Episode 66: The Egg Game by S. R. Algernon


The Egg Game

by S. R. Algernon

I never would have invented the egg game if our parents had taken us–that is, me and my little brother Donnie–on a real vacation. Don’t tell them that, though. Donnie and I will never live it down if we admit, even for a second, that our parents are capable of doing anything cool, even by accident.

It all started last summer, about a week after school let out. Our parents cast suspicious eyes over our glowing report cards and, with a sigh or two, agreed to take us on a trip to space. We were thinking of Lunar World or the Balloon Cities of Venus, but a week before launch day we found out that, no, we were going to the Sun Spot. The Sun Spot turned out to be a “floatel” resort just far enough out of the atmosphere so that our parents technically kept their promise. It spun like a giant bicycle wheel for gravity. Its elevators ran along the spokes, so that someone could get a workout at the gym on the one-point-five gee level, ride inward–or “up”–to the normal level for lunch and then continue on one of those floating zero-gee tai chi groups. It had all the stuff adults liked to do, but as far as Donnie and I were concerned, it might as well have been a bus station.

“Look at those kids over there,” I said to Donnie, as we bounded along one of the station’s low-gee corridors on the way back from the Space Junk Museum. “They’ve got Lunar World wristbands. They must be passing through on their way back.”

“Don’t you just want to throw something at them?” asked Donnie. He tossed a bag of peanuts to himself, sending it upward at just the right angle to compensate for the station’s movement, so that it traced a gently curved path back to his hand. Seeing Donnie juggle gave me an idea.

Once we got into the elevator, just behind the Lunar World kids, I looked up at the emergency hatch. I imagined something suitably icky stuck up there stuck up there just well enough that the gentle deceleration of stopping at a floor wouldn’t dislodge it, but by the time the elevator got to Earth gravity… just imagine the look on those rich kids’ faces.

“Let’s go back to the store,” I said. “I’m going to buy a carton of eggs and a pack of chewing gum.”

Once I had explained the idea, Donnie came up with the scoring system. One of us would go up to the zero-gee level, stick the egg to the emergency hatch and leave a disposable camera wedged against the handrail. The other one would wait at the one-gee level and pick up the camera when nobody was looking. Whoever placed the egg would get one point for every floor the egg managed to visit before meeting its demise. He’d get a hundred points if the egg hit someone directly, as opposed to merely splattering their shoes, and a thousand points if that person were famous enough that our prank made it onto the mainstream news sites.

Donnie scored five points in the first try. The only person in the car was a guy in a suit who stood all the way in the back of the car, so wrapped up in the video streaming past his corneas that he wouldn’t have noticed an alien invasion. He stepped over the remains of the egg on his way out. The cleanup bot rolled out from its compartment and took care of the mess a few minutes later.

“I can beat that,” I said, but I knew I’d have to hurry. Security would wonder where the egg came from, and eventually they’d get around to reviewing the surveillance video. I took the next car up to the zero-gee level and placed the egg. I choose a spot a centimeter off-center to compensate for the curved trajectory, the way bowlers intentionally aim off to the side when they hook the ball. This is a real sport, I thought, and I’m going to put some brainpower into it. I felt like an Olympic gymnast sticking a landing as I stashed the camera, pushed off from the wall and floated into an empty corridor.

Nobody there. Drat.

In a flash of insight, I hit the DOWN button. The elevator AI knew people sometimes took a while to bounce into the elevator, so it kept the doors open for a minute. With that much time, I’d have a chance to pick up a passenger or two.

A few seconds later, I heard a commotion. Four security guards floated in from around the corner on circular platforms. Gas hissed from the platform’s navigation vents as they rounded the corner. I thought the game was up until my initial panic faded and I got a good look. The guards floated in a diamond formation; in the center of the diamond, gliding deftly through the corridor, was a pale, balding man wearing a black suit and a glittering star-field tie. I knew immediately that he was Zed Nolan, spokesperson for the Colonial Advocates’ Alliance. Cameras hovered over the head of the lead guard, angling for the best shot of Nolan’s smug grin. They didn’t have to tilt their lenses too far down. Nolan was over two meters tall. His height proved to the world that he was not built for the stifling grip of Earth’s gravity.

A throng of reporters, hecklers and well-wishers trailed along after him. They didn’t handle zero-gee quite so deftly, so they piled up in the corner as they pushed off the wall, giving the security guards a chance to pull away from the crowd.

“Everyone back away,” said the leader of the security detail. “That’s the rules, folks. Nobody in the elevator but him.”

I floated past them like it was the most natural thing in the world, and I waited until I blended in with the crowd before cupping my hand over my earpiece and calling Donnie.

“You’ll never guess who just got into that elevator,” I said, not waiting for an answer. “It’s Zed Nolan. The one on the talk shows. The one who always makes Dad yell at the screen. If the egg lands on him, it’s a thousand points for sure.”

“He’s, like, eight feet tall,” said Donnie. “He’ll break the egg before it has a chance to fall. Then you won’t get any points.”

“You never said anything about the egg falling,” I said, remembering his rules to the letter. “All it has to do is hit him.”

“No fair,” said Donnie, without conviction.

I turned back toward Nolan to catch a good glimpse of him before the door closed. He had about ten centimeters of clearance between the egg and his head, and he stood directly beneath it, close enough that I swear I could see its shell reflected on his sweaty skin. In that moment, I felt like I could match his smug grin tooth for tooth. Victory was mine.

After that, I waited. One minute passed, then two, then five. I convinced myself that Donnie didn’t want to look, and that he’d hide behind plausible deniability. It didn’t matter. Zed Nolan with literal egg on his face would be every Earthside journalist’s dream. That thousand points would be mine for sure.

My phone chimed after seven minutes.

“What did you do?” said Donnie. For a while, that was all I could get out of him. In the background, I heard yelling, footsteps and the tips of Donnie’s shoelaces against the ground. They were always too long, and Mom said they were a safety hazard. They were the least of our problems now.

“What do you mean?” I asked. “I’ve been waiting for you to call.”

“I mean what did you do to that egg? There’s blood everywhere. Zed Nolan is dead.”

“He can’t be. It’s just an egg.”

“I don’t see any egg, just blood. We’re going to be in so much trouble. What are we going to do?”

“It’ll be all right, Donnie,” I said, surprised at how quickly I stepped into big-brother mode. “Just find the nearest security guard and tell him the truth. You were waiting for the elevator. The door opened, and you saw what you saw. Can you do that?”

“I think so.”

“No wait. Before you say anything, look in the elevator. Do you see my camera?”

“No. It’s gone.”

“All right. Go. Tell Mom and Dad what happened. I have to think.”

I remembered how it started, with Nolan alone in the elevator, and tried to imagine how the scene played out. Someone else must have gotten on at a lower floor, maybe at a low-gee maintenance level. The assassin killed him and knelt over the body to make sure he was dead. Next, the assassin had to escape before the doors opened again, so he reached up and hit the emergency stop button. The elevator slammed to a stop… giving the egg enough relative downward acceleration to overcome the chewing gum. There was no egg on the floor because it all wound up on the back of the assassin’s jacket.

But where could he have gone? I looked around the elevator lobby until I found a door with an EMERGENCY USE ONLY–ALARM WILL SOUND sign. I pushed on the door, and it resisted for ten seconds before giving in. On any other day, that ten seconds would have given security enough time to see what I was up to, but they had other things on their minds.

I stepped onto an open shaft, which should have scared me except that I had been floating around for most of the afternoon. I drifted downward, caught hold of one of the C-shaped rungs in the wall and climbed back up to the doorway. The assassin was down there, I thought, on his way to whatever escape route he had planned. All I had to stop him with was a backpack and a nearly full carton of eggs.

At first my instinct was to hold the egg out as far as I could to the middle of the shaft and let it go, like dropping a pebble into a well. Then I remembered where I was, and that fake gravity didn’t work like the real thing. I noticed that the ladder was on the retrograde side of the shaft–that is, the side that was forever catching up with the rest of the shaft as the station spun. If people fell off the ladder, they would follow the straight-line path of their own momentum and the ladder would catch up to them. That was a nice safety feature, I thought. It kept anyone from drifting too far from the ladder. It also gave me an idea. There was just enough space between the rung and the wall for the egg to pass between them. Or, to put it another way, there was space for the egg or a set of knuckles, but not both.

I held the egg inside a C-shaped rung of the ladder, so that the succession of rungs formed a tunnel, and then I let it roll instead of drop. The nudge from the wall kept it in place as it disappeared into the darkness. A minute later, I heard a soft crunch and a word that would have gotten me grounded for a week if I’d said it within earshot of my parents.

I spun around then, just about to climb back into the elevator lobby, when I saw a gun pointed at my head. Luckily, the arm holding that gun belonged to a pissed-off security guard.

“Are you trying to get yourself killed, kid?” said the guard, as he holstered his pistol.

“He’s getting away,” I said. “Whoever was in that elevator is climbing down to another level. You have to stop him before he can get off the station.”

“I’ve found the breach,” said the guard. “False alarm. Some kid fooling around. I’ll lock up the emergency hatch and meet you back at the crime scene.”

“I’m trying to tell you…”

I went through the whole story on the way back to the one-gee level. I spent the next four hours in an interrogation room the security office. The guards were more interested in getting me to shut up than asking me any questions, but I knew the real interrogation would start as soon as my parents got hold of me. Donnie, meanwhile, had cooked up a story about losing his camera while watching the ships dock and getting lost when he ran back to retrieve it. He’d said, no doubt with wide eyes and a bit of a sniffle, that he was only taking the elevator to the information booth, to let his dear parents know where he was. Naturally, the recurring theme from our parents for the next few days was why I couldn’t be good like my brother.

I had the last laugh, though. The assassin showed up at a greasy-spoon diner on the one-gee ring and sat there drinking a coffee like he was waiting for someone. The waitress was used to seeing customers with flecks of egg in their moustaches after they finished eating but it’s not very often they have egg stains on their cuffs before they sit down, to say nothing of dried whites in their hair behind the ear. By that point, the murder was on the news, and every news channel flashed one of those “report anything suspicious” signs. The waitress thought it was suspicious, so she phoned it in. The next day someone fished his blood-spattered and egg-soaked jacket out of a garbage bin by the elevator, and from then on the puns rolled in. “Yolk and Dagger” said one blog. “Jack the Dripper,” cried another. An American ventured “Eggs Benedict Arnold.”

Whatever they called him, his face was on computer screens across the solar system, and that won me a cool thousand points. Donnie keeps talking about a re-match, but he’s out of luck. Dad says we won’t be going off-planet again for a long, long time.

About the Author

S. R. Algernon

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S. R. Algernon has balanced fiction writing, scholarly writing and teaching for the past several years. He studied creative writing as an undergraduate. For a few short weeks, he was a physics major before switching to biology. After graduation, he went on to teach English in Japan and eventually receive a Ph.D. in Psychology. He has been a member of the Critters online writing workshop since 2009. He currently lives, writes and teaches in Singapore. His research interests over the years have included consciousness, visual perception, human-computer interaction, marketing and comparative psychology. Writing interests include comparative xenobiology, exploration of exoplanets, genetic engineering, post-singularity society and post-scarcity economics.

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About the Narrator

Graeme Dunlop

Graeme Dunlop is a Software Solution Architect. Despite his somewhat mixed accent, he was born in Australia. He loves the spoken word and believes it has the ability to lift the printed word above and beyond cold words on a page. He and Barry J. Northern founded Cast of Wonders in 2011 and can be found narrating or hosting the occasional episode, or working on projects behind the scenes. He has read stories for all of Escape Artists podcasts. Graeme lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife Amanda, and crazy boy dog, Jake. Follow him on Twitter.

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