A Mental Enigma (Act I, Scene IV)

The trip back was far easier.  With the bars having let out, cops were busy stalking for drunk drivers.  With the route Quinn had, she knew how to avoid them without difficulty.  All nights should be this simple.  It was pretty great.  Riding high on Cloud Nine, the trip to the abandoned home had her putting in $23,000.  A good haul for one night.  Opening the lockbox where she kept all the winnings underneath the floorboards, a smile came to her face.  Inside was sitting now $110,000.  It was a fund designed to help secure her future.  All she needed was one major score and she could pay back Father McCormick for her time at Oceanview Academy of St Galentine.
It had been a point of guilt for her – the fact that Father had been basically paying her way to be at one of the top Catholic boarding schools in the country.  Or at the very least that her being there was eating out of their funds because they weren’t being compensated for her.  The guilt had been eating at her since she heard Sister Sarah talking about the cost of tuition there.  It wasn’t fair that she was effectively able to cheat the system to get one of the best educations a girl can get.  It was one guilt point of a dozen that she had inside.
She genuinely was trying not to pick fights with Sister Margaret.  It was so fucking difficult.  The two were constantly butting heads, about absolutely everything.  Of course, when they would fight, the Sister would take it to Father.  Then they would fight.  A non-stop cycle of the two of them going back and forth and him having to play the peace-maker.  But no matter what she did, it didn’t stop.  Maybe she’d wear the white shirt.  It was worth it if it made his life easier, right?
Once she turned 18 and graduated, she’d have the money come to the school by way of an anonymous donation.  She had already learned the process a year ago, when she began her poker habit.  Then there was no guilt for her, and Father would think that the Good Lord had provided his school with a kindly donation.
Going to a Catholic school, one of the big requisites is that you believe in God.  And…she didn’t.  Not at all.  It all just seemed so silly to her.  A celestial patriarchal entity created this planet in six days, but then created everything else as a huge afterthought?  Who told his prophet to kill the men of their enemies and take the virgin girls as sex trophies?  She read the book from cover to cover in order to acclimate herself to the new environment and what they studied, and the whole thing just rubbed her as a primitive book written by primitive people with way more allegory than actual stories.
Bringing that up to Father, however, was totally off the table.  He believed this stuff so fervently.  It was incredibly important to him.  Who was she to question it?  It would just be something he believed in and she would just play along with until she got out.  Then she’d tell him the truth.  He seemed like a man who was caring and wouldn’t throw it all away because of something like that.  At least, that’s what she hoped.  It was hard to say.

Climbing up the hill to the tree, she was out of breath before even getting to it.  Leaning against it, she panted.  While her mind is a sharpened instrument that can do battle with the best of them, her body was so weak.  She was average height for a girl, but was skinny and almost underweight.  The various PE courses they had her do were always the worst.  Her running times were abysmal, on par with the most out of shape girls in the school.  You’d think that she would have some camaraderie among them, but her reputation of being from a poor family colored so many people’s perception of her.  A poor girl at an elite school trumped some level of empathy for being physically weak among those who shared in her plight.  Irony.
Perhaps she could cozy up to Lisa?  Given her situation, there may be a way to use this newfound friendship as a way to get out from under her own problems.  Felt bad, using a new friend like that.  But she wasn’t just going to be using her.  Their conversation yesterday had informed her that this girl was quite smart herself.  She even had a PDA!  It seemed this young lady wanted to put her mind to work with technology.  Admirable.  Getting past a physical handicap and also putting an exceptional mind to work.  This girl was worthy of respect.
Climbing up the tree and making her way back in, more thoughts came to her.  What about the roommate?  She seemed nice enough.  Had even heard her music and jammed with her.  That was something friends do, right?  Or at least they could be friends.  A warm thought.
Back inside school grounds, it was a race to beat the rising light levels.  More Sisters would be around the grounds soon.  She could NOT get caught now!  After an evening this good, failure to get back to her dorm quick enough was unacceptable.  At the very least, if she could get close enough, she could say she was using the bathroom if caught.  No!  No compromising the vision of a perfect escape.  She must get back inside flawlessly.
She peeked from the darkness inside the area around the window she used to escape.  Still clear.  Going back into ninja mode, she slipped through and closed it behind her.  Now it was moving as fast as her poor physical stamina would allow.  Sliding down the stairs was easy.  Getting back up was less so.  Her ears perked for the sound of footsteps.  With luck, the Sister on duty was catching some shut-eye herself.
Each tiny squeak made her heart pound.  It was always the most stressful part, no matter how many times she did it.  Getting to the top, there was one more hallway turn, and she was on the home stretch.  Again moving as fast as she could without making noise and without her stamina causing her breathing to be audible.  So much stress.  As she was about to turn the corner to the last stretch, noise!  Footsteps!  Looking behind her, she saw it.  Bathroom!
With a flash, she ducked inside.  The footsteps got closer, then passed by.  Waiting until she couldn’t hear anything, she came out and hurried to her dorm.  Closing the door behind, she slid down it and sat on the floor.  Success!  Victory against the forces of academic oppression!  Crush the system!  Well, maybe not that, but still, victory.
Might as well get a couple hours of sleep before class.  She was already going to be a zombie.  So worth it.  Stripping off her hoodie, she pulled down her pants and grabbed her PJ pants.
“Where did you go?” a voice called out.
Spinning in terror, she saw the outline of her roommate lying in bed.  Couldn’t get a clear look at her face.  Oh shit!  This was about as terrible as it could be.  All that work, only to be busted by her roommate?
“I had to pee.”
“You were gone all night.  I remember waking up, and you were gone.  Woke up a little later, and you were gone then too.  You’re taking off your shoes.  So you left.”
Basic reasoning, but on point.
Sitting on her bed, she let out a sigh.  “I…I can’t tell you, Kaye.”
Her roommate sat up, her face clearer in the growing light.  It was a mask of concern.
“Why?  Is everything okay?”
This nagging feeling tore at her.  Don’t lie to her!  She’s legitimately concerned about you.  Is there no one we can be honest with?
“Because, what I go out and do every now and again…it’s illegal.”
Kaye’s hand went to her mouth.  “Oh goodness.  Is it drugs?”
She shook her head.  “No, nothing like that.”
Awkward expression.  “…Prostitution?”
A chuckle.  “Don’t think I have a body good enough for that.”
If she could see the color on Kaye’s face, she was reasonably sure it was beet red.  Something just told her it was.
“So what?  What is it?  I won’t tell anyone, Quinn.  I promise!”
Now the feeling was ripping her to pieces.  Just fucking tell her!  Don’t make her worry like this!
“I gamble.  I go to a private place and play poker for money.  I’m ridiculously good at it.  To the point that I have yet to go to a game and not run the table.  Tonight was a challenge.  First time in ages.  Might have found an opponent who could be worthy, with some experience.  It was incredible.”
Her roommate cocked her head to the side.  “Why do you do it?”
Leaning back against the wall on the other side of her bed.  “I don’t know.  There’s this itch that I get.  Something deep inside.  It wants me to prove that I’m better than people.  I’ve destroyed every girl here at chess, mahjongg, whatever game you can think of that uses your mind.  But those games didn’t scratch the itch.  I needed something where I was genuinely risking something.  Where I would be putting something on the line and have the fear of failure.  Then I heard about the place and went there to play.”
Quinn’s eyes lit up.  “It was amazing!  The anticipation.  Since we were playing Texas Hold ‘Em, there was the math I’d do about who had what hand.  What the odds were there that someone had a better hand than me.  It was great!  This was not a game with professionals.  I destroyed them.  From there, the itch got scratched.  It was months before I needed to do so again.  Went back, this time to a real game with real players.  It was even better!  This time I was able to carefully play each individual and be tactical about my approach.  Won a big pot.
“Now I am building on it.  Growing my reputation.  I can walk in there now and nobody questions it.  Not the bouncers, not the Bank, not the Dealer.  Every night I do it, I prove that I’m better than my opponents.  My mind is sharper than theirs.  It’s such a rush!”
Hearing herself say that out loud, it sounded way more like an addiction.
Apparently she wasn’t alone in that thought.  “My mom sounds the same way when she talks about booze.”
That hurt.  What was she addicted to?  It wasn’t gambling, because that was just a symptom, not a cause.  Adrenaline?  Made some sense.  An adrenaline junkie.  There are worse things, right?  This didn’t make her feel better.  It would have been easier to lie.  Whoever said that the truth sets you free was full of shit.
Turning her back to her, Quinn lay on her bed and closed her eyes.  She was in control of this.  No one else.  Guess friendship only did go so far.

Her alarm went off and she didn’t feel any less tired.  Worth it, for sure, but today was going to be a long day.  Sitting up, she turned to see her roommate getting dressed.  No sense talking with her.  Part of her wanted to see if Father could get rid of this problem, but she had just thought last night about how she didn’t want to make life more difficult for him.
Looking over at the white shirt, she let out a sigh.  Speaking of not making things difficult for him.  Taking off her shirt, she went to grab the white shirt.
“Oh my god!” she heard from behind her.
Looking back, she saw Kaye looking absolutely mortified.
“What?”
“That mark on your shoulder.  It’s a brand!”
Putting on the white shirt, she started buttoning it up.  “It’s just a birthmark.”
Kaye gave her an ugly look.  “That’s a lie, Quinn!”
Turning to face her.  “Yeah, it is.  Because it’s none of your fucking business!  So tell you what, you keep your fucking judgmental comments to yourself and I’ll keep out of your hair!”
In a second she realized that she had just fucked up.  This girl knew not only what she’s doing, but why.  Making an enemy of her would do nothing but make her life immeasurably more difficult.  If she snitched on her to Sister Margaret, not only would she make life for Father difficult, she would almost-certainly be expelled.  Then given over to the cops and go to juvenile justice.  This is why she didn’t make friends here!  Emotional connections lead to making decisions based on emotions.  Guess the white shirt didn’t matter now, did it?
“Fuck this!”
In a flash Quinn grabbed her shoes and was out the door.  No way she was gonna get caught here.  No way was this going to be where her story ended.  Get to the safe-house with her money, and from there figure out what her next move was going to be.  As she left, she thought she heard a voice behind her.  What did it say?  Didn’t matter.

The gate was open now, so she was able to walk right out of the school.  Good thing too.  Walking quickly, but trying not to draw attention.  She got to the gate and was about to head out, when a voice called out to her.
“Quinn!”  This was a different voice.
Part of her wanted to just keep going and ignore it, but another part told her to look.
Lisa was in a car, backing up to her.  “Hey!  Where are you going?  Class is gonna start soon.”
She awkwardly stood there, trying to think of a clever way to get out of this without giving a direct answer.  Maybe she could be half-honest?
“I…don’t wanna go to class today.  I’m not feeling it.”
Giving her a worried look.  “Everything okay?”
“No.  Something happened and I just want to get away from here for a while.”
A thoughtful look came to Lisa’s face.  Then she smiled at her.  “Well, if you’re looking to play hooky, want some company?”
That made her incredulous.  “You’re joining forces with a miscreant now?”
She nodded.  “Sure!  Perk of having medical problems.  I can get away with all sorts of stuff.  Hop in!  We’ll go to the pier and wander around like a couple of tourists!”
Not being able to help herself, Quinn smiled.  “Alright.  Sounds good.  Let’s do it.”
Getting in on the other side, the driver waved to her.  He looked to be a kindly gentleman.  Dressed in a rather nice suit himself.
“Where to, ladies?”
“Drop us off at the pier!  Quinn will be my caretaker today.”
“Very well.  Shall I notify the school of your absence?”
She thought for a moment.  “Yes.  And make sure to tell them that Quinn is helping me with feeling not well and keeping up on my classwork.”
Quinn gave her companion a smile.  “Awfully nice of you.”
“I’m sure you’ll still get an earful, but at least it won’t be as bad, right?”
Not particularly caring, as she assumed trying to go back would result in her getting expelled, she just shrugged.  One more good day before being on the run.

The car came to a stop at a parking lot by the pier.  A place where tourists gathered.  As it was still August, there were still tourist trap stores open.  It was all so tacky.  Brought back memories for Quinn of spending time here with Father McCormick.  What would he say when he found out?  It pained her to think about how disappointed he would be with her.  How it would break his heart to sign an order expelling her, and losing his guardianship as she went into juvenile detention.  Assuming she got out before she turned 18, she’d be in some group home.  The horror stories about those places are numerous.
“You okay?” Lisa asked.
Looking over at her, she feigned a smile and nodded.  “Yeah.  I’m alright.  How are you?”
“The morning was no rougher than usual.”
She frowned.  “I suppose that’s a good thing.
“Yeah.  Well, as you are my caretaker today, let’s go look at the ocean!  Take me to the far side of the pier.  Let’s take in the scenery.”
A caretaker, eh?  Sounded fine.  “Yes ma’am.”
Since it was still early, cool air blew in their faces.
“You cold?” Quinn asked.
“A little, but I’ll be alright.”  A little chuckle.  “You’re a lot different than I expected.  Way everyone talks about you, I kinda figured you’d be the queen bitch of the universe.  But you’re super nice.”
While hearing how her peers thought about her hurt, she did appreciate the compliment.
“Something about not believing everything you hear and judging books by covers.”
Looking up at her, Lisa smiled.  “Word!”

The two finally arrived at the end of the pier, looking out at the sea.  Since this was the west coast, the sun rose behind them.  Made everything in front of them glow.
“Beautiful,” Quinn remarked.
“Yeah.”
Standing there until the glow subsided.
“Let’s get something to eat.  Cinnabon is close.”
That sounded absolutely perfect.
“You’re gonna get fat in that chair,” She chided.
“Please, I have to push myself around in this damn thing all day.  Burns crazy calories.”
“I bet.”
“Surprised you don’t get fat.  I’ve seen you put it away, but you’re so lanky.  I’m guessing you don’t do a lot of running.”
Her expression dimmed.  “You’re not wrong.  I’ve never understood people who do all that running.  Seems like a horrific waste of energy.  My assertion is that my metabolism is like a freakin’ squirrel.  So that’s why I don’t gain weight.  Yay me.”
Lisa chuckled again.  “Trying to imagine you fat.  It’s funny.”
Bopping her on the head.  “Bad girl!”
“Whatever!  Come on, pick up the pace.  Could have wheeled myself there by now.”
“Careful, or I’ll let you test that theory.”
That got an obstinate look.  “Mean.”
“Gotta live down to my reputation.”
When they got to the door, it opened as a client was leaving and the absolutely intoxicating smell drifted out to meet them.
“My tummy is growing just thinking about that!”
“Mine too,” Quinn agreed.

After ordering, they sat outside by a bench.  So much sugary goodness, and it was worth the calories.  It was such a shame that this was going to likely be the last time she got to enjoy such a thing, at least for the foreseeable future.  It was pretty simple – get her car and get out of here.  She knew how to drive, just hadn’t had much experience.  As in hardly at all.  Something new to learn, right?  A challenge to undertake?  Seeing life as a series of challenges had gotten her through a lot so far.  Could it get her through juvenile detention?  A grim thought.
“Hey Quinn?”
Pulled out of her morose line of thinking, she looked up.  “Hm?”
“What were you doing last night?”
Once-again, her insides went cold.  “What do you mean?”
“I saw you out on a dirt-bike super early.  Like, crazy early.  What were you doing?”  The way she asked, it wasn’t judgmental.  It was curious.
But she had learned her lesson from before.  “Just out for a little joyride.”
Lisa frowned.  “Where did you get the dirt-bike?”
A little honesty couldn’t hurt here.  “I knew some people and they owed me.  So I got it for cheap.”
She perked up.  “Well that’s cool!  So jealous.  Think you could ever give me a ride sometime?”
Could she?  They were both small enough that she could get on.  Problem was the bum leg.  Lisa’s leg would be a liability.  Especially if it was injured.  She wouldn’t know.
“I don’t know if you could, with your leg.”  There was genuine sympathy in her voice.
“Yeah…I suppose.”
“I’m sorry.  I would if it were some other way.”  In reality, this was an excellent out for her.
“Thanks.  I believe you would.”
Smiling at her, Quinn took a napkin and wiped her cheek.  “You’re a messy eater.”
Her companion just stuck out her tongue.
“And mature.”
“Damn right!”
They sat there and ate.  Lisa talked about how she was wanting to learn tech stuff, maybe get into that.  Because of her disability, snagging a good husband wasn’t the first option.  So she figured that she would snag a good career instead.  Made her parents proud.  Making the most of a bad situation.
From her bag she pulled out a PDA.
Quinn marveled.  “That’s so cool!  Being a rich kid really does have the perks.”
That got a wink.  “You know it!  Since I always have amazing grades, daddy spoils me with whatever I need.  Helps that I’m stuck in a medical facility each night.”  Her face darkened.  “I know they feel guilty.  It’s not their fault.  I was born with this.  But still.”
Probably felt bad that their daughter was constantly looking at kids run and play, while she couldn’t.  For a second, Quinn thought about if there was a way that she could work out to secure her leg to the bike.  Actually take her on that joy-ride.  But then she remembered – about to be going up shit creek soon.  It was a nice thought, though.

Hours passed by as the two went down the boardwalk, going from tacky tourist shop to another equally tacky shop.  Trying on shades, looking at cutesy fishing lures, laughing at the terrible Oceanview tourist merch.  It was great.  For a little while, the precariousness of her situation faded away.  Just a fun day, with someone who understood what it was to be an outcast.
The afternoon was starting to show up when a familiar face came into the shop that the two were at.
Quinn looked up.  “Kaye?”
Lisa gave her a look.  “Who’s that?”
“My new roommate.”
Walking over, her roommate looked awkward.  “I heard you skipped class today.”
Also looking awkward.  “Yeah.  Just looking after a friend.”
Kaye did the best smile she could.  “Hi.  I’m Kaye Evers.”
“Lisa.  So, what’s it like to live with Quinn?  She as much of a problem at home as she is at school.”
That got a mean look from Quinn.  “If you weren’t in that chair I’d smack you.”
A wink back.  “Gotta love me.”
Kaye looked over.  “She’s got crazy music,” she said.
The girl pouted a bit.  “Well I’m sure anyone could have told me that.”
Chuckling, Quinn shook her head.  “I do what I can.”  She was gonna miss the CDs since they would be confiscated.  Would Sister Margaret burn them?  Do it in holy fire to purge the evil Devil music.
Looking over at her, Kaye looked somewhat apologetic.  “Can I talk to you for a bit?”
Part of her wanted to hope.  It was a fool’s hope, but still.
“Sure.”  Turning to Lisa.  “Don’t you go anywhere.”
Another wink.  “No promises.”
“Brat.”
The two walked outside.
“Look,” Kaye began, “I’m sorry about what I said last night.  That was mean.  I can see from your mark that a lot of stuff has happened to you.  It wasn’t my place to say that.”
A real apology.  Not one of those fake ones you see little kids give.
“I’m sorry too, for yelling at you this morning.”
“Friends?”
Strategically, Quinn had to do this.  If she was offering an apology, that meant she hadn’t told the Sister about her.  It meant that she wasn’t in the doghouse or worse.  But it felt good too.
Nodding.  “Friends.”
Kaye went in and hugged her.  That took her by surprise.  Definitely never had the hugging treatment.  Still a new day?  At least she knew she had an earful coming from Sister Margaret.  Time to see what would happen next.

Until next time, a quote,

“Hey, this ain’t like me, but I managed to change ‘cause you were here helping me.  I got you all wrapped up in this shit, but you stayed with me ‘til the bitter end.  You didn’t abandon me.” – Ryuchi Sakamoto, Persona 5

Peace out,

Maverick

A Mental Enigma (Act I, Scene III)

Walking into The Parlor was like walking into another world.  The best kept secret in Oceanview.  An underground gambling hub where you could bet on sporting events, play various games of chance, and periodically, there were poker games.  That’s what drew Quinn there tonight.  Word reached her of a game that was happening.  Also why she needed the stack of cash.
Because this wasn’t her first time in here, the staff didn’t seem to pay her much mind.  For those playing, watching, or drinking, the sight of a 15 year old girl in a place like this was more than a little alarming.  There was whispering abound, but she ignored it.  The vast majority of people in this room were no one to her, nor would they ever be.
The Parlor was a very posh sort of place.  Everything was comfortable red velvet colors.  Very soothing.  Not a window to be found, but that was for a good reason.  Everything that happened here was entirely illegal.  Those who came here were dressed with some measure of regard.  As if they knew that you wanted to look as passable as possible in this place.  There was no specific dress code, but people felt that if you were here, you should look the part.  Another reason they were staring at Quinn.
Towards the far wall, there was the place where you cashed in chips, and where you looked to get in on any big games happening.  Standing there was a man in a very smooth red vest, white shirt, and black pants.  Indeed, everyone who worked here wore a similar attire, with even women wearing black pants.  Uniformity was the word.
“Greetings, Red,” the man said jovially.  “What can we do for you tonight?”
“I understand there’s a game happening.  There still time to join?”
He nodded curtly.  “Yes indeed.  It’s set to get underway shortly, so your timing is impeccable.”
Good.  I haven’t missed it.  “What’s the buy-in?”
“The buy-in is $3,000, with no further buy-in if your chips are depleted.”
So this was a small-time game.  Still, it would scratch her itch, for tonight.  “Will the Dealer let me buy in for $5,000?”  She put the stack of cash that was banded on the table.
The man nodded.  “Yes.  I take it the House is to take their cut from this?”
“Only if I win.”
With the same professional expression, the man nodded again.  “Understood.”
Reaching under the counter, he gave her a plaque with the amount she had given the Bank.  This would get her chips when she got inside.

The door to the Poker room was guarded by a very large and very burly black fellow.  Rumor had it he was in the Marines, once upon a time.  Whatever his history, it was understood that those who fucked with him did so at their own peril.
“You got the invite, kid?”
She held up the plaque.
“Alright.  Good luck in there, Red.”
“Thanks.”
Stepping inside, this room was much more posh than the one she had just left.  There was the table at the center, and mirrors in panels between red wooden panels.  There was the logo of The Parlor at the far end.  Inside were six people at the table, and some people there to watch the game.  Probably friends/significant others of the players.
When she handed her plaque to The Dealer, multiple players gave her a confused look.  Already she had the upper hand.  This was good.  Time to survey the competition.  Six other players.  First there was a man who definitely looked like he didn’t belong here.  In a tacky suit jacket, with a wrinkled nice shirt.  This was a game that he bought his way into probably out of desperation.  Maybe he had some skill, but not enough to be a threat.
Next there was a woman who looked very, very bored.  Not someone here to complete legit.  This was something to pass the time.  Fair enough.  Someone to keep an eye on, but not enough to worry about.  Beside her was a very different person.  A young man, early 20’s.  Hair that was messy and dyed blonde at the ends.  On his face were expensive sunglasses.  His outfit reeked of surfer dude, but not the cheap kind.  This was all posh and name brand.  So he was a surfer in look only.  Under the sunglasses, she could feel his eyes on her.  Made her skin crawl.  This dude was trouble.
Then there was another fellow, looking to be a businessman who was here to try and win himself some extra cash.  Another person in it for the fun of it.  Not someone she was going to take seriously.  Lastly, there was a much older man.  This person was a different breed.  Everything about him screamed that he wasn’t fucking around.  This was a professional gambler, and he was here to play to win.  Maybe a worthy opponent?  A girl could dream.
Getting settled in, Quinn went through a small meditation.  Looking at her opponents, analyzing them.  Getting her mind into a place where she could do battle with them.  It was time.
“Who let the baby in here?” Sunglasses asked.
She didn’t answer.  Not gonna let this guy psyche her out now.  The Dealer provided her with the chips.  The value ran from $20 to $250.  This could be an interesting night.  People started to take their seats.  Seems that Sunglasses was not the only one wondering what she was doing there.  Nobody here who knew her, outside of The Dealer.
“Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.  Tonight’s game is going to be Five Card Draw, Jokers wild.”
Finally!  A game where she had to actually match wits with people.  Where there was no math involved, because it could be anything with anyone.  This game was shaping up to actually be fun.
“There will be no further buy-ins past this point.  Good luck.”
Not even remotely a battle of titans, but she’d take this any day.

The game started much as she expected.  Scruffy guy was bleeding chips pretty fast, and his poker face was a joke.  Bored woman didn’t show any investment and didn’t care that she was bleeding chips.  Clearly it wasn’t her money she was spending here.  Business man was doing alright, but not enough for her to take him seriously.
Meanwhile, the old timer was every bit the gambler she believed.  This dude had the perfect poker face.  And just like everyone else, he had ruled her out as any kind of threat at first, but quickly changed his tune as the game progressed.  She deliberately lost a couple hands, just to find weaknesses, and he could see the formula she was working with.  But the one she was having to watch the most was Sunglasses.  This guy was pretty good.  Had the true challenge to her skill come along in the form of this loser?  Ironic, but you take the battles where you can find them.  His poker face was perfect.  Helped that he had sunglasses, but they weren’t mirrored, so she couldn’t see his cards.
The game had stretched into three hours, and things were running hot.  Scruffy guy was gone.  His reaction to losing was one of anguish.  Business man decided to try and get lucky with a run on the rest.  Played it coy at first, but once the old timers put in, he raised the stakes.  They got raised more and more by Sunglasses, who was looking to see if Quinn would take the bait.  Her hand wasn’t great, and she could see that business man was looking to capitalize on luck, so she folded.  Turns out, Sunglasses had the good hand, and took business man down.  It was a skilled play.  It was a straight, King high.  Not too shabby.

Now it was just the three.  Quinn could see the old timer was getting antsy.  His position wasn’t getting better and his chips were getting smaller.  If he didn’t win a good hand soon, he was going to be out.  This made his poker face crack more and more.  Neat thing – as the game had gone on, a couple of those who had been playing stuck around, eager to see who would win.  She heard a few saying they thought she had it.  That made her feel better.
Sunglasses was looking to make the kill.  His coy attitude betrayed him.  So cavalier, like he was just chilling and letting a hand play out.  Drew two cards.  The old timer decided his play had come.  A good hand?  Maybe.  Quinn put down $250.  He raised by $1000.  Sunglasses called.  Now it was up to her.  What would she do?  Looking at Sunglasses lip, there was this slight quiver.  Just for a split-second.  Long enough for her to know that he had a good hand.  A really good hand.  She folded.  Smart move.  They threw down, and he had a full house, Aces over fives.  Old timer had a straight.  Ten high.  That was it.  He was done.
Only two of them now.  This game had officially gotten interesting.  Hand after hand, with Quinn being smart.  She’d win on the small hands, fold on the bigger ones.  He was trying to push her to bet big with coy moves and small raises.  Just like he’d done to the old timer.  She wasn’t taking the bait.  It was clear this was his go-to strategy, and since it wasn’t working, he was gonna have to change up.
Finally, they got to a hand and something changed.  He put down $250 at the start.  No cards drawn.  She tensed up.  What did he have?  Something that good, right from the outset?  Couldn’t be.  No way.  She called it, drawing one.  Now she saw him tense up.  One card?  What did she have?  it was a game where neither one betrayed what they had, and now both of them were in a position where they had to make the play.  It was big.  He decided to push his strategy, raising by $500.  He had something good, but instead of bowing out, she decided to step up.  $1,200.  Everyone in the room stopped.  They could feel this hand was different.
The Dealer looked to Sunglasses.  “Sir?  Call or raise?”
They stared right at each other.  Someone had to see what the other was hiding.  That little twitch again, but it wasn’t like last time.  He was confident, but that confidence was tempered.  He knew his opponent was good.
He put down $1,200.  Time to throw down.  Now he smiled a bit.  It was a flush.  Not too shabby.  She smiled back at him, laying her cards down flat and then using one to flip the others.  Four of a kind, Jacks.  She had officially staked her claim.  Now play-time was over.

From that point, Sunglasses realized he was up against someone who may just be better than him, and clearly he wasn’t having it.  Play after play, she could read his tells and was using his own play style against him.  Making bets just big enough to egg him on into playing more.  Then she would go bigger, and sometimes he would call, but sometimes he would fold.  One hand in-particular had him sitting to think for a couple seconds, with $5,000 on the table, only to fold.  He was bleeding.
It came to one last hand.  He was at $8,000.  She was at $15,000.  The entire room was watching this with baited breath.  Sunglasses drew two.  Suddenly, he stopped cold.  His hand was good.  She could feel it.  Looking down at her own cards, she also felt herself smile.  She put in $7,000.  He looked at her, desperate to get a sign, anything that could tell if she was bluffing.  Was her had this good?  Looking down, it was clear he liked his hand, but that uncertainty was eating at him.  His pride was involved with this now.  He wasn’t going to lose to a little girl.
“You know what, fuck it.”  All-in.  “Hey, how about let’s make things interesting?”  From his pocket came what looked to be a really nice set of keys to a nice car.  The logo on it!  It was a fucking Porsche!
“I saw that piece of shit bike you came in on.  Care to bet the against my car?”
Oh, this dude needed to be taken down a peg.
Looking at The Dealer.  “If the Dealer will allow it, I’m game.”
Thinking for a moment, he nodded.  “Parties may make independent bets.  So long as the gentleman understands that all bets are final.  If he loses, that’s it.”
Again, his pride was wrapped up in it.  So he just smiled.  “Oh yeah.  I’m in.  What do you say, kid?”
Taking the keys to her bike, she thought for a moment.  If she lost, it was going to be a LONG walk home.  And her ability to do this again was gone without transportation.  But with the car, his bet was larger than her.  She was going to have to go all-in on this anyway, even if she didn’t want to take his bet.  Looking back at her cards, she smiled.
“Call.”  Her keys clicked as they hit the stack.
The entire room was on baited breath.  This was it.
“I’m gonna enjoy fucking up your bike, girl.” Sunglasses said, turning over his cards.  It was four of a kind, Aces.  Everyone gasped.
She looked right at him.  “No, I think I’m gonna enjoy driving your car.”
Her hand flipped over.  Straight flush, the Joker made it King of Hearts high.
There was clapping around the room.  Sunglasses sunk down in his chair, his face a mask of disbelief.  Wiping the sweat off her forehead, Quinn stood up and scooped up the chips, along with the keys to her bike and the car.  Time to get home.  Though, the car was a bit of a problem.

Walking out of the room, a voice called after her.  “Not too bad, kiddo.”
Turning around, she saw the old timer standing there.
“You were doing pretty well yourself.  Had a couple good hands.”
“I haven’t gone up against two skilled youngsters like yourselves since I was coming up.  But my skills are getting rusty.  Thanks for the compliment all the same.”
Walking over to the bar, the woman there gave her a look.
“What do you want?  Water?”
“Root beer, if you have it.”  She knew they did.  It was something she ordered her first day there, and had been
The bottle was opened and put in front of her.  Quinn put down a five dollar bill.  Old timer asked for a whiskey, straight.
“So, what’s your deal, kid?  I wouldn’t expect to see a girl my granddaughter’s age in here playing cards.”
Leaning against the bar, she took a deep swig.  It felt so good.  She had sweat more than she thought.
“I have an itch that I can’t scratch.  To pit myself against skilled opponents.  To see if I can find anyone who is better than me.  I don’t know where it comes from.  At school I beat everyone in chess.  Beat all the adults I know in chess.  Every game of skill that I’ve come across, I keep winning.  But there were no stakes!  Nothing to lose!  I wanted to feel the tension wondering if I was going to lose everything.  Tonight was fantastic.  That douche in the sunglasses was a skilled opponent.”
The man looked down at her, with a face of both pity and confusion.  “He was.  A little more time and he could be someone pretty great.  But he wasn’t you.  I saw that look in your eye.  At first it was excitement, but after a while it was like a predator.  You were hunting him.  Like in your mind you knew you were going to win before this started.”
Was he right?  The thought hurt.  She didn’t want to see herself that way.
“I don’t know.  But the feeling, right now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
He nodded.  “Yeah, I know how you feel.  Been there myself.  So, what are you gonna do with that car?  Are you even old enough to have your permit?”
Her face flushed red.  “Yeah.  But…didn’t get it too long ago.  Can’t legally drive a car, or my bike.”
“So what are you gonna do with the car?”
“I don’t really know.  There are options, but I don’t know if any of them are good.  It’s a puzzle my brain wasn’t quite ready for.  I just expected this to be a money issue.  Always gotta love a good puzzle, right?”
Taking one last drink, the old timer smiled at her.  “Tell you what – why don’t you let me look after it for a while?  I can park it at my place.”
She cocked an eyebrow.  “Why would you do that for me?  You barely know me?  And how do I know you won’t steal it?”
He chuckled.  “Eh, going fast in sports cars is cool and all, but I don’t have a taste for that thrill.  Too old for it.  As for why I would help you, I got a feeling about you.  Like you’re special.  There are gonna be more games coming.  You’re gonna be back, right?”
Part of her wanted to say no, but she could feel it inside her, the answer was yes.
“Oh yeah.  I’ll be back.”
“Well then, let’s see if an old man’s experience can measure up with a young woman’s skill and see if we can’t make something special happen here.  You in?”  He held out his hand.
Tentative excitement.  A mentor?  Did she need that?  But he was good.  She had seen him.  If it  weren’t for how her and Sunglasses were playing, she might have been in more danger from him.
She shook his hand.  “I’m in.”
“Alright then.  I’ll hold on to that car for you.  Time comes, and you’re old enough, I’ll be happy to give it back to you.  By then I figure you’ll be worth more than I am.”
So that’s his deal.  A wealthy gambler, spending his twilight years in a place like this.  Tragic, but it gave her perspective.  He wanted to help her, and vicariously experience this through her.  That was just fine.  It could be the start of something fantastic.

As she left, she could hear Sunglasses yelling with his entourage about losing to a girl and going to get drunk.  Best to clear out of here fast.  He could be dangerous with alcohol.  A risk of seeing him again?  Probably.  Kicking her bike ignition, she started off toward home.  The sun was going to rise soon.
From a window, Lisa looked out at the noise.  Her eyes went wide.
“Quinn?!”

Until next time, a quote,

“I’ll know I’m in trouble if I start to weep blood.” – James Bond, Casino Royale

Peace out,

Maverick

A Mental Enigma (Act I, Scene II)

Quinn was not in a good mood.  A roommate?  This was going to complicate things immeasurably.  There was a certain lifestyle that she was accustomed to, and now it was going to have be done so much more carefully than before.  Though when she thought about it like that, the mental challenge it posed was not without appeal.  Hadn’t she been looking for a challenge?  Being able to escape the roommate, the dorms, and the school unseen did present a stimulating obstacle.  For the moment, she’d have to see what the roomie’s sleeping habits were like, and then go from there.
This girl liked to talk.  Absolutely incessantly.  Talked about how much she liked the school and how it is was so pretty here.  About her family.  Seems they are military and expect great things from her.  Both her mom and dad had served.  That was impressive, but not especially interesting.  At least not to Quinn.  The necklace she kept hidden inside a hollowed-out book that was in the bottom drawer of her desk soured the very concept.  She already had tags.
“So, what about you?  What brings you here?”
Time to rehash the same old lies.  It gave her a bitter taste in her mouth, but what other options were there?  In her heart, she knew it was for the best.  What else could she say?  A lot of late nights talking with Father about it.
Kaye saw the look on her face.  “What’s wrong?”
Shaking her head, she smiled at her.  “Nothing.  Not really much to tell.  Just a poor girl who got here because my folks new the guy in charge.  They were hella proud to hear that their little girl was going to one of the most elite schools in the country.”
The way the girl smiled at her, it gave Quinn a warm feeling.  It wasn’t like so many other girls.  Like her smile was really there, not just plastered on.
“That’s awesome!  Hopefully I’ll get to meet them.”
A twinge of sadness.  She wanted to meet them too.  After months of searching, the police gave up on finding them.  From there, Father McCormick put in the papers to have her sent to his school and be her legal guardian.  Part of her wondered if they were even still alive.  Given what they found her with, and the brand on her shoulder, she figured not.
“Yeah, me too,” Quinn replied.
From there, conversation got easier.  Kaye noticed the CDs sitting on her desk and was immediately enamored.  All her life, listening to stuff like this was so risque.  Her mother was unbelievably prudish and had never allowed that kind of music in the house.
“What?!”
“It’s true,” Kaye groaned.  “I couldn’t watch any cool movies growing up, or listen to music like that.”
This gave Quinn an idea.  “Well, you’re in my room now.  So let’s start here!”
A sheepish look came to Kaye’s face.  “Wouldn’t we get in trouble for listening to punk music?”
With a wink, “You afraid of getting in a little trouble?”
Her roommate looked down for a minute, then right into her eyes, shaking her head.  “No.  I wanna hear it!”
“Hell yeah!”
Noticing the timid reaction when she swore made Quinn giggle.  This girl was kinda cute, if only in her white-picket fence way.  That would change.  Getting up, she put in Nevermind.  As “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on, she got on her feet and started to jam.
“Come on, Kaye!  Get that white ass up and dance!”
The girl looked so awkward, but she did as bidden.  At first it was uncomfortable, but as it played there was a noticeable change in how she moved.  Clearly she didn’t know how to jam out, but she was actually moving to the music.  Pretty soon she was doing the air-guitar with the best of them.
Just then, a banging on her door.  “Quinndolyn!  Turn off that music right now!”
Kaye stopped and looked mortified.  “Oh no!”
Quinn hit the Stop button and sighed.  “Look, don’t sweat it.  I’ll take the rap for this.  Sister Margaret and I go way back.”  Opening the door, she gave her the sweetest expression she could muster.  “What’s wrong, Sister Margaret?”
“You know perfectly well that we don’t like that music here!  I’ve talked with you a dozen times!”
“I was trying to be engaging with my new dormmate, Sister.  I wanted to expose her to my culture.”
That got the most snide look in history.  “Oh?  And what culture is that, exactly?”
“The punk culture, Sister.”
To best describe the look she got next would be one that could freeze someone solid where they stand.  Vicious and ice-cold.
“I’ve talked with you about this before, Quinn.  One more infraction and I will be taking those CDs away from you!”
She really thought about stepping up to her, but not only was this woman loads bigger than her, and she had already gotten her knuckles rapped before, but she didn’t want to start off the school year with this battle already.  Father had asked her to try and get along.
“Understood, ma’am.”
Clearly she enjoyed the feeling of power.  “Very good.  It’s lights-out here soon, so best get ready for bed, Quinn.”
“Yes, Sister.”
As the door closed, Quinn let both middle fingers blaze.  “Bitch.”
Kaye stood there awkwardly.  “I’m sorry.”
Shaking her head.  “I told you not to sweat it.  Sister Margaret and I go way back.  She’s hated me ever since I got here.”
“That awful…”
In truth, it was.  The rational part of her brain told her that the reason wasn’t that complicated.  For starters, she clearly had Father McCormick’s ear.  While he didn’t cover for her, it was clear that she was important to her.  The closest she would likely ever have to a real father.  There was a rumor going around that Sister Margaret had always had a thing for Father McCormick, but would never say a word because of the fact that not only was he her superior, but Catholic rules be rules. Anything between them could only go so far.  She didn’t figure that the Church would look past him breaking his oath of celibacy, even with as much as the Church looks past now.
Next up was because Quinn was seen as the local attitude problem.  Sister Margaret liked the girls upstanding, prim and proper.  So a girl who could listen to punk rock, but still be at the top of her class must have chapped her 48-year-old ass pretty hard.  She knew it drew the ire of every single other girl in this place.  The idea had occurred on more than one occasion to leave this place.  But where would she go?  With a mind as smart as hers, she could probably find her way.  None of the options looked good.  Maybe as soon as…

Father McCormick rubbed his temple.
“We’ve had this conversation before, Sister,” he remarked.
“Yes Father, but last time it was when she was new here.  It’s been three years, and she still has the same attitude problem.  Now she has a roommate, and instead of the roommate being a good influence on her, it seems the opposite is happening.  This could be the start of a worrying trend, sir!  This school preps some of the smartest and most talented young women in the country to find good husbands and build futures.  One rotten apple could sour an entire class.”
This conversation was tedious.  “What would you like me to do, Sister?  Kick her out?  May I remind you that her scores are exemplary!  She’s at the top of her class, academically.  There is NO good reason that you can find to have me send her away from this school.”
The Sister got closer.  “I want you to stop covering for her, Father!  Every time we have this conversation, you consistently defend her and obstruct me.  It’s time we crack down on her behavior!  Make her an example to the rest that insolence is not tolerated here and we are not afraid to make an example of trouble-makers.”
Now he was annoyed.  “She listened to rock music, Sister Margaret!  That’s not quite the revolution you’re alluding to.  And I don’t appreciate the implication that I cover for her.  When she has broken actual rules of this school, I was ALWAYS behind you to discipline her!  Listening to music you personally disapprove of is not an infraction.  Tell you what, when she starts breaking actual rules, then you can come talk to me about further disciplinary actions.  Until then, good evening, Sister.”
Seeing his fierce look, she backed down.  “Good evening, Father.”
As the door closed, he let out a sigh.  Then a smile came to his face.  So his gambit worked.  Instead of trying to force her to make friends here, he introduced a new element into her life, and if she’s listening to music with her, that means they have connected on some level.  While Sister Margaret sees doom and gloom, he sees the chance for her to finally come out of her shell.  There was also the girl in the wheelchair he saw her walking with.  Perhaps it was a new day here at the school, for his young charge.  On his desk sat a picture.  It was of the two of them driving down the coast.  Back when she was out of the hospital.  So timid and nervous.  No memories of the life that came before.  He wanted to show her that she could feel safe, so they went down the coast.  It was the first time he saw her smile.
Three years already?  How time flew by.  Each step to try and get her to come out of the iron-thick shell she made for herself was an effort.  But every year he saw more progress.  As the head of a school, that was one thing.  As a surrogate father, it was something else.

Night had fallen, and her roommate was fast asleep.  Quinn did a couple of basic tests to see how hard it was she slept, and it seemed the sleeping pattern was reasonably strong.  This was good, as the itch was back and she needed to go out into the night.  To scratch it in the way of which she was accustomed to.
Getting up from bed, she quietly dressed in a hoodie and jeans.  Put on her sneakers and opened the door just a little.  Coast was clear so far.  Moving silently through the halls, she listened for any noise.  The sound of shoes!  The Sister who was on watch for the night making her rounds.  Listening for any noises or sounds of infractions.  Perhaps genius ninjas sneaking out again?  Not something you could listen for.  The sound made it easy for her to track where the movement was.  She could keep one step ahead.
The game got easier as she got to the stairwell.  Even with her sneaking skills, these stairs squeaked something fierce.  Thankfully, she learned a trick to get around this.  Sliding down the railing never stopped being fun.  Sure, there was always the risk that someone would see her when she got to the bottom, but now she knew where the person on patrol was.  This meant she had to act quickly.
Moving much faster, she got to the window at the far end of a hall that didn’t have any outside lights shining on it.  Sliding it open just enough to get her through, she closed it behind.  The chill of the night air felt so good.  No matter how many time she did this, her heart was pounding.  Into the darkness she started toward her way out.  A way she discovered when she was 13, but had been too afraid to use.  Time got her toughened up for this.
As she moved, something above her caught her eye.  An open window!  Someone was standing there!  Oh shit!  The grass was soft and muffled sound, but she couldn’t be too careful.  Moving much slower, she sneaked around it.  Who was that up there?  Her answer came from the most unlikely of sources – a lighter ignition.  It was Sister Margaret!  She smoked?!  Now that was a shock.  Clearly that was buried underneath five levels of secrecy.  In a way, it made her seem more human to Quinn.  Not enough to like her, but enough to make her think that she wasn’t a totally awful human being.
Once she was sure she’d passed her range of vision, the goal came back into focus.  She ran down the lawn, finally arriving at her way out.  It was a tree that grew right along the edge of the fence.  Its arms hung over the other side.  Nobody ever did anything about it because no one figured anyone would be crazy enough to actually use this method of escape. It was risky.  If the limb she used should snap, it would surely give her some ugly injuries.  Not to mention potentially impaling herself on the top of the fence, if she was over it.  Ick.  As she got older and bigger, she knew that this route would be less secure.  The thinking part of her brain knew other options would have to be found that were more reliable.  Until then, this would do.
Climbing up was easy.  Despite being weak, physically, at the very least she had this much strength.  Onto the branch that extended out, it always made her feel the most ninja.  On the outside of the fence, there was another equally-strong branch that this one met up with.  She crossed seamlessly, though there was that little moment as the tree shook slightly and her heart fluttered.  Such a good feeling.
After she climbed down, she started quickly toward where her transportation was waiting.  This was something she was proud of herself for setting up.  Using an old abandoned property that nobody would buy because the last owner and their family had been horribly murdered.  Paranoia of lesser-minded people worked for her just fine.  Grabbing a stack of cash from under the floorboards, she went into the garage.  Inside was her dirt bike.  Something she won from a kid who thought they were such hot shit.  Guess they weren’t so hot now.  She could only wonder what the conversation with the kid’s parents were like.  Opening the door, she kicked on the ignition and started off.

The night air passing over her, with her on a bike with her lid helmet.  It looked dorky, but you use what you have to.  Her brain was the best asset she had.  No way she was gonna risk it.  Driving down the long and winding road that led up to the school.  The woods seemed ominous, but there was still something beautiful about them.  An owl was drifting along above her.  That was cool!  Big one, too.
Getting to the town, now she had to be careful again.  It wasn’t the Sisters she had to worry about here.  It was the cops.  The wrong person sighted her, and it was all over.  She’d be in the most major trouble she ever had been.  Still, she knew the routes they had.  Something she had cultivated over months of feverish study.  In her mind she could see it like a map.  The bars weren’t going to be letting out for a number of hours, so the beat cop who ran this part of the town would be chilling by a coffee shop.  Their patrols were pretty infrequent until the bars let out.  Then it was time to catch some drunk drivers.  This town was quiet, and that worked to her advantage.
The back-alley route was smart, and it made sense, given where she was looking to go.  The Parlor.  A place that few knew about, and had no sign.  Getting this info took all her wits, and it was worth it.  Every night she came here, she made a killing.  Made her wonder if she would ever be kicked out.  But the house got its cut.
Finally, she saw the black door, with all the graffiti around it.  Parking the bike and chaining it up to a pole, she walked toward it.  Knocking, a section of the front slid open.
“What’s the word?” A grim voice asked.
“I hear the crabbing is good right now.”
The door unlocked.  Time to see what tonight had in store for her.

Until next time, a quote,

“Anyway, that’s how I lost my medical license.” – The Medic, Team Fortress 2

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Unpopular Opinion: Picard Looks Stupid

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge Trekkie.  I have loved so much from this universe.  My favorite of the original series movies is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  The way they bring the narrative of the original crew to a wrap is just perfect.  Kirk has his hatred of the Klingons introduced in III brought to a resolution.  Spock has his conflict with the dueling parts of his nature (the human and vulcan) finally brought to a resolution as he realizes that even his species is capable of horrible treachery.  And Sulu has command of his ship and is starting his own adventure.  It’s great stuff.

My favorite series is, without a doubt, The Next Generation.  The first two seasons were definitely rough.  Same with my second-favorite series, Voyager.  And just like Voyager, by the third season it really picks up its stride.  That’s when the series becomes one of the greatest pieces of science fiction of all time.  The series has great characters, great character growth over the course of it, and it ends on a perfect note.  The last episode of The Next Generation is pretty great.  Picard finds out that he is inevitably going to have an incurable illness and the crew will grow apart.  However, after he is able to go back in time, he decides that because he can see what’s coming, he is going to make the most out of every day he can.  He shares a kiss with Crusher, and the look on his face is just fantastic.  Like he just had a dream come true.  Then, it all ends with him going to the weekly poker game the crew has and him being told that he was always allowed to come to the game.  Now he doesn’t have to be professionally distant with his crew.  He’s reached the point that they can be more than his underlings, but also his friends.

So when I heard that there is a new series coming out with Patrick Stewart back as the titular character, I was thinking – why?  What more could they do with the character?  It doesn’t help that Star Trek: Discovery sucked.  It sucked so bad.  It was spitting on the very concept of being a Star Trek series.  As underwhelming as Enterprise was, at the very least it felt like a series that belonged in this mythos.  Discovery was basically an action series, with some science stuff sprinkled about so they can pretend that they are doing this series justice.  Remember in the old series, when they would have complicated problems that involved people sitting in rooms and talking?  And then people talking to other people about the things they talked about?  Yeah, that was good stuff, because we liked these characters and they didn’t have the budget for huge set-pieces.  The limitations of being a show made it better.

The trailer for it finally dropped, and I gotta say – this looks like shit.  For starters, Patrick Stewart doesn’t look or sound ANYTHING like his old character.  He sounds like a confused old man.  What happened to his relationship with Beverly?  If he’s getting back in the action, you don’t think that Riker or any of his old crew would rally to him?  And the trailer makes this series look like another action flick with science stuff sprinkled in there so they can pretend that this belongs there.  We have some new chick character who is super duper tough for no reason.  Who is she?  I don’t know, and given how often I see this archetype these days, I don’t really care.  She made me think of the main chick character in Rogue One.  And we all remember how amazing and great that movie was, don’t we?

This trailer made me think of the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies.  The iconic sets we grew to know and love are gone, replaced with CG abortion.  Everything is so glossy and digitally enhanced that it doesn’t look like anything real is happening with real people.  Why does Picard look so confused?  Is this the illness from the original series?  Okay, that’s cool and all, but could you explain that?  He’s supposed to be getting back in the saddle, but if he is infected and suffering the effects of the illness we closed out the original series with, then don’t you think that he wouldn’t be in the shape he would need to be to command again?

Oh, and don’t get me started on the TERRIBLE fan service we are given.  Seven of Nine is back!  Except, her quirky mannerisms from being a Borg drone are gone.  I like that they don’t have her in that terrible catsuit anymore.  I always contended that she was sexier in uniform.  Now it just looks like Jeri Ryan playing herself.  We have a Borg cube being repaired.  Neat, I guess.  Then we close out the video with a cameo of Data.  Wow.  That looked so terrible.  The amount of CG needed to make Brent Spiner look like he fits that character made the whole thing just look terrible.  That was even worse than the Admiral from Rogue One.  I can’t believe how bad that looked.  Why did they do this?

Right – because they want to make the fanboys/girls cum in their pants.  I am so fucking done with all this nostalgia crap.  Never have I hated nostalgia more than when I watch Hollywood and the entire industry connected to it milk it for all its worth.  Meanwhile, they take one of my favorite characters and stick him in something he was never meant to be in from the beginning.  A CG-tastic action series with nostalgia fuel to make the sad lonely Trekkies cum in their pants.  If you can like this, good for you, but I think what I saw looked terrible.

Until next time, a quote,

“When I want my Star Trek fix, I watch The Orville.” – Mike Stoklasa

Peace out,

Maverick

A Mental Enigma (Prologue + Act I, Scene I)

Prologue

Anyone who knows coastal towns in Washington knows that winter means rain.  The stereotype is that rain is pretty much 360 days out of the year, and some years are like that, but not all or even many.  Rain is an ever-present companion, but in summer it does tend to get warm and sunny.  But winter means rain, and lots of it.  Snow happens too, but when it does, everything stops.  Life in general ceases to exist, unless you’re unfortunate enough to be stuck working fast food or at a grocery store.  Then you’re SOL.
So when rain had been hitting Oceanview for almost two weeks without cease, nobody really thought a lot of it.  That’s just life.  Just be careful driving and don’t hydroplane.  It’s easy enough, if you’re careful.  Huge puddles everywhere, and people with umbrellas or rain jackets.  Fisherman heading out to sea with the miserable looks as they realize they’re gonna be getting drenched the whole day.  Maybe if they went far enough out, they wouldn’t.  A working man could dream.
When Father McCormick looked up form his weekly writings, he didn’t think much of the downpour either.  The trees had lost their leaves, and everything was rejuvenating in the endless rains.  Maybe it was how God cleansed everything.  He remembered a Bishop joking with him that that was why so many sinners were in southern California – because they never got the rain and it couldn’t wash the filth and decadence away.  He just shrugged off that kind of thinking.  There was no way that the God he worshiped was small like that.  The man he called his Lord and Savior was a much less petty man.
Such was what he preached in the chapel on Sunday.  His sermon was one of the things he was working.  In his eyes, the Divinity of God was not something that was just reserved for those who came to church, confessed their sins, and partook in Communion.  It was given to those who asked for it, freely.  Because that was the God he believed in, and always would.
Naturally, this way of thinking was not welcomed within much of his contemporaries world.  Indeed, in his own school, the Sisters and some of the teachers frowned upon his open and accepting nature.  It wasn’t what the Pope preached.  John Paul II was a very conservative man, and his views were much the same.  However, while his views were against traditional orthodox, he still was a priest and had done nothing to disrespect the collar.  They placed him in charge of the school and he kept to himself, imparting the Gospel as he saw it to those who would listen.
The sound of rain outside was soothing to him.  Letting him wash his mind of the dark thoughts about how he got dirty looks from his contemporaries, or even the Sister in charge of the dormitory here at the school.  While they didn’t see eye-to-eye, Sister Margaret did her job exceptionally well.  And he wasn’t about to let differences in faith politics get in the way of him having good help.  It just meant he had to argue with her every so often.  Such was life.  The rain washed it all away.
That’s when he heard a noise.  It was coming from outside.  It sounded like a bang!  Soft enough so that he didn’t think anyone not paying attention would hear.  Especially not in this torrent.  Was someone shooting?  Training from many days gone by kicked in, and he knew he had to see.  The safety of his students was paramount.
He threw on his rain jacket.  Looking at the locked drawer on his desk, he thought for a couple seconds.  No, he wasn’t going to do that.  It was probably just some local children being stupid, and he would give them a stern lecture and call the police for shooting a firearm on private property.  While he did believe in second chances, a gun on a school was no laughing matter.  One could only imagine what could happen if a gun got into the wrong hands on a school.  Thankfully, nothing like that had happened yet.  At least as far as he knew.  By the Grace of God, amen.
Opening his office door, there was a Sister outside.  One of the young ones, Sarah.
“Father, did you hear that?!” she called out.
“I did, Sister!  Stay inside!  I’ll go see what’s going on.  If I’m not back in thirty minutes, call the police!”
“Yes Father!”  A good girl.  So eager to be helpful.  Another person that Sister Margaret didn’t always agree with.  She was so outgoing and eager to accept people.  It meant that sometimes she let things slide during nights when she was on duty at the dormitories, but her heart genuinely was in the right place.
Now, to see what was going on.  Father McCormick got a nervous feeling inside.

The sound had come from the woods, not far from the edge of the cliff.  The fence went around it to protect the girls, but sometimes things would happen.  Father McCormick’s pace quickened.  His flashlight barely cut through the darkness and rain.  It was like a wall.  He finally reached the fence and could hear the pounding of the waves against the rocks far below.  It was impossible to see anything.  If he shouted, he gave away his position, which might be risky, given that there may be someone with a gun outside.  Coming to the barred fence, he looked out.
His eyes then caught sight of a light coming down from below!  It was laying on the rocky shore.  A shadow could be seen, what looked to be a body, not moving!  In a flash he was climbing the bars and went over the top, carefully.  One wrong move would give one a second or two to think before slamming into the rocks and being either horribly injured or dead.
“Hello!” he called out.  “Is anyone down there!”
The light didn’t move.  Looking closer, he saw that there was someone laying on the ground.
Father McCormick knew there was a way down to the shore from here.  It was a boardwalk stairwell that was used by the science teacher to bring the girls down to the beach for classes.  Moving as fast as he could over to it, he walked down as carefully as he could.  The boards was slick.  Nearly fell a couple times.  Then he got down to the shore and took off down the beach. This was also slick with algae on the rocks.  The tide had gone out not long ago and it was still covered in green.  This was dangerous, but inside he knew that he had to hurry.
Getting closer to the light, he saw a more clear outline of the body that he was chasing.  It was a person.  A small person.  Perhaps a child?  Oh God.  Had some poor child been shot down here and left to die?  A thousand horrible things went through his mind as he got closer to the light, and it ached him inside.  Memories of Grenada in his mind.  Shaking his head, he brought himself back to the moment.
Finally reaching the light it was indeed a child.  Couldn’t be more than 12 years old.  As he got closer, he saw skin that was as pale as moonlight.  As if they had never seen sunlight a day in their lives.  They wore what appeared to be a hooded sweatshirt with a design on the back.  Like a bear, holding a trident?  That was strange.  Their pants looked to be sweatpants as well, both things were soaked to the bone.
Sliding in right next to the tiny body, he pulled the hood back.  It was a girl!  Skin devoid of all color, and hair that was as orange as fire.
When the hood came down, the eyes of the little girl opened.  She looked up at the man, feebly attempting to reach up.
“Help me!” she choked.  Her arm fell, and it looked like she had passed out.  Oh no!  Was she dead?!
“Stay with me, child!  I’m going to get you help!”
Father McCormick picked her up and began to run.  This little life was not going to fade while he drew breath!  Clearly it was God’s will that she be here, and he would find her.  So he wasn’t going to let her story end here.
As he picked her up there was a noise.  Looking down, he saw a gun!  It was a Walther CCP.  An easy gun for someone with weak hands to use.  His eyes went wide.  What had happened here?!  His haste was even more present, as he knew that he had to get her help, and quickly.  If she had a gun, did that mean she had been shot?  Was she shooting at someone?!  What had happened?!  So many questions, but first he had to get her to somewhere warm, and call an ambulance.  With speed he had never had before, he carried this tiny body toward the stairs, to get her inside.

Storming into his office, he cleared everything off his desk in one sweep.  Very gently, he laid the tiny body down.
“Oh goodness!” Sarah cried.  She had been waiting there, as there was a phone in his office.
“Get a pillow, Sister!  And some blankets!”
The young woman stood there in shock.
“Now, Sister!  We have to warm her up!  I’ll call for an ambulance, but we have to get her warmed up first!”
Nodding fearfully, she started off.  She’d never seen Father McCormick look like that before.  Strong, powerful, as a man in command.  Made her think of old war movies.
She ran into the linen closet and pulled out a pillow and a thick blanket. Running back as fast as her legs would carry her, some of the girls had gathered to find out what the commotion was about.
“Back to your rooms, ladies!  Don’t make me tell you again!” she said in a tone much the same as Father McCormick had.  He had given her strength.
Coming inside, she saw the Father had lit his woodstove and was working fast to get it going.
“Good, Sister!  Now, I’m going to head to the dormitory office and make the call.  If you would, please get her out of those clothes as much as you can and under the blankets.  Those clothes are soaking wet and freezing cold.  We have to warm her up.  Can you do it?”
It was awkward, but seeing how pale the girl laying there was, Sister Sarah nodded.
“Yes, Father.  I can.”
“Alright.  I’ll leave you to it and make the call.”
“Okay.”
The man exited his office and closed the door.  Sarah looked down at the young person laying there.  Was she even breathing?  Was she dead?  Such a frail looking tiny body.  Who was she?  No time to ponder.  Questions the police would ask.  For now, she had been given a task, and she was going to see it through.  Much like the Father, she had a sense of needing to protect this little life.
Tying her hair back, she pulled off the girl’s arms up and then pulled the sweatshirt off.  Underneath she only wore a tanktop.  Puberty hadn’t set in yet for her.  Sister Sarah decided to leave it at that.  There was a necklace!  Pulling up on it, it was a simple metal necklace like you see in the military.  Also like that, there were dog-tags!  Who was this girl?!  Looking at the tags, there was this feeling inside Sister Sarah.  Something that told her that it would be better for everyone if these things weren’t on her when the authorities arrived.  They could be given back to the girl when she was better.
She took off the necklace and put it in her pocket.  Would talk to Father McCormick about it when they had gotten her to the hospital.  With the bottom layer, she only took off the pants.  Plain white underwear.  Now she put the pillow under her head and wrapped her up in the blanket.
Taking out her beads, she ran her fingers over them.  Please God, Mother Mary, look after this little girl.  Please don’t let her perish.  She sat there, now hearing in the quiet that had descended ragged tiny breaths coming from her.  The Sister kept repeating the prayer, over and over again.  Never had she prayed like this before.  Running her hand through the girl’s soaking wet hair.  It was so short, you’d think she was a boy at first glance.  Just long enough to be ambiguous.
A knock on the door.  “Sister, can I come in?”
“Yes Father!  She’s covered up and getting warm.”
He opened the door and came over.  “How is she?”
“Her breathing is so ragged and small, I can barely tell she is.  You told the ambulance to hurry, right?”
“Yes!  I told them to run all the lights it takes, because I made an oath to God that she isn’t going to die tonight.”
The Sister smiled up at him.  “Thank you, Father.  I was just praying.”
He smiled back at her.  “I think I will too.”
He took out his Bible, along with a vial of oil.  He put a dab on his thumb, making the cross on her forehead.
“Holy Father, please, don’t let this little girl’s light fade away tonight!  Saint Nicholas, please watch over her.  Give her the strength to see the light tomorrow.  And if she must pass on, Saint Peter, please hold her hand and guide her into the Father’s embrace.”
Sister Sarah took his other hand.  They stood there for a few moments.
Finally, the moment passed.
“I’m going to be praying for her all night, Father.  She’s so pale.  Her little breaths.  It sounds awful.”
“I will too, Sister.  And into tomorrow.”
“Father, there’s something you should know.  She had a necklace on her.  I thought that the authorities might ask questions about it that we don’t want to get into, so I took it off.  I have it right here, and will get it back to her.  But Father, it’s…”
He was confused.  “What, Sister?  What is it?”
“See for yourself.”  She handed the dog-tags to him.
“Oh Lord.  What is this?”  There was a number on it.  Like a service number.  This he recognized.  And a name – Quinn.  Looking down at her, one thought went through the man’s mind – who was this girl?  Whatever the answer, he was going to look after her.  The Holy Father had seen fit to bring her to him tonight, and if she should live, he would make sure she was safe.  Hopefully there was a family looking for her, and she could be with them soon.

Act I, Scene I

The light of dawn floated in through her window.  Quinn rubbed her eyes and groaned.  Monday.  Of course it was Monday.  If the weekend could go on longer, she’d take it  But that’s how it is.  All good things in life have to end.  Now it was back to the classroom, with the same asshole kids and the same boring lectures.  Best just to keep her head down and get through it.  That’s how she always did.
Getting up from the bed at her dorm, she shuffled to the door.  Nobody was up this early, which was nice for her.  Meant she could do the basics in peace.  Her shower bag was with her, and towel draped over her shoulder.  Walking into the shower room, she stripped off her tanktop and flannel PJ pants.  Hot water sluiced over her and was pretty good about waking her up.  These little moments, before everything went to shit.  Last night had been nothing but girls getting back from summer vacation.  Noisy girls who had to tell all their friends about how awesome summer was.  It was the most annoying thing ever.  Even Sister Margaret couldn’t get them to quiet down.
One of those nights when she would put her headphones on with her CD player and just let the music carry her off to sleep.  Listening to Nirvana.  Rumor was their next album was coming out soon.  She couldn’t wait.  It made Father roll his eyes, but she didn’t care.  Good music was its own reward, and this stuff was the best.  Between that, Nine Inch Nails, and Pantera, the music scene had never been better.  At least as far as she knew.  Just one of those things, given how many memories she didn’t have, from before she was 12.
Getting out of the shower, she caught a glimpse of herself on the mirror, putting her tanktop back on.  There was another reason she liked to take showers early.  It meant that fewer people had a chance to see her “birthmark.”  That’s what Father called it.  It was a mark on her that nobody knew how it got there.  It was shaped like a trident, and was burned onto her skin.  Like what you do to cattle.  It was a bit down on her shoulder blade.  The tanktop hid it well enough.  Rule of thumb was to call it a birthmark and not go into it with people.  Less to explain.  Quickly, she headed out of the shower and into her dorm room.
Word was that it was gonna be sunny this week.  That worked for her.  Start the school year off on the right foot.  Her new uniform had come in last week.  She she didn’t leave the dorm for the summer, they just delivered it to her at her room.  A black jacket, plaid skirt, and white shirt underneath.  She already knew that the shirt was NEVER going to be something she wore.  It was the constant battle with Sister Margaret.  All those buttons and whatnot drove her up the wall, so she just wore a black t-shirt underneath.  If she could get away with it, she’d wear some of her band merch shirts, but that would get her thrown out of class.  She rode the line as it was with the plain t-shirt.
The skirt was also a thing she took umbrage with.  It was long enough, sure.  Not gonna see any girls in short skirts in a Catholic school.  But she still felt exposed.  To make up for this, she typically work black leggings.  Getting all dressed up, she looked at her hair in the mirror.  It was getting longer.  Typically she didn’t want to bother with hair, but given the setting she lived at, her options were limited.  In a perfect world, she’d cut it short and spike it up.  But having tried that once, it was immediately shot down by Sister Margaret and the prudish way she lived.  So she had to keep to her punk rock style in a way that it could be made presentable during the week.  Ugh.  Life is no fun here.  Something she’d been thinking for years.
Finally getting everything just so, she nodded approval of her look and grabbed her bag.  Time to head to class.  That’s when she noticed that her nails were still black.  Whatever.  Nail polish wasn’t something you’d get demerits for.  Just dirty looks since it was black.  Screw them.  This was almost-certainly gonna be a long day.

Walking down the hallways, now she could see her contemporaries out and about, rushing to get their uniforms and get dressed properly.  People looking at her and giving her the same glowering expression they always did.  Whatever.  Rich bitches who acted like their shit didn’t stink.  That’s why they looked down at her.  This was a private boarding school, but she wasn’t from money.  Nobody knew the full extent of the truth, but enough knew that she wasn’t from a rich family.  Officially the story was that she got in because of connections to Father McCormick.  In a way, that was the truth.  Or at least half of it.
Coming out of the dormitories, she felt the air was getting ever-so-slightly chilly in the mornings.  Enough so you could see your breath.  It gave her this nice shiver that made her feel alive.  As she made her way across the grounds, she decided to head to the cafeteria and get some breakfast.  She could eat the grill-man Jim’s breakfast burritos all day.  An old Spokane man, he was a kind fellow who constantly had a nice word for even the bitchiest of girls around this place.  Word was that he had a history with the law, but Father gave him a chance.  Not everyone liked it, but seems he had turned himself around and was one of the kindest people you would ever meet.
Entering into the cafeteria, there were already a few girls inside.  Walking over to the grill first thing, Jim looked up with his old features.
“Oh hi there, Quinn!  First day of class today!  Gotta eat a big breakfast!”
“That’s what I was thinking!”
“I’d ask what you want today, but I already know.  You go grab yourself a seat.  I’ll hollar when it’s done.”
“You’re the best, Jim.”
Such a nice guy, you’d never know that he had done anything wrong ever in his life.  But Father had always found people who he knew were more than they appeared and offered them a place here.  Given that she spent pretty much all the life she knew here, the staff was the closest thing she had to family.
Grabbing a table, she looked out the window.  Mist rising.  The sun was out now and the warming process was beginning.  This little twilight hour of cool morning air becoming warmer as it rose higher into the sky.  It was peaceful.  Lost in thought, Jim called for her to grab her food.  She thanked him again, and he gave her that little grateful smile of his, before turning back to his work for other students.  More were coming into the cafeteria.
As she sat down, she grabbed some ketchup and loaded up the plate.
Clapping her hands together.  “Thanks for the food, G-man.”
A laugh came from beside her.  “G-man, is it?  Not sure what the Father would think about being called that.”
Looking up, she saw Father McCormick standing there, in a more casual sweater-vest and cargo pants.
“Father!” she said.  A title, and to her, something more.  Something that nobody could know, outside an express few, for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to her sometimes.  She remembered waking up, and seeing his face next to her.  He had beads in his hands and his eyes were closed.  Said he had been praying all night.  There was Sister Sarah there too.
“Morning, kiddo.”  He sat across from her.
“You’re up early.”
“Same to you.”
She had picked up his schedule.  Something she adapted to, living at his residence for the first few months.  Back when they were trying to find her family, before the paperwork went through.
“So, you ready for class today.”
A shrug.  “Word!  I got this.”
He chuckled.  “I’m sure you do.”  Looked at her uniform.  “I see it’s another t-shirt.  I swear, are you TRYING to pick fights with Sister Margaret?”
Her face got less pleasant.  “It ain’t my fault that she wants everyone in those white shirts that suffocate you.  I got everything else just the way she wants it.  I’m not doing anything wrong.”
Now a more stern look.  “At least try and wear the shirt sometimes.  I’m always the one who has to hear about it when the two of you are fighting.”
She let out a defeated sigh.  “I’ll try!”
“That’s a good girl.  Well, enjoy your breakfast.  I have to meet with the groundskeeper.”
Looking disappointed.  “Okay.  Wish you could stay.”
He put his hand on hers.  “I know.  But I don’t want it to look like I’m playing favorites.  Blame the fact of how we got here.  Know that I’m rooting for you.  One of these nights we’ll have to play chess.  See if I can get you this time.”
A chuckle.  “Never gonna happen, Father.”
“Probably not.  Have a good day, sweetie.”
“You too, Father.”
The worst part about having to keep the details about her secret, the man who had taken her in had to be met with secretly.  Quinn genuinely knew that he cared for her.  Anytime she needed some spending money, he always had her back, unless she had really stepped over the line.  But she did sometimes want to spend more time with him.  A priest is always busy, after all.
Finishing up her breakfast, she took her tray to the drop-off and thanked Jim again.  Such a sweet old man.  Time to get to class.

The first day was about as dull as she expected.  Teachers going over rules, what they were going to be teaching, doing introductory material.  A little homework, but not much.  Sixth period got out and she was headed on the way out.  At the door, she saw something that was unexpected – a girl who looked to be about her age trying to get out.  Problem was, she was in a wheelchair.  And clearly it wasn’t easy for her.
The girl was a young Latina woman.  On her face was an expression of frustration.  The fact that nobody was trying to help her was just bizarre.  Did no one here have a heart?
Walking over, Quinn called out,  “I’ll get the door for you!”
A look back.  “I got this, thanks.”  Her tone was so indignant.  Like she had just been told something in a really condescending way.  The reason no one was helping her was coming into focus.
“Clearly you don’t, or else you’d be outside.”  Quinn wasn’t the type to take people’s shit.  Just because she’s crippled doesn’t mean she has to be unpleasant.  Especially when she just wanted to help.
Opening the door, the girl wheeled herself out.  “I could have gotten that.”
“Sure, whatever.  You’re welcome.”  Bitch.
“I’ve seen you around,” the girl said.  “You’re the girl who has no friends.”
She rolled her eyes.  “Is that what they call me.”
“Yeah.  They say you’re from a poor family too.”
“All true.  Best to keep away from me.”  Why these girls had to be so awful was a complete mystery to her.
“So what’s your name?”
Now that was shocking.  Was this girl really asking her name after trash-talking her?
“I’m Quinn.  You?”
“I’m Lisa.  Lisa Hernandez.”
Holding out her hand.  “Nice to meet you.”
Just then, a smile.  “You too.  Oh, and thanks for getting the door.”
Smiled back.  “No sweat.”  Finally, a human being that she could connect with.  This was nice.  A friend who wasn’t a staff member.  Or at least the potential of one.

Turns out, Lisa didn’t live at the dormitories.  She lived at a special medical facility in Oceanview.  One of her legs was completely paralyzed.  The reason wasn’t entirely clear to her doctors.  She could walk around with crutches, but she didn’t want to have to live like that, so she opted for a wheelchair instead.  Said it worked to keep her arms strong.  Clearly being in a chair hadn’t been easy for her.  Like most things when you’re crippled, people treat you different.  It made her feel bad about herself when people did.
When asked about her life, Quinn told her that she came from a family in New York, who were tight with Father McCormick, so were able to get her into the school.  Being good at lying was always something she had.  Made playing poker a breeze for her, though that was connected to a part of her she didn’t like to talk about.
She was picked up by a van from the facility.  As they pulled away, she waved goodbye.  That was a nice feeling.  A new friend.  A real one.  It was already a better day than most.  Now to go back to her room and start her homework.

As she opened the door to her dorm room, she stopped cold.  On the other side of the room, in the second bed, there was someone there!  It was a girl who had creamy skin, dirty blonde hair, and a long neck.  Who the hell…?
“Oh hey!  I’m Kaye!  I’m gonna be your roomie!”
This had to be some kind of awful joke.  Things had nearly gotten off to a good start, and now it was all fucked.

Until next time, a quote,

“There’s an old Earth saying – 1,000 travel books aren’t worth one real trip.” – Isamu Dyson, Macross Plus

Peace out,

Maverick

SIONR: His Dark Materials: Season One Trailer

For those who didn’t know, one of my favorite book series, growing up, was the His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman.  It had great characters.  I liked Lyra, LOVED Will.  The relationship that develops between the two is just beautiful.  The third book, The Amber Spyglass is one of the only books that has ever made me cry.  The ending was so unnecessarily depressing, when it could EASILY have been remedied.  Lyra and Will were both clever young people.  They should have been able to figure their way out of the predicament of never being able to see each other again.

So you might imagine that when they made the first live-action film version, way back when, I was really hoping it wouldn’t be terrible.  I’d seen them ruin so many things I love before, but maybe this time would be different.  The girl playing Lyra looked the part.  Nicole Kidman looked and sounded just as insidious as I would have expected Mrs. Coulter to be.  Sam Elliot was flawlessly cast as Lee Scoresby, with that southern charm.  I liked having Kathy Bates voice his Daemon too.  That was great casting.  Oh yeah, and they got Sir Ian McKellan to voice Iorek Byrinson.  Everything seemed to be set for something great.

What we got was something that shit ALL over the source material.  For starters, Roger lived at the end!  Um…no!  He was fucking dead by the end of the first book.  That’s important for the plot of the sequels.  His gruesome death was a key point to how he is brought back into the plot in the third book at the world of the dead.  Next, the film didn’t end with Lyra stepping into another world.  That’s how it ended.  Her friend was dead and the base was destroyed.  She knew her enemies were hunting her so all she could do was run.  So she followed through the same window that Lord Asriel went through, not knowing where she would end up.  It sets up the next book, where she meets Will in the other world.

But the thing that bothered me most was the fact that they took one of the central plot points of the series and basically gave it the finger.  That plot point was the fact that the main antagonist of film was not the church, but this vague government entity call The Magisterium.  Phillip Pullman was not subtle in the fact that the true villain of the book was the church.  The whole series can be viewed as an analogue to the battle between the Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformation.  That wasn’t an accident.  It’s important.  There are multiple characters representing the church throughout the series, and even angels who the characters interact with.

Pullman was making a very direct statement about how the church, religion, and faith are all corrupt, led by people who are evil and manipulative, using the brainwashed masses to do their bidding.  Lord Asriel stood as a beacon of rebellion against them.  And so the church did everything in their power to destroy him.  The third book has a massive battle between the church’s forces and the army Asriel builds, which ends with Metatron, one of the biggest angels of all getting killed, along with Asriel.  It’s implied that both sides are utterly destroyed.

When I heard that a trailer had dropped for a new series that HBO is launching for this novel franchise, I was wondering what they would do with it.  So I watched the trailer.  And…I’m pissed. Won’t get into the fact that Lee Scoresby has been turned into a none-Southern dude and all that southern charm has been sucked away.  Whatever.  Or that we don’t hear Iorek speak.  That’s weird.  He did.  It was him who gave Lyra the moniker Silvertongue, due to her ability to lie so well.

But the thing that has me pissed off is this – why is the villain the Magisterium again?!  They were a puppet government who was basically a branch of the church!  It wasn’t them who was ever referred to as the main antagonist.  It was always the church!  Why is it that no production company is willing to do this right?  Is everyone just too afraid to shit on America’s religion of choice?  Is no one willing to take the steps Pullman did by making it understood that religion and faith are the enemy of logic and reason?  Of course not.  Because you have the Christian right shitting bricks and getting just as pissed off as the regressive left would for their hot-button issues.  How either side can call the other “snowflakes” is beyond me.

I wouldn’t be so upset about this if it wasn’t a central conflict in the story.  Huge portions of this narrative revolve around the war between Asriel and the church.  Especially in the third book.  By then, Asriel has basically declared war on Heaven itself.  And the implication is that he wins, albeit by taking the highest angel down with him.  Why can nobody run with this?  You’d think HBO would have more stones than a big movie production company.  They can afford to take risks.  But no.  I guess they have to play it PC for the right, because fuck what Pullman was trying to make.

Not gonna watch it.  The books will always be better anyway.  A pity that Will McAvoy is having his talents wasted in this piece of shit.  He’s a phenomenal actor and could probably play a good Asriel.  If only he was in a better production.

Until next time, a quote,

“All the history of human life has been a struggle between wisdom and stupidity.”  – Mary Malone, The Amber Spyglass

Peace out,

Maverick

It’s Okay to Admit You Were Wrong

A while back, a popular YouTube channel called Extra Credits made a video where they made the argument (and then tried to say in the Comments that this wasn’t the argument they made) that putting Nazis and terrorists in video games can lead to embracing those ideologies.  It was a video full of terrible logical fallacies, most notably the slippery-slope.  The video was just awful, but their response to people rightfully ripping their argument to pieces was just the best.  Being sarcastic, of course.  It was so stupid.

There’s something to be said when you can just admit that you were wrong.  To just say that you had a video you made, and the argument you made was bad.  However, as it seems Extra Credits has now embrace politically correct culture, they now have to embrace the part of that culture where they can’t just admit that they were wrong.  Instead, they have to double-down on their argument and make sure that they demonize everyone who disagrees with them.  Because so long as you can say that the opposition was wrong, that makes you correct!  Right?

The communication director for the channel decided to go to Twitter (where it seems like every person in the politically correct sphere goes) to tell the world just how wrong everyone who disagrees with them.  Their argument?  “We love losing all the bigoted subscribers.  Are you kidding me?  Less bigotry is great!”  The kid who is their communications director looks like he’s fucking 12, so I’m gonna talk down to him.  Kid, come onto my website and find me something to prove I’m a bigot.  Go for it.  Have whatever flunkies you probably don’t have (because no flunky would respect this dude enough to do what he wants) come on here and find where I have EVER supported Nazism or radical Islam (which is where the vast majority of modern terrorism comes from).

For that matter, find me proof that the people who made videos destroying your bad argument are bigots.  Like Upper Echelon Gaming or TLDR.  Show me how they are bigots.  They made reasonable arguments about how your points were bad, going through your video and citing sources to prove their points.  Couldn’t help but notice there wasn’t a SINGLE citation in any of what you did.  Everyone who thinks that your video was dumb is just a bigot.  You all have a real gift at being declarative.  Wouldn’t you agree?

You can’t just admit that your video was stupid.  You can’t just admit that you were wrong, that your argumentation was flawed, that you made huge logical fallacies to make a point that you provided ZERO evidence for.  It was the Anita Sarkeesian method of argumentation – make declarative statements without evidence, and when you are called out on it, demonize those who respond negatively.  The video even said in it that those who are cool with playing as the Axis forces in a World War II game are fascists.  Gee, another word whose meaning has been utterly destroyed by sheer overuse from a political ideology that just LOVES to beat a word into oblivion.

There’s something to be said for admitting that you’re wrong.  It’s a mature thing to do.  Admitting that you made bad arguments based on biased opinions and that you didn’t think through what you were actually saying.  These things happen.  But we live in an age where nobody wants to admit that they were wrong.  That they made something bad and to own that.  It’s why so many great content creators are a laughingstock.  Or went so far overboard that they became a meme and were forgotten about.  You can come back from just a simple admission of wrongness.  However, those who decide to double-down and stupid arguments just come off looked horrifically biased and unwilling to see the bigger picture.

I’ve admitted when I’m wrong in my life.  It’s happened a lot.  When I make bad mistakes and then have to own it and do better.  Now I’ve grown at my job and have become a very knowledgeable and thorough employee.  A pity no one told Extra Credits how this works.

Until next time, a quote,

“The word ‘fascism’ has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.” – George Orwell

Peace out,

Maverick

Your Rage-Bait is So Painfully Obvious (A response to VG24/7)

I’ve talked at length about the fact that journalism at this point is a tired old whore who will tell you whatever she thinks you need to hear in order to pay her for services.  In the online sphere, that means whatever gets peoples click fingers going.  And games journalism is basically the king of whoring out whatever for those clicks.  All the clicks are needed.  Sure, it means their integrity basically doesn’t exist, but it functions, so there’s that.  Now it seems that they’re stepping up their game in order to get the clicks coming even faster.  After all, article after article has come out demonizing gamers and those who are critical of gaming and they get attention.  Which means more clicks.

Which brings us to an article saying that game developers need to stop listening to fans.  An article whose goal is so clear – rage-baiting.  They want to get people’s rage going, which will get responses, which in turn will get clicks.  It’s not even subtle what they’re doing.  But, this topic is stupid enough for me to take the time to really go into it.  Here’s a link to the article, now let’s talk about it.

Don’t get mad, there’s a bit of hyperbole in that headline

Pathetic attempt to take shots at themselves for their deliberate choice make a title that is rage-bait.  Please.  You knew what you were doing, and it worked.  People are talking about it.  I’m talking about it.  But I’m not gonna take the bait.  I’m actually gonna respond to the stupidity on display in a constructive way.

BioWare has a lot to answer for, basically. Mass Effect 3 feels like ground zero for toxic fan entitlement. I’m sure the developer was just trying to do the right thing, but it changed the ending of its game due to negative feedback, bending its creative vision to pander to the baying masses.

You know, this point might have SOME level of a decent argument if it weren’t for the fact that stuff came out about the ending to Mass Effect 3.  See, EA was pressuring Bioware HARD to get the game out in 2012.  A console generation was coming to an end and they didn’t want to have to compete.  Not to mention that the time frame they were aiming for put them ahead of the competition.  As such, Bioware had the ending written by one guy and they accepted the first draft as the final one.  For a studio who had had teams of writers working on all the parts of the game to mesh everything with player choice, it strikes me as a little odd that you’re defending a game that had a bad ending that Bioware knew was bad.

This wasn’t people making them compromise their vision that they thought out and truly believed was the best.  It was EA doing what EA does and forcing Bioware to compromise their vision, which in turn had them redo the ending to try and save face.  Granted, I hate the revision, but at the very lease I see where it’s coming from.  Your point would be better if Neil Druckmann took out India lesbian from the sequel to The Last of Us: Part II because of all the conservatives railing about it.  And this isn’t even the end of the false-equivalence.

Things are often cut or changed. Some things don’t work. Some things work better than expected and are expanded upon. Nobody wants to release a bad game. Nobody wants the ending of their critically-acclaimed sci-fi trilogy to be ill-received.

Well, Bioware made a really bad decision in letting themselves get bought out by EA.  Game companies make bad decisions all the time.  But EA put their boot down and Bioware was stuck.  I have some level of sympathy for what happened to Mass Effect 3.  Since every other part was so carefully crated to accommodate all the decisions the player made, can you not see why people would be so upset that the ending totally throws everything in the trash?  I can’t be the only one who notices this.

Part of the issue here is how our industry feeds into this entitlement. Whether it’s PlayStation saying it’s “for the players” or it’s Xbox head Phil Spencer saying stuff like, “Games and gamers together now have the sheer magnitude to be a significant unifying force for the world,” whatever that means, our industry goes out of its way to say the customer is always right.

Um…are the basics of supply and demand just an illusion to you?  The customer is always right.  If you want to have an industry thrive where the goal is entertainment, then you have to entertain.  It’s pretty simple.  You entertain the masses and they buy your product.  If you start giving them sub-standard products, they won’t buy them anymore.  One of the products that gaming sells is narratives.  So if you have a product built on narrative quality with understandable narrative rules that the universe you created follows, and you finish the series by basically shitting on the rules and making it so that the cornerstone of your franchise – player choice – is thrown out the airlock, what makes you think that critical feedback will be positive?

This wasn’t a case of fans not getting some deeper meaning.  We know now that Bioware was in a corner so they just threw something together at the last minute.  Makes me wonder what could have happened if Bioware had been given the time and the game would have come out in 2013.

Metal Gear Solid 4 – the worst game in the series – was a game for the fans. People hated Metal Gear Solid 2 at launch because it forced you to play as floppy-haired newcomer, Raiden, instead of Solid Snake. Metal Gear Solid 4 put players back in Snake’s sneaking boots, but the game was basically an extended bit of fan service.

Dude, that wasn’t the fans’ fault.  It was Konami’s.  Are you just completely unaware of the ugly relationship between Kojima and Konami?  It destroyed his last project.  Konami wanted MGS4.  Kojima never wanted to make a sequel after 1.  His being forced to do so was consistently the studio he was tied with forcing his hand.  It’s why he’s cut loose so hard for his next project, to make it something so radically different.  That game was Kojima just putting something out there to please his benefactors, they wanted it to just be fan service, the video game.

Elsewhere in the Bad Place, some gamers actually petitioned Obama to get DmC pulled from shelves because they wanted a traditional Capcom sequel and not the Ninja Theory reimagining: “Dear Mr. Obama: As a consumer to the Video Game Industry there is one Video Game that has caused a lot of controversy over the past few month’s,” the petition said, grammatical errors and all. “The name of the game is DmC: Devil May Cry made by Ninja Theory and Capcom.

Yeah, there is the cringe-y shit like that.  But there are also petitions to get rid of Rotten Tomatoes for shitting on DC movies.  You know, because they have almost-universally sucked.  Two good movies in an ocean of shit.  That’s impressively bad.  This shit is everywhere.  You notice, it didn’t work.  The game was still published like always.  It’s just that a sequel was never made because the company who owned the IP decided to take it back and Ninja Theory has gone indie because they didn’t want to deal with publishers.  What’s your point?

Then there’s Mass Effect: Andromeda, a game taken down by gifs. Development focus was on creating worlds and learning how to use an entirely new engine that isn’t well-suited to RPG development. As such, the facial animations suffered and people took the piss in gifs. Back in the day, it was a given that RPGs didn’t look as nice as other games because of the scope. Nowadays, everything looks nice because developers want their games to look good in screens, rather than communicate what makes the games special. BioWare’s next game, Anthem, looked incredible, at the expense of everything else. It appeared to be a direct reaction to that negative feedback – those viral gifs of goofy character expressions.

There is a LOT to unpack here.  Mass Effect: Andromeda was not destroyed because of the bad facial animations and the gliches.  It was destroyed partially by that, but more because the story was poorly written.  The characters were terrible.  The voice acting was bad.  There were political messages blatantly shoved in there just for fan outrage because Bioware does that now.  It’s weird.  It was a bad game.  There were stories about that too that you could easily have found if you knew what research is.  But you don’t.  You just find the biggest click-bait articles and parrot their talking points.

The development team behind that game couldn’t make the engine work for what they wanted to do.  There was no set path for the game months before it came out!  Months of work and people didn’t know what the fuck they were making.  A problem which, by the way, Anthem suffered from.  That game had no clear vision for what it was trying to be.  That big, beautiful demo released at E3 a couple years ago was made from whole-cloth and reflected NOTHING of the final product.  The game was a victim of false-advertising and EA’s bullshit.

Why is this guy so incapable of knowing the context of ANYTHING?  It’s bizarre.  Oh right, this is all click-bait.  It’s rage-bait.  It’s meant to get people riled up.  I forgot for a bit there.

Look at any online game community and there’s always someone complaining about how their character isn’t strong enough, or how the character who can counter their hero is too strong. There will be dozens of posts about how their favourite weapon doesn’t do enough damage, or how another weapon is OP. There will also be another player somewhere typing out the exact opposite.

Wait, what?  How is people bitching about a narrative in a game equivalent to a game having balancing issues?  That isn’t a creative freedom issue.  It’s a gameplay one.  And if your goal is to have a game be marketable online to masses, you have to balance it.  Otherwise, it isn’t fair to other players.  How does this tie in at ALL to your points made above?  Narrative creative freedom is one thing, but this is basic game design stuff.  Companies need feedback fro stuff like this.  Otherwise the game will suffer for it.

There’s a quote that’s often attributed to Henry Ford around the dawn of commercial motor vehicles: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” People are generally afraid of change. New ideas always get a bit of pushback – it makes me worry whether this environment of fan feedback development is holding back triple-A game development from reaching its true potential.

What true potential?  You haven’t defined anything.  You’ve just taken talking points that other articles have had and put them in your article, and act like your point has been made for you.  Generally, gamers like change.  We want games to be new and unique.  New IPs instead of the same old games made over and over again.  It’s why Indie titles get lots of attention now.  It’s why you have AAA developers working for Sony pushing narrative boundaries.  Because people are saying we want something good.  And generally they are.  Sony especially has a pedigree of quality to their work in the last few years that is really refreshing.  Games that push narrative boundaries, but never to the point where you break them.  Push as far as you can, then let the dust settle from the outrage communities and see what happens.

See, plenty of people were noisy about the lesbian relationship in Neil Druckmann’s latest project.  Hell, the social justice crowd came out against it because it’s almost a guarantee that India lesbian is dead by the time we get to where the gameplay portion of the demo at last year’s E3 picks up.  But they will still play this game because the first entry was amazing and the gameplay in this one looks slick as fuck.

Making a product for the masses means you have to take a measured approach if you’re gonna push boundaries.  Push them too far, and you drive people away.  That’s how it is with ALL entertainment.  Movies, TV shows, anime, whatever.  It all has the same rule – do new things, but don’t make new things a total aside.  You expand things over time.  Fan feedback isn’t killing that.  But since the writer of this article was just trolling for clicks anyway, it isn’t like he cares.

Until next time, a quote,

“People tend to blame the news for spreading all this fear.  As if there’s no market for it.” – Doug Stanhope

Peace out,

Maverick

Summer Again (Prologue)

Some person or other said that you don’t know who you are until you’re pushed to your breaking point.  I think it was someone like Winston Churchill.  Don’t really know.  But I can say that that summer, all of us were pushed to our limits, and went into a world that none of us wanted to.  All to get justice for a friend.  Someone I cared about so much.  Maybe, if he ever comes back from what happened to him, I can care about him again.  I want to.  Want those good, innocent days back again.  You never know what you’ve got until it’s not there anymore.  This is gonna be a long story, but I wanna tell it.  So bear with me.  Please.
It ain’t for the faint of heart.  If you can’t handle ugly, twisted, scary things, you should walk away now.  But it’s the truth.  One that the police and our parents can’t wash away with everything else.  What do I start?  I guess it would be when school got out, that fateful summer…

Staring at the clock on the wall is always the worst.  The absolute worst.  Had my science teacher tell me that time doesn’t really slow down when you watch the clock.  Same as when you watch a pot boil.  What does he know?!  Clearly he was never a kid who wanted to get out of school on that last day.  I shouldn’t say that.  That’s mean.  Mr. Bergie is a cool guy.  Probably the coolest teacher here.  I remember when he brought in the beaver to dissect for the class.  That was crazy!  But cool.  All the digesting wood in its gut.
Yeah, this is why mom says I’m a tomboy.  Every other girl was totally grossed out.  I thought it was awesome!  We got to dissect a frog too, and that pretty cool.  I was gonna miss him.  But that didn’t stop me from watching that clock and desperately wishing it would hit 3:00 so we could get the hell out of there!
Looked over at Johnny.  He was my best friend.  Well, one of them.  We had this little crew.  Me, Johnny, our big man Eli who was kind of the ringleader, and Griffin.  It’s weird, because Griffin is Eli’s cousin, but he’s black.  You’d never know the two were related, on his dad’s side.  They’ve been best bros for ages.  Grew up together, and would do anything for each other.  Sometimes I thought Griffin was a bit of a perv, but he was always cool with me.  There was this one girl he was all over who lived down the way from Eli.  I think Eli has a crush on her, but he isn’t talking about it.  Part of me thinks that she likes him too.  I don’t know, call it a gut feeling.
Finally, and I hella mean FINALLY, the clock hit 3 and the bell went off.  Mrs. Guyer told us all to have a good summer and whatever, but none of us were listening.  I grabbed my backpack and was running for the door.  Johnny was right on my heels.
“Dude, we have to call Eli tonight!  I wanna be at the first showing!”
I nodded.  “Hell yeah!”
“Language, Sara!” I heard a voice call.  Mr. McCourt was giving me a mean look.  I shrugged at him.  It’s summer.  Don’t care about his rules.
“So, you got your ticket money?” Johnny asked.
“You know it.  Daddy always gives me some pocket money when I give him the puppy-dog face.”
He rolled his eyes.  “Yeah, well, I had to work for mine, beeotch.  Mom don’t give me shit.”
“But you got it covered, right?”
“Yeah, I do.  We’re good to go.”
“Better be.  I’m not gonna miss out on Jurassic Park because your ass is broke.”
We got outside and saw Eli and Griffin standing there talking.  The two of us ran over.
“Man, could today have gone any fucking slower?” Eli asked.
“I know, right?!” I replied.
“Dude, I couldn’t believe Ms. Pettijohn wanted to give a lecture on the last day that we had a quiz about!” Griffin said, almost with a snarl.  “That’s just evil.”
Johnny snorted.  “Ms. Pettijohn is evil.  What else is new?”
Eli had a grumpy look on his face.  “Okay, new rule – no more school talk for the duration of summer.  Ya’ll are driving me frickin’ crazy.”
I nodded.  “Word!  Let’s pretend school doesn’t exist.”
Johnny gave us a look.  “Hard to do when it’s right behind us.”
Everyone groaned.  Literal as fuck!  This guy, dude.

We biked home.  Everyone was stoked about the movie.  The trailers were everywhere, so everyone was talking about.  I’d seen Eli with the book it’s based on.  Dude always loved books.  Been in his house, he had a ton of them.  Never could get into that stuff.  Give me a good movie or a video game any day over that.  Or learning about cars with uncle Tom.  He could tell me all about his cool cars and how they run all day.  Fucking rad, dude.
All of us were so excited.  This was our big plan for the summer.  See the movie, and talk about it.  We were hoping to get one of our parents to drop us off.  But that was something else to plan.  I just knew we’d have a million things to talk about.  A great beginning to what was hopefully gonna be an awesome summer.
We chilled at our old fort.  Set up under this really huge and really old pine tree.  It had these branches that went way far out and hung down in the front, but were big enough underneath to hide our place.  We had a chest here with our stuff, and a lock that only we knew the combination too.  There was also this rope wrapped around the tree that we could swing around from.  It wasn’t the most crazy fort, but this place was where we had been meeting up ever since we were tiny.
This summer was gonna be awesome.  I was absolutely sure of it.  Nothing could fuck up how amazing it was gonna be.

It started to get dark, so we made our way home.  Perks of being in the 7th grade now – we had a lot more freedom.  Dad’s rule was – it gets dark, you get home.  Simple enough, and summer had nights getting longer, so we had plenty of time.
I came up on my house when I looked over and saw a girl who lived next door.  Her name was Kate.  If we were superheroes, she’d be my arch-nemesis.  We are polar opposites.  I’m jeans, t-shirts, and a baseball cap with the 49ers on it.  She’s sun-dresses, makeup, and a cute hat.  Girl always wore hats.  At least we had that in common.  Except my hat was always the same.  Kate liked clothes.
“Hey Sara!” she called out.
Parking my bike, I smiled at her.  “Hey.”  Every time I saw her, I felt warm inside.  Over the past couple years, it had been getting stronger.  Wasn’t sure why.
“School’s out!  That’s pretty cool.”
“Hell yeah!”
She winced at the swearing.  Girl came from a super religious family.
“I got some big plans!”
“Still going to see that movie?” she asked.
“Nothin’s gonna stop us from seeing it!  Make no bones about it, we are going to that film!”
Kate smiled a bit.  “Just you and your friends?”
“Well yeah.  I mean, I don’t know who else would wanna go.”
She shifted her feet a bit.  Why so awkward?
“Maybe I’d wanna go.”
I chuckled a bit.  “Dude, your parents would NEVER let you see Jurassic Park.  It’s got the word ‘evolution’ in it.  They’d never even talk about letting you see it.”
There was a mischief look on her face.  “Well, maybe I don’t tell them we’re going to see it.  Maybe I just tell them I’m hanging out with you and your friends.  Not really a lie, right?”
Was a little impressed at that, not gonna lie.  “Girl’s sneaking around to see a movie.  Wow.  Wonder what Jesus would think?”
She rolled her eyes.  “I’m pretty Jesus has bigger problems than me seeing a movie with a friend.”
“That ain’t how your parents think.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not them.”  She was smiling right at me.  Made me want to melt.  What was up?  “So, think I can come with you?”
Gave her a little look.  “Well, I gotta ask the others.  We’re getting Eli’s sister to drive us.  Don’t know if there’s room.”
A little giggle.  “I could always sit in your lap.”
Heart pounded!  What the hell?!  “I mean, yeah, maybe.  I’ll let you know.”
“Cool.  I better go in.  Dinner will be done soon.”
“Yeah, me too.”
We kept staring at each other.
“Good night,” she said, finally.
“Night.”
What a weird thing that just happened.  Wasn’t sure what it was.  It felt like…nah.  Couldn’t be.

Dinner was always hella awkward.  Mom’s on this crusade to try and get me to be all girly and shit.  I hate it!  Which meant more shopping trips to the mall to try and dresses and make her happy.  I knew that if I didn’t, she’d try and stop me from hanging out with my friends.  Sometimes you gotta just suck it up and deal.  I never let her buy any of it for me, and I especially will NEVER wear any of it.
Daddy’s cooler.  I think he likes that I’m a tomboy because he always wanted a son.  Instead, he got three girls.  My oldest sister, Jenny, is in college.  She’s going for pre-med to become a surgeon.  Everyone is hella proud of her.  Then there’s Melissa.  She’s a junior in high school, and she wants to join the Army after getting out.  Become a military doctor.  That makes both my parents super proud and super nervous at the same time.  I remember the news that Dad would read and watch every night back when Desert Storm was going on.  It was scary stuff to see.  But she told them she wants to be a doctor in the military because they would pay for college.  That’s smart.
Then there’s me.  The tomboy who just lives life and doesn’t think that far ahead.  Being in the military could be cool, but definitely not Army.  I’m thinking Navy, so I shoot a big gun!  I remember going to the Naval shipyard where they build ships and submarines.  Uncle Tom works there, but he’s not military.  He’s part of the crew who builds stuff.  Took me on base once and showed me some of the stuff there.  It was rad!  Big guns and he talked about how many people it took to use them.  That sounded so fucking cool.  If I was gonna serve, that’s how I’d do it.  Shooting things with big guns.  Hope Uncle Tom would take me shooting one of these days.  He said he would.  See if he would take all of us.  Bet Eli would get hella nervous being around guns.
After dinner I went upstairs.  Didn’t even try and get any phone time.  Figured if Mom wasn’t trying to get online to play Jeopardy, then Mel was talking to her boyfriend.  Those two were so gross together.  Every second of every day he’s clinging on to her like a fucking bat.  Made a joke that I knows who wears the pants in that relationship, and it ain’t him.  Don’t think she liked that very much.
It was really late at night, past my bedtime, when the call came in.  Mom yelling about who would be calling now, and Dad picking up the phone.  Suddenly, he sounded very worried.  Could hear mom getting up, walking down to the phone.  Now my curiosity was piqued.
“Well, maybe he’s at one the other boy’s houses.” I could heard Dad say.
A pause.
“Oh god.  Okay.  We’ll start a search first thing in the morning.  Break of dawn, you have my word.”
Another pause.
“Looking for him at night would be counterproductive.  He’s a smart kid.  He’ll stay where he is so he can be easier to find.  I know it’s scary.  But we’ll find him!”
Now I was at the top of the stairs.  Dad looked up and his eyes met mine.  In that instant, I knew that something bad had happened.  Who were they looking for?!
“You called the police.  They’ll get a search party ready.  First light, we’re gonna go out there and we’ll find him.  I know, Evelyn.  I’m worried too.  But when one of us goes missing, this community will come together to find them.  Try and get some sleep.  You’re gonna need your strength in the morning.”
He hung up the phone, still looking at me.
“Sara, honey.  Johnny’s gone missing.  He never came home.  His mom called Eli’s parents and Griffin’s dad.  Nobody’s seen him.”
This ugly feeling came into my gut.  An ugly, horrible feeling.  He wouldn’t not go home!  Something happened!
“We’re gonna form a search party and look for him in the morning.”
“I’m coming with you!” I damn-near shouted.
“Honey, that’s not such a great idea,” Mom started.
“If you tell me no, I’m just gonna go looking for him on my own!”
The two of them looked at each other, then dad nodded.
“Okay, sweetie.  Be up, first thing tomorrow.”
That wasn’t a hard thing to ask for.  I didn’t sleep a wink that night.

Next day, to dad’s credit, a ton of people gathered.  There was Officer Lewllyn, and his wife.  A young patrol cop and his partner.  Eli and his family, Griffin and his, even Kate and her family.  Friends of Johnny’s family.  There was even family who came from out of town.  Said they drove all night.  Lots of neighbors.  Some of which I knew.  Chief Joe (that’s his last name.  I know, confusing.  He has two first names) came out and broke out a map.  He had drawn up a series of areas that he had likely gone missing.  Everyone got together and started breaking down areas to search.
I got together with Eli and Griffin.  All we could do is walk with everyone.  Couldn’t think of any words.  None of us could.  Kate came over and walked with us too.  I liked that.  The morning dragged on and one.  People calling Johnny’s name, looking for some evidence of him.  Some false-alarms.  A homeless guy who appeared out of the forest, looking disheveled.  Seen the dude around the diner Mom works at.  Nice enough, but you always are a little careful.
The search went on for hours, but there was nothing.  We just kept going around and around, but nothing was found.  Not a single trace.  It was like he vanished from existence.  His route home was always the same.  Always.  We should have found something.  It was nearly nighttime when the search was called off.  Chief said it would “reconvene in the morning.”  Whatever the fuck that meant.

Hours turned into days.  Days when I had no appetite, no desire to do anything except sit in our fort and cry.  You have all those stupid PSAs about being careful and stranger danger and shit.  Guess it was more than something just talking.  Then, after two and a half agonizing weeks, he finally turned up.  Though, I don’t think he was supposed to.
Dad got the call from Officer Lewllyn.  He said that a couple fishermen found a body on the river’s edge, north of town.  He’s alive, but they didn’t think he was supposed to be.  There were rope marks like he was tied to something and thrown in the river.  It came loose, whatever it was.  He floated downstream, washing up on the bank.  Dad didn’t tell me how bad it was, but he was hurt.  Said it was really bad.  The fact that he’s still alive is amazing.  We went to the hospital.
I nearly ran inside.  Was told what room he was in, and charged upstairs.  When I got there, Eli was already there.  He walked over and put his arms around me.  I liked that.  I needed to be hugged right now.  Normally not the type, but I really, really needed it.  Johnny’s mom was there.  She was a mess.  Makeup that was smeared, trying to look like she was holding it together.
The adults all talked, but that wasn’t why I was here.  I walked over to where the bed was.  A curtain was drawn around it.  Walking inside, I stopped cold.  There, lying on the bed, was Johnny.  He didn’t look human.  Tubes in his mouth, one in his nose.  His skin was red and purple.  There was a giant bandage around his hand.  Bandages all over his body.  What the fuck happened?!
Eli put his arms around me again.  The dude had a gift at knowing when I needed to be held.  It was so awful.
“We’re gonna get to the bottom of this,” he whispered in my ear.  “I swear, we’re gonna find out who did this.  And then fucking kill them!”

When I got home, there was nothing that I could feel.  Food had no taste.  Nothing mattered.  I just went into my room and crashed into my bed.  Sleep finally greeted me.  I don’t think I was awake long enough to perceive hitting the pillow.  Just gone.

My eyes opened and I was in a white room.  On a bed that was really, really uncomfortable.  Sitting up, I saw that I was wearing a weird off-green shirt and pants.  Super light.  What the fuck was this?  There was a a window on the door.  It showed sunlight coming in.  My room had a desk as well, with a light.  It was off.  Getting up, my feet greeted the freezing cold floor.  That sucked.  There were slippers.  Like something you’d see in a hospital.  Weird.
Knocking on the door, I tried to look out.  It was taller than I was.
“Hello?  Is anyone there?”
There was a brief pause, and then the door opened.  Standing there was a very large black woman, with curly hair and a kindly look on her face.
“Hey there, honey.  You’re finally up!”
“Where am I?”
She frowned.  “You don’t know?  This is the Millwood Asylum.  We look after people who have mental problems.”
Oh no.  Oh fucking no!  I was in a mental asylum?!  Wait, who even calls them that anymore?
“I’m not crazy!  What am I doing here?!”
The woman gave me a gentle smile.  Very motherly.  “Oh honey, it’s okay.  You’ve nothing to be afraid of here.  We’re gonna help you get better.  That’s why you were brought here.”  She motioned toward the door.  “Come on.  Let’s get you to meeting the population.  I’m sure you’ll have a lot to talk about.”
Part of me knew that this place was connected to what was happening outside.  Don’t ask me how I knew.  I just did.  What the fuck was I going to do now?

Until next time, a quote,

“The instruments are gruesome, but a hole in the head gives the troubles more space!” – Nurse, Alice: Madness Returns

Peace out,

Maverick

Game Developers Should Unionize

Time was, I worked at Walmart.  I stocked shelves at night.  It was, hands-down, the worst job I’ve ever had.  Nothing else even comes close.  During training, we had a whole day devoted to the group I was hired with getting a big education in why unions are bad, and those who work for unions are bad, and how we are so much better off because we don’t have a union.  Orwellian as fuck, but that’s how it goes at Walmart.  The corporation is pure evil, so what else did you expect?  Not sad that I lost that job.

Story after story is coming out about how AAA-game publishers are forcing those who work for them into some of the worst working conditions I’ve ever heard.  From the 100-hour work weeks that was uncovered at Rockstar, to the Bioware nightmare while Anthem was in development.  Activision Blizzard treating testers in a way that is subhuman.  EA as well, but EA is so evil that it defies comprehension.

While we’re on that, did you hear the thing about the guy at EA who is just absolutely baffled, for 25 years, why people think that EA is full of “bad guys”?  That just blows my mind.  This dude has seen how the company treats their employees.  He’s seen how they will lay people off when the money isn’t coming in enough instead of treating their employees like they care.  Or how EA treats their consumers as nothing more than cash machines instead of actually trying to give them a quality product.  How about the thing where they try and defend lootboxes as “surprise mechanics” and make a point about how they are part of the pioneering spirit of EA?  This dude can see all that, but is totally baffled as to why people think that EA is full of scum-fucks.  Maybe this dude is so out of touch, but I refuse to buy it.

Apologies for the digression, but that was too good not to talk about.  EA is one of the most evil companies ever.  It hurts me inside that Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order looks so good.  Part of me is wondering how EA is going to secretly screw everyone over.  They said no lootboxes, but maybe there is some other “surprise mechanics” in the game.  Fuck EA.

Even CD Projekt Red isn’t immune from this.  There was an expose published about the development of The Witcher 3 and what hell it was for those who were involved.  The company has promised that that kind of thing is not going to happen again.  We’ll see.  I’m always skeptical.  Blame the fact that these companies have a reputation for being liars and treating people like crap.

Which is why I genuinely do believe that game developers, testers, all of those groups should unionize.  It’s LONG since time that they did so.  As we have seen with the lootboxes fiasco, these companies won’t learn from the horrible things they do and will just make excuses.  Hell, there was an article where one head of a company was laughing at the idea of them unionizing.  Since these companies can’t be trusted to do the right thing on their own, it’s time for those who are stuck in this nightmare to step up and band together.

Naturally, there’s the thought about what companies would do if this were to actually happen.  The answer is pretty obvious – not hire anyone associated with the union.  They’d outright tell people that if they unionize, they’ll just fire them and never hire them again.  They know how many people are desperate for a job and would accept their ultimatum of staying out of the union to keep their job.  Gotta love a profession where people live under a constant threat of having no income if they don’t tow the corporate line.  Or with the testers, being treated less than human and paid virtually nothing.

The only way this would work is if enough developers/testers were to get together all at once and make this happen.  It can’t just be a couple of people.  It has to be a large effort.  But it needs to happen.  It should have happened so many years ago.  With gaming getting bigger and bigger, employees need the protection a union brings.  That way these companies can’t pull the bullshit that they do.  There are so many stories of the work environments, the stress levels, the burnout, even suicides in connection to how awful it is.  It’s high time for those in this profession to band together and actually look out for one-another.

What would this mean for gamers?  Several things.  For starters, yearly releases would be a thing of the past.  Less crunch would mean that things would have to be paced out.  Games would be on CDPR time – coming out when they’re done.  Given how unfathomably impatient gamers are (I admit that I am an impatient man myself.  But I accept when there are delays because I want things to come out perfect), this could have a lot of people bitching and moaning about the delays.  They’d have to suck it up and deal.

Because we never see the people who makes games, it’s hard for people to understand the human cost.  In this age of apathy, plenty of people probably don’t care.  It never ceases to amaze me how easy it is for people to rationalize not caring about what happens to other people.  With homeless people, it’s just fantastic.  Part of me wants America to just ditch the pretense of empathy and just kill the homeless.  It’s painfully obvious how little people care.  I had to overhear two coworkers talking about how awful it is that they are everywhere.  What would they prefer?  The way I see it, nobody cares, so let’s stop pretending.

Sorry, another digression.  AAA gaming needs to change.  It needed to change years ago, but now more than ever, it’s time for the people being exploited by corporations who treat them like cattle to band together and step up to them.  They would fight tooth and nail against them.  They’d fire, threaten, and make life hell for those who do this.  But in the end, they could succeed.

Part of me is hoping that AAA gaming is gonna have a collapse.  EA is a company that I would LOVE to see brought to heel.  People lament the idea of EA collapsing.  Not me.  I think it’s a great idea.  Maybe one or two of these companies need to topple in order for the rest to learn that they can’t keep being as greedy and scum-sucking as they are in order to survive.  A man can hope.

Until next time, a quote,

“It’s been a day of firsts.” – Lt. Richard Winters, Band of Brothers

Peace out,

Maverick