If you guys didn’t already guess, this is indeed the last writing competition of the season. In honor of that, we’ve got a special guest anonymous third judge to give you comments and medals. Their medals don’t count for anything, though! [Kelly says: it wasn’t me – I was at work! So in case the third judge is harsh, blame someone else]

MAY DANDERFLUFF

The intercom buzzer went off, startling Roger. There weren’t any appointments on the schedule. His brow furrowed; unscheduled screenings rarely were good harbingers in this business. He hit the button to let the men in. Two armed guards led a shackled prisoner into the room, the group was flanked by two official-looking men. Roger looked them over.

Sharp suits and ties. Nice shoes. A certain lack of nonsense. Important people.

“Who is he?” Roger asked, nodding in the direction of the prisoner.

The bespectacled man said nothing, but gave a wry half smile and gave a slight shake of his head. Well, okay then.

“Let us know when he greenlights” the other said, “under no circumstances are you to make contact with him on your own.”

“But…”

“Listen,” the first man said, waving his reassurance, “we know you have questions, but we really can’t answer them. Just know that this guy is a spy and a terrorist – a very bad person. We really need to know what he knows. Can you help us out?”

“I suppose so” said Roger, cautiously.
“Great! Let us know when he greenlights” the man said, making his way to the door, “oh! One more thing – no sedatives. He needs to be aware and alert throughout the process.”

“That will be extremely painful for the…” Roger began, only to be cut off.
“Glad you can help us out here! We’ll make sure your bosses know the great work you’re doing.”

With that, they left.

The process of breaking into someone’s mind was a time consuming one. Once Roger had set the subject up with the proper interfacing equipment and life support, he began the routine.

First, the subject would be flooded with computer-provided imagery. They were all very generic pictures – statuesque trees, birds in flight, skyscrapers. Roger had once thrown a picture of his cat in, for variety. Once the brain had acclimated to these stimuli, then the real work could begin, but the process usually took hours.

The green light flashed immediately.

Roger was sure that this had to be a mistake. Not only was the subject’s brain done with the prepackaged images, it was ready to be interfaced directly. That couldn’t be. He executed a soft reset. The light went green again.

Roger cast a glance at the door. Usually, at this point, he would call in the subject’s handlers for the next round of questioning, but he hesitated. Curiosity was not a highly cherished skill in his line of work, but he had to know. He began to prep himself for interfacing with the subject.

With a flash of light, he found himself standing directly in front of the subject. He had done this on occasion to test the system, but never with an actual human in the chair.

“I was hoping you’d come” the man said with a smile, “you don’t trust them.”

Roger looked around, as if someone else was going to see him in here, “they give me a paycheck,” he said.

“And in return, you don’t ask questions. But you need to,” the man continued, “let me show you.”

The room was suddenly flooded with hundreds of images. It started with goverent officials being bribed and secret labs and continued until it was a flurry of villages that Roger had never heard of burning, dry riverbeds, geological instability, volcanic activity, death toll estimates….it was too much.

“Make it stop,” gasped Roger, fighting back a wave of nausea. The images subsided.

“They’re killing us” the man bluntly stated, “all of us.”

“How do you know all of this?”

“I worked in R&D. Eventually, it just got to be too much, you know?”

Roger nodded.

“They’ll kill you, you know,” he went on, “these machines keep great audits, and they don’t like it when the left hand digs up what the right hand has worked so hard to bury.”

“We need to get this to the media…”

“Bought and paid for. Something does have to be done, but this war is going to be a quiet one. You need to get out of here, now.”

“I’ll break you out of here.”

“They chipped me when I came in
I’m as good as dead. Go. Now.”

Roger deinterfaced. Normally, handlers wouldn’t normally come back for an hour or two, but these two were not ordinary handlers. He had to get out of there.

He peeked his head out into the hallway, breathing a sigh of relief when there were no men in suits to be seen. He walked briskly down the hallway.

“A little early for lunch, isn’t it?”

Roger’s blood froze. He slowly turned around to see the janitor, Mr. McNally grinning back at him. He relaxed.

“Yeah, guy’s being stubborn. Gonna take a few hours. Just gonna head out to the bistro.” Roger started walking.

“Hey! Could you get me one of those Cuban sandwiches?”

“Sure thing.”

Roger resumed walking as quickly as possible. He didn’t breathe until he made it to the parking garage. He didn’t relax until he made it home.

He hurriedly packed a bag and left.

It was time to start the good fight.

DK: This definitely could’ve used a once- or twice-over editing-wise (I’m giving you the side-eye for that “Normally, handlers wouldn’t normally…” line) but in terms of combining concept with construction I think this does the best job. Roger is a compelling character in an interesting situation, and the hints we get of the normalcy and abnormality of his job are intriguing without being overwhelmed by exposition. GOLD

CP: In some ways, this story feels like it’s just beginning at the moment it ends. I like the concept of a lone man taking on an evil government, but I wish we knew more specifics–who exactly is “us” and why is the government killing all of us? The mind-reading is cool, but I wish I had a better sense of what role it typically played for this character, since he seems to have been unaware of much that’s happening. That being said, I appreciate that we have a scene playing out here and plenty of drama and tension. However, I wish the characters were a little more developed–these guys felt a bit like clichés from a spy novel. SILVER

GUEST: This seems hastily written. Sentences are passive, there’s lots of use of adverbs, there’s some repetitive verbiage, and the ending is lackluster. But you know what? That happens in all these stories and, otherwise, this concept fine — kind of a 1980’s dystopian sci-fi thing. We could use a little more development and editing, including some more probing into the emotion behind the actions of each man, but this is otherwise the clearest concept of the bunch. SILVER

CHRISTY BUBBLEPUMPKIN

“Are you sick of rushing around at home after a long day’s work trying to make a delicious meal for you and your family?

Sick of pretending to enjoy your spouse’s subpar cooking?

Or is your jaw just getting tired from all of that ex-haus-ting c-h-e-w-i-n-g.

Well Food-B-Gone is the perfect solution for you! Food-B-Gone packs all the deliciousness of a gourmet meal into one tiny tablet that melts on your tongue!

So it doesn’t matter if you’re craving a delicious meaty, cheesy lasagna or a decadent, moist chocolate cake, Food-B-Gone’s over 500 varieties will satisfy your appetite!

Food-B-Gone contains 132 artificial colorings and flavorings. Food-B-Gone does not contain any meat-derived products. Food-B-Gone is non-vegan and non-organic. Food-B-Gone is produced by Aperture Science and has been proven to cause certain types of incurable cancer, paralysis, liver failure, muscle degeneration, incurable brain hemorrhaging, loss of bowel control, loss of bowel movements, as well as purple urine. Aperture Science – we do what we must because we can.

Food-B-Gone, delicious food, no hassle!”

Ugh, this damn commercial is ringing through my head again. It’s been almost 20 years since we had a TV around here but I guess the fact that it played during every ad-break for 10 years before that makes it permanently branded into your brain.

“Hey, new guy.”

“It’s Connor by the way.”

“Oh sorry Connor, I’m just a bit frazzled right now. Would you mind going for a walk?” A nice long walk always helped me clear my head at times like these and it was also a great opportunity to take care of some business.

“Is something wrong ma’am?”

“I was just thinking about the past a bit and thought a walk would be nice to help clear my head. It also gives me a chance to get to know you a little bit better. Oh and don’t ever call me ma’am. You got in late last night, right?”

“Yeah, I did. I’m just so amazed by what you guys have been able to build here. It looks like there are only about 50 of you guys here and yet you have a fully functional community!”

“Wow very observant of you Connor, very observant. We are down to 47 of us now. We lost a good friend last week, but nothing like the losses we all experienced back when all of this broke out. Still it’s nice to talk to a new face once in a while!”

“Oh you don’t get many visitors?”

“Not really, just looters, saboteurs and I swear some government spies. Our crew has been together since the beginning of this mess and we’re just trying to eke out an existence as best we can.”

“Wow that’s pretty incredible, but government spies? I mean that seems a bit ridiculous.”

“Nothing seems ridiculous to me anymore. All of us left are lucky to be here. Take me for instance, I was raised by my father to be a farmer. We always owned a small farm that provided everything we needed. So when the new magic pills came out I refused to eat one out of principle. That’s not the way we were made I would always tell people!

At first everyone thought I was crazy, I would be out in the city picketing these pills that caught the world by storm and all I would get in return is contempt from the passers-by or pity if I was having a really good day. But there was nothing I could do to really change the world, you know? But even I had no idea what was about to happen when the side effects kicked in a few years later.

For example, this house right here we just walked by belonged to my old friend, Susan. We grew up together, I can still remember walking by her house on a day just like this asking her what was for dinner and her just laughing in my face like I was some lesser being because I was still a foodie. Less than a year later she was dead. I mean I tried to help all that I could, but it seemed like once you had one of those poison pills there was nothing we could do for you. What’s your story Connor?”

“Oh nothing as noble as you. My family was just too poor to afford the pills. Lucky break I guess.”

“Really? I thought the government started making them available for free as part of some grand ‘Feed the World’ initiative?”

“Wow, look at this desert!” interrupted Connor.

“Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. This used to be one big forest, but then all the water had to get diverted away to fuel the pill-producing factories and now this is what we are left with.”

“How have you guys survived this long then? It looked to me like you had fields and were growing crops and I thought I even noticed some livestock roaming around your area.”

“Oh, that’s Phil’s handiwork. He’s a brilliant engineer. He devised a way to divert some of the government’s water supply away from their factories to feed our fields. It’s low enough usage so we haven’t gotten noticed at all yet thankfully.”

“That is pretty ingenious. Looking around it does amaze me you have been able to survive this long.”

“Well we survive for one reason: trust. We all trust each other implicitly.”

“That’s good..”

“Let me finish, and the first rule of our trust is never trust outsiders. Especially outsiders who are allegedly unaware of the devastation that has been wreaked on our planet for the past 20 years.”

“Wait what are you talking abo-?”

“I’m sorry Connor.”

DK: I really like the background concept here – it probably is my favorite, and feels like it had the most thought put into it – and the opening commercial fits well with an off-kilter format. Unfortunately, the rest of the piece here gets bogged down by cloaking reams of information dumps about the past in fairly awkward dialogue exchanges. If this had managed to frame its nice ideas in more of a forward-moving plot I would’ve liked it a lot more. BRONZE

CP: Governments are the worst! I have the same question here as in the last story: why does the government want to kill everyone? We basically have a scene playing out here, although it’s more of an explanatory monologue than a real conversation. I would have liked a little better sense of the narrator’s character so that the ending didn’t feel quite so abrupt. (She’s suddenly a killer!) And while I hardly consider myself to be bloodthirsty, I would have liked some clue about how the narrator killed Connor. After a lot of deliberation, I’m going to give this one the edge over the other two stories because it best satisfies the “marketing” aspect of the prompt and it takes place at a more complicated moment–after the initial decision to go against the corporation/government. GOLD

GUEST: This started out farcical (and seemingly on purpose), but then it got serious. I wish it had stayed farcical. That, and the dialogue-only structure basically turned this into the quintessential “telling” and not “showing” type of story. I would rather have seen more description of the subtle ways the protagonist tested Conner; or had the setting and the smaller details more subtly described; etc. The concept is otherwise fine. It was almost a toss up between this and the 1980s mind-reader story, but ultimately, I felt this one was slightly less fleshed out. BRONZE

LESTER SWEETUMS

The red lights were flashing all around as Seamus stumbled down the dark alley. Out of breath and in blinding pain, he hid behind a dumpster to check his phone. He was waiting for a response from his girl friend and get away driver, Hannah, but there was nothing. “How the hell am I going to get out of here?” he silently screamed to himself. Earlier while relaying the plan with Hannah, he told her his route would be to use the fire stairs to climb to the top of the building and he would parkour his way to her at the Rowling Rocks Cafe, 12 blocks west, but with this injury he knew that was no longer an option. He was trapped in this dingy alley just two blocks of the manufacturing plant. He leaned down to Peer below the dumpster and he could still see the lights.

Seamus was desperate to get out of the alley and figured there must be something he could do to gain his mobility. Looking down to where the searing pain was emanating, he saw much more blood than he was anticipating. The adrenaline of what he carried out was able to block most of the pain, but seeing the injury put him in a state of shock. They had shot him in the stomach while he got away on foot and he was going to bleed to death behind the dumpster in this dank alley. He couldn’t stop thinking that I f he is found before getting the chips to Dr. Burbage, it would all have been in vain. He wasn’t sure exactly what was on the chips, but he does know that the information stored on them is integral in the manufacturing of what the prophecy foretold would be the downfall of all humans, the Amycus 2300.

The vibrations coming from his hand startled him awake after passing out. Red lights were still streaming in from the end of the alley and he could hear the incessant alarms going off from two blocks away. He tried to answer the call, but all he could muster was a grunt.

“You got them?” Dr. Burbage asked.

“mmmm hmmmmm,” Seamus groaned.

“Where are you, sonny?”

“aaaallllll…. allllllleeee…” Seamus couldn’t speak. He was beginning to lose consciousness again.

Hannah knew something was wrong because he wasn’t supposed to call her at all. If the security drones hadn’t surrounded residential zone to the west of the industrial park, she would have answered, but she dared not to risk it because they were everywhere. She waited until the helicopters started to expand their searches before running east to find Seamus.

The closer she got to the factory the more she feared the state in which she would find him in. The red lights were blinding, but she could still police cars and the outlines of dozens of security drones surrounding McLaggen Manufacturing. Hannah used her phone to track Seamus to the dreary alley just west of there.

Her heart broke when she reached the dumpster and saw him lying in a pool of blood. His pulse was slow and his breath was forced and ragged. With tears stinging her eyes and a heavy heart, she tried to wake him with no avail. She shook him again, this time more ferociously but he was nearly gone.

There was no way to get him out of this decaying alley without being detected. She took a chance getting this close to McLaggen by herself and Hannah was a strong woman, but she couldn’t carry Seamus alone. With no options of getting him out, she began to search his body for the chips. At first she was gentle because she loved him and didn’t want to hurt him, but the more time that passed, the more frantic her hands moved out of fear of getting caught. The search helicopters were back and she saw them above her few times while circling the area.

The future of mankind depended on her being able to bring these chips to Dr. Burbage. After searching every inch of his clothing and the area around him, she gave up. She saw cops and drones running past, making another sweep of the area. Hannah knew she would need to get out of this disgusting alley before she faced the same fate as Seamus. She was overwhelmed by the feeling that this would be her last moment with her beloved and that was mirrored with the defeat of failing the entire human race. If only she was reckless enough to answer her phone, she would have been able to speak with him one last time.

Hannah bent down to kiss Seamus before leaving his in this damned alley. What she felt instead of his lips was the slender medal case that he was given to store the chips.

DK: This one, too, could’ve used some editor lookovers (there’s a tense change and back early on, which is one of my biggest pet peeves). Some of the general language here comes off a little overwrought, too, but this does a good job of creating a tense situation and pushing its action forward. I didn’t come away with a great sense of the stakes other than being told “the entire human race” but that matters less to me when the plot keeps me engaged. SILVER

CP: This started off with a nice scene playing out, but by the end it got to be rather tell-y. I found the use of clichés off-putting as well. I know it wasn’t stated in the prompt, but once again I want to know why. What is the Amycus 2300? Why might it be the downfall of all humans? And once again, I wish the characters had been more fully developed so that I could connect more with them. I did like the final moment of discovery at the end, and the story drew me in enough that I felt happy that Hannah succeeded in finding the chips. BRONZE

GUEST: He…he SILENTLY SCREAMED…TO HIMSELF? He was going to escape via “parkour”!? There’s a prophecy?! At first, I thought this might be SciFi satire, and then I realized that…no. It’s not. My favorite part is that you used almost every d-word possible to describe that danged alley. I kinda loved that. This story needs some major editing but it was kinda (purposely? accidentally?) entertaining. The concept isn’t as solid as some of the others, but this got the most reaction out of me, so there’s that. GOLD

——-

The winner of Part 1 advances to Part 3, and that player is…

May Danderfluff.

Part 2 will be scheduled as soon as I know when Lester and Christy will be able to play it. I’ll post the date and time, and the challenge, once I know when it will be. Good work, Houseguests.

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