A Letter From an Editor
by Bill McCormick
Brad Jacobs, a ruthless corporate manager, seizes an opportunity to exploit workers of below-average intelligence by employing them as miners on a distant planet. He persuades them that they are embarking on a kind of video-game adventure. However, he forgets the law of unintended consequences, which is summed up in many proverbs such as “Look before you leap” and “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft a-gley.”
At the beginning, an unpardonably snarky letter from an editor begs the question: Who really are the “stunted” in all this?
In the next couple of days Brad discovered there were thousands of details involved in moving the stunts but most were minor and some were fun. One of the techs had adapted a child’s floatie toy to emit wraith-like sounds and then set it up to run exclusively on solar power. When he showed it to Brad they decided to have the ship’s crew drop them around the campsite in the nearby mountains with timers set to go off randomly every few days. Not enough to scare the stunts witless but just enough to keep them focused.
Brad wasn’t a complete asshole. He made sure that every employee who came up with a good idea received a commendation in their file. And when he saw the game Milton had devised he issued him a small share of stock in WHX-131-L’s profits along with his commendation.
On the other hand, those employees who expressed concerns about the project were either transferred or terminated. He had no time for whiny losers.
By the time the ship was ready to leave orbit everything was in order. From tools to tents to food, the stunts would have all they’d need to get started. Brad even went down to the terminus to see the stunts off.
At the suggestion of his assistant, Janice, he handed each one a yellow frosted cupcake. She promised him it had something to do with the damn game. The stunts seemed really impressed so he added another commendation to her file.
Later, as his day was winding down, Janice walked into his office and offered to buy him a drink at Warren’s. It was the new hot spot and he had been wanting to try it. He noticed, for the first time, that Janice was smoking hot. He started to wonder all the things men naturally wonder when they are confronted by a prime example of babe-ness and then saw from the look in her eye that the answer was already yes.
He had no idea how he would couch this particular commendation, but was sure he would come up with something. Service above and beyond the call? That might work.
* * *
They’d been on board ship for one week now and had settled into a routine. Quentin and Melissa had become friends and she was showing him how she’d earned her 3rd Level Wizard’s Badge. She was smart. She had figured out how to use her wand in ways he’d never thought of.
The crew brought them their food three times a day and called lights on when it was time to wake up and lights out when it was time for bed. He and Melissa were confused by this new version of Epic Dungeon Quest but the crew said it was special for Wonderia so they’d know what was real and what wasn’t.
He missed his mommy and daddy but was glad to be doing something important. He’d forgotten all about the law he was supposed to have broken and it seemed the others had too. They played Epic Dungeon Quest, ate when fed and talked about the exciting adventure they were on.
He’d never really noticed girls before but he thought Melissa was really cute. He hadn’t told her that because girls, even nice ones like Melissa, were really super scary. In fact they were even scarier than wraiths and stuff.
They’d all noticed that their quest was going to take them underground to save the trinamium. That was really cool. They would all be like dwarf lords and stuff. Dwarf lords rocked!
The remaining five weeks of their trip passed without incident and the captain finally called out that they were home. That confused them for a minute until they realized he meant their new home. They were at Wonderia.
The crew had taken a liking to the stunts and had slowly altered the pressure so that when they finally dropped the cargo pods they wouldn’t have to go through any form of decompression. It wasn’t a big thing but they all congratulated themselves for doing something so nice. Even so they didn’t like them enough to keep the screaming floaties on board. Those had been dropped the second they hit orbit.
Three hours after entering orbit the cargo pods were on the ground and their doors opened.
The sky was more aquamarine than blue and the clouds seemed to have a pinkish tint. The crew knew all the reasons for the differences but, when asked, simply said that was the way things were here and everyone should enjoy what they have. After all, why waste science on stunts?
Quentin and Melissa were the first to leave the pods. They were really, really, scared but wanted to show everyone that everything was going to be all right. They knew that nothing bad could happen to them yet since they hadn’t really started their quest. After all, who died before the game started?
Once they were outside they breathed the air and smiled. It was kind of sweet, like yellow frosted cupcakes. They were on an open plain near the bottom of the mountain they would have to enter to save the trinamium and it was beautiful. The grass was a dark green color but the trees all had tree trunks that were kind of white and the leaves were all sorts of pretty colors. There were lots of flowers that were a pretty blue all around and there was a brook running through the middle. Had Quentin known the word “burbling” he would have used it. Instead he named the brook Laughing Waters.
Melissa smiled at that and took his hand. He was so embarrassed that he blushed a deep red. But he was supposed to be a grownup here and grownups held hands, so he didn’t let hers go. In fact he held it a little tighter. It felt nice and he liked things that felt nice.
Soon they were unloading the tents just like they’d learned in the new Epic Dungeon Quest and had a rough camp set up within an hour. An hour after that they had made a bonfire from wood they found nearby and were cooking a rude dinner from the stored provisions.
The ship’s crew was wearing full space suits and watching them closely. There was no way they were going breathe this air. They’d read the medical warnings before they left Earth. When they were sure that everyone was as settled as they could be they gave them their directions on where to start “saving the trinamium” in the morning and returned to the ship.
Quentin and Melissa joined the others in singing their favorite songs around the campfire and enjoyed the evening. They sang the theme from Epic Dungeon Quest; they sang “Row Row Row Your Boat” and they sang “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” It seemed appropriate. They sang “Father John” and they sang “Bertrand the Bouncing Bear.” Then they sang them all again and went to sleep.
In the morning they woke up excited. They had a quick breakfast and headed up into the mountain. It was an imposing mountain. They didn’t know much about Earth’s geography, but if they had they would have been properly awed. This mountain stood over five miles high and had a base that extended for twenty miles in all directions. But even without the facts they were impressed at the sight.
They entered the tunnel that they been pointed to and broke out the equipment so they could begin work. They sang “Hi Ho” as they worked and soon were engrossed in their labors. The trinamium was easy enough to find. The bright, pink, rock stood out from the gray and mottled browns surrounding it.
They chipped away randomly at first but figured out the best methods quickly enough. Within three hours they were extracting a tub of the pretty stones every ten minutes.
They didn’t know it, but that was five times the projected yield the bots could achieve.
At noon, local time, a horn sounded and they left the tunnels to eat lunch. While they were eating, the ship’s crew returned to check on progress. They were stunned at the amount of trinamium sitting in front of the mouth of the mine but said nothing to the miners. There was no need to compliment them.
The crew were due to leave in four more days, when the jump point would be optimal, and figured they were going to need more cargo space for all this trinamium than they had allotted. After a brief discussion they decided to offload the extra provisions and stores they had and just give them to the miners, which is what they were calling the stunts now, and just call it a bonus for a job well done. They could straighten out the books when they got back home since trinamium was worth a hell of a lot more than meatloaf.
The next few days passed without incident and the crew loaded the ship and headed home. The miners had enough provisions for a year and the next supply ship would arrive in three months, so everyone was happy. While the miners had no idea what a “triple quota bonus” was, they happily accepted the crew’s thanks.
As time passed they began building their community. They arranged their tents in neat rows, set up shifts for all the chores and began their new life on Wonderia. They liked things well enough even though they missed their families. They developed friendships, surveyed the area around their camp and found that they really liked the yellow berries they found clinging to the trees. They also discovered that the blue berries on the flowers made them sick. They were very careful after that.
But other than that life was good. They stored the trinamium at the south end of their camp. Even though it took longer to bring it there, it made things neater to look at. One thing they all insisted on was neatness.
The camp itself was a thing of wonder. The Campaign for Camping tents had all been brightly colored so they could be easily spotted from the air in case of an emergency. The miners had arranged them so that no two identical colors were next to each other. It gave the whole place a carnival-like feel.
The feeling permeated all they did as well. There were songs for mining and songs for eating and they’d found some books in the ship’s stores, and the miners who could read read them to the others before they went to bed.
If their routine might be perceived as stifling to some, it worked well for them. They knew when to wake up, when to work, when to eat and when to relax.
They dug deeper into the mountain and built a small rail system to make moving the ore easier. The ore cars and tracks were made from local wood and the wheels were made from a rubber that they found naturally bubbling in pools. They’d learned how to put it all together in the new Epic Dungeon Quest. It wasn’t hard if you followed the instructions. In fact they liked the new rail system so much that they built it all the way around the camp so that it reached the stock pile on the south end.
They discovered that the green berries made a good paint. They used it to paint the ore cars. They used the themes from Epic Dungeon Quest to inspire their designs. If the drawings were crude they didn’t care; they liked them.
The cargo ships came and went with predictable regularity, once a month after the first three-month wait. The miners set up an arrangement with the crews to send one letter each to their families and then they received one each when the ships came again. They were also given the benefits that regular employees of A/C received: paychecks and medical scans every time a ship arrived.
They didn’t know about the worries the medical staff on Earth had, all they knew was that they felt good and were happy.
Another thing the ships brought were catalogs of stuff they could buy with their paychecks. It was in the second set of catalogs that they found costumes from Epic Dungeon Quest. That was the super coolest discovery ever. They lined up with their paperwork before the ship left and made sure their orders all got in.
But the excitement of the cool clothing didn’t disrupt their routine. Even when the cargo ships were in orbit they got up each morning and followed their schedule. They did wonder why the crews never took off their space suits, even when they were on the ground, but they never asked. They figured it had to be space men’s secret, and they were miners, not space men.
* * *
Copyright © 2013 by Bill McCormick