Aluminum Smile

He stands in front of the Hype Machine as it pulses and whirs. He cracks open his energy drink, the can clammy from condensation. The sweat from his fingers glides across the aluminum lip. If it weren’t for the whirring, gurgling buzz of the Machine, the transfixed crowd would hear him gulping between sighs of refreshed “Ah!’s”.

The Machine would open soon.

“There’s no other place to be this week,” he repeats. He smiles a big satisfied grin, the syrup from his drink sticking to the corners of his lips. “This is the place to be.”

Whatever the crowd was about to see, it would revolutionize the world of gaming. Certainly, the industry would be profoundly disrupted by whatever groaned behind the iron grate. It’s hard to say what the Machine really feeds on. Throwing money at it engorges it but it doesn’t sate it. Only the men with the clipboards and nervous looks of perpetual consternation knew how much money had been thrown at it.

So much money and yet, year after year, it was very much the same. It sometimes emitted a foul-smelling gas and made ear-splittingly obnoxious noises. It was like some irritable giant that got especially gassy around women. It was really a clunky, unreliable piece of shit with a habit of breaking down. It would just stop altogether, often accepting only the sacrifice of its own, a new coat of paint and billions of additional dollars just to get it started again.

He knew what the Hype Machine demanded and what it absorbed, but he never really made the step to connecting those things back to its nature. He never made the jump from the fact that most of the grinning, gawping crowd looked exactly like him, to the systems and cogs and apparati of the thing. He didn’t seem too fazed by the fact that everyone who didn’t look like him wasn’t grinning. In fact, their presence seemed to make the Machine seem more broken and lousy, the humourless bunch of casuals. Gee, life’s unfair! Get yourself an energy drink and forget about it.

He lifts the can to his mouth when suddenly the Machine creaks intensely. He jumps slightly and some of the warming sour-sweet liquid splatters onto his smart checkered button-down. It stops momentarily, and the crowd gasps, frightened. The men with clipboards and looks of perpetual consternation clasp their boards apprehensively. Was it a lack of faith that caused this deviation?

“Would it fail this time too—or are we failing it?” he thought deeply, furrowing his brow and puckering his sticky lips in apprehension. It’s not like there was ever any place else to be. Perish the thought or perish the Machine. It’s a pleasure and privilege to serve it toward its goal, when it will deliver us to gaming’s most transcendent height. It’s been promising this for so long. It’s been holding the crowd hostage with this promise. The best and the brightest, all here and nowhere else. This is the place to be. This is the place to be. He just had to believe. He grins a wide ear-to-ear grin expanding like a close-parenthesis. He takes a sticky sip. They all do.

It lights up, it spins and buzzes and beeps and whirs and shimmers faster and louder and brighter than any motor, any satellite, any exploding star ever had. He feels a swelling in his chest and the Machine seems to respond in kind. It kicks up dust and lanyards like a tornado around it. The ground quakes with the turbulence of a hundred thousand rumble packs. Anytime now, it’ll happen. His smile is impossibly stretched beyond the diameter of his face. The Hype Machine squeals and groans with the sound of heavy iron thundering open.

From beyond the grate, a blinding light pierces through and consumes everything before it. This is it. The prophecy is fulfilled. He sighs, knowing that nothing can be the same now. He takes a sip.

The year is 20XX. Videogames are reborn.

David S. Gallant has graciously recorded a dramatic reading of this story, which you can listen to here.