Friendship Science Fiction Contemporary

Humphrey rolled out of the way just as the Geigerfly dove at him and felt a burst of power. That always seemed to happen if he waited until the last possible second to dodge, though he couldn’t say why.

He came around for the shot as the Geigerfly began to pivot midflight, and time slowed down around him. Everything—the irradiated river to his right, the poisonous gook the Geigerfly had just spewed, the Geigerfly itself—moved as if through molasses. That often happened after his bursts of power.

As did his strangely overpowered gunshots. So far as he could tell, nothing had changed about his pump-action laser shotgun in the previous few seconds. He could modify it at the shop, sure, but he wasn’t anywhere near the shop; he was in Radioactive Ravine.

Well, mods or no mods, Humphrey’s next shot blasted the Geigerfly to next week. It dropped from the air in pieces as time resumed its normal pace, scattered bits glowing as if begging to be harvested. And harvest them he would. Geigerfly meat sold for a pretty penny when you knew the right buyers—whom he’d discovered by asking everyone in town, one by one.

“Nice shot,” Kayla said again for the hundredth time that day in the exact same tone of voice. She was hardly monotone, but now that he thought about it, she repeated herself a lot. Only when they visited someplace new did she seem to have something new to say.

Shouldering his pump-action, Humphrey turned and… paused. Time didn’t just slow down this time, and he wasn’t immune to its effects. The entire world simply ground to a halt without warning.

It would pass, but until it did, Humphrey would be forced to stare at the Geigerfly corpse, which he still had yet to harvest.


“Dude, change right now.”

“What? I OHKO-ed that thing!”



“Geigerflies are, like, super low level.”

“Not this one.”


“Yeah. Level 12.”

“Oh, wow. As compared to, what? The level 10s you fought 15 minutes ago?”

“Well… yeah.”

“Not convinced. Change your armor.”

“Why does it matter to you so much?”

“Because it sucks.”

“Not if you can roll in time.”

“And what happens when you mess up?”

“You don’t get the Luck perk.”



“You know I’m right.”

“… No. I’m not changing.”

“Fine. Then go fight some level 20s.”

“What? Now?”

“Prove me wrong.”

Fine! Jesus… freakin’ back-seater…”


When the world unpaused, Humphrey found himself in Bad Bad Borderlands.

“Don’t miss this place,” Kayla said. As she did when they went… well, just about anywhere. She could be dour like that.

He turned to her. Though he didn’t speak a word, she seemed to understand his meaning.

“In my hometown, we had this game as kids…” Oh? Not repeating herself for once? “Girls vs. boys. I don’t remember the rules, but I remember always being put on the boys’ team because I was tall. Everyone called me a freak. Well, guess traveling with you has proven them right.”

She stopped, turning to face a different direction. He didn’t really take her meaning, but it was nice to hear something new.

The world paused again—briefly—and then they were off, striking out into Bad Bad Borderlands.

Before now, they hadn’t ventured too far into the region; nearby townsfolk constantly warned of the dangers—things much worse than Geigerflies. Humphrey wished he’d thought to stop in town before setting out, yet he also felt compelled to keep moving forward. He hadn’t ended up harvesting the Geigerfly meat anyway, and didn’t think he had the money to trade for supplies without the extra cash it would’ve brought in.

Focusing his attention on the featureless brown landscape ahead, Humphrey trudged onward. There were a few bits and bobbles to pick up along the way—weapon mods laying at the feet of poor souls who hadn’t made it, journal entries speaking to the woes people faced in this land, even some discarded food. He’d found similar treasures in other places, but whenever he visited a new area, they always seemed a little better—stronger weapon mods, more interesting journal entries, more fulfilling food. Strange how that worked.

“Whoa!” Kayla suddenly said after what seemed like an eternity of silence. If he knew her, he knew what she’d say next. “Geiger counter’s ticking up and up. Tread lightly.” Yep.

In response, Humphrey slipped his survival mask over his face. No reason to risk radiation poisoning, especially in uncharted terr—

“Uh-oh…” Kayla said as something big roared not far to their right. “Trouble incoming!”

Halfway through turning toward said trouble, the world paused again.


“Why’d you stop, scaredy-cat?”

“Gotta pee.”



“Mind if I look through your inventory while you’re gone?”


“Let’s see… Jesus. Every single piece of armor here increases Luck and critical hits. So dumb. And your stats… Jesus. Ten base Luck?! Yo! What the hell are you doing?”

“I told you, I’m peeing!”

“No, not—why do you have 10 Luck?”


“Between that and the armor you’re wearing, there’s almost no skill involved whatsoever.”

“What about the rolling?”

“What about the rolling?”

“It’s hard!”

“No it’s not. Did you wash your hands?”

“Give me the controller.”

“Not if you didn’t wash your hands.”

“Dude, it’s my controller.”

“Yeah, that I bought for you on your birthday.”

“Okay, Jesus, I washed my hands!”

“… Smells like you did. I’m impressed.”

“Shut up. Did you change my armor?”

“No. The whole point is for you to prove Luck’s actually good, remember?”

“You changed my hat.”

“Your old one looked stupid.”

“It gave me +2 Luck!”

“Oh, really? I swear I didn’t know.”


“Jeez. Change it back, then.”

“Way ahead of you.”


“Yeah? Well, this loser’s about to win—with Luck!”


The world unpaused and Humphrey found himself face to face with the most hideous creature he’d ever encountered—and that was saying quite a bit. Some 10ft tall, with pinkish-brown goop dripping from various pores crisscrossing its lumbering body, it had four heads all shaped like apples squashed in different ways. It also had four arms of varying lengths, each ending in a single, pitch-black claw that looked like it could rip him seven ways from Sunday. To top it all off, one of its two legs appeared to be broken, causing it to have to drag itself forward using its bottom two claws.

“One can of whoop-ass, coming right up!” Kayla shouted as she belatedly took out her twin laser pistols. Would those tiny popguns do any damage to this… contaminated crawler? Humphrey didn’t know how he knew the creature was called that, but he somehow always knew.

Nomenclature wouldn’t do him much good when it came to survival. He needed to roll at the last second, like alw—

The contaminated crawler struck out with horrifying speed, sending Humphrey flying.

He stood up quickly as the thing hauled itself forward on its claws again, Kayla’s pistols indeed doing little in the way of damage. She might as well have dropped them and tried tickling the beast instead.

Panicked, Humphrey unloaded on the creature, failing to hit the weaving heads but managing to get two body shots in. Time to reload.

He backed up as he did, proficient enough in the process to sprint and reload if need be. The contaminated crawler was slow, though, so he had time. Well, it was slow when it moved. When it attacked, on the other hand…

Fully reloaded, Humphrey went for another shot. But the world paused.


“What’s wrong? Not enough Luck?”

“He did so much damage! And he took none!”

“Because of your build.”

“No… no! Because he’s twice my level!”

And because of your build. I had a Defense and Strength build and I was fine.”

“Were you my level?”






“Ugh… what do I do?”

“Well, you can still get crits considering how much Luck you have, but if you do a last-second dodge and activate that perk you love so much…”

“How do I dodge that?”

“Same way you dodge Geigerflies.”

“Geigerflies are slow—and weak! Even if I mess up a roll and get hit, I don’t lose three-quarters of my health bar.”

“Just get a crit, whether from your dodge perk or your insane Luck. See how much damage it does. Then, when you’re unsatisfied, we’ll do it my way.”

“Strength and Defense are no fun.”

“Dying is? When was the last time you saved?”


“Can’t save mid-battle.”

“Oh, Jesus.”

“It autosaved when you fast traveled to Bad Bad Borderlands. But that was, like, 10 minutes ago.”

“God, I don’t wanna go through all that again.”

“Well, it probably also autosaved before the fight started.”

“… I hate you.”



Unpaused. Gun still aimed. Contaminated crawler still crawling.

Rather than unload again, Humphrey stepped back and waited. Kayla got some potshots in, but he was hardly paying attention to her at the moment. He needed to focus. To dodge. To get that burst of power.

But how? This thing was faster than any Geigerfly or tick tunneler he’d ever known. Evading at the last moment would take more precision than he thought he was capable of.

He’d try it anyway.

“Hey!” Kayla yelled from across the battlefield. Her pistols pop, pop, popped away, utterly useless. “Little help here, pal?” She said that whenever he lingered too long.

Well, the time for lingering was over. The contaminated crawler was approaching, leaving a trail of putrid goop. Somehow, Humphrey didn’t think stepping in it would do him any good, so he was careful about strafing the creature.

It stopped.

Not because the world had paused again.

Because it was going to attack…



“Ha! I dodged!”

“Shoot, you idiot! Get your guaranteed crit!”


The burst of power came, as expected. Humphrey reveled in the flood of energy, took careful aim at where he thought the creature’s heart might be, and fired.

It barely slowed the contaminated crawler down.

In the next second, Humphrey fled. He needed to approach this differently. Maybe he could outrun the thing, get back to town, do work for pay, resupply, mod his weapon, start from square—

The world… paused.


“His health bar… it barely budged…”

“Yep. And that was a crit.”


“Come on. Change your armor.”

“… Need to heal first.”

“Yeah. Then change your armor.”

“… What do you suggest?”

“Considering how few non-Luck options you have available—and considering you can’t fast travel during a fight—we’ll have to work with what we have.”

“God, this sucks!

“Hey, don’t take it out on the controller. We can fix this.”

“How?! This thing is way too powerful! Even if I time every dodge correctly and get crits, it’s not going down for like another hour. Kayla isn’t helping.”

“She never does. Told you to get a new partner.”

“But she’s…”



“Michael is hotter. And better.”

“You’re the bi one here, not me!”

“Doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate a good-looking guy who also happens to have better weapons, better armor, better stats…”

“Not important right now! Here. Let’s look at my armor.”

“Okay, so aside from all the Luck garbage you have—”

“It’s not garbage!”

“—there’s Strength gauntlets, Defense boots, and that Strength hat I put on you before. They won’t help much since your base Strength and Defense are lacking, but they’re something for now. We can respec back in town.”

“Who said anything about respecing? Humphrey is a Lucky guy, and that’s that.”

“You’re being stupid.”

You’re being annoying!”

“Not as annoying as dying to this thing over and over again will be.”

“This armor isn’t going to help!”

“How about this: Put on one piece at a time. Watch how each gives you a boost. Then tell me I’m annoying.”

“You’re annoying either way.”

“Just do it!”



The world was still paused, but Humphrey felt something shift. Just another of the many inexplicables of his life.

When things got moving again, he not only felt renewed—the same sensation as being full, for some reason—but had new gauntlets on. Not the first time that’d happened, but these felt… different from the others. Almost as if they made him stronger somehow.

He’d test that strength after he reloaded. For now…




He was getting pretty good at that.

Alright. Time to back up and reload. He did so, sparing a glance for Kayla. She was down, guns fallen before her. She wouldn’t get up again until he helped her, or until the battle was over. The former made sense, but he’d never understood the latter.

Whatever the case, he was now locked and loaded. Aim… fire…



“Didn’t do much more than normal.”

“But more than normal, right?”

“… I guess.”

“Now put the Defense boots on and take a hit.”

“What?! No! They’re supposed to be a failsafe, not a reason for me to stand there and—”

“Hold on, my mom is calling me. Hello? Yeah, I’m still at his house. What? That’s… tonight? Oh. Oh, yeah. Okay. I’ll let him know. Yeah. See you soon. I—jeez, Mom, I… yes, Mom. I love you too. Bye. Yes. Yes! Okay, bye.”

“What’s up?”

“Forgot my cousins are coming over tonight. You think I’m annoying, you should meet them.”

“So… you have to go?”

“Yeah; my mom’s on her way now. But that gives us a few more minutes. Put the boots on! Get hit!”

“… I’m changing back to Luck armor after you leave.”

“Whatever! Go, go, go!”


Another shift. Unpause. New boots. They were… pink? Pink and sturdy. Humphrey didn’t think even the contaminated crawler’s claws could cut through them.

And, for some strange reason, he had the urge to test that theory, despite how much the creature had injured him earlier. On top of that, Kayla was still down. If he lost the battle and she wasn’t there to revive him…

Oh, well. Live in the moment, he always said! Even though he didn’t talk.

After reloading again, Humphrey stepped into the beast’s next attack. It raked a slimy claw at him, and—while it definitely hurt—it wasn’t as bad as last time. Not by much, but he felt the difference. In fact, he thought he might’ve been able to take two claw swipes. But he wouldn’t risk that.

As if in agreement with his thoughts, the world paused.



“Put on the Strength hat. You’ve got this.”


“Come on! My mom’s probably halfway here by now!”


New hat this time. Why did it feel strangely familiar?

No time to think about that. Only time to reload and reassess the fight.




Wow. The contaminated crawler actually flinched that time, its four heads bouncing like bobbleheads from the impact.

What had changed? His clothing? Well, yes, but did that have anything to do with his newfound power and resistance to injury?

No matter. Time to put this ugly thing back in the irradiated ground.

Humphrey rolled out of the way of the creature’s claws, but didn’t experience the expected burst of power. Although, with newfound strength flowing through his veins, did he really need it? Did he really need luck? Kayla considered herself pretty lucky, too, and look at her: lying on the ground, clenching her wounded stomach, awaiting salvation. If that’s what luck led to, then Humphrey decided he didn’t want anything more to do with it.

The battle raged on, the creature flinching once every couple of shots. It seemed to be growing weaker. Slower. More choreographed. All of that made it much easier to dodge.

Still, Humphrey took another hit. It hurt like the radioactive sting of a dozen Geigerflies at once, but it didn’t bring him down. No, not him. He still had some fight left. He still had some—

Kayla stood up, stumbling as she scooped her guns from the ground. What? She’d never done that before. She always, always waited until he healed her or the fight was over. But then, fights had never taken this long before. Maybe there was more to her than met the eye.

“En garde, monster!” she shouted. Not the most inspiring battle cry, but Humphrey was glad to hear her say something new.

Then, wielding those twin laser pistols of hers, she shot the contaminated crawler—POP, POP—and… killed it. Gook, claws, heads and all disintegrated with the coup de grâce.

Stunned, stupefied, stumped, Humphrey found himself unable to move. Kayla walked up to him, pistols now holstered. “All in a day’s work, right, pal?” she asked with a smile. “Come on. Let’s get outta here.”

But before he so much as took another step, the world paused—somehow more forcefully than usual, if that was even possible.


“I… I don’t…”

“Ah, yeah, that’ll happen.”

What will happen?!”

“When Kayla gets up after being knocked down—”

“Since when does she do that?”

“When you take too long to win. Anyway, when she gets back up, she gets a small, short stat buff. In those few moments, she probably had more Strength and Defense than you do even with the new equipment. Unfortunately, because she got the kill, you only get half the experience points. Probably only enough for a single level-up, considering where you are now.”


“Yeah, that sucks. I—wait, hold on. Hello? Hey, Mom. Yeah, I’ll be right there.”

“… Dude.”

“My mom’s here. Catch you later, Lucky.”


“What? Come on, I gotta go.”

“If Kayla’s that strong, then I’m definitely gonna respec—and keep the armor. Screw Luck! You were right.”

“I usually am.”

“Gonna keep Kayla around, too.”

“Well… oh, I have to go. I’ll dissuade you next time.”

“Yeah, good luck with that!”

“Yeah… like I need luck.”

November 02, 2023 21:34

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