always wish I was more scientifically-minded (I think I’ve said this here before, but despite my interest in it, I don’t retain scientific knowledge). This story did a good job of reaching me regardless; a good trick in film is to provide a number and then tell us which direction is the bad direction, and we’re on board. So, that worked. Boris’s demise was darkly funny, as it was horrifying in its way, but he also was a loathsome dick who had it coming. I feel regret that Calvin will meet the same fate, but them’s the breaks.

DK: This is a setting and subject matter that I’m certainly prone to becoming interested in without too much effort, and this story carries off keeping me engaged in it for the most part. It has its flaws – the characters are mostly cyphers for the central dilemma and the seams show a bit in the middle as the background of the situation is explained – but I still stayed invested in the outcome, the imagery pops for the most part and the climax is effective.

(Gilman’s comments all in one spot at the bottom)

Colin Woolston

The night was hot and the bourbon was fire and the TCFD was on strike.

“Do fire departments go on strike?” I look up from my phone.

“What?” The waitress blinks, once, and then stares amicably at my shoulder.

“Do fire departments go on strike? Like, I know they’re mostly volunteer organizations, and I need an analogy for an out of control, uh, hotness, you know?”

“I don’t know. Are you a writer?” Her eyes flick from my shoulder to my chin.

“Yeah. Sure.” My thumbs itch, and waver about like eager alien antennae over the tiny keyboard.

“Cool.”

“Yeah, totally. You know the game Survivor?”

“The TV show? Ohmygod did you write that?”

“No.”

“I never saw any of it, but I’ve heard of it. That’s cool that you’re a writer. Did you want another beer?”

“No.” My thumbs droop. “No ideas for the analogy?”

***

“Do you want me to so you can run around with Fen?” She brushes her nose against my neck. Her skin is all soft, and glowy.

“No, thanks honey, I’ll sit here and see if I can write something for my story. She needs the sleep anyway. She’s been such a jerk today.”

“Yeah. Ok. Good luck. Still writing about a waitress named Brooke that blows you in the bathroom?”

“Nah. I’m not sure everyone would think that’s as funny as I do.” My weary thumbs wait.

“Good idea. Come out and play with us when you’re ready.”

I enjoy watching my wife walk away for a moment. There is always a sense of home for me on a beach, and I feel the pull of my family. I know I can sit here and listen to the unhappy tourists and let my daughter sleep, or I can carry her, still asleep, and explore the waves and dunes.

“I think I’m just going to merge with my family today.” I say.

My wife pauses, a slow smile working its way onto her face. “Ok. That’s really cheesy tho. Don’t write that.”

“Yeah ok. Brooks would like it though.”

“And it is better than a blow me joke.”

“That too.”

I set my phone on the dash, and turn to my sleeping daughter. The wanderlust, the fire I hold in my heart for exploring new places, is stoked and the blessings of the world are all about me.

K: God damn it, Survivor. Must I choose between my loathing for meta and my love for what ends up being a pretty touching bit? There’s actually a story in here, too, which is more than I can typically say for the meta stories around here, which seem to figure that self-referencing gets them off the hook. This is the very definition of apples and oranges (not counting actual apples and actual oranges) and I have a choice here that I really don’t want to make. At any rate, even if I don’t choose this one, I appreciate how much you made me like it

DK: I think trying to critique this one is probably beside the point. But, I guess I’ll try anyway. The struggle is there – and the ending is triumphant in the way it should be – although the structure of how it builds is certainly a little weird. Character-wise, on the one hand, I can definitely find myself more invested here than in the previous story, although a lot of that investment relies on shorthand that is done by the positioning of how meta this is. I can absolutely say I never expected a story with a “blown by Brooks” joke so key to be so heartwarming..

————————————————————————————–

K: I am not supposed to do this. I’m just not supposed to pick a meta story. However, I read these about 45 minutes ago and try as I might, I can’t help but keep falling in love with the story about a dad and his priorities. So, at risk of creating irony by asking the player to keep playing this game, I – to even my own mild surprise – have to choose #2.

DK: At least all the writeoffs so far have been tough decisions. I am really tempted to pick #2 for its commitment, but I will go with #1 because it kept me more engaged as a reader on the levels of its plot and setting.

MG: Although there was no way of knowing this ahead of time, it turned out to be a bit of an unfair match. While Brooks wrote about a very hard-science kind of merge with deadly consequences and edge-of-the-seat drama, Colin wrote about something a lot more compelling: this contest, and how it can telescope your perspective so mercilessly. I have to say, there was a lot more reward in reading story two, since there was so much I could relate to in it. Not directly or literally, but I know what it is to feel wrung out and barricaded from how the rest of the days usually move. There were also moments of humor (I’d have found the waitress’ name funny!), some clever layers of plausible reality, and an utterly undeniable helping of sentiment at the end. Plus, something universal about writers. No matter how daring, thoughtful, exciting, and skilled the writing in Story One was (and it was, believe me it WAS), compared to Story Two…it hadn’t a chance. (NOTE: It’s also possible…barely possible…that Colin wrote Story One and Brooks did a supermega disguise-o-rama by writing Story Two as if he were Colin. In which case, he deserves even MORE praise, and the second story wins even harder.)

WINNER: STORY TWO

Sixteenth Elimination from Spookymilk Survivor XV: Brooks Maki

Well, this always makes for a less insane game. I have to admit I really wanted to see what he’d do post-merge this time. However, it’s not to be as we reach the merge.

Final pairings, I’ll let you know about your partners tonight. Cheers, Survivors.

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