February 24, 2010   55 notes

Canabalt: The Junior Novelization

Feb 24th 2014 edit: EPUB and PDF versions now available, to celebrate the fourth anniversary of Canabalt: The Junior Novelization!

Also, I’ve just written the spiritual sequel to this story, You Have to Burn the Rope: An Unauthorized Novella!

- - - - - - -

You know what’s a good game? Canabalt. Go ahead and play it, it’s only got one button. Play it and come back here.

If you’ll notice, Canabalt doesn’t have a storyline.

Let’s fix that.

- - - - - - -

~CANABALT~

- - - - - - -

You’ve been down this hallway a million times in your life.

Though not always at this speed.

It’s dimly lit as always, and it’s as gray as it always is. As you race past your office, you see a red blinking light on your desk phone. As much as you’d like to check your messages right now, you’ve got something more important to do.

You keep running.

You approach a file cabinet, the same one that Thompson was whining about the other day at the office. You rush towards it, leap, and vault over the top. Thompson would be proud, you think, as you land on top of an empty cardboard box. That figures. You fumble around a bit, and get back on your feet. No turning back now, you think, as you continue straight ahead.

As you see your target in the distance, you begin to doubt yourself. Are you going fast enough? Have you done all that you could have? Everything you should have? Are you ready? Is your watch on?

You draw closer to your target, the window, and brace yourself.

This time you’ll make things right. Sooner or later, everyone gets a second chance in life. Right? The first leap is the hardest, right?

You leap towards the window.

- - - - - - -

"Hey, you, over here!"

Thompson is waving his arms at you from across the office, excitedly.

You shake your head, and look down at your computer. For once, you’re actually working on something important, and you’re not going to let Thompson interrupt you. At least that’s what you think, as Thompson comes crashing into your office.

You look up. “What.”

Thompson stands up and brushes himself off. “Hey. Hey! What’s up,” he asks. “How are you! How’s it going!”

"I’m busy.

"Right, busy, that’s cool! Hey did you see the score last night! It was incredible! I can’t believe that—"

"I’m very busy." This time, you return your focus to the computer. Get your design finished, on time, and you won’t have to worry about any hassle from the main office.

Thompson looks saddened by this, but he perks up again. “Did you see the news last night after the game! It was insane, they were talking about the company!”

You’re really only mildly interested the company overall. It’s a complex design, and you’re relieved to be so close to finishing it today. As you start putting the finishing touches on it, you skim over the details.

"Yeah," continues Thompson, "apparently we’re into some really awesome research!"

Your design’s got everything they’ve asked for. Stabilizers, shielding, external power-

"We’ve got all this money invested in different research labs! Crazy stuff!"

-all designed to the specs they’ve wanted, lightweight, hard to detect-

"I heard the word ‘temporal’ on television last night, and it wasn’t even in a movie!"

-no, not that design, this is the one that will work-

"I just get the feeling that we’re living in the future now because of all this stuff! It’s insane!"

-it would have to be tested, but that’s part of research, right?-

"Insane like the score of the game last night!"

"Thompson!" you shout. You’ve had enough of this.

He looks at you, apparently unaware that you were ignoring him the entire time. “What?”

"What are you doing here?"

"Oh, I wanted to tell you that I’ve been tripping over the new file cabinet in the hallway! It seems really dangerous!!"

- - - - - - -

Given the option, you probably wouldn’t roll around in broken glass and concrete. Since you’re landing on the rooftop of a neighboring building, though, you don’t mind it, as it’s way better than the alternative.

As you expected, the sky is as grey as your office. From one nightmare to another, right? But this, this can end, this can all be over. You know what you need to do. You can see your destination in your mind, and it is straight ahead. No turning back. You check your watch, and it’s still charging. Great.

Your legs feel like they’re on autopilot, and they might as well be. Picking up speed, you eye your next target—-another rooftop. This one is a bit lower, and you manage to leap towards it without much effort. As you vault over an air conditioning vent, you hear a large, booming sound.

A plane? A missile?

It doesn’t matter, because it is not in front of you. All that matters is what lies straight ahead.

You’ll fix things this time. You just need to run.

- - - - - - -

You despise these office parties more than anyone else. Everyone you know and hate from work is here, celebrating some kind of office nonsense. Nobody is here because they care about each other, they’re here because they care about office politics. And the office romances. And “The Office” reruns.

And cake. There’s a huge line for cake, and you can’t be bothered to try to get in it. Since everybody’s been mandated to attend the office party (“for morale”) you’re just standing in the hallway outside your office.

Thompson stumbles by you in the hallway, carrying a piece of cake.

"Hey," he says, "they have cake!"

"They always have cake," you say, as you check your cell phone. Thought it vibrated that time, but no. Phantom vibration.

Thompson seems confused, but he shakes it off. “They don’t always have chocolate cake! Hey did you see that new secretary girl! She’s really cool! She’s a redhead and she likes sports!”

You try to wave Thompson off, but he seems pretty excited. You check your phone again. Which card did you give her? The one with the cell number, or the reprinted one with your office number (“because it’s more professional”)? You had one of each in your wallet, so it’s a 50/50 shot. Best just to stand in the hallway.

Although, that cake line is getting pretty short by now. Maybe you should sidle on over and grab a plate. Somewhere, you heard it’s chocolate cake.

"Hey I heard corporate liked that design you did! Are you working with the team to build the prototype?"

This was enough to get your attention. “What? They’re building a prototype? Already?”

"Both! Joan told me about it! She’s going to come over to my house to watch the game with me, and then we might watch the news! I’m telling you, there’s some crazy stuff going on with our company!"

Your attention drifts over to the cake table again, where you see six employees fighting over the last piece. You glance down towards your cell phone, which still hasn’t rung, and your office phone, which is still dark.

On a hunch, you check your wallet.

Both business cards are still there, but your bank card is missing.

Drat.

- - - - - - -

The only other time in your life you’ve seen someone running on a crane, it was during the opening chase sequence of that James Bond movie. You’re no James Bond, granted, but you’re still making across this crane like it’s nobody’s business. You could have Bond’s job, if you wanted it. And if you were British.

You’ve kept up your pace pretty well, and you’ve managed to nail this “jumping from buildings” thing. Every leap seems to get easier, your speed faster with every step, reaction time apparently heightened from excitement, your mind fixed on your goal. You’re going to make it right.

You spot the next building. It’s fairly close, so you prep yourself for another quick bound over this gap.

You hear that loud booming sound again, as you did before. A plane? A missile? A large hunk of wreckage?

Yes, actually, a large hunk of wreckage! As it tumbles out of the sky, it cleanly knocks down the large building you are about to jump to. However, your reaction time isn’t nearly as good as you think it is, because you’re unable to stop before you push your feet against the building and

leap

towards the wreckage …

- - - - - - -

"I can’t believe the bank gave you my home phone number. That’s supposed to be confidential."

"I told them I needed your number, so I could call you whenever I really really needed you. And they just gave it to me."

"Really?"

"No, you wrote it on the back of your card, over your signature. You wrote your address, too."

"Oh."

"You must have been really drunk."

The home number. A rookie mistake. “I wasn’t drunk,” you say. You never drink. Nerves got the best of you.

"That’s what they all say," she says with a laugh. What kind of laugh? Adorable? Polite? Nervous? Your mind settles on adorable but you’re not really sure. You think it’s adorable but she might think it’s terrible so don’t say something like

"Your laugh is adorable."

An awkward pause. Good job idiot.

You try to save this. Do or do not, there is no try, whatever! You can do it! “So, about that conference-“

She interrupts you. No! You’ve lost her forever! “The science one?”

Oh, okay, false start. “Yeah! That one!” Smooth. “The one I’m doing my thing at.” Here’s the real test. See if she remembers. You don’t care if she remembers because you like her anyway but hey come on, pretend to have standards.

"Your presentation! Yes! It sounded fascinating! I’d love to come."

Dude she said love so she’s into you. Also dude, start using “dude” in conversations more. It sounds totally more excitable. Maybe talk to Thompson about it later. Maybe stop thinking about Thompson right now.

"I’ve got some extra VIP tickets for the VIP section so if you want to come you can be in the VIP section with the other VIPs who have VIP tickets for the VIP section." Smooth as ice. Like curling-rink ice.

She nods, you assume, as she says “Yes!” That sounded like nodding, right?

Dude it totally did. This is going to be the best science presentation ever, dude.

- - - - - - -

Miraculously you land on the wreckage without breaking any major bones. You hear a slight crack in your wrist, but that’s probably nothing. You crack your wrist all the time, probably. Before you lose momentum, you leap towards the next building’s rooftop, and land as safely as you can. This disturbs a large amount of doves who are residing there.

You hear another loud booming sound, and look for more wreckage in the sky. Although you see a giant metal object up there, it’s not falling down. It’s not a plane or a missile, either, but you still recognize it. Of course you recognize it!

Facing straight ahead as you run, you realize that the next building is taller than the one you’re on right now—-as in, a lot taller. As in, you’re going to need to jump through one of those windows.

You have yet to try this kind of landing before, on such a specific target. Rooftops are large and horizontal; windows are small and vertical. Your body can take the impact, and you’ve definitely got enough speed, but you’re not sure about the aim.

But you’ll be fine. Only the first leap is the hardest, you think, as you once more attempt to leap through a window.

- - - - - - -

Of all the people to run into at this conference, you find Thompson and Joan.

"I thought you were bringing a date! I came with Joan! We were watching the game last night!"

You mumble something about waiting for your date.

"Haha oh man that’s cool! What’s she like! What does she do! Joan here is a secretary! She likes sports!!"

As Thompson rambles on, you see her, in all her glory, standing across the crowds in the convention center. This is perfect, because you worked up something that’s really smooth. You remove your wallet from your pocket and saunter on over to her.

As you draw nearer, she looks at you and smiles. You remove a business card from your wallet, grasp it between your middle and index fingers, and, in the smoothest way possible, you say “Trade you this card for my bank card.”

Wow, that is actually terrible. But she laughs (adorably) so you’re in, and she takes your card and hands you your bank card back. It’s all very adorable and smooth, dude, so no worries. She gives you a hug and it’s all good.

Now you’re ready for that presentation.

- - - - - - -

Glass and carpet this time, but it’s still no more fun to roll around in. You vault over a chair this time, although you could have easily dodged it. Still, it’s much quicker to keep moving in a straight line. That’s all part of the design. Or at least, the original design.

You smash through the next window, effortlessly, and land on a platform where a billboard used to sit. The entire city is full of places like these now, where things “used to” be. It makes you wonder if it was all worth it to them.

Or was it you? Shouldn’t you have paid more attention?

Now you’re paying attention. Focus. Pay attention.

Straight ahead. Keep moving.

No turning back.

- - - - - - -

No turning back, you think, as you walk up the steps to the stage.

You notice that Thompson is following you. You turn back.

"What are you doing?" you ask.

"I’m helping," he says. "They told me to help."

You’re jarred, partially because this is one of the few times when Thompson isn’t yelling at you. You notice that Thompson has more notes than you do for your presentation, which is startling.

He notices you noticing his noticeable notes. “It’ll be great! I’m going to be like Steve Jobs! ‘One more thing’! That’s me!!”

Whatever, you think, as you both make your way up the steps, and onto the stage.

You look out into the audience. You can see her towards the back. She waves. You smile.

The screen behind you lights up, revealing the company logo. A voice comes on over the PA system, to introduce you.

"And now, two representatives from the nation’s leading developer of defense technology, Canabalt …"

- - - - - - -

Landing on this rooftop was markedly easier than landing on that hunk of wreckage, you decide. Although, your hard landing seems to have shaken the building you landed on, and it hasn’t stopped shaking.

Oh, it’s crumbling. Well isn’t that just great! You quickly spot the next rooftop, and bolt towards it. The building you’re currently standing on is falling rapidly, but your speed and power outpace it. Good design!

You make a huge, early leap, and tumble onto the next rooftop. Once more you hear a loud, booming sound, and take a moment to look off into the distance.

Of course, it’s the robots.

- - - - - - -

"And with that I present the Canabalt High Impact Prototype, or, as I like to call it, the ‘H.I.P.-Hopper’!"

You smile at the audience, but nobody bites. Tough crowd. You scan the back of the audience, and she’s smiling back at you. You continue.

"The Hopper is a lightweight device with a multitude of defense applications." The image on the large screen changes to a picture of a man wearing the device. "It’s built into this uniform: a black jacket and pants, for the spy who needs to look smooth while he’s doing recon work." Another failed joke. It was barely a joke to begin with.

"The jacket contains the rechargeable power source and shielding. The pants contain the stabilizers and impact reducers, which allow you to take a fall from a considerable height." The next slide. "Not super high, mind you, but we’re working on it."

Thompson gives a thumbs-up to the crowd. You don’t know how Canabalt thinks this counts as “helping”, but you’re doing alright on your own.

As you explain some of the more technical aspects of the suit, you can tell the audience is dragging. You look at the back rows again.

She checks her watch.

You decide to wrap up.

As you finish your presentation (to meager applause), Thompson rushes up to the platform.

"One more thing!!" he says, in his best Steve Jobs voice. He flashes you another thumbs-up.

- - - - - - -

The robots knock down another building. It’s not your target, so it doesn’t matter, but inside you feel it. The city’s been evacuated, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Somebody’s home, somebody’s entire life, contained within that building. You watched it all go down in a pile of rubble.

Even the building you were just on, the one that crumbled beneath your feet, that belonged to someone. Those were someone’s things. Many of the evacuees had pets. They couldn’t take them. Those were someone’s pets.

You should have paid attention. You couldn’t have known. You could have stopped this. Why would you have known? This is all your fault. It’s not your fault.

You can fix this.

Focus.

Run.

- - - - - - -

Thompson seems giddy with power as the next slide pops up.

"Temporal Physics!" he exclaims to the audience.

Oh no, you think, not this.

"That’s like, Time Travel! You guys know about Time Travel, right!!"

The audience is staring at Thompson like you are staring at him, with disbelief.

"Well, the fine folks at Canabalt have given me the privilege of showing you our brand new Temporal Technology!" The image on the screen changes to some kind of silver device.

You look on in horror. Now you know what Thompson meant when he said they made “both” prototypes.

Your previous design.

It doesn’t work.

Why would they develop something that didn’t work?

"Yes, folks, we have perfected Time Travel!" Thompson is clearly lying. Your design didn’t work. Doesn’t work. Won’t work!

"Instead of showing you this lame old hip-hop thing," says Thompson (which hurts your feelings), "we’ve brought our Temporal Drive instead!"

A man in a labcoat wheels a perfect replica of the image on the screen out on a large cart. Your design come to life. The wrong design.

"This technology will help our soldiers to Time Travel to a moment in time BEFORE conflict starts, preventing war altogether!"

But it doesn’t work, and even if it did-

"We are also building this into all of our new devices!"

-still could be abused, will be abused-

"And we’re going to demonstrate it for you all today!!"

-can’t end well for-

Did he say today?

Thompson saunters over to the device (smoothly) and flips a switch.

"Presenting…the new dawn of Canabalt!!"

A loud, booming sound emits from the Temporal Drive, and you black out.

- - - - - - -

Another building. Closer to the target.

All those lives. All those people. All these robots.

All your fault. All your design.

But it didn’t work-

You land on another rooftop.

-like it was supposed to-

You vault over another air conditioner.

-the dimensional rift-

You hear another loud, booming sound.

-unexpected results-

A plane? A missile?

-should have paid attention-

A metal object wedges into the rooftop, towards the edge, directly in your path.

- - - - - - -

You open your eyes and look at the ceiling, but you’re having a hard time doing that, since it isn’t there anymore.

In its place is a large metallic object, most certainly not an airplane, that is hovering in midair. As someone who has seen any science fiction movie, you’d think that this might be some kind of space craft.

But it isn’t, it’s a robot. Two giant metallic legs sprout from it, and it lands on two nearby buildings, crushing them. There were probably people in those buildings, you think. What is going on?

You look around for a familiar face. Thompson is passed out on the ground, near the Temporal Drive. You want to check on him, but something else pulls on your mind. You stand up to the podium and look out.

Where there was once an audience, there is now an angry, scared mob. Whatever happened with the Temporal Drive has driven them into a panic, although the robot probably isn’t helping. You scan every face you can find.

You see her, with her back turned to you and the robot. She is talking on a cell phone, holding a white business card.

You check your phone. Thought it vibrated that time, but no. Phantom vibration.

You scream out to her. The robot moves closer to her.

You check your phone again.

Which card did you give her?

On a hunch, you check your wallet.

You see a business card with your cell phone number on it, and your bank card.

Drat.

- - - - - - -

Things start to move in slow motion.

You try to analyze what the object might be. Temporal Drive? No, you designed that. You know how it works. Plane engine? No, those are gigantic. Bomb?

That’s it, “bomb”. What kind of bomb?

Nuclear?

Drat.

- - - - - - -

In a moment another flash covers the crowd, and in the next moment she’s gone, and in the third moment you are a wreck.

- - - - - - -

You check your watch, and it’s almost charged.

But you’re so close. You can make it this time.

But you don’t know if you have enough distance.

The bomb is beeping. It’s probably a bad beep.

You don’t know if you can risk it. If that bomb will go off.

You remove a small remote from your pocket.

- - - - - - -

Shuffling through the office. Here it is.

You start to put on the modified H.I.P.-Hopper.

"The city’s evacuated, there’s robots everywhere, you have no chance to-"

You interrupt Joan. “She’ll be there, I know she’ll be there.”

"They didn’t find any survivors at the convention center."

"They found us.”

"They didn’t find any other survivors.”

You pause, only to find the new remote to control the miniature Temporal

Drive inside the modified Hopper.

"I lost a friend too, you know," Joan says, holding back tears.

Everybody lost a friend, everybody lost somebody close to them.

"Look," you tell Joan. "If I can just keep moving, keep going in a straight line, I can charge up the Temporal Drive in this suit and-"

"And what?"

"-and stop this from happening. Stop myself from designing it."

"It won’t work."

"And I need to tell her how I feel about her and what she means to me before I do it, because there’s a chance that I’ll never meet her, never talk to her about science, never invite her to the science conference, never give the presentation …"

Joan is crying. How can you do this while she’s crying? We’ve all lost somebody because of this, you think, we’ve all lost friends, but this is more important, I can fix this but I need this first, this is right, I know this, how can she cry while we’ve all lost somebody? You put on the watch, displaying the charge level of the battery in the suit.

"… and I know she’ll be there, and I know I’ll fix it, and I know we’ll all be fine."

Joan looks up at you. “How can you know? She’s dead! They’re all dead!”

And you show her, because she won’t stop asking, won’t stop trying, you show her even though you promised you’d never show her.

You show her your bank card, which has a sticky note on it, a note that wasn’t there before, a note you probably missed because you weren’t paying attention then, either-

her address, and-

a note, in pink-

"I’ll be here whenever you really really need me"

- - - - - - -

You don’t know if it’s charged, but it’s too late.

You can try to vault over the bomb, but it’s beeping faster.

You can see her apartment in the distance.

Your target.

You decide to vault over the bomb, but-

-you weren’t paying attention-

-you stumble over another air conditioner, in mid-air, and are on a collision course with the nuclear bomb.

Now is the chance to do it. You are sure that you are fully charged. You can stop it all from happening, every design, all of it.

Or, you could start this day over.

Because you know you can do it.

Because you’ve done it before.

As you make contact with the bomb, it begins to detonate.

But you’ve pressed a button on the remote. The button on the remote.

You disappear in a fine mist.

- - - - - - -

"Hey, are you into science?"

"Wow, what a line."

"I’m sorry, I’m not very smooth."

"It’s okay, I actually happen to be into science."

"I’m also very into science."

"That’s interesting."

"I’m giving a presentation about science next week, at a conference."

"What kind of conference?"

"A science one."

"Oh."

"Have you ever heard of a company called Canabalt?"

"I have!"

"I work for them!"

Some time and conversation passes.

"Sorry, I’m not very good at asking girls out."

"I can tell."

"I’ve never actually done it before."

"It’s okay. The first leap is the hardest, right?"

- - - - - - -

Darkness.

You open your eyes. You blink. You see a ceiling. That’s a relief.

You look around, and try to recognize your surroundings.

But that’s easy to do.

You’ve been down this hallway a million times in your life.

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    Four years ago today, I wrote and posted the short fanfic Canabalt: The Junior Novelization. To mark its fourth year,...
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    so this is pretty much sex.
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    fantastic. Seriously. If...haven’t played...game, do so....
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