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Literature
Swatted
Swatted
If you look at a world map, you'll see a multitude of mountainous, dry countries to the east of India and China. These are the “stans”: Kharaabistan, Faqeeristan, Mazloomistan... Our focus falls on Mahroomistan, a landlocked puzzle piece easily mistaken for the surface of Mars.
During the Cold War, Russia was looking for more countries to envelop. One ambitious councilman said, “Hey, what about Mahroomistan?” They couldn't burrow any further into Europe without inconveniencing NATO, but they had a quota to meet, so before long tanks were rolling over the Mahroomi border.
We may liken the United States to a man in a suburb standing behind a picket fence watering his petunias. His neighbor, the USSR, walks up the street to Mahroomistan's house. Mr. Mahroomistan sits on his porch in a rocking chair smoking a pipe.
“Why hello Mr. USSR!” Mahroomistan said, “What brings you to-”
The USSR raises a gun to Mahroomistan's head and p
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Oedipal Alpha Testing by Anayo-s Oedipal Alpha Testing :iconanayo-s:Anayo-s 0 0
Literature
Billy and the Weird Chat Room
Billy and the Weird Chat Room
by Ben Knox
Billy stood in line in front of the video game store. The line of excited people stretched from the cash register all the way out into the depths of the shopping mall. Within the store itself, a hologram glimmered above the customers' heads, filling the otherwise wasted space with commercials to stimulate everyone into spending more money.
The hologram commercial showed a teenage boy reclining with a game controller in a dreary room. With each button he pressed, a chubby, mustachioed man on the TV smashed his head against a brick wall and a dissonant tune tinkled on a xylophone. The teenager sighed.
Glorious color flooded the room; Handel's "Halelujah" chorus trumpeted at full blast as two smiling, buxom angels floated inside. They came bearing a virtual reality headset which they placed on the awestruck teenager's head like a crown.
The teenager's surroundings morphed into a green wireframe grid. An electric guitar wailed, followed by
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Literature
But You'll Void My Warranty!
"But You'll Void My Warranty!"
by Ben Knox
You are a robot. We avoid using 'the R word' in public, though, since when the public hears that, two things come to mind. The first is unmanned war machines, which are projected to replace 50% of our flesh and blood armed forces over the next decade. The second is androids, sold as girlfriends or boyfriends for their human masters. Just like the shrinking armed forces, marriage and birthrates have declined in all countries where such androids are sold. This has led many people to distrust and resent robots.
You were designed to challenge this status quo. We believe that with hard work, domestic robots can earn a more positive public image. Our marketing campaign depicts you playing baseball with your young master, tutoring your young master with his or her math homework, helping mom to wash the dishes, helping Dad work on the car...
Your animal-like appearance plays no small part in your role as the benevolent family helper. The artists who d
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Literature
Adulthood
ADULTHOOD
by Anayo
Eric was driving in his car with his wife.
"Humph." his wife said with her arms crossed and a sour look on her face.
"What's wrong, babe?" Eric said.
"Oh, gee, I dunno. Why don't you look at the calendar and tell me."
"But I'm driving."
An exasperated sigh. "It's our anniversary, Eric."
"Oops..."
"Hmm, I wonder what else you forgot?"
"I'm sorry, babe, I've just been so busy with work and-"
"Remeber to change the oil on the car?"
"But it's not due yet."
"Did you prime the foozulator?"
"W-what?"
"Oh my gawd. You forgot to prime the foozulator."
"T-the mechanic never mentioned..."
The car's steering wheel lurched out of Eric's hands. Smoke belched from the hood of the car and pink toothpaste squirted through the air conditioning vents. There was a loud thump and a crunch and a bloody handprint on the windshield and a scream and the sound of a cat yowling and a decompressing accordion concluded by a crash. Staggering, Eric got out of the toothpaste-filled car and
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Bubble Bobble Dinosaur made out of Starburst candy by Anayo-s Bubble Bobble Dinosaur made out of Starburst candy :iconanayo-s:Anayo-s 18 11 Cardboard Octopus by Anayo-s Cardboard Octopus :iconanayo-s:Anayo-s 16 17
01:16
Will and Fred the Dolphins :iconanayo-s:Anayo-s 17 4

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Critiques


It's exciting for me to follow someone on DA long enough to see that artist's work evolve and grow. I've liked your work all along, but...


I am very fond of anthros and of dragons, so this portrait has so much appeal for me. I feel like you sat down in a brainstorming sessi...

by bcnyArt

I feel like an art teacher could use this as a case study for how to draw a viewer's eyes in a pattern, resulting in a composition that...

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I've been watching your DA gallery for a few years now, so it surprised me that the thumbnail for this painting had your name next to i...

Activity


Swatted

If you look at a world map, you'll see a multitude of mountainous, dry countries to the east of India and China. These are the “stans”: Kharaabistan, Faqeeristan, Mazloomistan... Our focus falls on Mahroomistan, a landlocked puzzle piece easily mistaken for the surface of Mars.

During the Cold War, Russia was looking for more countries to envelop. One ambitious councilman said, “Hey, what about Mahroomistan?” They couldn't burrow any further into Europe without inconveniencing NATO, but they had a quota to meet, so before long tanks were rolling over the Mahroomi border.

We may liken the United States to a man in a suburb standing behind a picket fence watering his petunias. His neighbor, the USSR, walks up the street to Mahroomistan's house. Mr. Mahroomistan sits on his porch in a rocking chair smoking a pipe.

“Why hello Mr. USSR!” Mahroomistan said, “What brings you to-”

The USSR raises a gun to Mahroomistan's head and pulls the trigger. Mahroomistan falls over dead. The USSR kneels, takes Mahroomistan's wallet, and starts inspecting its contents.

“Um... What are you doing?” the Uncle Sam says.

“Nothing.” the USSR says.

“You just shot that guy in the head and took his wallet.”

“You giving your house back to the Cherokee anytime soon?”

“Well... I, uh... At least I gave them a casino!”

“Did I just invade France?”

“No.”

“West Germany?”

“No.”

“Japan?”

“No.”

“Then chill out. It's not like I invaded a country that actually matters.”

That night, America furtively knocked on Kharaabistan's door.

“What!”

“I have weapons, ammo, and cash. I want you to give them to Mahroomistan's surviving kids and wife.”

“Why don't you do it yourself?”

“Because I don't want to start World War III.”

“Is that all?”

“Well, I also have friends who want to get elected into office next term and pushing the global self-destruct button will make it hard for them to do that.”

“What a nuisance. But what's in it for me?”

“I'll give you enough munitions and aircraft for you to threaten your piddly third world neighbors, but not us.”

“Deal.”

That morning, the Mahroomi house erupted into a war zone. Bullets punched through the windows and shrapnel flew through the ceiling. Mrs. Mahroomistan was killed, leaving her soldier-children to fend for themselves. But they fought valiantly and wounded the USSR, who limped back to his house. He spent the rest of his life with a bad knee and never quite returned to his former glory.

Uncle Sam was so pleased at the newly crippled USSR that he forgot all about the child soldiers left alone in the bullet-riddled house. One day he was piling into the car with Lady Liberty and the kids when one of the boys looked across the street and said, “Hey, who's that?”

“Who? I don't see anyone.”

“That kid with the AK-47 and the thousand yard stare.”

“La-dee-da-dee-da, still don't see anyone.”

A decade or two later, Uncle Sam heard a boom from his front yard. He ran outside to see his kid lying dead beside the mailbox. The mailbox looked like a metal sculpture of a bursting ballon someone had set on fire.

“Yes! Bullseye! Haha, take that, America!” A man standing in Mahroomistan's front yard pumped his fist in the air.

“Mahroomistan, what the hell? Didn't I just help you with that Soviet situation?”

“I'm not from Mahroomistan. The Mahroomis just let me hang out and launch attacks at you.”

“Well then where are you from?”

“Maghrooristan.”

“That sounds exactly like Mahroomistan.”

“That's because Arabic adjectives are formed by taking a three letter root and adding a mim to the front and a wow in the middle, you illiterate pig. 'Ghurur' is a noun, 'maghroor' is an adjective. So it would stand to reason that 'harram' and 'mahroom' must be... ”

“For crying out loud, I don't want to learn anything about you people, I just want to know why my kid's dead and I need a new mailbox.” Uncle Sam said.

“Oh, I have pleeeeenty of propaganda tapes for that. Wanna see 'God's fire and brimstone against western decadence, volumes 1 through 28'?”

“I'll show you fire and brimstone.” Uncle Sam muttered, rolling up his sleeves and stomping into his house where he found his twenty year old son studying for a college exam.

“On your feet, soldier!”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, I'm talking to you! You think I gave you that GI Bill for free?”

“W-wait, there's a war?” Shit, he was thinking.

“You bet! Now put on this kevlar, load this M-16, and go across the street and make the world a safer place.”

***

MAHROOMISTAN – PRESENT DAY

Amin dialed Sediq's number on his cell phone. The monochrome, 100 x 100 pixel screen told him to wait.

“Hello?”

“Sediq!” Amin said. “Hey man, can you do me a biiiiig favor?”

An annoyed pause. “What is it this time?”

“Can I store some melons at your house?” Amin said.

“Melons?” Sedaqat demanded.

Amin peered down at a mortar round in his hand. It was a green teardrop with gear teeth wrapped around the tail. “Yes, melons.” Amin said.

“What about the grapes?”

Amin peered in his other hand, which held a fragmentation grenade. “Grapes as well.”

“Damnit, Amin, we're supposed to take turns with this!”

“My Mom keeps looking through my things. If I keep it at your place, it'll be safe.”

“We're supposed to move it around. If we hide the fruit at my house, the... uh... mice will catch on. You don't want your melons and grapes to get eaten by mice, do you?”

“Look, bro, if we keep the fruit here my Mom will eat it all.”

A big sigh. “Fine. Hurry up.”

Stuffing the phone in his pocket, Amin wrapped the mortars and hand grenades with cloth and placed them at the very bottom of his backpack. Then he covered these with prayer books and headed outside.

Two children walked a cow up the dirt road. The beast's tail lolled in an idle facsimile of the swaying tree branches which painted gold blotches on the clay compound walls. Each house, no matter how humble, was enclosed within its own compound; a minimum of four walls no man could scale without the help of a ladder. The houses themselves were a wild assortment ranging from lumber huts with tarps stretched overhead to abate the rain to some of gaudiest, most palatial residences imaginable. Amin passed one three stories tall with walls as red as a stop sign and a banner over the entrance which read, “GOD KEEP US.”

Suddenly a procession of tanks rolled in. These were not literally M1 Abrams tanks with steel armor and caterpillar treads. They were smaller MRAP's, with exposed rubber tires and fishnet like shields hung around all four sides to deflect rockets. However, in the local vernacular, a “tank” meant any military vehicle, so that's how Amin thought of them.

The tanks formed a circle and stopped. Soldiers with armored vests, helmets, and rifles hopped from the tall cabins, crunching the soil beneath their boots. Amin stood motionless on his bike, watching. Six children approached the soldiers like dogs begging for table scraps. One of them called in a sweet-sounding, almost British accent, “Sir! Excuse me sir! Excuse me...”

“Whaddaya want?”

“Do you have any candy, sir?”

“No!”

“Any pens?”

“Yeah, mine!”

“Do you have a water bottle, sir?”

“Fine! But only if you stop calling me sir. I do work for a living.”

They hovered to a different soldier. “Candy, sir?”

The soldier spat an oily glob of brown fluid which congealed in the dirt. His cheek bulged like a chipmunk. “Naw, but I got some dip.” He extended a plastic disk. “Ya'll got any of that flat bread?”

“We're on patrol, Graves, not the freaking Oregon Trail.”

“Roger sarnt... Hey, wait.”

Amin's blood froze. The soldier was pointing at him.

“Amin?”

Amin mustered the warmest smile possible for this son of a bitch who somehow knew his name. “Yes, friend?”

Amin saw the soldier's face and suddenly remembered. About six months ago, he sold this soldier a counterfeit rug for five times what it was actually worth.

“Graves!” Amin realized, “My main man, how are ya?”

“Two months and a wake up.”

Translation: In two months I return home where I get 2 weeks of free leave and have to start paying income taxes again.

“Thank the God you will go home safe!”

Translation: Get the hell out of my country.

“Haha, unless there's some last minute IDF.”

Translation: Insurgents shoot mortars at our base. One of them could kill me before I go home.

“God is kind.”

Translation: Hopefully God will direct this mortar in my backpack to land on your bunk while you're sleeping in it.

“I dunno, sometimes I think the missus would rather get a letter from SGLI than me.”

Translation: the US government gives me a life insurance policy which will pay my wife $400,000 (1,000 times the average Mahroomi annual income) in the event of my death. However, my wife is 28 percent more likely to divorce me after I get home than she would be if I had a civilian job. I don't think the odds favor me.

“Hang in there, friend!”

Translation: She's probably sleeping with your next door neighbor as we have this conversation.

“You too, man.”

Translation: Thank you, brown person.

Amin got back on his bike and pedaled away. In the past, Amin used to worry that soldiers like PFC Graves could magically detect when he had a mortar in his backpack; that if he had suspicious thoughts, their radar screens inside their vehicles would expose him, and they'd point accusing fingers his way, shouting, “After him!”

Amin had since discovered that hiding in plain sight was adequate camouflage. If he smiled, and pretended to like soldiers his age like PFC Graves, and showed no signs of fear, nothing seemed to indicate they could see past this. Besides, “melons” and “grapes” didn't seem to interest the men who made unannounced visits in the middle of the night with their rifles and night vision goggles.

***

Amin hadn't even engaged the kickstand on his bike when Sediq said, “That melon of yours is now worthless.” Sediq said.

“Excuse me?” Amin said.

“Get inside.”

Amin hopped off his bike, walking it into Sediq's home. Sediq lead him through the house into the back yard where tomatoes and corn grew on a withered patch of soil.

“Our buyer backed out.” Sediq said.

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“You let me pedal all the way over here before telling me?”

“I didn't want to talk about it over the phone.”

“That donkey cunt!” Amin swore, “I drove two provinces away to get these! I had to pay for fuel and miss time at my other job and-”

“We need to cut our losses.” Sediq said.

“Like hell that's what I'll do.”

“The freedom fighters are getting their ordinance from some other guy now.”

“Who?”

“Kezaab or something. Owns a garage and a junkyard. Kezaab's boys are bringing in weapons hidden under the spare parts. Then Kezaab sells them to the freedom fighters at cost. He's not even making a profit.”

“Honor-less seed of a dog...”

“I guess he makes enough fixing cars that he'd prefer to get paid in the next life instead of this one.”

“Well I'm not discounting anything.”

“We're not hiding weapons in my house while you wait for the market to improve. You know what kind of an ass burning I'll take if the government kicks the door down and finds them?” Sediq said.

“This mortar was supposed to be my groceries, man!”

“Fine, I'll hide the mortar for you, but not the grapes.”

“Hide it for me? This is a joint venture!”

“It was your turn.”

“Whatever.” Amin muttered, walking over to Sediq's tomato plant and grabbing a handful while Sediq glared judgmentally at him.

***

Amin hadn't always been in such financial duress. His highest living standard in recent memory was when he worked on the nearby military airfield – simply “The Field”, as the locals called it. Amin enjoyed working on The Field. Mainly he sold dime store jewelry and Chinese crap to soldiers. The gig lasted until another vendor who didn't want any competition accused Amin of conspiring against the Americans. As a result, the Americans kicked Amin out of the airfield, forcing him to find another job that mostly consisted of conspiring against the Americans. At least working there left him with a respectable command of English.

PFC Graves wasted so much of his untaxed combat pay on Amin's wares that he grew to regard Amin as someone who wanted to see his face for some reason other than business. Amin never set out to correct this misconception, since their encounters afforded him English practice and rare glimpses into American life. One day PFC Graves came to Amin's booth with a laptop running a first person shooter video game.

“W, A, S, D makes him run around, you look around with the mouse.” PFC Graves explained as Amin watched. On the computer screen, Amin saw through the eyes of a special forces operative fighting Russian soldiers in a war torn city. He shot a Russian in the chest and he flew backwards with a cry of dismay.

“This is a very good game.” Amin said.

“I used to play this as a pro.”

Amin was under the impression that the words 'play' and 'professional' were antithetical to each other, so in his faltering English he asked the soldier to explain.

“I mean I would play in tournaments and win money. It was my job for a while.”

Amin nodded, pretending to understand. He just couldn't wrap his mind around anyone butchering imaginary Russians to make ends meet, as much as the idea appealed to his Mahroomi sensibilities. Graves must have noticed, since he explained,

“It's basically like pro football. Anyone can throw a ball around, but if you're good enough, you can join a league and compete for prize money.”

Amin, still incredulous, asked whether PFC Graves did this full time.

“Sure I did it full time.”

Amin asked why PFC Graves gave up fighting imaginary wars that paid real money in exchange for fighting real wars which paid considerably less money.

“Oh. Cause my competition kept swatting me.”

“I don't understand.” Amin said.

“Oops. Let me backpedal.” Graves said, “Swatting is something people do in online games. If they don't like you, they can ping your IP address, find out where you live, then call the police telling them there's a hostage situation or a bomb threat or something at your street address. Next thing you know, a real live swat team kicks your door down and wrangles you to the floor. By the time the police find out it was a false alarm, the game's already over with and you've lost.”

“This happened to you?”

“Tore my door off the hinges and hog tied me.”

“That is very smart.” Amin said.

“It ain't smart! It's playing dirty.”

“But who won? You, or they?” Amin said.

“I'm not so sure the ends justify the means here...”

“Maybe if you are swatting, you win, too.”

“Amin, you ain't right.”

***

Amin squatted outside of Kezaab's garage pretending to be deeply interested in a gutted car rusting in disuse thirty feet away from the entrance. An eleven year old boy sat in a lawn chair on the roof cradling an AK-47 and glaring Amin's way. Amin ignored him.

A melody of shrill beeps came from Amin's pocket. Pretending to be surprised, he produced his mobile phone and answered, “Hello?”

“Hello?” It was Sediq.

“Why hello, honorable freedom fighter!” Amin said, “You have reached Kezaab's armory. From rockets to mortars, machine guns to landmines, we provide everything needed to exact justice upon the unclean heathen and their hives of villainy erected on our blessed homeland. How may I be of service to you?”

“Yes, I want to fill a car with explosives and drive it up to The Field so I can detonate it and kill many western dogs in my holy crusade against western tyranny.” Sediq said.

“Yes sir!”

“I also want to buy many road side bombs to ambush their convoys.”

“Of course, brother.”

“And while you're at it, provide us with rockets to destroy their security outposts.”

“Yes sir.”

“Are you writing this down?”

“Indeed! Now, this order awaits you at our armory. Do you know how to reach us?”

“No, I need detailed and specific directions leaving no doubt as to your whereabouts.”

“I see. In that case, just come over to our secret warehouse at grid point 35.003270, 69.290355. It is cleverly disguised as a junkyard. There are rusted cars lying around and a boy with an AK-47 on the roof.”

“God is great.”

“Actually, I think I see your boys coming this way now! I will hang up now and provide them with these deadly weapons so they can expediently use them.”

Amin hung up and ran like hell. He didn't stop until the junkyard was a tiny plaything on the horizon. Sighing, Amin squatted. If swatting worked anything like PFC Graves had described it, soldiers should arrive any minute. They'd encircle the building, raise their rifles, and-

BOOM.

An orange fireball engulfed Kezaab's junkyard. The entire sky cracked as though God Himself had fired a heavenly rifle through the cosmos. It rattled Amin's teeth in his skull and made his very innards vibrate. He fell on his rear, gasping for breath.

“God is great.” he said. The words were pious, but the tone of voice was more like, “Holy shit.”

A survivor rose to his feet, a mere ant in the distance. He limped away from the ruins, making it as far as a withered tree before a spray of unseen gunfire smote him. The earth to his left and right erupted into clouds of dust and red mist.

“GodisgreatGodisgreatGodisgreat...” Amin was a nervous rabbit scampering back to his scooter.
I don't really care about what's being advertised in this video, but the owl character they're using to do it just looks so cool:

Billy and the Weird Chat Room

by Ben Knox


Billy stood in line in front of the video game store. The line of excited people stretched from the cash register all the way out into the depths of the shopping mall. Within the store itself, a hologram glimmered above the customers' heads, filling the otherwise wasted space with commercials to stimulate everyone into spending more money.

The hologram commercial showed a teenage boy reclining with a game controller in a dreary room. With each button he pressed, a chubby, mustachioed man on the TV smashed his head against a brick wall and a dissonant tune tinkled on a xylophone. The teenager sighed.

Glorious color flooded the room; Handel's "Halelujah" chorus trumpeted at full blast as two smiling, buxom angels floated inside. They came bearing a virtual reality headset which they placed on the awestruck teenager's head like a crown.

The teenager's surroundings morphed into a green wireframe grid. An electric guitar wailed, followed by the roar of a lion. The green polygons became a lush jungle, and everyone – customers included - had futuristic M-16's in their hands and war paint smearing their faces. A velociraptor burst through the ferns while a snarling ninja on his back brandished a katana.

"You're toast!" the teenager said.

"NOOOOO!" the ninja protested, popping like a gore-filled water balloon as the teen shot him.

“Yeaaahh!" the commando-angels cheered. The raptor fled with his tail tucked between his legs.

The scene dissolved to glamor shots of the VR headset as the narrator yelled at them,

"Hey, man! What you still doin' playin' games on a TV? TURBO ZONE puts you in the game! How? BRAINWAVE technology, man! Melt your mind with all five senses! Throw your TV in the trash and smell the gunsmoke! Taste the tear gas! Feel the... hey, take it easy, man!"

The angels were giggling and twirling the teenager's hair in their fingers while he blushed. Noticing the customers watching, they jumped to attention, playing it off as though nothing had happened.

"TURBO ZOOOOONNNNEEE! At a retailer near you! Only" he rattled off a lengthy price tag ending in nines.

Then it started over. The hologram never showed anything else, just that same commercial ad nauseam. By the time Billy could recite the whole thing from memory, he reached the sales counter where a pretty android beamed at him. “Billy, hi! Welcome back to GamePlace!”

Billy knew she was an android and not a person because this exact same “person” was working the cash register with the same hairdo and same chipper voice when he bought something 9 months ago. She read his face like a barcode and smiled at him with the impossibly perfect face of a magazine model.

“I'm here to redeem a Turbo Zone pre order.” Billy said.

“Say, you don't have a rewards card. Do you want to-”

“I've been in here a grand total of twice.”

“With a rewards card, you get a discount of up to-”

“That means 'no'.”

“OK! Did you know we offer a warranty for an extra-”

“It comes with a manufacturer warranty. Why would I need two warranties?”

“How about-”

“Skip all offers and put my Turbo Zone in a bag.”

“Thanks for choosing GamePlace!”


“You think I'd be here if all the online places weren't sold out?”

“Carlos, hi! Welcome back to GamePlace!”

***

"Billy, where have you been?” Mom said.

“Turbo Zone.” He waved the bag.

“Since when did you have a car?”

“Turbo Zone, not Auto Zone, Mom.”

"Aha. That completely clears up why you're back with something expensive in a plastic bag after giving the cat diabetes.”

The cat burped. He had eaten an entire bowl of sugary breakfast cereal before Mom caught him.

“Because, Mom, this bag holds the most advanced gaming experience ever invented.”

"Sorry, what's that metal box in your room?”

“My computer?”

"Oh, one of those computers that follow programmable instructions which sometimes facilitate the playing of games, right?"

"Yes...”

"Billy, we can't run out and buy faster CPU's and better motherboards anymore. When we're all dead, that thing in your room will still be the most powerful for something of its size, no matter what some TV commercial tells you."

"Turbo Zone plugs into your brain so you can play with all five senses. My computer can't do that."

"Billy, that's dangerous! That's for, like, paraplegics or fighter pilots or something."

"They couldn't sell it if it literally injected into your brain, Mom. You just wear it on your neck and it works.”

"Look at that price tag! This must have cost every penny you earned this Summer."

The door opened. It was Billy's Dad, back from his five mile run.

"Hey babe." he said to Mom.

"Guess how Billy spent all his summer savings?" Mom said, pointing to Billy's shopping bag.

"Is that a turbo zone?" Dad asked.

"Yeah." Billy said.

"With BRAINWAVE technology?"

"Uh-huh."

Dad's sweaty face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. "Awesome!" he said.

***

Mrs. White was drinking coffee and reading the news on her laptop when suddenly a rock band made of talking pineapples, grapes, mangos, and a banana invaded her screen.

“FRUIT NOVA YEEEEAAAAH!” The pineapple screamed, tearing open a packet of candy and throwing its contents into the air. A piece landed in each band member's mouth, causing a magic glow to spread over them. They all raised their instruments in the air, jamming out in an overstimulated fervor.

“For crying out loud...” she muttered, hunting for the X to kill the video. She found it, then realized to her horror the same thing was still playing on the living room TV, the phone in her pocket, the watch on her wrist, and the display screens on her refrigerator, stove, and home security system.

Billy burst into the kitchen. His skin burned a reddish color, glistening with sweat as though he'd run several miles in the summer heat. Each breath came in a gasp. Glassware rang as he fished in the cupboard and thrust his empty vessel under the sink.

"Uh... Billy?"

Billy flashed his mom a "thumbs up" without facing her. Glug, glug, glug.

"Working out with Dad, now, are we?”

"No, just lost my legs in an airstrike."

“Oh.” She remembered Turbo Zone. “I bet that hurt.”

"They grew back. The herbicide bomb finished me off, though."

"Herbicide."

"Yeah, I'm a tree-man."

"How about taking a break?"

"Can't. I'm about to respawn."

"OK. Enjoy your PTSD simulator.”

“Honey?” Mr. White called from the front door.

“What?”

“I pulled the into the driveway and a candy commercial started playing on the car's GPS. Any idea why?”

***

Billy was an eight foot tall man with thick, chiseled muscles made entirely of mossy oak. Snaking up and down his pectorals and biceps were leafy vines wandering in a frivolous mockery of the steel machine gun in his lap. With fingers both like a man gripping a wrench and ivy ensnaring an iron gate, Billy scrubbed his weapon clean.

"The armorer will do that for you in, like, two seconds." Sam said. Seated beside him, Sam was almost the same as Billy except with wider hips, slender arms, and a crowning flower like a magnolia blossom. The petals drooped over her eyes like bangs.

Billy kept cleaning. “You hear that?”

“Uh, radio chatter, boots crunching the sand, that helicopter landing...”

“Metal sliding on metal.” Billy said as he continued to clean.

“Oh.”

“Such a cool sound. It even smells cool. The gun smoke here smells just like it does in real life, did you know that?”

“Does the NRA pay you to say this stuff?” Sam said. “That rifle is never going to rust. You're cleaning a computer file.”

“Oh, sorry, not all of us work for a drug cartel and get to touch real guns every day.”

“Well excuse me, Mister 'This Gun Smoke Smells Real'.”

“C'mon, Sam. I can't have guns in real life.”

“So you clean imaginary gear here instead.”

“Well I do the same in my garage full of imaginary vehicles.”

“Wouldn't you rather emasculate a bunch of grown men by sniping them from 500 meters?”

“Meh.”

“Acting pouty and helpless and luring them into a minefield is fun, too. Especially when I use the flower on them.”

“The flower?”

“Watch this.”

Walking nearby was a soldier in a full combat load. At first glance, he looked human, except his skin was drained of color and mascara was painted around his eyes to a ghoulish effect. A hole in his cheek exposed the teeth of his lower jaw, like he had gone to war while celebrating dia de los muertes.

“Yoo-hoo! Excuse me!”

The zombie soldier turned. His eyebrows rose once he saw the talking plant's hips and eyelashes.

“I'm so sorry to trouble you, but I don't know if I can clean this big, heavy fifty cal all by myself!”

Something sweet cut through the industrial gun stench, like sunbeams through smoke. Billy's heart sped up as this perfume melted his defenses. God, she smells incredible. He knew some invasive agent was violating his brain chemistry, but he didn't want it to stop.

“Duh... um... fluh....” the zombie soldier said.

“Thanks, handsome.” Sam winked as he staggered away with her weapon.

The perfume vanished; gun smoke and oil flooded back in its place.

“Whatcha think?” Sam grinned.

“What on earth was that?” Billy said.

“This server allows mods, so I installed one to make pheromones come out of my head.”

Billy peered the soldier's way. He had field stripped Sam's rifle, eagerly scrubbing each part.

“That's messed up.” Billy said.

“You've got a virtual playground that looks, sounds, feels, and even smells just like real life, except better, and you use it to clean imaginary guns? Don't judge me.”

“But I like cleaning guns...”

“Hold still.”


“Gwa...?”

Sam's hands found their way to Billy's head. Sam had touched Billy before, but without Turbo Zone support, it was like one action figure bumping into another. This time, Sam could have been in his bedroom with her fingers combing through his hair.

“Got it.” Sam said.

“What?”

She produced a metal shard. “Shrapnel.”

“Oh, haha.”

“I cleaned your fifty cal!” The soldier wobbled under the massive weapon, his knees almost buckling.

“Thanks.” Sam accepted the rifle, hoisting it over her shoulder without effort. “Buh bye.” And with that, she vanished.

***

The doors to Billy's hangar closed with a boom. Standing with hands on his hips, he breathed a sigh of relief, savoring the odors of jet fuel and steel. “Welcome, Master Billy.” a robot voice spoke.

“Hey Nigel.” Billy said.

“A private message for you, sir.”

“I told you to delete my spam, Nigel.”

“It's from Sam, sir.”

Billy froze. “Sam? What did she say?”

“I'm going to a party tomorrow. Would you accompany me? Sam, picture of a cartoon heart.”

Billy removed the Turbo Zone module from his neck, stood up from his chair, and stared at the sunlight painting barcode stripes on his unmade bed.

“Did I just get asked out on a date?”

***

Billy carried a sandwich, chips, and glass of milk toward his bedroom when a shrill cacophony caught his ear. He stopped, tilting his head. The only thing Billy could picture was Mom or Dad bent over a keyboard playing a melody. The melody itself was respectable but the instruments were bafflingly bad, peppered with random noises as though they’d enlisted the help of the cat.

Billy stepped into the living room to see Mom seated before the TV playing an ancient video game. On the screen, a little man only slightly more detailed than a mens’ bathroom sign leaped around a codwebbed castle, slaying ghouls with a whip.

“Did you get laid off and have to downsize?” Billy asked.

Mom kept her eyes on the game. “I’d have sold all your stuff first.”

“Is this like those people who hoard vinyl records cause crap audio quality makes them feel all fuzzy and nostalgic?”

“I doubt I’m the only one reflecting on a simpler time when youths weren't putting their brains on a silver platter for our robot overlords.”

“You know what I can’t figure out?” Billy said, “You hate Turbo Zone, but you let me get one. Why is that?”

“My parents forbade me from social media, but I did it behind their backs anyway. If you get in trouble, it should be for misusing Turbo Zone, not for just owning one.”

“What do you mean ‘misuse’? It’s a video game, not a WMD.”

“They called it sexting when cell phones came out. I don't know what the hell they'll call it with Turbo Zone. All I know is if you're involved in it, you're out of here on your 18th birthday.”

“C'mon, Mom!” Billy said, “It's just for playing games!”

“Then you should have nothing to worry about.”

Dad poked his head around the corner, glimpsing Mom and Billy before the old game machine.

“Nerds!” Dad jeered.

“Why don't you club something over the head and drag it back to the cave for once?” Mom yelled.

“Ooh, look at me, I make all the money with my fancy IT job.” Dad said.

“Go make me a sandwich!”

“Yes ma'am…”

Billy shook his head and left the room.

“Don't ping any weird websites with that thing, kay?” Mom called.

Billy slouched forward, knocking his forehead against the wall. “Got it.” he yelled back.

***

“Are you easily offended?” Sam asked.

Sam and Billy the plant people stood in an alley before a closed door. Glowing above the door was a neon sign which read, “The Greenhouse”.

“Does that mean it's my fault if something in there offends me?” Billy asked.

“No.”

“If I don't like it I can leave, right?”

“And if you like it you can stay.” Her mouth twisted in a wry smile.

Billy stood in place, unsure of how to react to this. As he sank deep in thought, his surroundings melted away; desks and lockers coalesced into a rank and file grid populated by noisy students with backpacks. The cute female ones fell into intense focus amid the white noise, as if their very molecular structure resonated with a radar dish inside his skull. He would wonder if the vice versa were ever true. The tepid demeanor of the few he'd approached and talked to didn't lead him to believe so.

Billy faced Sam and said, “I accepted your invitation, right?”

“After you.” Sam held the door for him.

Pastel light bathed everything in a glow of fuchsia and crystal blue. Decorative ferns practically infested the place. They lined the walls, filled the booths, sat at the bar... One of them spun around and it dawned on Billy this thing had bare shoulders and intelligent eyes with long lashes. It sauntered across the room with a menu in one arm and a skirt hugging an hourglass figure. Impossibly delicate legs swayed with weightless elegance, no more than leaves twisted in an impressionistic suggestion of limbs and held that way by magic. Thorns adorned leafy arms like stegosaurus spines. Velvety rose blossoms adorned elf-like heads, deep purple crowns radiating hues saturated with such intensity that they tugged Billy's attention like a gravity well.

“This way.” Sam took his wrist, leading him to a booth occupied by two other creatures. “Billy, say hi to Nguyen and Keith.” Reclining in her seat, Nguyen was nothing short of a giantess, with bulging muscles and monstrous hips. Looking closer, Billy realized the sinews in her muscles were actually vines braided together like human anatomy. If you tugged the right vine, would she unfurl like a mummy? Billy wondered. Stretching from her skull and flowing out over her back was an inscrutable green mass. Must be a hairdo. Billy thought, until the shape split into a hideous grin, exposing needle teeth and glistening braids of saliva.

“Venus flytrap.” Billy observed.

“That's me.” Nguyen smiled.

“And I'm a praying mantis!” Keith said.

“Aha.” Billy said.

Gazing at Billy with an appraising eye, Nguyen said, “Nice catch.”

“Now there,” Sam said, her voice almost reproachful.

Billy was looking Keith's way. “So... How long have you been a praying mantis?”

“Two years. For a while I was into the whole, 'Oh, I'm a poor, innocent housefly and I'm caught in this web, you're a big bloodthirsty spider, please don't eat me!' thing, but then I met Nguyen and she preferred me as a male praying mantis.”

“I didn't think relationships ended so well for male mantises.” Billy said.

“Soooo much decapitation.” Nguyen grinned, giving Keith's shoulder a possessive squeeze.

“Guh huh.” Keith giggled, “How about you, tree man?”

“Oh, y'know,” Billy said, “limbs that grow back if they're cut off, vine attack... It's a good class to play as.”

“Flora vs. the Undead!” Nguyen exclaimed, “I knew I recognized you from somewhere.”

“Oh, you play, too?” Billy asked.

“Um... It's kind of a spectator sport for me.” Nguyen said with a demure smile.

Billy didn't reply. His attention had fallen to some posters framed on the far wall. With a logo like CEDAR CHEST, Billy half expected an ad for a furniture store. Instead, a busty woman in spandex winked at him, flexing like Rosy the Riveter while a green mane of foliage spilled over her earthy shoulders, which were traced with woodgrain lines. Different slogans adorned the other the posters: “Bad Apple”, “Barely Ripe”, “Don't Forget to Eat Your Vegetables”, etc.

“I already ordered for you two, kay?” Nguyen said as a couple of perky waitresses arrived with covered dishes. Waitress number one raised the lids, revealing steak for Billy and fried chicken for Sam. The second waitress followed suit, revealing salmon for Keith. When she raised the lid from Nguyen's dish, a tiny person gazed back up at them, posing with 'come hither' eyes and a hand on his hip like a magazine centerfold. He was drenched from head to toe in chocolate. Billy suspected this creature may have been pure chocolate all the way through.

“Hellooooo everyone.” the chocolate man said.

“Oops...” waitress number one said.

“What do you mean 'oops'?” Nguyen said, “I ordered this.”

“We're not supposed to serve that here.” waitress number one said.

“We're not?” waitress number two said.

“It's on the menu.” Nguyen said.

“But not outside of the 'no minors' section.” waitress number one explained, pointing to corner of the room Billy hadn't yet noticed; a closed door with a cartoon face. A tomato approached the door.

“Hey there!” the door said, “What's your birthdate?”

“January 1st, 1950.” the tomato said.

“Come right in!”

A carrot approached the door.

“And what's your birthdate, sir?” the door said.

“October 15th, 2026.” the carrot said.

“Sorry, buddy! Maybe in a few years?”

“Uh, I meant January 1st, 1950.”

“Ohhhhh! Come on in, then!”

Next came a party of four including a pineapple, grape, mango, and banana; all carrying rock instruments like a bass and keytar and sporting the well-toned figures of twenty-somethings who never missed a day at the gym. “Hi guys! Mind telling me your birth dates?” the door said.

“Are those the Fruit Nova candies?” Billy said.

Keith laughed, “Oh, them? You mean the biggest sluts in this whole place?”

“Did somebody say Fruit Nova?” the chocolate man looked up.

“Yeah.” Billy said.

“Where?” the chocolate man said.

“That way.” Billy said.

“I love Fruit Nova!” The chocolate man dove from his plate toward the door.

“You're kidding me.” Nguyen groaned.

“After him!” Nguyen called, leading Keith and the two waitresses in pursuit. Sam and Billy sat alone in the booth.

“Well...?” Sam said.

“They got four people chasing the little guy and you're looking at me?” Billy said.

“No! I mean, what do you think? Of all this.”

“Uh...” Billy's mind scrambled, “Crazy how we've gone from flat shapes on a TV screen to this, huh?”

“I know, right?” Sam grinned, “I try to have a life outside of the veggie community, but everyone loves to roast veggies these days. It's so annoying.”

“Roast veggies?” Billy repeated.

“Oh, c'mon! Hasn't anyone told you to 'go drink roundup'? 'Crawl under a lawnmower'? Or, 'Pollenate in hell'?”

Billy was unresponsive. He sat transfixed on the jolly door as Keith and Nguyen disappeared behind it. He looked away, but Sam had been watching him, and his glance toward the door had not gone unnoticed.

“It is a little more secluded in there.” Sam said.

“Ah.”

“More conducive to two people enjoying each other's company without any intrusion.”

“Sam?”

“Yeah?”

“Did you bring me here cause you wanted to glue me to a spiderweb and chop my head off?”

“C'mon, I'm not Nguyen.”

“Do you have a human form?”

“Err... not really, no.”

“You sure about that?”

“I'm not into dating as a human if that's what you're asking me.”

Billy let out a long sigh, rubbing his palms along the ridge of his nose.

Sam looked at him with an inquisitive tilt of her head. “Is something the matter?”

Billy wanted to say that yes, while the visit had been enlightening, he didn't share the prevailing enthusiasm for well-endowed plants.

“There's no need to be nervous.” Sam said.

“Nervous isn't how I'd put it.”

“What, then? You can tell me.”

“I... have to be somewhere important in a few minutes.”

“Like where?”

Billy's heart of hearts reached into a hat full of crumpled papers. Rummaging through them, he blindly chose one, unfolded it, and read it to himself. Then he faced Sam.

“I have to go to chemotherapy soon.”

Sam was an expressionless statue. Crap. She's not buying it.

“Oh God.” Sam breathed.

Billy nodded solemnly, measuring each bow of his head to the very millimeter.

“Billy, do you have cancer?”

“I absolutely do.”

“Why didn't you tell me earlier?”

“I... didn't want to scare you.”

“But Billy, why chemo? Can't you get nanomedicine or gene therapy?”

“It's super-rare cancer that you can't treat with any of those.”

Billy would have been hard pressed to find a lost puppy more pitiful-looking than Sam. “I don't even know what to say.” she whispered, “Can you log back in during chemo?”

“Probably not. I'll be sick as a dog and totally unable to use a computer for a really, really, really long time. Maybe even forever.”

“Billy?”

“What's up?”

“Can I hug you before you go?”

Billy smiled meekly and spread his arms. They embraced and Sam told him thirteen different ways to get better soon and keep her informed of his progress. Billy tolerated this long enough to stand up with his palms pressed against the table and exit the premises with haste.

***

Billy's mother was still glued to her favorite childhood video game, slaying medusa heads and skeletons with holy water and crucifix boomerangs. Her husband strolled in, pretending to take interest in the outdated spectacle.

“Everything cool, babe?” he asked.

“Super.”

“You don't usually play games when everything's super.”

“I play games whenever I please.”

“Yeah, but usually you're doing productive stuff like earning PhD's or building evil robots in the garage.”

Sigh. “If you must know, I'm wrapped around the axle over Turbo Zone.” she said.

“How come?”

“Oh, gee, I dunno. If it had been around when you were in high school, what would you have used it for?”

“Jackass stunts.”

“That's... not where my concern lies.”

“Why, what would you use it for?”

“The firewall is set up to give me a ring if someone contacts a porn site. It hasn't detected anything yet, but...”

“Wait, is that what you'd have used Turbo Zone for?”

“I didn't say that!”

“You didn't deny it either...”

“I'm not the one who bought one of the darn things, OK?”

Billy appeared. Mom and Dad stiffened, but their son just walked in a straight line without paying them any heed.

“Uh... Where are you headed?” Mom called.

“Outside.”

“What for?”

“For a walk.”

“Weren't you playing Turbo Zone?”

“I want to take a break.” he said with a whiff of annoyance.

“FRUIT NOVA YEAAAAAAAH!”

Billy turned on his heel, marched right up to the TV droning in the other room, and changed the channel.

“Sluts.” Billy muttered.

Mom and Dad traded confused glances.

deviantID

Anayo-s
Ben Knox
United States
私に、言葉は絵より楽しい。
I finally played Undertale. It's basically an RPG with the graphics of Earthbound, the zany gameplay of Wario Ware Inc. Mega Microgames, the surreal sense of humor of Earthworm Jim 2, and the poignancy of Disney's "The Fox and the Hound". This is easily my 2015 GOTY.

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:icontek427:
TEK427 Featured By Owner Jul 5, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you so much for watch! It means a lot! :D 
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:iconanayo-s:
Anayo-s Featured By Owner Jul 7, 2017
I like what's in your gallery now, but I also got a feeling I'd want to see how your art ends up in two or three years. I'll be watching.
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:icontek427:
TEK427 Featured By Owner Jul 8, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you so much! I want to see how it ends up then too! :D 
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:iconanayo-s:
Anayo-s Featured By Owner Jun 30, 2017
Nice! Your use of color is very vibrant. I think Diaz Breaks Petals Flower is my favorite.

The only room for improvement I see might be the poses. Some of your characters appear to have been copied from a template rather than built from the ground up with full cognizance of where their bodies should be in 3D space. Maybe if I had worked harder at drawing earlier in life I could be of more help. ^^;
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:iconwispychipmunk:
WispyChipmunk Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2017  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
Thanks for watching! :D
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:iconanayo-s:
Anayo-s Featured By Owner Jun 12, 2017
Your work is too cool for me not to.
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:iconpraesidentenkeks:
Praesidentenkeks Featured By Owner May 9, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Thank you really for the watch : P
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:iconanayo-s:
Anayo-s Featured By Owner May 10, 2017
I can't wait to see what you'll create next!
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:iconpraesidentenkeks:
Praesidentenkeks Featured By Owner May 10, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
N awww
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