16 March 2012

"So is This a Game or Not"

By Curtis C. Chen

The passengers weren't listening, and Hartz was getting frustrated. He tried using one of the phrases he'd heard McGregor saying over the last few days to get the group's attention.

"Now hear this!" Hartz shouted at the crowd gathered in Cargo Bay Two.

"Quiet!" said one of the passengers, a stout man with dark hair. He waved his hands to get the others to settle down. "This must be the next clue."

"This is not a clue!" Hartz shouted. "Your tour leader is dead!"

"What?" another man said, frowning.

"We're under attack," Hartz said. "The raiders breached our starboard hull, and McGregor got blown out into space."

"Somebody died?" a third man said. "The plot thickens."

"So you're going to be giving us the clues now?" Dark Stout asked.

"Stop talking about clues!" Hartz pointed at the doors in the back of the room. "I need everyone to go back to their cabins right now. Lock your doors and stay there until a crew member tells you it's safe to come out again!"

Nobody moved.

"So we'll get the next clue in our cabins?" Dark Stout asked.

"Maybe they hid something in there," a woman said.

"They couldn't have," another woman said. "Pavel and I were in our cabin all morning—"

Hartz stepped forward, grabbed Dark Stout by his collar, and yelled, "Do you understand English? You're in danger! The whole ship is in danger! Go back to your cabins and lock the damn doors!"

"Okay, okay," the man said, wriggling out of Hartz's grip and turning to the crowd. "I guess we're going back to our rooms, then."

"Don't know why they made us come here in the first place," somebody grumbled.

"It's part of the story," someone else said. "A new plot point. They had to make sure we all heard it at the same time, obviously."

A woman with bright green hair tapped Hartz on the shoulder. "You're a wonderful actor. Are you available next month? My nephew's having his bar mitzvah—"

"Ma'am," Hartz said, "we can discuss whatever you like after the ship is safe, but right now, I need you to go back—"

The bulkhead behind Hartz exploded outward. A chunk of debris slammed into his head and knocked him to the floor, unconscious, seconds before a three-legged alien entered the room, brandishing an energy rifle.

"Holy cats!" one of the passengers said. "They really went all out on this game. These effects are fantastic!"

Others murmured agreement.

The alien waved its rifle and emitted a string of trilling noises.

"What did he say?" one woman asked another.

"I'm pretty sure that wasn't English," a man said.

Dark Stout stepped forward. "I've seen this type of puzzle before. We're going to have to translate the 'alien language.' I'll start. Somebody take notes!"

The alien was quite surprised when, instead of resisting, its new prisoners began engaging in conversation. It took longer than usual to herd them into their cells, but they seemed awfully happy about the whole process. It was all very confusing.


Image: Justice Unlimited: Game Day! by Karl Larson, July, 2004