A Preparing for Battle Tale

I called Emily up later and told her things were okay.  She demanded an explanation, and I figured that I owed her that much.  I had just potentially put her in danger, not to mention scaring the living shit out of her.  A proper explanation was the least I could do.  Made some burgers with moose meat and pepperjack cheese.  The hope was that it would be a short evening, but who knew.
When she got over we ate and I told her about what happened with Bethke.
“So, does that mean you can make up with the rest of your sisters?” she asked.
“Maybe.  I don’t know how they’ll react.  Bethke is a hot-head, but she has always and probably will always see me as big sister who she can’t stay mad at.  We worked things out in the way that it had to be for us.  For the rest, I’m not so sure.  There’s going to be some ugly feelings all around.”
Nodding, she took another bite.  “Well, I hope you can make up with the rest of the girls.  You sound like you miss them.”
“More than you’ll ever know, kiddo.  What we had together was something magical.  Maybe, if I hadn’t left, had stayed with them, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
She looked down.  “Then we wouldn’t have met…”
“Sorry.  I didn’t mean it like that.  It’s just, a lot of shit has been royally fucked in my life ever since Jean died.  I don’t know who I am, sometimes.”
Looking back at me.  “I know who you are.”
“Aye?  And who am I?”
“Super awesome ninja badass, Quinn Pierce.”
I chuckled a bit.  “Thanks for that.  It’s nice to know somebody feels that way about me.”  Kept eating my burger.  There was some quiet time then.
“Hey, can I ask you something?” she said.
“Sure.  What’s up?”
“What was getting ready for a mission like?  I know you can’t tell me all the deets, but what was it like going out on a mission?  Been trying to imagine it, but I’m drawing a blank.”
Chewing my food for a bit, I nodded.  “It was…intense.”
“What can you tell me?”
“Hm…”  Taking another bite, I thought for a moment.  There was one good story that I didn’t think would reveal anything important.
“Alright, so typically we would just be wherever and get called in, but sometimes we’d have prolonged deployments when they had missions for us in succession that had to be done as part of an active ZOI.”
“ZOI?”
“Zone of Interest.  Somewhere that the brass wanted to be dealt with.  Could be for whatever reason.  We never asked why.  You have a job, you do it.  That’s how it works in the Navy.  When you do work that is already classified by virtue of you being there, questions really won’t help.”
Kiddo was hanging on every word.
“Anyway, when we’re in an active ZOI, we’d be mobile.  The ship that they’d have us deploy from was a brand new kind of destroyer, made specifically for stealth.  It was top of the line.  They only ever made a couple, because of the cost, and each of them is understood to be a place where we are based.  We’d have our own quarters that were typically shared with one rackmate.  For a long time, they put me with Rodriguez.  Though I shared quarters with Crow and Beacham, for a while.  Days would get pretty boring.  Because we had to be ready to go at a moment’s notice, we typically didn’t get duties like any other sailor on that ship.  Had a LOT of people jealous for a while, until they realized that we are dangerous.  Though we still had the reputation of the FDUs.”
“FDUs?”
“Frigid Dykes Unit.”
Emily rolled her eyes.  “Were all of you gay?”
“No, actually.  Just me.  We had a theory that Pennyfeather had dabbled, but no proof.  I was the only lesbian in that team, far as we were aware.  Didn’t stop people from talking.  Really didn’t help when scuttlebutt was making the rounds about me and Jean.  But anyway, off topic, because this was a ship geared toward stealth, alarms were all about lights.  Anytime the lights changed, we knew something was happening…”

Wished this thing had exterior windows.  It was genuinely claustrophobic in here sometimes.  Like being in a submarine.  Which was why I always preferred to spend time on deck.  Oh well.  Was laying on my rack, staring at the bulkhead.  It was so damn quiet in this thing.  One thing about being on ships, there was typically noise coming from something.  But not here.  It was genuinely disconcerting sometimes.  On an average ship, if all noise stops and it isn’t general quarters, that typically is a bad thing.
As if to answer when I said that, the lights went red.  In a flash I was up, along with Rodriguez, who had been playing Solitaire on the deck of our quarters.  We knew the drill.  If the ship was under attack, the audio alarm kicks on, because then keeping quiet is irrelevant.  Lights means that Alpha team was up and the rest of the ship had to get things ready.
We slipped on the NWUs and ran out.  Saw the others and greeted them silently.  It was typical when we were getting ready to stay silent.  We had to do that for actual missions, might as well do it and get ourselves used to it.

“Wait, you can’t talk during missions?” Emily asked.
“Not unless absolutely necessary.  Part of our education was to learn ASL, so we could give commands in a way that was least likely to give away our positions.  And if we did have to use the comms, we were instructed to only speak Blackfoot.”
“You know Blackfoot?!”
“Aye.  Or, if you prefer, áa oko’s.”
“Whoa.  And you know sign language?”
“Yup.  When we were together or in pairs on a mission, we’d sign.  The idea was to have us be utterly silent, making as little sound as possible.  And since we couldn’t be sure that the enemy wasn’t listening in to the comms, Blackfoot was the obvious language we would go to.  We had a team member who spoke it and could teach it.”
“That’s awesome!”
“Aye.  A LOT of girls failed from the training because they couldn’t learn it.  STARS training wanted to weed out those who were just looking to shoot at people.  We had to be more than assassins.  We had to be able to think, learn, improvise, adapt.  It was the most demanding job I’ve ever had.”  Couldn’t help the nostalgia in my voice.
“You miss it?”
“The job?  A little.  But the camaraderie I miss more.  Six women, working together, getting shit that couldn’t be done by anyone else. accomplished.  It was a feeling like no other.”
“Sounds awesome.”
“It was.  Anyway, we got side-tracked.  At the start of every mission, there is the briefing.  Those are long.  Movies always make it out to be a short thing, where people are just told to do stuff and that’s it.  Wrong.  We go through equipment we will need, mission protocols, mission objectives, infil point, exfil point, infiltration routes, obstacles, potential political fallout, and if we have fifth freedom or not.”
She frowned.  “Fifth freedom?”
Gave her a serious look.  “The freedom to break the law for the greater good.  In essence, if we have permission to kill people or not.  Sometimes we don’t.”
A confused response.  “Why wouldn’t you have permission to kill people?”
My face was dead serious.  “Because sometimes we had missions in places that are allies, and we aren’t supposed to be.  If anyone gets killed in those missions, it would cause massive political fallout, so we are not given fifth freedom.  Or you have instances where an enemy is politically volatile, so killing a target would inevitably incite an incident.  These are things you have to think about during a mission.  And we are expected to know when the parameters of a mission change.  The OPSAT cameras in our TOS give Command constant info of what we see, and little ear-pieces give them an update on what we hear.  So they’re able to tell us in real time when things have changed.”
Girl looked so invested.  “That is so cool.  Sounds like spy shit.”
“You don’t even know.  The TOS has special bendable touch-screen tech so they can send us encoded updates in real time.with new info.  We had top of the line gear.”
“What’s the TOS?”
Thought for a moment.  “I suppose I can tell you a little.  It’s the Tactical Operation Suit.  First of its kind.  This thing is made to be flexible and protect you from the enemy.  There is a kevlar layer, and Gore-Tex.  The former offers protection from gunfire, while the latter makes you effectively invisible to infrared and night-vision.  Got lots of other neat tech integration, but I can’t say too much about that.  Classified as fuck.”
She pouted.  “Okay.  What did it look like?”
“Whatever we wanted.  Color, pattern, whatever.  It’s part of the cool tech, but I really can’t say too much about why.  It is next level combat armor, and they gave it to a bunch of chicks who are trained to be ninjas.”
“Bad ass!  Was it fun to wear?!”
Now I frowned.  “Not even a little.  This shit was skin-tight and awkward as fuck.  You’re naked getting in and out.  And since most of where we went had hot as fuck weather, it was mad uncomfortable.  This is part of why we do operations at night.  The stuff breathes, but sweating is the worst.  We didn’t have to worry about overheating, but we did have to worry about feeling like we were wearing glue.  Felt bad for the people who have to clean that stuff.  We have a special crew who have to clean each suit.  It’s a giant process, because they might have to replace some of the layers and do repairs.  Those who do are specially trained and have special clearance that others don’t.  Everyone associated with STARS had TS clearance or higher.  Every person in this outfit earned their place there.”
“Wow…”
It felt kinda nice to be getting this reaction from someone.  Admiration.  We damn sure earned it.
“What was getting in and out of that stuff like?”
“Getting in was the easy part.  Getting out reminded us why you shave.  EVERYTHING.”
Her eyes went wide.  “Don’t tell me…”
“A natural replacement for waxing, if you don’t.  First time we were wearing the things was agony to remove, for the others.  Thankfully, once I had a razor at my disposal, I already liked to be clean shaven all over…”

Nobody tells you how incredibly awkward it is to be in a room full of women, hearing them groan as they are stripping naked.  Worst part is, so we don’t damage the suits, we have the techs there as well.  Boy howdy, this sucked.  There are not words to describe how uncomfortable it is.  We had trained in the TOS, but never put it to the test like this.  Thankfully, since I had shaved everything and even my head (because dealing with hair isn’t worth it in the military, what with all the rules of how to do your hair and how long you have to do it), it was like peeling a layer of skin.  I suddenly got how it must feel for snakes.  That thought was cool.
For the others, however, it was constant moans of pain.
“Mierda!” Rodriguez screamed.  “There goes my lightning bolt.”
Beacham rolled her eyes.  “You’re in the Navy, my dear.  At least PRETEND like you belong here, would you?”
Bethke looked over at me with an angry expression on her face.  “Of course, you have no problem with it.”
Rolled my eyes.  “Yeah, as if all the delicate skin didn’t stick right to it too.  Bite me!”
Rodriguez gave me a horrified look.  “Joder.  Oh no…”
“Oh yes.  Good luck.”
Stepping out, I put the suit onto a rack and the tech assigned to it took it to the other room.  Now that that was done, I got to take my well-deserved shower.  One of the perks of being a STARS member is we get our own showers, and the faucet heads aren’t shit.  Limited time window, of course, but they are more flexible.  After all, we had to scrub out a bunch of shit from our person.
After I scrubbed down and got cleaned up, I went into the locker room to get my clothes.  Figured I should have kept the towel wrapped around me, but since I knew there was only us in this locker, and we had seen everything on each other before, I just didn’t see the point of feigning modesty.  The air was cold, but drying me off quick.  And after that desert nightmare, this felt so good.
As I got my uniform out of the locker, the door suddenly opened.  I just assumed it was one of the others, since Beacham and Crow had gotten to the showers as I was heading out, so I didn’t think much of it.
“Oh!” I heard a voice say.  That voice was familiar…
Turning around, I saw CWO Beryl standing there, looking awkward.
Oh shit!  “Ma’am!”  I grabbed my towel and wrapped it around myself fast.  “Apologies.  I didn’t know you had come in.”
“No, that’s fine.  I assumed you were dressed.  I was told to tell the team to report to Lt. Evans as soon as all of you are dressed.  I know you’re tired, but better to debrief now.  It was a textbook mission, but we gotta have this for the record.”  The look on her face was awkward and red.  Weird.  I mean, she’s seen a naked woman before.  We all went through boot.  What’s up with her lately?  Either she’s being cold or she’s being nice.  Or now she’s being awkward.  I didn’t get this chick.
“Aye-aye, ma’am!”
Clearing her throat again.  “As you were, Pierce.”  And then she left very quickly.

My young companion chuckled.  “So it went over your head too?”
“Aye.  The TOS only left the eyes uncovered.  That’s why it had to breathe, because you literally had to breathe through it.  Six women with shaved heads.  That was us.  At least for the initial version.  Later ones had a detachable head section that we could use, depending on the mission.  That was a good day for our outfit.  You lose so much body heat through your head, so it made things so much easier.”
“So cool.  I guess there’s no pics of that.”
“Not a one.  You’ll just have to use your imagination.”
She frowned, but nodded.  “Okay.  Sounds pretty epic.”
“It definitely was.  The pain in the ass that they were, the suits definitely made us feel like high-tech ninjas.”
“So, you suited up.  What then?”
Leaning back, I thought back.  “Then we get to the vehicle we’re taking in.  Sometimes it was Seahawk, sometimes it was a Zodiac, sometimes it was any number of things.  We suit up, report to transport, then go on the mission.”
“A Seahawk is a helicopter?”
“Aye.  Our ship had one posted on it, standing by for use anytime.  Crew who ran that thing were no slouches.”
“Is it fun to ride in a helicopter?”
Had to think about that for a bit.  “It’s…different.  You fly in an airplane and you can feel it moving, but there’s always this deliberateness to it.  Like a wind-up and cool-down.  In a chopper it can turn on a dime and you have to be ready for that.  Everyone who had motion sickness was axed from the program pretty quick.  You gotta train for how to disembark from a bird correctly.  Otherwise you risk broken bones.  Movies and video games make that shit look easy.  It’s not.”
Her head did that thing where she was trying to think of something more.  “Hm.  Well, I think that’s all I got for now.  You probably can’t tell me about your weapons and stuff.”
“That’s affirmative.  We had special gear in that regard, but can’t say a thing about it.”
“Hm.  Well, thanks for telling me what you did.”
“No sweat, kiddo.”
We finished eating, and then she got up.
“I hope it goes well, with the others.”
I shrugged.  “I’m not holding my breath.”
She gave me this look of incredulity.  “I know that’s not true.  You want it to go as well as I do.  Your sisters mean everything to you.”
Sighing, I nodded.  “Aye.  They do.  But I don’t know what’ll happen.  So for now, I’m just going to wait and see.”
“We gonna finish decorating the tree this weekend?”
“You know it.  Now get home.  You got school in the morning.”
“Aye-aye!” she said, doing faux-attention.
I rolled my eyes.  “Silly kid.”
“I’m gonna get this right, you’ll see!”
“Yeah, we’ll see.”
Normally, when I talk about the past, it hurts.  Today, it felt good.  Very good.   I could live with that.

Until next time, a quote,

“Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.” – Doug Larson

Peace out,

Maverick

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Where’s the Appreciation for Narrative Growth? (a response to David Jaffe)

In a recent Twitch stream, the God of War developer David Jaffe had part of it where he went after modern AAA games, and how all of them play the same.  His example was the Uncharted franchise, and how the first game plays exactly the same as the last.  This was used as a launching point about how AAA gaming is dying, and they just don’t know it yet.  Gotta say, this was grinding my gears a little.  Why?  Because there is something that always gets lost in the ruckus of this – the story.  Why is there no appreciation for narrative growth in gaming?

Look, I will be the first to admit that he has a point about AAA gaming having a lot of sameness.  There are a lot of them that play just like the others, and if I had the money to play lots of different games a year, maybe this would bug me more.  But since I have been a very poor gamer for all my adult life, I only get games when I think I can afford them, and as such get the games I want as opposed to the games that are out.  However this is just to explain where I’m coming from, it’s not an argument.

Here’s why I game, David – the story.  It’s why I read books, watch movies, and to a much lesser extent TV shows.  I want a narrative that engages me.  Either it makes me think or feel or any combination of the two.  I want to get wrapped up in the world and the characters that I am with on this journey.  It’s why I am so in love with the story of Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us.  The gameplay in it isn’t especially complicated.  That’s one thing a lot of reviewers hammered it for.  Everyone loves the story, but says the gameplay is mediocre.  I disagree, but that’s not the point.  It’s all about the story I’m being told.

A YouTube personality I follow once said that the story in a video game is like the story in porn.  That sentiment REALLY bothered me.  Um, no!  Yeah, because the scene in The Last of Us where Joel is carrying Ellie out of the hospital and saying things that he said to his daughter to her was just like a porn I saw where Alex Chance was stuffing her pussy with a massive dildo, right?  Or in Journey, where our nameless character reaches the summit of the mountain and the swelling music helps this last bit of his journey that seems to be an analogue for reaching heaven.  That’s just like porn too, right?  Or when Luke makes the decision to give his life to save the world, and Tear telling him she loves him in Tales of the Abyss, pure pornography, right?!

I’ve been noticing over the last few years that there are more games being made where the narrative is the centerpiece and the rest is built around it.  The games where the gameplay elements are simplistic because it’s trying to keep you focused on the narrative, but still be engaging enough to let you feel like you’re doing something.  The Internet hates that.  I’m in a minority because I love some of them.  Not all, mind you.  Some are stupid, pretentious bullshit, but there are others that I can mesh with very well.

The point is this – let’s take a look at the Uncharted franchise.  In the first game, you see Nate as a younger, quippier, more modern Indiana Jones.  There is his mentor/father figure, Sully, who you see go from just being his pal to being the person he trusts more than anyone.  There is Elena, who goes from the reporter trying not to let her story get away, to his wife that he lied to and has to make amends.  The franchise tells a complete narrative of these characters and by the end there is a nice arc to wrap the whole thing up in a bow.  The last game even introduces a new character into the mix and he fits in nicely with them too.  The gameplay elements do remain similar, but is there nothing to at least respect about how the narrative grows?

Jaffe strikes me as someone who has the YouTuber’s perspective on this.  I have come to the realization that I am in an EXTREME minority with how I view things.  But part of me wonders how much of a minority I am in.

All that being said, I’d like to touch on what Jaffe said about AAA gaming dying.  Nah, dude.  It’s not.  The greed of some companies is definitely hurting it.  The microtransaction rage is bubbling to the surface and more and more gamers are giving companies the finger and looking elsewhere because they’re tired of being treated like they don’t exist.  There is going to come a day when the greed of some of the major companies is going to sink them, and they will only have themselves to blame.  But the industry is going to survive.  With so many companies rising with good content and the willingness to take chances, like CD Projekt Red, this industry is going to survive.  It will take a hit, and AAA gaming will be hurting for a while, but it will come back.  I’m glad of that.

So, what do you all think?  Am I the only pretentious faggot who likes a good narrative and seeing a narrative grow over a series?  Let me know in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Great stories happen to those who can tell them.” – Ira Glass

Peace out,

Maverick

Gaming News Panders to Big Business, Demonizes Gamers

A lot of things have been happening recently that have gotten the attention of gaming companies and because it damages their capacity to rake in a fuck-ton of money on the back of microtransactions.  Naturally, when big gaming is hurt, they have their bitch-boy media in quickly to defend them.  This should come as a surprise to nobody.  We’ve seen, time and time again, the gaming news publications are bought and paid for by gaming companies.  We saw it with review scores and how the utterly corrupt outlets like IGN, Gamespot, and Kotaku will give favorable reviews to almost any AAA game, regardless of quality.  How Fallout 76 wasn’t able to get this treatment boggles the mind.  Maybe some rational part of gaming news realized that if they gave that game a favorable review, their audience would laugh them off-stage.

Not that they should care.  Games media being corrupt is nothing new.  Despite what every mainstream outlet says, #GamerGate uncovered a TON of collusion and corruption in the industry.  The synchronized “Gamers are Dead” articles, the synchronized articles demonizing Christina Hoff Sommers for her take on the controversy, and the endless series of personal and unprofessional relationships between developers and games media, they are corrupt to the core and it’s known to everyone who isn’t a total sheep.

So it comes as no surprise to me that all the recent controversies of big gaming engaging is unpopular shit has mainstream games media jumping to their defense without a second thought.  Like when Activision/Blizzard announced Diablo Immortal at Blizzcon when people were expecting a real game, and then subsequently talked down to their fans.  What has followed since then has been a dumpster fire that makes them look worse and worse, with information coming out that they are going to sell ALL of their IPs up the river to mobile, and how the new Diablo game is just a reskin of another game the mobile developer has done.  The side-by-side comparisons are too obvious to ignore, despite Blizzard saying up and down that that isn’t true.

Naturally, the “journalists” in games media came rushing out to defend Blizzard, demonizing the fans and called them “entitled.”  Well, hot on the heels of that little bit of corrupt protection through “objective” journalism, we have Ubisoft getting some flak as well for their announcement of censoring Rainbow Six: Siege in order to meet the criteria for Chinese censorship.  A tactic that would set a dangerous precedent, if followed through – that video games will have their creativity crushed in order to appeal to a market in a country with strict laws about what is appropriate to show.  The fan backlash was immediate and heated, to the point that Ubisoft walked back that announcement.

As is to be expected, games media ran to the company’s defense, with one of the most baffling defenses I have ever seen.  The author of an article said that Ubisoft should be encouraged in this endeavor, in addition to their announcement of the inclusion of loot boxes, which happened this year as well.  Why?  Because they are a big company and should be able to make as much money as possible!  What a “pro-consumer” thing to say.  “Don’t yell at the corporations!  That hurts their feelings!  They need lots of money!

It’s so weird to me that games media has turned on their audience so hard.  Article after article after article for years following #GamerGate telling gamers that they should feel bad for having opinions.  Isn’t companies listening to the feedback of their customers a good thing?  In an age where gaming companies are continually ignoring backlash in order to sell out and make a shit-ton of money at the cost of their product, the fact that SOME companies are actually listening to feedback and taking it to heart should be a good thing.  Granted, Blizzard can’t seem to put out their dumpster fire and only make it worse, but they at least pitifully ATTEMPTED to address the controversy.

I’ve seen so many “pro-consumer” publications and even YouTube personalities just become corporate shills.  It’s why I don’t watch Angry Joe anymore, or Jim Sterling.  Well, in Jim’s case, it was when he supported Ben Kuchera when he said that doxxing is a good thing and he has every right to do it.  He sold out to the SJW community a LONG time ago.  You have Angry Joe yelling at consumers for being mad about the blatant historical inaccuracy of Battlefield V, though that game got much more substantive criticism later, like the fact that it was rushed out unfinished with the online component being a complete mess.  Still, seeing someone who I always thought was at least partially on the side of the consumer kissing EA’s ass all because of political ideological allegiance is frustrating.

These people should be championing consumers speaking out when something bothers them, and encouraging companies to at least listen to what they have to say.  They don’t have to agree or kowtow to us, but at least hear where people are coming from and take it into consideration.  What’s the problem with that?  Oh right, it hurts the feelings of multi-billion dollar companies and they might earn a few million dollars less than they otherwise would have.  Oh, and have to work a little harder into not making their mainline games worse and instead make a localized version for China.  Yeah, I feel so bad for them.  The poor babies.

Until next time, a quote,

“You know what this is?  It’s the world’s smallest violin playing just for the waitresses.” – Mr Pink, Reservoir Dogs

Peace out,

Maverick

Musical Insanity: Fichtl’s Lied

I haven’t done a post like this in ages.  It’s not often I get things that are so bafflingly crazy that I have to watch them and go “…what?”  For those who are unaware, these posts are about music videos or songs that I find (almost always music videos.  Songs alone typically don’t fit the bill) that are so weird or so funny that I have to talk about them.  When it comes to foreign music, there is a plethora of stuff to choose from, and the fact is that I don’t actually know where I would have to start in order to find the stuff that is really good.  These things just fall into my lap from nice people I know.

Which brings us to today, with a German number called Fictl’s Lied, by Die Woodys.  I’ve actually seen this video before, years ago, but it totally slipped my mind until a friend sent it to me again.  This is one of the funniest things I’ve seen, so let me share it with you, and then we’ll talk about it.

Even the thumbnail for this is funny.  It perfectly encapsulates everything I love about it.  Germany is a funny country.  Not just because they have the angriest language ever, but because they make shit like this.

We start out with some German talk show lady introducing them – Die Woodys.  Can someone who is fluent in German translate that for me?  I don’t trust Google Translate to give me an accurate read on what that means.  We begin by seeing this dude and his wonderfully fake instrument that he is totally not actually playing in a way that is painfully obvious.  A good start.  Then the camera zooms back and we see a magical sight – this guy and his derpy smile.  It’s the best.  The grin this dude and his buddy sport the whole time is just perfect.  Periodically interrupted when they go to fake whistle bird calls in time with the music.

And speaking of the buddy, that dude has to be stoned out of his mind.  He is CLEARLY not on the same planet as the rest of us.  He’s checked out and has let his brain go into a happy place somewhere else as he fake plays the fake bongo drums while also sporting a grin that makes me laugh so hard.

The tune goes on for a while, until we hear them actually sing, and oh my Groj, that is the most baffling thing I have ever heard.  We have this weird ditty coming out of what looks like a Christmas tree with a face, until it cuts to him terribly lip-synching to it.  Is this this guy’s actual voice?  I have to know.  It can’t be.  This dude looks like he should have a voice with some depth, not derpasaurus.  Weird singing Christmas tree face is gonna haunt my nightmares.

The chorus of this little tune appears to be creepy voice singing “la la la” over and over again to the ditty.  This song is so creepy.  And it cuts to more of the Christmas tree people!  What is the deal with them?!  I need a German in here to explain this shit to me.

We go back to the lyrics, and now it’s the buddy we see after more Christmas tree people.  And holy shit!  That face is creepy as fuck!  Go back to stoner face!  Singing face is the kind of face I expect to see on a sexual predator.  Seriously, I see the face coming at me on a dark night with those wide eyes, I am running the fuck away as fast as my legs will carry me!

As the chorus kicks in again, I will admit that the tune of this song is slightly catchy.  That’s all I will give it.  Finally, the chorus is outroing them, and it zooms out to them doing more singing, except keyboard guy has that smile mixed in as he sings the chorus.  Germans, are you not creeped out by this too?!  Please tell me.  I need to find a German and pick their brains about this madness, because it’s weird as fuck!

The song ends and apparently the studio audience for this madness was impressed.  I wouldn’t be.  I would be running the fuck away.  Can a German please tell me what this song meant and if you found it as creepy as I do?  Asking for a friend.

Until next time, a quote,

“Madness is not a state of mind.  Madness…is a place.  Let’s go there, shall we?” – trailer for Alice: Madness Returns

Peace out,

Maverick

The Death of Comedy Movies

I’ve been rewatching some of my favorite comedy films from yesteryear.  Somewhere along the way, I realized that I am something of a hipster, though unintentionally.  I didn’t mean to be, but that’s just how it happened.  How am I a hipster?  Well, because I look back on what came before much more fondly than I do what is made today.  At least for certain things.  I am not this way about gaming.  In fact, some of my favorite stories in gaming (which is why I play) are made in recent years.

However, when it comes to film, so much of what is made today bores me.  Granted, there are diamonds in the rough, but they are movies that are known by few and seen by even fewer.  And no genre of films has died a harder death in the modern age than comedy.  Even horror doesn’t come close.

Look at some of the greats of comedy film.  Films like Airplane, Police Academy, Blazing Saddles, Animal House.  All of those are great comedies that are remembered as being among the classics of their age.  Not ONE of those films could be made today.  Not a single one.  In this age of progressiveness and “tolerance”, movies that poke fun at ethnic stereotypes, gender stereotypes, and aren’t afraid to be aware of how ugly the world can be and poke fun at it would be cinema suicide, and that depresses me to no end.

Man, I can already hear the outrage if any of those movies were made today.  People screaming that Blazing Saddles is racist (which the hipster corner of the Internet already does) and is nothing but stereotypes.  Even though the film was about acceptance and prejudice being triumphed over by a man who did his best to help a small town that hated him because he’s black.

Or how people would be screaming about Animal House.  I love that movie so much.  John Belushi at his absolute best.  He had no rivals in this point in his life.  This was him at the top of his game.  The scene where he smashes the hippy’s guitar was just perfect.  How I longed to find every hipster asshole with a ukulele in college and smash the fucking thing over their empty fucking head.  But yeah, it was a film about college white people being complete assholes.  Already the “lack of inclusion” chants would begin.

I think the last American comedy that I found truly funny, and showed that if you put him in the right movie Tim Allen can be funny, is Big Trouble.  That movie had physical comedy (a DEAD art in this country), great comedic timing, and a cast that was at the top of their game.  Patrick Warburton running naked through an airport, Tim Allen as the disenfranchised reporter getting back his self-respect and the respect of his son, Dennis Farina as a bored assassin, and even Omar Epps before House M.D. with some pretty great lines.  Critics didn’t like it and it bombed at the box office, but I think it was the last time I really laughed seeing an American comedy.

Overseas, however, we have Edgar Wright making some comedic masterpieces.  Everything he has touched, with the exception of Baby Driver (because it’s a crime movie, rather than a straight-up comedy, but still has its moments), is comedy gold.  The film Scott Pilgrim vs The World is one of the most criminally underrated gems of our times.  Everyone loves Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but that movie is consistently overlooked.  How Wright has been able to avoid controversy is probably because he’s British.  People change their expectations for them, for whatever reason.

It’s so frustrating to see that comedy films have been so brutalized here in the states.  Physical comedy is a dead art.  Comedic timing, things entering and leaving frame in funny ways, and comedic usage of camera or syncing things to music, all dead here in the States.  Depresses me to no end.

But then I realize why good comedy can’t be made in this country anymore, and why the comedies of yesteryear are still so great.  They took risks.  They pushed the limits of what you could get away with back then.  Did you know that Airplane has bouncing naked boobs, and gets away with a PG rating?  NEVER could that happen today!  With how conservative the MPAA and American audiences in general are, that couldn’t happen.  Not only could that not happen, but the racial jokes, the making fun of stereotypes jokes, and the jokes about gender and what role it has to play could never happen.

Is this the fate of comedy movies forever?  No.  We live in this age where Hollywood is afraid to take risks and will do whatever bland, inoffensive nonsense they can get away with, but make no bones about it, that won’t last forever.  Social justice eats itself.  We’ve seen this, time and time again.  It goes after its own just as fast as it will go after everyone else.  And the American public doesn’t have unlimited patience for this.  Eventually they are going to have had enough.  Just like the pendulum of politics swings both ways, so does this.  The far-left crowd won’t like it, but by the time we get there, the public isn’t going to care.  Good riddance, I say.

With how creatively bankrupt modern Hollywood is, eventually there will be a director willing to take a stupid risk and will make a fuck-ton of money, which will have Hollywood finally see that they can do things that are risky and still make money.  It’s just when we get there is up in the air.  Definitely not in the next couple years.  There may have to be a crash, or maybe Hollywood will just stop making movies with an American audience in mind entirely and just make movies for the Chinese.  They see the writing on the wall with that market.  It’s why no big budget movie has a gay person or a ghost in them.  It’s part of China’s rules.

In the meantime, comedy in America is dead, and that makes me sad.  Though, thinking about this post, I was pondering that you don’t see many of the terrible remakes/reboots for comedy films.  There was that AWFUL 2016 version of Ghostbusters, but that’s pretty much been it.  That’s interesting.  Again, probably because the other great comedy masterpieces couldn’t be made today without people losing their shit.  Remaking them would basically be retreading the same ground.  Can’t do that.  Good.  Remakes/reboots need to die too.

Until next time, a quote,

“There are only so many ways to say, ‘that’s not funny.'” – Jay, Red Letter Media

Peace out,

Maverick

Lost Sisters, Old Wounds

Winter saw things decidedly getting quieter in my business.  After being paid a king’s ransom by commoners in Puerto Rico in order to get rid of a cartel boss (those poor saps.  They didn’t seem to realize another one would replace him within days), I had been having a very quiet beginning to December.  As such, my home life was able to resume a very quiet pace.
The cartel job was pretty great.  Most jobs, I have to plan everything down to the smallest detail.  I have to ponder about political fallout, make sure I use weapons that leave no trace, if the goal is to have this be seen as an accident, or to have weapons from an enemy nation if it’s to be seen as a political assassination.  Same deal with poisons.  Use ones that are known to specific regions, so as to confuse investigators.  But cartels are no fuss, no muss.  Sure, it’s a sticky job.  Jungles in Puerto Rico are hot as hell, and humid to no end.  Good way to clean out your pores.  Not even kidding.  Spend some time in a rain forest and your pores will be clean as a whistle.  All the gunk will be sweated out.
Sneaking in through the jungle to their estate.  The guards are so unprofessional.  They all seem to be operating under the assumption whoever is a threat will be coming through the front gate.  They probably aren’t entirely wrong.  Given the rival cartel business, it’s who I would be most worried about.  Face painted and in striped fatigues like the undergrowth.  Thick jungle doesn’t have as much undergrowth as you’d think.  The canopy blocks all light.
Once I got close, climbed the canopy to get a good angle.  Found the perfect one.  Wrapped a rope on the branch.  Since it could support my weight, it would be perfect to rappel down.  Always make sure to have your escape route ready before taking your shot.  The angle was on the guy’s office.  He was in there now, arguing with some of his men.  Looked to be very heated.  Decided to wait.  Had a hunch that it would be better.  I could take him now, but the alarm would be tripped, and I’d rather have a quiet escape.
After a bit, and a green boa constrictor coming to say hello (I like snakes, so that was cool.  Got a pic on my phone), the argument ended and his men left.  The boss was alone in there.
Time to get to work!  Raised my rifle, checked my suppressor, and took aim.  The sunlight was behind me, so I didn’t have to worry about my scope reflecting light.  This was almost too easy.  Guy pulled out a cigar and lit it, sitting back at his desk.  Another day in the life of drug kingpin.  He was bent over his desk, so his head was a small target, but with his back to me, there was lots of room to pick how to kill him.  Wind factor was negligible.  Wind getting through thick jungle is a joke.  It doesn’t happen, period.
Took a deep breath, held it.  The suppressed snap of the gunshot.  I had a specially designed capturing device on the outside of the ejector port to make sure the casing didn’t fall.  I didn’t like to leave a trace.  The rope, I would, but it was the kind you could get at any hardware store.  Not chance of anything being traced back to me.
The bullet zipped through the air, busted through the window.  It blasted right through his backside, ripping it open.  I aimed for where his heart would be.  Hit my mark, too.  He crashed to his desk in an instant, never to rise from it again.  Another person dead, in the endless war of drugs that America keeps going by keeping it illegal.
Sent the text to the person who made the contract, made sure the payment cleared, went home.  Would have sucked if I would have had to make violent retribution on some poor people because they didn’t pay, but they knew the cost of doing business with my company.  Most who make that leap do.  Stories of clients who jewed me on my payments suddenly having misfortunes of their own were whispered among those who wanted to do business with us.

Now, as December began, I was with Emily helping to put up my fake Christmas tree.  I normally wouldn’t have bothered, but she was so adamant about doing so.  Apparently she is all about this holiday.  For me it’s just memories I’m trying to escape, but her optimism was rather infectious.  I couldn’t help but find myself just rolling with it.  If nothing else, it was something to pass the time.  There’s only so long I can stare out at the ocean and think about whether I should do some PT or just take a nap.  Naps are the greatest thing in the world.  So weird how I hated them as a kid, but as an adult I can just do that.  The perks of age.
“You don’t have a star for the top of your tree?”
I shrugged.  “You’re lucky I have lights and ornaments.  Hell, that I have a tree at all.”
She rolled her eyes.  “Well, we are so getting one!  One of those shiny ones with the lights!  Those are pretty.”
I shook my head.  “Sure thing, kiddo.”
“Trust me, it’ll be awesome!  Well, at least you have lights.  And garland!  It’s in pretty blue!  Why’d you pick blue?”
Look down for a moment.  “It’s my favorite color.”
“That makes sense.”  As she was getting out stuff from the box, she looked up.  “Was that the color of the engagement ring?”
Perceptive little one.  “Yeah.  It was a sapphire.”
Her eyes widened.  “A real sapphire?!”
“Aye.  A pretty penny, but worth every cent.”
“Wow.  So, does that mean you were the one who proposed?”
I nodded.  “Aye.”
There was this knowing smile on her face.  “How did that go?”
“As well as I could have hoped…”

It had finally arrived.  I knew it would fit.  Had found out her ring size and made sure the jeweler had gotten it right.  Looking at the ring, it was so incredible.  A sapphire ring, in white gold, with leaf designs around it that had smaller white stones in it.  The stone wasn’t huge, but that was fine.  I was content to just have it be what it was.  Everything inside me told me the time was right.  We’d been living together for a year.  Bought our first house.  My sisters were wondering why she or I hadn’t popped the question by now.  It was just so different.  Looked up all the things about how to propose.
For the first time in forever, my hands were shaking.  I was going to do it this morning, at breakfast.  We both had the weekend off.  Drill weekend for her was last week, so we had all the time in the world.  She talked about us going out to Seward for a couple days, as Monday was a federal holiday.  Told her that sounded awesome.  If this went well, it really would.  Of course, she’d probably nuke the plans after people get told and everyone has to see her.
Getting posted at JBER had been good for her, because her parents and big sister live up here.  For me, it made little difference.  The STARS teams are told to go about their lives until we get a call about a mission.  At least when our team is active, which Alpha was right now.  Things had been quiet.
Told her I’d make us some breakfast.  Waffles sounded nice.  With maple syrup.  None of that weird American syrup that has the consistency of snot.  I don’t get who can like that stuff.  It tastes like sugar.  Raw sugar.  As I made them, I would sometimes put my hand in my Navy hoodie and play with the box the ring came in.  I would do it as we were eating.  That would work, right?
Jean looked up at me, seeing my expression.
“Everything alright, love?”
“Yeah.  Just got some stuff on my mind.”
“Wanna tell me about it?”
“I will, when breakfast is ready.”
Her little smile as she nodded.  I could look at that forever.  “Okay.”

After I got the waffles on a plate, I grabbed the cinnamon butter I made (found a knock-off recipe of the kind that Texas Roadhouse makes.  That shit is delicious!) and syrup, bringing it to the table.
“Oh, thank God.  I’m starving!  That smells so good!”
We dished up and dug in.  Girl was like the wolf.  I was just happy to be here, in this moment.  Stomach going fucking crazy.  Just do it!  Do it now!
“Hey, J?”
“Hm?” she answered distantly, still eating.
Hands shaking uncontrollably.  “So, this is good, right?  Where we are right now?”
She gave me a look.  “Yeah.  Why do you ask?”
Reached into my pocket.  “Well, I was kinda thinking about something.  Been thinking about it for a while now.”
She stopped eating.
“Any chance that you’d like to do this forever?  By being my wife?”
My hands were so out of control I dropped the box on the table.
“Shit!”
Her own hands shook as she grabbed it, slowly opening it.  Eyes were getting misty fast.  When she saw the ring, her hand went over her mouth.
“Oh my god, Quinn.  It’s beautiful.”
“Thanks.  But, I mean…will you marry me?”
Tears were going down her face as she looked over at me.
“Of course I will!  Oh Quinn…”  She was immediately in my arms, holding me, then kissing me.  Both of us started crying and laughing.  It was such a confused, joyful emotion.  I’d never experienced it before in my life.  Still kinda felt like throwing up, but right now I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Emily had those big doe eyes that women get when they hear stories like this.
“That is so sweet!”
I snorted.  “I was such a nervous wreck for days leading up to that.  Good thing there wasn’t a mission.  I would have been fucked.”
“Screw that.  So, who wore the gown?”
I gave her a look.  “And what makes you think that both of us weren’t in uniform?”
That hard look that only a woman can give.  “One of you did.  I don’t buy for a second that neither of you did.  Not one!”
Letting out a sigh.  “Yeah, she did.  I mean, with how fast her mother was up our ass to plan this out and to make sure her daughter had a beautiful dress, it couldn’t be any other way.”
“What about you?”
“Oh, you won’t catch me DEAD in a dress.  Not today or ever!  Even as a little kid, I hated them.  Made mom mad when I would be wearing jeans and a t-shirt to Mass on Sunday.”
“So you were in uniform?”
“That’s a big affirmative.”
“Did you get one of those cool officer uniforms?”
“Aye.  By that point I was a CW03, so yeah, I got to be looking fly as fuck in a ceremonial dress uniform.”
“Cool.  You have a picture?”
“How did I know you were going to ask.  Yeah, wait one.”  I got up and headed into my bedroom.  The picture was on the dresser.  Looking at it, I smiled.  Felt good to have these muscles working again.
Walking back in, I handed it to her.  There was me in uniform, full dress blue, as it was autumn.  To my left were four of my sisters.  Thinking back to how angry the process of picking them had been, since I knew the others would be pissed.  Right next to me was Rodriguez.  She was my closest hermana, and Best Woman.  Then there was Bethke.  The runt of the litter, I was always a big sister to her.  Then there was Crow, our Blackfoot tribe member.  A woman of few words, but when she spoke you knew she meant it.  Finally, there was Beacham.  Kind of the Mother Hen of our group, I knew I’d have to have her with me as my groomswomen.
“Oh my god.  Her dress is beautiful!” Emily whispered.
“Aye.  It belonged to her mother.  They had some tailoring done to it, and then it became hers.”
It wasn’t extravagant.  White and simple.
“Who’s next to her?”
“Her Maid of Honor, Karen.  That’s her big sis.  Then there was Petty Officer Montgomery.  Those two were close friends on base.  Her friends Nicole and Samantha.”
“I didn’t know she had a sister.  She’s pretty too.”
A little chuckle.  “Oh yeah.  Jean always went on about how her sister was prettier than her.  Not in this jealous sorta way, but always super serious.  She genuinely believed it.  Made me laugh every time.”  Warm memories.

I laughed.  “You keep saying it, but that doesn’t make it true!”
Her indignant face was so adorable.  “But it’s true!  She has always been prettier than me.  Look at this picture of us when we were babies!  Tell me I’m wrong!”
Laughed harder at this.  “You are so ridiculous.”  Leaned in close and kissed her.  “I love that about you.”
Gave me the mean face, but kissed me back.  “You’re just saying that ’cause you’re biased.”
“Well, I mean, if I thought she was gay too, maybe I’d have to reconsider…”  Had that faux-whimsical look on my face.
“Oh that does it!”  And we started wrestling again.  These little moments were great.

Kiddo looked right at me.  “Were you tight with her family?”
The gripping feeling was back, holding tight and not letting go this time.
“That’s one of those things for another day, kiddo.”
She frowned, but nodded.  “Okay.  Promise?”
“Yeah, I promise.”
Looking at me in uniform, she asked who was next to me.  I told her their names and who they were to me.  Crow was always someone I felt I could talk to.  She was the one who helped me pick out the ring.  So few words, but that woman was dead serious, and I always felt like she could balance out my more cocky moments.  When she said something was a bad idea, we listened.  Said she could hear voices in the wind telling her when a course of action was a bad idea.  Given how her gut instinct was always on the money, I never doubted.
“You all look so cool.  I think I would be in uniform too if I was getting married.”
“What if he wants you in the dress?”
“He’ll know that I’m gonna be rocking it in uniform.  He has a problem with it, Navy forever, biotch!”
Both of us laughed.
There was a knock at the door.  We both looked up.
“Hm, wonder who that could be.  Be right back.”
Kiddo got back to the tree as I left.  Guess Christmas was back in the driver’s seat again of today’s interaction.
When I got to the door, I opened it and went pale.
“Bethke!”  Her ginger face hadn’t changed.  Still that same youthful appearance.
In a flash, she took a swing at me.  Training immediately kicked in.  I stepped back, taking proper stance.  CQC with someone who knows what they’re doing.  This could get ugly.  But then I remembered, we had done this before.

Full-contact sparring.  Now this is what we’re talking about!  I loved that they just let us do this.  It’s all highly supervised, of course.  Lt would never let us risk an injury that would jeopardize the mission, but we were allowed to fight it out in a full-contact ring.  Given how tight we get run, Command knew that on a ship, it was good to give space to let us work out stress.  Not to mention, this was a great way to work out grudges amicably.  Something about fucking someone up helped you come to terms with whatever their transgression was.
Which was where Bethke and myself found ourselves now.  Two gingers on a team meant that there was going to be some dust that got kicked up.  We’re too hot-headed for there not to be.  And the runt had been grinding my gears for a while now.  She had youthful anger, but I had stamina.  My shit-kicking years were behind me after I joined the Navy.  She was still working shit out.
I kept my distance, just countering her blows.  Kiddo was trying to use aggressive tactics to overwhelm me.  For a lesser combatant, that would be smart, but I know what I’m doing.  She’d wear herself out quick.  Blocking, deflecting, getting in a couple hits when she left obvious openings.  Soon, she left a big one, and I took it.  Grabbed her arm and used it as leverage to get behind her.  Threw her to the mat and held her there.  Judge called it.  Chief Warrant Officer Beryl was cheering as I stood up.  Since when is she on my side?  Weird.
I helped Bethke up, and we shook hands.  She was breathing hard, but clearly had worked some shit out of her system.  Smiled at me.
“Damn, Pierce, I thought I had you there for a second.”
“Not a day will go by that you’re ever gonna have a leg up on me, Bethke.”
She gave me that rueful look, but it was in good fun.  Bonding between sisters, what better way than kicking each other’s ass?

Our fight took us through the entry way into the kitchen.  Bethke was far more reserved.  She learned from our last bout.  Emily stood up, looking scared.  Had to keep this in the kitchen.  Wasn’t going to risk getting her involved in this.
“Why are you here, Bethke?”
“Lt told us he found you!  Didn’t take me long to track you down when he told us what you said to him.  You’re gonna pay for ditching us!”
“I’m not apologizing for what happened.  I know the choice I made.”
“Fuck you!”  Now she was on me.  This kind of fight was easier.  A fury of trained attacks, trying to get inside my defense.  Reach was what I had on her, since I was a fair bit taller.  If she could get close, it wasn’t great.  Anyone who’s ever seen two people who know how to fight go at it, you can testify that it is impressive to watch.  Most fights are short, since people have limited energy and hitting someone hurts.  But we knew how to be smart, deflect blows carefully and not rely on our fists.
“I’m not the girl you fought last time!  I’ve grown since then!”
Blocking her and pushing her back, I nodded.  “I believe it, Bethke.”
“I don’t need your approval anymore!”
Now the blows were coming really fast.  She knew what the gambit was, and now was going all-or-nothing.  It was hard to keep her back.  I was being pushed out of the kitchen, and this was not good.
“Stop-it!” Emily screamed.  “Stop trying to hurt Quinn!”
Bethke’s attention was diverted for just one second, and that was all I needed.  I locked my leg around hers, bringing her down.  In a flash, I was on her.  Grabbed her arm and twisted it around her back, burying my knee in to hold her down.
“Are you done?!”
“Fuck you, Pierce!  Go to Hell!”
“I ain’t letting you up until I know you’re gonna chill.  So are you fucking done?!”
She struggled for a minute, trying to break free, but it was clear she was pinned.  Tears started flowing down her face, with her roaring like a wild animal.  After another minute, she lay still and cried into the floor.  It was a sad cry, with genuine pain mixed with shame for having to be seen like this by someone she was trying to hate.  Someone she used to respect.
“I’m gonna let you up now.” I said with the authority of a superior officer.  I might not be anymore, but it was a tone I still could do.
Rising, Bethke sat up and stayed there on the floor.
I looked over at Emily.
“Go home, kiddo.  We’ll pick this up later.”
“I’m not leaving you alone with this crazy bitch!”
Breathing hard, I looked at her.  “It’ll be okay.  Trust me.  Go on home.  I’ll call you later.”
She gave Bethke an ugly look, then headed for the door.  Shutting it behind her, the house was strangely still, save for the Johnny Mathis Christmas music in the background.  Walking into the kitchen, I grabbed a towel, wetting it a bit.  She nailed me good one and it broke skin on my face.  Wiping the blood off, I tossed it to her.
“Here.”
Catching it, she wiped her face.  My former little STARS sister stood up, walking over to the counter where there were stools and having a seat.
“You okay?” I asked.
She shook her head.  “No.”
Nodding, I went into the fridge.  Pulled out a bottle of Kahlua, vodka, and cream.  A White Russian sounded pretty good right about now.  Pouring the drinks, I slid one over to her, being careful not to get too close.  I had just given her a potential weapon.  She look at it, then took a drink.
“Still can make a good drink, I see.”
“Yeah.”
We awkwardly sat there, drinking and looking down.
“Why did you come here, B?” I asked finally.  “Was it just to pick a fight?”
She shook her head.  “No.  I wanted answers.  Figured if I kicked your ass, you’d be more likely to give them to me.”
I sighed, sitting down on the counter.  “You didn’t have to fight me to get answers, Bethke.  I would have told you what you wanted to know.”
A saddened grin.  “Okay, maybe I partially came here just to fight.  You had it coming.”
Taking another drink.  “Well, I can’t argue with that.”
Finishing it, my former sister looked at me directly.  Her eyes all puffy from crying, with dirt on her face from the floor.
“Why did you leave us, Pierce?”
Thought for a moment, then finished off my drink.  “Because I couldn’t get you all involved in what I was planning to do.  I knew that it was almost certain that I would go down in flames for this. I couldn’t do that to you and the rest of Alpha Team.”
“We would have gone into Hell for you!  After when they did to J, we all wanted revenge.”
“I know that!  Don’t think for a second that I didn’t.  But I wasn’t going to let you all have to bear that weight for me.  This was my burden, and I was going to have to pay for it.”
“But you didn’t!  That’s what pissed us off.  You got off scot-free.”
Shaking my head.  “I got lucky, Bethke.  Damn lucky.  The person who gave me the intel I needed was willing to make a deal.  So I did.  I was prepared for this to end with me being tarred and feathered at court-martial.  Dishonorably discharged and being spit on by the Navy forever.  Dumb, stupid chance saved me.”
Her eyes were wide.  “Who gave you your intel?!”
“I can’t tell you that.  I guarantee that everything that happened with me and them is locked away in a black ops file that is redacted to beat the dog in some secured vault of IS.  I’d be putting you at risk by telling you.”
“It goes that high?!”
“Aye, it does.  I knew who would have the intel I needed and I went to get it.  Part of me figured I would be killed getting that far.  Was the hardest mission I’ve ever done.  Things just played out the way they did.”
The fire in her eyes had faded, now replaced by trying to comprehend what she was told.
“Why didn’t you come back to tell us that?  Everyone was so angry when we heard the news about your court martial.  If you had told us…”
“If I had gone back in there after that, there would be a whole bunch of other women trying to kick my ass.  And I couldn’t take all of you.  You can’t know how hard it was to think about my sisters hating me.  But that was the price I paid for going as far as I did.”
Standing up, brushing herself off, she set down her glass.  She started walking toward me.  I tensed up, but she stopped there and held out her arms.  Set down my drink as well, letting her approach.  We hugged gently.  Just like my little sister all over again, with her burying her face in my chest.
“I’m sorry, Bethke.  I’m so sorry.”
We held each other for a while.  Finally, she stepped back.
I looked at her.  “Can you tell the others?  Let them know why I did it?”
She shook her head.  “No.  You can.  They need to hear it from you.”
Looking down again.  “I…I don’t think I can face them.”
“Let me make the call!  Alpha Team isn’t active right now.  They would come if you called.  Let me gather them, and you can tell them what really happened.”
My hands were shaking again.  I nodded.  “Alright.  Make the call.  Tell me when they can gather, and I’ll go.”
“Aye-aye!”  The youthful smile was back.  That look she had when she made big sister happy.
I walked her to the door.  Offered to make dinner for her, but she wasn’t interested.  Needed time to process everything.  I got that.  Gave her my number to call after she had gotten the others together.  She said that it would take some time to get everyone in the same place, as they could be doing who knows what, and Pennyfeather was on her honeymoon with that guy she had just started dating before I left.  Guess they are going strong all these years later.
As she was walking out, she turned around.  “I’m…sorry, for hitting you.”
I smiled at her.  “Don’t be.  Like you said, I had it coming.”
That moment had us standing there, just looking at each other, and the bonds we made in combat spoke.  We understood.  Time to call Emily and tell her things were okay.

Until next time, a quote,

“From stranger, to  battle buddy, to family.” – Anonymous

Peace out,

Maverick

A Thanksgiving to Live For

I was lying in bed the day that I got the call for this particular mission.  It was unlike anything I had gotten before, and to be completely honest, I wasn’t prepared for what came next.  The amount of variables were absolutely out of control.  Nobody had informed me of what could potentially happen.  At no point will I go into something blind.  That is not a negotiable issue.  Not contract that I receive will not be vetted rigidly, to make sure there aren’t any irregularities that warrant termination or revision.  That’s part of the negotiation process.
However, when the person giving you the contract is your newfound friend and they just woke you up, that’s another story altogether.  When I heard my phone buzzing, I was immediately alert.  Nobody calls this early.  Period.  What could this be?  What could it be about?!  If it wasn’t a text, then it was legitimately serious.  Better pick up.
“Hello…?” I answered, unable to hide being a little groggy.  Was still coming back from jet-lag.  Worst part about contracts that take you halfway across the world.
“…Hey Quinn.”
What?  “Emily?  What’s going on?  Has something happened?”
“No, nothing like that.  My dad and I were just wondering – would you like to come to Thanksgiving?  It’s not a huge affair.  We always have Betty and her family over.  It’s just them here, and since we have such a big house, Dad likes to have them here to eat good food with us.  She always says it’s just so we can get her to cook, but it’s always fun.  Our family never comes.  They live in New York, and Daddy isn’t conservative enough for them, so they don’t want to make the trip.  He does offer, but whatever.”
Kid was drawing this out.  Sounded awkward.  I could tell why.  We had had the preliminary to this conversation a few days ago.

It was a cooler that usual evening coming out of the locker room at the pool.  Emily’s regiment was going well.  She’d gone from flopping around and was actually getting form now.  Her progress had impressed me.  I figured that she would abandon her mission to train with me shortly after finding out the demands.  Part of why I started with swimming was because of her injury, but it took.  Girl’s a fucking fish.  I remembered how miserable she was in a one-piece suit because it wasn’t flattering at all, but now I could see her rocking it.  Kid earned that.
Was kinda nice to be back in the pool myself.  My regiment hadn’t involved this in ages, but I could feel some of the weaker muscles I hadn’t been as studiously maintaining being worked here.  Doing this at the school pool that was open to the public in the evenings was also bringing back memories of my time in the swim team.  So long ago.
In the car on the way back, I could tell that Emily wanted to ask me something, but she was doing the fidgeting thing where she would just fiddle with something aimlessly.  It was slightly annoying.
“What’s up, kiddo?”
“Thanksgiving’s coming up.  Got me to thinking – you’re not gonna be in that house all alone, are you?”
I shrugged.  “Yeah.  Not much for the holiday, if we’re being perfectly honest.  What do I have to be thankful for this year?  Nothing.  So it’s just another day of the week for me.  But hopefully you don’t go too nuts with your plans.  Remember, you’ll have to work off that food when we hit the pool next.”
She stuck out her tongue at me and rolled her eyes.  Thanksgiving.  Hadn’t even thought about it, aside from my “contractors” all having the day off and doing their own stuff.  A mission to leave for in the morning.  None of it mattered to me.

“I appreciate the offer, kiddo, but no.”
“Come on, Quinn!  You’re our new family hero, and I don’t like thinking about you just being there by yourself all the time when there’s a perfectly good reason for you not to be.  Besides, Betty’s cooking is the best.  And Dad is actually getting good at helping.  It’s loads of fun to watch him try and do normal shit.  Will you come?  Please?  For me?”
Letting out a sigh.  Then something hit me – her friends were all busy.  This I knew.  We’d talked about her small social network.  A guy friend who she thought was kinda in to her, and she wasn’t totally against the idea of seeing where that could go.  Then there was an equally shy bookworm with big glasses who went out of her way to seem unattractive to anyone.  Just didn’t want to deal with any of it.  Was kind of jealous.  Not having the itch must be nice.  Worst part about pining for my dead wife, made me feel like a piece of shit every time I rubbed one because it felt like cheapening what she meant to me.  Didn’t like to think of her as someone who I made into a fantasy.
So was she inviting me to get company that she could talk with too?  Hm, a reasonable conclusion.  But then it hit me – what if she’s genuine?  What if she genuinely wants to help me?  Thought back to that night when I told her about the STARS and my relationship with my sisters there.  Was this an attempt to look after me?  It was a warm feeling.  Something nice to think about.  I did care about her, and was doing my part to look after her.
“Alright, I’ll be there.”
“Yay!  That’s great.  Oh, and don’t worry about bringing anything.  Betty goes all out.  You’ll love it.”
I nodded, smiling as much as I could bring myself to.  “Sounds like a plan.  When should I report?”
“We usually have dinner at 2 or 3.  Oh, sorry, around 1400.”
“Alright, see you then!”
Lying back down and staring at the ceiling, I felt a little bit warmer inside than I had earlier.  Over the last few months that Emily and I had known one-another, I felt something nibbling at me.  This little feeling that I couldn’t quite explain.  A soft warmth that I didn’t want to fight.  A couple years of just living the way I did, not attaching myself to anything or anyone.  Keep things simple, never allow yourself to get tied down.  Always have to be prepared to drop everything and disappear.  But now I was legit, with a company to do my business through.  Could write things off as deductible expenses on my taxes.  Had a tax person who was able to work with my company’s situation flawlessly.
Had I reached a point in my life where things could be comfortable?  Was I no longer having to worry about the worst?  Was all I had to do about surviving?  These were hard questions.  Ones that I didn’t like to think about for especially long, but which were coming at me more and more over the last few months, now that I had these new people in my life that made me feel like I could start over.  The life I lead wasn’t an anchor drowning me in Davy Jones’ Locker.  Was I allowed to live again?  Looking at the picture of Jean, tears started running down my life.  If I lived, did that mean leaving her behind?  Looked away, out to the ocean.  My room has this great double-door that opens onto a patio overlooking the cliff and the ocean beyond.
That ocean called to me, saying to leave all the time.  But now, there was another voice.  One saying that this was where I belonged, and that was alright.  Who am I?

I texted Emily later and asked if I had to dress up for this.  She told me no, that this was supposed to be a chill thing with her and her housekeeper’s family.  Decided I would take her at her word, putting on some slacks and my Navy hoodie.  That thing and I had done so much traveling, and it was still my ultimate comfort top.  Felt so cozy in it.  So familiar.  Plus, it felt like I was keeping Jean close to me in it.
Raining outside, naturally, so I had my umbrella.  It was hard enough to warrant that.  No reason to drive.  They were just a decent walk down the way.  Got to her door and knocked.
It opened with Emily standing there in a jersey and jeans.
“You’re here!  Hey.”  Kiddo gave me a hug.  I hugged her back.  Girl was trying to be all serious for my Navy training, but she really was the sweetest person.  She might not have the stuff for being military.  It kicks the sweet out of you pretty quick.  You harden up.  But then, it was something she’d have to experience for herself.  You find out what you’re made of in boot camp.
“Hey, kiddo.”
“Come on in.  Dinner’s close to being ready.  Betty really went all-out this year, since she knew we’d have a guest.  Southern hospitality and all.”
Ain’t that the truth.  Coming in, I saw her and another black woman with her.  Looked to be about the same age.  They were bickering about stuff in a way that could only mean they’re family.  Sisters?  Made sense, given the good-nature of it.
When she saw me, she immediately grinned.  “Hey there, Ms. Quinn.”  Her Georgia accent was all over this.  As such, I knew the response.
“Howdy, Ms. Betty.”
“Glad to see ya.  This is my sister.  She came up for the holidays.”
Shook hands.  “Nice to meet you.”
“Come on in, honey.  Sit yaself down and enjoy some good eatings.  Got some crab cakes to munch on.  Turkey will be done soon.  Trust me, will be worth the wait.”
Didn’t doubt that for a second.  The smell of it was absolutely overpowering.  This wonderful mix of Cajun spices.  My mouth was already watering.  So much indulgence today will be, but whatever.  You only live once.  And unlike your average American, I actually will be working it off.  I remembered being on deployment, always having to do PT, we had appetites like hyenas.  Nobody knew where we put it, but yeah.
I grabbed one and oh yeah, it was good stuff.  I was in great hands today.  Heading into the living room, I saw John sitting in his chair, talking with Betty’s husband.  I had heard about him, but never met.  On TV was the dog show that comes on after the parade.  The two seemed to be talking about college basketball.  A topic for which I knew absolutely nothing.  Emily was watching the dog show, bidding me to sit down next to her.
As I approached, John looked up and smiled.  “Ah, you’re here!  I’m glad you came.  Quinn, this is Phillip.”
The man looked over.  A whitening beard with age, he was a chubby fellow.  My quick analysis showed he was a man who worked with his hands.  Calluses that were older than me, but age was catching up with him.  Into his early 50’s, I could tell.  I knew Betty was coming up on 50.
“Hey there!” he said in an accent that was much more Midwest.
“Hi.  Nice to meet you.”
Dude had a nice, firm handshake.  “I’ve heard Betty talk all about you.  Heard what you did for our little Emily.  I’m glad you were there.  I’d hate to think what would have happened if you hadn’t shown up.”
A pit in my stomach.  “Aye, same.  It was a rough day for her.”
“Well, all’s well that ends well.  Good Lord sent an angel to look out for her that day.”
I nodded.  It was just chance, but he believes as he does and I am not looking to step on anyone’s toes.
Sitting down, Emily snuggled up to me.  Sweet kid.
“So, I see your Navy sweater.  You served?”
“Aye.  For eight years.”
“Well, thanks for your service.  My boys are currently out.  Oldest is on deployment for the Air Force, and my youngest just got out of boot for the Marines.”
Decided to see if I could jab a little.  “Well, not everyone can be in the cool part of the military.”
The man chuckled.  “Still got that Navy pride, eh?”
“Hooyah!”
“Well, don’t hold it against them.  Joshua wanted to be a pilot, and now he’s flying some kinda big plane.  Can’t say too much about it.  Apparently it’s all hush-hush.”
An AWACS?  A logical assumption.  Interesting.
“But he’s happy, and that’s what matters.  And safe too.  Worry sick about my youngest.  Being in the Marines, he’s probably gonna get mixed up in the Middle East.”
John nodded.  “Yeah, it’s scary stuff.  Especially now, all the rumors of war with Iran.”
“I hear that.  Pray every night that when he gets out in the field, the Lord will keep him safe.”
“Definitely.”
“So what about you, Quinn?  What did they have you doing in the Navy?”
Emily looked up at me.  I just gave her a little shrug.  This wouldn’t be a hard deflection.
“I was on deployment with IS.  Lots of reconnaissance, intel gathering, on the ground stuff.  Wasn’t super exciting, but I got to see lots of places.”
“I bet.  My brother was serving in the Gulf War, and he told me all about what he saw in the Middle East.  I’d love to see some other places, but I figure that’s a dangerous way to do it.”
He had no idea.  “Yeah, it is.”
“Anyway, thanks for your service, Quinn.  Why’d you leave?”
A story I could never tell him.
“Things kinda ran their course with the military, and I was ready to be done.  So yeah.”
He kinda picked up that I was holding back, but didn’t pursue it.

It was nice to have people that I could talk to.  John and Phillip went back to talking about their sports stuff, while Emily and I were watching the dog show.  So many hairy rats.  The only kinds of dogs that I think are respectable are big dogs.  The kind that you can respect.  Little yappy bastards have no place in the life of decent people.  And I will never understand why people think that pugs are cute.  Their weird, creepy eyeballs are the scariest thing in the world to me.  Not to mention that they can barely breathe because of the genetic mutations we forced on them.  Poor mutts.
Then we get into the sporting dogs, and my interest grew.  Sporting dogs, hound dogs, non-sporting dogs, and working dogs.  Now these are respectable animals!  Emily could tell I perked up when I saw the dalmatian.  It’s so cute!  I love those.  If it wasn’t for the fact that there are a TON of health problems associated with them, I would have wanted to get one.  Pure-bred dogs are more trouble than they’re worth.  Better to have a good mutt.  Less chance of problems.  My family had two pure-bred labs, and neither of them lived past the age of 10.  It was sad for me, as a kid.
“Did Jean ever want a dog?” Emily asked.
“Oh yeah, she loved dogs.  Every time we saw a dog going anywhere, she would make a big deal about it.  One place we didn’t click.  I’m a cat person.”
“Did she ever bring up buying a dog?”
“Oh yeah…”

“Come on!  Beagles are so cute!”
I rolled my eyes.  “For the last time, no!  Those things are yappy and annoying.  That bark of theirs drives me up the wall.”
She sat back and pouted.
I looked over and rolled my eyes.  “Are we fighting right now?”
Looking away.  “No.”
I wiggled in closer.  “I think we are.”
“We are not!”
“It really looks like we are.”
She gave me a faux-angry look.  “You’ll know when we’re fighting.”
I moved up next to her face.  “You can’t stay mad at me.”
She squirmed against me.  “Yes I can.  Just watch me!”
Gently kissing her neck.  “You’re gonna give in.  Just accept it now.”
“Never!  I can totally stay mad at you.”  Her voice was cracking.  I had broken through.  We kissed for a bit, settling down into the couch.
“We’ll get a dog, eventually.  But not while you’re still active duty.  I don’t wanna leave it home alone all the time.  Between when you and I are deployed, it would be without it’s mamas a lot.”
That got her mellowed out.  “I know.  It’s just another year until my enlistment is up.  I’ll go reservist and get a billet that’ll let me stay home more.”
“Good.  Because if you’re getting a dog, I want a cat.”
She rolled her eyes.  “Cat people.”
“Dog people.”  That got us wrestling again.  It was a good night.

Betty and her sister Annie came in and sat with us.  Like Phillip, they had questions about my time in the Navy. I was good at avoiding sensitive subjects.  Such nice people.  It was great to be out of the house and just visiting with people.  It happened so rarely.
As was inevitable to happen, somebody finally asked, “So Quinn, why aren’t you at your family’s for Thanksgiving?”
This question was inevitable, and yet it still bothered me.  “Well…my family wouldn’t want me there.  They disowned me a long time ago.”
Emily looked down.  She still hadn’t asked about that when I told her to leave it alone.  Looked like now I couldn’t escape.
“That’s awful,” Betty said, finally.  “Well, you got a family here today, and that’s what matters.”
It was getting easier to look more positive.  “Your lips to God’s ears, Ms. Betty.”
There was a knock at the door, and everyone looked up.
“Who could that be?” John said.  Not looking genuinely concerned, more surprised.  He got up and went to the door.
When it opened, standing there was woman with long, flowing hair that was dyed blonde, but the roots were so dark brown that it almost looked black.  She had a big smile on her face.
“Uncle John!”
“Ashley!  What brings you here?!  You should have told me you were coming.  I would have gotten the guest room ready.”
Removing her big coat, a sign she comes form warmer climates, she came in.  This woman was all smiles.  Late in her 20’s, clearly.  Maybe early 30’s, but likely nipping at the heels of that.  She was gorgeous.  Gently tanned skin, a little bit of chub in her stomach to show that she does hit the gym regularly but still like a good burger.  And that ass.  My stomach suddenly bit at me.  I was checking her out.  Suddenly felt so guilty that it was crushing.  I couldn’t do that to Jean.
“I want it to be a surprise!  I couldn’t deal with Uncle Dick’s nonsense anymore.  If I have to hear about how we need to just blow up the Middle East one more time, I was gonna lose it.  Besides, Ms. Betty’s cooking is the best, and I won’t miss a chance to have it with my favorite uncle.”
Ms. Betty gave her a look.  “Flattery will get you nowhere, young lady.”
“Yes ma’am!”
This felt like a real family.  A happy family.  And I was here, a part of this.  The warmth inside was spreading.  My stomach was knotting, but it was still there.  Such a weird juxtaposition of good and bad feelings.
“Well, make yourself comfortable, Ash.  I’ll get the guest room set up later.  Oh, and this is Quinn.  The one I was telling you about.”
She came over and held out her hand.  “Feels like I already know you.  Emily won’t stop talking about how cool you are.”
I shook it, shrugging.  “Well, I’m just glad I was in the right place at the right time.”
We held that grip for a bit.  The look in her eyes.  It was this sassy kinda look.  Was she sizing me up the way I was her?  Biting stomach feeling.  Such a beautiful woman.  Had this kind of bubbly personality, but could tell that without coffee in the morning she was not functioning.  Definitely could respect that.
“Me too.”
Emily could see the reaction between us, even if the rest were oblivious.  I could almost see her smiling.

Dinner was almost done, and the dog show was concluded.  I sat in the kitchen, watching the two southern black women work.  Talked with them about some of my favorite cooking escapades.  Was nice to have some commonality.  Emily sat with me, and Ashley was on the other side of the counter.  It had a nice seating arrangement.  This kitchen was much larger than mine, more beautiful.  All this talk, I really did feel like I had known these people all my life.  Ashley was a caseworker at child support in her home state.  Everybody had some thoughts on that, but not me.  Not something I had to worry about.  At least not anymore.  The things that could have been.
Then everything was ready, we all helped set the table, and then gathered around.  The turkey looked incredible.  There was no doubt in my mind that it was going to be moist and perfectly delicious.  Twice-baked potatoes instead of mashed ones.  Crescent rolls fresh from the oven.  Sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top.  Green beans, minus the casserole.  Fine by me.  Not a huge fan of that stuff anyway.  Fresh cranberry sauce, not that canned garbage.  And some salad, of course.
As we sat down, Betty told everyone to take hands.  A Georgia woman, naturally there was a table grace.  Emily was next to me, and John on the other side.  We all grabbed hands.
“Lord, we come to you today to give thanks for the meal we’re about to receive, and for all the blessings we had this year.  And for our new friend Quinn, who you sent to save our dear little Emily’s life.  Thank you for letting her come here and be with all of us.  May you watch over us in the year to come.”
“Amen,” I whispered.  As everyone looked up, I suddenly noticed there was a tear going down my face.  Wiping it away, I suddenly looked really awkward.  Ms. Betty then held out her hand.
“Let me load you up on some turkey, Ms. Quinn.”
Everyone started laughing.  Nice way to break the tension.  Then something happened.  I caught myself laughing along with them!  I was smiling!
Emily clapped a hand over her mouth.  “Oh my god!  You’re smiling!”
John nodded.  “I can’t think of a time when I’ve seen that.”
Betty just nodded.  “That’s what family does.  We bring out the best in each other.”
“Amen to that,” Annie replied.

Dinner was incredible.  Emily wasn’t kidding in the caliber of food that Betty was making.  Everyone fawned and gushed, but for me it was all about being in this place, this moment, with these people.  After it was done, John and Phillip went to the living room to watch the game.  Oklahoma State v Memphis, if I heard right.  Whatever.
I helped the ladies clean up, while we all talked about food and life and the things that they were bothered by.  As the evening was winding down, we watched movies.  Betty and hers went home.  I got a hug goodbye from the ladies, and a firm handshake from Phillip.  We decided to watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.  A classic Thanksgiving movie, after all.
Not long into it, Emily and John fell asleep.  It was just Ashley and I, with some clear tension in the room.
“So, Em tells me that you’re on my side of the fence.”
Taking a drink of some cider, I snorted a bit.
“Well, you don’t waste any time.”
She gave me a wink.  “Who knows when I’ll see you again.  Gotta strike while the iron’s hot, right?”
Butterflies, the kind I knew.  Pit in the stomach.  Fighting emotions.  She’s sexy.  She’s interested.
“I suppose.”
“So, you have a girlfriend?”
Shaking hands.  Hadn’t had these for years.
“No.  Not for a long time.”
Moving a little closer.
“Wanna go and do something sometime?  I’m in town for a week or so.  Got lots of time…”
Heartbeat quickening.  This all felt so wrong, but I didn’t want it to.
“I…I can’t.”  Tears biting at me.
She caught my expression and backed off.  “I’m sorry.”
“No.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  I just…can’t do that right now.  I’m not ready.”
Nodding a little, she smiled at me.  “Okay.  Well, you’re pretty cool, so if you’re ever interested, hit me up.  I’d love to get coffee or something.”
I looked over at her and smiled.  “Alright.  Thanks.”
A potential new avenue for my life was opening up, but old wounds never really closed.  Maybe it was time to do something about that?  I didn’t know.  But now I could feel the potential there.  Not just to be alive, but to live.  Today was the first day in forever that I felt like that.  Jean, is it wrong to want this?  I wish she was here, to tell me the answer to that.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Until next time, a quote,

“Do you see that, Odie?  Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  The day when people celebrate food by eating as much of it as possible.  Yes, that’s the day when people try to eat ever turkey, pumpkin, and cranberry on the face of the Earth.  It’s a tradition!  And you know how I LOVE tradition.” – Garfield, Garfield’s Thanksgiving

Peace out,

Maverick