The Price of Living – a #FlashFriday story

Picture by Jan Bommes via Flickr Creative Commons
Picture by Jan Bommes via Flickr Creative Commons

Desi slammed the door shut behind them and slid a bolt across. Whatever was inside this old surgery, whatever it had been before the war, it couldn’t be more dangerous than what was out there in the ruins of Barcelona. Peering through a filthy window, he saw nothing moving in the street, but that didn’t mean they were safe. Some of the robots could fly. He’d heard some could tunnel.

By the time he turned around Carina and Javier had already disappeared from the waiting room, leaving a trail of blood. Desi dashed after them, gun still in hand, and found them in a treatment room. Blood was dribbling from Javier’s wounds down the sides of a couch.

“Look.” Carina turned around, the grey controller for a wall mounted device in her hands. “Proper medical equipment. We can save Javi.”

“Put that down,” Desi demanded.

“He needs this.” Carina peered at the machine, trying to work out how to switch it on.

“Stop it.” Desi grabbed the controller from her hands and flung it into the corner of the room. “It’s a machine. We can’t trust it. It could be on their side.”

With a groan Javier tried to sit up, then slumped back, the charred mess of his chest rising and falling with ragged, irregular gasps of breath.

“He needs this!” Carina snatched up the controller. “He’s going to die!”

“If you switch that machine on we might all die.” Desi pointed angrily at the device. “Have you forgotten what happened to Laia and Miguel? They thought we could use that old computer, and now they’re dead.”

“Mother of God, you’re killing him Desi!” Carina grabbed Javier’s pale hand. “Look at him!”

“You’re killing him,” Desi snarled. “The more time we waste here, the less time we’ve got to find bandages or something else we can use.”

“Bandages won’t do.” Carina starting flipping switches. “He needs more than you or I know how to do.”

The memory of Laia’s burned body filled Desi’s mind. The smell had been the worst of all. She’d smelled so beautiful in life, but the stench of blackened corpse had made him vomit. All because that computer had told the robots where they were.

He had to stop this.

All it took was a squeeze of the trigger. Carina froze as the roar of the gun filled the room, the bullet burying itself in the wall.

“Step away from the machine.” Desi trembled with fear at the thought that he might hit her. He had to be strong.

Her face stiff, eyes burning with anger, Carina turned to face him.

“Hands up,” he said.

She obeyed.

From the couch, Desi gave a groan. His left leg twitched and blood misted his breath.

“You wouldn’t,” Carina said.

“I don’t want to die.” Desi was firmer now, his heart beat slowing to something like normal. “Not at the hands of some mindless, compassionless machine.”

“Compassionless?” Carina nodded toward Javier, his breathing becoming ever more shallow. “Do you have compassion, Desi? Or has it been written over with the programming of fear?”

Desi’s finger tightened on the trigger, anger driving him. How dare she suggest he was no better than a robot? He just wanted to live.

Javier coughed – a terrible, wet sound, the desperate noise of someone else struggling to live.

All the anger left Desi, replaced with a different determination. He lowered the gun.

“How does it work?” he asked.

* * *

This story came out of a game of Watch the World Die that Laura and I played a while back, in which we played out a robotic and environmentally driven catastrophe. If you like world building, story telling games or just thinking about apocalypses then I recommend trying out Watch the World Die. It’s quick, simple and entertaining in a dark way.

And if you’re looking for more science fiction then my collection of short stories Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is free on the Kindle today – please check it out if you enjoy scifi.

Destructive world building with Watch the World Die

The phrase ‘world building’ sounds so positive and constructive. Of course for us as creators it is – we’re dreaming up another reality to put down on the page or screen. But that doesn’t mean it’s always going to feel constructive to the inhabitants of that world.

This is your brain on logic
Such a pretty act of creation!


I mentioned Watch the World Die, the game of collaborative apocalypses, in my post on story games. I had it pegged as a potentially useful world building exercise, so last night Laura and I gave it a go.

WtWD as a writing tool

WtWD is about creating an apocalyptic scenario, describing how the end of civilisation as we know it comes about. Like Microscope it’s pretty free wheeling, though it’s narrower in its focus and designed more to inspire you with its list of possible scenarios than to send you running off in all sorts of crazy directions.

While it doesn’t energise the creative faculties to the same extent that Microscope does, I can see WtWD being helpful to writers in two ways. One is that, like any good creative exercise, it sets some limits and makes you work within them, leading your brain to make connections you didn’t expect.

The other is that it’s a handy shortcut if you want a well-developed post-apocalyptic scenario for a story and don’t want to spend hours on it. A few dice rolls, a couple of sentences expanding on each result, and you’ll have what feels like an in depth history without having to dream it all up from scratch. You could even use it to flesh out an apocalypse you’ve already half developed. It’s perfect for short story writing, where you want to create the impression of depth without investing disproportionate time in planning.

So if you like your settings dark then this could be pretty useful.

WtWD as a game

Though not pitched in the same way as a roleplaying game, WtWD is most similar to Microscope, being another collaborative story telling / world building exercise. I think we might see these narrative games emerge as a genre over the next few years, because they really don’t fit within the category of roleplay games, where Microscope is marketed.

WtWD is to Microscope as a quick round of dice game Heckmeck is to spending the day playing Britannia. It’s a quick, pallet cleansing game that you’ll get done in half an hour. It’s fun but without the time commitment or the sense of deep engagement that comes with a longer game. It’s a good world building game for someone who finds Microscope intimidating, with its back-and-forth chronology and wide open spaces of the imagination.

One more tool in the box

WtWD is free to to download and adds one more tool to your writers’ toolbox / games collection. All you need is a pen and a couple of six sided dice, so why not give it a go?



Picture by Maxwell Hamilton via Flickr creative commons

Story games

I like stories. I like games. I’m seeing more and more variety of games that combine the two. These are games that aren’t about winning so much as they are about spinning a great yarn. So for those interested in adding more story-telling to their games, or some random chance to their story-telling, here are a few to try. If you know of others please let me know – I love these sorts of games.

Once Upon A Time – A classic storytelling card game that’s now over twenty years old but still a great way to pass the time. A random hand of cards determines the elements that you’re challenged to fit into your storytelling.

Aye, Dark Overlord! – Another card game. This time the challenge is to come up with excuses for why you, a faithful minion, have failed in your duty to your villainous master. Very silly, lots of late night fun if you have the right mindset.

Microscope – I’ve raved about this one before. It’s a collaborative world-building game in which you tell a grand history with your friends, with always unexpected results. A fabulous creative exercise. Lame Mage also have another storytelling game called Kingdom, which I’m determined to try soon.

Watch The World Die – The other end of things from Microscope, this is about world-destroying, as you generate your own apocalypse. I haven’t tried it yet, but the PDF is free to download, so what’s to lose?

Tales of the Arabian Nights – I didn’t even know there were storytelling boardgames until I saw this review from Shut Up & Sit Down. It’s an entertaining review, and will give you some idea why I’m keen to play this game:

[vimeo 71104587 w=500 h=281] <p><a href=”″>Review: Tales of the Arabian Nights</a> from <a href=””>ShutUpShow</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a>.</p>