Friday, June 15, 2018

Short Fiction: A True Friend Makes You Better

A True Friend Makes You Better
By Void Munashii

    Friends are a valuable thing. A real friend will stand beside you even when you are doing something stupid (they may not support your choice, but they won’t abandon you). A real friend wants you to be the best you that you can be.

    Aoife Allen is both a true friend, and your best friend.

    You and Aoife have been friends since childhood. You’ve always been close; you have even always lived within a few blocks of each other except for the eighteen months when she moved away from work.

    When she moved back, she brought work with her in the form of a new branch of Soar On Security Technologies. She even got you a job there, which is a much better use of your intelligence than the retail job you had before. If she hadn’t pulled you out of there, you probably would have stayed there for life.

    So when you showed her the article about building and mounting your own WiFi antenna on your house she both told you it was a bad idea, and agreed to come and make fun of you while you did it.

    Because that is what a true friend does.
    So here you are on the roof of your house attaching a monstrosity of poles, baling wire, and duct tape to your chimney with metal banding while Aoife watches you from the shade of your neighbor’s Japanese Maple.

    “What do you think?” You ask as finish tightening the last band.

    “I think you have just increased the property values in this neighborhood by at least ten percent; it’s not hideous at all,” she shouts up.

    “It’s artisan.”

    “It’s going to fall down the first time there’s a stiff breeze!”

    You wave at her dismissively, and set about attaching the cable to your creation. If this works right, your WiFi signal will be accessible from up to five blocks away.

    You decide you should probably change your password to something a little more complex than “P@55w0rd”.

    You get up and your foot snags on the unsecured cable, yanking it violently. You stagger, pinwheeling your arms until you are able to regain your balance.

    You let out a nervous laugh, “Oh my God, Aoife, did you see that, I almost-” you stop talking as you turn to see that your antenna is gone, as is the banding that was holding it in place. You approach the chimney and look down. Aoife is laying in the grass with the antenna sticking out of her chest.

   You curse and hurry down the ladder. You kneel down next to where Aoife is laying. She isn’t breathing at all, and is staring blankly into the sky.

    Well, her left eye is staring blankly into the sky. Her right eye is gone along with much of her right cheek. The tip of the antenna appears to have torn through her face on its way to impaling her.

    You are so horrified at what you are seeing that it takes you a moment to realize there is no blood. The inside of the wound is a dark grey with glittery bits in it.

    Aoife gasps suddenly, her eye focusing. She sees you looking down on her, “Shit,” she exclaims and pushes you away from her hard enough to knock you on your back. She rolls away from you, and rips the antenna from her chest, tossing it aside, “don’t look!”

    You clamber to your hands and knees, in time to see her turn to look at you. The gash on her face looks to be getting smaller, like it is healing right before your eyes. She turns away again, and gets to her feet.

    “What’s-?” you manage, standing up as well.

    She turns to face you. Her face is perfect again, and the ragged tear in her shirt reveals only her pale pink flesh; there is no hole where the antenna harpooned her, “Well that was lucky,” she says, laughing.

    “What the fuck is going on?” you ask, “You were dead!”

    She looks at you like you are being ridiculous, “What? No I wasn’t. I think I may have just have passed out or something.

    “There was piece of metal in your chest and you weren’t breathing!”

    “No,” she cries, “It just tore my shirt. I guess I was lucky, right?.”

    You gawp at her. She smiles back awkwardly.

    After a dozen  seconds of silence, she speaks again, shaking her head slowly as she does, “You’re not buying this, are you?”

    “What are you?”

    She sighs, “Shit, I didn’t want to do it like this.”

    Aoife raises her hand to you, palm out. You recoil from the movement, tripping over an exposed tree root and falling flat on your ass, which is lucky since it means the blue bolt of energy that comes out of her hand passes safely over your head and into the side of your house where it leaves a slight black smudge in the siding.

    You don’t wait around to see what your best friend does next. You get to your feet and run.

    “Oh come on, don’t make me chase you,” you hear Aoife whine as you run around the front of your house.

    Remembering that your car keys are on the table next to the door, you pass your car and continue down the street.

    “I’m not going to hurt you,” Aoife yells,running after you, but not with any particular sense of urgency, “I promise.”

    You don’t beleive her.

    You see one of your co-workers, Ash Holguin, mowing his lawn up ahead.

    “Ash,” You shout as you run up to him, “You’ve got to help me!”

    “What’s up, bud?” he asks, looking puzzled.

    “It’s Aoife, she’s a….” you struggle and pant, trying to catch your breath and the right words.

    “A soulless ginger? Yeah, I know.”

     “No, a… a robot or something.”

    Ash looks at you like you just grew a second nose.

    “No, really. She, like, shoots lasers out of her hands!”

    Aoife catches up to you then.She stops at the edge of Ash’s lawn, not trying to get to close to you, perhaps fearing you’ll start running again. Ash looks to her questioningly.

    “Aoife is a lot of things, bud, but she’s not a robot. No robot is that hot… well, except maybe that one in ‘Terminator 3’....”

    “Stop him, Ash,” Aoife shouts.

    Ash shrugs, “Sorry.”

    You don’t wait to see if Ash also has palm lasers; you run.

    “You’re gonna tire out before I do,” Aoife calls, resuming her pursuit.

    You don’t have anywhere specific to run to in mind as you leave your neighborhood and start down High Street, you need to come up with a plan. In the back of your mind you are a little proud of how long you have been able to keep up this pace; you are in better shape than you thought.

    Electric cars be damned; you don’t hear the car that comes out of the alley next to The Dark Roast Tower coffee shop. The first you know of it is when you are flying up onto its hood.

    The impact knocks the wind out of you and sparks jump before your eyes as your head bounces off of concrete

    You feel pain in your right side, something is broken. The driver’s side door of the car opens and you can see the door has the red eye logo of Soar On Security Technologies on it along with the words  “We Keep An Unblinking Eye On Your Data”.

    “Dammit, Daniel,” you hear Aoife’s voice say as she walks up, “I said ‘stop’ not ‘kill’”

    “No one dead here,” the driver replies.

    You never really liked Daniel. Why does he even have a company car on a Saturday?

    You pass out.

    You come to in a white room, but it doesn’t look like a hospital room; too many computers. You don’t feel any pain anymore, but you also can’t move.

    Aoife looks down over you, “You’re going to be okay,” she says reassuringly, “This would have happened soon anyway; you’re one of the last people here not to be upgraded, I would have preferred to not scare you so much though.”

    You try to speak, but you can’t move your mouth either.

    “Don’t be afraid, it doesn’t hurt. I was scared when it was my turn too, but I didn’t need to be. You’re going to be a better you; the best you.”

    Aoife walks out of your field of view, “We’re going to make the world a better place together. You, me, all of us at Soar On will make this the best world. Just close your eyes and relax now.

    You fight it, but as your eyes close, you wonder if this better you will be you at all.


Author’s Note:

    This is another Clever Fiction story prompt, although this time it is only on Facebook, as the site appears to be gone (which I guess means that I will need to go dig out all of those old stories and repost them here so that they can still be read). The prompt was: “You discover you closest, dearest friend is a highly sophisticated robot.”

    I had a few ideas for this:

    The first idea was a story in which the protagonist tries to help hide their newly exposed robo-friend from the world. This seems like it would need more than 1500 words.

    The second was about their friend being obviously a robot, but no one noticing because it wore a hat. This is an idea that would work better in a visual medium, and I cannot draw for xcrete (also, it is a writing challenge).

    Finally there was what became this story… and even then I had to cut about 500 words off of the first draft.

      “Fun” Trivia:

      The title this story had when I started it was “Deceitful Circuitry”, and was changed to “The Artisan Antenna” upon completion of the first draft before getting the title it has now.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Short Fiction: Sing Like Your Life Depends On It

Sing Like Your Life Depends on it
By Void Munashii

    You’re running late, stupid traffic. You remember when it only took you two hours to get home from your job at the fulfillment warehouse, but unless you want to spend the money to ride in the priority lanes, you are stuck in the general mess with everyone else.

    You throw your Burger Bro bag down on the table in front of your couch, and set your drink cup down next to it before digging your phone out of your pocket, and plugging it in to the cable next to your couch. The phone is almost three years old, so the battery drops by twenty to thirty percent just in the time it takes to get from the car to your couch.

    Bringing up the FutureTech App, you activate your headset. You’ve already missed the first half of the episode, and you don’t want to miss anymore. Sure, you could back the broadcast up and watch it from the beginning, but  then you would not be able to experience it live with the rest of the audience, and SLYLDOI is just not the same when you watch it alone.

    Plus if you watch it on delay, you don’t get to vote for the winner.

    You slide your headset on, and you are there in the audience. You look around you, and your recognize a couple of your friends. There’s P@rtyM0nst€r in his almost copyright-infringing kaiju avatar (today his t-shirt says #TeamTheWorst, showing his alignment with the fans that always intentionally vote for the worst singers), and just past him is Alexa_2015 in her black cylinder avatar; a blue light ring at the top of the avatar swirls constantly to show that she is listening. You send them a wave, and see P@rtyM0nst€r wave back; Alexa_2015 flashes her light ring three times in acknowledgement.

    Sing’s host, Moira Browncoast, is standing at center stage, and you start paying attention to her, “-you have it, the season so far, and this has been are best season yet. We have had some fantastic singers this year, some that is has been hard to say goodbye to, but as we all know, only one person can be the best, so we have cut down this year’s crop to our top two contestants.”

    Moira motions to her left, and a spotlight comes on over a confident looking man sitting in a coffee-brown leather chair, “Over here we have our first finalist: Surge Vasquez!”

    The audience around you cheers, and waves their appendages (arms, tentacles, antennae, etcetera). Surge is the favourite to win tonight, and he knows it. You zoom in on him, and everything about him shrieks confidence, and why wouldn’t it? He is easily better than his competitor.

    You zoom out as Moira starts talking again, “And over here we have our other finalist: Metz Singh!”. A spotlight comes on over a woman sitting in an identical chair. Even before you zoom in on her, you can tell that she is nervous. There is not enough hairstyling and makeup in the world to hide her stiff posture, but even if you could ignore all of that, her eyes are a dead giveaway.

    The audience cheers for her too, you look over and see P@rtyM0nst€r jumping up and down, waving his arms and tails. You see other people wearing “#TeamTheWorst on the clothing or skin of their avatars also going ape for Metz.

    “Now before we let our finalists show us their stuff one last time, “Moira emphasizes the last three words, “I want to take a minute to ask our judges what they think of this season and who they are rooting for tonight. Lets start with you, Bannon.”

    Windows open showing close-ups of Metz and Surge’s faces. Seeing them together makes Surge’s confidence even more evident.

    The judges are sitting at a brown table at the front of the audience. A window opens near the top left hand side of your field of vision showing a close up of Bannon Denlien from the front. Before speaking, he takes a sip from the Brewkaf branded mug in front of him. “I strongly object to your saying that this has been our best series yet, and frankly, I am disappointed, “Bannon says, “Neither of you should be here tonight, especially you, Metz. The fact you made it into the top twelve is nothing short of a miracle, but that you made it here tonight is evidence that you must have made a pact with Satan himself.”

    Cheers and boos filter out of the in-studio audience. You can hear the audience, but not see them since you and the rest of the virtual audience replace them when viewed at home.

    “If I  had my choice of our original twelve this year, I would be looking at Smoker Dean and Katy Banes right now, not you two!”

   “Okay, Ban-Ban,” Moira says, knowing he hates being called that, “But Metz and Surge are in front of you, who do you want to see come out on top tonight?”

    “Oh, no doubt about it it; between these two is has to be Surge. He is unpolished, but he has star potential. I’m sorry to be so harsh Metz, but you ARE going to be eliminated tonight.”

    “Alright then, tender and gentle as always. What about you, Tailer?”

    Bannon Denlien’s window automatically closes. And next to where it was, in the top center of your view, opens a window showing the middle judge, Tailer Basura. It is a well known all-but-fact that she keeps more than Brewkaf in her mug.

    “Gods, Bannon, you are such an asshole sometimes,” Tailer says, eliciting cheers from the crowd, “Yes, it’s true that you two are not the,” she makes air quotes, “best singers we had this season, but you are both good. I wish you could both walk away champions tonight.”

    “But..., :Moira draws the word out, and leaves a long pause before continuing, “they can’t, so who is your pick, Tailer?”

    “I’m sorry, Metz: you are talented, and adorable, and simply lovely, but Surge is the better singer.”

    You see Metz shrink down in her seat a little as Tailer’s window closes.

   “Okay, so that’s two for Surge,” Moira says, “What about you, Andy, are you going to give Surge the hat trick?”

    A widow opens in the upper right of your window for Andy Hamilton, “Alright, so here it is, real-talk time: Surge is the better singer, no doubt about that, but I am not going to write Metz off. The fans really seem to love her-”

    “Yeah, those Team Worst idiots,” Bannon interrupts, prompting his window to pop open again, “Those toolcrates have completely xcreted all over this season.”

    “Hey, I didn’t talk when it was your turn, man,” Andy protests, appearing to look over at Bannon’s window in front of your eyes.

   Bannon waves his hands for Andy to continue, and his window closes as a window for Metz opens.

    “Thank you,” Andy looks back at you, “as I was saying, I think there are people who genuinely like you out there, who see the star inside you. These two,” he motions to Tailer and Bannon, “may be ready to put you off as eliminated, but I think you have a solid shot of winning tonight.”

    Metz manages a genuine smile, momentarily replacing the fake nervous one.

    Andy turns to look towards the other finalist, “Surge, my man, you are a confident singer, and that’s good, but you are too confident, too cocky. You think you’ve already won this, but you still gotta hit that stage one more time before you get to go home, man. You may have Tailer and Bannon won over, but we’re not the ones who are deciding your fate. Don’t let that confidence of yours cost you the competition; you’re not safe from elimination yet.”

    Boos and cheers from the audience as Andy’s, Metz’, and Surge’s windows all close.

    “Alright,” Moira calls out, “Two judges for Surge and one for Metz, but ultimately none of what they say matters because it is up to all of you to tell us who gets to walk away a champion and who gets eliminated!”

    Moira crosses from center stage to where Metz is sitting, “They flipped a coin back stage, and Metz lost, so she’s going first. It’s time for us, one more time, to hear Metz Singh...sing,” the audience goes wild, “and we’ll do that… after the break!”

    The SLYLDOI logo suddenly blocks out most of your view: the title of the show with the “I”  in “It” replaced with a microphone. Stars swirl and spin around the logo.

    The smooth voice of the announcer comes on, “Sing Like Your Life Depends On It is brought to you by… Brewkaf,” The Sing logo shrinks, and the Brewkaf logo appears below it., “America’s favourite coffee substitute! All the taste, twice the energy, a fraction of the price. Brewkaf: Get your ‘Kaf on!”

    Your view transitions to a Brewkaf ad; the same one they have been playing all season where people can’t tell Brewkaf from real coffee in a blind taste test. You like Brewkaf, and it is certainly a much cheaper way to get enough energy to get through the last couple hours of a shift than a run to Apollo’s for real coffee is, but they are either using some poor quality coffee in their blind test or the subjects have no sense of taste.

    You open a window in your view so that you can see your living room, and grab the Burger Bro bag off the table. You pull out your dinner: a “Beefy Cheeze Burger”. The wrapper has the Burger Bro on it with his popped collar and sunglasses on, but he is not alone, Biff Cheezy, the Beefy Cheeze rat mascot is there wearing sunglasses of their own.

    It occurs to you that Biff Cheezy is always shown as being the size of a normal rat in the ads and cartoons, but here he is the same size as the Bro. That’s one big rat.

    You alternate between bites of your burger and fries that you fish out of the bag as the ad changes to one for the new season of “Dance Like Your Life Depends On It”, which starts next week in place of Sing. You aren’t sure you’re going to watch it this season, not after the unfairness of Aubrey Thibedoux being forced to dance with a sprained ankle last year, and being eliminated because of it.They should have given her a pass that week to let her heal up.

    You ignore the ads as best you can (you just cannot bring yourself to spend the money on the subscription upgrade that would let you minimize the commercials altogether), and open up a FriendSpace window to see what your friends are posting:

    P@rtyM0nst€r: Surge is gon doooooooooooooown! #MetzFTW

    MunchieBrains: Metz suxx!! I cant beeleeve she’s still there.

    Alexa_2015: Metz has personality, and personality goes a long way.

    MunchieBrains: Surge has personality.

    Zyzzlr: Ya, a personality that makes you want to punch him. Total doucheburger.

    P@rtyM0nst€r: Wait and see, #TeamTheWorst almost took last year’s series; were goin to make Metz then champ this year. #EliminateSurge

    Carl.G.Busch: You #TeamTheWorst guys totally fornced the show last year. If Mercy Dorado hadn’t been eliminated in week 6, she totally would have walked away the winner.

    P@rtyM0nst€r:The show is awfs anyway; has been since season 4 since they started fudging the votes so that the most commercially viable singers would win. #NoFatties

    Alexa_2015: You are not wrong.

    MaadOS: How can you guys even watch that show anyway? It’s awful what they do to those people. It’s cruel.

    P@rtyM0nst€r: So don’t watch it. Go find a safe space! #TriggerTrigger

    MaadOS: I’m not watching. I just don’t see how you guys can. Those poor kids.

    Carl.G.Busch: It’s not as if they don’t know what they are getting themselves into. If they are willing to go through that to be famous, who am I to judge them? I mean, it’s not like they have not seen what contestants go through.

    MaadOS: They are all tricked into believing that there is no way they could be eliminated; that everyone else will be the ones to go. Every person who walks into the auditions is deluded like that.

    P@rtyM0nst€r: Get off my post Maad. Go preech your soft, pinky bullxcrete on you’re own post! #ForncYou #TeamTheWorst #MetzFTW

    Zyzzlr: Show’s back on! Lets see Doucheburger wrap this up.

    You close the Friendspace window as well as, having managed to scarf down your whole meal, the one showing your living room, . The Sing logo again fills your view.

    “Alright,” Moira calls to the cheering crowd, “It’s time! Metz Singh, for the last time on this stage: Sing like your life depends on it!”

    You watch as Metz sings through her five song set. She starts out with the current hit, “Sex Hypo”, which is right in her comfort zone: not too fast, sexy, but not over the top. If she sticks to songs like this she will undoubtedly take crap for Bannon for playing safe, but it may actually keep her safe.

    Metz’ second selection is from a few years back, another one straight down the center for her, pop ballad: “If You Only Knew I Was Alive”. She aces that as well.

    She speeds things up a little for her third song with “I Want Your Cray-Cray”. It’s a sexier song, and you don’t really think is suits her; she just seems a little awkward thrusting her hips around and shaking her breasts, but she does sing the song well enough.

    At the start of the fourth song, all of the lights go down save for a spotlight on Metz herself, it seems to you like every finalist does this every season, and the music drops out entirely before the opening chimes of “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is”. Much like “If You Only Knew I Was Alive”, it is a perfect song for her. She essentially paces back and forth across the darkened stage, the spotlight tracking her as she sings.

    The lights come back up for the last song, and she swings for the fences with a rendition of “I Will Always Love You” sung as a trio with holograms of both Dolly Parton and Whitney Houston. This results in a weak finish for the young singer as you can not only hear her voice break on one of the glory notes , but she messes up the choreography, and dances through Whitney Houston a couple of times.

    You zoom in on the stage is as the song ends, and you can see the terror in Metz’ eyes as she takes her bow and the audience cheers. A window showing the view from where you are sitting in the audience opens up, and shows Moira Browncoast walks out onto the stage, and walk out to meet up with Metz. She places a hand on Metz’ back, “Metz Singh! Lets hear it for her!”

    The crowd cheers. You have your avatar applaud respectfully.

    “Judges,” Moira begins, causing the cheering to begin tapering off, “How did Metz do in her final set on this stage? Did she sing like her life depended on it? Bannon?”

    A window opens showing Bannon, “You were all over the place up there, Metz. You tried to play it safe for some of those songs, and you did quite well at them; not finale showcase material, but you certainly demonstrated why you made it into the top twelve to begin with, but then you tried to be sexy, and that’s just not… it’s not you!”

    Even in the POV window from your seat in the audience, you can see Metz shrink at Bannon’s words, but up close you can see the sweat forming on her forehead. You can also see the handlers standing off at the side of the stage ready to stop the young woman if she decided to try and run.

    “That is not your biggest sin though. Your biggest sin is that last song there. You really put it all out there trying to do Whitney, good lord, why does someone every year try to do that forncing song? No one ever does it justice, and you are no exception. You gambled, Metz, gambled and lost. Your only hope now is that Surge literally xcretes his pants up there,” Bannon’s window closes as he finishes speaking.

    “Some criticism from Bannon there,” Moira understates, “What did you think, Tailer?”

    Tailer’s window opens, “Metz, sweety, you have so much heart, I really think you are just darling, but I have to agree with Bannon. ‘I Want Your Cray-Cray’? It’s daring, but it’s just not you, and ‘I Will Always Love You’? That song is tired, played out, and most importantly: it is simply beyond your reach. I’m sorry honey, but I think you just signed your own death certificate up there,” Tailer’s window closes out.
    Zoomed in, you can see water gathering in Metz eyes; she’s starting to shake.

    “And Andy,” Moira asks,”you were Metz’ champion going in to this, care to switch sides yet?”

    Andy’s window pops open, showing him shaking his head, “I’m sorry, Metz; you really gave it all you got out there, you gave it your absolute best, but sometimes your best just isn’t good enough.”

    You can see tears break free and run down Metz’ cheeks at Andy’s words. You feel genuinely sorry for her.

    “I hate to agree with him, but Bannon’s got it straight on. Your only hope now is for Surge to absolutely blow it, and I just don’t see that happening. You came so far, farther than any of us would have ever guessed, but this is the end of the road for you.”

    Andy’s window closes out leaving just your audience POV of Metz and Moira open over your zoomed in view, “So, the judges’ final comments on your performance, they… well, they could have been better, but dry those tears Metz because it’s not over until the audience votes.”

    “Next: we’ll see Surge’s final set when Sing Like Your Life Depends On It’s season finale continues… after the break!”

    Another ad for Brewkaf, but this one plays as a retrospective of the season of Sing Like Your Life Depends On It, showing the ten previously eliminated contestants during their time on the show, making sure to include shots of them smiling and holding Brewkaf branded mugs. It is all very cheerful, and in no way attempts to bring to mind their eliminations.

    This is followed by another ad for Dance Like Your Life Depends On It. Actually: it’s the same ad. You reopen Friendspace:

     P@rtyM0nst€r: Did you C that? That was awesome! #TeamTheWorst #TeamMetz

    MaadOS: That was pitiful! That poor girl

    MunchieBrains: Thought you weren’t watching, Maad?

    Carl.G.Bush: I was kind of rooting for Metz here, but that was not good. I doubt even your Team Worst people can save her,  Party.

     P@rtyM0nst€r: U have not begun to understand the power of the force, young padawan. #TeamTheWorst is infinite. #WeAreEverywhere

    Zyzzler: This sucks. I really don’t wanna see Surge McJerk win.

    P@rtyM0nst€r: Vote for Metz #MetzFTW

    Alexa_2015: I genuinely want to see Metz win at this point. Some of that was actually good. I  mean, it’s not my style of music, but she did it well.

     P@rtyM0nst€r: then vote for her; if everyone votes for her, she wins. #TeamMetz

    MaadOS: Surge getting eliminated is no better.

    You see the show coming back on, and close the Friendspace window.

    Moira is again at center stage, but this time with Surge Vasquez. Where Metz looked scared and nervous, Surge looks like he has nothing to be afraid of, as if this were just karaoke night at the bar and not the final episode of a series of Sing.

    “Alright, Surge, you’ve seen what Metz, can do, and you need to convince America to vote for you over her, or else you’re going to get eliminated!” Moira looks out at the audience and winks, “No pressure though.”

    “Surge Vasquez, “Moira yells, “for the last time on this stage, sing like your life depends on it!”

    You zoom in as Moira departs and the music begins. Surge starts out in his own comfort zone as well with the fast, bass-filled “Bomberang”, followed by “The Last Bottle”; he does both flawlessly. You make your avatar cheer and jump up and down.

    For his third song, he loses the bass, and replaces it with guitar for a rocking cover of  “Devil Went Down To Georgia”, complete with a hologram of a horned, red devil appearing to play the guitar.

    Then the stage goes dark, and just like Metz, Surge stands alone in the spotlight, and belts out the rock ballad “The Black Hole in My Soul”.

    This is clearly him trying to show he can work outside his comfort zone too, and it lacks the perfection he displayed in his faster performances. You think the comments your friends were making about his personality are not completely off the mark; his confidence and certainty of his victory tonight makes it hard to accept him and vulnerable and emotional.

    Again, following in Metz’ footsteps, and the footsteps of seemingly every finalist on the show ever, Surge finishes with a glory-note filled rendition of “When a Man Loves a Woman” sung with holograms of Percy Sledge and Michael Bolton. Unlike Metz though, he nails his glory notes even if he does not come across as completely genuine.

    He also manages not to dance through his projected partners.

    At the end of the song, the audience erupts in cheers. You make your avatar dance and applaud at the performance.

    Moira Browncoast returns to the stage as the cheering starts to subside, “Surge Vasquez! LEts hear it for him! America, that was the last performance of the last episode of the season! I’d ask you what you think, but you’ll be telling us in a few minutes, so instead I will ask the judges. Bannon?”

    Bannon’s window pops open, “Not your best performance Surge; I know you think I would have given you xcrete for playing it safe and staying in your comfort zone, and you are right, but your performance would have benefited from doing it. Watching you try and emote is like watching a toddler try and dance. You should stick to what you are good at.”

    “All that said,” Bannon continues, “It was still much better than Metz. Neither of you is good enough to be here tonight, but I think it is clear which of you is better.”

    The audience cheers as Bannon’s window closes. Surge beams from the stage; it’s like he is looking right into your eyes even though you know he cannot even see your avatar, nevermind that you are zoomed in on him.

    “Tailer, what do you think of Surge’s final performance?”

    Tailer’s window opens; she slurs a little as she speaks,“As much as I like Metz, only one of you can avoid elimination tonight, and that’s going to be you. Congratulations, Surge!”

      More cheering as Tailer’s window closes. You can see the handlers off at the side of the stage, but they seem more relaxed than they were during Metz’ judging; they know Surge isn’t going to try and run.

    “And Andy, what do you think of our final performance this year?”

    Andy’s window pops up, “You got skills, man; you are competent, you can sing, you can dance, but like Bannon said, man, watching you try and show emotion is just as bad as hearing someone’s voice break-”

    “Oh come on, Andy,” Bannon interrupts, causing his window to open, “Lack of emotion is not the same thing as not being able to hold a note-”

    “It’s my opinion-”

    “It’s not even remotely the same thing-”

    “It is my opinion, Bannon. I am here to give my opinion. If it’s not important, why did you mention it?”

    “When you are listening to a song, you can’t see the look on a person’s face.”
    “I can see him here; this is a show in a visual medium. If looks weren’t important that why are they in costumes and make-up? Why are we in make-up?”

    Bannon waves dismissively at Andy, “It’s not something to make a big deal out of.”

    “Agree to disagree,” Andy says, “Anyway, it doesn’t even matter what we think, because it’s up to the audience to decide.”

    “Let’s make the the final word,” Moira jumps in, “because it is correct. The judges have given their opinions, but it is yours that matters. We are opening the voting now, so get in there and vote; we’ll have the final elimination…. After the break!”

    Moira’s window closes, and you are zoomed out, and the Sing logo again dominates your view, but a new window has opened below it:

Sing Like Your Life Depends On It
Season X Finale
Vote For Your Favorite!

Metz Singh

Surge Vasquez

Voting closes in 4:57

    The timer for the close of voting ticks down as you watch.

    You don’t need that much time though. You knew who you were going to vote for before you even started watching. You select Surge and the window closes out.

    A Brewkaf ad comes on, and you decide it’s a good time for a bathroom break. You remove your headset and toss it on the couch, and head to the toilet.

    When you come back and put on the headset again you catch the end of the Buritto Hut ad where the Burrito Bandit is shooting up nameless restaurant that just happens to have the same color scheme as Burger Bro with his twin six shooters

    “We don’t need no stinkin’ burgers,” the Bandit quips right before the ad ends.

.     The Sing logo again dominates your view with the words “Final Elimination” below it in the same font.     The logo disappears clearing your view of Moira standing on the stage at the center of a row of a dozen black chairs. All of them are empty except for the ones immediately to Moira’s left and right.

    In the chair to Moira’s right sits a terrified looking Metz Singh. To her left sits Surge Vasquez, still looking as calm and confident as ever. You start to wonder if he is either on some sort of drug or has a mental abnormality that is keeping him so calm. You know that if it was you up there, you would be absolutely xcreteing yourself.

    You zoom in so that Moira and the contestants.fill your field of vision. You can see the restraints on the chairs keeping the finalists in place, holding their arms down with their palms facing up for duration of the results presentation.

    “We’re down to it now,” Moira says, “the last ten weeks have led us up to this moment. We have seen a lot of talented singers be eliminated, bringing us down to the best of the best-, “ Bannon laughs,”for this season. So who did American vote for? Metz Singh or Surge Vasquez?”

    The audience cheers, you can make out that some of the in-studio audience is yelling out Surge’s name while others are yelling out for Metz.

    “Judges, any final words for Metz and Singh?”

    Windows for all three judges open.

    “I’m sorry Metz, sweety,” Trailer half mumbles, “You’re good, but just not good enough. I wish you could both win, but this’ll be over soon.”

   “Whatever happens, you are both stars,” Andy says, “Neither of you is perfect, but you both did a fantastic job tonight, and all season long.”

    “Ban-ban?” Moira asks, “Anything from you?”

    Bannon shrugs, “It should be different people up there tonight, but America gets to winner it deserves, right?”

    “And on that cheery note,” Moira says, “let’s finish this season off,”

    “Voting has closed, and the votes have been checked, double-checked, and triple-checked for accuracy, and I have the results right here,” Moira pulls out a brown envelope from the inside pocket of her jacket.

    You are sure that there is nothing actually on the card in the envelope, and that they give her the results another way; the envelope is just for visual flair.

    Opening the envelope, Moira pulls out the card inside, and pauses to read it while dramatic music plays over the otherwise nearly silent audience, “Okay,” she says, “We have a winner.”

    Moira pauses for dramatic effect, looking back and forth between Metz and Surge. Metz has tears running down her face now and her eyes are bulging with barely restrained panic, she is clearly losing her battle to try and hold it together. You feel a little sorry for her.

    Stepping behind Surge’s chair, Moira puts her free hand on his soldier. You can hear a stifled sob from Metz.

    “Surge Vasquez,” Moira starts, and then pauses again, letting the music continue.




    Long pause.

   “Eliminated! Which means that Metz Singh is this year’s Sing Like Your Life Depends On It champion!”

    The restraints on Metz’ chair snap open, and she practically falls out of it, she was straining against them so strongly. She staggers forwards towards the edge of the stage, and you can see that she appears to have lost control of her bladder at some point in the last couple of minutes.

    “This is steer xcrete,” Bannon says, swiping his Brewkaf mug off the table.

    Andy and Tailer look astonished, but neither says anything.

    “Wait, what?” Surge asks, pulling against his restraints.

    You agree with Bannon. You would totally have downed Surge’s album; Hell, you probably would have even paid for it.

    Moira moves up to meet Metz, putting an arm around her seemingly as much to steady her as congratulations, “You’re the winner, Metz, what do you think?”

    Metz struggles for words, more tears running down her face, “You mean it? I’m not eliminated?”

    “You are not. I guess you’ve just got something America likes.”

    “I’m the winner?” A mixture of relief and amazement gush out of her mouth the way tears gush from her eyes.

    “You are, what do you want to say to your fans?”

    “Thank you! I...I,” Metz stammers, and then laughs a little crazily, “I think I’m going to barf.”

    “Well you don’t want to do that in front of everyone,” Moira waves towards the side of the stage, and two of the handlers trot out onto the stage, take Metz by the arms, and lead her off.

    Moira walks back to where Surge is struggling against his restraints, “Surge Vasquez, quite the surprised. Isn’t it? I was in with the judges, I thought for sure you had this wrapped up, but like Andy said: it doesn’t matter what we think, but what they think,” she makes a sweeping gesture with her free hand towards the audience.

    “No,” Surge cries out, “No!”

    “Yes, very much yes, Surge, I’m sorry, but as we all know, only one person walks away champion,” Moira is grinning, “but before we get on with elimination, let's take a look back at your time with us.”

    Surge’s chair transforms into basically a cross, pulling him up to his feet, and pulling his arms out to the side. The eleven empty chairs drop down into the surface of the stage.

    You feel a moment of dizziness as your view is zoomed back out to the audience and your view of the stage is blocked by a video montage of Surge Vasquez singing in earlier episodes, drinking Brewkaf, hanging out with the other contestants, auditioning, and smiling with his family and friends from his segment back during home-week, all set to the song “You Can’t Do Better Than Your Best” as sung by last year’s champion, Adah Alonzo.

    You look around the audience and see a lot of avatars displaying anger, crying, and stomping their feet, but you also see other avatars, like P@rtyM0nst€r celebrating and waving their appendages around. Alexa_2015, lacking any appendages, is flashing its light ring bright blue in celebration.

    You make your avatar frown and stomp its feet.

    The montage ends, and you are able to see the stage again; you zoom back in. Surge is still fastened in place with his arms at ninety degree angles to his torso, with Moira standing besides him. Surge is struggling against his bonds, his cool confidence having completely abandoned him, and he too appears to have wet his pants.

    “Alright, Surge, I’m afraid the time has come. I’m sorry to see you go, as I know are our judges and all the fans you have cultivated out there over the last three months, but as we all know, there can be only one winner, which means everyone else get eliminated, “ Moira says, almost seeming genuinely sad, “Do you have anything you’d like to say first?”
     Moira holds the microphone up to Surge, “No, you can’t do this! I can’t lose! That bitch forncing sucks! I’m better! I sang better!”

     “Not according to America you didn’t,” Moira turns and winks at the audience, “Surge Vasquez, you are eliminated!”

    Moira quickly walks off stage, and the lights drop down, leaving only a spotlight on Surge just to the right of center. The room is silent as you zoom out so that you can see as a second spotlight comes on; this one is pointing towards the top of the stage.

    A large, shiny skeletal object appears in the light, and lowers itself onto the stage like a robotic spider by a metal cable that extends out of the bottom what is best described as its abdomen. The head of the machine looks like a set of great metal pincers that make it look a little more beetle-like as it descends

You cannot help but feel a rush of excitement even though you voted for Surge. There are some seasons where you have only watched for the elimination segments.

    The Eliminator lands center stage, and unfolds its legs, making it look more like a spider again. It doesn’t have far to go to reach its target. The metal spider rears up on its back legs, blocking view of Surge from the audience. You pivot your view so that you can see it side on as it wraps legs around the back and arms of Surge’s chair, securing itself in place. Surge struggles harder, as if he could get past the Eliminator now that it has locked itself in place even if he did get free of his chair.

    You zoom in more to get a tighter view of the Eliminator because this is the one time per season that it doesn’t just use its pincers. Instead a series of small arms come out of the Eliminator’s belly. Some of arms have blades on the end, others have manipulators, and they all quickly get to work.

    Surge howls as the blades slice through his clothes and flesh, starting just below his throat. Two blades cut down the center of his chest while two other cut outward along the length of his arms. Blood spurts out onto the Eliminator’s shiny body as it cuts through veins and into arteries.

    When the blades cutting down his chest reach his beltline, they split off from each other, and cut down the front of each of his legs. The arms with manipulators on the end reach out to the cut flesh, and begin pulling the incisions open wider.

    Blood flows down to puddle on the stage as the Eliminator does its job skinning the young man, an honor reserved only for the singer who makes it to the finals.

    By the end of the first minute, Surge has gone silent, This is normal, and you always wonder if this is because they have bled out enough to lose consciousness, or have simply passed out from the pain. In any case, by the time Surge’s retraints are released so that the Eliminator can peel the flesh from the back side of his body, he is no longer struggling.
    When it is done, the Eliminator holds Surge’s body back against the chair so that the retraints can lock him back into place. It then carefully folds up Surge’s skinsuit, picking off the blood-soaked clothing that had been covering it, releases itself from the chair, and pulls itself back up into the area above the stage where someone would retrieve the flesh.

    You are zoomed out automatically so that you can see Moira walk back onto the stage, stopping just shy of the large puddle of blood encircling the chair holding the red, gory mass that had only minutes ago been Surge Vasquez.

    A metal display roughly ten feet wide and eight feet tall rolls out to stop next to her. At the left end of the display is a hologrammatic projection of Metz Singh silently going through one of her performances from earlier in the season. Next to that is a gray mannequin with its right arm out in front of it like it is singing into a microphone.

    Taking up the bulk of the rest of the display in a glass case containing two rows of the heads of the other ten eliminated contestants from this season. They have all been posed to look like they are as smiling and happy as they were when they were performing.
    “In two weeks you will be able to see this season’s wall of singers added to the XNet Entertainment Museum here in Hollywood right alongside the contestants from the previous nine seasons of ‘Sing Like Your Life Depends On It’,” Moira says.

    A window opens in your view showing a panning shot of the displays from the previous seasons. Each display contains two rows of heads, a hologram of the winner, and the taxidermied body of the eliminated finalist. You hope one day to take a trip to Hollywood and see the displays in person.

    “And with that we bring another season of ‘Sing Like Your Life Depends On It’ to a close. Congratulations to our winner, Metz Singh, and thank you to the families of all of our other fabulous contestants this year.”

   “Don’t forget to tune in next week for the start of a brand new season of ‘Dance Like Your Life Depends On It’, and until next season, for our judges, Bannon Denlien, Tailer Basura, and Andy Hamilton, I’m Moira Browncoast signing off!”

    Moira waves at the audience from her spot next to the flayed remains of Surge Vasquez as the credits run by.

    You pull off your headset as a the new episode of “Aloha, London” starts, and drop it on the couch. You decide to get ready for bed now.

    Thinking ahead, you don’t think you will watch “Dance Like Your Life Depends On It”; you’ll have to find something else to watch until it ends and “Cook Like Your Life Depends On It” starts; you love the co-hosts on that, those ladies are hilarious.


Author’s Note:

    This story came about as the result of walking in on the tail end of a conversation at work. One of my co-workers was saying ,”Mariah Carey couldn’t sing if her life depended on it.”
     My immediate response to hearing that was, “That sounds like an idea for a ‘Saw’ meets ‘American Idol’ movie.”

    With that said, the idea would not leave my head, and since I am not personally into torture porn, what quickly formed was something more in (or at least what I hope is in) the vein of Stephen King’s “The Running Man” or “The Long Walk”

    I would like to say that this is the beginning of another bunch of frequently posted stories, but why lie? If I come up with any fully formed ideas, I will write them out, but I make no promises as to when that will be.

    Thank you for reading, and until next time: Don’t trust the darkness.