Saturday, February 18, 2017

Voyage to Saga: Flipsides (Part V)

Vearden was sleeping soundly in his bed. He was dreaming of getting Saga back. All his efforts led to success, and they were happy. But then suddenly the dream started draining from him, and he woke to find himself becoming increasingly wet. At first he thought it was sweat, and then he thought it might have been something else, which was weird because he had never thought of Saga like that. After a few more seconds, though, he realized that the wetness was not coming from him. His hotel suite was gradually filling up from water, presumably coming from some other time and place. It had soaked through his mattress, and was overcoming his body. He jumped out of bed and started wading through the water in an attempt to get to the door. The water was up to his waist when he finally gave up trying to open it. He struggled over to the bathroom door. It did open, but it was filling up with water as well. It was then that he decided to give up. He lifted his feet and started floating on the rising surface. The Shepherd probably wasn’t trying to kill him, but if she was, so what?
The water was salty, burning his eyes as little drops splashed into his face. Before he reached the ceiling, he took a deep breath, and then let it out so as to sink back down towards the floor. He opened his eyes just enough to see the furniture disappear little by little. The walls broke away, and the floor turned to sand. Then the sand dropped away from him, leaving him in the middle of nowhere. The ceiling was gone as well, so he finally swam up and broke through to freedom. All around him he could see only ocean...and also some kind of platform. He instinctively swam over and pulled himself onto it. A machine buzzed over and started looking at him. There appeared to be a camera on it. Must have been some kind of surveillance drone.
Two people reached down and pulled him farther from the edge. “Are you okay?” one of them asked.
“Can you breathe?” asked the other.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Vearden answered. “Where am I?”
“Well, we don’t know,” said the man.
“They don’t tell us these things,” the woman added.
Vearden coughed a little and sat up. This was only one of a whole bunch of platforms, floating varying distances from each other, with no real land in sight. “Were you kidnapped?” he asked.
“Heavens no,” the man said. “This is a challenge.” He helped Vearden up and pointed at the drone. “Smile, you’re on camera. Millions of people are watching you crash this party. Where the hell did you come from?”
“This is a television show?”
“Well, it’s a web broadcast, but yeah,” the woman confirmed. “More specifically, it’s a reality competition.”
Vearden looked around again, for no reason in particular, just to get his bearings as best he could. Another drone zoomed in from the sky. It opened its aperture to release a holographic image of a man. “Contestants,” the hologram said. “This is an unexpected visit, and I recognize the novelty in it. The producers and I have decided that, since there is no rule against it, this newcomer may help you in this challenge, if he so chooses. He can only, however, help one of you. You have five minutes to plead your case, at which point you must get back to the challenge, regardless of the decision. If you’ve not left this platform by then, you will forfeit the challenge.”
There was a brief pause after the hologram flickered out when they didn’t know what to do, or say. Then the woman scoffed. She started stretching and warming up. “I don’t need any help. I’m a freakin’ fish. You’ll just get in my way. She dove into the water and began to swim to the next nearest platform.
“I could use your help,” the man said. “Philomena is a surfer; I’m a judge. I have no idea what I’m doing here.”
“What’s your name?”
“Daniel...I’m Vearden. Do people die in these challenges?”
“It’s not happened before.”
“So this isn’t like, you win or you’re executed type of thing? This isn’t some post-apocalyptic sport that the new authorities have imposed on the impoverished?”
“Of course not. Have you never heard of Flipsides?”
“I guess not.”
“It’s like Survivor meets Big Brother meets the NCAA Championship Tournament. So will you help?”
“That’s why I’m here. Tell me what to do.”
Daniel protected his eyes from the sun and looked out to the horizon. “Do you see that sky-slash-ocean-colored blob on that platform over there?”
“That’s called a jelly frog. It’s a genetically engineered amphibian with a severe health defect. If it sits—oh, there it goes,” he interrupted himself when the blobby thing jumped up and fell into the water. He went on, “if it sits in one place for too long, it’ll die. The weight of its own little organs start to crush each other, so it has to frequently get back in water. Unfortunately, its gills don’t work if it doesn’t keep moving, and they suffer from diminishing returns, so it has to jump back onto land to breathe regular air again.”
“So it’s constantly on the move.”
“Yes, and the object of the game is to catch it.”
During Daniel’s explanation, Vearden was watching Philomena swim from platform to platform. She couldn’t just swim right to the one where the frog was, because she wouldn't be able to see it, and she couldn’t stay in one place too long, because the frog wouldn’t. It was designed to be tiring and frustrating. Maybe it wasn’t even winnable, but it looked like Philomena was getting close, so they better get going.
It was then that Vearden was able to see it. There was a distortion above the platform that the jelly frog was on at the moment. He started looking at other platforms to see if it was just an illusion, and found another distortion above a second platform in a different direction. But it was just these two. “Can you see that?” he asked.
“We better go, or I forfeit.”
“The blur just above the frog. Can you see it?”
“No, I can’t see anything. Maybe you just got too much water in your lungs.”
“No, this is for me. This is why I’m here. Come on.” Vearden jumped into the water.”
“That’s the wrong way,” Daniel called down to him.
“Just trust me.” He began to swim past the next platform over.
“Can you predict its movements?” Daniel asked.
“Just trust me,” Vearden repeated. He could hear a splash behind him. Apparently Daniel was following his advice.
Evidently, the platform they had started on was the starting line, because it was far more stable. He was able to pull himself on it, and stay standing, as needed. These other platforms were a lot more trouble, though. Every time he pushed down on the edge to get himself onto it, it would just turn up and slip him off. “This is impossible!” How was Philomena even doing it? She wasn’t struggling at all. Oh, that’s right, she was a surfer. “She has an unfair advantage!” he cried once Daniel had caught up to him to try to get himself on.
“She has a literal advantage. She won an earlier challenge, which gave her the opportunity to pick the place. Not all challenges are in the ocean.”
“Well, we have an advantage too,” Vearden said. “We have each other. Go try to get on the other side. I’ll hold this side down.”
“Good idea.”
Their plan worked, and once Daniel was on, he spread eagle on it to hold balance while Vearden climbed on as well.
“Okay, now what?” Daniel said. “Do we just wait for it to come?” He looked out to spot the frog. What he saw was Philomena, who had just reached the platform the frog was presently on. “Oh no, she’s gonna win!”
“Remember what I said about trusting me?”
“I did, and I lost because of it. Even if the jelly frog gets back in the water now, she won’t have far to go. It physically can’t swim this far out.”
“I want you to jump...that way.” He pointed towards the distortion, which was a couple of feet away from the platform. The other distortion had followed the frog to its new platform, confirming Vearden’s suspicions about it. Daniel clearly still couldn’t see either of them.
“The hell are you talking about?”
“If you jump, you’ll win. But you gotta go now, or you really will lose.”
“This is stupid. What’s that going to accomplish?”
He decided to change tactics. “If you do what I say, you could win this. If you don’t believe me, then you’re too far away to win, so who cares whether you jump or not? Might as well take the risk.”
Daniel looked back to Philomena. She was pulling herself onto the frog’s platform. She was this close to getting it.
“Fine,” Daniel relented. He prepared himself, then jumped right towards the temporal distortion, disappearing into it, and suddenly appearing through the exit distortion in the distance. He was surprised for a few seconds, and needed the time to find his balance, but he knew he had to get over it. He bent down and scooped up the jelly frog just before Philomena’s hand was on it. Fanfare rang out from the hovering drones. Daniel had won. Vearden smiled as he sat down on the platform. He then let himself slip into the water, but instead, he found only his hotel bed.

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