Having recently posted an article that I really liked and seemed to be popular, I figured it might be cool to show everyone the story that spawned it – the one that got rejected. I wrote this originally as part of a job application to Bethesda Softworks, a video game company. Among the usual resume and such they wanted a writing sample of no more than five pages with an emphasis on dialogue. Since I don’t like writing incomplete stories, I tried to fit a full, coherent story that was heavy on dialogue into the page limit. This, modified after the page restriction was lifted, was what I came up with. Enjoy.
Copyright 2012, by B.K. Price
“If you ask me, he had it coming.”
I sit stone still in the passenger seat, but my heart races. My pale-knuckled fingers cling to the dashboard. I stare at the jumble of gray fur and red guts through the windshield. “What could that poor little thing have possibly done to deserve this?” My voice quavers.
The Director looks up from the dashboard. “What?” He follows my gaze outside. “I wasn’t talking about the squirrel. I was talking about Dolan Gryk.”
“Who is Dolan Gryk?”
“Haven’t you been paying attention? He’s the CEO of MegaCorp. It’s all over the vidscreen.” I look down and see coverage of the divorce proceedings sandwiched between blustering salespeople trying to convince me that I can’t possibly live without their latest and greatest gizmo. “He’s a good man at heart, but a bit of a self-absorbed workaholic. Pair him up with a sexually repressed secretary with daddy issues and you’re just asking for trouble. It’s just like I would have done it. I could see this mess coming from a mile away.”
I pop my door open. “Too bad you can’t say the same thing about the squirrel.” The word feels strange in my mouth. Squirrel.
The Director swings himself out into the unusually humid desert heat. “Do you need a moment to cry about it?”
I grab two shovels from the back. “You know, for the Director of the Galactic Intelligence Agency you sure are an ass.”
He takes the shovel that I hold out to him. “And for a highly trained agent you sure are a crybaby. It’s a stupid squirrel. Let it go.”
We start walking across the purple and brown splotched landscape. “I guess I’m just flustered because of all the changes.”
“Well, there’s that thing back there,that squirrel, as you call it. I’ve never seen an animal like that before. Klaxxon IV has two native animal species, and that squirrel thing isn’t one of them.”
“Two species? On the whole planet? Talk about lazy!” The Director thinks it over. “There are plenty of squirrels on Terra. Maybe someone brought it over and it got loose.”
“Maybe, but there’s more. The land is changing color. It’s usually just purple, but now it’s starting to turn brown, and outside the Containment Zone it has all turned brown. I think whatever happened out there might be spreading.”
The Director smiles. “Don’t worry. As soon as we find the device things will get better.”
“You can’t possibly know that.”
“Trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong?”
“Besides that squirrel back there, no.”
“Would you shut up about the squirrel already!”
We come to a place where an abandoned survey station lies in ruins, along with another run-down building of unusual architecture. They intersect in places, and where they intersect the walls of the unusual building seem to cut through the survey station’s walls. I stare at the ruins. “Is this the place?”
The Director is looking at something clamped to his belt and shaking his head. “This is where he said it would be, but if the device is here this thing should be beeping and blinking.”
“Maybe we should go back.”
“No, the signal could be cloaked, or this thing might not be working. We should look around first.”
We look around but find nothing. Then we dig until our shirts are off and the area is pockmarked by holes. The Director stares down at the last hole, breathing heavily. “That psychopathic bastard lied to us.”
That “psychopathic bastard” is Ploog Zolock, a notorious intergalactic crime boss. I shove the tip of my shovel into the ground and lean on it. “Are you surprised?”
“No, just pissed off.”
I pick up my shirt. “What now?”
The Director slides his shirt over his head and we start to walk back. “I don’t know. We need to find some way to convince Ploog to tell us the truth.”
“Guns are pretty convincing.”
A sly smile creeps over the Director’s face. “You have guns?”
“Of course. I’m an agent, aren’t I?”
“I suppose you are, although I don’t even really know who you are.”
“I told you, I’m Agent 69.”
“Yeah, I know. I mean your real name.”
We’re back at the car now. I put the shovels in the back. “Wow, I haven’t used my real name in so long I wonder if I can remember it.” I grab two pistols from the back and hand one to the Director. “Here, take this. Um, right, my name is Joe Blow.”
The Director looks incredulous. “Seriously? Joe Blow?”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve heard all the jokes a million times. Not much you can do with a last name like that.”
“I’ll bet.” The Director opens his door and memories of our terrifying trip out here flood my mind.
“Mind if I drive?”
Fortunately the Director doesn’t object. He just stares at the featureless landscape while I start the engine. “Boy, I’ve been so focused on the Terran system for so long I’ve neglected the outer systems.”
I speed along a road I don’t remember and then turn onto a road I do remember. “Well, you’ll be glad to know the GIA is alive and kicking out here in the ass end of the galaxy.”
Night is falling as we enter Klaxxon City, the only population center of any significance on the planet. We’re starving, so we head downtown to a diner that is used to serving humans. Native food tends to make humans sick.
I sit across from the Director, dipping my toast in my soup. “So why’d you come here yourself? You could have just sent Daxx Lightspeed to get the device.”
The Director looks up at me in alarm. “You know Daxx?”
“Of course I know Daxx. Everyone knows Daxx Lightspeed. He’s the most decorated GIA agent ever. Hell, even Ploog knows him, especially after Daxx busted up that plot of his not too long ago.”
“Oh, yeah. The Klaxxon Conspiracy. That explains why the device ended up here.”
“You think Ploog has hatched some devious plot involving your device?”
“I’d be surprised if he didn’t.”
We eat in silence for a while. “So tell me about yourself, Agent Blow.”
I chew a couple of times before answering. “What’s there to say? I’m just an average agent out on a jerkwater planet.”
“How about your life before the Agency?”
“You mean childhood and stuff? Well, gee, I really couldn’t tell you much. I never knew my parents, and my childhood was a blur. I remember a puppy somewhere. My favorite color is blue, if that helps.”
“Not much of a history.”
“Yeah, well, we agents don’t always lead glamorous adventure-filled lives like Daxx.”
“You sound a little resentful of him.”
“Not really. I just don’t like his type very much. He’s a bit of a douchebag.”
The Director chuckles. “You don’t know what a squirrel is but you know the word douchebag.”
“How about you? Who’s the man behind the Director?”
“Oh, nothing exciting. I just like to write stories and invent new devices and such.”
“You don’t say. Invent any cool gizmos for the Agency?”
“Oh, no, nothing like that. Just personal projects, usually things having to do with what I’m writing about. I’m working on a tactile holography device right now. It projects solid holograms.”
“I know what tactile holography is. That was invented long ago.”
“Yeah, uh, I know, but, you see, well, I just…” He leans in close. “I’m just an amateur. I have to start somewhere, you know.”
“Ah, gotcha.” I can’t really judge. I don’t know the first thing about inventing. Must be hard coming up with ideas.
We pay the bill and head out to Ploog’s place. We don’t need to drive—he’s only a few blocks away from the diner, at a strip club. “You know, I’m surprised. Most people who visit Klaxxon IV tend to stare at the yutta.” I’m referring to the native intelligent species, strange yellow blobs with seventeen tentacles.
“Oh, yeah, I’ve heard a lot about them before. They’re pretty much like their descriptions—ugly yellow blobs of goo with a bunch of tentacles. I never could figure out how they handled locomotion.”
I shrug. “However they manage, they do it well enough. Some of those goo bags can be pretty damn fast.”
Luuri is perched beside the door when we arrive. I come in closer to the Director so I can whisper. “That’s Luuri, Ploog’s best enforcer. See all those things strapped to his tentacles. They’re twitch cannons. They fire based on muscle movements since Yutta don’t have fingers. Watch out for him.”
Luuri’s not a yutta of many words, and today is no different. “No entry.” His bubbling voice is firm. He shifts his body between us and the door.
“Luuri, old pal. Why so rude? We just want to see the show.”
“I’m not your pal, and the day you want to see yutta get naked is the day gouurta fly out of my drelakk.” A drelakk is the yutta equivalent of an anus, and let’s just say that having an animal as large as a gouurta fly out of it would be very uncomfortable.
“Oh, if only we could be so lucky.” I pat Luuri on his…goo and I lean toward him so that I can whisper. “We just want to have a little talk with your boss.”
Yutta value personal space. Invading that space is nothing short of an affront, and gets them very agitated, and when yutta get agitated they tend to tense up. All six of Luuri’s eyes spread wide open, and his body elongates. His tentacles have been waving about all the while, and one suddenly stiffens and points straight out. That’s my chance.
I dart my hand under his tentacle, grab a spot at its base, and squeeze. Luuri spasms, then falls unconscious. I motion for the Director to come with me through the door. He stares at Luuri as we go inside. “That was incredible. How did you do that?”
“Yutta have a nerve cluster at the base of each tentacle. I don’t know what it’s called, but if you squeeze it hard enough they black out.”
“Right. Isn’t that how Daxx…”
“Yeah, yeah, Daxx Lightspeed used that maneuver to escape when Ploog captured him. You do what you can, even if it isn’t original. Cover your eyes.”
The hall we’re rushing along opens up to the main area of the club. Humans tend to vomit when they see naked yutta exposing their genitalia, so we keep a hand over our eyes for as long as the strippers are visible. The Director stumbles and grabs my shirt to guide him while his visibility is limited.
“I remember that scene…er, report. But what you did out there was so much more. That was clever. Daxx got lucky when he did it, but you goaded that thing into giving you an opening. Even I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
The danger has passed, and we lower our hands. “I wouldn’t expect you to. You’re not an expert on the yutta.” The Director flashes an inscrutable smile after I say that.
We reach the door leading to Ploog’s headquarters. The Director grabs for his pistol, but I restrain him. “We can’t go in there with guns blazing. These guys have tentacles filled with cannons. They’d take us out in seconds. Keep your weapon hidden unless things go south. Got it?”
He nods. “Sorry. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out in the field.”
“It’s okay. Just follow my lead.”
I calmly open the door and step inside. Yutta take well to calmness and politeness. It’s the best way to avoid stirring up trouble.
Ploog is reclining in a special hemispherical chair the yutta absolutely love. For some reason it looks funny to me. It makes Ploog look like a yellow hardboiled egg. To the untrained eye he seems to be alone, but a quick scan of the room reveals four bodyguards hidden in niches. My mind races to calculate the best trajectories to take them out. Off to my right is a planter box that could serve as cover in a pinch, but otherwise we are dangerously exposed. At least Ploog’s tentacles are restricted by the chair, and he seems fixated on a vidscreen behind us.
“Gentlemen, I thought our business was finished.”
The Director sidles calmly across the room. “We’re not finished until you tell us the truth.”
“Oh, but I have. If you did not find what you were looking for then you either looked in the wrong place or it was stolen. The desert is thick with thieves.”
“So is the city.” My jab causes Ploog to bend his face and pucker his mouth hole in a Yutta sneer.
“Nevertheless, you will not find what you are looking for here, I’m afraid.”
“Oh, we damn well will!” Then, to my horror, the Director pulls out his pistol.
Fortunately, Ploog holds up a tentacle, and although his men pop out of their niches they don’t fire, even after I draw my own pistol just in case.
“Gentlemen, let us be civilized. I have no desire for bloodshed today. Put those weapons awa…” The Director takes a step and the device on his belt beeps, flashing a green light. He looks down at it and all Hell breaks loose.
Guns blaze in all directions. In a flash I grab the Director’s arm and pull him down behind the planter box, but not before he gets a slug to the shoulder. It isn’t the best cover, but I hope I won’t need it for long. I spin around over the box, my main pistol in one hand and a smaller pistol I keep hidden on my body in the other. The trajectories are in my mind, and four shots later the bodyguards are down, although I’ve gotten a few slugs for my efforts.
Bleeding, but not mortally wounded, I bring my pistols to bear on Ploog. He has a tentacle free, with five twitch cannons fixed on me. The Director has smartly gotten a door in the back open and is crawling into better cover. It doesn’t bother me; I know I am the expendable one.
“He calls himself the Director, doesn’t he? It’s a lie.” Ploog inclines his head toward the vidscreen behind me.
I allow a glance behind me, enough to see footage of the Director giving Daxx Lightspeed some kind of medal. Only it isn’t the same man I came in with.
I dip my gun down, looking dejected, and that sets Ploog at ease. “Are you really willing to die for a decie…” Up comes the gun and I cut Ploog short with a bullet to the brain. Ploog has always loved the sound of his own voice. He never did know enough to shoot someone as soon as he has him dead to rights.
I stagger into the back room. My companion has a device in his hand…the device. It’s disc-shaped. “That was amazing what you did in there. You deserve a comm…”
“Can it. I know you’re not the Director. Who are you?”
He smiles. “Nobody in particular. Just an inventor.” The device flashes a green light. He presses a thumb against it. “It’s time for you to get back in my hea…” And just like that he’s gone.
I shiver momentarily as I step out through a back door into the cool night air. The city is full of light and activity, more so than usual. Cars bearing vidscreens scream by with breathless anchors reporting the sudden end of the ecological crisis. Everything is nice and purple again, it seems. My mind is buzzing with thoughts, memories. I get the car and drive home. More newsvids report the amazing discovery of thousands of new species on Klaxxon IV. The Galactic Council is voting on whether to include the planet in their ranks. Best of all, Daxx Lightspeed has been relegated to a desk job. I pour myself a drink. My communicator buzzes. It’s a message from the top brass of the GIA. I’m up for a promotion, for “exceptional bravery and skill in bringing down a notorious crime lord.” My mind is clearing. I know my past. I see my parents. My puppy’s name was Star.
I look up at the ceiling. “Nobody, eh?”