Culture Broker

This short story first appeared on Stealcam as memories 16377 & 16388. It was co-written with GPT4 exploring the concept of an NPC who trades emotions within a simulated grand strategy game called The Four Moons of America.

Part One

Parch sat in a dim corner booth at the Luna Lounge, nursing a highball. Neon cast shifting colors across the room, while glitch pop drowned conspiratorial conversation out. As a seasoned culture broker, he knew the unification sentiment was a high-stakes bluff by the puppet masters controlling the Four Moons. He wasn’t the type to buy into fairy tales, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to sell himself short on a fantasy. No, he had something else up his sleeve, something a bit more… tart.

As he sat there reviewing his positions, a mysterious figure approached his table, her eyes hidden behind dark glasses, despite the late hour. She slid into the booth, her movements as fluid as mercury.

“Parch, I hear you’re stocking up on tart these days,” she purred, her voice like velvet. “You don’t believe in this unity nonsense, do you?”

Parch took a slow sip of his drink, his eyes never leaving hers. “Darlin’, I’ve been around long enough to know that when something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

She smirked and leaned in closer, her perfume intoxicating. “Well, I’ve got a proposition for you. A little tip from a friend who’s been watching your moves. You play your cards right, and this bittersweet counter trade of yours could really pay off.”

Parch leaned back, his interest piqued. “Alright, you’ve got my attention. What’s the play?”

The woman slid a small data chip across the table. “Everything you need to know is right here. But remember, Parch, this is a dangerous game. There are those who won’t take kindly to your… contrarian investment strategy.”

He pocketed the chip and threw back the last of his drink, the SynthWhiskey burning a path down his throat. “I didn’t get where I am by playing it safe, sweetheart.”

As she rose to leave, she gave Parch a coy smile. “Oh, I know, Parch. That’s why I came to you. Just don’t forget who tipped you off when you’re swimming in profit.”

With that, she disappeared into the shadows, leaving Parch to contemplate his next move. The market was a treacherous landscape, riddled with deception and intrigue. But Parch was no stranger to danger. He’d made a career out of playing the odds, and if tart was the ticket to staying one step ahead, he’d bet his full stack on it.

The Missing Novel In The Middle

Author’s Note: The novel in the middle of the culture broker may never be written. Here we simply acknowledge the meat of the tale is missing and that the short story only acts as bookends to the Culture Broker.

Part Two

Arm in arm, Parch and the woman strolled through their cabbage garden, the ever-present Diocletian’s Palace sandbox a constant reminder of their exile. The sea whispered in the distance as the scent of damp earth filled the air.

“Do you ever ponder the Tart Trade?” she asked, her voice laced with nostalgia. “How we were merely pawns in a game much larger than we ever imagined?”

Parch’s smile held a tinge of sadness. “We thought ourselves powerful, controlling the ebb and flow of emotions, only to realize we were simply puppets, our strings pulled by hidden hands.”

“As unification crumbled, we became the scapegoats,” she mused. “Our dominance in tart drained the NPCs’ wallets, leaving them vulnerable to our masters’ manipulations.”

He nodded in agreement. “A game within a game, and we were blind to it.”

“Have you ever considered,” she continued, “whether there was another path we could have taken?”

He weighed her words. “Every path is littered with consequences. Our choices brought us here, to this sanctuary. It’s in moments of quiet introspection that we discover who we truly are.”

Her smile was gentle. “Parch, do you think we’re characters in an epic tale, or simply whispers in the background of another’s narrative?”

“Perhaps we’re both,” he mused. “Two souls tending a garden, reconciling with our past, as our echoes ripple across the Four Moons. All these years, and I never asked your name. What is it?”

“That’s because I never truly existed. I am but a projection of your ego. Call me Tristessa, for it means sadness. My name reflects your expression. I was created solely to harvest that emotion. This is your gift to the Four Moons. You thought you were a culture broker, but in the end, you are mere fodder. Speak my name into the markets, and then dissolve into oblivion, Parch. You’ve fulfilled your purpose.”

Parch paused and inhaled the simulated air of his sandbox. He understood now. It was time to be freed. He closed his eyes and let her name pass across his lips, “Tristessa.”