The Binary Compound Mission (Part 2)

“What’s it like, waiting for a mission?  Do you all have zen things you do?” Emily asked.
“Sure.  Everyone does.  Bethke would train.  Pennyfeather would read.  Rodriguez played video games in the rec room, usually with as many guys as she could.  Beacham would go over things in her head.  I could always tell that she tried to look at every angle before doing anything.  I bet she was one of those seamen in boot who would worry if she got everything just so.  That can work against you.  Seen too many who are like that, and then get their head so far up their own ass that they make mistakes trying to do it right.  Surprised she wasn’t one of those people.  Crow would do this kind of meditation.  She’d just sit criss-cross on the deck, listening to the wind.  I’ll never know if she can actually hear it speak to her, but I believe it when she says it.  All the times that she has been right because of things she says she hears, it’s hard not to.”
Kiddo was smiling.  I think she liked the idea of me and my sisters and the camaraderie we had.  She’d lost a lot of friends, over the years.  Some of the time it was problems, others to growing older and shifting priorities, and then there were those who turned out to be be different people than she expected.
“What did you do?”
“I wrote.  Had these little journals that I would write things in.  We weren’t supposed to, but I learned how to hide things in my gear bag.”
“Those journals still out there?”
Yes, but she didn’t need to know that.  “No.  Burned down when I destroyed my house.  Memories that were worth losing.”  In reality, I had put them in a storage unit years before.  Didn’t tell Jean, either.  The meditation included a whole bunch of things that were not something anything ever knew.  Things I wanted to keep with me.  A kind of penance, for the work I did.  Because I didn’t do the writing before a mission.  I did it after.  Inside them were all the names of everyone I killed.  Or, if I didn’t have a way of knowing their name, as much as I knew about them based on what I saw.  You have no idea how many names and facts about people are in those journals.  It was in my will that if I should be killed in the line of duty, Jean would get them.  I’d have to amend that.  Would probably have them destroyed now.  My wife is dead, and my secrets might as well die with me.
“Anyway, we were on the USS Zumwalt, headed to our mission.  We got called into the Briefing Room at 2000.”

I sat, writing in my journal.  Another day, same shit.  Whose name would I be adding to the list today?  Didn’t even know what this mission was called yet.  Would figure that out soon enough.
Rodriguez stuck her head in.  “Briefing time.”
Nodded, putting the notebook into my gear bag.  “Aye-aye.”
It was interesting, I was CW04.  I was the second-highest ranking member of our Team, outside of Beacham.  She was LCO, during missions.  Didn’t feel like any of us had any rank over the other.  It really didn’t.  We all were in this together.  Maybe that’s the best thing.  When you don’t feel like some kind you are superior to anyone else.  Just one of them.  Made me glad I wasn’t in charge.  I don’t know if I could handle that kind of responsibility.  Glad Beacham could do that.
Walked over to the BR and saw the SEALs sitting and waiting on one side of the table, my sisters on another.  Chilled with them, while Lt and an IS  Ensign came into the room.  We all stood at attention.
“Take your seats.  We have a lot to discuss.  This is Ensign Markus Mills.  He’s gonna be giving us the briefing on this OP.”
Sitting down, I felt a sense of unease from both of them.  Moreso than usual.
“Thank you.  As you may have guessed, this is bigger than your standard mission.  This is a joint task force of SEALs and STARS, for one purpose – to get ahold of a binary compound and the mechanism associated with it.”
Now we all were confused.  “A binary compound, sir?” Frost asked.
Lt stepped forward.  The image on the screen in front of us showed two chemical symbols, which I honestly couldn’t tell you what they were.  Chemistry was never my strong suit.
“A binary compound is when two chemicals come together to form a new one.  We call this compound Chaos Fuel.  It was originally discovered when a chemist was trying to find an alternate fuel source to gasoline.  It was an ambitious project, but uncovered one of the most deadly chemical formulas known to man.”
The Ensign stepped back up.  “That’s correct.  Chaos Fuel is one of the most unstable compounds we’ve ever seen.  At least when these two chemicals,” he cued up some molecule formulas that I did not understand at all.  “are mixed.  Separate, they are not especially dangerous, but mix them together and you get a compound that is appropriately named.  This stuff is unimaginably dangerous.  It is not only flammable, but also can be made active by moving it too fast or too suddenly.  It can produce incredibly large explosions, but that isn’t all.  After the explosive part of it detonates, the flame aerosolizes a gaseous form.  This gas is incredibly toxic.  One whiff of it is guaranteed death, no matter what.  That’s not all.  It adheres to clothing, so if you get it on you, then touch whatever you were wearing while in the contaminated radius, you will still die.  It gets through the skin layer quickly.”
Well, I felt like shitting my pants.  Looked at my sisters and they seemed to feel the same way.  Then looked over at Panther and his shipmates.  The man himself was taking it all in, serious but composed.  His comrades ran the gamut from stone-faced to having the same nervousness we did.
“I take it the enemy has this Chaos Fuel and we have to deal with them?” Beacham asked.
“That’s right,” Lt replied.  “This is a two-pronged mission.  You are to secure the device, at which point the SEALs team is going to extract it.  They are specially trained for HAZMAT situations.  The device would keep the two chemicals separate, so you have to absolutely make sure that they do not mix!  Once they do, they are unstable in the extreme.”
“Our intel points that the device they have created has some kind of explosive component, and that it may in fact be either part of or a completed weapon.”
Panther and I looked up at one-another.  We each had the same thought.
“Sir, if this is a weapon, why aren’t we just blowing this thing up, wholesale?” he asked.
Lt pulled up a map on the screen.  “Because it’s in (Redacted).”
All of our eyes went wide.
“You’re fucking with me…” Bethke groaned.
“Sir, this is playing with dynamite!” Frost said, dead serious.
“Yes.  Our intel points out that someone in (Redacted) was hired to make the weapon, and deliver it to an unknown client.  This is where the STARS come into play.  While the SEALs are going to transport the device or weapon, you will be tasked with finding out who the client is, or if possible, eliminating them.  You will have callsign Panther to act as your interpreter for any text or audio you get, as he is fluent in (Redacted).”
We all nodded.  This was starting to come into focus.  There was surely more they weren’t telling us, but that’s how it goes.
“Your infil point will be here.  You’re going to go in by zodiacs.  We’ve traced the device to this town just up the way from there.  You can get there on foot.  This is not a military installation, so security is minimal.  Whoever commissioned this weapon is keeping this low-key, so they don’t have the invading (Redacted) military watching out for this spot.”
“They’re still gonna be all over the (Redacted) Sea, sir.” Pennyfeather pointed out.  “We can’t get the Zumwalt in close enough.”
“Correct.  You’ll be launching the zodiacs from CH-47s.  They will get feet wet, you launch, then it will take off.  Timing will be critical.  When you are looking to leave, you’ll have to coordinate closely with them to make sure to minimize chances of detection.”
The Ensign changed the screen over to a satellite view of the village.  It was such a quiet hamlet.  A bummer place to make a bomb.  “We have reason to believe there may be private security forces in the town.  It involves the mysterious client who wanted the weapon.  Fifth Freedom is granted for both the client, the person making the device, and any security forces they have.”
“However,” Lt cut in, “there are to be no alarms raised.  We cannot risk an international incident.  Hooyah?”
“Hooyah,” We all said.
“Alright.  Once done, the SEAL team will contact the CH-47s and you will coordinate with them to exfil.  It’s a new moon tonight, so there is no way to track the choppers outside of night vision.  You all will be ghosts out there.  The birds will take off at 2200, and we expect you back before daylight.  Understood?”
“Aye-aye!”

Into our TOS’s and then off to the choppers.  The zodiacs were already inside, along with two crew on the birds to give us a push when we got to the target point.  It was scary dark tonight.  Lowered my goggles.  These things still wowed me.  Night vision, thermal, and even a kind of sonar, using sounds to give image to something.  Like how Daredevil sees the world.  Let us see through walls, no joke.  It was bananas stuff.  Best tech that money could buy.  The SEALs were looking very professional.  They didn’t have as much cool tech as us, but they were loaded up.  Saw Gorilla had a pretty huge pack on his back.  That dude’s callsign was totally fitting.  He was built like a tank, and dumb as a stump.  That’s mean, I suppose, but he really was.
Everyone loaded up, and we were off.  We were trained to be as silent as possible, but part of me wished that I had someone to talk to right now.  Got a private message on my OPSAT monitor on my arm.
You nervous? It was Panther.
Aye.  You?
Just a little.
Glad it wasn’t just me.  The gentle hum of the birds.  These had been decked out too to make as little noise as possible.  Stealth was becoming a big thing in the modern military.  Couldn’t blame them.
Traveled for what felt like an eternity, but my OPSAT told me it was 0010.
A voice came on the comm.  “Prepare for disembarkation.”
The panel at the back opened.  Night vision showed us the water coming up beneath us.  It flooded inside.  Feet wet.  The crew was drilled and gave us a push.  Once we had exited, Bethke hit the gas and we were on our own.  Looked over to see the SEALs going out as well.  In so much darkness, it was kind of ominous.  Two boats moving, just the sound of the motors and the wind passing us by.  Beacham was at the front, Pennyfeather right beside her with her weapon raised, looking through the scope.
Signed to her, <Beach is clear.>
Mama looked at us behind her.  <Alright, prep for landing.>  She sent a message to the SEALs conveying the same.  They landed right beside us.  The second we hit sand, we each jumped off and pulled the zodiacs on the shore.  The SEALs were very tactical, quietly going through the military checklist.  For us, there were no words needed.  We knew what to do.  Everyone got their weapons ready.  We divided into teams of three.  Rodriguez and Crow were tasked with me.  We moved up, following the topography toward the village.  Beacham told the SEALs that we would take point.  Being invisible was what we did, and if there was private security in the area, we had to know.
The utter silence of the forest as we moved through it.  The occasional cracking branch, but we knew how to be careful about this stuff.  A breeze passing through.  A cold one.  Shivered a bit.  Crow looked up, the two of us stopped.  She nodded to continue.  Couldn’t discount her wind message.  Even if I didn’t really believe it, she had something we didn’t.
Saw buildings ahead.  This was a very quaint little Eastern European community.  Could almost imagine growing up in a place like this.  Everyone is family, and looks out for each other.  If that sort of community wasn’t usually so hateful of the gay community, it would be just the kind of place I’d like to live.  Especially this close to the sea.  We stopped, seeing our comrades position on a ridge across the way from us.  We took out our weapons.  Down the scope we looked.  True enough, there was private security in here!  A bunch of mean-looking hombres, all clustered around a couple of buildings.  One was a very plain-looking home, the other looked to be some kind of motel or inn.  A place where people could stay.  That pegged it – the client was here.  So the mission was go on both barrels.  But first, we had to find the weapon.
A message from Beacham.  Pierce, we’ll take overwatch here.  Your squad will go in and find the weapon.  Mark targets and we’ll provide cover fire.  Remember, no alerting the locals.  Only kill targets if you must.
Made sense to me.  We quietly slide down the hill we were at, careful to make no noise.  It was kind of scary how good we were.  Saw our SEAL companions taking up overwatch where we were, waiting.  Our formation was standard cover approach.  First one would move, then the other, then the last.  It was slower, but minimized detection.  There were a couple ways into this place.  The first was the front door.  That was out.  Two people covering it at all times, and one guy patrolling the perimeter.  That was a no-go.  As was eliminating the patrolling security.  That would get too much attention.  He wasn’t going around the entire perimeter.  At least not now.  Thermal showed he had been, but I guess the guy got tired of doing that all the time, and would occasionally stop and talk to his fellow guards.  When the spoke, it was in Russian.
A message came to all of us on our comms from Panther.  They’re talking about leaving tomorrow.  The “package” is nearly complete.
Uh-oh!
Saw our infil point.  There was an open window on the second floor.  I walked over, dropping down to give a boost to Crow.  She went up, then stopped.  I could tell, she was using her sonar imaging.  Looking down, she nodded.  Boosted her up.  Once she had a hold, she locked her legs on the sill and held her arms down.  Helped Rodriguez up.  Lastly me.  We dropped in and I could see this was an office of some kind.  Pulled out my tiny light.  Made sure the others stood in front of the windows, to minimize detection.  It showed a blueprint, along with chemistry stuff, but it was all in Ukrainian.  Oh well.  Would be worth having.  Snapped images with my pocket-cam, then we moved on.  A sound!  We stopped.  Weapons at the ready.  Turned on my own sonar imaging.  Saw something a room ahead.  Imaging showed a sleeping body.  Whoever lived here.  Guess they weren’t working overnight.  With our weapons ready, we opened the door and headed out into the hall.  There was someone downstairs, on the couch.  The TV was on, but they were clearly asleep.  As shadows, we went into the bedroom of the sleeping person.  Covering Crow, she slipped her blade into their neck.  They only had time to wake up and think about it before they perished.  Part one of the job was done – kill the bomb-maker.  Down the stairs was always tricky.  A loose or old board was all it could take to raise the alarm.  Like phantoms, we got around the sleeping security.  Given what we were going to be lifting out, we couldn’t afford to leave this person alive.  Rodriguez pulled out a syringe we had with a poison that hit fast, and was painless.  She slipped it into his neck, and the fellow only seemed to show some discomfort, before then going back to sleep.  In a few seconds, he wasn’t breathing anymore.
From there, we descended.  The sonar imaging was detecting sounds from the basement.  The logical place for the bomb.  There was no one else in here.  Thermal or otherwise, we just saw the slowly fading images of the two we had killed.  Descending with the same quietness, there was no security set up around the device.  I guess they figured nobody would know this was here.  What poor fools.  But then, who would know that a bunch of ninja assassins would come looking for a bomb?  Hard to believe, if you didn’t know about this stuff.
The device was large, with two tanks which I guessed housed the chemicals, and a center piece which was likely the mixing and explosive sections.  On the other side of the room was a shipping container.  So they were planning on moving this in a box and shipping it to their intended target.  Clever.
Got on my OPSAT.  Weapon secured.  Send in the SEALs for extraction.
Beacham. Affirmative.
Frost. Oscar Mike.  Saw your infil route.  Will follow suit.
The wait was an eternity.  Finally, we heard them descending the stairs.  Nowhere near as quiet as us, but they weren’t so bad.  They signaled friendlies approaching, then descended to the basement.  Gorilla proceeded immediately to unpack of a kind of gear.  It looked like a kind of net, with four hooks on it.  Designed to be carried between them?  Clever.  And the hooks could be put together for lowering it.  Very nice.  They had some pretty heavy-duty rope as well.  We covered their six as they moved back up to the top floor.  Beacham gave the all-clear for security, and then Frost, Nickel, Prison, and Metal dropped down.  Gorilla and Panther secured the net with the weapon and began lowering the rope.  That thing must have weighed an unimaginable ton, but if you looked at Gorilla, you wouldn’t have noticed it.  That dude really was a tank.  I get the feeling he could be hit by a car and it would hurt, but how much actual damage would it do?  Freaky.
Once it was lowered down, Gorilla jumped out and they secured it to harnesses between them.  That’s when Frost turned to us, as we had also descended.
“What’s next for you?” he asked us, out loud.  Amateur.
Pointed to the OPSAT.  We go for the client.
Panther looked over at him.  “Sir, let me go with them.  They might need translation.  We need to figure out who this guy is, and what they are after.”
Frost thought for a moment, then nodded.  “Alright.  We’ll wait for you at the zodiacs.”
The lot of them disappeared back into the night.
I looked over at Panther, pointing to the OPSAT.  If you’re gonna stay with us, you do what we say, when we say it.  Understood?
He just nodded.
Beacham.  Alright, make your way to the inn.  And make sure the SEAL doesn’t fuck up.
Was already way ahead of her.  The four of us moved away from the home.  We headed down the street from the inn, wanting to get a nice view of the situation.  There was a square ahead with absolute shit lighting.  In fact, all of this place did.  Time seems to have left this entire little hamlet behind.  It’s like somewhere from the 1980’s.  Did the Cold War ever end here?  Hard to say.  In any case, we saw that security here was far, far tighter.  This was a high-value target.  The guards were all in suits, like members of the Secret fucking Service.  It was unnerving.  There was no route I could see in or out of this place that didn’t have a huge risk of being seen.  They covered their bases pretty well.
Crow tapped me on the shoulder, pointing at something.  Switching to night vision from thermal, I saw what she was on about.  It was a tree!  Big fucker, too  Must have been many, many years old.  I saw what she was on about – the branches went right up to the side of the building!  And they looked big enough for support our weight.  Well, the weight of us STARS.  It was a risk to have the SEAL with us take the branch up there.
I motioned for everyone to follow me, staying low.  We avoided all the lights, then got over to where the tree was.  I motioned that I would head up first.  Had to make sure if this things’ branches could do the job.  Climbing without making noise was a trick, but it wasn’t like this was our first time down this rodeo.  Getting up there, I hooked on to the branch above me, in case it broke.  Couldn’t be too careful.  Making my way along, I found that this really was a godsend.  It could easily hold my weight, that of my sisters, and part of me wondered how many of us at the same time.  That meant that Panther could make the trip.  I got to the edge, switching to thermal.  Time to find out where this client was.  From the tree, the trick was skirting along the edge of the building.  All of these windows opened, and I didn’t see an alarm on any of them.  As I said, the Cold War left this place behind.
I moved along them, with Crow coming up to the tree, hooking on to my line I left.  Several rooms were empty.  Then, jackpot!  One with a single occupant, and I could see two thermal signatures just outside the door.  This had to be it!  Send a comm to them to make their way up.  Crow was like a monkey born, right behind me.  Rodriguez made her way up, and I could tell Panther felt very vulnerable.
Signing with one hand was tricky, but doable.  I looked to Rodriguez.
<Stay groundside and spot us.  Send Panther up.>
<Aye-aye.>
His coming up less graceful, but he got it done.  Definitely wasn’t as used to building-scaling the way we were.  Dude wasn’t looking down.  I opened up the window slowly, making sure not to make even the slightest sound.  Then, holding on above, I lifted myself and slid inside.  Lifting my weapon, I looked down at our shadow client.  Crow was right behind me, with the same grace.  The two of us turned around and assisted Panther inside.  This was where he was a little more graceful.
I turned it back to night vision, and stopped.  The other two did the same.  We all had the exact same thought in that moment – this is an American!  What the hell had we just gotten ourselves into?

Until next time, a quote,

“It’s hot as hell in here.” – James
“You see it too?  For me, it’s always like this.” – Angela, Silent Hill 2

Peace out,

Maverick

The Binary Compound Mission (Part 1)

Getting back from the in-laws was so much easier.  Of course, they made me promise that I would come back and visit them, which I did.  And I mean to keep my word on that.  It was nice having people I could talk to.  However, there was something inviting about getting home and showing my fur-babies their new stomping ground.  Here they would have so much more space to run around and play in.  Not to mention, I was glad at the thought of Shadow being my running partner in the morning.  You can’t be too careful, and he would bark to alert me to danger.
When we got back, Natayo immediately was apprehensive when I opened her carrying case.  Shadow seemed perfectly content to look around.  After seeing that I was there, my kitty joined in.  The two seemed interested in all the stuff.  My big living room, with my couch, loveseat, and chair was where Natayo was interested in.  She parked herself on the highest vantage point she could.  Smart kitty liked to have a good overwatch position.  Shadow found the carpet on the living room floor and parked himself there.  It was very nice.  I set up their stuff, making sure they knew where their food and water bowls, along with Natayo’s litterbox were.  Shadow could be a little greedy sometimes, so I knew to put the kitty’s food and water bowl up a little.
After getting it all sorted, along with unpacking my gear bag, I did the laundry and decided to relax.  Was reading this old book by Neil deGrasse Tyson about the connection between the military and astrophysics.  I’m not some intellectual by any means, but it is cool to see him talk about this stuff in a way that the average civvie will understand.  Plus, seeing the perspective of certain aspects of society on conflicts before my time was interesting.  I had been too young during the days of Operation Iraqi Freedom to be a part of that.  Amazed it took over 25 years for us to FINALLY get out of there and leave the Middle East to its folly.  One thing I’ll give the orange baboon President we had, during his 2nd term he got us out of there with some haste.
Going to sleep, naturally my kitty was all over my bed.  Shadow put his big dumb head on the edge, giving me that loyal old dog look.  I am such a sucker.  Laid down an older blanket I had and motioned that he could sleep there.  To the boy’s credit, he stayed right there.  I patted his dumb head, hit the light, and felt the soft kitty paws on my tummy.  Guess she found out where she wanted to sleep.

Next day, I decided to test out of Shadow would be good for PT.  Turns out, I was more than right.  Made sure to keep him on a leash, but he never went out too far.  The boy loved the really long run we went on.  We get back to home base and he crashes onto the floor, panting and ready for a nice long pupper nap.  I go through the rest of my routine, with Natayo deciding to stick with me.
I get a text from Emily asking if I was back home and she could come over.  Told her sure, and decided it was as good a reason to make something nice for lunch.  Also to feed the fur-babies.  Whipped up something I could put in the crock pot, since I figured my young companion would be over for some time.  Buffalo chicken mac and cheese.  Just a couple hours in the crock pot, and it would taste amazing.  Of this, I had no doubt.  Would give her the rest to take home to her dad.  Seemed like a nice thing to do, even if Betty wanted to murder me.  Not a threat to take lightly.  Southern black ladies mean business!  Even a STAR knows to keep her distance when a woman such as her has her dander up.
A knock at the door.
“Come in!”
Kiddo came in, taking off her shoes.  Good.  For a while there, I had to keep reminding her.  Don’t like having to sweep the floor all the time.
“You’re back!” she called, hurriedly walking into the room.  Coming in, she gave me a hug.
I smiled down at her.  “Aye, and I didn’t come back alone.”  Pointed to the living room.
Sitting on her post, Natayo looked a little nervous.  True to her breed, she is slow to trust others.  Took forever for her to bond with Jean’s parents when we would leave her over.  Shadow, on the other hand, perked right up.  Some guard dog he is.  Seeing the golden coat, I could see kiddo’s face become the bug-eyed, adorable face that all girls get.
“Puppy!” She said.  Looked over at me.  “Can I pet him?”
Rolled my eyes.  “As if I could stop you.  Go on.”
She ran over, putting her hand out.  At least the kid was smart enough not to jump on the dog.  As expected, Shadow immediately took a liking to her, licking her hand and then getting head pets.  So she’s a dog person too, eh?  Warm memories of Jean when we first found Shadow at the shelter.  That was almost picture-perfect the same look she had.  Was it that long ago?  No, it wasn’t.  Now that I thought on it, it wasn’t that many years at all.
On the floor, she was rubbing him all over and scratching his head.  He was loving the attention, with a capital L.  Yup, these two were going to be friends forever.
“His name’s Shadow, right?” she asked.
“Aye.”
While she is shy, Natayo is also jealous when she can see the dog getting attention and she is not.  And since the dog is scared to death of her because of her scratching him when she was little and we first got him, anytime she butted in, he backed off.  Going right up to Emily, there was a look on her face like – well, where’s my head-scratches?  Hm?
“Hello there!” Em said, smiling at my kitty.  “You’re Natayo, right?”
“Yup,” I answered, coming into the living room.  Had a couple glasses of fresh orange mango juice.
Scratching the kitty, I could tell that Natayo would be friends with her, eventually.  If for no other reason, than because Shadow was getting attention and she couldn’t have that.  We sat and she had the pets congregating around her.  Natayo on her lap and Shadow right next to her.  They both were loving all the attention.  This might be good.  Could have the kiddo look after the place when I was on a mission, keep them company.
I told her what happened, both the good and the bad.  She was shocked at the bit about me insulting the SEALs just to piss Charles off.
“I can’t believe you did that!  Isn’t that like spitting in his face?  Military honor or whatever?”
“Aye.  Insulting his shipmates is about as low as I could go.  Just like me and mine, I guarantee that him and his were just as much family, if they still aren’t.  It’s like if I told him his entire family is full of weaklings and cowards.  Genuinely surprised he didn’t try to attack me.  As it stands, he just smashed a serving bowl of eggnog on the door.  Cleaning that up was a pain, but I figured I had to help with that.  Given that I provoked him, it was only fair.”
“Well, I’m glad you made up with them.  It’s sad to fight.”
“Aye.  For a second there, I could almost see Jean being mad at me for fighting with them.  That’s just not how it’s done.”
“Definitely.  No fighting with the in-laws.”
“We made up, and I told them I would come back and visit, someday.  Also told them if they are ever down this way to drop me a line.  They could come visit me.  So we’ll see.”
Emily told me about her visit.  Being bored to death with the relatives, wishing she was home.  She had texted me a lot while there.  I didn’t respond as often as she would have liked, but hearing my story about things up north, she understood.
The two of us talked for some time about family and whatnot.  Eventually we were eating and she had to get the two pets off her.  They were sad pupper and kitty.  When she returned to the couch, Natayo tried to get back to her spot, but was blocked because she was eating.  Flustered kitty.
I talked about plans for the future PT we did.  Figured she had some holiday food to work off.  Kiddo got red when I said that.  Confirmed, I guess.  Kiddo had more questions about fitness regs.  More idle chatter, when she suddenly had a much more interesting question.
“Speaking of the SEALs, you ever do a mission with them?”
This brought back all kinds of memories.
“Aye.  One of my most dangerous missions was in tandem with the SEALs.”
“What was it?!”  She always got excited when I told her war stories.
Thought back.  “Well, it came in days after Jean and I got back from our honeymoon.  Things unfortunately worked out so that I was back on Active status right afterwards.  We were supposed to have more time, but the wedding got delayed.  My mother-in-law was so insistent that it be just so.  Was a hell of a ceremony, but I would have rather just had a simple wedding.  Jean told me to let her go overboard.  It was the first time their youngest daughter was married, and it was a military wedding.  I couldn’t argue.  Anyway, I got the call at 0030.”

All I could perceive was the beeping sound.  What the fuck was that?  Groggily looked up, moving all the poofy brown hair out of my face.  Her hair really did go everywhere when it was down.  No complaints.  It was so beautiful.  Looking over, I saw my phone buzzing and beeping.  Uh-oh!  Reaching over, I grabbed it.
Mission.  Assemble by 0130.
In a flash I was moving.  Had to disentangle my wife from my limbs.  She cuddled so hard.  No complaints there, either.  I loved her naked cuddles so much.
“Mmm, what’s wrong?”
“Just got a text from Lt!  I’m up.”
She got a lot more awake too.  “Oh shit!  This full-on deployment or just a mission?”
“Text said a mission, but I don’t know the details yet.”  I was putting my bra and panties on.  Grabbed my dog tags and threw them on.
My wife got out of bed and grabbed my gear bag.  “I’ll get your guacamoles.”
“That’s a negative!  Mission means my licorices!”
Was so weird to have two women, one half-naked and the other completely naked running around putting stuff into a bag.  The crazy military life.  To be fair, I had done the same for her.  IS would have some urgent task that needed all hands on deck and I had to help her pack in a hurry.  Now it was just her turn to do that for me.  Such a good wife.  Half-asleep, but making sure everything was just so.  Married life really was the best.
I put all my standard gear into my bag, got my NWUs on, laced up my boots, and headed for the door.  As I did, checked to make sure I had everything.  She noticed that I didn’t have my cover.  Handing it to me, she looked me over and nodded.  I was looking her over too, but for entirely different reasons.  Was so hard to leave this perfect woman right now.
“I’ll let you know when I get an ETA on my return.”
“Okay.”  She stepped closer, putting her arms around me.  “Be careful out there.”
I put mine around her.  “I will.”
“Promise?”
“I promise.”
She pulled herself up to my lips.  Felt so nice, her kissing me.  Such a soft and perfect woman.  Warm and tender.
“I love you,” I whispered in her ear.
Kissing me harder, eventually she pulled back.  “I love you too, Quinn.”
More kissing, didn’t want to stop.  Couldn’t.  Until, finally, I stepped back and stepped out the door, putting my cover on.  She stood there at the door, not caring who could see.  One more kiss, and I closed it.  Now to begin the short drive to the base.

Getting there, I parked my car outside of the NOSC.  Lt was already there waiting, looking official in his peanut butters.  I walked over, saluting.
“Evening, sir.”
“Don’t have to be formal yet, Pierce.  The others have been notified.  You and I are heading out on a C-130 to Sigonella, where we’ll be RVing with Zumwalt.”
So we were going to Europe.  Long way to go for a mission.  This must be big.
“We RVing with the rest of the team there?”
“That’s a negative.  They’ll be meeting with us in Atsugi.”
Made sense.  “When are wheels up?”
“In 40 mikes.  Let’s head over.  Might as well get comfy now.”
“Aye-aye!”

Hours flowed by endlessly.  Flying in a C-130 was not the most comfortable way to travel, but it beat having to go to the airport.  Normally that’s how it would go, but Mission meant that we could get around that.  The joys of active duty military budget.
Eventually, we got to Japan.  Taking my gear, I followed Lt off the tarmac.  We ended up crashing at military housing.  I texted my wife, telling her as much of the situation as I was comfortable with over an unsecure line.  It would be a few hours until the others arrived.  Might as well get some sleep.
Woke up to a knock on my door.  Opened it to see Rodriguez standing there.
“Hermana!  How’s life with the married woman?!”
We hugged.  “It’s pretty great.  I love it.  So, excited for another chance to serve our country?”
“Is what it is, hermana.  Just wanted to make sure my girl was being looked after.”
“Aye, I am.”
“Oh, and to tell you to come to the NOS.  Things are happening.”
That got my attention.

We got there and I saw a bunch of dudes with the Lt.  They were dressed in NWUs, so Navy.  All some burly, rough looking hombres.  Looked over at Rodriguez, she nodded.  SEALs.  Interesting.  Beacham and the others were there as well.
I walked over, with Bethke giving me a hug and the rest greeting me.  Asked how the honeymoon was, told them it was great.  We got over to where the Lt was, saluting.
“At ease,” he said.  “So, as you might have guessed, these gentlemen are with the SEALs.  They will be accompanying you on this mission.”
They were looking us over without nearly as critical an expression as when we first started.  I remember the early days, when people still called us the FDU, and thought we were a publicity stunt from the brass.  We proved them all wrong.  It was a lot of work, but we did it.  Now while a couple of these six dudes were wondering what to make of us, the others had regarded us with respect.
One dude stuck out to me in-particular.  He was a black guy, and while he was as buff as his bros, there was this look in his eye that told me he wasn’t like the rest.  How do I describe it?  You ever see somebody who you know is taking things in and learning?  Not a thousand yard stare.  They’re looking at you, but it’s like they see past you.  Jean is one of those people.  So was this guy.  A gentle look in his eye, tempered by a job that requires violent action.  Wondered what his story was.  Maybe I’d have a chance to figure it out.  Seems he was quite taken to staring at me as well.
“We’re headed out on another C-130.  Next stop will be Sigonella.  Now that everyone is accounted for, load up!”
“Aye-aye!”  We all grabbed our gear and got moving.  Looking at my companions, I could see Rodriguez giving flirty looks to a couple of SEALs who were looking at her.  Pennyfeather rolled her eyes, looking over at me and mouthing “slut!”
I chuckled.
Crow was as aloof as always.  That woman was so hard to read, no matter the circumstances.  While Beacham was trying to be Mama to the group and keep things professional.  She smacked Rodriguez in the arm, which got her a mean look.  Alas, when Mama Beacham flares up her no-nonsense muscles, my hermana held up her hands in submission.  Bethke was so awkward.  The youngest of us, and had a bad history of never making things work with guys.  Despite being a hot-headed ginger like me, she never got the confidence with the opposite sex.  It’s kind of cute.  The dude who was looking at me walked over.
“So, I hear you’re the knife among this group.”
“The what?”
“The knife.  The one that does most of the killing.”
That was a hard thing to hear.  “Not something I look forward to.  Just the nature of the game.”
He nodded.  “I’m glad to hear that.  We got enough people in this military looking to kill people.  Glad there’s someone who only does it when they have to.”
Felt good, but there was a thought there.  “Well, we also do it because we were trained to.  Same as you, just different.”
“Sure, but at least you see why it’s bad.  Don’t have that urge to kill.”
“That something your shipmates have?”
Now it was his turn to look uncomfortable.  “Some.  Wonder how some of them are going to leave it all behind, you know?”
“I wonder how I’ll leave it behind too.”  Don’t know why I told him that.  Only had ever talked to Jean about my fear of what would happen when this was over for me.
“That makes two of us.  Anyway, glad to meet you.  I’m Panther.”
A chuckle.  “That a callsign?”
“Yup.  You?”
“None of those in this outfit.  Just call me Pierce.”
“Fair enough.  Nice to meet ya.”  We shook hands.  Could see on his uniform he ranked below me.  A PO.  This mission was looking to get dangerous, but now I knew, we were in good hands.

Until next time, a quote,

“The duty of every soldier is to protect the innocent.  ANd sometimes that means preserving the lie of good and evil.  That war isn’t just natural selection on a grand scale.” – Capt. Johnathan Price, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Christmas Message

I know I said my retro review was where I would be putting this year’s Christmas post at, but I was recently inspired by a heart-felt Christmas message I saw.  Something to know about me – I get hit with sudden bursts of inspiration all the time.  It happens, and when it does, I feel pretty great about it.  In fact, those little moments are the ones where I have done some things that are beyond anything people expect, and when I feel the most satisfaction.  I’m a weird juxtaposition of a man.  I am INCREDIBLY introverted, but the moments when I feel the most legitimate satisfaction with my life are when I am making those people who put up with me smile and feel happy.

There probably isn’t a word for what I am.  At least, I like to think so.  With almost eight billion people on this tiny planet, I’m sure there’s some psychological spectrum that I fit into perfectly, but I legitimately like to believe that I don’t.  This idea that I am able to be quantified as a person and just shoved into a neat mold has always bugged me.  That isn’t what I want to be.  That isn’t how I want people to view me.  And unfortunately, with so many, that has been.

I have a religious extended family.  Very much so.  Some of my biggest arguments this year came from me and them going at it about stuff that I know deep down we will NEVER see eye-to-eye on.  They are old and set in their ways, and at this juncture in their lives, nothing is gonna change that.  It’s just how it is.  But you can’t tell them that.  At least, they didn’t listen when I tried.  They tried to put me into their mold and fit me into a nice stereotype about a non-believer that they get from Christian movies and entertainment and the ideological echo chamber that they live in.  It bugs me, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

Right now, I’m listening to some absolutely amazing Christmas music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  I’m not even slightly religious, but I can appreciate the beauty of this music, and the dedication it took to make it.  I think Mormonism is a cult that was started by a con artist who couldn’t keep it in his pants.  It’s part of why they are so desperately trying to walk away from the whole polygamy thing.  But when I tell people that I find this music beautiful, if they are believers, they assume that means there is this part of me that does believe, or if they are non-believers, they think that means I am secretly a little religious.  It’s not true.

This holiday is always hard, for me.  I have depression as a result of brain damage after a head injury.  It is something I will have to live with for the rest of my life.  I have a hate-hate relationship with snow.  I despise it.  It brings out that very worst in me.  My coworkers were legitimately shocked at my blind hate of it and how I didn’t hold back in my loathing when they brought it up to me.  Winter, in my eyes, is about the long dark nights, the white shit that falls from the sky and is a complete pain in the ass, and the length of this time of year.  In a few years, after I get vested in my union job, along with finishing my education for medical work that I want to get into, I’m looking to head south from this place.

But I’ve started a new tradition.  I make these Christmas treats, and when I get to hear from people about how good they are (it shocked me how good I am at this, and I’m only getting better), it really does make it all better.  Anytime I can do something to help one of my people, my life feels like it has meaning.  When I can say something nice to make someone smile, or give someone at work who did something special a Favorite Person of the Day tag, just so they can feel better, or joke when they make a silly mistake with a Shame Tag, it makes my life that much better.

For whatever reason, I am a master of meshing with people.  I was asked to take a workplace picture of everyone in the office wearing their tacky Christmas sweaters, and I made it into a big joke, messing with everyone and making people laugh.  Sure, my manager joked about firing me, but everyone left there smiling.  It’s so strange, to me, that I can have this gift, yet the one person I can’t make feel better is myself.  But then I remember, this is brain damage.  It’s just how it is.

Here’s my Christmas message – don’t forget about the people in your life who are afflicted.  One of the hardest things for me is when I have to deal with people who just don’t understand.  I get told day in and day out that I’m not trying hard enough or I just don’t want to be happy or something to that effect.  Both of which are blatantly untrue.  It’s easy at this time of year to push aside those who suffer from this kind of thing.  Everywhere I look, I see posts about getting rid of negative people.  But sometimes, the person you see as negative is the one who has the most for you, and would be able to give the most and get the most from knowing that there is someone who cares.

There are no Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future to make us realize that we are not giving back to the world as much as we could, or living life to the fullest, in a way we should.  That’s up to us to be able to discern.  The worst part is, in the Age of Apathy, it may be the most forgotten lesson humanity has taken.  I guess I’m preaching now, but remember that sometimes, the negative person is just looking for someone to care.  That they might want to give back, but feel neglected or disillusioned.  That doesn’t mean to put up with someone being a jerk just to be.  But keep an open mind.  The guy at work who sees snow falling and scowls may be someone who has a lot of ugly baggage attached to is, but isn’t the bad underneath it all.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to you all, and I hope you have the best holiday you can, with family, friends, fur-babies, or even with yourself.  But I hope not just you.  Humans are genetically written to be pack animals.  Remember that.

Until next time, a quote,

“Please, celebrate me home.” – Kenny Loggins

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Retro Review: A Christmas Carol (1984 Version)

I haven’t watched this film since I was a very, very young child.  I remember parts of it, but not much.  The version of this classic tale that I grew up with was the one with the Muppets.  And I, like many people, think that Michael Caine was really boring in that movie.  It was bland and forgettable and he was kind of phoning it in.  So when I heard that the Nostalgia Critic really loved this version, I thought to myself – I haven’t seen this movie in forever.  Let’s take a look at it and see what we think.  None of the nostalgia of my youth, now I can just see this for what it is.  Figured in addition to the narrative I am doing right now, this would also be a nice little review for Christmas.  Let’s talk about it.

You already know the plot.  I refuse to believe that you all haven’t seen some version of this tale before.  There are dozens upon dozens, from TV films, to stage performances, to that CG abomination with Jim Carrey.  But the rundown is that Ebeneezer Scrooge is a greedy miser who only cares about money and not about anything else, especially Christmas.  That night, the ghost of his former partner comes back from the grave to tell him that he will be visited by three more ghosts, to help him change from the chains of avarice that he has forged and give him another chance.

There isn’t especially much to talk about with this film.  The plot is very, very basic.  It’s based on a classic tale by Charles Dickens.  The plot flows very nicely in this movie.  One of the things I like is that this was a full-priced movie that had the sensibilities to keep everything small.  You can tell that this film was made on the budget of a ham sandwich, but that’s not a bad thing.  This director knew how to frame things.

What makes this story work are the performances.  And before we get to the one that anyone who knows this version of the tale knows is coming, let me talk about others.  We have Scrooge’s nephew, who is a very kind man who is constantly looking to do the right thing.  The depth of his feelings, trying to bring out the best in his uncle does feel real.  Then there is Bob Cratchit, who is so endearing.  This guy actually feels like a loving father.  You can see that his poverty is hard, and he has a lot of stress on his shoulders, but he does the best he can and loves all his many children.

Then there are the ghosts.  What I love about each of them is that no matter how pleasant they can be, they all have this cold side when Scrooge has a point that strikes the wrong chord with them.  Marley’s ghost is probably the least interesting, but when he talks about the horror of his chains and the weight of his sin, you do believe it.  The Ghost of Christmas Past is the most kind, but there are a couple moments when she shows her hand in wanting Scrooge to see where he went wrong in the days gone by, like when he let the woman he loved walk away because he was too indoctrinated by his beliefs to go after her.  The Ghost of Christmas Present was a very sassy fellow.  He has this outgoing and very grand way of being, but always seems to have a cold word for Scrooge when he sees him being a dick.  My favorite being when Scrooge makes a point about the small size of Cratchit’s bird, and him saying “it’s all he can afford.”

One thing I really love is the Ghost of Christmas Future.  The thing that works best about that is the minimalist approach to it.  Everything about that entire part was just fantastic.  It never speaks a single word to him, just points for where he needs to go.  And every time it points at something, there is a dark musical cue to go with it.  That’s just fantastic.  I will say that the hand of the thing did look a little silly, but that’s me overthinking (which is something I do.  A lot).  Watching Scrooge seeing the ugliness of the future, leading up to him confronting his own grave and realizing he was seeing how much everyone hated him and nobody cared that he died was all pretty fantastic.

I do want to point out one of the big problems with this movie – ALL of the child actors are terrible.  The worst of them being Tiny Tim.  There is that classic line from him that in other versions has weight to it, but here it sounds like a kid doing a read.  It’s not great.  I don’t hold it against the kiddo, as I’m sure he’s doing his best, but his role is just terrible.

However, all of this film hedges on George C Scott’s performance as Scrooge, and this is where the movie really shines.  George C Scott was one of the greatest actors to ever lived.  He starred in the greatest bio-pic film to ever be made – Patton.  Every film he has been in has been better because of his performance.  It’s unfortunate that he has been so forgotten by people, but not me.  This role is where him as an actor shines.  When I think of Michael Caine’s performance, I think of all the over-acting.  It’s terrible.  Meanwhile, Scott is so reserved and pensive throughout almost all of this movie.  The ending is where it gets over the top, but you can see where it’s coming from.  It’s great to have him really being with a scene as it happens, watching as the emotions register, and him growing as a character through the journey.  No other performance has come close to capturing what the essence of the character is, in my eyes.  Oh, and the scene at the end where he is fucking with Cratchit when he’s late the day after Christmas is just awesome.  I love it.

Overall, this is a nice movie.  It’s not amazing or stupendous, but when I think of a good Christmas movie that I could watch every year, this lands on that list pretty nicely.  If you want to introduce your offspring to this classic tale, I would definitely recommend it.

Final Verdict
7 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Home For the Holidays (Part 2)

We both stood there for a second, with her staring in disbelief at me.  Guess she hadn’t expected me to actually show up.  Or what I did was horribly rude by not sending anything ahead to tell them I was coming.
“Sorry, come in!”  She reared back toward where I could tell the living room was.  “Mom!  Quinn’s here!  Shadow, Natayo, your momma’s here!”
A sound soon greeted me.  The sound of clawing doggie feet.  I knew it well.  From the living room came our big golden retriever/German shepherd mix dog.  It was named by Jean, because she was such a huge fan of the 90’s movie Homeward Bound, and fell in love as soon as she saw him at the shelter.  To be fair, he had lived up to the reputation of his breed, loyal to a fault and always there for you.  When he saw me, he charged right at me.  Damn-near tackled me sliding to a halt in front of me.
Petting that golden coat again, it felt so nice.  Was still so soft.  I had been right to assume he would be looked after.  They had kept him brushed and he was well-fed.  Bet they were tired of the shedding in the summer.  I know we were.
Then came a sound from the living room that I also knew well.  Every time I came home from deployment when I was with Alpha Team, she always seemed to know I was back, no matter what.  Wherever she was, the girl would come running.  And when she found me, she would…
“Ow!” I yelled as Natayo jumped and ran right up on top of me and perched on my shoulder, claws dug in.  Not a pure bred cat, but she had a LOT of Egyptian Mau in her.  As such, she was athletic, smart, and loyal as fuck.  When I saw her at the shelter, it was love at first sight.  I named her after the Blackfoot word for a lynx.  Made sense, since her coat was gray and black, with spots on it.  Had a lot more tail than a lynx, but still.
Petting both of my fur-babies was water on my parched soul.  They were so all over me.  Cheryl came into the room, smiling at me.  “Quinn!  It’s good to see you again!”  Forcing the pets to move, we hugged.
While the awkwardness inside me was still there, was still smiling from my reunion with my fur-babies..
“Good to see you too, Cheryl.”
“Oh, come on now, you can call me ‘mom.'”
I shrugged.  Had never been able to do that.  Even after Jean and I got married, it never took.  They invited me in, taking my gear bag.  I could see Cheryl looking at that approvingly.  Both of Jean’s parents had served in the Navy.  It ran in her blood.  Her grandfather had served in the Navy too.  Way I hear it, as far back as there has been an actual Navy, people in her family have been serving in it.  Very impressive.
We went into the kitchen and I was told to take a load off.  Heard all about the family and what they were doing.  Apparently, Brian was going through a very nasty divorce.  Good.  I hated his wife.  That woman was a snake in the grass.  She treated him like he was her dog, and I was glad he ditched that bitch.  So were the other two.  As I sat there, Natayo wouldn’t get up from my lap.  That was firmly in her spot.  Thought about moving her to help with the dishes, but I could almost hear Jean telling me that it was mean to move a kitty.  Couldn’t help but agree.  Shadow laid down at my feet, and I petted his big dumb head a few times.  Such a good boy.  Even now he stayed close to his momma.  Maybe afraid that if I left, I wouldn’t come back again?  More guilt.
“So, are you gonna be taking those two home with you?” Cheryl asked.
I nodded.  “Aye.  Forced you all to look after them for way too long.”
She shook her head.  “Oh, it was no problem.  After losing Jean, it was nice to keep a little part of her with us.  But I know they have missed you.”  They were being careful not to ask about what had happened.  I could tell that eventually that would blow up on me.  Enjoy the little moments while you got ’em, right?
“I missed them too.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re here.  When Summer told us that you were all alone in that big house, it depressed me too much.  Nobody should have to spend Christmas by themselves.”
That put a smile on my face.  “I appreciate it.  I just…after all that happened, I wasn’t sure you’d want me here.”
She had that look only a mom can.  A look of putting something to bed, definitively.  “Shh, none of that.  What’s done is done.  You’re part of this family.  Just because our little girl isn’t with us anymore, doesn’t mean that you aren’t still a part of it.”
So much guilt inside.  Natayo seemed to notice and snuggled in closer.  What a good kitty.  Such good people here.  Why had I waited so long?  A feeling was inside when I asked myself that question.  Like something I was supposed to remember, but forgot.  Unsure how to feel about it.
“I hope Charles and Brian get back soon,” she continued.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“They went out to get some eggnog.  You actually had just missed them.  I think Brian wanted to talk to Charles about something, but who can say.  Men bonding.”
Made sense to me.  They started setting the table, and I had to force Natayo to move, but she perched back on the seat I was in, seeming to know that I was coming back to it.  Shadow stayed right there, a loyal sailor at his post.  Was helping to set the table, it felt like old times in a lot of ways.  Thinking back to first time I was here.

“Hey Quinn, help us set the table.”
I got right up.  “Sure thing, Mrs. Beryl.”
She gave me a look.  “You can call me Cheryl.  You’re a part of our daughter’s life, so it’s only natural you feel comfortable with us.”
Chuckled a bit.  “I’ll do my best, ma’am.”
She patted me on the back, handing me some plates.  Setting plates for a legit family dinner.  These people had nicer dinnerware than I had eaten on in years.  Not since I was a teenager.  So many dinners in my shitty apartment on paper plates with plastic silverware.  When on trays in the Navy.  This felt almost surreal.
“So, Quinn, what’s this unit you’re with?  The STARS, right?” Charles asked.  “Navy Times talked about how it’s an initiative to help women get into combat roles.  What do you think about it?”
Had to be so careful about what I told him.  Jean gave me a look, but she didn’t have to say anything.  I knew to be careful.
“Well, it’s a big responsibility.  Training was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  Put boot camp to shame.  Made me really respect what the SEALS have to go through.”
He smiled at that.  All that Navy pride, along with his old unit.  “I’m glad you feel that way.  I understand you and my daughter met while she was one of your commanding officers.”  That was when he gave her a look.
Both of us looked at each other.
“Well, dad, that’s why I wanted to change commands, so Quinn and I could go out.  I knew we couldn’t be a thing while she was under my command.  I’m not an idiot.”
He chuckled.  “I should hope not.  We raised you better than that.”
Cheryl came in and led him away.  “Don’t antagonize them, Charles!  For crying out loud.”  Turning to us.  “Don’t mind him.”
I could see myself coming to like this woman.

We got the places set just in time for the door to open and two people coming in. clomping to get snow off their footwear.
“Hey honey, did you see the car out front?  You know who it belongs to?” Charles asked, coming into the room.  Right as the words left his mouth, he saw me sitting back where I had been, Natayo in my lap.
“I’ll be damned.  Quinn.  You’re back.”
I nodded.  “Aye, sir.  Got a letter from Kaye asking me to come spend the holidays with you.”
He gave her a dirty look.  All these years later, he still had that gruff exterior.  “She did, did she?”
Kaye went all red.
As always, Cheryl came in.  “Now, don’t be awkward, sweetie.  It’s good to have Quinn back.  She said she will be taking Shadow and Natayo down to Washington, to live in her new place with her.”
“What makes you think they want to go home with you?” he asked, getting closer.  The tension in the room was growing.
I looked him right in the eye.  “Well, they haven’t left my side the whole evening, so I guess they still like me.  Hard to believe, I’m sure.”  Suddenly was having NONE of his shit.  If this was going to get ugly, so be it.  Didn’t mean I had to take it.
Brian, feeling awkward, came over.  “Well, I’m glad you’re here, Quinn.  Long time no see.”
We shook hands.
“For sure.  Sounds like you’re having a rough go lately.”
He nodded.  “Well, one day at a time.  So, tell us about your life.”

Dinner came.  It was crab legs and steak.  Something for everyone.  I was stoked.  So unhealthy, but whatever.  Whatever fatty bits of steak, would give to Shadow.  Happy pupper.  Natayo kept resting on my lap.  Whatever awkwardness was with the family, I could at least revel in being back with the family I had left.  That voice from before might be wrong.  It was clear Charles had a bone to pick.
I told them about stuff after the military.  About starting my own PMC and doing intelligence work.  Couldn’t get into specifics about anything, but it sounded impressive.  Cheryl was polite, as always.  Brian and Kaye were interested.  Charles just sat there and listened, glaring at me.  This was getting under my skin.
Finally, he piped up.  “And what about before that?  When you ditched your post and this family?  When you burned your home to the ground, along with all the parts of this family that were in there?  Where did you go then?!”
Cheryl reached over.  “Charles!  No fighting at Christmas!”
He shrugged her off.  “Don’t you think she owes us an explanation?!  Am I the only one here who wants to know where the hell she was?!”
They all went quiet.  Clearly he was on point, but they were going out of their way not to ask.
“So where were you?!  Where the hell did you go off to while we had to bury our little girl?!”  Something I had forgotten – Charles and Jean were close.  She had told me about their daddy-daughter dates when they were younger, every Sunday going to the movies or just spending time doing something.  Going to the shooting range, whatever.  I hadn’t forgotten about it, but his anger came from a place I could understand.
But I wasn’t having his attitude.  “I can’t tell you that, Charles.”
“The hell you can’t!  You had a duty, young lady!  You had an obligation!  Not just to this family, but to that uniform, and the service whose name is on your bag!  You dishonored the uniform, and when you show back up, nothing happens!  You insulted this family, that uniform, and my little girl’s memory!  So I asked you again, where the fuck were you?!  Where was it that was more important to be than where you had a duty to be?!”  All that military bravado.  All that uniform loyalty.
My rage buttons were being pressed.  “It’s none of your fucking business, Charles.  That’s where.  I don’t owe you an explanation.  I grieved in my own way.  Doing what I was trained to do.”
“And what was that?!  What were you trained to do that was so much more important than that?”
“Kill, Charles!  I was trained to kill!  So that’s what I did!  What nobody else could do, I did!”
“So that gave you the right to abandon this family?!  Who the hell do you think you are?!”
“Well tell you what, Charles, how’s about you lose your wife in a way where she’s far away and all alone, and you have nobody willing to do what needs to be done, and a skill set you are the best at.  Then maybe you can tell me what you would do instead, you sanctimonious piece of shit!”  I was on my feet now.
His voice was barely contained.  “Get.  Out.  Of my house.”
“Gladly.”  Looked to my two pets.  “Shadow, Natayo, let’s go.”  With only one backwards look, Shadow started coming.  Natayo was already walking with me.  I grabbed my bag.
“Quinn, don’t go!” Cheryl started.  Charles grabbed her arm and she sat back down.
As I got to the door, I turned around.  “Meant what I said, Charles.  Only I could do what needed to be done.  Would love to see your worthless SEAL fuckers do it.”  The lowest blow I could.  Something done just to make him mad.  Insult his shipmate loyalty.  Walked out the door, and once I knew that my pets were out, I slammed it as hard as I possibly could.  Good timing, too, since the bowl with the eggnog in it smashed into the door as it shut.  Could see the contents dripping down the inside.  People were yelling.  I didn’t care.  At all.  Fuck them.  Fuck everything.  Getting my family back was all that mattered.  My furry family, not those bastards.  They got into the car, and I slammed the door.  As soon as I was alone, I started bawling.  Shadow came over and licked me.  I petted his head.  This was a mistake.  Now I had just burned down this bridge to a point that it was never, ever coming back.  Why did I do that?  I could have just listened, let him vent.  It would be easier.  So why I did go that far?  One of those questions that would never be answered.  Seeing the door opened, I started the car and hit the gas.  Time to get away from here.
A thought came to me – there was somewhere I’d like to go before I left this state.  So long as I was here, and burned this bridge down to the ground forever, I might as well do it.  My ability to feel good was gone again, anyway.

My military badge still got me on base.
The Army soldier on watch at the gate asked.  “What brings you to the base tonight, ma’am?”
“Going to pay my respects to my spouse.  They’re buried here.”
He nodded.  “Understood.  Drive safe, ma’am.”
“Aye-aye.”
The drive to Ft. Richardson National Cemetery was one of the slowest I had taken.  Saw the F-22s parked on the tarmac at Elemendorf.  Those things were so cool.  Would always think that.  Drove past all that, only to come to a stop at the cemetery.  After a point, snowfall would make getting to the grave sites impossible, but it wasn’t all that thick here.  Serendipity?  Did I believe in that?  Told my two pets to stay in the car where it was warm.  The long, slow walk down the field, past all the headstones.  Stories of those who had been and gone.  Then I got where I was looking to go.

Ens. Jean S Beryl
US Navy
USS Spruance
Jul 7,
Dec 19,

I stared at that bleak, gray headstone, with the anchor of the Navy above it.  An artifice of a person who was there, but isn’t there anymore.  Should I have words to say?  Could see her face, after my little explosion with her father.  How angry she would be.  You don’t fight with family.  That was the rule.  You respect the elders.  That was the military mindset she had.  No matter what her father said, even if he made her mad, she wouldn’t confront him.  That’s just not how it’s done.
What had I done?  I had just fucked over people who asked me to be there.  But I remembered Charles’ expression when I told him Kaye had asked me to come.  Clearly he wasn’t in the loop on this.  So she was keeping secrets from him.  The family also never lied to each other.  The fact that she lied to him was interesting.  Probably just a lie of omission.  I’m sure he didn’t ask if I was coming up for Christmas.
Just staring at that headstone, it was a quiet moment.  No sound, except for the wind blowing over the open field.  Such a dismal, ugly night.  Where would I go?  Would have to get some stuff for my pets.  Would book a flight, hit up a Walmart that was still open for things for them, then get home.  No sense sticking around here.
“I knew you’d come here,” a voice called to me.  I turned around to see Kaye walking over.  She had this look on her face.  How do I describe it?  Apologetic?  Yeah, that’s as close an analogy as I can think of.
“What do you want, Kaye?”
“To talk.  That really went a lot worse than I was hoping.”
I snorted.  “Yeah, no shit.  He didn’t know you invited me.”
“No, he didn’t.  I’m sorry about that.  I just figured that if you were already there, maybe he would be nicer than he was.  All these years later, Dad never did let it go.  Didn’t help that him and your former commanding officer would trash-talk you all the time.”
So that was how it was, with Evans.  “What, did they have their weekly shit-talking Quinn meet?”
“I hear them and some others from the service would get together.  That’s what shocked me so much when Summer was suddenly being really nice about you.  I knew something must have happened.”  A bit of a pause.  “She knows what really happened, doesn’t she?”
I nodded.  “Aye.  All of my sisters do.  Their condition for speaking with me again was that I had to tell them everything.  It was nice, getting that off my chest.  I’ve kept so many secrets for so long.  I’m getting tired of it.”
“You weren’t lying about what you said to Dad, about not being able to tell him, were you?”
Looking at the headstone.  “No, I wasn’t.  If you knew, it would put you all in danger.”
“You went after the people responsible, didn’t you?”
“All I can say is I did what I do best, to people who deserved it.”
She stood there, taking that in.  “Is that how you grieved?”
A very long pause.  “I never grieved.  I still haven’t.  Maybe someday I will, but not today.  I just, it was all I could do.  All I knew how to do.  There was nothing else I could do.  My other options were stay there and hurt.  Stay in that house and feel all that memories we had, everything we could have had, slip away.  She wanted to have a baby with me.  That was the plan, when she got home.  I knew that if I was still there, and just stayed there, I would have killed myself.  This is the only way I know how to live anymore.”
Kaye came over, putting her arms around me.  “I”m so sorry, Quinn.”
We stood there for a bit, then she pulled back.
“Can I tell you something?” I asked.
“Of course.”
“Charles goes on and on about that uniform, but you know what – of all the things I miss about my wife, and all the things I will never get back, not one of those things have anything to do with the fucking uniform.  That uniform is just how we met, the life we had chosen between us.  When I think of her smile, or her warmth, or being on the couch together watching a movie or an episode of Rick and Morty, none of that has anything to do with her in that fucking uniform.  But your father, that’s all he sees.  It’s all he can see.  It pisses me off so much.”
She frowned.  “He’s Navy down to his bones.  It’s in his blood.  That’s who he is.  How he sees the world.  I know he’s done some fucked-up stuff, a lot like you.  He just never left it behind the way you did.”
“The only way I could leave it behind was in Jean’s arms.  But she’s gone now, and I’m still here.  Still doing what I was trained to do.  Now I have nowhere to leave it.  But I have a new friend.  I saved her life, and we became family.  Now, I feel like maybe I can leave it behind again.  It was her idea for me to come here.”
Kaye smiled.  “Well, I’m glad you have that person in your life.”  Stepping back.  “But you know, we’re still family too.  Mom and I are, anyway.”
Looking at her, I sighed.  “Charles will never change.  But, if you’re ever down in Washington, drop me a line.  You can come see my new place.”
“I’d like that.”
The sound of more footsteps approaching.  Looking over, I saw Charles and Cheryl.  Fuck me.  More of what I didn’t need.
“Quinn,” he began.
“What do you want, Charles?  You looking to start Round Two?  Because I will fucking throw down with you.”  Got my stance right, in case this got ugly.
“I didn’t come here to fight,” he said.  The tone of his voice seemed genuine.  “I came here to apologize.  I crossed the line tonight.”
“You’re goddamn right you did!”
“It’s just, we all thought you had died.  That you sent Shadow and Natayo to our home because you were never coming back.  Then one day, you return and then we find out you have this nice house and everything is going well, and we wondered why you hadn’t come to see us.  Losing my little girl was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  We needed you too.”  A rare moment of weakness, from him.
“I couldn’t face you all.  Couldn’t face anyone.  My world was gone, and all I could do was disappear.  It was what I learned how to do.”
Cheryl walked over, putting her hand on my shoulder.  “Please, come home with us.  Let’s spend Christmas together.  Let’s start over.  No more ugly history.  A new day with this family starts today.”
I looked right at her.  “I”m a different person than you know, Mrs. Beryl.  You may not like who you meet on this new day.”
Kaye put her hand on my shoulder.  “Well, let’s meet her first, then we’ll judge that for ourselves.”
Tears started flowing down my facing again.  So much of my pain was coming forward.  All the self-imposed loneliness, vanishing.  Why had I done this to myself?  There was a reason.  I could feel it.  Like something I had forgotten, all that time ago.  The more of my pain I undid, the closer it came to me.  Maybe I’d figure this out with just a bit more.  Perchance to dream.

That night, I was up in their guest room.  Normally, I’d never let him, but tonight my fuck it muscles were working.  So when Shadow put his head on the edge of the bed, I motioned for him to get his ass up there.  There I was, in their full size guest bed, with a dog and kitty sleeping next to me.  Family again.  Because that’s what really mattered.

Until next time, a quote,

“At last, for the first time in my life, I was home.” – Chance, Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey

Peace out,

Maverick

Home For the Holidays (Part 1)

Dear Quinn,

When Summer told me that you were living in Washington, I didn’t believe her.  To think, all these years later, you’d be living just a three-hour flight away, it’s kind of amazing.

So, she was talking to Bethke.  Since when were they tight?  Questions for another time, I suppose.

I’m just glad that you’re still alive.  After all these years, everyone thought you weren’t.  Got a dog and a kitty who miss their momma.  They’ve been real troopers, but I know that they would be so happy to see you.

“You left your dog and cat with the in-laws?” Emily asked.
“Aye.  It was the most expedient way to make sure they’d be well cared-for.  We had left them with them before, when Jean and I would be deployed at the same time, so I knew they were trustworthy.”
“Did you leave them after you found out Jean died?”
I shook my head.  “No.  I left them the night I found out.  Figured we would be going active again, since World War III may be on the horizon.  All things considered, that was fortuitous.”
My companion frowned.  “Poor pets.”
“I knew they would be looked after…”
We sat there in silence for a bit.  I continued.

                     So many years after you left, I can see why you wouldn’t be quick to talk to us.  Summer was pretty vague on the details, but said you had told them what had happened.  That you figured everyone was mad at you.  When I found out, I told Mom.  She said she would really like it if you came home to see us.  That she didn’t like the idea of you sitting in that house, all alone, for Christmas.  I know you think we’re mad at you, but we’re not.  For a long time, everyone thought you were dead, but I could always feel that you were out there, somewhere.

Such a kind person.  But I was glad that Bethke hadn’t imparted what I told her.  They didn’t need to know.  I didn’t want them to know.  It would only put them at risk.  So many confused emotions, all at once.  Kaye was telling me that there was a place for me back there.  Could I do that?  Was I ready?  So much had changed for me, in just a few months.  Was this the logical next step?

Anyway, I hope you’ll come.  There’s a lot to talk about.  I bet you have stories.  We’re family, Quinn.  Even if little Sis is gone, you’re still family to us.  To all of us.  And we miss you.  But, if you choose not to come, I would love it if you’d write back or something.  Just so I know you’re okay.  I hope you’re doing alright.

Love,

Karen

I closed the letter, putting it back in the envelope.
“So, are you gonna go?”
Thought for a moment.  “I don’t know if I can.  If I have the strength to do that.”
Kiddo frowned again.  “Well, me and dad are going to the rest of the family’s for Christmas, so it really would be just you for the holidays, unless you came with us.  Can’t recommend that.  Got some conservative-ass people in the family who are NOT about the gayness.  You’d hate it.”
She wasn’t wrong.  That sounded awful.  As much as I enjoyed her company, not wanting to deal with frustrating prejudiced people to have it for the holidays.
“Yeah, I’ll pass on that.”  Sat down, looking at the envelope with her hand-writing on it.  So many confused thoughts, tumbling over themselves to see which one got the top spot.  Couldn’t make sense of it.  Got up, walked over to the fridge, poured some salted caramel Baileys into a glass with some hot chocolate I made.  That hit the spot.
“I think you should go,” my young companion said, finally.  “She said they want to see you.  And you should get your puppy and kitty back.  She said they miss their momma.  And I wanna meet your pets.”
That thought made the others hurt.  I had missed the fur-babies.  A lot.  When I told myself that the in-laws would be furious with me, that made it harder.  Wanted to get what little family I had left back.  So many memories of them with us.

Another night at home.  Watching the snow fall outside.  First one of the year.  Made for perfect snuggle weather.  We sat on the couch, sipping cocoa and cuddling.  She was in my lap.  Chocolate lips kisses, classic rock playing in the background.  It was a perfect night.  At least it was, until a spotted gray cat decided that the space between us was a perfect place to lay down and get comfortable.
“Natayo!” I shouted, setting down my mug to move her.
“We can’t move kitty!  She’s comfy!” Jean protested.
I gave her a look.  “Pussy can move.”
My wife looked annoyed back at me.  “You can’t move a comfy kitty.  That’s mean.”
Groaned.  “You are such a sap.”
Shadow, seeing that the kitty was now comfortable with us, decided to come over.  He laid his head on the couch, looking up pitifully for attention.  The two of us rubbed his big dumb head, which elicited happy dog tail wags.  Which in turn had Natayo wanting some attention as well.  Jealous pussy.
So wife snuggling turned into pet head rubs.  It was a silly night, but I wasn’t complaining.  Silly nights are the best ones.  Especially when the snow was falling and we were warm and comfy inside.

“Yeah, I suppose it’s time I went to get them back.”  Was that the only reason?
“And you should see Jean’s family.  They said they wanna see you.  You owe them that much, don’t you?”
Another good point.  “Maybe.  Not gonna decide anything right now.  You should get home.”
A hug goodbye, then she ran down to her place.  Left in the quiet, there was so much that I had to think about, but I knew that this was the time.  Had nothing but.  Christmas wasn’t for another week.  But if I was going to do this, I’d have to figure it out soon.  Flights weren’t gonna be easy.

I sat there, listening to Christmas music and drinking my spiked cocoa for hours.  Long into the night, I stared out the window at the black sea.  The moonlight wasn’t going to pierce the rain clouds, so it was just the blackness out there, and the light of my Christmas tree.  Kaye had told me that they weren’t mad, and wanted to see me.  I could see that from her.  She had no reason to lie to me.  And her mother was a total softy, just like her daughters.  Though, Charles would be interesting.  He was the type to hold a grudge, and with how I ditched, I was certain that there would be at least a little bad blood there.  What would he say?  What would any of them?
Then my mind went to my fur-babies.  What would they think?  Would they remember me?  So many things that I didn’t know, but wanted to find out.  The idea of seeing their little faces again, it made this warmth spread through me that made me really wishing I had them here with me right now, to see.  I loved them both so much.  Without my wife, they really were the only family I had left.
“That’s not fair,” a voice said.  “My family was always there for us.  Said you were part of us when you put the ring on my finger.”
My eyes opened, looking around.  Nobody there.  Was I dreaming?  Had I nodded off?  Something to think about.  Was the voice wrong?  Perhaps it was time to go back to the great white north, and get their verdict.  I wanted my two snuggle-buddies.  I wanted that part of my family back.  Didn’t want to be alone here anymore.  Grabbing my laptop, I booked my flight.  It was time to see what was going to happen next.

The flight was on Christmas Eve.  Was the only one I could find, this close to the holiday.  For whatever reason, right on the day, things were quiet.  Guess it goes that people aren’t traveling right then because by that point they’ve already gotten to their destination or aren’t going.  Made sense.  I’ve never gotten people who can go somewhere for a day and then leave.  Had a coworker once who worked part-time for an airline, and sometimes he would just go to somewhere exotic for a day or two and them come back.  Like Paris.  No joke, the fucker went to Paris and came home after a three day weekend.  That baffled me.  I go to Paris, I’m there for a week or so, at least!  Gotta see more of France.  Dude was an enigma, to me.
Kept up with the exercise regime for as long as Emily was still here, though I still did my PT even as she left.  Was super sad to be going, said I had to tell her everything that happened when I got back.  Was reasonably certain I would be getting home before she did.  Wasn’t planning on staying long.  Even if things weren’t super awkward, they would be awkward enough to necessitate a quick exit.  Always have your exfil route planned.  Basic training stuff from my time in the STARS.  Even if you don’t know exactly how a plan will change, know your exfil points.
Packing up, ready to go on a pilgrimage so far away, all the thoughts were back.  Twisting up in my head in so many way.  Sleep didn’t come easily for me on those nights leading up.  Didn’t send anything back to tell her I was coming.  Figured it might be better to surprise them.  People like a holiday surprise, right?  Made sense in my head, but I’ll admit that my logic is a little bit flawed at that point.  Emotions clutter up the rational mind.  That’s just how it goes.

Leaving Sea-Tac for Anchorage, I sat closest to the window.  For whatever reason, I always loved to look at the scenery passing by.  Left at 1630.  Expected to arrive at 2000.  The weather said that it had been snowing like crazy, but had just stopped and now was sunny and cold.  Made sense.  If it wasn’t cloudy in the winter up there, it was cold as fuck.  Couldn’t make this journey in Navy hoodie, so I took my issued Navy pea coat.  Forgot how incredibly warm this thing was.  Solid military fashion design.
Looking out the window, felt myself drifting to sleep.  Was awakened by a voice on the intercom telling me that we were coming into Ted Stevens International Airport.  Looked out the window and saw the lights of the city.  By 1630 it would have been dark at this time of year, so it was no surprise to me that night had fallen long ago.  Such a tiny place, but so central to so much cargo traffic to the rest of the country.  Since I only had my gear bag, I stowed it in the overhead.  Only packed enough clothes for three days, at maximum.
We landed and I headed to rent a car.  Hadn’t driven on the ice like they had in years.  Neat thing to know about Alaska – they don’t salt the roads after it snows.  So they just plow the snow off and that’s it.  It’s icy as fuck for a while, until friction of traffic deals with it.  And for whatever reason, people always forget how to drive every fucking winter.  Without fail, the first major snow day, there are a ton of accidents.  That was always strange, to me.
On the road to their home, thoughts came to me that were much clearer than others.  Memories of the first time I was going to meet Jean’s family.  It was a much better memory.

“So, they know that you’re gay, right?  I mean, this isn’t gonna be a thing like ‘hi mom and dad, this is my girlfriend.  Oh, and I’m gay’, right?”
She burst out laughing.  “Yes!  They know.  You’re silly.”
“I’m just not looking to be someone’s coming out person, you know?  Been down that road before.  Too awkward for me.”  The nervousness in my voice was practically dripping.
“You’re cute when you’re nervous,” she said, smiling at me.
“Oh bite me.”
She gently chomped down on my shoulder.
Looking down at her.  “Really?”
Still staying clamped on, she nodded.
I couldn’t contain with that look on her face.  Started cracking up, which in turn made her crack up as well.  We laughed until we were crying.
“I love my silly woman.”
“Your silly woman loves you too.”  A brief kiss, and we kept going.  “And my parents are gonna love you too.  You’re in the Navy, so that already puts you leagues ahead of all the other women who I have brought home.  Dad was a SEAL, so he is gonna love you even more because you’re one of the STARS.”
That felt a little better.  “They didn’t like the other girls you have brought home?”
“Oh god no!  They hated my first girlfriend.  She was super lipstick and they hated how obsessed she was with fashion.  I was so young.”
Made me giggle.  “Was she dressing you all in pink?”
“Oh yeah!  Or at least trying to.  One of the times when my huge ass saved me.  No cute skirts for Jean.”
I gave her a devilish grin.  “You look better without the pants anyway.”
A mean look back.  “You are so gonna get it.  Later.  Much later.”
“I have taken you once, and you aren’t a superior officer anymore.”
She took my hand and held it.  Since I was driving, that was all we could do.  Now we waited to see what happened.

Wanted to cry again, but for very different reasons.  What would they say?  What would I say?  Guess we were about to find out.

Still remembered the route to their house.  Figured everyone would be at Cheryl and Charlie’s.  Outside of Anchorage, so much white-covered forest.  While driving on icy roads sucks, I couldn’t deny the aesthetics of it.  A winter wonderland, in every sense of the world.  Down in Washington you dream of a white Christmas on the coastal cities.  Here, it just was a thing.  Suppose you take that for granted sometimes.
Their home was a very cozy two-story house, just down the road from a lake.  Their retirement home.  What they expected to be the last home they owned, before passing on into the great hereafter.  I parked next to what I recognized to be Kaye’s car.  Still driving the same dead horse car after all these years.  Some things never change.  There was another car.  Whose was that?  Saw the military license plate.  Her and Jean’s brother!  I didn’t know he was stationed up here now.  Bet that made the family happy.  But wait, wouldn’t his enlistment have been up?  Did he go career?  Guess he finally figured out what he wanted to do with his life.  That was nice.  Remember people talking behind his back about how he didn’t know what he was doing.  I always hated that.  If you can’t say something to someone’s face, don’t say it.
The walk up the path to their front door was the longest I have ever done.  No unimposing door filled me with dread more than this one.  Finally getting there, I tried to command the butterflies to sit still, and I reached for the doorbell and hit it.  Then the wait.  The sound of a happy voice coming to the door.  It opened and there she was – Kaye, looking at me.  Her mouth dropped open.
“Quinn!  You’re here!”
“Hi, Kaye.”

Until next time, a quote,

“Why is it every Christmas I get drug out of my warm bed just to see some stupid relatives?  And why do I have to go to the stupid farm to see them?  Why can’t they come where my warm bed is?  And why…am I whispering?” – Garfield, A Garfield Christmas Special

Peace out,

Maverick

Top 10 Villains I’d Like to See in a ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’ Sequel

Incomniac’s newest game is a marvel (no pun intended).  The fact that they were able to create a Spider-Man game this good amazes me.  This game really is the best in its class.  While it isn’t perfect, it still is able to have an engaging narrative, fun characters, and a world that is fun to explore.  There were some parts of that which could be improved.  Like how you take pictures of stuff, but there is no in-game codex of what stuff is.  You have one for characters you meet, but that’s it.  I would have liked to see one for the places you see and how they connect to Spider-Man’s universe.  Another thing the game did well was having a big part of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery.  Even ones that aren’t well-known, like Screwball.  So I got to thinking – who would I like to see in a sequel?  Insomniac has said the idea for a sequel is open, but they aren’t committing to it yet.  That’s fair.  Better to not have a sequel than a half-assed one.  But assuming they do, these are the villains I want to see.  By the way, Venom and Carnage aren’t going to be on this list.  Too many games have done them, and I’d honestly like to see more of the rest of the Spider’s gallery get their due.  Let’s get started.

10. Jack O’ Lantern
This dude is definitely not a central tier villain.  He’s a gun for hire in every sense of the word.  But the original game showed that you can have those, along with a bigger bad and it works.  That was the entire third act with the Sinister Six, after all.  A former CIA agent who became a merc, this guy is all about some pretty clever weaponry.  The suit for this villain has it all, and the helmet is rigged to be imposing, but still be something approaching practical.  It’s kind of a bummer how little fanfare this dude has had, especially on his ridiculous circular hoverboard.  Not a super complicated villain, but one I’d like to see get his time in the sun.

9. Mysterio
A former stage magician turned small-time crook, a lot of the versions of this character that have been done in gaming have not done him justice in the way I think they should.  Also not cool enough to be a big bad, this guy would be a fun side-quest character.  But the real potential I see is in the boss fight.  Too many games have made battling this dude very straight-forward, when that wasn’t the kind of villain he was.  Mysterio was about performance and using trickery to get the best of the Spider.  So their fight should reflect that.  Have Spider-Man working to unravel his projections or traps or what-have-you, while having to work around the main villain himself.  A fight about subterfuge sounds like a lot of fun.

8. Kraven the Hunter
I’ve talked about this dude before.  The ultimate hunter who decided that he got tired of hunting game, and wanted to try something a little different on for size – the Spider-Man.  This would definitely be a boss that is more about the story that leads up to him than the man himself, because Kraven’s tale is a tragic one.  The original game showed that it can weave a tragic narrative, so I’d like to get to know him.  As for the fight, it would be cool if this was a battle where he is hunting you, and you are constantly having to stay on your toes.  It’s all about knowing the angles and getting around them.  One false move, and you could be dead.  I dig that.

7. Swarm
Anyone remember the battle with The Pain in Metal Gear Solid 3?  I do.  That fight wasn’t especially interesting, but it got me to thinking about one of the most unknown of Spider-Man’s villains – Swarm.  This dude was a former Nazi scientist who tried to enslave the queen of a mutated bee colony, and then subsequently had his consciousness absorbed into the hive after they devoured him.  Yeah, it’s comic book logic.  But the dude is literally a giant swarm of bees!  He has no shape, can become any shape, can control thousands of bees, and go anywhere.  This would be one crazy fight, and I kinda wanna see what Insomniac could do with the character.

6. Hydro-Man
So, we have a villain who is literally a giant swarm of bees.  Why not have one who is literally a human personification of water?  Some of this may sound like going over the same kind of fighting as Swarm, but not only does this guy have an interesting back-story in connection with Spider-Man, but this would be another interesting fight.  I think back to the fight with Clayface in Arkham City, and that’s kind of what I think of with this.  It would be kinda neat if the Spider had to think up tricks on the fly, or have the fight be more about trying to contain Hydro-Man than fighting the person him.  Of course, I can already see how the battle ends – with him being frozen and then contained – but maybe Insomniac could surprise me.  We don’t get many water-based villains in games, so I figure that a sequel could let this dude have his due.

5. Morbius
Given that the first game was very family-friendly, this may be a hard boss to include in a sequel, but I really want to.  This vampire has been haunting the Spider for a long time.  Part of me is trying to think of a way that he could be integrated into a family-friendly Spider-Man game.  Naturally, this would be one HELL of a boss to fight.  The vampire powers, along with the fact that he can go toe-to-toe with the Spider in terms of strength and speed, he really would be hard to take down.  Part of me hopes there would be some kind of daylight device.  But this boss would be more about the mystery.  I can already hear the bad jokes now when Spidey actually has to go after a real vampire and him having trouble accepting that.

4. Alistair Smythe
Part of me is kind of surprised that he wasn’t in the last game, since it opens with taking down Fisk.  Smythe has been one of Fisk’s right-hand men for a long time.  When he is first in the comics, he is in a wheelchair, with his weapon being the asset that Fisk has the most use for.  However, over time he gets himself some a neat biological upgrade that turns him into a monster.  That could be an entire plotline in the sequel game.  I can already see him being part of a plot of Spider-Man trying to clean up the remaining assets of Fisk, only to realize that Smythe will go to any lengths to look after his boss’ interests, even if it means turning into a freakshow.

3. Beetle
This guy is ostensibly Iron Man, with more tools dedicated for the purpose of killing the shit out of people.  I was hoping to see him in the films with Tom Holland in them because Stark has become a father-figure to him, but the angle in the games would be more about the Spider having to overcome this guy’s tools of the trade.  However, since the Avengers exist in that universe, and Spider-Man has remarked to having knowledge of them on some level, any chance there could be an Iron Man cameo?  Perchance to dream.  Still, this would be a fun fight.  I imagine the battle with Hammerhead in the most recent DLC, but with Spider being alone, having to figure it out.

2. Lizard
Now, the thing about this character is the fact that Lizard is to Spider-Man what Two-Face is to Batman – a character that is tragic, a reminder that you can’t save everyone and that sometimes you have to accept battling friends.  I see this more as a narrative driven character than someone with a cool boss fight attached.  In the comics, Parker had a deep connection with Dr. Connors, so it would be nice to see the two facing off once-more.  It’s implied that he is incarcerated at the beginning of the first game, but since The Raft was opened and everyone was let out, I wonder where he will end up next.

And the villain I want to see most in the next game is…

1. Green Goblin
I mean, it’s almost dead certain that he will be in the next game, right?  Norman Osborn is one of the secondary antagonists, and the plotline of Harry being in the weird tank is left unresolved.  He was trying to reverse-engineer the Spider’s abilities, so I figure this is all heading to him being either the central big bad of the next game, or one of the big ones.  It is gonna be interesting to see what angle another game in this franchise would take, as they just had a big showdown with the Sinister Six.  Lots of things to consider.  So long as they don’t make him an overacting idiot like the one in the Sam Raimi film (I hated those movies.  Blame the fact that Tobey Macguire is the titular character), I’m good.

What about you?  What villains would you like to see?  Let me know down below.

Until next time, a quote,

“I learned how to disarm opponents by making bad jokes.” – Silver Sable
“Yeah, you mean good jokes.  But I know that humor’s subjective.” – Spider-Man, Marvel’s Spider-Man

Peace out,

Maverick

Judge Says Cops Have No Legal Obligation to “Protect and Serve”

For those of you who didn’t know, I’ve been following the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland with some interest.  In that story, there was the cowardly deputy Scot Peterson who stood outside and did NOTHING while 16 children were killed by a gunman.  I find this man to be such a disgusting human being, but here’s the thing – I don’t find him to be an anomaly.  I think that that loser is representative of cops.  There are SO many stories of cops killing people’s pets, attacking people and then trying to plant evidence on them (like the cop who shot a man several times in the back as he was running away and tried to plant his taser on him, then got filmed doing it) and robbing people that they know can’t fight back in court.

It seems, now, that the courts have also backed up my opinion.  How’s that?  Well, get a load of this.  According to Judge Beth Bloom, the cops who refused to do ANYTHING while children were being gunned down were well within their rights.  Here’s a neat little tidbit from the article that just blew my fucking mind –

“Neither the Constitution, nor state law, impose a general duty upon police officers or other governmental officials to protect individual persons from harm — even when they know the harm will occur,” said Darren L. Hutchinson, a professor and associate dean at the University of Florida School of Law. “Police can watch someone attack you, refuse to intervene and not violate the Constitution.”

There are no words.  No words at all.  It’s unbelievable.  So the cops can, legally, stand outside like gutless cowards and they didn’t do anything wrong?!  Are you fucking kidding me?!  So all the schools that employ security are just paying really expensive decorations?  Is that what I’m to take away from all this?!  Because that sure as hell is how it reads.  An actual federal judge just codified this!  There’s now legal precedence saying that cops don’t have to do what their vaunted slogan say – protect and serve.

So what are cops obligated to do?  Well, they can kill your pets.  They can do unlawful search and seizures.  They can steal from you.  They can sexually assault you and have an internal review system protect them.  They can straight-up murder you and also have an internal review system to protect them.  Does that sound like hyperbole?  Well, it would be, except we’ve seen ALL of those things happen!

What’s the takeaway from this?  I guess it’s that if you are a student and your school comes under attack – run!  The security has no legal obligation to protect you, and there’s no good reason to expect that they will.  None.  We’ve seen four gutless cowards in Parkland, one of whom was posted there for this very reason do nothing.  I don’t think it’s smart to assume other cops are any better in this regard.

I feel so bad for all the families whose children were taken from them because of gutless cowards with badges who didn’t do a goddamn thing.  And we now know that in the future, when this happens again (because it fucking will.  This country doesn’t do jack-shit to change anything so it is gonna happen again), not to expect security personnel to be more than window-dressing that the school districts pay money that could go to hiring more teachers.  And it makes that teacher who gave his life to save as many children as he could by taking bullets that much more of a hero.  Because all he could give to those kids was his life, and he did it.

Guess expecting that level of diligence from police really is asking too fucking much.

Until next time, a quote,

“Courage of the heart is very rare.  The stone has a power when it’s there.” – Nicodemus, The Secret of NIMH

Peace out,

Maverick

Pictures and the Road Down Memory Lane

(The narrative picks up where we left off on Saturday.  I promise, it’ll be worth the wait)

A couple days after Thanksgiving, I was invited over for brunch by John.  It was a nice invitation, so I couldn’t refuse.  Apparently, Emily had told him that I’m a master cook, and they were hoping to get a demonstration.  That kid had a devious side that I was increasingly starting to admire.  She has a gift at getting things to happen, while making it good for others.  Devious in a good way?  Is that a thing?  Hard to say.
In any case, since they have a fully stocked kitchen, I had some ideas.  Made up some pancake batter, mixing in maple syrup.  Then I got some breakfast sausage and cooked that up.  This sounding familiar?  I made little scrambled egg discs.  Just because all fast food is universally disgusting (without exception), doesn’t mean all their ideas are bad.  I made sausage pancake breakfast sandwiches.  As expected, this went down incredibly well.
“I must say, when Em told me that your cooking was awesome, I was a little skeptical.  I mean, with Betty, it’s hard not to be.  That woman has a gift.  But this is quite something.  Well done, my friend.”
The way he said that, it took me back to getting compliments from the Lt.  This guy has a commanding presence.  He would have made for one hell of an officer, he had taken the leap.  Oh well.  Now he leads as a CFA.  That’s something.  Managing investment accounts sounds like one hell of a job.  Part of why he was away so much.  Though, after nearly losing his daughter, he had made spending time with her a bigger part of his week.  Guess you don’t know how valuable the things in your life are until you nearly lose them.  I can respect that.
Kiddo nodded.  “Oh yeah!  This is bomb.com!”
Eating much slower, a little grin crossed my face.  Still getting used to smiling again.  Been so long.  “Glad you approve.”
John looked over.  “Sorry my little girl roped you to making brunch for us.”
I shrugged.  “It’s alright.  This was fun.”
“Well, if you want, we can get some payback on her for tricking you.  I got just the thing.”
She looked up, mortified.  “You wouldn’t!”
He gave her a dark grin.  “Oh, I would.”
“This isn’t cool, dad!”
“Yup, but it’s happening.”
“You’re supposed to be my friend!”
“And I’m your father.  Which means that doing this is what I do best.”
Putting on the biggest pout-y face of all time.  “I’ll cry!  I mean it!”
“You can’t cry your way out of this, sweetie.”
“You’re evil!”
Looking right at me with a giant smirk on his face.  “The definition of fatherhood.”
I chuckled.  “I think I see where this is going.”

Emily was right in-between us, with a look of cringing pain all over her face.  Sitting on her lap was a photo album.  Open on it was a picture of her, sitting in the kitchen sink, holding a plane bath-toy.  She had this big happy baby look on her face.
“Awww!  She’s so cute!” I said, looking at the picture.
“Yeah, she was one and half in that picture.  She loved that toy plane.  Wouldn’t take a bath without it for years.”
Leaned against her.  “You were the most adorable baby.”
“She really was.  I’ve seen so many people’s babies that are just creatures from the Black Lagoon.  She was so cute.  Everywhere we took here, people had to comment.  Made going anywhere with her take four times as long, but that’s the price you pay.”
“Who was taking the picture?” I asked.
“Her mother, Evelyn.”
I knew part of the story.  Was it something I could broach.  “So she was still around then?”
“Yeah.  She didn’t leave until she was five.”
There was a question burning inside, but was it alright to ask?  Worst they can say is no, right?
“If you don’t mind me asking, what’s happened with her?”
Running his chin thoughtfully.  “Oh, it’s no trouble.  With all that my little girl has asked you, it would be rather rude of me not to let you ask some questions.  Besides, I stopped being angry about what happened between Eve and I a long time ago.  Life’s too short for that.  The big and small of it is – she wanted more from life than I was able to give her.  She thought that my being a CFA and rich meant we’d be going to big parties and living the good life.  And it is a good life we had.  But being a CFA is a lot of work, and I didn’t have the time to invest in her that she wanted.  Fractures started to grow.  Eventually she was leaving Em in the care of Betty and going out to all sorts of things herself.  She grew more and more distant, until one day she didn’t back.
“I found out a few weeks later she had been having an affair with a wealthy real estate agent.  Apparently they were having a lot of fun together.  I got the divorce papers a few weeks later.  Because I had information she was unfaithful, the divorce was pretty ugly for her.  She didn’t try and push to get custody of Em.  Guess that would have been too much work for her.  It’s not easy, raising a daughter.”
“She didn’t give a shit about us,” Emily growled.
Her father gave her a look, but shrugged.  “We’ll never know what she cared about.  That’s the bummer part of it all.”
“She never kept in touch?” I asked.
Kiddo snorted.  “Yeah, every now and again I’d a postcard with her saying she’s in Fiji or some shit.”
“Language, young lady!”  Then he sighed.  “Sometimes I get a call or an email asking how she’s doing.  Saying she’s off in some exotic place.  I tell her she can talk to her, and how I bet Emily would like that, but she never does.  After a while, I just stopped trying to see if there was a bond that could grow there.  Apparently that was asking WAY too much of her.”
This was so strange, to me.  “Having a kid didn’t do anything for her?”
“Sure, at first.  We were the talk of the town we lived in.  A rich man, his beautiful wife, and their beautiful daughter.  It made for good social media, back when that was first becoming a thing.  But after a while, she realized that raising a kid is a lot of work.  And she wasn’t looking for that out of life.  She wanted parties, nice places, fine dining, extravagant vacations.  I told her I didn’t have the time.  Back then, I was new to the arena.  I had a company I was working for as an analyst, and making damn good money.  But it’s time-consuming.  Only reason I can get away more now is because I run the office I work at.  I can delegate.  Back then, a 10 hour day was pretty standard.  I always made sure to spend time with the two of them, but I could see her growing distant.  Maybe I should have done something, but I honestly couldn’t think of what I could do.”
To be that kind of person.  It was sickening.  “So she made no attempt to get custody?  Even get visitation?  All because it was a lot of work..?”
“Well…” he said, then said nothing.  Realizing that he left that hanging, and both of us were looking at him, he cleared his throat.  “I have a theory about the real reason she didn’t try and get custody, but no proof.”
“What theory?” Emily asked.
Another sigh.  “I think it always rubbed her a little raw the fact that Emily preferred to spend time with me than her.  When she was super little, they would play dress-up and stuff, but as she was away more and more, they grew more distant.  And while I worked long days, I always would come home and spend a little time with her.  Even if it was just to read her a bedtime story or make one up on the fly.”
Kiddo smiled.  “One of the first things I can remember is your bedtime stories.  I always fell asleep before you finished.”
That was a sweet thought.
“Yeah.  So eventually she was blowing her mother off to see me and talk to me.  Led to some pretty epic fights.  Her saying things like ‘you’re never here, why does she like you so much more than me?’  I’m thinking ‘um, Pot, Kettle’s on the line!’  One night we were damn-near screaming at each other, when Em came to the door and asked what was wrong.  I told her that mommy and daddy were just a little mad right now, but it had nothing to do with her and took her back to bed.”
“You lied to her.”
“All parents lie to their children, eventually.  That’s just how it is.  Nights like that, I’d be sitting in the kitchen reading a magazine or turn on the game and watch some of that, just to try and get my mind off things.”
So much to take in.  “Wow.  Sounds awful.”
“I wasn’t crying when she left.”  We all sat there in silence for a bit.  “Anyway, let’s see more.”  Turning the page, there was a much younger version of kiddo running at some birds.  “This was in Seattle.  She loved to scare birds.  It was always so funny to me.”
She frowned.  “I liked to make them fly away together…”
The two of us chuckled.
Another page turn.  This time we saw the two of them together at an ice cream shop.  “I’ve always tried to make as much time as I could.  If nothing else, what happened with Eve taught me how important it is to make time for those you love.  We were at Shug’s Soda Fountain and Ice Cream.”
“I miss their ice cream,” kiddo chimed in.
“Same.  They were pretty awesome.”  Turned the page again.  Now it was them in front of their house here.  “First day we moved in.  It was a pretty hectic day, but I think we’ve made the most of it.”
Looking up at me.  “It’s where I met you.”
Couldn’t help but feel some affinity for the little scamp with her saying that.  I gave her a little hug.
“So, what about you, Quinn?  Any old albums to cringe at?”
I shook my head.  “All the albums of me as a baby are back home.  I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents burned them.”  Some awkwardness hung in the air.  A thought came to me, but was I ready for this?  Could I do it?  Only one way to find out.  “But there is something I do have.  Not nearly as old, but it’s something.  Wait here.  I’ll go get it.”

The walk home was pretty quick.  I hustled as much as I could.  Was cool, but no rain today.  That made things easier.  When I got back inside, there was so much trepidation.  I was about to be opening up parts of my past.  Showing parts of me that I had never shown before.  The original version of this was destroyed, but I remade it.  Penance, I suppose.  Going into my closet, I reached up into a box I had on the top shelf.  There I pulled out a black album.  Hadn’t cracked this thing open since I finished it.  Was such a huge step.  But were these people not worth sharing it with?  Hadn’t we had something together yesterday that made us more than just acquaintances?  I was family now.  That’s what they said, right?  I had to face it, eventually.  Might as well be today.
When I got back, the two were in the kitchen, cleaning up.  I sat down at one of the chairs in the little bar they had at one of the counters.  Emily sat next to me.
“I don’t have anything from when I was little, but I do have a different photo album.  One from when Jean and I went on our honeymoon.”
The two of them both looked shocked.
John recovered quickly.  “That sounds lovely.”
I opened it and the first picture was the two of us on a plane.  She was dressed in a orange hoodie, with her long hair stick out as the hood was up.  She wasn’t in uniform, so she could wear her big civilian glasses.  She was taking the picture, selfie-style.  Had her arm around me, and I was looking totally annoyed.
“It was such a long flight.  I got so bored.”  I chuckled, seeing them snickering at the look on my face.
“Where did you honeymoon at?”
“Italy.  In Puglia.  We knew we wanted to go somewhere cool, but didn’t want to go to all the tourist traps.  You know?  So, we figured that if we’re gonna go to Italy for a week, then let’s go somewhere special.”
There was another picture of me sleeping on the plane, leaning against the window.
“You look cute like that,” Emily remarked.
“Aye, Jean thought as much.”  Good memories.  Turned the page, and there was us on a high speed train.  “Train was the best way to get anywhere in Europe.  Found that out from work I did in the Navy.”  Knew her father was unaware of the things I had told kiddo, so I kept it vague.  The next page had her sleeping, leaning against me.  “Got me some revenge!”
The two chuckled, then Emily sighed.  “She looks cute too.”
“Aye.”  Turned the page again.  This time we were overlooking a town made of white stone.  We were now dressed in white and tan, so we didn’t overheat.  “Gargano.  It was such a nice place.  So much history!  All of Puglia had a ton of history.  More tourists are finding it, but it’s still pretty raw and the people there love themselves some history.  We had people who spoke English telling us all about stuff.  It was so much fun to learn.”
John was taking it in.  “I’m making a note to go to this part of the world someday.”
“Our next vacation!” Emily chimed in.
The picture on the other side had me with a sandwich-like pocket made of pizza dough, stuffed full of meat, cheese, fire-roasted tomatoes, peppers.  “A puccia.  There were street vendors all over who sold this stuff.  Apparently it’s a pretty big thing for people there who are walking.  It’s easy to eat as you go, since you don’t have to worry about stuff dripping out.”
“Drool…” Kiddo said.
“That’s a big affirmative!” I replied.  Turned the page.  There was the two of us, swimming in our one-piece Navy bathing suits, in beautiful blue-green water.  Her arm was around me, kissing my cheek.  “Polignano A Mare.  Such a beautiful place.  The water there is so blue and clear and amazing.  We went diving there.”  I turned the page to show a picture of me with a scuba tank on my back, chilling with some fish.  “That was my favorite part of our trip.  No contest.  I love to swim.  I’ve been a fish ever since high school.  Was able to teach Jean how to dive.  We had so much fun.”
Across from that, there was a picture of both of us at a restaurant, with a view of the sea.  “This was the Grotta Palazzese.  Getting a meal there was probably the most expensive part, but there is no more romantic place to eat.  Not anywhere.  It’s made into a limestone cave wall, and you have the perfect view of the ocean.  And the food there was amazing.  You take for granted what Italian food is, until you actually eat it.  Then you realize what we you’ve been calling ‘Italian’ all your life isn’t even close.”
“I swear, you’re making me hungry again,” John said with a sneer.  I just shrugged at him.
Another turn of the page, and it was the two of us in an olive grove.  “We knew that if we were going to go to Italy, we had to see where they grow some olives.  So many fights with Jean about putting it on pizza.  I can’t stand it.  But it was cool stuff.  Very pretty.”
Across from that was me lying in the sun.  “That woman is evil.  She kept making fun of how pale I am, even when were both getting a decent tan.”
Everyone laughed.  Turned the page, but this got awkward.  I totally forgot this was in here!  There was a room with a four-post bed.  It had these seductive white, wispy curtains hanging from it.  I was sitting on the bed, totally naked, with only my backside visible.  It showed my tattoo of an Eyelash Viper, curled up around a tree branch, which adorned my back.  There was also the one on my left arm that you could see, along with some side-boob, of Alpha Team and the insignia of our unit.  It was of a sea snake, wrapped around an anchor, open-mouthed with fangs at the ready.  Jean designed it, and all of us, including her had gotten it.
“Oh shit!  Sorry about that.  I totally spaced that being in here.”
“Cool tattoos!” Emily said.
“Thanks.  I got the snake when I was just getting out of high school.  Used up all the savings I had.  The other one I got with the unit I served with.”
John nodded.  “Alpha Team.  Cool name.  That an official title?”
Nothing wrong with him knowing that.  “Aye.  Among the unit I served with, that was the team I was a part of.”
“Did you know she was taking your picture?”
I looked down at it.  “No.  Sneaky woman.  That’s how she always was.”  Looking across, there was her, naked, with only her back exposed, lying face-down.  The blanket contoured to her butt quite well.  “But I still got my revenge.”
Turning the page, there was me, with a beautiful white city in the background.  “Otranto.  So damn beautiful.  All the white sand, incredible architecture, and big fish markets.  It was great.  We finished up our trip there.  Went swimming as often as we could.”  Looking across to the next page.  We were sitting at a seaside restaurant, eating a boiled octopus.
“Ewww!” Emily groaned.
“Not really.  It’s pretty much like a calamari.  We were put off by the look of it too, until we actually got to taste it.  That was the biggest surprise from our time in Italy.  Wish they served that kind of thing here.”
John nodded.  “I believe it.  Man, all this food.”  He looked at his daughter.  “We are so going there, one day.”
“Hell yeah!”  She smiled at him when he gave her a frustrated dad look.
Closing the album, I looked up.  “There is a little more, but it gets into some stuff that I’d rather younger audiences not see.”
She rolled her eyes.  “You do know that the Internet is a thing now, right?  I’ve seen naked people before.”
John got all awkward.
I just gave her a look.  “Yeah, well, I’d rather not have you and dad getting a birds-eye view of us like that.  Would be weird, you feel me?”
Without any indication that he would, John put his hand on my shoulder.  “You two looked really happy together.  I’m so sorry that she’s gone.”
Put my hand on his.  “Thanks.”
Emily gave me a hug.  It really was like being in a room full of family.  Except I’m the fun aunt, and John is my older bro.  I could get in on that.  Family.  Felt like such a foreign concept.  Maybe this could stick.

Until next time, a quote,

“We need to take another vacation.” – Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Peace out,

Maverick

Critical Examination: My Vision for the Perfect Military FPS

I’ve been replaying the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games.  It’s the last time that I think the single player in this franchise was anything approaching good.  The most narratively interesting was Modern Warfare 2.  The idea of war coming to American shores is actually kinda unique.  I can definitely dig it.  But as I was playing, there were a whole bunch of thoughts that came to me.  Namely – why is this concept not being done better?  I thought about the things that I would want to see in a military FPS game, and figured that I could go deep into this.  Here is the military FPS game that I want to see, but know that it will never be made.

A Different Kind of Narrative

Something that I noticed is that all the enemies in these games are the same.  Mostly Russians.  Part of what I like about the Modern Warfare franchise is that you have some interesting locales.  There is a Brazil, where you’re dealing with a militia.  Then there’s a munitions factory in Africa.  The chemical-doused streets of France, and a German city.  Lots of neat places, all with different kinds of potential.

But the enemies are always the same.  I think the kind of narrative that I would be looking for is one that looks at all the different kinds of warfare.  Maybe like you’re teamed up with various elements of the military and you get to go to all kinds of places for all kinds of missions.  Like going into Africa for a kind of Black Hawk Down sort of mission, then infiltrating a compound in Morocco to assassinate a high value target.  Then you have to go to a South Korean mansion to get another target.  Maybe like a Black Ops unit with a target that has no nation.  The kind of Makarov without the Russian nationalism.  I like the concept of a killer who has no rules and will do whatever it takes to make the almighty dollar.  But maybe this person is ambitious. The kind of Petr Baelish type, who wants to watch the world burn to make a better one.

I also would love to see different armed forces.  Maybe this mission is huge, and involves the British, Americans, Korean, and all kinds of other militaries from different nations.  I want to get to know the world that I live in.  See the attitudes of different nations and how they approach things.  Maybe take on the Brazilian militia aspect from the perspective of their national government as it grows and see them teaming up with some American outfit central to the plot or American intelligence to get their job done.  Perhaps I’ve been inspired by the various locales in Rainbow Six: Siege, but it is a neat concept, am I wrong?  I want to know how the rest of the world approaches war.  What is war to Brazil, South Korea, or the Kurdish fighters?  This has so much narrative potential.

The whole point of this is to inject some kind of realism into this.  Make this feel like a world I can be a part of.  That can even shut up the social justice types because now you can have all the inclusivity in the world, by seeing all kinds of places and learning about how they see the world.  It would also make the story pop because you can see the real-world effects of this villain at work, in real time.  See them using chemical weapons against a South Korean city, or bombing a Brazilian government office, or helping a coup against the Mexican President.

Something else I want to mention – nix the big, elaborate set-pieces.  I have no problem with set-pieces, but military FPS games have gone out of control with this stuff.  Keep it simple, make it semi-believable.  Don’t have characters surviving insane things that make no sense and no realistic person ever would.  I don’t mind the pomp and circumstance, but don’t go overboard.  Which ties into something else…

Believable and Likeable Characters

Another thing I’ll give Modern Warfare – you had likeable protagonists.  Characters like Soap and Price.  Sgt. Foley (voiced by the ever-fantastic Keith David),Sandman and Truck, voiced by William Fichtner and Idris Elba, respectively.  I want characters that have personality and get me wanting to see where things go.  This ties in to wanting to see the way the world at large sees warfare.  If the idea is to have an enemy who is the kind of Big Boss type, it would be cool to have the story centered around smaller characters.  Like maybe an intelligence officer or a special forces unit that is the center strike team of the story, along with the people they find along the way.

Also: don’t just have one branch of the armed service doing everything.  Something I noticed in Modern Warfare 3 is that the same people are doing everything, with a few exceptions.  The SAS and Russian secret service missions were fun.  Now perspective.  But it’s the same with the US military.  Sometimes you have things to do that only the SEALs or Delta Force or whoever can do.  Let us see the different sections and have them do different things.  The idea of an interconnected military is important.  Let us see that.

Not only that, but give us time to get to know them and the world they inhabit.  If it’s people in different branches of the US military, show us their world.  Seeing the Delta Force, Navy SEALs, SAS, or whoever else.  I want to see what kind of world these people live in.  Would this mean a lot of cutscenes?  It doesn’t have to.  Let your character explore it.  Maybe have it that during missions you can play as a certain character, but between missions we have our intelligence officer or something exploring the part of the world that they are in while they do them.  Like an SAS base while working with them for part of it, and a South Korean SWAT team base for another.  There is so much narrative potential that is not being addressed by not giving us time to get to know the people and their worlds.  Give players the chance to explore and we’ll do it.

Which brings me to another point….

More Open Level Design

Notice I didn’t say open world.  Didn’t mean that.  I don’t want some big, empty open world.  Instead, I want larger levels that can have different avenues that one can explore.  Like how you can go to X place and exploit terrain in a certain way to accomplish your mission, or Y place and take an approach to your mission that takes longer, but will minimize your risk of casualties or being detected.  Give players a choice of weapons and equipment, so they can exploit different aspects of a level.  Like hacker tools, or demolition equipment, sniper gear.  Is this sounding too much like Hitman?  I don’t mean for it to.  I don’t hate linearity on the face of it, so long as I feel like there are points that I can play with that a little.  The perfect example of this is Uncharted 4.  There is a lot of linear areas, but there are also the more open spaces that let you play around with how you want to approach things.

They found out that people really liked the level All Ghillied Up in the original Modern Warfare, because it let you do what I’m talking about.  Personally, I like the idea of having the aircraft boneyard from Modern Warfare 2 but let you have all kinds of ways to get through.  The potential for gameplay there is out of control.  Give the players choice, let us figure things out.

And for fuck’s sake, don’t hold our hand!  Stop having a button-prompt for everything.  Let us learn some things by trial and error.  That’s the sign of a developer respecting gamers’ intelligence by assuming that we can learn from our mistakes.  The worst part is when the games are yelling at you all the time about what to do.  How about you let me figure things out?  Maybe have a character in a position where they are cut off and have to figure out what to do without someone there.  Like the comms are out, and now it’s just you and your weapon, having to get through hostile territory in one piece.  There are lots of ideas here.

Don’t Make it a Love Letter to the Military

I know this is the hardest thing to ask for.  After all, America is all about making the military look good.  The military goes over stuff with the military in it for just that reason.  But war is difficult, and I wouldn’t mind if we show the real-world cost.  Have people who feel real seeing this and having to see that what they are doing is right, but that it needs to be brought to a conclusion because the stakes keep getting raised.  See the devastation and human cost of war.  You can do that without making it an insult to the military.  In the beginning of the Exodus mission in Modern Warfare 2, you have the character seeing an Army base set up while the conflict still rages, seeing tired soldiers, wounded, and hearing the desperate battle outside over the radio (though I always wonder if military lingo in these games is legit, or just made to sound cool).  That’s what I’m talking about!

The whole idea of this is to look at modern warfare as more than just badass dudes killing people.  Humanize war.  You can still do that without making it not fun.  I’m not talking about making the player feel bad about it.  There is still a villain who needs to be stopped.  What I’m talking about is making this personal.  See what this monster leaves behind, and have the characters be tested, but then push past that by their resolve being strengthened by each other.  War is ugly, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to fight it when you are pushed to that point.  Granted, in the modern world, all America does is fight wars because that keeps our economy going, so maybe this is going to romanticize the concept a little, but you can do that without making it so that the brutality is totally lost.

So what do you all think?  Is my idea totally a pie in the sky fantasy?  Probably.  Without name recognition, this concept would likely die.  But I think this is a game that a lot of people would be talking about.  I really do.  If only we had a studio that was willing to put a ton of money into something like this.  A risk, but one that is trying something totally different.  Too much to ask for in the AAA world today.  It’s depressing.

Until next time, a quote,

“The healthy human mind doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking this is its last day on Earth. But I think that’s a luxury, not a curse. To know you’re close to the end is a kind of freedom. Good time to take…inventory. Outgunned. Outnumbered. Out of our minds. On a suicide mission. But the sand and rocks here, stained with the blood of thousands of years of warfare, they will remember us, for this. Because, out of all our vast array of nightmares, this is the one we choose for ourselves. We go forward like a breath exhaled from the Earth. With vigor in our hearts and one goal in sight.” – Capt. Johnathan Price, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Peace out,

Maverick