As you may have gleaned, I do a lot of writing. I like to focus on one major project (my current novel) but also work on smaller things at the same time so I can feel like I’ve gotten something done while I work towards finishing that. It can be tough to balance both but as this blog has proved, there is a way – the four stories I currently have posted were all written since May.
Normally, I like to be completely done something before I show it, but today I sat down to work on an idea, got to a stopping point and thought “Hm… should I keep going with this? Am I going in the right direction? Or should I just chuck it altogether?”
So I thought I would post it here, noting specifically that it is a work in progress. Not done, but substantial enough that I don’t mind sharing. So I won’t be posting it to my Writing Page just yet, but I thought I would put it out there on the regular blog feed anyway.
For context: This is a total riff on The Hunger Games and similar dystopian Battle Royale-style media, The fact that it’s such a pastiche is part of why I feel so dodgy about it, but I wrote it, and I don’t hate it, so we’ll see how the room feels.
Last Man Standing (Part 1)
Story by Liam Slade
Last Man Standing
Story by Liam Slade
Javin stood up and quietly brushed the dry leaves and dirt from his clothes. He had been hiding all day. Night had fallen. It was now time to move.
During his expeditions he had gotten a good sense of the lay of the land – a grove of fruit-bearing trees was about a twenty minute hike east. Scattered to the west were his traps, hidden as best he could manage and dispersed in groupings far from his camp so that nobody would know where to look for him. He would visit his traps first, eat a quick meal of squirrel or fish, whatever he had managed to catch, then spend the rest of the night taking a wide route to the berries for his “dessert.” By the time he made it back to his camp, the sun was nearly up, so he would restore his hiding spot and lie in wait.
He had made it eight days on this routine and had seen hardly a sign of trouble. In the distance there were cries, explosions and sirens. He tried to ignore them. He had to have faith in his hiding techniques – moving was a bigger risk than staying put, even if his foes got close enough for him to hear them chatter. This was how he intended to win the contest, by sheer endurance.
The fight was to the “death,” but death in this case was not the end, far from it. The Baron, the self-appointed executive of the New American State required constant content for his streaming feed, the entertainment realm through which he maintained his power base. The centrepiece was DESPERATION, an ongoing contest where average citizens like Javin came to compete in a life or death struggle. The prize – ten billion credits, enough to completely change your life and lift yourself up out of the poverty that all but a privileged few were left stranded in when The Baron took power. But if you lose? You were never heard from again.
The struggle, such as it was, was to be the last man standing in the Dome, a massive sprawling complex that housed several disparate environments – forest, mountains, open fields, and even a simulated urban environment replicating a city neighborhood from the late-20th century. Every environment posed serious dangers that threatened players’ lives. If the rugged, hazardous terrain didn’t do the trick, contestants plotted against one another to contrive ways to incapacitate – effectively kill – their foes, armed with a supply of paralysis-inducing shock-bugs that they were to tag onto their opponents’ form. Once a player was immobilized, he would be removed from the dome, but despite this, no defeated player was ever seen again.
Contestants were forced to sign a Nondisclosure agreement stating that if they won, they could never speak of what happened in the Dome. What the audience saw on TV was all they would know.
Javin had entered the contest because it was the only way to acquire the funds needed to treat his wife, Ameena, for her respiratory illness. The doctors had given her less than a year to live – the solution was a simple surgery but they were not permitted to perform it without being paid 50,000 credits up front – one of The Baron’s laws. He was determined to outlast his opponents, but had no clue how to finish the game. He could camp for weeks, but was advised not to – staying put made for nice, dramatic viewing, for a few nights… after that, the Producers would demand things be shaken up. He could escape notice as long enough players were left in the game to produce viable material, but with numbers dwindling, so were Javin’s chances. The remaining players had as good a sense of how to navigate the Dome’s environments as he did. He couldn’t trust them to simply finish each other off.
On this night, instead of merely making his circuit, he decided it was time to relocate. Bringing as little of his material as he needed, he visited his traps to collect a quick meal, then continued west. There the forest would give way to the open field – a dangerous way to travel, but the only way to get to the “City.” There he hoped to find a hideout and supplies, something to build traps for his remaining opponents.
As he silently crept through the darkness, he suddenly heard a pounding sound in the distance. This was new – nobody has ever been active in this area of the Dome at this hour. He was usually safe. In a hurry, he found a nearby tree and climbed as quickly as he could, hoping the darkness of the leaves and branches would disguise him.
The thumping and thundering grew louder. Someone was approaching by horse (where were the horses?) They came to a stop, just below where Javin was perched. The figure stepped off the horse and began to examine the ground. He must have had exceptional night-vision, as he seemed to be able to trace Javin’s footsteps.
A feeling of dread settled in Javin’s gut. It would be a mere matter of moments before the pursuer recognized that he had climbed the tree. He had to act first.
Reaching into his hip pack, he felt around for a shockbug – the easiest weapon to use to defeat a foe in this game. Javin had not yet had to use one and hoped his 15-minute training session prior to entering the game would be fresh in his mind. The thing was about the size of a thumb, with a set of six insectlike legs to latch onto a person through the fabric of their clothes. To activate, one twisted it and a pin-sized blue light would go on. From there it was up to you to find any way to apply, launch, or in this case, drop the bug onto their foe. The paralytic electromagnetic frequency did the rest.
Each player was given an ample supply but there were limits to their usage – the bug were coded so that only one could be activated by each player in a day, to extend the length of play. Some players would activate one each day and drop them like mines in hidden locations around the environment, but this was not usually considered a successful strategy. It was much more effective to use them to Tag your opponents, the way Javin was now about to do.
Javin closed his eyes and whispered a prayer.
The figure below swatted at his head like he was reacting to a mosquito bite, before suddenly seeming to realize what had happened and letting out a cry of “DAHHHH!” that mixed pain, shock, fear, and crushing disappointment.
He fell back to the ground, writhing in pain.
Javin’s heart sunk, had he just taken his first life? He watched as the body went limp.
Slowly climbing down, he felt his heart race. There could be others – the racket would surely alert them if so. He was in danger emerging from his hiding spot, but he needed to know.
He crept close to the person’s face. It was Arro, whom he had met with the rest of this season’s competitors at orientation. He wasn’t the biggest or strongest person in the contest, but seemed to be one to watch out for – he had carried himself with a sly, knowing air that suggested he had some secret that would carry him to victory. So much for that. Javin felt little guilt over his death – or whatever it was.
He was about to turn away and continue on his path when he noticed something strange glinting in the moonlight. It was Arro’s face. It was… changing.
Javin crept close to watch.
Arrow’s lips became rounded and poutier, his nose more slender. His eyes – frozen open and staring upward – rounded, his cheeks softened. His short-cropped dark hair began to grow into a rustle of locks.
Good lord, Javin wondered. What was happening??
The prone body continued to change, deflating in his all-weather attire, all except his flat chest, which seemed to expand upward.
Javin’s jaw dropped. Arro was becoming a woman.
Now he had to look away. He had no idea this could happen, but suddenly things started adding up.
The Baron was never seen without being surrounded by a bevy of impossibly beautiful women, which seemed to change year after year. Javin had always noticed it – The Barron was grotesquely ugly, but many didn’t question the women’s presence because he was, after all, the most wealthy and powerful man on the planet.
When The Baron made his publicity appearance with this season’s 12 contestants, Javin had had a chance to meet them. While in public they all seemed gregarious and smiley, when the cameras were off they seemed shy and reluctant to speak – certainly of anything besides The Baron, whose praises they spoke endlessly. To Javin, it was strange because they all carried this same faraway look in their eyes, as if they had absolutely nothing in their minds except for their leader… their master.
Javin’s jaw dropped in shock as he realized. The losing contestants of DESPERATION became The Barron’s beauties. Arro would be no more – he would be a Jaqui or a Samara, a gorgeous, buxom, brainless bimbo whose only desire was to please her leader.
Fear and panic shot through Javin. The stakes were higher than he had thought. His stomach turned at the thought of his identity being erased and being physically forced into that harem.
He started to move again. In the distance were sirens indicating the extraction crew were on their way.
To Be Continued…