Universe W-2020: Holidaze 2
April 16th, 2000
Memorial Day Weekend
The Final Frontier
“Now this is going to be a weekend to remember,” as the tray closes.
He crawls back to the sofa, old and leather, softened to the point that you sit in it when you’re sitting on it, and wriggles around a bit. The controller lies next to the television remote, which was sat atop his girlfriend’s Reader’s Ingest magazine on the coffee table; he’s never seen Stephanie read it once, it shouldn’t be here damnit it has no place in Spencer’s house, yet there it sits regardless. He boots up the TV and switches the input to HDMI 5 before trading remote for controller and settling back into the cowhide comfychair. The screen lights up before him, and before the boxes can load their fillings, he presses the A button. The machine hums in loading and the screen goes dark once more.
Spencer’s eyes stare at the light; after waiting for years that stretched like eons in yoga pants, The Final Frontier is finally here.
The Final Frontier, the highly anticipated new video game by a small independent studio called Dreamers Make Things based out of rural Georgia of all places, boasts a vast, borderless, procedurally generated virtual universe for the player to explore alone or with up to three friends on the couch! It features an original periodic table of elements, exotic species of lifeforms varying from microscopic pre-organisms to galaxy-hopping demi-gods, and you can start wherever you want; you see, in The Final Frontier, outer space isn’t the final frontier – consciousness is. When the player dies, they respawn as a random lifeform one level up from their previous character on the in-game spectrum of intelligence; there are over twenty-two levels and over two hundred and twenty-two different lifeforms on each level, and that’s not all – as the game goes on, the playable character count increases as the characters that aren’t actively controlled by the player breed and intermingle. That’s right, as time passes and the game is played, the in-game universe itself evolves and levels up with the player.
It’s the most ambitious video game to ever be built – a limitless explorable area, infinite replayability, the curious call of an alternate universe that exists both within and independently of your own… and it’s finally been released for the Bintendo GameSquare.
And Spencer got it at the midnight release.
Why a video game developer, especially a video game developer that needs massive amounts of money to continue their developing of video games, would release a video game on a Sunday is beyond Spencer, but it doesn’t matter; vidya dispensaries aren’t prevalent in his town, and he made a whole night out of making the long trip to the nearest vidyagamery to get his fix. It took a few hours to drive there, a couple more to wait in line whilst talking to humoids from all walks of life, some sums of minutes to go through the process of grabbing the game from the display the employees set up all the way in the back of the store and then returning to the front of the store and waiting for the night’s single working cashier to be able to take his money, and then a few more hours to get himself back home, but Spencer’s got nothing else going on neither today nor tomorrow. The adventure was welcome.
What? It’s a Sunday for Pete’s sake, Pete being Spencer’s boss who is also immensely into video games, and they planned to hang out and play FF together later on in the day anyway. So, while he doesn’t understand the game’s odd release, he accepts it all the same, and just like that the game finishes loading. Spencer attaches the hook to the ceiling mount he installed during the load-up sequence and carefully inserts his head into the twenty-pound headset that came with the game.
The graphics are pixelated boogers, but of course they are. Most games today look more like flashing constellations than respectable quasidimensional images, and those games are displayed on normal television screens, not virtual reality headsets. It’s excusable in The Final Frontier’s case; the scope of the game makes every flaw held within excusable because this game knows what it is. It’s a baby, an example, it will crawl so the future of video gaming can run, and Spencer gets to be part of its birth, one of the first human beings on the planet to experience a virtual reality. This weekend, surely, shall be one to remember.
Listen Nigh And Rejoice
“You’re sure it he got into that car?”
“Yeah, positive,” with irritation in his inflection. Why hire him back if there’s gonna be no trust? “I was watching it when you were inside, it was him.”
“A’ight. Fuckin’, it’s just, the chances of that shit.”
The teenage with the angry orange scarf runs up to Trench’s side as Bent’s trying to find the right key. “Guys!” it shouts, “Guys! Guys wait up, you fehgot me! Yous said yous’ed take me to the lakehouse, remember?”
Bent squeals, “You’re not my dad!” in a piglet’s voice if piglets were human, signaling to Trench that the van is open for business.
Trench reaches into his coat and pulls out a fully automatic Uzi with a crude desert camouflage design drawn on to the metal in what appears to be Createa magic marker. He points it at the teenage and it stops dead, the arms of its scarf flying forward. It goes for the Uzi but Trench ducks and shows his teeth – the scarf drapes dead on the pavement, riddled with holes, and the teenage is down on its knees with iron pressed to its neck.
“I owe you nothing, fiendish lil’ worm,” barks Trench Th’Coat, the most ruthless human spawn to slump outta New Jersey limpin’. Bent Over, Trench’s impeccable getaway chauffeur and right-hand hitman, walks up in front of the teenage and kneels down, leveling the playing field.
“Listen nigh and rejoice, kid, for tonight’s the lucky one; we’ve gotta crop to cream, if you’re knowin’ what I mean. Oh, and be sure to know this: Chuck Leary sends his regards.”
Teenage poops a tiny bit in its jeans, but they’re so skintight the smell can’t escape. It bows its head and blubbers, wishing it had a bottle of cough syrup to pour out for his dead scarfie.
As Bent stands, he shoots a look that disarms Trench Th’Coat. They both spit saliva on the swiss’d scarf as they walk to their van. The teenage grabs it and runs away with what little dignity it still has smearing betwixt its ass cheeks.
Who The Hell Is Chuck Leary?
To drown out the obnoxious tic’ticking of the blinker, Trench asks, “So who the hell is Chuck Leary?”
“Nobody, believe it or not,” Bent says after puffing air out his nose. “I recently read a book by Tom Leary, that Brown U professor that went sorta nuts with the eL-eSs-Dee way back in’the, so I had the name in my head. Chuck rhymes with fuck, so I was like, Chuck it, why the fuck not?”
“That is goddamned brilliant.”
Bent feels a tap on his right shoulder, which is fucking strange considering how his superior in every way, shape, and form Trench Th’Coat would normally just say something because his balls have yet to be castrated, wrapped in dough, and deep fried with a gallon of ice cream, but it’s not as fucking strange as it would be if he had felt the tap on his left shoulder, as that shoulder is jointed a matter of inches from a closed passenger door of a van ripping eighty-five miles an hour down this thirty-five miles per hour stretch of deserted county road. However, this tap is perceived at damn near midnight, after midnight even, so the baseline strangeness stands ominously, like a devilish angel of a warring consciousness on his shoulder, his right shoulder, which was just tapped.
“Jesus fucking Christ with it, just give me the goddamned phone number. Holy fucking shit, dude, the word games…”
The van rolls over twice under Bent’s swerve but lands on four wheels. The roll cage keeps all passengers’ arms, legs, and trench-coat-concealed automatic firearms inside the vehicle. Not for long though, because as soon as that shit’s done bouncing like a lowrider, Bent Over and Trench Th’Coat hop out, the former armed with the latter’s guns and the latter armed with the knowledge that the van his late great-grandmother gave to him just fucking rolled the fuck over. They approach, breathing heavy, staggered in step, loaded in magazine, and triggered in finger. Then, the roof of the van explodes upwards, the flayed slivers of metal and interior surfacing bent and jagged like broken fingers.
From the hole hovers a man in a business… no, wait, that’s some sort of…
“Is it a robot?” Bent asks, scratching his scalp with the barrel of the Uzi in his right hand, the same gun that he didn’t turn the safety off of. Nothing’s gonna happen, I just feel like it’s a bit risky, a little foolish perhaps.
“I don’t know, I mean… real talk?” Trench asks, knowing he doesn’t need to ask but god damn does it sound proper when one says Real talk? before one drops their knowledge. “It kinda looks like Steel Man, like, that old comic book character?”
“You mean the fuckheaded alcoholic who builds the threats that he saves the world from?”
“I mean,” Trench says, “if you wanna look at it that way and put it in those words, sure, but you could’ve just said yes, dude.”
“I know,” apologetically.
“Like, we’re wasting time. The robot thing’s still above the van. And Steel Man is a lot cooler than that.”
“I know, I’m sorry homie. But yeah, I dunno, it’s got the fedora thing.” Then, to the robot, “YO, what are you?”
The robot hovers down to the ground. His head, fedora included, melts away to reveal the head of a human, also wearing a fedora. Bent raises his guns, trains them at the dude’s exposed head, and gives them a treat after they don’t jam up as he grips the triggers and splatters the dude’s dome.
Oh wait, he hasn’t pulled them yet.
“Hiya guys, look, just give me your phone number and we can all walk away.”
“Why, so I can contact you and make sure you pay me to fix this van?” Trench asks calmly, signaling for Bent to drop the guns. He doesn’t, choosing to let them fall to the ground instead. Safeties on this time; good on you, Bent.
“What are you talking about? The van’s fine.”
Bent Over and Trench Th’Coat look at the van and it’s totally fixed, the fingers must have splinted up and healed.
“Son of a bitch,” Trench says as he rips the plastic wrapper from a warface candy, a candy so sour it can bore a hole in your cheek if you leave it there too long, by the way, back in high school, I sold those shits for $0.25 a pop (5 for $1.00) and made hundreds, pause, in profit. “I’m in.”
They exchange phone numbers. Chuck is flabbergasted when he sees Trench Th’Coat and Bent Over’s shared phone number is, no bullshit, (123) 456-7890.
“All righty, boys,” as Chuck removes a joint from his inner coat pocket. “That was easy enough, Imma leave you two classy gentiles with this.”
To my own surprise, Chuck hands over the joint. Four individual eyes grow wide, but not as wide as said eyes’ pupils will grow after toking once on that joint.
“That is a Cannajuana joint from… uh… Madagasar. Sure. Uh, it’s really potent, like, twenty-somethin’ percent Tee-acHe-Cee or something like that, I don’t fucking know. Cannabis is Cannabis, just smoke the shit and tell the aliens I say hi.”
Chuck’s power armor then swallows his face like Bent is gonna swallow some burnt scuuby snacks in a few minutes because I’m not gonna bother packing my bowl really tight because I just want to fucking ssssmmmmoooookkkkeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee I mean, because Chuck’s hemi-atomic nanobots rolled the crutch loosely on purpose; they’re malicious little deviants when they want to be – each has a consciousness about it, and there are occasionally rebellions within The Swathe. Yes, the body of hemi-atomic nanobots is now called The Swathe, and there are occasionally pockets of said Swathe that fall into rebellion… you know, just in case I decide to scrap one of the pre-planned stories for this book that I thought up a name for to fit the theme of a certain series that needed fattening up and have given little to no thought to otherwise. Ahem.
Just in case.
Anywho, Trench Th’Coat, his voice flurried as the snowstorm that keeps your lover’s plane on the runway long enough for you to go get her back at the last minute, asks, “WAIT! WHO ARE YOU?”
Chuck says, “Well I’m Chuck Leary, thanks for asking!” then smiles cutely before taking flight and taking that flight away and away and away until he’s sitting on the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, and here he smokes the second joint he pulls from his coat pocket. No scuuby snacks for Chuck though, because his hemibots love their host consciousness dearly.
“No fucking way,” once the exhaust-colored smokescreen that spewed from Chuck dissipates. “Dude, dude was Chuck Leary!!”
“Yeah dude, I kno–” cut off by the ringing of his phone.
He picks up, “Hello? Oh uh, hi there? Who’s…” whilst shooting a perplexed-ass look at Bent oh my god look at his face lmfao how does he have that many muscles around his lips? Like, “Yeah uh… oh, yeah we can hook yo–… oh, okay. Yeah. It’s a plan, then. We’ll see ya, man.”
Trench Th’Coat hangs the phone up, looks at it, stares at the joint, gazes at Bent, leers at the joint, readies the joint in his mouth, sporks it life a foon, struggles with the papery taste of the tip-hitties, starts to make moves and bust grooves when he hits the herbal mass, then he passes to Bent, watches Bent hit the thing like Mother does the creature in the attic, then Bent passes it back to Trench and Trench burns the whole fucking thing down in a great multitude of gnasty drags because, as he tells his impeccable getaway chauffeur and right-hand hitman Bent Over of the Ho-Ho-Kus OverNoUnder Chinese Food family dynasty, “You know who just called me? Fuck Chucking Leary!”
“Damn,” says Trench Th’Coat, the most ruthless human spawn to slump outta New Jersey limpin’ with pork roll flavored saltwater taffy from the AC boardwalk packed betwixt his lip’n’his gum, “So what we doin?”
On a distant planet called Ouranus, the calendars switch to the year 2000 and everything that was predicted to happen during Y2K on Earth happens there; you see, the humans of Earth bugged out four months ago because they sensed the Y2K stuff from galaxies away, because they inherently have that ability, their thoughts are mental translations of vibrations that bounce through the strings of reality; a human’s purpose in Existence is to help those who need it, and if things actually went how they were supposed to go in this pocket of Existence, humans wouldn’t even have been created on Earth in the first place, but this is Universe W-fucked so humans were created on Earth and an entire planet-wide society of technologically whipped, spayed, and neutered salamanderic beings went up in flames when their machines stopped working because the crazy hairless monkeys of the prophecies carved into the granite caverns beneath the king’s castle who are said to be able to teleport using the third eye inside of their brains never came to save them. Such is life.
“Yeah I’m comin’, one sec!” Spencer shouts from his comfychair. He pauses The Final Frontier, although he knows the Frontierverse lives on through it, and leaves his bedroom. He banks a left out his door and notices the engraving in the pine trim around the jamb, how the curvature dips and swells so elegantly and so randomly, yet it all comes together to make perfect woodworked harmony slathered in eggshell-2 semi-gloss latex/oil mix (double-coat recommended). The carpet goes buufeuo with every step Spencer takes, the subtle brown carpet that you don’t even register as a real color until you’re really walkin’ on it, not cruisin’ down but just walkin’, really taking every step, soaking in every breath in pace with your stride with nowhere to go, nothing to do, just a walk to take down the hallway before you answer the door a’knocking. As he hits the first stair, Spencer hears the house creak under his weight, then another stair, another creak, another stair, another creak, another stair, no creak but a pounding against the defenseless door, not a knocking but a filthy, slick, and downright superfluous pounding, for Pete’s sake. Pete, if you keep that up you’re going to knock the Amate painting off the wall, oh gods no, not the Amate painting; it’s beautiful! A family heirloom, one of a kind painted with the innards of berries by an indigenous girl Mother Spencer met at the Balsas River basin when she was on her honeymoon with the man she married before she married the man who helped her conceive Spencer; and the frame, the frame is hand-carved from a solid piece of wood! No nails, no unsightly glue that bulges and oozes out of the frame’s corner seam like the gut of a man mid-buffet with a mean case of the meat sweats when his girdle officially comes out as being made in France and it bursts, no staples that stick out the back and poke you when you pick it up without looking, just one solid piece of wood! Then another step he takes, another creak, another insatiable pound, another tremble in the string holding the Amate painting in the hand-carved wooden frame to the beige wall with the white trim leading around the base, another step, another buufeuo, buufeuo, buufeuo, he’s never paid attention before but that’s such a nice sound, such a pleasant sound, such a comfort, and he realizes in that moment that the only path to true happiness in life is the appreciation of the little things, of the unique Amate paintings and their hand-carved dark wooden frames, of the colorless brown carpet and its accompanying beige walls, of the buufeuo, of the sheen on the brass rising from the beechwood grip of the shovel, the tongs, and the handy little broom hanging from the rusted metal stand next to the fireplace with the mantle, that old-ass mantle and the master-class masonrywork, how much did that piece of work cost? How many hours did it take to find all those rocks that went into it, let alone to slather ‘em in mud and stack ‘em around a fireplace? It was worth it regardless – Spencer would often play on that mantle as a child, yes, he’s remembering it so clearly now, so vividly, so lucidly, as if he’s there, as if reincarnation is not a begin at birth and end at death thing, but more of a moment to moment thing, yes, just like Tuncan Drussell said in that one video, as if it all works that way and he’s suddenly then and there again, playing on the mantle and on the rocks, making the dinosaurs hop up and up and up, seeing a waterfall flow from the mantle to the carpet in his mind’s eye as the dinos climbed up and up and up until they reached the mantle, and when they did reach that mythic mantle, what further trial awaited them? What awaited the little plastic toy dinosaurs atop the mythic mantle?
Spencer opens his deep mahogany door, the wood soaked thrice in stain, not painted with but soaked in a vat of the noxious fume-in-liquid-form, and greets his boss with, “Pete.”
He’s shot square in the forehead by Trench Th’Coat, the most ruthless human spawn to slump outta New Jersey limpin’ with pork roll flavored salt water taffy from the AC boardwalk packed betwixt his lip’n’his gum, a lit cigarette butt tucked behind his ear, and a chip in his kneecap the size of the Delaware Water Gap.
“Bent, dispose of the body and get this mess I made cleaned up clickity-split. I’ll look around the house for the keys,” as he crosses the threshold. Trench Th’Coat has but one mission: raid this shoddy piece of shit modular for the keys to that sweet little red sportsfuck parked out in the driveway.
Trench’s impeccable getaway driver and right hand hitman Bent Over of the Ho-Ho-Kus OverNoUnder Chinese Food family dynasty that singlehandedly wiped out Ho-Ho-Kus’s Yakuza infestation and ended the reign of enforced poverty over the homeless of the district grabs the pre-moldy shlemo by the legs and drags it into the house, leaving a trail of blood that he knows he shouldn’t leave, he knows he has to clean it up, nobody has to remind him, he heard Trench loud and clear but fuck it, Bent’s gettin’ over and older all the same and the bodies don’t get lighter so he draaaaaaaaaaags it right on along and up the stairs and as the head of the mandible hits the carpet after each stair is stepped, Bent Over notices the impact expresses itself with a nice little buufeuo sound, and he really appreciates it, being a connoisseur of the little things in life.
Trench Th’Coat finds the car keys. As he walks outside, Pete pulls up in his van with the stickers that scream I am a loving father with a wife and multiple children and small animals that depend on me and me alone for their health, wellbeing, and continued existence on this most Earthly of plains and gets shot in the fucking head by Trench Th’Coat, the coldest piece of work this side of the Holidaze.
Bent Over, man of iron hand and golden heart, hears the gunshot and reacts as if he’s been in this type of situation trillions of times because, whether you believe it or not, he hasn’t yet and he’s very insecure and he just needs to fake it until fiction becomes reality. He takes the bleeding body, humps it up, and lets it bounce on the bed. The coppery smell of oopsie floods the house like the skunky smell of Cannabis floods my bedroom in this current moment. The wind from the fall blows a slip of paper off the nightstand, not the shoddy particleboard one but the badass handmade tile-top end table. It says,
Call sister, wish niece Karen happy birthday
and Bent disregards it as he walks out of the room, leaving the door open a crack so the night light in the hall can shine in and scare away the monsters that live under my be-woooaahhhh I just slipped into some other shit right there, hold on, what am I writing? He walks down the stairs and out the door and embraces the blustery kiss of the winds of spring as they carress him in such a way that would be deemed grossly inappropriate if done so by a human.
The window of the red sportscar, a bodacious Vechy Vorcette, rolls down. “Hey Bent, we got the car. Now what?”
“I dunno Trench, the delivery isn’t scheduled for another four days. We could go driving around. I heard this town has a nice dam between its two reservoirs, we could check that out if’n we pass it.”
“Shoo,” Trench says, folding his big toes over his second toes repeatedly inside his shoes. “Well I reckon we c’n do whatever we wants, Bent.”
Bent, confused and uncomfortable like a human in the presence of another human, “Why are you talking like that?”
“I don’t know, I struggle when it comes to ending conversations. Just hop in, let’s go see that damn dam.”
That Damn Dam
As they gaze out over that damn dam at the lower of Treering’s two reservoirs, relishing in the relief that comes after completing a long fuckin’ task, the hitmen think to themselves one thing: “That was a weekend to remember.”
Meanwhile, the cops have already arrived at the murder scene.
Officer Chino pulls his cruiser up to the curb and jumps it, his front right tire digging a trench into the lawn deep enough to bury a coat in. He reaches for his pistol, then hesitates and bends over to reach instead for the shotty under the dash. Then, for his communicator.
“This is Officer Queso Sanchez Junior, I’ve arrived at the scene. The other cruiser’s damn near crashed through the house!”
“We tried to warn you,” in a staticky whine. “Get in there Ques’, provide support for the Lieutennant! He’s got the cadet with him!”
Queso Junior’s face drops through the floor. “He’s got Dink?!”
The communicator hits the pavement with a clack after Junior steps thrice.
The front door’s already open, blood and fragments of at least two shattered skull plates decorate the walls like the aftermath of a shrapnel grenade. There’s a drag of blood leading up the stairs and another leading to the kitchen where sounds of effortful grunts send worry through Queso Junior’s mind.
He pumps his trusty boomstick and slams his back to the corner, shouting, “Lieutennant! Are you in there, do the cadets live?!”
“QUESO!” shouts Cadet Eleduardo Dinkelbop with joy. “Yeah dawg we’re good, we just brought the body in here to make it look like a murder-suicide. Those usually go over pretty well on the news. You didn’t hear that from me, though.”
Pete never got to play The Final Frontier.
Spencer only got to play for a few hours.
Bet you didn’t remember.