Welcome to Flash Pulp, Episode Thirty-Three.
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Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – 400 to 600 words brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight we present a tale about friendship and duty, writ large in the glow of a computer monitor.
Flash Pulp 033 – Strangers In The Net, Part 1 of 1
It was the middle of the night, and Maria was groggily clicking at her digital crops while doing her best to ignore the flu churning in her stomach.
The red glare of a friend request appeared on her screen.
She’d recently given in to adding strangers to her list, in a bid to make her gaming life simpler, and when the name “Anthony Holderbrook” appeared, she assumed it was someone looking for a neighbour.
In her NyQuil haze, she clicked “accept”.
* * *
She was at work, bored. The small airfield was dead: it was a rainy Tuesday, and most of the field’s clientèle were hobbyists too nervous to fly in slick weather.
Her time was spent at the office’s Ikea desk. She considered herself little more than a glorified gas station attendant, but at least she had the receipt tracking PC to keep her entertained.
In the last few months she’d gone from casual game player to addict, her online empires ranging from mafiosi to vast agricultural fiefdoms. With the clack of her fingers she could raise an army to grow untold grapes, or sheer any count of sheep.
Still, her new found power had come at the expense of a cluttered friends list, and she’d spent the afternoon attempting to cut those she considered dead weight. Her eyes once again hovered over Anthony’s name. She couldn’t recall him ever having sent an item or in-game request. Her cursor hovered over “remove”, but she re-considered, sliding over to his profile link.
Anthony was an older man, close shaved and trim. Most of his pictures had him in front of fighter jets, or with his wife in their suburban backyard.
A chat window popped up – her sister, back from Lake Tahoe, and in tears about husband-Mike’s constant complaining that the weekend would have been better spent in Vegas.
Maria closed the browser window, reaching for her phone.
* * *
Maria’s eyes happened upon his status message in her news feed.
“We are FUBAR. I’m sorry, Min. I love all of you.”
Anthony had changed his profile image to a professionally shot photo of him in uniform. Maria didn’t know much about the military, but he certainly seemed to have a colourful chest full of medals and ribbons.
As she snooped, a new update appeared.
“Mohole 2 went twenty miles deep. Everything is eggs.”
The smell of drama drew her to his personal page. She spent the following hour continuously hitting refresh.
After a time, she became entangled in a barn raising.
The next day, while negotiating her allegiances with a committee of digital ranchers, it struck her to check for updates.
The older messages had been removed, replaced with:
“Gin makes me talk too much.”
It was then that she decided to google Holderbrook, only to find the now familiar face staring back at her: from old photo ops in Baghdad, from over the desk at a congressional hearing, from the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Atlantic.
They were all captioned “Four-Star Air Force General, Anthony Holderbrook”.
Between harvests, she dug into his profile.
The blandness of his six months of history convinced her it was real.
* * *
Maria had been checking his page hourly. Nothing more had slipped from his status messages, and many of her friends had tired of her constant weaving of conspiracy around every news article that mentioned him.
“Less than forty minutes and we’re all dead.”
The update hit her stomach like a stone.
She started a letter to her Mom, found she was taking too long, included her sister. Hitting send, she realized she should update her faithful lieutenants, the ones who would have to know now that she had been right.
She began a new message, and, looking to copy and paste the status, she flipped back to the General’s profile.
It had updated.
“If you have access to an aircraft, take it up immediately – that is an ORDER. Uno Ab Alto.”
It was like he had meant it just for her.
Gary had given her a few lessons on getting into the air, she knew she could do it.
She began to polish off her message. Moe with too many goats, Hannah with her need for everything to be pretty instead of functional; they’d spent many long days together, they’d served her well, they ought to know the end was coming.
Her fingers blazed at the keys.
Completing the dispatch, Maria logged out.
The office began to buck and sway – she realized she’d taken too long.
Across the field the bone knotted carapace of Kar’Wick, The Spider-God, thrust onto the shattered sky.
Flash Pulp is presented by http://skinner.fm. The audio and text formats of Flash Pulp are released under the Canadian Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 License.