Puppet Game

Unaware. They broke into a tidy window. A tidy store-front. A facade that broke into sharpened knives. Blades they picked through. No weapons to be found and no time left.

A cloud in the sky spoke down to them and they stepped through the facade. The daybreak was coming. The break of the glass had come. The light hadn’t come on inside. The clock was not illuminated. There were not the things they had hoped to find.

There were three of them. They had always been compatriots. They had never been truly friends.

Until this moment.

As if the breaking of glass had broken something in each of them. In Flint, it broke the ability to keep on. Was this facade worth the while? Absolutely not. Time to see the truth, friends. In Gaff, it broke the ability to hold it together. What was the point? Whose strings were these the other two danced on? And for whose benefit? Someone once had told Gaff, it was to be for the good of everything.

That had been a lie – just like this mission. In Tell, it only broke the sword itself. Too long spent deciding one way or another. Now, someone else had chosen and Tell was being wielded like a deadly weapon. For these friends, it would not end well.

The sirens sounded. A blast of tear gas filled the air. Tell knew to expect this. Gaff suspected. Flint had no idea it was coming, planned, all worked out. And so, this is how it went down.

Flight. Awry of the mission handed down. Off of the path they had taken to get there. The three tried to skirt around the sides of the building: two one way and Tell the other. They fell into different lines of travel. The sky lost Tell as the sirens blared louder underground. Gaff and Flint found only stairs and tightly knit fences, keeping their prying fingers away.

Tell paused and looked back. Had they meant to stick together?

Doesn’t matter – they all think independent, in unison. Tell is down the way and around the corner and safe in their first hiding place. No one is coming looking. No real reason to hide – but for the pretense. The sky is coming to collect you, Tell. This is the truth and unavoidable. But, better not to be seen. Right?

In the net, Flint and Gaff are pressed together like real friends – one right up against the other, too close, uncomfortable, awkward. They’ve been here before, but that was in another lifetime and before they had been discovered, uncovered, revealed. Now, these friends were only kicking against one another. In the darkness of this terror, it is – to everyone’s surprise – Flint who calls out.

“We’re gonna make it,” but don’t use the name because it’ll give you away.

Flint knows this. Gaff, too.

“You dumbass. We’re dead.”

“It wasn’t Tell, was it?”

“Who else?”

And suddenly, the two know it’s true.

“Fuck this, I’m going to make it,” and Flint checks. There isn’t what there could be. There isn’t the dip in the wall for a foothold that could have saved them. There isn’t a long pole to lean against the fence and swing over with. There is a box. There is old trash, uncollected and scattered. There is a fire escape that is slowly being obscured with a painful haze. Gaff kicks through the plastic paneling.

“Well, if ‘fuck this’ let’s fuck this, you shit!”

Flint and Gaff put their hands together into the wiring and tear away until there is something to step into, step over with, step out with.

The sky is really blaring now, multiplying in tonality. If by “fuck this” either of them meant each other – now would be the prize moment. The tiniest little trip up and one of them would satisfy the finders. Gaff has a single pace ahead, could trip Flint up at any second. If the crafts get any closer, you’re out of the picture, friend. Sorry to say it, but that’s as far as our loyalties lie. You had to know this when we began? By the way, where the hell
is Tell?

And back around that corner, in a damp broken corner of a fucked up old building is Tell, crouching, coughing, waiting. The cough is the tell, the sign, the signal. It should bring the crafts down. It should bring the crafts this way. Is this a form of saving your friends, Tell? Can you tell if it is? Or, will you, when confronted with the belly machine crack?

Everybody cracks.

Cracks in the asphalt. Cracks in the walls around here. There are cracks in Flint’s face and Gaff is losing any hope of holding it together. How are they supposed to make things happen when it ever goes to shit?

Tell crunches over and kicks a stool. The finders are spread out on the floor above, glass crunching underfoot. The stool clatters and makes a racket. Tell coughs again loud. The footsteps above call out to find each other and find the source of noise.

It’s a matter of seconds before they come, rushing down the stairs overhead. Railguns and stunners all drawn, like this isn’t one of their own. Oh, but it’s not. A blinding flash and Tell has a hole in the head before you could take an extra breath. Didn’t they tell you? You don’t get out of this alive. You only give us what we want. You should know. This is how the line always goes.

For Flint and Gaff, it still goes a little bit differently. Gaff is slamming arm through cracked glass to try and break free. This is the best plan there is, to date. Flint is scattering the bits of explosives they do have. Jam up the sky – that’s all these do. If we can get out of this cracked glass and drop on our feet, we can run and not be seen. Under cover there under the street. The darkness is waiting for us. Moment of truth or just pure insanity here.

Gaff looks at Flint and gets this gut reaction: shit, glad I didn’t push you back.

Flint smashes through. They fall clumsily and stagger into a galloping walk. The darkness seeps through every crack here. They know where they can run now: deeper.

Moments pass and the noise behind them gets lost behind their own heartbeats and rushed steps. Gaff notices the rhythm is off for two of them and wishes there was some way to check Flint’s feet without stopping or needing light. They don’t cease the awkward tattoo, regardless.

A few more steps and there’s this wail like something in the tight, dark tunnel dying. A screech, a flash of red light, and all silent. Flint and Gaff both smash into one another – nothing like that last time, in a big death mash up here. Terrified of everything, even the walls. The sky, the world, death is coming. Right?

Their eyes lock but it’s so dark you can’t see a thing. A spray of hot across Gaff’s face and a silent shudder, thumping, tumbling to the ground. Gaff gets half a second to think before the wire slices right through the neck. It’s so sharp you hardly feel a thing. Like butter through your spine and then you’re brain shu-

A laugh from the sky above. Three little pawns in this game. One of them paid off, one of them tipped off, one of them stupid enough to go along for the ride. All of them trapped like cats. The only one who wins tonight is the People in their richly adorned costumes, their sealed helmets, their armored vehicles. The district itself is to blame for harboring such threats, such anomolies to the proper way of life. If only one of them had chosen correctly – to step out, to run, to hide. But, in these little games, no one ever does.

Pay for my betrayal and I’ll steal your goods all the same?

I don’t think so little revolution.

Flash fiction by Ori & Rei, timed 3 minutes per round.

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