Lucien’s Review: Hunter Killer

Oh boy.  Oh boy oh boy oh boy.  Wanna see me let loose with some rage about a stupid movie that is stupid beyond the pale?  Wanna see me get annoyed at a movie that I got to see thanks to the good graces of a Petty Officer I know who got me an invite?  Want to see me lose my shit because of a film that is so dumb but who everyone will think is great because there’s shit blowing up?!  Well strap in, philistines, because we’re on Lucien’s Wild Ride now!  Let me tell you about the film Hunter Killer.

The premise of this movie is actually kinda interesting.  There’s an American sub on a mission to find out why another sub went dark.  After an attempted military coup in Russia, now the sub and a team of what the film alludes to being Navy SEALS (but never outright says) is on a mission to save the President and stop World War III.  Neat premise, but there’s so much wrong that my suspension of disbelief was broken beyond the pale.  Let’s get into why.  As I said, strap in.

For starters, I just LOVE how all of the Russians have such a perfect grasp of the English language.  There’s the barest hint of an accent, but that’s it.  They are American as fuck. Are people in this country just scared of subtitles?  Does the average dim-witted American just freeze up at the idea of having to read anything in a movie?  I got into a discussion with the significant other of the one who got me an invite to this special occasion (this was a special showing for a specific crowd of people) about how I hate subtitles in anime, so I’m sure this will sound hypocritical, but I’ve talked at length about how I have no issue with subtitles in a movie that is just a couple hours long.  In a series that I’m supposed to watch from start to end, having to read it all the time is what loses me.  I can’t feel connected with them as I’m constantly looking away from their performance to read what they’re saying.  Movies don’t present that problem to me.  It’s complicated.

The worst offender in the Russians speaking perfect English is the “President.”  This guy is American! He doesn’t even try to have a Russian accent!  This dude looks like some guy I would meet in Jersey!  I mean come on!

Next, the infiltration team.  I have SO many problems with these guys.  For starters – facial hair!  I have railed in the past about how it breaks immersion when I see guys who are supposed to be serving in the American military having beards.  Especially in the Navy!  You are never told specifically who these guys are, but the implication is that they’re Navy SEALS.  The Navy is rigid as fuck on this – no facial hair!  I’m hearing that it’s being fought right now, but as of the time of this post, the rules on this matter are clear – no facial hair in the US Navy.  But that’s not the only thing that bugs me about these morons.

The film tells us that these guys lost existence privileges when they go into Russia on this mission.  The idea being that they can’t be traced back to America.  Huh, that’s interesting, because they are wearing American gear, using American weapons and American tech!  Gee, I wonder which country they came from!  Having them get into civvies?  Russian military garb?  Using some other country’s weapons and tech to cover their tracks?  Nope!  We’ll just take away their personal effects.  That will totally be effective in hiding what nation you’re from.  Idiots.

Oh, and why is it that in EVERY movie about the military, you have somebody in charge who is all “let’s blow shit up!”  I love the series The West Wing, but that series had it too.  Granted, it was a little more subtle about it, playing it as tactical decisions, but still.  An actual Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be level-headed and would know that immediately going to the extreme military option is not the smartest idea.  That they wouldn’t look at all possibilities and deliberate among their ranks to try and come to the safest approach.  But as I said, this is in every military movie, so I guess it’s par for the course.  Portraying leadership as sensible and level-headed?  Doesn’t make for good conflict in a movie and then a tacked-on respect moment later for the underling who got it all right and the commanding officer has to shake their hand or some dumb thing.

Speaking of commanding officers, the XO in this movie pissed me off.  This guy was an asshole.  There are multiple scenes of him arguing with the Captain in front of the crew on the bridge in very ugly ways.  That would never happen!  If this guy did this, I can guarantee that the Captain would have had MAs remove his ass from the Bridge.  You don’t do it.  It’s so ironic that Star Trek: The Next Generation handled this kind of BS better when Worf is First Officer when Data is in command.  Science fiction can’t do this better than real world analogues to the Navy.

And don’t even get me started on the CG in this movie.  It’s bad!  Like, low budget bad.  I was legit laughing in the scene where you have one of the infiltration guys behind cover and they are shooting at him, but you can clearly see that the bullet holes are CG.  That was awful!  That was like YouTube video levels of sloppy.  It was funny.

I could go on for hours about all the small details they got wrong.  Like, it’s not “oorah” in the Navy!  It’s “hooyah.”  Or the fact that how they portray Tomahawk missiles is inaccurate.  Or when they say “brace for impact,” it’s actually “brace for shock.”  Their mistakes in regards to Russian submarines.  But this post would go on forever if I did that.

What did I like?  Well, some of the military tech was cool.  Getting to see shit blow up is fun.  The violence actually looked like it hurt.  That’s rare in a PG-13 movie.  Or was this R?  I counted two “fucks” in the whole movie, so probably R.  In PG-13 you only get one.  Or did they change that?  I can never keep up.  Someone let me know in the comments.

This movie sucked.  If you like the spectacle and can turn your brain off to all the stupid shit and know nothing about the Navy, you’ll like it.  For me, I can’t do that, and I think this was stupid with a capital S.

Final Verdict
4 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

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Top 10 More Things I Hate in Movies

The more I thought about the things in movies that bug me, the more I was able to find an increasing amount.  Even after this, I’ll probably find more, so bear with me on that.  The second in these posts, here’s a link to the first.  There are so many things in movies that are just baffling to me, to the point where I wonder if filmmakers are deliberately stupid.  It’s a genuine thing to wonder, isn’t it?  Let’s waste no time, I got a lot to talk about.

10. Classical music is always associated with evil
You ever notice that all the heroes in big budget action films listen to the most down-home Americana music ever?  The worst of it is country.  How many action movies have heroes listening to country music?  Then you have the villain, almost always a pretentious intellectual, with classical music playing in the background.  Because no civilized, decent person listens to that stuff, right?

9. Good guys associated with down-home culture
This kinda ties into the last one, but there’s another angle to talk about.  You know what I loved?  V For Vendetta.  In that movie, we have a hero who is not only a terrorist, but he is well-spoken, eloquent, quoting Shakespeare, and driven by ideals rather than just because he wants to do the right thing.  You know what I get to see in almost all other movies?  Heroes who are bland, boring, and associated with all the things that you see in Americana.  Because how will people relate to someone if they aren’t a blank slate to wear as a skin?!  The irony is that Marvel made fun of that in how everyone poked fun at what a fuddy-duddy Captain America is.  Quentin Tarantino did too in Inglorious Basterds, where you have the upstanding British officer talking with Aldo about what a lunatic one of his men in his outfit is, and Aldo just brushes that off because he’s an uncivilized basterd in his own right.

8. Films blatantly shoving a political message down your throat
When I say this, I’m talking about modern movies that are not even remotely subtle about the message they are pushing, like a LOT of what Disney has produced in the last few years.  The biggest one that comes to mind is Black Panther.  Part of why I couldn’t stand the film was because of the politics being shoved in my face throughout the entire running time.  I’m just sitting there like “could this film be any less subtle?”  It’s ironic, because when I first got to see the character in Civil War, I liked him because of how he was played not to just be a walking stereotype.  Then he gets his own movie and it couldn’t be any more blatant.  Another film that comes to mind in walking stereotypes is Spider-Man: Homecoming.  MJ’s character was the personification of a Tumblr feminist.  She really was.  It was insufferable every time she opened her mouth.

7. Endless explosions/noise in space
Did you know that space doesn’t have oxygen?  Apparently Hollywood doesn’t know that, because space sure does have a lot of shit blowing up in big, bright ways.  Not even like some flash and then gone because the air that keeps the explosion going is snuffed out.  No, it just goes on and on and on.  Also, did you notice that space is noisy as fuck?  Yeah, I was noticing that too.  Because sound carries SO well in a vacuum, right?  That lack of oxygen doesn’t get in the way of all the sound out in the void.  The film that immediately comes to mind as the worst offender in this regard is Armageddon.  Everything was burning space for forever.  It took me out of the scene, every time.

6. The endless sequels/remakes/reboots
Hollywood is out of ideas.  That’s it, they are.  It’s impossible to argue at this point.  How do I know this?  Did you know there is a fourth Toy Story movie coming out?  I did.  The teaser for it dropped today, and I’m like – where can they possibly go with this?!  The narrative was wrapped up REALLY nicely in the last film.  It brought the arc to a nice, clean stop.  It truly did feel like saying goodbye to friends because of how most people who watched it had been kids when the first movie came out, and now they got to say goodbye to their good friends.  Oh, and did you know that they are rebooting Shrek and Puss in Boots?  Why?!  They aren’t even that old!  They’re rebooting Twilight, for fuck’s sake!  Who asked for this?!  I honestly want to know.  It is abundantly clear that they are so addicted to quick cash and so void of any drive to try something new that they will scrap the bottom of whatever nostalgia barrel they can find.  It’s infuriating

5. Guys with facial hair in the military
How does this one not bother more people?  For a nation that’s as big on “god bless ‘Murica” as this one is, you’d think more people would be bothered by this.  But nope!  Probably because you can’t have a manly man unless he has himself a manly beard.  When I see guys who are supposed to be legit soldiers and they have facial hair while they are serving, it bugs me.  There are rules about these things, people!  Uniform regs exist for a reason.

4. The death of 2D animation
Do you think there is anyone left in this country who knows how to do this?  Probably not, given some of the crap this country puts out.  I mean, did you all watch the trailer for Thundercats Roar?  That had some of the shittiest animation I’ve ever seen.  The death of 2D animated films just depresses me.  I think of some of my favorite films, and how much effort went into making them beautiful with some incredible animation.  There is Don Bluth, the absolute master of intricate environments, and old-school Disney.  Ah, for the days before Disney was pure evil and sucking the bottom of their own barrel for quick cash-grabs. *cough*Aladdin Live-action remake!*cough* It saddens me to realize that this art form has died an unceremonious death.

3. Using CG instead of practical effects
Oh boy.  Let me say before I get into this that I don’t just hate CG on the merits of it.  I get what it is and why it exists.  And for some movies, it does wonders, when it’s used well.  Then there are the films that are smart enough to mix the effects and it looks like it’s actually something real.  Then you have shit like Jurassic World and it’s shit-tastic sequel.  Where the effects are so bad it is OBVIOUS that people are interacting with something that isn’t in the room with them.  Thankfully, you have some directors who are rebelling against this.  I swear, I think a computer murdered Chris Nolan’s family or something, because he will go to EXTREME lengths to not have to use digital effects.  Some of the stories about things he has done will blow your mind.  But can we PLEASE have some directors who will give practical effects a go?  Asking for a friend.

2. Films being set in other countries, with everyone speaking English (usually with shitty accents)
I rewatched Hunt for the Red October recently, and I was invited by a friend to a special screening of Hunter Killer tomorrow, and as I saw both the movie and the trailer for those films (respectively), I couldn’t help but notice – why is everyone speaking English?  It bothered me more in the former of those listed, because it starts with them speaking Russian, and then they just stop.  Why?!  They clearly know what subtitles are, so why do that?  It immediately hurts my suspension of disbelief in a movie when I see character who are supposed to be in a country where English is NOT their primary language speaking perfect English with a shitty accent.  Definitely the worst offender in this regard is Enemy at the Gates.  Good movie.  I like it, but hearing everyone with terrible accents hurt my ears.  Speaking of that movie…

And my top thing that I hate in movies (part deux) is…

1.Being in the cold and not seeing a character’s breath
Am I the only person that this bugs?  One of the reasons that I liked Enemy at the Gates is because you actually believe that it’s cold in Russia.  Seeing everyone’s breath was a great tool for selling me of the film’s setting.  But then you have a vast plethora of movies where people are all in big coats, and you are told how cold it is, but don’t see anyone’s breath.  Are they just unable to film in cold places?!  Is that what’s going on?  If so, then they need to work on that.  Maybe don’t spend the money on big CG effects that probably look like shit anyway and instead focus on proper setting.  Am I asking too much here?  Immediately slashes my suspension of disbelief into thirds when it happens.

What about you?  What things in movies bother you?  If you didn’t see yours on there, check out my first list, it might be there.  Let me know if you have additional ones in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“What do you know?  Haven’t you heard of suspension of disbelief?!” – Ed Wood, Ed Wood

Peace out,

Maverick

RIP, Stan Lee

Growing up in the 90’s, I remember some of my favorite cartoons were the X-Men animated series and the Spider-Man animated series.  The animation may not always have been the best, but they told interesting stories, had compelling characters, and as a kid I thought they were the coolest thing.  I always loved Spider-Man, growing up.  As a comic character, he was a nerdy teenager who gets powers and has to deal with angsty teenage life in addition to superhero life.  That struck a chord with me because I was always an awkward kid myself who didn’t have a lot of friends.

So when I hear that today, at age 95, Stan Lee has passed away, it does actually sadden me.  This man brought some of my favorite childhood characters to life through Marvel comics.  He was a kind man who wanted a world where the best among us fight to help the least, and where prejudice is fought against not by fighting hate with hate, but fighting it with kindness and empathy.  To show we are better than those we fight against.  How lost that sentiment had become on people now.  In a world where everyone is looking to be angry at one-another and where nobody with differing opinions can even talk to the other side, lest they be labeled a traitor to their own.

When I see the stories of the X-Men, and how Professor Xavier knew that humanity is capable of evil, with the arch-nemesis of that being someone who experienced it first-hand, he sought to challenge that with goodness.  To show that people who are different don’t have to be feared just because they are different.  It was analogous to all kinds of prejudice, and as a kid who has been something of a pariah for my atheism among the extended family, it meant a lot to me.

There were all of my favorite characters.  Gambit, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Black Cat, The Punisher, Venom, The Lizard, Magneto, Nightcrawler, this list could go on all day.  All of those names were associated with Stan Lee, even if he wasn’t the one who created them.  He allowed their universes to flourish under his banner, and fostered creativity among those who wrote for him.

Stan Lee was an outgoing man, a kind-hearted person, and I will treasure all the moments where I saw him in some of my favorite Marvel movies.  His cameos were just the best, and Marvel will never be the same without them.  I’m kind of glad I’m tuning out of the MCU after Avengers 4, because this is more proof that, along with losing Kevin Feige as the spear-head, they are going to lose something after it’s done.  It’s kind of cool that in Sony’s new exclusive, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Stan Lee still got his cameo, as the kindly restaurant owner.  That was awesome.  Even the vidya wanted to make sure he got his due.  That was sweet.

Not much more to say.  The world lost one of its brightest stars and kindest people, who truly did believe that everyone could come together and be better than what our nature told us to be.  It’s not the same world that it was yesterday.  Rest in Peace, Stan.  From one true believer to another, let me say –

Excelsior!

Until next time, a quote,

“Love seeing you two together again.  You always were my favorites.” – Stan Lee, Marvel’s Spider-Man

Peace out,

Maverick

Unveiling Some Truth, But Not All

I looked at her standing there, a look of concern and sudden distrust on her face.  It hurt a little.  We were friends, after all.  It wasn’t like I lied to her.  There’s a reason that I didn’t tell her about my posting in the Navy.  The team that I was with.  What we did has nine layers of classified all over it.  So yeah, I did nothing wrong.  But she looked so hurt standing there, not knowing what I was talking about and a look like she doesn’t know who I am anymore.  I’m still the same person, dammit!
Take a breath, step back.  It’s natural that she’d be confused.  Looking in from the outside, with no context, of course this doesn’t look good.  What would I do?  If I said nothing at all and walked this off, I might lose a friend.  Not what I’m looking to do right now.  Especially since the breaks from my self-imposed solitude to spend time with her are really nice.  I guess this means I have to come partially clean about my history.  So much to tell.  Definitely not here, though.  This is a truth for someone that I think I might be able to trust.
“Come to my place, 1800 tonight.  I’ll tell you.”
She just nodded.  I walked past her, putting my arm on her shoulder, then leaving.  A lot to get ready for.

That evening came sooner than I expected.  Got some food ready to snack on.  This would be a long conversation.  Was I even ready for this?  Went into my office, opened up a locked drawer.  There were several of those.  In this particular one, was my old uniform from my days in the STARS.  We had special NWUs just for our unit.  As we worked at night, ours were all black.  They had no names on them, unlike other uniforms.  Who we are isn’t known to outsiders of the squad.  They did have our insignia on them.  Or at least, it would.  Mine was left on my desk back at the base the day I went AWOL.  Figure it was put in a garbage can after being spit on a few times.
There was the pic from the night we all passed the final exam and were given the designation of Alpha Team.  All my girls.  We were family.  Was all I could think that I could actually show her.  Everything else had layers of classified behind it.  Leaned back in my easy chair in the living room, overlooking the ocean.  Wishing I could be out there, on a ship, headed out to sea.  The sea has a peace about it.  No past or future out there.  You just go.  Maybe I should have just left the STARS and gotten back on Fire Control duty like I was originally studying for.  Never did get to fire that cannon.  Oh well.  Way too late for regrets now.
Sitting in my usual hoodie and sweats.  Comfy.  Blanket wrapped around.  Might as well feel comfortable in this moment.  The calm before the storm?  I’m sure it wouldn’t be anywhere near that dramatic, but it was going to be uncomfortable.  Of that I could be assured.  Staring out as the evening light on the water.  So beautiful.  This view was worth the exorbitant price tag.  Jean and I’s wish was to get to the ocean.  Never got past our first house.  How I longed to have her seeing this with me now.
A knock at the door.  Time to face the music, I guess.  I opened it to see Emily there, looking uncomfortable herself.  Also wrapped up in a hoodie, she looked up at me.  She tried to smile, but I could tell that what she’d heard earlier had done a number on her.  She wanted to be happy, but couldn’t be.
“Hi,” she said finally.
“Hey.  Come on in.”  We walked inside.  I grabbed a couple of glasses.  Wished she was old enough to give a strong drink to.  God knows, I could use it.  I poured some fresh-made mango lemonade.  Was fun to make, and I think I got the sweetness to sour balance done perfectly.  Making food and drinks was the only practical life skill I had outside of killing, so best to put my all into it.  No room in the STARS for slackers.
I motioned for her to sit down on the couch across from my chair.  I didn’t want to get too close.  Give her some space, as I talk about this.
“Not sure where to start,” I finally said.
“At the beginning?”  She was trying to make a joke, but was too awkward to make it stick.
“Okay.  I joined up with the Navy to get out from where I was.  Was born and raised in bum-fuck Michigan.  Grew up in a farming community, and it seemed like hardly anyone who lived there got out.  I wasn’t gonna let myself be one of those people.  I was getting the hell out of there, one way or another.  Especially since I was kind of a pariah in my town.”
A tilted head.  “Why was that?”
Took a breath.  “Well, in addition to being gay, which was bad enough, the real reason I was so hated and my name got around is because I’m an atheist.  I never believed that stuff, even though my parents tried to ram it down my throat for my whole life.  When I couldn’t play along with their lies anymore, they got pissed and that was that.  Tried to do the college thing for a bit, but it sucked and I didn’t care about anything I was learning.  By the time I was 20, I figured that this isn’t working out for me, it’s time to go.  So I went to the Navy recruiting office and asked how to enlist.”
A drink from my glass.  This stuff was great!  Was pretty pleased with myself
“Why did you join the Navy?  I mean, you could have gotten out in the Army or Air Force.”
“Yeah, but while I thought flying was cool, I didn’t want to do it, and you wouldn’t catch me dead as a grunt.  Marines sounded kinda cool, but then I thought – why not Navy?  I mean, I loved the ocean and thought being on a ship would be fun.  Not to mention, I wanted to learn how to handle one of their big fucking guns.  Way I saw it, best way to see the world was behind a cannon.
“So I told them that’s what I wanted to do, and they explained that I’d have to go for Fire Control.  That’s the term for service members who handle the guns on a warship.  I was all for it.  The Petty Officer there helped me get in shape.  I’d run track for three years in high school, and was on the swim team for two years.  Was kicked out of both after I got outed.at the school.  Nobody wanted me around them anymore.  But that made getting to fitness standards not a huge problem.”
“Where do the STARS come into this?”
Impatient kid.  “Wait one, kiddo.  I’m getting to that.  While I was in boot, I volunteered for combat training.  I wanted it.  I mean, every Marine is a rifleman, so why not every sailor?  I wanted to know how to handle a gun.  My mom was a crack shot with a revolver, and she taught me stuff, but these were bigger and cooler.  When I got out of boot and was headed to A School, I volunteered for advanced combat training.  Again, seemed like a good idea.  I knew some stuff, but there was more. It fit me like a glove, really.  Not to mention that I made a lot of friends in there.  Some cool guys and gals.  Not every man in the military is a macho jackass.
“Anyway, there was a program that the Navy wanted to implement.  I don’t know if you’re old enough that you’d remember.  It was seven years ago.  It was a year of this stupid hashtag movement that, like all of them, started out as something helpful but then became a disorganized mess.  It was all about empowering women against sexual violence.  The military wanted to win some PR points, since they have a well-deserved reputation of rampant sexual violence against female soldiers, and of trying to sweep it under the rug when it’s reported.  So, why not an initiative to empower women into combat roles?  Something just for them?  Give them a chance to prove that they can do some high-level work just as good as any man?
“On paper that sounded great.  When it was announced, I remember the story in the gossip rag The Washington Post heaping on the praises.  That initiative was called Special Tactics and Recon Squad, or STARS for short.  I was one of them.”
Emily was now very attentive.  “Whoa!  That’s pretty cool.  How did you end up with them?”
“I was asked to volunteer by my CO at A School.”

Studying for a test.  Could only study at the school.  Information that we were going over couldn’t leave secure areas.  Admittedly this kind of sucked because if the rooms were full, I was SOL.  Nothing to be done about it.  Best not to complain.  I was always there early enough to have some space at a table.  Had to work on range-finding equipment studies.  At A School, it was all about learning the equipment.  So many tests, and failure on any of them means you get held back.  No pressure, though.
“Pierce?” a voice called.
Looking over, I saw Chief Petty Officer Graham standing there.  Immediately I stood up.
“Aye, sir!”
“As you were, Seaman.”
I sat back down.  He came over and sat next to me.
“You said you were wanting to volunteer for advanced combat training, correct?”
“Aye, sir.  Anything back?”
“Actually yes.  There’s a new program that the Navy is starting, and they’re looking for volunteers.  It’s for women only.  They want to create a specialized unit of combat-ready women in the Navy, as a kind of answer to the SEALS.  Given the level of physical involvement and fitness standards they have, it was deemed that female sailors wouldn’t be able to match it.  That’s why this initiative was made.  We want to give them a chance to shine with a specialized unit, see how it stacks up against others.  It’s kind a PR thing, but you’d be getting top of the line training and going all over the place.  You interested?”
My heart was skipping beats.  “Aye, sir!  That sounds awesome!”
He smiled.  “Glad to hear it.  I’ll forward your name to them.  Should expect to hear back in a matter of days.”
“Aye-aye.  Thank you, sir.”
“Don’t sweat it, Pierce.”
A women only unit to show what we can do!  Now that sounded awesome!  Hopefully they would get back sooner, rather than later.

“Did they?”
“Yeah, actually.  The following day I was at chow with my classmates and my orders came in.  Was told that I would be headed out to an IS base in Colorado to begin my training.  Was told what to bring, and damn if it didn’t look like going back to boot camp again.  Ain’t that the fucking truth.  Turns out, me and one other woman from my base were headed out on transport at 0700 the next morning.”
“That’s cool.  So where does Alpha Team come in?  What’s that?”
Wasting no time, as always.  Taking another drink, I got up to refill my glass.
“Well, it breaks down like this – training was brutal.  There were 125 women who volunteered for the program.  Only 20 made the final cut.  For the final test, we had been divided into teams to do the exam.  Command saw no reason to change up the order now that we had passed, so each team was given a designation.  Mine was Alpha Team.”
“Oh.  And you all were pretty tight?  That Lt guy said as much.”
More guilt feelings.  “Yeah, we were.  Those girls and I were family.  Lots of people say that they’re family with their BFFs or something.  They call their girly-mates their ‘sisters.’  That’s not what we were.  Our outfit was literally family.  We had one-another’s back and could read the tone of each other’s voices.  A look from my sisters could tell me all I needed to know on a mission.  We all had to depend on each other.  There were seven of us in my Team.  Each and every one knew that they could count on the others no matter what.  We shared everything.  Nobody cared that I was gay.  Nobody cared that Bethke was a virgin, though we would outwardly make fun of her for it.  Family is what we were.  We’d laugh in victory, cry in defeat, wait outside Medical when one of us was hurt and find out exactly how they are and help.  When Rodriguez’s mom died, we all were at that funeral.  Even our CO.  He came in dress uniform and we all sat right with her.  I held her when she cried.
“I remember every mission with them.  When I started to get the shakes, my sisters noticed and they worked to help me.”
“Wait, you got the shakes?”  Emily asked.
“Aye.  Pretty bad.  The expectations of the STARS got higher and higher after a while.  They wanted us to go further and further.”
“What do you mean…?”
Looked away.  “I don’t know if I can tell you.”
“I won’t say anything to anyone, Quinn!  Don’t you trust me?!”
Looked her right in the eye.  Familiar words.

Jean and I had been sneaking kisses and moments with each other for weeks now.  On the ship it was virtually impossible to get any kind of privacy.  Fraternizing while mobile was expressly forbidden, and fraternizing with a superior officer was one of the first things you know not to do.  I was doing both.
I couldn’t help it.  Every part of me wanted her.  When I saw her sitting at her desk, going over a briefing or helping plan out logistics for a mission, that look on her face, serious and determined.  It was hot as fuck.  But then there was her silly, derpy side.  Her ridiculous side.  Like when all of us were headed to chow and she ran down the passageway yelling “Wait for me!”  Something we are told not to do, but she did it anyway.  She’d become part of the family, and we could all laugh with her.  At chow, she would sit with us and go over things or just have a laugh.  Every chance we got and we knew people were preoccupied, she’d hold my hand.  I couldn’t get enough of her.  These feelings were real, and I think it was going beyond just need when I was stressed.
There was some paranoia that people knew, though.  It was eating at me a little.  I wanted to be out with my girlfriend.  That’s what it was.  We were dating.  One date, so far, but lots of little ones.  Stolen moments that belonged to us.  I didn’t want to lie to my sisters, but I didn’t want to get them in trouble for knowing and not reporting.  That would be cruel.
However, all that came to a head one day.  My rackmate was with the others.  We only had a bit of time.  She was right in time.  As soon as I could secure door, she was in my arms.  Kissing felt so good.  Not something we had to steal, but something I could take time to savor.  The taste of her lips.  The soft touch as she pulled herself into me.  I was taller than her by a bit, so it was just how this went.  Wouldn’t give up these moments for anything.  If only we had all day.  As it was, my stomach was churning wondering if my rackmate would be back any second.
Fate plays cruel jokes, because that’s exactly what happened.  The door started to open, and we pushed ourselves apart.  Her hair was a little messed up from me running my hands over it.  That was a sign!
Rodriguez looked over at both of us.  “Something going on?”
“Negative, Rodriguez.  Just talking with Pierce.  So, you’ll keep what I said in mind?”
“Aye-aye, ma’am.”
“Good.  If you’ll excuse me.”
As she left, I knew that I’d been busted.  Fuck!  What was going to happen now.  When the door shut, I got a look.
“Pierce, what the fuck is going on with you two?  Scuttlebutt is all over about the two of you and lots of people are starting to talk.  This is gonna reach the Lt pretty soon!  You need to tell me what it is.”
Wanted to cry.  This was bad.  Really bad.  What the fuck was I gonna tell Jean?!
“I’m your hermana, Pierce!  Don’t you trust me?!”
Looked right into her eyes.  There was no lie there.  In that moment, I broke down and started bawling.  She came over and put her arms around me.
“It’s okay, hermana.  It’s okay.  Shhh.  It’s alright.”
“I’m sorry…”
“You have nothing to apologize for.  So what’s the deal with you two?”
I told her everything.  About us getting close, the date and subsequent sleeping together on shore-leave in Yokosuka, and what was happening now.  The more I talked, the more relieved I felt.  This great weight was lifted.  No secrets from my sisters.
From there, so much got better.  Rodriguez and I talked with the rest, and they were on board to look after me.  They even helped to make sure I could secure more private time with Jean.  She felt so comfortable with us.  It was great.

“We started out as just an infiltration or recon unit.  We’d go into places that nobody else could and get intel that no one else thought could be gotten.  Sneaking into military bases, residences, you name it.  Sometimes it would just be watching a place for a while.  Days we would just spend watching somewhere and then calling in the cavalry when a target arrived.  It was fun.  But then we got orders to start taking out targets directly.  No more reacting to potential threats like if we were about to get made or something.  They wanted us to be assassins now.  We were good at it.  Really good.  More specifically, I was.  I really was.  For whatever reason, I had a gift at killing people that none of my sisters did.”
Emily got up and sat closer to me.  “Oh god.  I’m so sorry.  That must have been awful.”
“It was.  After a while I got the shakes worse and worse.  If it hadn’t have been for Jean, I would have started fucking things up.”
She thought for a moment.  “So when you said you were burning out before the shore-leave date, it was because of that?”
“Aye.  She came into my life at the perfect time.”
A long moment of silence.  “Sounds like you were crazy close with them.  Why did you ditch them?  That’s what the guy said, that you abandoned them.  What happened?”
Now I knew I was in territory that I couldn’t say much about.
“Listen, Emily, I can’t tell you.  This isn’t a thing about trust.  It really isn’t.  What happened at the end, what I did, there’s no way I could tell you.  It’s buried in a black ops file that I guarantee is redacted to no end, even though there was never an official mission.”
She thought for a moment.  “But somebody knew.  Somebody up high.  That’s why you got off without a…what did he call it?”
“Dishonorable discharge.  And yeah, somebody did.  Somebody who had the power to make things happen.”
“Why didn’t your Lt?  Didn’t you trust him?”
“He was a father to our band of sisters, and I trusted him more than almost anyone.  But he didn’t have the intel I needed.  Turns out, someone with the power of the pen did, and I struck a deal with them.  That’s all I can say.”
Looking right at me.  “Did it hurt, to leave them the way you did?”
“More than you will ever understand, sweetie.  I hated myself for a long time, but I had to do it.  Nobody else could do what needed to be done.”
She did some more pensive thinking.  “He said ‘sorry for your loss.’  It was when somebody died, right?”  Eyes got wide as it suddenly hit her.  “Oh my god.”
“All I can say is, those involved had it coming.  Trust and believe.  But I won’t speak anymore about it.  Understood?”
“Aye-aye.”
I got up and sat next to her.  “I have to live with the person I’ve become, and I admit to being a gutless coward for not going back to the girls and getting their verdict.  I just…can’t do that.  After all that’s happened, I doubt I ever will be able to.  But what’s done is done.”
My face was cracking a bit.  Thinking back on what Rodriguez said and what my sisters did to help me, what I did to them by going AWOL the way I did, it hurt more than words could describe.  Just then, I felt Emily reach over and hug me.  And just like that, I’m 23 years old again and crying.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Something had changed this night.  Of that, I was certain.  Just like with Rodriguez, opening up and keeping fewer secrets felt pretty great.  A little bit of my humanity came back.
“Shh.  It’s okay.  It’s alright,” she whispered.
Yeah, I think it was.  I really, really do.

Until next time, a quote,

“In war the heroes always outnumber the soldiers ten to one.” – H.L. Mencken

Peace out,

Maverick

Old Friends, Lost Dreams

Sighted on target.  Poised on the balcony above.  The prince is walking in to the room.  Perfect.  They drilled this routine so much that the poor bastard is making sure to hit every mark exactly where they are supposed to.  Otherwise, it won’t look right, and might offend some of the people in the room.  Stopping at certain points to wave to one group of people, then another.  Showing the right respect to the various ethnic groups.  Everything is pitch-perfect, down to the motion of his hand.  Kudos to this British ponce, he has this down to a science.  Her Majesty’s staff trained him well.  The worst part is that this only makes it easier for what I’m about to do.
Sighting is right on the money.  Look down, follow his descent, but keep sight on target.  Down the stairs, further and further.  It all comes down to this.  If this doesn’t work, it’s all fucked.  Did I leave anything to chance?!  No, I hadn’t.  Got to the bottom, all the people around, looking at his regal features.  He is to pause to wave now to everyone gathered.  Show courtesy.  Like true royalty.  Sorry, dude.  Your brother wants the throne more than he loves you.  I fire.  Suppressor muffles the shot, and with all the noise from the pomp and circumstance, there’s no way anyone can tell where it came from.  Bullet goes through the support on the chandelier.  Armor piercing round goes right through the exterior casing and hits the chain holding it up.  Time stops as it jerks, then falls.  Poor bastard didn’t even have a chance to look up and wonder before his body was smashed to bits underneath it.  The beautiful crystal glass looks spectacular as it smashes everywhere.  Mixed with red as blood burst out from his destroyed body.  A subtle beauty in that.
No time to stay and marvel at the horridness of it.  People will be looking around, and I can’t risk being seen, even though I’m in the dark.  Too many assassins are caught sticking around.  That’s not how I work.  All of this is nothing but a paycheck to me.  From there I hop over the awning onto the roof of the building.  I’m in a cleaning uniform.  In seconds I’ve disassembled my weapon and put it into a bag.  A Finnish model rifle, gotten through an intermediary who gets weapons to terrorists.  Nobody in the world knows who this guy is, and he can get anything.
Once packed up, I put the weapon on my cart and head down to the maintenance room.  Someone acknowledges me, but not in a serious way.  Just a courteous “oh, you exist” kinda way before moving on to something else.  Once outside of any camera’s view, I send a simple text.  “Contract complete, 12 hours to wire payment.”  I pull the SIM card, and that’s it.  They will never hear from me again, unless they don’t pay.  But this client knows better.  Government officials always do.  A shame that all of this was family drama, but that’s how it goes.
I get in the truck that I knicked from their employer’s office, driving it back and parking it outside their fence, away from cameras.  From there, grab my bag, and head out.  A simple job, all things considered.  Hardest part was getting the uniform and vehicle out of their undetected.  And just like that, a specter, I disappear.  Headed home.

On the flight, I check my company’s account, and a payment was just received.  $15 million.  Not a bad paycheck for killing a future king.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I had the perfect venue for this, I would have charged more.  But I always do my own analysis for this.  Have a information network that was able to give me a complete breakdown of everywhere my target was going to be over the next few days, and what to expect there.  A gift from a life of being a military assassin – resources in low places.  Would allocate funds as needed for their work.  I run a “respectable” business, after all, and my “independent contractors” need to get paid.
Surprised that all of this is done through a legit company?  Don’t be.  Private military companies are all over the world, and if you incorporate in the People’s Republic of Texas, you can get away with anything.  Their legal rules about owning a business enable so much crime that you wouldn’t even believe.  I have legitimate contact with cartels through their state.  One of the many hypocrisies about America that I just love.  It never, ever ends.
After everything went down with leaving the STARS, I immediately knew how to put my skills to work again.  It wasn’t like I could walk away from the kind of work I did.  Not ever.  Everything playing out the way it did, killing is the only legitimate life skill I have, outside of espionage.  And that was something my company also offered.  A company with one active agent, that’s why we were able to pick and choose our contracts carefully.  Everything was done within the comfort of euphemism, after all.  Same with regular PMCs.  There was “threat suppression,” “intelligence gathering,” and “asset protection,” among others.
Took years of work to get where I wanted it to be, but now I got business done from some of the best/worst people in the world.  Didn’t matter to me.  The whole thing is burning down anyway, so why should I care if I have to watch some global leader burn down with it?  Everything in my life that mattered was gone.  Now I just wanted to live a good life in a place that was beautiful, until I got too old to do this kind of work and retired.
As I thought about that, something did come to me – is there nothing that matters still?  What about Emily?  Sweet kid.  She was getting her cast off in a couple days and asked that I be there.  Was so antsy to be up and about again.  Asked if I could help her get fit.  Kiddo was still all about joining the Navy to become a pilot and get into space.  Maybe it wasn’t just a flight of fancy.  Poor kid.  She was gonna pay for that when I started putting her through training.  I won’t expect her to immediately be able to meet Outstanding High fitness requirements for boot, but I would push her as far as I could.
However, there was a thought about having a young protege to teach my Navy knowledge that felt nice.  Like a student of mine.  I would take her on walks to my place and we’d hang out.  Would hear about her random space knowledge, geeky habits, and her asking me about Navy life.  We hadn’t gone into the personal stuff like last time in ages, but I knew the questions would be coming back.  I think she was being careful.  Sweet kid.  She didn’t want to risk things fraying with us.  Probably because, as I’ve gleaned from our conversations, she doesn’t have a particularly large friend group.  So much like me at her age.  I had one legit friend.  Still do.  He’s part of my information network.  Helped me start the business.  Technically, he’s CFO on my incorporation paperwork drafted up by his lawyer.
It was becoming like having a little sister to look after, and that was a nice feeling.  Rolling my eyes as she talked about boys, but not saying too much.  Guess she figured it was awkward, because I’m gay.  I told her it wasn’t, but I don’t think she believes me.  It really isn’t.  I was a teenager and remembered a couple girly-mates (my best friend’s term for girls who are just friends) talking about their crushes.  Before I was outed as gay, I would just listen and pretend to be all awkward and cute when people would bring it up.  I could play it off with the best of them.
Almost home.  Would take a long shower and then crash.  Some green herb sounded nice too.  The perfect way to relax.  One of the many perks of living in Washington.  Something mellow and toasty, to keep my brain relaxed.  Memories coming back.  Was tired now.  No further tasks to accomplish.  Could sleep…

I sighted down on the target.  So far away.  The breeze wasn’t strong, but it was steady.  Cold winter forests of Canada.  Learning from some of the greatest snipers in the world.  It’s a fact.  The Canadian sharpshooters are known the world over.  Their only real challengers are the Arabic ones, though for very different reasons.  Canadian sharpshooters have a history going back before World War I.  Studying it was one of the few times I’ve actually enjoyed being in school.
Our teacher here was the kindest, most polite person you’d ever meet…outside of training.  When we were doing arctic survival or sharp-shooting training, this man had absolutely no mercy.  None whatsoever.  Which is where I found myself now, sighting down on a target over 2,000 meters away from my position.  The mark I had to hit was the size of a pin-head, even in my scope.  This was madness!  How could someone be reasonably expected to hit something that small?!
Capt. Francois Deauveau was standing over my shoulder.  Could feel his cold gaze down upon me.  A Quebec man, born and raised, with all the haughty French Canadian arrogance.  Though he did earn it.  I’d seen this man show up all of us on the first day.  We were definitely in good hands.  His troopers weren’t fucking around, either.  But they didn’t have the insane testosterone levels that you saw in American men.  Being stuck around a group of all men without me feeling like keeping my knife close.  There’s something.
“I can feel you wanting to rush, Seaman,” the Captain said in that level tone of his.
“Just getting my sighting down, sir.”
“You have all the time in the world, Seaman Pierce.  That target isn’t going anywhere.”
His badgering wasn’t helping.
“You only take the shot when you know you have the target.  I have failed three of your program for this challenge.  Do not add your name to the list.  The test is not what you think it is.”
What the fuck did that mean?!  Are they not testing my shooting skills?!  If they aren’t, then what the fuck are they testing?  So frustrating.  But then I remembered something Lulu told me, a long time ago.  He said that all tests have a trick question, and to try and see around it.  I was just told that this test had a trick question.  Told that I’m rushing.  That the target isn’t moving.  Only to shoot when I’m ready.  It suddenly hit me what I was being tested on.  And I knew how to pass it.
Taking a look down the scope again, I let out a breath.  There was all the time in the world.  Which meant I could try and see a way around this.  After all, that is a tiny target to hit.  If it isn’t moving, perhaps there is a way to guarantee my victory.  Looked around.  Around the target was made to be like a base.  There were tents signifying structures, along with equipment.  I thought that this was just to signify a base, but what if there was more to it than that?
Focusing my sight a little bit, I tried to get a closer look at the nearby tents.  There was one right by the target.  What was in there?  Boxes, stacked vertically.  The target was a ways away from the rest of the camp.  Any base has rules that you have to store munitions away from the main structures, to avoid friendly casualties.  That’s it!  Sighting in, I took a deep breath and held it.
Could only hear my heart beat.  Bang!  The air hung there for a couple seconds.  Then, the area lit up orange and yellow.  An explosion!  I sighted back at the target.  It was blown to bits!
“Fuck yeah!  Suck on that!”  The grin on my face was from ear to ear.  Suddenly realized that I was in the presence of a superior officer.  Clicking the safety on the weapon, I lowered it.
“Sir, target neutralized.”
“Aye, a good shot too.  How did you know that hit the tent, Seaman Pierce?”
“Sir, as you stated the target was not in motion, I took the time to analyze the surroundings and came to the conclusion that the tent was storing munitions.  As such, I deemed that I could hit it with this rifle and detonate what was inside.  Doing so provided a higher probability of killing the target than simply aiming at it.”
“True, but this does make a lot of racket.  Is that a good way to take out a target?”
“Sir, confusion is a blessing as well as a curse.  Enemies who are in disarray cannot organize a proper counterattack.  And given my distance from the target and only firing a single shot, the chances that I would be detected is minuscule.”
His seriousness went down then as a smile came to his face as well.  “Your reasoning is sound, Seaman, but keep in mind – in the field, best to not get up and cheer after making a shot.  Raises your chance of being noticed.”
Some snickers from the others in attendance.
My face went bright red.  “Aye-aye, sir.”
Patting me on the back.  “You pass, Seaman Pierce.  Safety your weapon and return to camp.”
Snapping to attention.  “Aye-aye, sir!”

I got back just in time for the appointment for Emily to get her cast removed.  After getting back and logging the mission report in my black box, I finished the required contractual paperwork with the client, and then went to bed.  Crashed right into it.  My bed was so soft, but the back was firm.  So many people have shitty posture.  Wasn’t going to risk that.  There were never bad dreams when I got back from a mission.
The following day, I reported to the hospital at 1300.  Emily was no longer in her chair.  By this point she was walking with crutches.  Her clavicle had healed a week before, enabling her to walk again.  A fact that made her happy beyond reason.  Meant she could go back to her own room as well.  Though it meant she had to go back to school, but her father made very sure that her physical ed requirements could be put on hold until her cast came off.  This guy is a really good dad.
“Quinn, you’re here!”  The brightening of her face was somewhat infectious.
As much of a happy look as I could, I nodded to her.  “Excited to have the cast removed?”
“Yes!  This thing sucks.”
I remembered back to when she had injured herself and the doctor’s medical report.
“Wouldn’t mind seeing what the scar on your leg looks like.  The medic said that it should form a near-perfect ring around your foot.  A little curious to see if he’s right.”
That got a down look from her.  “Yeah, an ugly scar that I’ll have to explain for the rest of my life.  Yay…”
Gave her a look.  “Don’t be so glum.  Could be worse.  You could have had that leg get ripped off, or died.”  Didn’t actually think the last option was that bad.  My life meant very little to me, at this point.
“Yeah, yeah.  Dad’s been saying the same thing to me.”
“Wise man.”
She rolled her eyes.  “Whatever.”

Her father came back from the coffee shop, with something for him and the kiddo.  Wish my dad had been a third of the man that he was when I was her age.  But that’s just a bad memory from another life.  One that I didn’t even work to keep in my heart anymore.  Truth was, until I had these two come into my life, my own family was always very far from my mind.  Last I had heard, big sis got married and had a couple kids with some choir boy who loved him some church.  Good for her, I guess.
He also brought me a mocha.  That was awfully thoughtful of him.  I think he was happy with me becoming a surrogate big sister to Emily.  He’d said to me that given how alone she was a lot, he worried about her sometimes.  But even though we’d met under unfortunate circumstances, me coming into her life had improved her mood dramatically.  Now she couldn’t shut up about me.  Gave me some pride, if not also agreeing that it was unfortunate that I met her at a low point in her life.
Once we got back, the nurse got right to work.  This woman clearly had lots of experience.  Her tools cut right through.  As expected, the leg had a decent amount of hair grown in.  Emily openly lamented that, while her father rolled his eyes and remarked about women.  Silly man.  The things he can never understand.  At least from a teenage girl perspective.
“Back when I was on deployment, you think that’s a lot of hair.  You have no idea.”
Got a look from her in horror.
“Like a bunch of monkeys on that ship.”
John was chuckling.  Glad I wasn’t the only one to see the humorous side of this.
Looking down at the scar, the doctor was right.  It formed a near perfect circle around her ankle.  Was quite the scar, too.  Like a creepy zipper all around.  I remembered how ugly that looked when I first saw it.  Glad the foot didn’t have to removed.  Little mercies.  More groaning from her about how much this sucked, but I tuned that out.  You know, that mocha wasn’t half bad.  I could go for another.  And listening to the medic go over the situation with the two of them wasn’t so interesting.  As such, I excused myself.

Headed to the cafe, I turned a corner and stopped dead.  I couldn’t believe the person standing in front of me.  Lieutenant Evans!  Hadn’t seen him since I went AWOL, all those years ago.  He didn’t come to my court martial.  I had no doubt that I had disappointed him beyond the pale.  Couldn’t imagine how angry my Alpha Team girls were with me.
“Lt!” I said, more of a whisper than I meant it to be.
“Pierce?!  What the hell are you doing here?”  Seems he was just as shocked.
“Escorting a friendly to medical for a follow-up.  You?”
“Something like that.  Never would have imagined I’d run into you after all these years here.”
“Aye, sir.  Definitely wasn’t what I was expecting.”
He got a coldly analytical look, giving me the once-over.  “You look like you keep in shape.”
“Aye.  I keep up on my PT.  Can’t let myself get soft, after all.”
“You working?”
“Aye.  Got a job for a PMC.”
Rolled his eyes.  “Why am I not surprised.”
Now it was my turn to be cold.  “Not a lot of openings for a modern ninja assassin, Lt.  I get the work that I can find.”
Leaning against the wall.  “It pay?”
“Aye.  Well.  Making a hell of a lot more there than I ever did for the STARS, I tell you what.”
“Selling out your country for a better pay grade?”
“I didn’t sell out my country!”
“You sold out your Team, Pierce!  Dress it up how you like, you ditched the STARS and didn’t even have the courage to come face us afterwards.”
My fist clenched.  “You don’t know anything about why I left, Lt!  Not a fucking thing!”
“Well, you weaseled your way out of a dishonorable discharge, somehow.  So I guess it must have been big enough for someone up top to cover for you.  Congratulations, Pierce.”
Was so pissed right then.  “Is that how the rest of Alpha Team sees it?”
“Oh, they are angrier than I am, believe you-me.  Those women would have followed you into Hell without a second thought.  But you didn’t even give them that opportunity.  You just left.  Least you could have done was have the guts to talk to them afterwards.”
Guilt hit me like a load of bricks.  It was cowardly to not even give them my side of the story.  They wouldn’t understand!  I was trying to protect them!  But I couldn’t tell him about why.  Couldn’t tell anyone.  So all I could do is stand there and lower my gaze.
“That’s what I thought.  Look, I’m sorry for your loss, Pierce, but you had no right to do this to those women.  None!  If you wanna dress that up, it’s on you.  Personally, I think it makes you a gutless coward who insulted the uniform.  But you got out of a dishonorable discharge, so what’s done is done, I guess.  Personally, I would have thrown you out and let everyone spit at you on the way out the door.  Have a nice life, Pierce.”  Dude definitely had his drop the mic moment.  Walking away, with is virtue fluttering.  Couldn’t tell him.  Couldn’t say why I did it, and what I did.  Slammed my fist into the wall.  People looked up.  I decided to walk away.  Suddenly didn’t want coffee anymore.
“What’s Alpha Team?  Who are the STARS?  Why did you ditch them?”
In horror, I looked up to see Emily standing there, a concerned look on her face.
“Oh shit…”

Until next time, a quote,

“I’ll tell you what bravery really is.  Bravery is just determination to do a job that you know has to be done.” – Audie Murphy

Happy Veterans Day to all those who swore the oath.

Peace out,

Maverick

Bad PR 119: Blizzard, Mobile Gaming, and Making Things Worse

You know what I love?  A good dumpster fire.  Not literally, of course.  Those smell bad and aren’t nice to look at, but just watching something beautiful burn in their own hubris is so fucking beautiful to watch.  We’ve seen it happen over and over.  There was the fire every step of the way during the development of Mighty No. 9.  There was the Yooka-Laylee voice acting fiasco.  Don’t even get me started on the beautiful destruction of games journalism during #GamerGate.  Now, we have the saga of Blizzard and their mobile gaming.

For those who didn’t know, all of this started a week or so ago at Blizzcon when they announced a new Diablo game.  Now, this is an event for PC gamers, because that is their core audience.  They hinted at a new Diablo game announcement before this event, but tried to walk that back because some part of them must have realized this could blow up in their face.  If only they had that foresight when they ended the big press conference event by showing off that the new Diablo game was for mobile platforms.  The way the room suddenly went silent was deafening.  Even the announcer could feel it, and you can tell that he was sweating pinballs.

Things got worse at a Q&A panel where one person asked if this whole thing was a “late April Fools Joke” and when asked if there was any way any of this was coming to PC, they got booed when they said no and then subsequently attacking their audience.  But it didn’t stop there!  The company who makes this has already made games that are basically Diablo knock-offs, and people were noticing how this new game looked like a reskin of the old one.  To which Blizzard doubled down on it not only being a good idea and the future of gaming, but not a reskin.

Following this, Activision’s stocks took a nose-dive.  They lost billions in stock value in a day.  Which leads me to today.  Seeming seeing the writing on the wall, and not wanting to lose more money, Blizzard decided to triple-down on mobile gaming being the future by saying that not only are they going mobile with Diablo, but they are going that way with ALL of their IPs.  Everything is gonna be mobile now.  They said that because of this, they have more projects going than ever before and they are going to make a huge profit.  This kind of speak sound kinda funny to you?  Like it isn’t gamers they are talking to?  Yeah, sounded that way for me too.

Because it isn’t gamers they are talking to.  It’s investors.  Activision Blizzard saw the massive decline in their stock and have run to assure investors that everything is great and that this backlash is nothing to be concerned about.  In doing this, they showed that not only are they focusing all their IPs on mobile titles, but they are putting their best talent to work doing this.  Needless to say, the backlash has been deafening.

How a company can be this out of touch with their audience just blows my fucking mind.  It really does.  Any corporate venture knows that investors are great, but if there is no demand for your product, their stocks are worth just as little.  But then, perhaps there is some logic to this.  After all, they are probably right that these products are going to make a shit-ton of money.  Mobile gaming is big, especially over in Asia.  China has become not only a mecca for Hollywood to make money, but also mobile gaming companies, as people will sink hundreds of millions into microtransactions.  This market has mass appeal in Asia.  Which makes the setting for this announcement for more fitting.

So perhaps Blizzard isn’t out of touch with their audience.  They have just written off that if they ignore western audience and focus on eastern, they lose nothing.  Perhaps there was financial calculus being done by the company at how much they could destroy with this dumpster fire and still coming out clean on the other side.  These games will make a fuck-ton of money.  They know that before they even do it.  It will be microtransaction heaven, which will make even more.  In these countries, people will pay.  So what does Blizzard stand to lose?

Still, it is nice to see Blizzard do more of a scorched-earth response to audience backlash than Konami.  I mean wow.  It’s more than a little impressive.  To give your PC audience the finger not once, not twice, but three times!  They could have come out and made a video to assuage their PC gaming community who was made them big.  At a time when they are making new characters for Overwatch while the game is filled with bugs that need fixing desperately, they continually show more and more tone-deafness to their core audience.  It blows my mind.

The PR lesson is this – if you are going to take this kind of tactic with your audience, the consumers who buy your products, you better know for certain that you are going to get a return for your investment in the long run, because not only is customer loyalty a huge part of corporate success, but so is brand recognition.  If people know your company as one thing, and you are selling that thing up the river to be a different thing to pander to a different community, you better know that this is going to work before you get started.  Otherwise, it will be event after event where games journalism (the bane of all gaming) will kiss your ass, while the audience dries up more and more.

Good luck, Blizzard,

Until next time, a quote,

“Forgive me, I don’t know the local custom, but where I come from, when you hear a prayer, you say ‘Amen.’  Because that’s what you just heard – a prayer.” – Lawrence Garfield, Other People’s Money

Peace out,

Maverick

The Hidden Story, Part II

There was so much that she didn’t know about what led up to the night at shore-leave in Yokosuka.  So much about how we grew closer that I couldn’t tell her because of what it was tied into.  The price that my Team had to pay because of the kinds of missions we were tasked with.  STARS could easily have been a publicity stunt for the administration.  Hell, that’s what it was supposed to be.  At first, the missions were exactly in line with our training.  Infiltration, recon, getting intel that no one else could in places no one else could go.  Black ops without the morally gray material.  But it didn’t stay that way for long.
All of this could have just been a publicity stunt to show women in combat roles with a special unit for them.  Would have made the administration look good.  With all the rumors, that are well-founded, of military covering up sexual assault and how abuse in the service is swept under the rug, a story about a unit of chicks who get things done would have been a PR coup.  But the military isn’t stupid.  They knew that they had caught something special.  So they started upping the demands.
Soon, it was about using our talents to get rid of high-value targets.  The SEALS are like a dagger, striking at the heart, but the STARS were like a scalpel.  We could surgically take out targets that were in places no one else could go.  Because we were given top of the line gear, and we had training to match, that could allow us to get into almost anywhere.  Any one of us could infiltrate an American military base anywhere without any legitimate problem.  It probably sounds like I’m blowing smoke, but it’s true.  How do I know this?  Because we did it.  That was the final test of STARS training.  Infiltrating Ramstein Air Force Base and stealing designs for, what was at the time, the developmental blueprints of the F-35 Lightning II.  They had been shown off by Lockheed Martin that day, and we had to get them.
I remember that mission.  The first of its kind.  Made the Air Force look like idiots and our own unit look like top dogs.  We all took a picture afterwards.  The first of the teams in the STARS.  The team that I would be a part of throughout my entire career in the Navy.

Rodriguez threw me a beer.  When in Germany, drink real beer.  Not the piss you get stateside.  All American beer is piss, without a single exception.  Caught it, but nearly dropped it.  Guess my hands were still shaking.
Beacham laughed, “Gotta keep a grip on it, girl!”  Everyone else joined in, poking and shoving me.  Felt good.  We were family.  Popped the top off, taking a deep swig.  Nothing has ever tasted so good in my life.
After another swig, I laid down.  On the fantail of the ship we deployed from, nobody seemed to care that we were blatantly not doing shit and drinking on deck.  The perk of being part of an elite group?  Hard to say.  Didn’t really care.  I wouldn’t trade this moment for anything.  The soft rise and fall with the swells.  The rhythm of the sea was always something I liked.  One could lose themselves in it.  Hearing the water against the side.  Peace on Earth, for just a little moment.
Pennyfeather laid down, holding herself up on an arm.  “We kicked ass out there today.”
“Damn right!  Walked into that base like they left the damn thing wide open.”
“I can’t even imagine how hard they are grilling the watch on that base,” Beacham chimed in.
“Yeah, no kidding,” Bethke agreed, sitting down on my other side.  Feisty Irish, just like me.  Same bright red hair too.
“So, when do we get to find out if we officially made the cut?  I heard the other teams were given the pass, whatever their missions were.  How about us?”
Everyone nodded.  It was a good question.
“Ladies.”
We all stood up in a flash.  Commander Sarah McAdams.  The most hard-ass woman I have ever met.  She is humorless, cold-blooded, and doesn’t take shit from anyone.  Every outfit she has ever been in command of has had the strictest operational discipline of any unit, and also the loudest parties.  She wanted to be a SEAL, but the physical demands for that are so high that even with her unbelievable physical prowess, she couldn’t make the cut.  Some people are worried that the criteria to be a SEAL will lower now that women are allowed into combat roles.  I was REALLY hoping not.  There’s a good reason why they have such rigorous standards.  Besides, we have the STARS now.
We tried to stand at attention, but were almost equally buzzed.
“Bethke, a beer.”
She looked stunned.  “Ma’am?”
“I believe you heard me, Petty Officer.”
“Yes ma’am!”  She reached in and tossed her one.  In one motion, her knife came out, popped the top off, then disappeared back into her uniform.
“I wanted to let you know – word has reached me from Command – you passed.  You secured the target without being noticed.  Not a single camera recorded you, and the watch didn’t know a thing.  You were ghosts.  Congratulations.”
The whole team was smiling from ear to ear, but we had to keep it together.
“As of this moment, you now have a new designation for your squad.  You are Alpha Team.  The others are Bravo and Charlie.”
So that was it.  Only three teams made the cut.  The fourth must have fucked up.  This mission had high stakes.  We were all outright told that failure to accomplish our mission would result in immediate dismissal from the program.  That was how it was with mistakes in any of the five training grounds we were at.  Which was why, out of the 125 women who were initially chosen, 20 made the final cut.
“Congratulations, everyone.  We did the impossible, and gave those chair force losers the one finger salute in the process.  I expected nothing less of my team.  Tomorrow you all will get your orders of where you will be posted next.  My days as your commanding officer are coming to an end.  But don’t think that means you can slack off.  Understood?!”
“Aye-aye, ma’am!”
“Fuckin’ A right!  Now, as you were, Alpha Team.”
I’d never been prouder in all my life.  Not one time.
Bethke perked up.  “We gotta get a pic!  If this pic worthy, nothing is!”
McAdams turned around, taking out her phone.  “Fall in, Alpha Team!”
We all did, standing at ease.  A flash, and I still have that picture in my black box, a memory of another life.

Long gone were those days.  Now it was us killing targets with a kind of precision not seen anywhere else.  As women, our ability to work together was the key to our success.  Men like to be all about individual initiative, but women tend to be more about group cohesion to accomplish a greater objective.  It isn’t ambition.  Far from it.  We strive perfection in the task we are given, in order to prove ourselves.  Worked wonders.
But the killing was wearing on everyone.  Nobody has ice running through their veins.  Nobody can just kill someone and think nothing of it.  As fate would have it, one of the main people who pulled the trigger in our outfit was me.  For whatever reason, I was really fucking good at it.  I could get in close and slip a knife into their throat, or have a weapon with a suppressor in a loud place and know just the right moment when the noise was loud enough to cover the reduced noise.  Everyone thinks that a silencer is like in movies where it makes gunshots a whisper.  Such bullshit.  It brings down the noise quite a bit, but not enough to not be noticed.  For whatever reason, I had the magic ability to know exactly when and how to make the shot where the noise could be missed.  It was a gift.
Like I said, nobody has ice running through their veins.  The killing was getting to me.  After a while, my hands were shaking, and I was genuinely afraid that I was going to make a mistake.  That’s when I went to Jean.

I knocked on the door.
“Enter!”  The voice.  Like water in the dessert.
Walking in, I could see her face perk up.
“Pierce!  What brings you here?”
My hands were shaking now, but for an entirely different reason.  For whatever reason, there were butterflies in my stomach.  Why?  I was comfortable talking with her.  We’d gotten pretty tight.  Hell, aside from my Alpha Team comrades, she was the only friend I had on this ship.  Scuttlebutt being what it is, people were wondering about us, but nobody in Alpha thought I was dumb enough to try anything with a superior officer.  That’s a good way to fuck up both our careers.  We’re just tight as comrades.  Right?
“Ma’am, I was hoping to talk about something.”
“Speak freely, Pierce.  You look REALLY nervous.”
“Yeah, kinda.  It’s not easy to get into, you know?”
“What isn’t?”
She authorized me to say what I wanted to say.  Best to just take the plunge.
“I’m starting to think I might be endangering missions.”
Becoming totally serious, but not in a cold kinda way.  “How so?”
“My hands are shaking during missions.  It’s worse when I’m sighting down on a target.”
Not a critical look.  An understanding one.  “That’s normal.  It’s not an easy thing to do, kill another human being.”
“It’s not that, ma’am.  It’s getting worse.  I’m having nightmares about the bodies I’ve left behind rising up after me.  The stress is affecting my ability to perform in the field.  I don’t want to put my teammates at risk.”
More genuine expression.  “Do you want to leave Alpha Team?  The STARS?”
“No!  I don’t.  These girls mean everything to me.  But I can’t afford to risk their lives because of my problems.  I couldn’t forgive myself if I did.”
Thinking for a moment.  “What if we took a break?  Would some time away from the field help?  It’s been months since we had a proper shore-leave.  That sound good?”
It did.  It really, really did.  “Yes ma’am!  That sounds fucking perfect.”  Clearing my throat.  “I think that would be good for the team.”
“Alright.  Let me talk to the Lt.  I’ll see if I can get him to park the ship in Yokosuka.  The ship could use some maintenance anyway.   A chance for you and all team to get some R&R.  Let’s see if that helps the issue.  Sound good?”
“Aye, ma’am.  I’m down with that.”
“Excellent.”  She got up and walked over, putting her hand on my arm.  “You’re a valuable asset to Alpha Team.  I don’t know what would happen if it was to lose you.  For now, head back to your quarters and rest.  I’ll let the Team know what Lt says when I make the suggestion.  Okay?”
“Aye-aye, ma’am.”
“Good.  Dismissed, Chief Petty Officer.”  She smiled at me.  A legit, tender smile.  Stomach buzzing went into overdrive.  Why?  Am I crushing?  It couldn’t be.  Not on a superior officer.  She used to be so condescending to me.  When did this all change?  Why do I feel so drawn to talk to her?  Sucks that now it has to be over.
I saluted, and left.  Closing the door behind me, I leaned against it.  Was she too?  I like to think so.  Makes for a good image.

“Why were you so burned out?” Emily asked.
I was on the couch in the living room, looking out at my view of the cliff and the ocean beyond.  Place smelled of chocolate as the cookies baked.
“Deployment is hard.  And my unit had lots of hard work.  It got to us.”
“So did she get the Lieutenant to agree?”
“Yup.  And that wasn’t the only surprise.”

“Ma’am?” I asked, not believing.
“You heard me, Pierce.  Wanna go out on the town with me and grab a movie?  We’re gonna have liberty once we dock, and I figured that some time off base taking in Japan would do you some good.  Get a movie, see some sights, chill.  You in?”
She’s a superior officer.  I can’t say no, right?  Definitely wasn’t going to help the rumors.  What do I care?  Where was that girl from high school who made out with the cheerleader in front of people and didn’t care when my locker was defaced and all my shit was destroyed?  Those rebel days felt so long ago.
Fuck it.  “Uh, hell yeah, ma’am.  I’m in.”
“Great!  Meet up with me on the quarterdeck after we dock and the ship is secured.  We’ll go from there?”
I smiled at her.  “Aye-aye, ma’am.”  Was this a date?  It sounded like a date.

“So, was it a date?!”  Such a teenage girl.  Of course she cares only about the juicy stuff and less about the implications.
“Aye, it was.  But for a while I was wondering.”
“What happened?!”
“It was an amazing night…”

Once the ship was moored and we were cleared for liberty, I met her on the quarterdeck.  She was wearing NWUs, same as me.
“So, you ready to go?”
“Aye, ma’am.”
A knowing smile.  “You don’t have to be so formal, Pierce.  It’s shore-leave right now, and I want to get to know the real you.”
I really had to know if this was a date.  “Okay.  I can work with that.  Won’t be easy, but I can.”
“Good.  Let’s go!  First things first, let’s get something to drink.”
“Yes!  Please!”  Alcohol sounded just about perfect.

An hour later, the two of us are sitting in a dive bar outside the shipyard.  Yokosuka isn’t some big metropolitan area, but it had its own charms.  There were plenty of sailors annoying the locals.  The crew was taking full advantage of liberty.  As for the two of us, we were drinking warm sake at the end of the bar, as far from the rowdiness as we could get.  The bartender wanted to be mad, but he was making a shit-ton of money off this guys and gals, so he couldn’t be too pissy.
“So tell me, Pierce, where do you come from?”
Time to be brave?  “Call me Quinn.  Like you said, you wanted to get to know me.  That’s my name.”
Her smile was so cute.  “Alright, Quinn.  Call me Jean.  Though not when we’re on duty, of course.”
I gave her a look.  The booze was buzzing my system very nicely.  “Duh!”  That got both of us laughing.
“Alright Quinn, so where do you come from?”
I took another swig, pouring myself another small cup full.  “Farm country.  Midwest girl without the accent.  You?”
“Southern girl, but my accent hasn’t totally gone away.  Watch me when I get stressed or outright mad.  The South Carolina comes out hardcore.”
“Sounds like something to hear.”
“Oh no.  If you got me that far, you ain’t liking hearing it.  Trust and believe.”  More laughter.  Another drink.  Could both feel the booze getting to us.
This nagging doubt.  Wouldn’t leave me alone.  Why did she ask me here?
“Hey Jean, why did you ask me out tonight?  I mean, isn’t that not kosher?  Couldn’t we get in trouble?”
She sucked down another cup full of sake and smiled at me.  “I’ve wanted to get to know you since I met you.  And given your history before enlisting, I figured you wouldn’t mind a little risk.”
I frowned.  “Hey now, I worked my ass off to make sure I didn’t fuck things up when I got into the service.  Always was at the front of the pack during PT training, drilled and drilled until I got all the checks right.  Chief who did those in boot was no slouch.  So many CDRs don’t care about the little things, but if you fucked up on anything, laces being left over right, anything at all, he was on your ass like stink on cheese!  I got 5.0s on every inspection.  So I’m not the shit-kicker I used to be.”
A nod.  “I know.  Your file in the service has been pretty awesome.  Your scores are fantastic across the board.  Especially when you joined the STARS.  It’s like you were made for this outfit.”
When I nodded it felt like my head hung a little.  “I love these girls, man.  These are my BFFs, and I would do anything to look after them.”
“I know.  Which is why I asked you out tonight.  Your file makes you out to be one person, but what you do makes clear who you are.  And I’ve gotten to see that.  When I first met you, and saw your initial file, I was not impressed.  But you proved me wrong.  So I thought I’d get to know who the woman underneath the uniform is.”  Her face suddenly went red.  “I mean in like a kind of person sorta way…”
Holy shit!  Was she flirting with me just there?!  The more I looked at her, the more I liked what I saw.  Fit, obviously.  A little bit of fluffy in the tummy, but still cool by fitness codes.  Huge ass.  Even for a white girl.  It was strange.  But also really thick legs to go with it.  Oh shit.  Booze was making me have bad thoughts.  Superior officer!  Bad Quinn!  But what if she was flirting?  Could I flirt back?
“If you ever wanna know who I am under the uniform, you just gotta ask.”
Even as the words left my mouth, I also went red.  What had I just said?  Damn booze!  Shit’s a truth serum.  The two of us didn’t make eye contact for a bit.
“Hey, wanna grab a movie or something?  Too many people here, and I’m too drunk to report back to the ship.”  The way she said that, it wasn’t about that.  I could feel it.
“Sure.  I’m down for anything.”  Flirting aside, I really was.  After all the stress I had inside, getting to cut loose and get stupid drunk felt amazing.  Keeping the fun going, even better.

Emily was all perked up, eating her first cookie.  Double chocolate chip.  Soft when you make them, but crisp after that.  Perfect coffee cookies.
“What happened next?!”
Butterflies were back now, but because of something totally different.  A feeling inside of gong into the past.  But it wasn’t pain, like usual.  This time there was something else.  A warm feeling like this was a good memory and I wanted to savor it.  Nostalgia?  The things decent company can do for you.

The theater was  a very quiet and quaint little place.  It was some older romance film from Japan on the screen.  No idea what they were saying, but tracking the emotions was interesting.  Like watching Shakespeare, maybe?  If I did that sort of thing at all.
As the show went on, I became incredibly aware of my companion sitting next to me.  There was this invisible thread that I felt pulling on me, wanting me to go closer to her.  To touch her.  Feel her skin.  The warmth from her body was calling to me.  But no.  I couldn’t.  She’s a superior officer.  Everything about this was wrong.  We’d get busted.  We’d get disciplined.  I’d lose the STARS.  Why was I here?!
Then, her hand touched mine.  Not intentionally, just a graze, but it stopped there.  Rested on top of mine.  This contact was putting me over the edge.  Turned my hand around, playing with her fingers.  So much intimacy, just from this little contact.  Now that thread was pulling on me like an anvil sinking me into the ocean.  I couldn’t fight it.  Didn’t want to.  Wouldn’t!  Fuck it.  If I am going to be here, in this moment, then I’m going to go all the way with it.  Hell or high water.
Facing her, I moved in closer.  Licked my lips, and could see that little quiver in hers as the anticipation was killing us.  Then, a hand on mine, stopping me.
“Why?!” I demanded, so quietly that it was like nothing had been said.
“Not here!” she whispered back.
“Then where?!  Tell me where?!”

Woke up in a giant sea of brown hair.  Because she used so much hairspray to make sure that not a single stray hair would come out of the bun, once it was out, the hair went everywhere.  It was so poofy.  I loved it.  Could play with this hair all day.  Only other thing I could make out, aside from hair, was soft skin that my face was resting on.  It was so nice.
The room absolutely reeked of sex.  It was a very strong odor.  Our uniforms were on the floor at the bed of this little hotel.  Neon lights from a Coke sign outside were flowing in.  Lit up this dingy little place.  This little love nest we had had last night.  How early was it?  Definitely very.  No sound outside.  No cacophony of people.  Early enough to not have to worry about that.  Wanted to look at my watch, but no way was I moving.  These arms that were around me, holding me, it was heaven on Earth and I wasn’t going to give it up.  Soft, naked flesh underneath my own.
Did last night really happen?  Was she going to wake up and freak out?  Didn’t know if I could handle that.  Not after what we shared.  This feeling inside, it had to be real.  Was this just a battle thing, or something else?  Felt like something else.  She attacked my body so hard.  I’ve had sex before, but that was the first time it felt like making love.  That pegged it, there were feelings here.  Did she feel the same way?  If she didn’t, could I handle that?  All the stress that dogged me was now back, but in a different form.  Not of killing targets, but being cared for the same way I did the person I was with last night.
Maybe it was my worrying, but I guess I fidgeted enough for her to notice and stir.
“Um…we should probably get back.”
I shook my head, burrowing deeper into her chest.  “No!  Sexy women stay in bed.”
“We have to be back to the ship by 0800.”
“What time is it?”  Was genuinely curious.
Moving her arm up around me to look at her watch.  “O530.”
“Then we have lots of time.”
“We’ll have to get up sometime.”
I pressed in harder.  “Sexy brunette lady stops talking.  Cuddles.”
She held me closer.  “Alright, you win.  We can sleep for a while longer.”
Looking up, I pushed through the maze of hair to find a cute face, kissing her lips softly.  There had never been such a perfect morning as this.

“Holy shit!  So did they find out?!”
“Not that night.  But the rest is the story for another day.  Time to get you home.”
Emily pouted.  “This sucks!”
“I know, but your father will be home soon.  I don’t want him to worry about you.  He’s done enough of that already lately.”
Guilt as she knew I was right.  “Okay.  Can’t wait to be out of this chair so I can come visit you.  Is that cool with you?”
A guest who could just drop by?  I didn’t hate the feeling.
“Okay.  That would be nice.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Meeting you was chance, becoming your friend was a choice, but falling in love with you was beyond my control.” – Anonymous

Peace out,

Maverick