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Flash Fiction: Velocity, Part 3

For the final portion of this rather epic Flash Fiction Challenge Chuck Wendig has been running, I chose to finish the intriguing tale Velocity, started by Mark Gardner and continued by LC Finney. I hope they, and you, enjoy how I finish the story.

Part 1 (by Mark Gardner)

Falling.

I rush to you with my eyes open wide. I’ve protected you for years, but now you’re my undoing.

Worthless.

I gaze at the weapon clutched in my hand. My knuckles white with exertion. I cling to what’s familiar, but it mocks me. A tool for keeping the peace used in such a profane manner.

Futility.

I tried to stop them, but I wasn’t good enough. I did my duty with honor.

“Velocity two meters per second squared. Dispatching rescue drone.”

I snort at my ‘assistant.’ Or as much of a snort you can muster while falling. I’m reminded of a quip my partner said once: When trouble breaks out, the assistants break down. I kept up with all the maintenance, followed all the procedures. When the damn thing broke, I requisitioned a replacement.

I’d seen old videos of skydivers. They fall spread-eagle for maximum drag, but I’ve already reached terminal velocity. The problem is, they had a parachute. It’s been said, It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the end. It’s amazing what trivialities the mind conjures in a situation like this.

“Rescue drone deployed. Calculating time until intercept.”

It’s amazing I can hear the thing with the wind rushing over me. The sound is intense. If it weren’t for my cochlear implant, I’d never know if help was on the way. The implant inputs audio directly into my auditory cortex and detects the vibrations of the tympanic membrane in my ear when I speak.

“Drone inbound. Estimated time until arrival, thirty-seven seconds.”

Thirty-seven seconds.

“Assistant.” I said. “Access geolocation. Estimate time until impact.”

I hear the beep. “Five thousand nine hundred eighty seven feet until impact. Estimated time, thirty-three seconds.”

I feel tears briefly – the wind steals them and their meaning from me. The sky is so clear, I can see for miles and miles. Below, the patchwork of ground creates a mosaic. It would be beautiful if it didn’t mean my death.

Resigned to my fate, I holster my weapon. I suspect if the wind wasn’t biting my clothing, I might try to straighten my tie and jacket. If I have to be a corpse, I’d prefer to be a handsome corpse.

“Impact immanent. Reduce speed immediately.”

No shit. I think as I see less and less of the mosaic below. I squeeze my eyes and think about what led me here.

Part 2 (by LC Feeney)

Gemma. Well, to be fair, not Gemma herself, but a need to impress her.

I’d always wanted to be special, to make something of myself. I’d lapped up all the propaganda, the adventure and romance they promised, the whole “be part of something bigger, something important” crap the recruiters feed you. When I’d signed up, I’d envisioned myself as something of a white knight, a superhero, a great defender of the clueless, unwashed masses. I’d risen through the ranks pretty quickly, and when I met Gemma, it seemed like a sign from God that I was on the right track, that we were meant to be. She was perfect in every way and I was determined to be worthy of her attention, her affection.

I focused on the memory of our last encounter, determined that my dying thoughts would be of her. Her short, coppery hair had fallen into her eyes, like it always did when she leaned down to kiss me, and she’d tasted of coconut curry and good beer from our supper. Our lovemaking had been slow, comfortable, familiar, and she had snuggled down into the crook of my arm afterward, so small and pale and smooth. I’d tried not to wake her as I’d gathered my gear and dressed in the dark, but she’d thrown on my carelessly discarded shirt from the day before and walked me to the door. She always did that, wearing my shirts around the house when I was away. She said she could smell me when she wore them, and it kept her from being lonely.

What would I have done differently, if I’d known that that would be the last time I’d ever touch her, ever kiss her? Would I have held her in my arms a little longer, kissed her a little more slowly, looked more deeply into her eyes as I said my goodbyes? Would I have tried to tell her how much I love her, or how my life had changed for the better since I’d met her? Would I have left her with some pithy, memorable line that she could recite, through tears, at my memorial service or have engraved on my headstone? Or would I have just driven away, like I had done so many times before, so as not to give her any unnecessary grief?

How much time did I have left? Could I send her a message?

“Assistant, contact Gemma,” I shouted, suddenly desperate to connect with her one last time.

An eternity of waiting, then a reply. “Gemma is unavailable. Would you like to leave a message?”

“No.” The tears sprang to my eyes again. It was a stupid, selfish idea anyway. She didn’t need to hear me die. It was better this way. At least, for her.

I willed my breathing to slow and my mind to focus on Gemma again, standing in the doorway wrapped in my dress shirt, blowing me kisses and waving as I pulled away from the curb.

Part 3:

My salary isn’t great. I’d only ever been able to afford a landcar for personal use. Not one of the fancy aircars that the rich or influential often get their hands on, making low flights across vast expanses of home on leisurely drives.

As the ground speeds towards me, the sun reflects off of the windscreen of one such aircar. I can’t tell how far up it might be, but from the way its moving, it isn’t on ground level.

And that gives me an idea.

My path to the aircraft from which I’d made my ill-advised exist hadn’t been a linear one. The operation, as laid out for me, involved infiltrating the hideout and gathering intel to feed back to my partner, who would in turn encrypt and burst-transmit it to HQ for analysis. We wanted to surprise these so-called ‘freedom fighters’, but one of them took a wrong turn towards the bathroom and found me in the tiny kitchen’s dumbwaiter. I’d managed to shoot three of them before getting shoved out the door. Not my proudest moment – dead guys can’t tell us where they buy their biowarheads.

I have about twenty seconds. I draw my weapon again, and dig around in one of the pouches on my belt, normally concealed by my suit’s jacket. The grappling equipment disables the weapon’s main functions and has a variety of attachment options, including a rather powerful rare-earth magnet. If that aircar isn’t a fancy carbon-fiber racing model – and judging by its leisurely pace, I’d say it isn’t – I can latch onto it. The grappler can reel me in, and I can get the driver to put me down on the ground safely, rather than letting me splatter.

That is, of course, provided the whiplash from the change in my velocity doesn’t break my neck or my spine.

It takes me five seconds to attach the grappler, another two to lock in the magnet, one more to enable the auto-reel. I spread my arms again to possibly by a couple of seconds back. The aircar is doing slow, lazy loops over the countryside. Someone’s sightseeing or taking photos. That makes my job easier, but then I get close enough to see just how far up they are.

Just a couple hundred feet.

This is going to be close.

“Warning. Impact in ten seconds.”

“Thanks for nothing,” I tell the assistant.

The grappler’s got about twenty meters of braided monofilament line in its spool. I try to eyeball the distance, the ways in which aircar is moving, and how many seconds I have left. I hold my breath, blink away tears, and wait an agonizing three seconds.

The aircar passes under me at the right angle. I pull the trigger.

I don’t remember the next second. Every goes violently black.

I come to gripping the gun as it reels me in. The driver of the aircar is turned halfway around, eyes as big as satellite dishes.

I show my badge.

“Got a phone?”

The #GamerGate Post

This was pretty much inevitable.

It is foolish to paint any large group of people with a monochromatic brush. Human beings are individuals, even when they band together into groups over a common cause or belief. Sitting here and writing about how huge swaths of the gaming community are toxic, ignorant, vile pieces of invective filth is the easiest thing in the world to do. But justifying their behavior in any way, shape, or form is just as harmful and non-productive. So you will not find this post doing either of those things.

Better, more experienced writers than myself have tackled this issue extremely well. People who make games, and write about games for a living, have already held massive discussions on the state of our community. I neither make nor write about games for a living – yet – so I feel underqualified to write about this from those perspectives. All I can do is the following:

Hi. I’m a gamer.

I think games are transformative. I think that they can speak to us on a level other forms of media struggle to reach. The interactive nature of games pulls the player into more intimate contact with the message and ideas of the game. Well-made games, from huge productions like BioShock Infinite to small independent titles like Papers, Please and Depression Quest, can make the gamer think – to put down the controller or step away from the keyboard, and really mull over what was just witnessed and how it affects them.

Note the use of the word “can”. Not every gamer is like me. Not every gamer wants to have that level of connection with their entertainment. Some gamers just want to be pandered to, looking for distraction more than interaction. That’s okay; there isn’t anything wrong with that. Call of Duty and Madden make fucktons of money for that reason – bread and circuses for the masses.

I am not the first to point this out. Games journalism in general, and criticism in particular, have started to become very pervasive and even widely recognized. Lumaries of the art can look at a game from an almost entirely objective point of view, highlight its flaws (because every game has a couple), and describe for whom the game is best suited. Professionals like those at Rockpapershotgun, Joystiq, and Polygon do this extremely well, and make it look easy. Imagine me shaking my fist in good-hearted jealousy.

The problem – and it is a really big one – is when some gamers take it upon themselves to criticize the makers of games, and the critics of games, rather than the games themselves. Especially when said makers and critics self-identify and outwardly display as non-male, non-white, non-hetero, or some combination of the above.

Let’s look at the facts. Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Susan Arendt, and many many others have been bombarded with all sorts of bile simply by existing in the public eye of the gamer community. While some try to play it off as critiquing their work, it seems clear that the majority of this incendiary bullroar is based on the fact that these people happen to have vaginas. They’ve recieved threats of rape. Photos of their houses have been sent. Some even threaten death.

The fact is, the world is a large and diverse place. Half or more of its population are born with vaginas. I cannot speak to their orientation or self-identification as children, but as adults, people make all sorts of decisions regarding how they want to live and be percieved by others. They, somewhat reasonably, ask to be treated equally and taken seriously by the world around them. They explain themselves intellectually and eloquently, make artistic or critical statements, and accept actual criticism with grace and understanding. And the response from the community around me is – death threats?

Refraining from historical examples (look them up), attempting to assert control on a large population through fear and intimidation does not work. At least, it doesn’t work for long. The more a group attempts to build walls of terror around those they wish to corral, the more individuals will band together against that control, seeing it for the weak and foundationless position that it is. While there are people who do not necessarily have the wherewithal to realize domestic verbal terror assaults for what they are, and believe the rhetoric of those who threaten death and despair, experience has shown that game developers and games journalists are not among them. To continue the invective is to fight a losing battle. Attacking the people instead of criticizing their work or position is foolish and wastes everyone’s time. It is, objectively, idiotic.

By way of example:

I do not necessarily agree with every point Anita Sarkeesian makes in her videos. I think her presentation tends to be rather dry and impersonal, which can make engaging with her material difficult. She definitely has points to make, and some of them are good, but others could use more drive to get them to hit home for someone like me. But, that is my individual position, and while I acknowledge her videos are imperfect, the videos are made with the intent that future games can be better than those that came before, and in that, they have a chance at real success.

In the example above, points are made about the videos produced by Anita Sarkeesian and their content. Mentions of the content creator herself are imited, as the critique is aimed at said content, not said creator. This is the sort of thing that can be used to make future content better, and instead of seeking to silence the voice that is tackling a hard issue, encourages it to speak louder.

I could go on about how ad-based journalism sites will always have problems with objectivity or the tragedy of journalists becoming disengaged from and desensitized towards the community around that which they love, but I think I’ve covered a good amount of ground for now. I leave you with the following.

Winston Churchill once said “I have always felt that a politician be judged by the animosities he excites amongst his opponents”. When Theodore Roosevelt came under fire for taking on big business, he said “I welcome your hatred”. Like it or not, games development and games journalism have political aspects, and by Churchill’s standards, people like Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Susan Arendt are luminaries of their fields, based solely on the animosities they excite amongst the masses. In addition to being short-sighted, ignorant, and terroristic, the threats and bile do not disprove the points being made by those being attacked; rather, they give those points more visibility and turn more people on to the viewpoints held by those who would remain silent through fear and doubt. The perpetuators of hatred in the gaming community are doing a wonderful job of defeating themselves, and though I do not think their hatred should be condoned or encouraged, I have to smile at the irony that they are doing such an excellent job of shooting themselves in the kneecaps.

I know it’s scary. I know it’s vile. But as a community, as a part of the human race, as gamers and game makers and game critics who are more interested in better games than we are in sharpening daggers and hating that which is ‘other’ – we got this. You’re not alone. And it won’t last forever. Look at history. It never does.

The future is ours. And we will get there together.

Let’s Talk Comedy

To keep my spirits up during one of the most unusual and patience-testing transitional periods in my life, I’ve been checking out more comedy. Before my move, I hadn’t watched much It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, or any Arrested Development or Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Between those shows, and keeping up with The Daily Show, Colbert Reportm, and @midnight, I’ve been thinking about what makes good comedy, and all of its different styles. I feel that it’s a very subjective topic, as what is funny to one person is completely tasteless to another, but I think there are a few objective facts we can consider regarding various approaches to making people laugh.

I think that stand-up comedy and improv take different skill sets. Stand-ups write their material in advance, and focus on making sure their delivery is earnest and clear. Improv performers work almost entirely off the cuff, playing with one another in a very real way to make the comedy as spontaneous and energetic as possible. Some stand-ups can whip out jokes on the fly, and some improv performers do great stand-up. But in both cases, when the performers are on, the laughs flow freely.

I’ve never really liked laugh tracks. Live audiences are definitely better, especially in a show that flows organically like the above mentioned Comedy Central shows, or live shows like Saturday Night Live. Spontaneous laughter is the best. I have to wonder on some sitcoms with live audiences if there are prompts to laugh or applaud. This probably isn’t the case, but when I have trouble laughing at something like The Big Bang Theory, I find myself curious.

The thing about situation comedies is that the comedy should be in the situations. While characters certainly matter, in that their interactions and clashes either aggravate or undercut said situations, I don’t feel that the flaws or difficulties of the characters should be the crux or point of the humor. While a character with what might be called defects can put others into funny situations, said defects should not be depicted as funny in and of themselves. That method seems insensitive, and for me, it kills the humor.

That could just be me, though. Like I said, comedy is subjective. What do you find funny? What comedy for you falls flat?

Flash Fiction: Fee, Continued

Getting back to the normal Flash Fiction feature here at Blue Ink Alchemy, I’m jumping into the Terribleminds challenge of Continuing The Tale, Part Two. I decided to follow up on the excellent start provided by Lisa Shininger, which you can see the original containing post here. Enjoy!

Part 1, by Lisa:

Fee didn’t recognize the voice at the door, but she knew the face when she looked through the peephole. Danny Vinzo was a pinch-faced boy with piggy eyes and a perpetual sneer. A bully from birth.

“You in there, Alou?” Danny demanded, banging again. “I texted an hour ago. We need more.”

“He went out. Back soon, I’m sure,” Fee told him.

She couldn’t turn him away. Danny was a regular. So she pasted on a welcoming smile and opened the door. It wasn’t hard to pretend. She had plenty of practice. Pleasant was a good distraction, one way or another.

Danny shoved past her and stomped down the hall like a man who weighed three times as much. Behind him came another boy. Solid where Danny was reedy, this one had skin like stucco and a suspicious look he seemed to aim everywhere at once.

“Sure, come in,” she said to their backs.

At least her kitchen always cheered her up, no matter what or who was in it. Danny heaved himself into a rickety chair, which creaked nervously under him. The other boy hovered near the fridge with his hands clasped behind him. His eyes never stopped moving, measuring everything.

Fee saw him look at her, away, back again. What did he see? Height of the new winter, hot and bright, and here she skulked in long sleeves and skirt. Boys their age always thought she was ancient—harmless—so she played it up. Sugared her voice even more. Asked if they wanted a glass of something. Her hands were starting to shake a bit. Not enough so they would notice, surely. She curled one hand until the knuckles cracked.

With a smile to Danny, she said, “Let me call Alou so you don’t have to wait. He should be back any minute!”

Fee picked up the phone and hurried out of the kitchen. Past the door to the basement and into the living room, she pretended to dial. There was no need. Alou was exactly where she’d put him.

“He’s on his way!” she shouted toward the kitchen. “Five minutes out, tops.”

Everything Fee needed was behind a false stone in the fireplace. She checked to make sure neither boy had followed. Danny wasn’t what anyone would consider the curious type, but his friend…. She jimmied the stone free. Inside the tin box behind it was what she needed, everything arranged just so. Of course it was. How could Alou have found it from the bottom of the stairs where he fell?

It was too bad Danny brought his friend. If not, she might have given him what he wanted, pills from Alou’s personal stash—for a ridiculous price but still low enough to send him away happy.

Fee shivered. She could feel that boy’s eyes staring at her here, rooms away. They were heavy on her covered arms, cool like the gun in her hand.

Part 2:

The house was quiet. So was the neighborhood. Fee couldn’t risk pulling the slide on Alou’s slender little automatic. She didn’t want to spook the boys in her kitchen. She knew Danny didn’t carry heat; he barely had enough scratch to pick up the pills to feed his addiction, let alone scrape up cash for a piece. The other boy was an unknown that Fee didn’t like. The gun was a reassuring weight in her hand, as it had been before.

She replaced the tin box and gently slid the false stone back into place. She winced a bit when stone scraped against stone, but a quick glance over her shoulder told her the boys hadn’t followed her. Was the larger boy behind Danny just a lookout? For what purpose, though? Alou had never double-crossed Danny. Alou had done a lot of things – cheated, lied, stolen, shut off the heat to parts of the house purely out of spite – but he had never handed a customer a raw deal.

Four minutes, now. She had to decide what to do. She had no idea if Danny would take pills from her; Alou had handled all of the business. She knew where everything was, now that she had taken the time and been able to leave her room and the kitchen without danger. She had already lied about Alou’s arrival, she couldn’t now take that back.

The cat wandered into view, curious and cautious, and it gave Fee an idea. She picked up the feline and put it on the bottom step, then gently shooed it towards the top. The cat was a large tabby tom, and he made a bit of a ruckus as he clomped upstairs. Danny didn’t kknow about the cat. For all he knew, it was Fee making her way towards a bedroom.

Fee quietly slipped past the staircase and around through the dining room. The floorboards didn’t creak as she moved, and she hugged the wall as she approached the kitchen. As she had hoped, the sounds of feet up the stairs made the two boys comfortable talking to one another.

“Whatcha think?” Danny was keeping his voice somewhat low.

“Damn shady.” The other boy had a baritone that belied his age. “Ain’t nobody seen or heard from Alou in a long time. Ain’t been around his usual haunts. Girls ain’t heard a peep.”

“I don’t know. Maybe he’s finding a new hookup. Last time he was here, he was talkin’ about getting bent over by his supplier.”

“He would have figured that shit out by now. Alou’s no slouch.” There was the distinctive, ratcheting noise of a revolver being checked.

“Whoa, whoa!” Danny hissed the warning at his friend. “Tre, come on, dude. She’s an old lady.”

“An old lady who’s blowin’ smoke up our asses. Alou owes folks money and if I gotta collect from Grandma, I will.”

Fee swallowed. The automatic suddenly felt very heavy in her hand. Ninety seconds left. Not enough time.

Where’s My Momentum?

Courtesy Matt Groening

As much as old habits die hard, when you’re out of practice it can be very difficult to find your groove again. I just finished my first workout in I-don’t-know-how-long, and all of my joints popped over the course of it. Like, all of them. I even had to stop squatting since my right knee popped in a way that was worrisome and uncomfortable. And that’s to say nothing on my writing.

I’m having difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. Perhaps a sign of depression, or a side-effect of the changing nature of my employment status, it’s difficult to say which. But rather than stay in bed doing nothing, I am frustrated to the point of wanting to take action.

Suffice it to say that the blog hasn’t picked right back up where I left off. It’s taking a bit longer to get going than I would have liked. But it is going, at the very least. I’m here. You’re here. That’s what matters.

I continue to contend that tomorrow will be better than yesterday, which means that soon today will be entirely surpassed. All I have to do is keep pushing forward.