QotM*: The Protagonist

*Question of the Month is a stack of pancakes whipped up by Later Levels and drizzled in Maple Syrup by OverThinker Y!

2019’s ‘Question of the Month’ format has been shaken up. Instead of individual gaming conundrums the dream-weavers in charge of this community chaos are focused on a much bigger goal: Coming up with the Ultimate Video Game over the course of this rotation around the sun. Each month they’re asking for entries to add to the growing structure of this fantastical game covering different aspects. For February the community have been charged with adding the main protagonist to the existing setting.

… still not entirely clear? Head here to see details of February’s challenge and read more about the overall concept…

I was thrilled to be picked as the winning entry in January’s challenge to define the setting of this game and, as I’m now part of the team, I’m no longer eligible to win in future months. This doesn’t mean however that I can’t just join in for fun and as I came up with the setting I thought I’d have a crack at trying to put a suitable protagonist in to it.

If you haven’t read my description of the Setting then click here to read that piece as it will give what follows much more context!

Of course regular readers might have noticed that I’m not one for just answering the question and I often take liberties with what actually constitutes an answer so the following is my own meandering extension of the piece I wrote covering the setting; I’m sure that many of you out there are much better at defining characters and I look forward to reading what everyone comes up with… but for now here’s my own take on who the protagonist could be…   

The Protagonist

The 153rd deck engineering plant room was bathed in murky green radiating from the low-level bulkhead lights positioned around the room. The walls were a weave of pipes and conduits that disappeared into the blackness below the grid iron flooring. Other than that the room was, unlike most other rooms in the flooded Delta-Chi-743, relatively clear of random floating debris. A gloved hand reached out and gently stroked a small collection of carefully arranged, multicoloured, starfish on one of the walls. Tabitha, the smallest of the starfish, reached out with an exploratory tentacle and gently wrapped it around the reassuring little-finger of the hand; a ripple of bio-luminescence flickered across her skin before she released the finger and returned to her slumber. The hand once again took hold of the small wrench and the figure returned to her task.

She was clothed in a crudely modified company spacesuit; a faded red phoenix logo still visible across the chest. Strips of iron had been carefully cut and shaped to re-enforce the various cuffs and joints of the suit. Further strips had been latticed across the helmet and held in place by rivets; the suit had been designed for the vacuum of space, not the pressure of an ocean. With practised care her cumbersome gauntlets adjusted the jaws of the wrench and positioned it on a small metal peg. It was identical to the two-hundred and nineteen other pegs that she had already adjusted that evening. Varying the tension on the peg with one hand and gently tapping the wound metal string with other, she allowed her eyes to softly close and cleared her head of everything but the pitch of that resonating wire. Finally, satisfied, she opened her eyes, smiled, and let out a sigh that materialised in a burst of bubbles from the exhaust vent of her helmet.

She was done. It was finally in tune.

Quickly stashing the wrench on her tool belt she took hold of the underside of the Grand Piano and, bathed in that sickly green hue of the plant room, gently rotated it to roughly the correct orientation. Slowly the piano’s feet settled on the iron floor with a deep thud. For a moment she admired the instrument. It had taken her five days to move it here from the ship’s auditorium four floors up. Progress had been slowed because of the power outages; suddenly being plunged in to darkness in the middle of a corridor trying to push a piano through a flooded spaceship made you a target for deep sea predators. That scenario hadn’t been covered in scouts. Tying knots? Sure, but evading predators whilst moving a large musical instrument underwater? Well, there just wasn’t a badge for it. She twiddled her gauntlet clad fingers experimentally, but it was no use. If she wanted to play she’d need to lose the suit.

With a thrust from her right leg she propelled herself upward into an old air-duct and emerged in the corner of a small chamber formed of the dead space between two conduits. It was barely two metres square and a claustrophobic half a metre tall, but at least it was dry. The exit of the duct was a small square patch of water that she bobbed in for a few moments, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dim light, before hauling her frame into the chamber and lying motionless. Slowly she flicked open the clasps around her neck and removed her helmet taking in a breath of the chamber’s air. It was thick with the smell of mould and oil. A weak warm glow of yellow light from the lamp in corner revealed her grease streaked face, slightly upturned nose, and dark eyes; the left of which was permanently and severely bloodshot. She pushed her matted chestnut hair from her face, rolled on to her front and inspected an array of valves and gauges mounted on the wall. A grimace crossed her face as she sharply tapped one of the dials.

“Great! The scrubbers need changing again,” she thought.

That would have to wait. With a sigh she looked back at the small pool of water she had emerged from and flicked open a valve. A sharp hiss of air escaped from a pipe and the level of the water dropped as the pressure in her little air pocket increased; that air pressure was the only thing keeping the water out of her quarters. She closed the valve and slipped the top half of the ‘spacesuit’ over her head to reveal a handmade, neoprene wet-suit. The seams were roughly closed with large, uneven, stitches. Two rows of eyelets ran down the front and were laced together with an assortment of old string to fasten the jacket. Awkwardly she wrestled with the bottom half of the suit and finally managed to release her right leg. The left one slipped out of the suit easily, finishing abruptly just above the knee. Double-thickness neoprene had been sewn over the stump of her leg to provide a little extra padding and it was decorated with a faded fabric patch in the shape of a star. With hands and body free, it was time to test out her new instrument.

She pulled a fin on to her foot, grabbed one of the air cylinders from the corner of the room and, after attaching a hose and regulator, slipped back in to the water. Sinking back down the air-duct she looped the cylinder’s straps over her shoulders and jammed the regulator in to her mouth, her hand instinctively pressing the regulator to purge. The bubbles cleared to once again reveal the implausible sight of a grand piano in a fully submerged plant room on a space ship in orbit around Saturn. Kicking forward with her fin she gracefully approached the keyboard, her hair spreading out in waves behind. Her body naturally adopted a sitting posture as she floated in front of the instrument and her hands reached out toward the black and white keys.

A squid appeared.

His black eyes looked cautiously around the doorway. They caught sight of the figure at the piano and with a series of quick wavelike pulses from his tentacles he darted toward her before stopping suddenly about six inches from her face. For a moment they stared at each other, his neon blue limbs relaxing and spreading out behind him. She rolled her eyes, removed the regulator, and spoke to him in a cacophony of bubbles.

“What the shit Gene?” she warbled.

Gene, the squid, blinked. She took another quick breath from the regulator.

“I don’t have time for your crap OK? I’ve literally just got this thing set up.”

Gene’s smooth skin darkened to a deep purple. He looked down at the floor.

“I know what you’re going to say Gene,” she continued, “and I’m not going to sort it out for you. Not this time.”

Gene seemed to nervously look back at the doorway.

“Yup, here it comes, ‘Oh Chloe Chloe, come and help me! Those lobsters are being mean to me again‘!” mocked Chloe in here best imaginary imitation Gene voice.

Chloe’s anger was short lived however and her face softened at the sight of her squid friend turning a deep red, slowly pulling himself into the open top of the piano with his tendrils, and finally cowering with those black eyes looking at her from behind the music stand.

She took another quick breath.

“Fine,” she exhaled in a flurry of bubbles, “I’ll see if I can catch the ringleader… again… but you’d better learn to deal with this stuff Gene because I’m getting sick of eating lobster.”

Gene perked up and the blue returned to his skin.

“Now, you’d better get out of there. Just go and float in the corner and listen OK?” said Chloe.

Gene, now fully neon blue again, happily obliged and positioned himself near one of the lights. One of his tentacles idly picked up some small snails on the wall and he crunched them noisily. He looked like a small cephalopod moviegoer munching on some popcorn.

Chloe turned back to the keyboard and without pausing for another moment her fingers began to ripple across the keys frantically. The ascending scales of the first bars of the third movement from Beethoven’s Sonata number 14 began to resonate around the small metal chamber. Gene watched her silhouetted form hunched over the keyboard, haloed in the green light, oblivious to the irony that he was listening to this more than a billion kilometres from a world where moonlight actually existed.

The performance echoed through the ducts to the surrounding decks. On deck 161 a family of clams slowly opened to appreciate the delicate vibrations travelling through the water. On deck 125 a hammerhead shark paused his pursuit of an eel to listen to the staccato notes being hammered out; for a moment the image of wild hair, piercing eyes, and a red cravat entered his mind, but it meant nothing to him and he continued the hunt… And in the dark, on deck 97, something unspeakable stirred, woken by the music,  and emitted a low purr.

Chloe played on. This had been the first step in her plan; it might seem irrelevant, but getting the piano here was a big deal. If she could manage that then she could manage what followed. For now however she was content to enjoy the music in that murky water on the 153rd deck.

Remember to check out the links int he opening paragraph if you want to get involved! Can’t wait to see the protagonists everyone comes up with!

5 thoughts on “QotM*: The Protagonist

    1. Thanks! 😊 I’m glad you like it. I’d love to have the confidence to do more as I really enjoy doing my weird short-fiction posts. (QotM is basically my excuse to do this… Even if it’s not an appropriate way to answer the question 😛)


      1. I was thinking that while I wouldn’t necessarily want to play the game (only because it sounds a bit modern for my taste) I’d love to read a scifi story or book spawned from that. And I know what you mean re QotM – I’m finding those challenges really good for that too!

        Liked by 1 person

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