Meltdown XLI & Fallout 041 || Promo Thread.

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SupineSnake

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Promo deadlines:

Sunday 9th June, 23:59PM Pacific Time.
Monday 10th June, 03:00AM Eastern Standard Time.
Monday 10th June, 08:00AM Greenwhich Mean Time.
Monday 10th June, 16:00PM Australian Western Standard Time.

No extensions.

GLHF.
 

Cyrus Truth

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Chapter 4: The Shot That Takes You Down


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Waves lap against the shores and sandy beaches of an island in the Southern Pacific, far and away from civilization and the prying eyes of the general populace.

As the camera pans around, giving us a panoramic view of this little slice of an unblemished world, one could be mistaken for thinking that it’s deserted. That it’s a forgotten hunk of foliage and soil out in the middle of nowhere devoid of humanity and its excesses.

However, even places like this rarely escape the gaze of the powerful, the wealthy, and the eccentric.

Deep in the middle of the island in a clearing hewn from the dense tropical trees by ax and effort is a massive, luxurious compound surrounded by a large stone wall fence. The compound itself is a massive manor, built custom to the whims of the island’s master. Marble pillars and exotic oaks with gilden, golden accents and framework make this building stand out like a sore thumb amidst the wild, untamed nature.

It is glorious.

It is…ostentatious.

Almost tacky in a way.

This…is Casa de Pertinencia.

A rather arrogant name befitting its master.

Our focus changes to inside the manor. A brief tour showcases this manor’s many luxuries and accommodations.

A massive kitchen outfitted with stainless steel appliances, tended to by world-class chefs and servants.

An indoor Olympic-sized pool, perfectly temperature regulated for comfort for anyone who needs a bit of exercise or aquatic relaxation. If not the pool, then the fully stocked Tiki bar and sumptuous Giza Egyptian-cotton bathrobes and towels certainly can soothe and calm even the most obstinate, irritated soul.

Enormous bedrooms with massive Alaskan King-sized beds, dressed with the finest linens and most comfortable pillows. Incredible sanctuaries for blissful rest or…carnal desires.

But the most eye-catching room in the entire estate isn’t the built-in home theater or the immense library with the hand-carved mahogany desk. It’s not even the airport terminal room that connects to a private jet that’s forever maintained and fueled up by a professional, world-class pilot and maintenance crew.

No…that distinction goes to the lounge room that doubles as a repository of trophies and various trinkets accumulated from around the world. The walls are literally lined with golden artifacts, rare and valuable works of art, and world-class taxidermy trophies of all sorts of dangerous animals and vicious predators.

Although…there are some oddities in this trophy room. For example, what’s the mangy pelt of what one can only assume is some kind of disease-ridden vermin doing right above the fireplace mantle?

Regardless, it’s certainly an impressive collection of accomplishments. Impressive, but…very busy. Cluttered. With no order, no care given to their presentation. They exist, they impress…but there’s no indication of how they were acquired, no story as to how they ended up here amongst other trophies collecting dust.

The only thing that stands out in this room in a place of prestige and honor is an old long rifle, mounted on the wall with a plaque underneath that reads “Ego Stroke.”

Sipping brandy in the middle of the room while admiring the vintage rifle is a man in his mid thirties, wearing a rather bizarrely tacky suit with a bushy mustache on his face. There’s an air of smarmy self-importance and arrogant smug superiority. He almost absentmindedly runs his fingers across what appears to be his latest prize, a jewel-encrusted Mayan gold mask that, for the moment, sits on a pedestal in the middle of the room before it, like all the others, will simply be added to the walls as decoration…another trinket to serve as validation of this man’s hubris.

While the man sips his brandy and smiles that smug, self-assured grin, we hear a familiar voice, a narrator tasked with telling the story.

“Nothing in life is so tragic as to see a person, talented and driven, find themselves riding such a wave of success that they fail to see the rocks that threaten to smash them into pieces. Even worse still…are the ones who implement the means and opportunity for their destruction.

“In my world…or worlds, I suppose. It’s all too common. The talented find success, push forward past their rivals and adversity, and accumulate fame, fortune, and glory, accomplishments that are undeniable.

“I am not one who’ll deny talent. And I certainly can’t deny one’s drive and hunger. But perspective is always important, in all things and at all times. And intention…yes. Intention is always key when it comes to the choices one makes.”

There’s a knock at the door to the trophy room, getting the attention of the master of the house. A servant, with a weasley look, a trashy mustache, and a gauche tuxedo, approaches his master with a tablet.

The master of the house takes the tablet and brings it up to his eyeline. He smiles as he swipes through it, looking at the pictures and profiles that his servant has prepared for him.

It’s a collection of thieves, treasure hunters, murderers, and psychopaths. Some of the world’s most dangerous, most cunning, and most ruthless thrill seekers and glory chasers, and from the text on the tablet, it appears they have all arrived at the request of the master of the house.

A challenge. A gauntlet. A hunt for the prize he just recently acquired.

The smile on the master’s face at the roster that’s been assembled against him. Many who are expected. Others who, despite our own view of the dossiers on the tablet, are obscured and hard to see. Not that there seems to be any concerns on the face of the master of the house. After all, why would there be? He invited them to this island, to participate in a hunt where only one can remain standing.

Putting his wealth, his glory, and even his own life on the line.

The invitees are the hunters. And the master of the house?

Prey.

Or perhaps, he thinks himself a hunter of hunters.

The master of the house tosses the tablet back at his manservant, perhaps a bit too callously and recklessly as it slaps the servant in the face before he scrambles to catch it before nearly falling on his ass as his employer struts past him and bumps into him without a second thought.

The master of the house heads to a secure safe room. Not to hide, but to gear up with the finest tactical gear and weaponry money, lies, and underworld dealings can provide. Despite the danger he has put himself in, this wealthy and arrogant scoundrel is not so foolish as to not have a plan to ensure that he’s the one who comes out on top.

Armed and ready for the hunt, the master of the island takes his leave of his manor, his compound, his refuge, leaving behind the treasures and trinkets to prove something…

…or perhaps, there’s another reason.

“What makes a man choose to put himself and his prize at risk in such a manner, hmm? Were it anyone else, I could potentially see this as challenging oneself. Putting your pride and your confidence to the ultimate test to prove that you are every bit the unstoppable force that you believe yourself to be.

“But…that’s not the Truth for some men.

“For some…perhaps more than there should be, it’s about the ego. The intoxicating desire to live up to the hype that you’ve bought wholeheartedly into. This is the story of such a man, who achieved something so few in the world have come even close to and thought it made him a god, an invincible force that could overcome a damnation of his own choosing and design."

The scene cuts to the forest in several different spots. We see some of the hunters that have been invited to this island to participate in the bloodsport.

We see a massive hulk of a man, carrying what looks to be a double-barrel shotgun he happened to find in an abandoned military bunker near where he was dropped off. It seems as if he’s only been provided with a couple buckshot shells for which to go into this battle royale, but the grim countenance on the bruiser’s face shows a wrathful determination, a desire to unleash his rage and frustration out on new victims.

We see a smaller framed man, who was dropped off at the wrecked hull of a speedboat, having scavenged a submachine gun with half a clip of ammo. There’s a look in this man’s eyes that tell a story. A story of a man who has sought the greatest of prizes time and again, has thrown himself into the fire to prove that amongst the rabble, he stood above. But the scars…the scars tell a different story. A story of a hundred victories…and a thousand heartbreaking losses.

Our perspective changes to another part of the forest, where a young man with a cocky air of unearned superiority has rummaged through a nearby wooden chest. He’s found a Desert Eagle pistol, again with very limited ammo. However, he seems unbothered by this, as he simply stows the pistol into the waistband of his pants and heads forward with the confidence of a man whose self-importance is overriding his talents and accomplishments.

Yet again, a new part of the island, deeper into the heart of the jungle. This time, a young woman, with hate and envy in her eyes. She’s standing near a pond of water, alone with nothing but her thoughts and desires to take what was lost and what she believes she is owed. There’s a moment, a fleeting second where she looks into the water…and sees something. It’s her reflection, but for the blink of an eye? It’s an image of a different version of herself, one that wasn’t burdened by dark thoughts and bitter malice…but by earnest joy and excitement. The woman looks away as the water ripples and the vision fades. She picks up a nearby rusted machete and proceeds into the thicket.

We see others as well. A thin and frightened man, troubled by his past traumas. An older man, grizzled but with hungry eyes. Others that are shrouded by the jungle, hunters and killers that the world had forgotten. All of them brought together by the master of the island for a hunt like no other, though the odds have been manipulated in favor of the hunt’s host.

As the master of the house traverses the jungle, using the security system installed throughout the island and GPS tracking software to find his first would-be challenger, his first would-be victim and prey? He has a look in his eyes, a look that says that despite the danger? He holds all the cards, has everything he needs to be the one to come out on top, and wipe out his rivals in one fell swoop. This will be his finest victory.

This will sate his ego, if only for a little while.

“Glory can only be achieved when you throw yourself into the fire to show the world that the hottest flames cannot burn you. But for some men…when it seems as if they throw themselves into the crucible, there’s always…something else. An avenue, a shortcut, an alternative path or manipulation that inevitably leads to victory…but by the easiest path possible.

“A man faces off against two enemies…but only strikes when one has neutralized the other.”

“A man faces off against a dangerous challenger…but succeeds when his supplicant provides the opening.

“A man enters a caged arena to fend off many warriors coming for his head…but only after they have destroyed each other.

“History tells us everything we need to know about the ones who chase for glory, hunger and thirst for validation and the chance to write their legends. And for some…what seems like nobility and bravery? It’s simply a mask that one wears to hide their duplicity and fragile egos.

“But try as such men might? Eventually…they come into conflict with someone that they simply cannot destroy. Fleetings victories give way to the Truth.

“And that Truth? That for every accolade, every prize, every trophy and achievement?

“There is always someone that will be there to ensure that they are ripped away from men of low repute.”

Using the tracking resources available to him, the master of the island tracks down his first target.

But what he finds is nothing more than rent flesh and a pool of blood.

The corpse of the large bruiser lays face down in the dirt, his double-barrel shotgun still clutched in his hands. As the master of the island looks around confused, trying to piece together what happened…he hears something.

Hidden in the gnarled roots of a nearby tree, the hunter finds a cassette player. Reaching in and grabbing it, the master of the island hits the rewind button and plays it back.

It’s the voice of another man. The master of the island immediately recognizes it as the voice of this poor bastard’s closest friend, one he’s sacrificed much for in order to realize his friend’s aspirations and satiate his friend’s greed. An unworthy friend, but one that the dead man could not let go of when it came time to seek and destroy for his own gain.

The master of the island looks a bit…disappointed. Certainly, he had hoped to take advantage of the resources he had available to make it an easy kill, but that was denied him. No glory. Nothing. A kill that should’ve been his, but was robbed of him.

No matter. There was still more prey, right?

Well…

“You should’ve learned from the last time you tried to reach beyond your grasp.”

The master of the island finds another hunter, the reedy one with the submachine gun. Or rather, another corpse, bullet holes in trees sprayed out, all of them missing their target.

“Honestly, for as smart of a champion and trophy hunter as you are, you continue to make stupid mistake after stupid mistake.”

The master’s hunt continues, but all he finds is another dead man. The blowhard has been strung up and tied to a tree with his Desert Eagle laying at his feet, having not been fired once.

“You think that this challenge of yours will prove your superiority. That you’ll show the world that your ego is rooted in legitimacy and talent.”

Another participant in this bloody battle royale. The woman, her throat slit by her own machete, was left lying near a small creek where a picture of another woman with dusky skin and sultry eyes was embedded into a slitted rock.

“You should know better by now. Every time you try to make your name at my expense? It always…ALWAYS comes back to tear at your throat.”

The master of the island, frustration and perhaps a bit of fear starting to replace that blustering arrogance that drove him to invite all these other hunters to this challenge on his domain, continues to spend the rest of the day searching the island for other targets. Trying to find someone that hasn’t already been taken out so that he can claim victory and glory for himself.

All he finds are bodies. Corpses. The broken and bloodied forms of the men and women he wanted to best, to defeat and kill himself to prove that among hunters, he stood alone above them all.

And he’s been denied by a true killer. And it dawns on him in that moment that he’s made a grievous mistake.

There was one person, one hunter that he invited. One that he’s claimed victory over, but has ruined him when he opened the door and let him in.

And at that moment?

The master of the island realizes just how fucked he truly is.

“Everything you think you’re going to achieve with your little scheme is going to end with you having nothing. No victories, no accolades, and your prize will be ripped from your hands as the light leaves your eyes as it has time and again. How many times do I have to teach you that your confidence always turns to toxic arrogance, your facade of proving yourself is easily shattered and proven to be nothing more than yet another stunt where your victory is achieved only through manipulation of the odds to your favor instead of proving your strength outright?

“I suppose it doesn’t matter. As talented as you are, as skilled and driven as you can be? You will never be able to become the legend, the icon you believe yourself to already be, because you will always put yourself in a situation where your glory is easily taken from you. And you’ll always come back to me. Because at the end of the day? Your greatest glories came when you faced me, and yet…those glories are tainted by your willingness to stoop to the lowest of levels, take whatever advantage influence and greed will grant you in order to take whatever challenge you give yourself and make it so you have everything you need to win as easily as possible.

“You should have never opened that door, my friend. Should have never let your ego run wild and allowed me the chance to rip your heart out. But you just. Couldn’t. Help yourself.”

The master of the island, realizing that everyone he wanted to defeat was rendered as nothing more than souls to the call, races back to his compound, his opulent manor housing all of his wonderful little trinkets before the sun sets and the monster he allowed back in emerges from the shadow.

He manages to make it home. He locks the doors, and runs to close the blinds. He tries his damndest to stow away his fear, trying his best to convince himself that everything is under control, that he is stronger than the nightmare that he has time and again continued to haunt him.

There’s a moment as the sun dips below the horizon that the master of the island thinks to himself…he’s safe. It’s fine. Those other hunters might’ve gotten slaughtered, but not him. He’s survived the demon that still haunts his domain before, and kept him from taking his trinkets.

Confidence starts to bubble to the surface, and quickly starts to fester into arrogance as the master returns to his trophy room.

The lights are out as he flips a switch.

…and the room remains in darkness.

The arrogance subsides as fear begins to trickle back in. The master of the island immediately heads to the fireplace and uses a sparker to start a blaze to get some light in.

Eventually, the hearth roars to life.

But…

“I’ve told you before. Your blind arrogance and belief in your unearned superiority will always be your undoing. As I have before, I will take everything from you. And you’ll never hear the shot that takes you down.”

The rifle. The long-barrelled firearm that once was so proudly displayed above the fireplace mantle…

It was gone.

The master turns around.

BANG!

It only takes one shot. One shot, one opportunity, one small opening that seemed so insignificant when it was first given.

And that one shot is what kills a man drunk on his own ego, too eager to stroke it to realize that he had damned himself.

The figure holding the rifle is hidden by shadow. We don’t see his face.

We don’t really have to.

The barrel still smoking, the figure tosses it to the ground next to the now lifeless body of the former master of the island, as a pool of crimson starts to pool.

“The funny thing is? You really should see it coming. You absolutely should’ve expected it. After all…”

The shadowy figure walks over the body of his victim, and without missing a step grabs the Mayan gold mask, the prize that was up for grabs in this little hunt.

“You’re the one who keeps handing me the bullets…and keeps putting the gun in my hands.”
 
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An exception from an edition of PWO Insider June 2004
"...And in Mexico...I mean, it's hardly worth repeating at this stage, but Halloween Knight did defeat Dr Rudo, and it goes without saying that it was another instant classic from someone who seems to churn them out on a nearly weekly basis. I'm really running out of things to say about Halloween Knight at this point. At this point, Halloween Knight's popularity is not a debatable subject: he is the most popular wrestler in Lucha Today, the most popular wrestler in Mexico altogether, and one of the most popular wrestlers in the history of Mexican wrestling. Hell, I would argue Halloween Knight is the best wrestler in the world; Halloween Knight has emerged as one of the most important catalysts for the modern wrestling era. The way he emotes and displays a fiery, resolute determination is distinctly Lucha, but he combines it with American wrestling showmanship. He is paradoxically both inaccessible and engaging, delighting crowds with his famous dance routines to close out shows. Everything this man does seemingly turns to gold, and I can say wholeheartedly that Halloween Knight is one of the most consequential wrestlers alive today

"The most thrilling aspect of Halloween Knight's career is that he's just reaching his zenith, one of the all-time peaks, as he steps into his 30s. Despite injuries marring significant portions of his 2002 and 2003, the anticipation for every moment he graces the ring with his presence is palpable. We can only imagine the heights he will reach in the future."​


An excerpt from an edition of PWO Insider June 2014
"...As for Lucha Libre, it's the same old story it feels like it's been for the last few years or so, like it's a hamster on a wheel going round and round, but not going anywhere fast; quite frankly, it feels like Halloween Knight has been having the same match for the last twenty years, which is all well and good, it's Halloween Knight, it's a good match but only now he's ten years older, ten years of bumps, ten years of matches, ten years of injuries, and it shows, he's gotten a lot slower and while the spirit may be willing, but clearly he's not the wrestler he was, and the man should really think about hanging it up before he starts to damage his legacy. "​



1 January, 2022 - Mexico City, Mexico
EILL-Empresa Internacional de Lucha Libre

"Why?" It's an annoying question. Halloween Knight has many " whys" that have built up to give him purpose.

He immediately thought back to a few short days ago after his first match of the year. He sat down for some interviewers immediately after getting backstage. Exhausted, he flopped down at the table and, chugged one of the little bottles of water they provided and collected himself. He had to, after all, he was told in no uncertain terms that this would be his last year in wrestling, and the reason for this press conference was to announce a new super card, "The Last Haunt" That was the plan, all the promotional material have been made the card had been booked, the plans have been set to give Halloween Knight a memorable send-off.

"We're going to give you the retirement you deserve; all you have to do is announce it."

All very kind and respectful, yet from Beneth his mask, Halloween Knight could only frown.

Senior Spooky, you started off the year impressively with that victory, but there are rumours that 2020 you might not be feeling the best, and rumours are that EMLL has noted you slowly down.

You'd think by now these idiots would ask real questions—meaningful questions. Halloween Knight sighed. This was the moment, and yet...

" I just went out to the ring and wrestled a really good match and you want to ask me how I feel getting back in the ring? What can I say? I feel great. Perfect. Better than I've felt in years"

There's an awkward silence as Halloween Knight seems to be debating whether he should reach over that table and pop his head like a zit with his bony hands, but it's a new year, a new him.

When I'm not in the ring, I'm at the gym, training with my team. I'm watching tapes of those who came before me so I can continue learning different ways to fight my opponent. There is no ' warming up' if you never stop training. This relentless dedication fuels my passion for wrestling, and it's a testament to my resilience in this sport.

"With respect, you've kind of been known to be someone who wrestled only one match a year."

" I'm not some office worker or a post worker. I don't get holiday pay to sit around the tree with some hot tea and treats to open presents. What I do is I don't take days off. I don't have vacation days. It never stops. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day, and if I take a break, someone else is better usin' their time than I'd be."

" Apologies then. So, okay, let me ask another question then-"

If it's another stupid question, as God as his witness.

"The new year is upon us. What does 2020 look like for Halloween Knight? What are you looking forward to?"

The EMLL public relations officer throws a sideways glare at Knight as if to say, "Ok, second bite at the apple, time to announce your goodbye tour, but it's only greeted with awkward silence as Halloween Knight stares straight ahead, his face unreadable under that mask.

" Opening eyes. Expanding my horizons."

The public relations officer seems to glare nervously at someone behind him as Halloween Knight once again doesn't announce his retirement, despite having two solid chances at doing just that. Halloween Knight pointed back towards the ring and spoke with conviction in his voice. After all, to be convincing, you have to be convinced.

"What you saw me do just now in that ring is a statement. It's a testimony to what I aim to accomplish in 2020. It's a warning of what's to come for the other 364 days of this year."

"Ok, well, I think that should wrap up this-"

The PR person tries to cut things off as it's clear that Halloween Knight is going off script, but Halloween Knight keeps talking because, of course, he does; after all, he's just had an epiphany.


I've been doin' this for Thirty-One years now. The Sixth of June will be thirty-two years of this. From London to Madrid, to Germany, Greece, America, Mexico, and Australia, I've been everywhere that someone would book me to be. I'm not afraid of a fight, no matter where or whom it's against. There's been something on my mind for a few days now, but I haven't made any official decision. It comes to this: I am STILL the best wrestler in the world, and I plan on provin' as much in 2022. I want to handle as many challenges as I can.

Now was the time to make a statement and go through with it.

That's why I'm leaving Lucha Libre and why I have agreed to a deal with FWA. I report to America in a few weeks.

The PR person's face went white, and his eyes grew wide; Knight could hear swearing and general chaos going on behind the scenes. Silence came over the reporters verbally, but the frantic typing and clicking of their laptops echoed in unison. Halloween Knight guessed his mouth and made the decision for the rest of him.

" Why FWA?"

"Because I ain't dead yet, and I ain't planning to be any time soon."

By now, this press conference is an absolute shambles. This was absolutely not what EMLL wanted this to be, but Halloween Knight had opened the lid of Pandora's box, and there's no going back now,

Does such a huge career decision like this have anything to do with the recent reports of EMLL forcing you into retirement?

" I'm not lookin' for sympathy. Save that for someone else. I'm no attention whore. I make the best decisions for myself and my future. If I want to prove without a shadow of a doubt that I can still go, and if I have to go to America and prove it to everyone. That's what I'm doing. "

Halloween Knight immediately stood up and left the press conference. He was better off taking a long walk off a short pier than sitting there answering those questions. What Halloween Knight does is nobody's business but mine and, to an extent, his family. He tracked on past the curtain, leaving the shockwave he had just dropped in his wake.
--------------

"Hello? Is this thing on?

It's been a hell of a year or two since I took the boneyard over the border.

They told me four years ago. Thanks for coming, but your nine lives are up.

They told me I was done.

They told me spending any more time in the ring would be tearing apart my legacy. That I'd bomb in FWA,

But the Dance of the damned is only moving on to its next beautiful stage, even if it is a duet or whatever the word is for three separate people.

Please believe these words. I have been in this business for most of my adult life, and I never had more fun than I have had in the last year. I will freely admit I'm not as good as I was ten years ago; my reflexes are slower than they were, my body hurts, and I feel the aches and pains more and more; maybe I would be the failure everyone thought I would be in FWA if it wasn't for me Amigos. So any success I have is because of the unit of Tr1ck or Tr4sh.

If anything, it just underlines what I have spent my life trying to prove: that wrestling in all its forms belongs to the misfits, the weirdos and the freaks.

They tell me that I am old and past it.

They told Juan he'd never past a certain point.

They wouldn't let Trash Mammal in the building because...I mean, he stinks the place out, and everyone is confused about his accent, but together? We're better than the sum of our parts, and Nate Savage is going to find that out firsthand."
 

SupineSnake

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[volume 122]
MICHELLE von HORROWITZ
in
”DIE ERFAHRUNG.”

green.jpg


Berlin is a strange place to live, especially as a young person. When the years haven't yet conquered the soul, one expects a city to roll out before them like an extension of the playgrounds of their youth. A city should be infinite, even within the finite boundaries of its suburbs, to allow a young person to live and grow and enjoy themselves a little before they are transformed into the old, stifled, and frightfully dull person they were born to be. Berlin, or at least most of it, was smothered and choked by a long-lingering smog of guilt. The old were bent double by the memory of their collective grief. Their respect and nostalgia for the more acutely felt self-loathing of their parents turned them inwards. They expected the same of their children, but such an atmosphere can only sustain itself for so long. A down-trodden creature, even the lowly human, still possesses the remnants of a spirit.

For Michelle, at the age of twenty one, Berlin was the perfect place. The Netherlands, her homeland in only the most literal sense of the word, was not an option. The emotional baggage that she'd left behind there was too much for her to carry. Her mother was still breathing but clinging onto life as she clung to the bottle. She had grown bored and then wary of the pseudo-liberalism of France during her schooling there, tiring of Marseille's airs and Paris’s pretensions long before she failed to graduate. America - where her sister had studied and now plied her trade whilst hunched over a cello - offered Michelle her first taste of freedom, but she drank too long from that particular cup. Too much, too soon. The shadow of her sister’s wings always lay over her, and so she returned to Europe in an attempt to spread her own.

Wrestling was already something to her but it wasn't nearly enough of a something to pay her bills. The Aunt Maude money had dwindled and now, more than a decade after her untimely death in Marienbad, the nest egg was bare. And so, Michelle found herself working a string of bar jobs to subsist in this supremely stifling city. This employment was mostly temporary, so as to accommodate her infrequent tours of Europe to wrestle. She'd even been on one in Japan, although the opportunities that she thought would present themselves following this initial foray had thus far turned out to be only promises. In the Summer of 2001, she found such employment at der Spieler, a small and uninspiring bar in-between a library and a bakery in the Lichtenberg district. And, on this particular night in the Summer of 2001, she stood behind the bar running a rag around the rim of a glass stein, an affection she'd picked up from watching other bartenders in similar settings across three continents.

The bar was quiet most nights and tonight was like most nights. One regular, an accountant named Lars who said nothing except to order his drinks, sat alone in a corner reading a battered old book beneath an open window. A cigarette, still burning, sat wedged between the grooves of his ashtray. She liked Lars. A pair of oil riggers from the Balkans occupied the corner table, as they had on every night of the previous thirty since their arrival from their last dispatch at sea. They had overpowered a young tourist and taken him into their circle this evening, forcing him to listen to tales from the rig, off-colour life advice, and a league table of European countries according to the quality of their women. This sprawling lecture was given loudly and obnoxiously, and was accompanied by many hearty slaps on the tourist's back and triumphant pulls from the riggers’ steins.

And then a fifth and final patron, sitting at the bar with a rum and coke. He'd first asked for a series of cocktails, most of which she'd never heard of before, let alone known how to make. This was the most sophisticated drink she was able to mix. She worked in places with simple menus as a rule. If he was disappointed by her inability to pour a Martini he didn't show it. In fact, a curious smile was upon his face, his eyes were directed at the young woman behind the bar. She was unsure how long he'd been staring at her, but something about the man made his gaze light and easy. She was unharmed by his focus. She couldn't pinpoint why, at the time or at any moment afterwards. Perhaps it was his uniquity, or the comfort with which he occupied his stool, or the attention to detail belied by his carefully cultivated look. He was captivating, and he knew it, and was all the more captivating for this knowledge.

First impressions are important.

“You don’t seem to like them very much,” he said. His accent was compromised by a youth in the countryside (near the mountains if she was pushed to guess), but his keen, piercing, intelligent eyes marked him as anything but a bumpkin. Michelle became aware that she had been mentally enumerating the evening’s customers with a demeanour suggesting discontent. In truth, der Spieler’s patrons had little to do with it. Discontent was her general state of being.

“I like them just fine,” she announced, meeting his gaze happily and with ease. “They don’t try to talk to me. Except to order drinks.”

“The only way to talk to you is to order a drink?” he asked, his inquisitive smile still in position and perhaps even more pronounced. The barkeep shrugged and looked away, as if to confirm the stranger’s suspicions. For his part, his curious and cunning smile slowly faded. It was quickly replaced by a pensive, almost absent expression that she found difficult to not glance back at.

This went on for almost a full minute, until he rather suddenly finished his drink in one long pull and stood from his barstool. Michelle allowed herself that second glance. The sudden, bold, decisive movement demanded her attention.

“I was debating a choice, if you’re wondering,” he declared, whilst adjusting the lapels of his coat. “Between ordering another drink, which would make me late for work, or embarking upon a vow of silence from the moment I leave this bar. If I can’t talk to you, barkeep, I don’t see much point in talking to anyone else.”

He didn’t give her the opportunity to respond, instead turning on his heel and striding with verve and confidence towards the exit. Michelle continued the task of running an old rag around the rim of a glass stein.

The stranger returned during each of her next eight shifts. She imagined he must’ve shown up at der Spieler on the nights that she wasn’t there, too. It was a coarse approach to learning her schedule but it got the job done. On those subsequent visits he would approach the bar and order his rum and coke by nodding at a bottle of Captain Morgan. He invariably sat at the bar and drank in silence, occasionally accompanying the liquor with a vanilla cigarillo. Then, he would leave, ostensibly because he didn’t want to be late for work.

At this stage in Michelle’s brief entanglement with the stranger, she took her leave from the bar for a week to complete a brief tour of Munich and the surrounding area. Unlike most of her previous employers, der Spieler’s owner told her that the job would be waiting for her when she got back, mostly owing to his approval of her generally dour attitude. She disappeared, wrestled a few matches, and returned to Berlin sporting a new array of minor injuries and niggles. But that’s not really what this is all about.

On the tenth evening since her last shift at the bar she embarked on another. At precisely the same time that he had on their mostly silent previous meetings, the stranger entered from a cool night. He removed his coat and scanned the room, the bored, passive look on his face breaking into his familiar, cunning smile as he laid eyes on the barkeep. His favoured stool was empty and waiting.

“A rum and coke, please,” he declared, eliciting a cocked eyebrow and continued inactivity from Michelle. “No ice tonight. Cold outside. Summer’s over, I’m afraid.”

The barkeep begrudgingly unfolded her arms and set herself to work. She poured a short measure of the amber from an optic and, as she filled the glass from the soda fountain, carefully regarded the interloper. She’d wondered if he’d come, wondered if he’d still be silent. She was pleased by the answer to both of these questions. The young man was in the process of removing a battered old copy of a wafer thin book from his bag. L'histoire de l'œil, Georges Bataille. She didn’t know it.

“You gave up on your vow?” she asked, as she placed the drink on the bar in front of him. “Already? It hasn’t even been a month…”

“In your absence, I decided to give being verbal a second chance,” he announced. He sipped his drink, his book abandoned for the time-being in favour of a conversational inroad. “I see you’ve abandoned yours, too.”

“A life in service,” Michelle mused, as if in explanation. She returned to her perch against the back counter with her arms folded in front of her.

“I know it well,” he acknowledged. He lit one of his vanilla cigarillos, a soft scent emanating from the dark brown paper as it burned. He stopped short of declaring himself in the industry, as other less tactful strangers had posited in attempts to conjure kinship. He didn’t seem the industrious type. His lithe frame, unblemished skin, and fine clothing suggested a life of leisure over labour. There was a subtle extravagance about the man that, despite her instinctive reticence to engage with strangers, she found magnetic.

“Where do you work?” she found herself asking, in spite of her apprehensions.

“I don’t really work anywhere, barkeep,” he confided. “Haven’t a day in my life, as people are fond of telling me. But I still serve, in the best way I can. I own a place up in Falkenberg.”

“What’s it called?” she enquired, with genuine curiosity. When she wasn’t sleeping, working, or wrestling, she was generally walking the streets of the city, although admittedly the far north-east remained relatively unexplored. She’d drunk in a good percentage of the city’s bars, including those that lay outside the parameters of her taste.

“You wouldn’t know it,” he said, with confidence. “It’s underground in more ways than one.”

“You’ll show me?” she said. She lamented that her side of the dialogue now consisted of a series of simple questions.

“Maybe,” he afforded. Another pull and his drink was finished. He was elusive and implacable. “One day soon.”

It was three more meetings before they arranged to meet somewhere other than the bar and three more before they fucked. It happened after a walk through Spreebogenpark and a long, silent train ride across the city. She was close to being overwhelmed by the tension on the U-Bahn, but eventually the doors slid open in Lichtenberg and they made for her apartment. She was unembarrassed by the modest scale and shabby state of her dwellings. She imagined his were better but was happy to preserve the mystique.

He was not like the other men she had known, either in America or here in Europe. They were boys really, and that was never so obvious as it was now. Most of them were inexperienced and thus unskilled, and those that had a few more hours between the sheets had seemingly used those hours to learn only how to satisfy themselves. This selfishness was commonplace amongst the male of the species and partially the reason that she frequently sought the company of women instead. The majority of the boys were finished before she could think about getting started. Some were timid and some were overly confident. Some aloof and some intense. But all of them had been disappointments in their own unique way. Until the stranger.

Their meetings over the next two weeks were generally consigned to her small, Lichtenberg apartment, aside from one or two evenings when he’d arrived at der Spieler at his usual time to drink a rum and coke at the bar. The interactions directly following their first carnal encounter were characterised by lengthy periods of silence, at first not awkward but instead comfortable and serene. After one such interlude Michelle smoked a pair of consecutive cigarettes whilst sitting next to an open window with her bare feet upon the ledge. Emboldened by the quiet, she broached a subject which had piqued her curiosity during the stranger’s first visits to the bar.

“Where do you go?” she asked, whilst watching a taxi pull up to the intersection at the end of the street. A young man emerged from the back of it on his hands and knees, crawling across the sidewalk and towards what was presumably his apartment. It was almost sunrise. He gave up at the base of the short flight of steps that led to the front door. There were worse places to greet the new day, she supposed.

“I go lots of places,” the stranger replied, somewhat elusively. Evasion was part of his charm. At least for now. He was supine on the bed with a thin sheet pulled up to his waist, his old Bataille book above his face, held open as he scanned the last few sentences of the text. The whole story couldn’t have been longer than sixty pages. She was surprised it had taken him this long to get through it, but - in his defence - she had conspired to distract him from the task. “You’ll have to be a little more specific, barkeep.”

“Where do you go each evening, after you’ve enjoyed the best rum and coke in Berlin,” she answered. The faux-confidence of her words was belied by her passive expression and general abstraction from the scene. She lit a third cigarette and watched the young man sleeping on the bottom step, next to the deserted intersection.

“I go to my club,” the stranger replied. It was the first time since their second (verbal) conversation that he’d mentioned the business he purportedly owned. He was generally unforthcoming with details and she wasn’t one to press. Not at this time in her life. He was equally uninterested in her ‘professional life’, so much as one existed. He was quite willing to accept bar work as her only vocation. In return, she was happy to encourage this errant assumption, although not a lot of encouragement was required.

“In Falkenberg?” she continued with her inquiries. Concurrently, her counterpart closed his book and placed it down on an already cluttered bedside table. He would forget it when leaving in an hour’s time, leaving Michelle to doze away the morning and waste the afternoon before her evening shift.

“In Falkenberg,” he confirmed.

The mystery club,” she said, finally turning away from the drunk at the intersection. She flicked her cigarette out of the window and closed it behind her. “That I don’t even know the name of.”

“You think you’re ready?” he asked. He wasn’t looking directly at her but his curious smile had returned to his face.

“Ready for what?”

“That’s exactly the point,” he said. He closed his eyes to block out the first rays of morning light that peered in through the window. “I think you’re ready. But think isn’t enough. Soon, Michelle.”

“You’ve said that before,” she sighed. “What if I get bored of waiting?”

This elicited a chuckle from the stranger. He placed his hands behind his head and made himself comfortable.

“Patience can be an aphrodisiac,” he advised. “Are you coming back to bed?”

She nodded her head. Went back to bed.

That afternoon, she visited a city park alone and read the book that the stranger had left behind. It told the tale of young love in its most sordid guise. The central characters, Simone and an unnamed boy, meet as children and find they share the same set of unusual sexual quirks. One particularly memorable scene sees Simone develop a fetish for inserting hard-boiled eggs into her orifices: memorable for the obvious peculiarity of the fetish itself, as well as the sense of dread that grips the reader when they remember the title of what they are reading and consider the concept of foreshadowing. The protagonists enjoy exhibitionism, with both living and dead audiences, until complicity in a friend’s suicide sees them flee from France to Spain.

The foreshadowing of Simone’s eggs and the novella’s title plays out at the book’s climax, when she seduces a priest in a basilica after masturbating in his confessional. It was not the prolonged depictions of unusual and violent sexual urges but these sequences - of the desecration of Catholic symbols like the booth and the eucharist - that Michelle found most thrilling. The carnal, even in this unique and extreme context, mostly bored her, but in this blasphemy - along with the couple’s eventual escape to Africa and evasion of consequences - she found encouragement and a strange brand of hope.

She didn’t doubt that the stranger had left the book in her room deliberately. Not specifically because he had an interest in omorashi or finding a new, novel use for hard-boiled eggs, but as a vague promise of things still to come. As an assertion, indirect yet clear, that they were only just beginning. Michelle smoked a cigarette and pondered this. She struggled to find any feeling, let alone an answer.

She next saw him the following day, and for once they were somewhere other than Michelle’s apartment or place of work. They walked the banks of the Spree until they became tired, and then they sat on a bench to watch the boats pass by. She said little but thought lots. He seemed to be of a similar disposition, chain smoking his vanilla cigarillos whilst staring with an unknown purpose at the opposite riverbank. She followed his gaze to a young woman sitting alone on an identical bench to theirs, reading a book that she couldn’t make out the title of. She was short and wore glasses and was sort of frumpish in her dress sense. She looked older than she probably was, Michelle thought.

As she made this conclusion, the man sitting next to her shook his head and let out something that resembled a sneer. He dragged his eyes away from the woman on the opposite side of the river and directed them at Michelle instead. His facial expression, which had been pained and dour as he stared across the water, settled into his familiar, curious smile. With each passing day she found it more unbearably smug.

“Loneliness and silence,” he started, obliquely. “The antithesis of life.”

“You can be alone and not be lonely,” she replied. He didn’t specifically say, but she surmised he was talking about the woman across the river. At that moment, she dreamed of switching places with her. Loneliness and silence didn't sound so bad.

“Her eyes are closed,” the stranger asserted, confident in himself and his quick judgement.

“And mine?” she asked, as his flashed with lust and ambition.

“They’re just opening,” he said.

Over the next week, the stranger’s sex became as much of a chore as his conversation. His familiarity with her made him lazy, and although his self-serving nature was less obvious than the boys of her youth it was still there. Her pleasure was not given for its own sake and for her enjoyment, but rather so that he could be the one giving it. It could just as easily be withdrawn. He operated the faucet, doing so deliberately and with a will to dominate. His touch was coarse when it was once tender. His eyes grew angry and wild. He was a beastly thing, submitting in serfdom to lust, the very thing he’d thought his saviour.

He became more adventurous in this period, succumbing to whims and inhibitions that he'd thus far suppressed through unfamiliarity with his partner. Now that he was comfortable there was no need for such suppression, and their sex became characterised by gentle subversions of Freud's pain-pleasure principle. At first this served to heighten the euphoria for Michelle in a fashion that she mistrusted. She abhorred submissiveness in every aspect of her life, but found herself spasming with ecstasy as his teeth or nails sunk into her flesh, or as his fingers tightened around her throat. Doors opened that she immediately wished to close again.

August turned into September, and the stranger continued to push the boundaries: her boundaries and the boundaries of their intimacy. The first time he struck her with any intent was the first night of September. Once across the face when her eyes were closed. It wasn't particularly forceful, especially for someone who made a living receiving physical abuse from strangers, but the sudden and unexpected nature of it brought forth an instinctive reaction. His one open-handed strike across the cheek was met with a closed left to the jaw, and then a right knocked him off balance, the force threatening to throw him off her and off the bed. He clung on by sinking his fingernails into her shoulders and, his mind and all of his restraint overwhelmed by animalistic frenzy, immediately finished inside of her for the first time.

He collapsed under the weight of his exertion and his pleasure, his lithe frame heaving with sharp, laboured breaths on top of her. She could feel the expansions of his ribcage and, underneath it, the beating of his heart. The sensation repulsed her. She placed her hands on his shoulders, pushing him down as she writhed upwards, wriggling out from underneath him. She felt him and then his seed fall out of her, both landing on her already rank bedsheets and sullying them irreparably forever. With one more exertion she forced him onto his back and away from her. He was asleep already.

She left the bed to smoke a cigarette in a high-backed rocking chair next to the window. He was gone before she woke, but had left behind a long, rambling note - one born out of and imbued with lust rather than love - that she read only the very start of.​

-----
M (the barkeep),

I had to leave to prepare for a new day, and a new evening afterwards. Tonight I must go to the club. I have been away for too long, held back and held down by your tendrils. It has only been two nights, but that is a lifetime for a place like die Erfahrung. I don't know if you're working tonight, but if not, you are welcome to come along to Falkenberg. The address is 107B Ahrensfelder Chaussee. We open at midnight. You have asked about die Erfahrung before, but not for a few weeks. I hope it is still of interest to you. As I'm sure that you can surmise from the fact that it is owned by me (and as you will find out first hand tonight, if you accept my invitation), it is not a place that just anyone should be able to find. We have no doors that open onto the street. When you arrive, ask for x. You can leave any time you like, but I imagine you'll throw yourself in, as you have this past month.

I can meet you at the real reception, if you wish. Just ask for x again a second time. Or, if you want to explore alone, go ahead. I will doubtlessly be encumbered by the task of hosting the…’
—--​

She folded up the letter without reading the rest and placed it inside the stranger's copy of L'histoire de l'œil. She called in sick for work and felt bad about letting her boss down, given how accommodating he'd been of her wrestling commitments. But he could cover it himself and she soon got over it when she began to contemplate the closure of this particular chapter in her life. No more than an interlude, really. Die Erfahrung’s doors were finally open to her, and with them several others began to close.

That evening, she wore the black dress that she'd been given for her sister's graduation along with a scaramouche mask that she'd adorned for a party in her final years of schooling in Marseille. The mask was meant to hide her: from her boss in Lichtenberg, should he decide an evening in Falkenberg was on the cards, but more directly from the stranger. She wished to experience the place alone, even if it was his, and the idea of his eyes upon her as she walked through the doors made her tense. The more she thought about it, the more ridiculous this plan was. He had seen her, all of her, and a small piece of black fabric over her eyes and nose wasn't going to change that. Still, she felt comfortable beneath the guise, and found - for the first time - that hiding from herself was easier than hiding from everyone else.

107 Ahrensfelder Chaussee was a small Vietnamese takeout restaurant. There was no 107B as far as she could tell. The Vietnamese restaurant looked just barely open judging by the solitary lampshade visible through the window, which was turned on and illuminated an elderly (presumably) Vietnamese woman behind the counter. It was already past one in the morning, and initially Michelle surmised that the time was the reason that nobody seemed to be buying any food, but it became clearer as she chain-smoked a pair of cigarettes across the street that all was not as it seemed.

Halfway down the first cigarette, a young and extravagantly dressed couple arrived in the back of a limousine. The car pulled away without them as the man held the woman's hand to help her get up the short flight of steps in front of the restaurant. She walked inelegantly in obscenely high stiletto heels, struggling with balance to the point where Michelle found herself wondering why she bothered with them. They disappeared inside the restaurant and Michelle waited patiently for them to reappear with a bowl of pho or noodles or whatever Vietnamese delicacies took their fancy in the middle of the night. She waited and waited, but the young couple didn't reappear.

This disappearing act repeated itself twice more, first with a middle aged man and then with a girl who looked younger than Michelle. She had a clear enough picture of what was going on to enter the restaurant herself. The elderly (presumably) Vietnamese woman smiled at her knowingly from the other side of the counter.

“I'm here to see x,” Michelle said, as instructed. The woman nodded at her.

“Everyone's always here to see x,” she lamented, in a thick accent and with a hint of mockery. “Popular boy. Through the curtain, down the stairs.”

Michelle followed the directions into a basement, which she assumed was what the ‘B’ stood for. Here was the real reception: a long, black counter, a single piece of stained metal, with a young, sort of wiry man in a tuxedo sitting behind it. He smiled, too, but his grin seemed subtler and less accusatory than the elderly woman’s.

“You must be the barkeep,” he said. It didn't feel good to hear that somewhat derisory and condescending pet name uttered by new, unfamiliar lips. “Would you like me to send for x?”

She shook her head.

“Very well,” he continued. “What are you here to do? Would you like a room, or would you like to watch?”

“I think I'll watch,” she answered. “At least at first.”

“Very well,” the host repeated, whilst seemingly agreeing that this was a good decision with a nod of his head. “If you'll follow me.”

He led the way to a long corridor with white walls before closing the door behind himself and leaving her there alone. Well, not quite alone. Around thirty metres ahead of her were two young men, both crouching down so as to stare through different holes in the wall. The entire hallway was pockmarked by these portals, all the way up to where she was currently standing. She nervously lowered her eye to the nearest one. On the other side was a small, unspectacular room: dimly lit, nicely furnished, and entirely devoid of activity.

She slowly moved along the corridor, the pace of her breathing slightly heightening each time she lowered her eye to one of the peepholes, the next three of which also revealed empty rooms. The two men away up the corridor barely seemed to notice her, instead preoccupied with their own portals and the process of groping one another. She left them to it, determined to find more than empty rooms within this palace, within the stranger's secret.

The fifth hole gave her what she was looking for and she immediately regretted her desires. Inside, a tall and handsome man with blond hair stood at attention in the centre of the room, a quartet of young women - all blonde, too, as if by design - arrayed around him in a horseshoe. He looked like a military man, which wouldn't have been a problem necessarily, but for the eagle on his kepi and the swastika on the breast of his jacket. The women around him groped at his legs and his belt, attempting to pull him down onto their level, but the blond man resisted and continued in his salute. She didn't find out how long he could hold out. She withdrew from the hole and forced herself on to the next one.

After two more empty rooms, she found another that was occupied by a young couple, high and strung out and on a mattress that had been positioned up against the door. A pipe lay discarded by their side. The woman - her skin scorched bronze, suggesting a heritage across the ocean and a kinship with the indigenous peoples she'd left behind - gently stroked the long strands of hair that fell to his shoulders, where a hideous tattoo scarred his pale, white neck. Metres away from the couple, broken shackles were tied around the legs of the deconstructed bed. Master, take the chains off me.

The two men, her only company in the hallway, had disappeared through the door at the other end of it. She was alone again. That gave her comfort and courage. She found another occupied room at the spot in which they'd been standing. An angry and wild creature, more beast than man, pinned a young woman to the floor. He repeatedly called her K., in-between vile groans and shrieks that sounded like a dying animal, despite her constant protestations that this wasn't her name. It made no difference to the beast. He was there only in body.

She backed away from the peephole, scared and thrilled in equal measures, a self-perpetuating cycle. The thrill scared her, and the fear excited her. She became acutely aware of her heavy breathing, her ribcage expanding and shaking with involuntary convulsions. She stepped back once more and hit the door at the other end of the corridor, her hands groping behind her for the handle.

A waitress gave her a glass of champagne on the other side of it. She took a seat on a low, cushioned bench next to an empty stage. Others drank and spoke and laughed around her but she couldn't focus on anyone in particular. She smoked a cigarette to calm her nerves, which only half-worked. She despised champagne but drank three flutes of it in quick succession before she'd regained enough of her wits to ask for a beer instead.

Three men came to speak to her as she reclined and recuperated, approaching one at a time with the intention of sweeping her off her feet. She declined all three, warding them off with only a shake of her head and a thick column of cigarette smoke. Eventually, after an amount of hours in die Erfahrung that Michelle could only guess at, a more appealing proposition came her way. A tall, red-headed German woman held out a hand, silently insisting that Michelle take it. They retreated into a private room and remained there for several hours. But, like bodyslams in Munich, that isn't really what this is about.

She spoke to the stranger twice more. He had called der Spieler when she hadn't been there a number of times, and after a week she finally returned them from a payphone outside her apartment building. Three more days later, they sat on a bench on the banks of the Spree. He was early and she was late. He smoked a vanilla cigarillo and watched the boats pass by. She wasn't interested in them today. She only stared at the stranger, as if doing so for long enough would shed some light on what she'd seen in him in the first place.

“Lucas tells me you're leaving your job,” he said, eventually. “At der Spieler.”

“Who is Lucas?” she asked, sincerely. She wondered how this Lucas was privy to her business and why he felt free to share it with strangers.

“Lucas is your boss,” he replied. ”Or was, I guess.”

“Oh,” she said, as guilt crept in. For all his kindness, she'd never bothered to learn the man's name, at least to the point where she was able to recall it later. “Yes. I'm touring Japan again. Longer this time.”

“Touring?” he asked, with an inquisitive tone. She felt confident enough to reveal more of herself now that she'd decided to never see him again. The question was vague enough to allow for elaboration, but she elected to simply nod her head in response. “So, you'll be back?”

“I'll be back,” she confirmed. There was only a slight pause. She knew she had to be blunt. “Though I don't want to see you again. After today, I mean.”

The stranger's face contorted, his pain worn plainly. There was no suggestion of his smug, condescending smile anymore. The one she'd grown to hate. Now he resembled a wounded animal, sad and pitiful and ready to lash out.

“After all I've given you?” he asked. She couldn't help but flash him a grin of her own, as smug as anything he'd ever mustered.

“What exactly do you think it is that you've given me?” she replied.

“I've shown you a new world,” he said, with equal parts confidence and desperation. ”A world that lives within you. They say that sex is about power, but they are wrong. Sex is a liberation. This is what I've done for you. What I've given you. I've broken down the walls that you've built around yourself.”

Michelle allowed herself time to think. Lit another cigarette. Stared at their disparate reflections in the ripples of the Spree.

“You’re less free than I am,” she asserted, passive in tone. “You're a slave to your own body. Your own impulses. Sex isn't the great liberator. Sex is just something you do. Like reading a book or writing a poem or making a sandwich. But you've made it into what you are. It is your everything. It has a power over you that fills me with pity.”

She sucked on the end of her cigarette and shook her head.

“I had such high hopes for you.”

The stranger didn't reply. He finished his cigarillo, threw the end into the river, and left. She never saw him again.​
 

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Monday Morning: 9:00am

Ring Ring…

Ring Ring…
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The phone rings in the background of the office as people begin their shift early on a Monday morning at Dunder Mifflin Inc. A Fantasy Company. Outside of the boss’s office, we see a piece of paper being taped to the window. The man putting the page up is wearing a dark suit with a blue tie. His dark hair is gelled and he looks tired. Michael Scott. He finishes taping the page up and sips out of his “World’s Best Boss” mug. Looking with pride, he smiles. The page reads: “Golden Opportunity Co. Portfolio.” with multiple blank sign up spots. It cuts to a “talking head” of him.

“The Golden Opportunity Co have been one of the more unique clients we’ve had here. Every year they wish to put new people on their portfolio as a way to get ‘fresh ideas’ in. So what we do is often interview six or so each year with them to get their pick.” The boss laughs. “Guess you could say it’s a… Golden opportunity, hehe.” He laughs at his own joke. “Well, except last year they pulled out due to an ‘incident’ our lawyers forbid us talking about.” Scott pulls his collar. “But uh, let’s just say it involved a Peacock and someone’s pet Weasel.”

He clears his throat awkwardly. “But depending on how the chosen candidate does, we often put them in our portfolio with Main Event Electronics, our big money maker. So I think this is the most exciting time of the year. It’s like Christmas but better!”
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Walking up next to Michael is a woman with Caramel coated skin and long beautiful hair. Her take on “workplace attire” is unique with bright colours and no shirt. Her breasts are large and she is confident in her appearance. She puts a flier up next to Michael’s own and the boss takes exception.

“Excuse me? Miss Montgomery, don’t you know you need to send me an email before you can put advertisements on my window?” Michael looks at Gabby’s “attire” “And how many times have I asked you about appropriate office attire?”

“And how often do I remind you that these…” She points to her chest. “Net this company how much money?” She sasses her boss.

He looks at the flier she’s posted and it is for an “After work party” at “The Right Side of the Bed” for Friday.

“Michael is such a stick in the mud sometimes, but we’ve all been stressed as of late.” Gabby talks to the camera. “So I decided to open up an officially ‘unofficial’ Office Party. Blow off some steam” She clears her throat, muttering and lowering her voice. “It’s not like I’ve invested in the club with some of my money from before and I need a return or something.”
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“You’ve been here for how long and you still don’t know that I need to approve all office events to ensure they’re up to code.” Michael explains to his employee. She rolls her eyes.

“This blows…”

Michael holds himself, trying to resist the urge to make the joke before giving in anyways-

That’s what she said.” Michael wheezes in laughter, slapping his thigh as Gabrielle stands there, unamused. The boss composes himself.

“But uh, if you sign up for the Golden Opportunity portfolio I may allow it…”

“Fine.” Begrudgingly, Gabrielle is handed a pen and she signs her name in the first spot on the list. “FYI, I was going to sign up anyways.”

“Listen up, people!” The Regional Manager shouts out loud. The others in the office look up as he gets their attention. “As you all know, Golden opportunity Co is opening up their portfolio again and they are looking for the top person possible to head their portfolio. So, I have posted the sign up to it here for interviews. I want serious candidates only… No Seymour Butz… So I hope to see plenty of names on it by the end of the day.”

Most people go back to what they were doing, seemingly uninterested. Gabby clears her throat and adds.

“And I have an after-work party Friday you can-”

Most of the office stands up, letting out a holler as they head up to sign Gabrielle’s sheet rather than Michael’s. Gabrielle has a proud smirk on her face as Michael mutters to her. “Show off.” Before heading back into his office.

Walking up to the sign up sheet is a man in his 40’s sporting the worst haircut imaginable. He has thick glasses, a mustard-colored, short-sleeved shirt with a dark necktie and a brown suit jacket. You know him, Dwight Schrute.

“What are you doing here?” Gabrielle asks. “Nobody wants you to be at the party…”

“I’m just here to give people a bit of hope. I am not signing up for the Golden Opportunity Portfolio.”

“Like you’d get it.”

“False. I just don’t need the position. After all, I am the-”

Gabby interrupts Dwight. “-Assistant to the Regional Manager.”

“Assistant Regional Manager.” Dwight tries to ‘correct her.’

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“Nobody takes my title seriously here. Do you know how much work I do? I am the second in command here. I keep this ship running. Without me, it’s chaos!”

There is a voice heard from off screen. Dwight shakes his head.

“No, I don’t do Kung Fu… You’re saying I look like someone who does? That’s impossible! I know Goju Ryu karate and that is completely different!”

He listens again, though the person across from him is inaudible. He looks irate. “Is there someone who looks just like me imitating me?!” Dwight continues to raise his voice. “This is not funny! Identity theft is not a joke! Millions of families suffer every year!”

“Besides, without me, everyone knows it will come down to you, the Other Michael, and Cyrus.”

“Mike and Cyrus have their own reasons to go for it and so do I.”

“But there will be nothing ne-”

As Dwight mentions it, there are two individuals not connected to them walking up to the post and putting their names down for the Golden Opportunity Portfolio. It is a man with a striking red suit. This Maltese man has somewhat messy hair. Alejandro Giunti. Next to him is a caucasian man with a defined jaw, and short hair. Young, in good shape, somewhat handsome. Trevor Ocean.

“See? There’s two new names.”

“So?” Dwight looks at Gabrielle as someone stands behind him. It is a somewhat short woman who has a fox mask on her head. She has business attire on with her hair going down to her shoulders, showing some silver tips. The woman is of Asian heritage.

“It’s not like there’s anyone else new that’s going to show up-”

The woman lightly bumps Dwight’s arm and he turns around in shock. He swears, with it being censored on the broadcast.

“F**K!”

“I’m baaaack.”

The woman with the fox mask smiles.

“Let’s get this show started, shall we?”
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Piano begins to play, beginning the iconic tune.

TheOFFICEFWAVER.png



Monday 10:57

After reintroducing herself to her old workplace, Katsu has set up her desk just how she’d like it
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and is beginning to slowly get back into the fold at Dunder Mifflin Fantasy Company, Inc. She places down a wire-mesh Pencil holder on her desk which is next to a little nicknack of a fox-eared Daruma. It has one eye inked with the other remaining blank. She types on the
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computer, setting herself back up with the system. Her desk neighbour is Gabrielle Montomery as she is on the phone with a customer. Her desk is somewhat messy, but has a framed picture of herself on the red carpet, likely from before her days at Dunder Mifflin. Katsu looks at her Daruma as the talking head of her plays.


Looking into the camera, Katsu takes a deep breath. She has a business jacket and shirt on, with it having a dark red colour. Her mask’s trim matches the colour of her jacket. “Where have I been? Oh boy. Well, I was on medical leave before needing an extended one. So I went back home to Japan for a few extra months. My batteries are charged and mentally I am better. I still have work to do, but I am ready to come back. Dunder Mifflin normally doesn’t change.” She hums. “But there are a lot of new people around here. I also heard there was a lot of turnover with new hires coming and leaving.”

Katsu shakes her head. “Probably Dwight scaring them off. I do have some nerves about returning to work. But I guess I can learn something from my new desk neighbour. Back home we have a lot of respect for mentors and even though we are different, I suppose I could learn a thing or two.”

After hanging up with her client, Gabrielle writes a couple of notes down before going to her computer. Katsu, feeling some unease, decides to strike up some casual conversation.

“So, uh, it is different coming back after being back so long…” She stutters out in her English which she has been trying to get the rust off.

“I know how you feel.” Gabrielle responds without even looking up. “I had a leave around the time you were hired. I’m sure you’ll get used to it again soon enough.”

Katsu gives a small smile under her mask, resetting her password for the system. “Yes. Truthfully, I have been hoping to work with you for some time. I heard a lot of good things about you, but I won’t rush that.”

“Second woman on the Main Event Co portfolio. Headed it up longer than any other woman, increased sales.” Gabby gives a confident wink. “No big deal.”

“Thanks.” Gabbrielle nods her head as she continues to work, balancing the conversation a bit. “You were doing pretty good yourself from what I gathered.”

“It was nothing, really.”

“I can say if I have to work next to you, it beats working with some of the guys here, at least.” Montgomery comments.

Most of the office has their attention turned as they hear shouting in Michael’s office.

“Our prices have NEVER been lower!”

“Son, you have to speak louder!”

“NEVER BEEN LOWER!”

“LOUDER”

“BUTTLICKER, OUR PRICES HAVE NEVER BEEN LOWER!!”

Several people in the office struggle to contain their laughter. Katsu rolls her eyes.

“Let me guess, Jim is messing with Dwight again?”

Gabrielle grabs her mug and takes a sip of tea before explaining. “Michael brought them to the office for some ‘coaching’ 10 minutes ago.”

“The more things change, the more they are the same…”

“Speaking of.” Gabrielle sends off her email before turning her attention to Katsu. She leans back in her chair. “What’s your plan that you’re back now? I heard you were pretty close to being put on the main event portfolio before Krash came back. Are you going to try to get on the one with Television Co again?” She asks Katsu before clarifying. “You never really got to do what you wanted with that one.”

Katsu hums and leans backwards in her chair. She looks down the hallway where yelling can be heard from one of the meeting rooms. The Portfolio holders for ‘X Industries’ and Television Co have been at each other's throats all morning and it likely won’t change.

“I think I am good without it for now.”

“Well, Michael did post the sign up for the new portfolio. You did try for it last year before the ‘incident.’’ Gabby casually gestures her head towards Michael’s office where the post is.

“Maybe… Maybe… Though I know there are going to be multiple rounds of interviews. It will not be decided for a while.” The Japanese woman taps her pencil on her computer screen, showing some tension and unease. Noticing this, Gabrielle decides to extend an offer.

“Until then, maybe you can blow off some steam? Come to the party Friday after work.”

“I’m not much of a party-person,” Katsu quickly answers. As you would expect from her mask, she is an introvert when it comes to certain social situations. “Unless I am with people I’m close with.”

“Well, I’m not exactly saying we're going to be best friends or anything, but if we’re going to work together, maybe having a little fun together can make things a bit easier?”

Not giving an answer right away, Katsu ponders the offer as she looks towards the office.

“Think about it.”

Going back to her work, Gabrielle puts some headphones on and checks through her emails as Katsu, considering her co-worker’s words, decides to take her up on the offer. She gets up from her chair and goes over to the sign up. Attached to the tape is a string with a pen which she uses to sign her name for the Friday after-work party. Then, she looks at the interviews page. Names are beginning to pile up. Clicking her pen, Katsu decides to take a leap-

And put her name on the list.







Tuesday 9:15 am

Beginning Tuesday morning is a meeting for all employees of Dunder Mifflin Fantasy Company, Inc. The employees are seated around the main table while Michael is going over the important details for the day. What the Regional manager says falls on deaf ears for the employees though as they are more focused on the television, hoping the DVD logo hits the corner. Katsu is seated along the wall, keeping her head down and writing notes. Her second day back and she’s already letting her mind run, trying to find something to get involved in.

“So make sure that you have anything that needs to be copied done by the end of the day…” The breath of the collective workplace is held as the DVD logo heads closer to the corner… “Because our new machine is coming tomorrow morning and the tutorial for it will be first thing on Thursday morning-”

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And the DVD logo clips the top of the screen leading to a collective “AWWW” from the workplace. Unaware, Michael assumes they are reacting to his news.

“I know you’ll miss the old machine. If it makes you feel any better, I’m willing to lift the ban on photocopying personal items to ensure we don’t have any ink go to waste and you’ll love the new machine. Susanne from Allentown is coming down to give us the tutorial and you know she’s going to make it riveting…” He taps the paper. “In fact, it prints in colour. It’s great, we’re finally moving into 1973…”

Katsu jokes to herself. “Only a few more decades to catch up.”

“And one more thing.”

Michael shuts off the television screen just as the DVD logo begins to head towards a corner, leading to a collective groan from the office.

“It’ll be quick. I want to thank all interested parties who signed up for the opening for the Golden Opportunity Co. file… Though for some reason we had double the sign ups for Gabrielle’s party, so that speaks more to the culture here.”

Gabrielle chuckles to herself as Michael says that.

“We will be assigning interview times which will be posted tomorrow and we will email you. We will have one Friday morning, and one in the afternoon. The person who will be running the interview with me is one of the recent investors for Golden Opp…”

Michael looks through his notes. “Mr. Giunti.”

And the entire office looks over to Alejandro Giunti wearing a red jacket over his dress shirt. He is listening to Taylor Swift on his iPod, and is bopping his head to the music but, as the judging eyes of his co-workers cast a shadow on him, he sheepishly pulls out his earphones.

“-Yes?”

“Dude, your Dad’s running the interview.” Jim comments.

“So he can call me a disappointment again?” Alex responds, his Maltese accent showing in a display demonstrating that he does not have the best relationship with his father. The rest of his co-workers, though, think differently.

“No, you’re probably getting the job just because your dad is hiring.”

“Alex. Sometimes he isn’t the brightest guy here. If you want someone to goof around with, he’s a good guy.” Jim comments in his talking head. His tie is somewhat loose as he has a laid back disposition about him. “But if you’re in need to get something done, he probably is on the opposite end of the spectrum as Dwight and not in the good way. He hasn’t worked a normal job in his entire life.”
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“Really?” Alejandro blinks.

“I don’t really get why everyone is concerned about my Father.” Alex discusses the criticism from his co-workers. “He was adamant the last time I spoke to him that I was a disappointment. He thought I’d do more because of the Giunti family, but I don’t want to rub my family in people’s faces.” Leaning back in his chair, he makes an out of touch statement. “Besides, everyone’s acting like their families never bought a stake in a company when their children are potentially working in it. But I guess if I get the promotion, that’ll be cool. To go from the NexGen to this! I’d be an office star! Then maybe he’ll love me-”
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Katsu taps her pen, thinking to herself as she grasps this latest piece of news. She hums as it goes to her own talking head segment.

“I know some people who have family connections you can say.” She scratches the “ear” of her mask, adjusting it. “I don’t feel like judging someone for that. What matters is if someone is capable of being in the position they’re in without it. This boy who I worked with in Japan, his Uncle is big in our line of work and despite that he is really uh-” The Japanese woman covers her mouth, hiding what is likely a big grin on her face. “Special. But I don’t know much about Alex, and if he solely gets the promotion because of his family…”

Sighing, Katsu shakes her head. “It will be demotivating for my return here.”


“Remember everyone, it is not just Mr. Giunti who decides who makes it through this round of interviews, but me as well, and you know how objective and fair I am.”

Another collective groan from the employees at Dunder Mifflin. Michael sees this as his cue to wrap things up.

“There’s nothing to worry about. Now let’s get those sales. Meeting adjourned.”

The workers begrudgingly get up and go back to work. Katsu folds her notebook up and begins to leave, but Michael Scott motions to talk to her. “Katsu, one second, mind coming over?”

She goes over to talk to her boss. She sits on the table and crosses her legs to be at eye level with him, or as close as she can.

“First of all, Katsu, welcome back. I trust your time home was great. See the family and all that, if you have some anyways...”

The masked woman gives a nod. “The time away was needed, but it is good to be back.” She gives a polite smile, ever professional.

“Now, if there is anything you need for re-adjusting back to work, message me, or if I’m busy, you can call human resources. We want the transition to be seamless.”

“I will keep that in mind, Michael. Thank you for letting me know-”

“I’ve been reading up about how to make the workplace more inclusive to people of different cultures.” Michael continues his spiel. “And they say the number one way is to learn about other cultures and ensure you understand what they are saying-”

“We have come a long way since we have had our ‘Diversity Day’ a number of years ago.” Michael says with pride. “I’d show footage from it, but I don’t think that has entirely aged well with some of the content…”

“So I have borrowed some Japanese language CDs from Dwight and I’ve been trying to pick up some Japanese phrases to make you feel comfortable-”

“No, no.” Katsu waves her hands, nervously responding. “I am fluent in English, it’s no issue.”

“Nǐ hǎo…” He says in butchered Chinese. “Wǒ shì bīngqílní. See? I’m trying.”

Katsu’s jaw drops. She blinks, shocked at what her boss said to her. “-That was Chinese..” Katsu says, offended. “Idiot…”

Jim in another talking-head segment has a smug grin on his face. “Yeah, I might have swapped Dwight’s CD’s around before he gave them to Michael. Sorry, Katsu.”

“I don’t even know why Michael would want to learn Japanese.” Dwight proclaims. “I have it on very good authority that within 20 years, everyone will be speaking German… Or a Chinese-German hybrid.” Dwight looks around. “Speaking of, where is my Chinese language CD?”

“Y-Yes you are.” Katsu nervously responds, hiding her true feelings of her boss speaking the wrong language to her.

A man with a polo shirt walks in behind them and goes to check on the television. His bald head shines from the light fixture and his look is rather sleazy with a half buttoned shirt. On his polo shirt is a name reading “Arthur Chase.” He walks behind Michael, giving an “Excuse me” as he does. Michael and Katsu continue the conversation.

“I also just want to make sure I didn’t misread it or someone did it as a joke…” He looks down at his notes.

“You signed up to be interviewed for the Golden Opportunity Co position?”

The Japanese woman nods her head. She gives a small smile. “Yes. I am diving head first in as they say.”

“I thought so. I was a bit surprised to see you sign up after it was cancelled last year. But you were doing well last time you were here and I know you did some projects back home in Japan which were received well. The more the merrier they say.”

“Absolutely.” Katsu has pushed back the ‘Chinese’ from Michael and is slightly more at ease with the small bit of support from her boss. “I know it can lead to big things. It is not a guarantee, but I know if I do well with it, I may end up on a bigger portfolio, so I will do my best.”

“You never know with these things.” Michael puts his notes under his arm. “Get that resume touched up and I will see you Friday. Zàijiàn.”

Michael says goodbye in Chinese before walking out the door back to his office. Katsu ignores it and takes a deep breath. Getting down from the table, she goes to leave the room, but the sleazy repairman who is here to work on the old VHS player can’t help but make a comment to himself. It is audible to Katsu, though spoken to himself.

“An Asian chick in charge? As if…” Arthur scoffs. “But hey, I’ve seen enough adult films with them to know it’s someone’s kink so I guess they can make money-”

Katsu freezes in place in utter shock from the repairman as he gives a hearty laugh. Her notepad slips from her fingers and onto the floor as her hands shake with anger. It takes everything in her power not to turn around and tell this man off.

She looks around the office and sees that everyone has begun to go about their day. Working, well, mostly procrastinating, and Michael has gone over to the front desk and is chatting it up with Pam.

Not wanting to make a scene, Katsu picks up her notepad and goes towards the bathroom.

Alone to herself.







Wednesday: 1:15pm

Just past the hump. Mid-Wednesday and the levels of procrastination are at a high for the workplace with some either just ending their lunch or are beginning to have a late one. In the break room, Stanley lies against the wall, bored out of his mind, sipping back another mug of coffee. In the corner is a short haired man with a chiseled jaw. Trevor Ocean. His back is turned to the room as he is on his phone. Listening to the person on the other end.

Walking into the break room is Katsu who has her own mug she has brought to work, displaying an image for Kaiju No. 8, a manga series she has been reading in her spare time and a drawing of her with one of the monsters. She goes over to the coffee machine and begins to brew herself a cup.

Showing friendliness, she smiles at Stanley. “So Stanley, how has been your day?”

Looking up, Stanley has a perpetually tired look on his face. His receding hairline is a mess. He doesn’t say a word as Katsu, having some anxiety, gives a nervous laugh and turns around.


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“Sorry, new girl, but I don’t think I can talk with anyone until I’ve had my after lunch coffee.”

In the corner, Trevor, expecting nobody to be paying attention to his phone call, speaks out loud.
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“Sounds like you’ve been through a whole journey. It’ll be great to see you again.” He nods. “Yeah, I signed up for the new promotion… Who’s there? Some names you’d expect. Cyrus. Mike, I know you two have been through a lot.”

Grabbing her coffee, Katsu goes over to the counter area to place some sugar in her drink. She opens up some milk from the fridge to add a splash to her coffee.

“-Then there’s Gabby and, surprisingly, Katsu.”

She stops at hearing her name. Katsu puts the carton of milk back in the fridge and begins to sip her coffee, but something makes her nearly spit it out of her mouth.

“What? You can’t say shit like that, Shawn, you’ll get in hot water with HR again.”

An instant wave of stress chills down her spine as Katsu tries not to spit her coffee out and she quickly hides behind the fridge. Even through her mask, you can tell she’s seen a ghost.

“Shawn?” Katsu asks. “Shawn Summers?”

A chill is sent down her spine. “That a-asshole. He said so many sexist and r-racist things about me while I was on the Television Co portfolio. I know a lot of people gave me flack because I was promoted early on, but as someone new to America… Hearing him attack me for my gender and race.” Taking a deep breath, she tries to calm. “He said I was lying about who I was, telling me I was not even Japanese because I wear a mask. Some of what he said I don’t want to repeat and I-I don’t dare ask what he said in private. It was so bad I had to leave that portfolio and take a stress-leave for a few weeks. It was the first time I knew. I knew that I was not welcome to some people here.”

Despite his close friendship with Shawn, Trevor seems to not share his beliefs, taking a stance on the other end of the phone.

“Do you want something to repeat like when you and Bedlam got involved after you insulted his wife? Or do I need to remind you of the indigenous transfer you scared into quitting?”

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“It’s pretty complex with me and Shawn.” Trevor explains in his own talking head. “We’ve had each other’s back for the longest time. And it’s been some time since we have got to see each other. He’s been a major part of my life. So, I see him in a different light than others. People know Shawn the villain, I know Shawn the person. But I can admit that Shawn’s done some horrible things. He knows office politics can get nasty so he plays the game and does it more ruthlessly than others.”

He shakes his head, feeling discomfort. “And maybe he goes too far. Sometimes I feel like I should do more to maybe stand up against this stuff…”

Looking to the side, Trevor sighs. “But I don’t think I can do anything, so I play along.”

“I guess you may have a point.” Trevor gives a nervous laugh, trying to not cause issues with his friend. “Women, am I right? But hey, how about after I get the promotion we can celebrate with some drinks? I’ll show you around the office-”

Katsu immediately rushes out, trying to remain unseen. A shadow of her past, something she wishes to forget. Trevor is not the same person as her old workplace adversary, but the link is enough to send her into a panic. She rushes down the hall and into the women’s bathroom. At the sink is the receptionist, Pam. She sees Katsu rush into the stall and shut the door. Sensing something is wrong, Pam knocks on the stall.

“Katsu, are you okay?”

“S-Shawn. Trevor.” Katsu’s anxiety is too high as she can’t string together anything coherent. “T-Together. I d-don’t want to deal with it again. N-Not again.”

“Katsu, Trevor isn’t anything like Shawn.” Pam tries to reassure her Japanese co-worker.

“No, but he puts up with it…”

Katsu’s breathing is fast and panic filled. Pam shakes her head.

“Tell me about it with Shawn…” Pam closes her eyes. “One time he was tapping his desk with his foot, so I asked him to stop. He said ‘Only when you lose the baby weight.’” She shakes her head. “So I can relate to Katsu, but I can only imagine how she feels. But, Trevor isn’t Shawn. He’s pretty nice. But they’re friends. So…” She tries to put the two together. “So Katsu is scared of Trevor because… of the potential of dealing with Shawn again through him… Okay now that adds up.”
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Folding her arms, Pam hums while Katsu continues to deal with her anxiety. Her returning to work and potentially dealing with one of her main stressors again is driving her mad, no matter how irrational it may be. But, Pam feels some solidarity.

“Okay, Katsu. Stay here. I’m going back to my desk and grabbing some candy. We’ll talk it out, girl power.”

“I think that may help her a bit. Candy solves everything… Well whenever Stanley has a problem that’s what I do.”

Pam rushes out of the women's room and Katsu exits the stall. There have been no tears, but she’s visibly tired on her face. Looking in the mirror she takes a deep breath, trying to relax herself.

“I thought coming back would be easier.” Katsu says, looking down. “I should not be mad at Trevor for being friends with someone. But I guess this week is just a reminder, uh.” She tries to find her words in English. “There is a hierarchy. Sometimes people are fast tracked for who they are. Then there’s me. Some people look down on me for being different, and if I try to work my way up, there are people who will want to knock me down for it, even if I earn it.”

Running her hands through the sink water, Katsu splashes her face to set herself right mentally.






Thursday: 11:02am

In the conference room of the Dunder Mifflin Fantasy Company, Inc, the room is not in use for any conference or meeting and instead Katsu has decided to give herself privacy from the others and is in the room by herself. She put some coffee in her mug and is pacing back and forth. On her laptop screen is a template for a resume. She’s trying to prepare for the interviews tomorrow. Currently, she is scheduled in the afternoon. The same time slot as Gabrielle Montgomery, Trevor Ocean, and Alejandro Giunt. In the morning, Cyrus and Mike are in a time slot with several people from the North America Office Co Portfolio holders. It may just be the preliminary interviews, but a strong impression here will go a long way. She’s confident in what she herself can do. Her resume is not quite as in depth as some, but her international experience is something she brings that few can, and she’s hard working.

But what does that matter if you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle because of things you can’t control? Things which give others a leg up. Tapping her foot, Katsu looks through her resume, trying to run through what she’s reading through in English, instant messaging a friend who speaks English to double check if what she says makes any sense. Walking outside, Gabrielle peaks through the blinds to see what her desk neighbour is doing.

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“She has been in that room all morning and she’s been increasingly off ever since Tuesday morning after the meeting.” Gabrielle discusses with the documentary crew. “But I think yesterday after lunch things took a real change. I’m not sure where it came from. She seems outside like a calm individual, meditating and stuff. But I guess I need to get to the bottom of it.”

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Knocking, Gabriellle opens the door slightly. “Mind company for a few minutes?”

“Sure…” Katsu quickly saves and closes her resume tab and looks up as Gabrielle heads inside.

Gabrielle pulls out a chair and sits across from Katsu. Crossing her legs, she pulls out a pen.

“So, ready for the party tomorrow?” Gabrielle asks, trying to start some light conversation. Katsu twiddles her fingers and doesn’t respond right away. “Come on, don’t be shy.” Gabby encourages her.

“I am not sure if I will be able to make it.” Katsu mutters. “I got to water my cat, I mean, feed my plant-”

She stutters, with the words coming out of her mouth, even with it being her second language, she knows that doesn’t sound right. Montgomery is mildly amused by the slip up. She’s been there. She knows what is going on.

“You’re nervous about the interview tomorrow, aren’t you?”

Inhaling, Katsu pushes her chair out and exhales as she stands up. Not saying a word, she looks out the window. Gabby, being a veteran in the workplace, sees this as a chance to raise her spirits up.

“Maybe it is just because I’ve been here a long time and I’ve been a bit of a bitch to people before or the other way around…” Gabrielle confesses. “But I guess I’ve gone a little soft, thinking about making things right. I know things deteriorated with me and the receptionist, Lizzie, so my reputation has been on my mind.”

“Come on, I’ve heard good things about you. I’m sure you’ll be fine.” She encourages Katsu.


“Coming back has been inevitable, but I’ve been so worried and stressed about the same stuff repeating.” Katsu tries to explain. “This is my work, my life. I want it to be happy. But there’s this voice in the back of my mind. No matter how good you are, nobody wants someone like you. You’ll be hated.” Closing her eyes, Katsu inhales for five, holding it for the same amount of time before a long exhale. “And they’ll convince you it is all your fault. Gabby is different from me. But maybe the same.”

“How do you deal with it?” Katsu asks.

“With what?”

“Everything.” Peeking through the blinds, Katsu takes a look at the parking lot where both Alejandro and Trevor are on a break, talking. “The uh, ‘politics’ of it all. Being in a ‘man’s work environment.’ Others have it easier than you… How do you deal with people judging you for things that don’t matter?”

Gabrielle takes a moment to consider the loaded question from her co-worker. Something she never has thought long about, but in a lot of ways, has been in the back of her mind. In the time she came up, the level of success a woman like her has had in the workplace was an exception rather than the norm. And in a lot of ways, still is.

Getting up from her spot at the table, she asks a question. “Have you dealt with that at home?” The masked woman nods.

“It happens at home too. But here there is more.” Gabrielle stands next to her as Katsu sees her reflection in the window. “They hear me talk with my accent and think I am not smart enough. They see my eyes and my mask and think I can’t be on a billboard. I have to work twice as hard to even make it here, and it still doesn’t seem like enough.”

She opens up a bit about her experiences to Gabrielle which strikes a chord with the seasoned employee.

“Tell me about it.” Gabrielle crosses her arms. “I did a lot of adult films before trying to settle down and work here.”

“My friend told me.” Katsu snickers slightly. “Not that she’d know first hand.”

“I went through the ringer in my old work, some of which I honestly don’t feel comfortable talking about right now. Going here I thought I could clean things up a bit. But it is safe to say that sometimes people think I’m just some ‘pretty bimbo’ who is only there to look pretty to help get a sale, or that I’d only use my looks to get ahead.” She shakes her head. “Or maybe during break I’d see Ryan Howard watching one of my films from ‘before’ in the breakroom before suddenly rushing to the bathroom.”

The anecdote causes a shudder down Katsu’s spine.

“How do you deal with it?” She asks Gabrielle for advice. She thinks and is able to give an answer.

“First, I’ll say that not everyone is out to get you.” Gabby then adds an astrecks. “Though some people are for sure and yes, things can get competitive and nasty. But you need to filter that outside noise. Don’t let it get to you. Don’t let who’s friends with who, or who is related to who get to you. Just be you, and who are you?”

“I am Katsu.” She says. “I am… a strong and capable young woman who can look at herself and despite my faults see a good person.”

“That’s the spirit.” Gabrielle has a smile on her face, like a proud older sibling.

“And what if I need to stand up for myself?” Katsu inquires further. “What if it becomes too much and I need to take a stand?”
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“Then prove the bastards wrong.” She says. “And I’ll say from first hand experience, if things are uneven… There’s nothing wrong with playing some tricks.” There’s a smirk on the face of Gabrielle. Katsu, catching her drift, also shares a similar look on her face. From the hallway, Jim is watching, and he has a similar expression on his face.

“I know when someone’s scheming.” He winks. “I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m in.”

“Thanks for the advice.” Katsu bows her head slightly to Gabrielle. “Things are looking clear now. Good luck tomorrow.”

“Same to you.” Gabrielle returns the gesture, but the competitive side creeps out. “Though, I’m aiming for that portfolio. I’ve been meaning to get back on a few higher profile portfolios and that’ll lead me nicely to them.”

“I welcome that challenge.” Katsu extends her hand and Gabrielle-

Accepts the handshake. Two strong women of different backgrounds and experiences, able to find a small bit of peace and respect with each other.







Friday: 1:26pm

D-Day has arrived. The first round of interviews for the Golden Opportunity Co. Portfolio. A true chance to make a strong first impression. Outside of Michael’s office are four chairs set up for the expected interviewees. Gabrielle is there with her usual slightly revealing business attire, knowing full well that her looks can get her ‘an edge’ over others. Katsu in the meantime has a
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black jacket on with a yellow dress shirt underneath and a matching pencil skirt. Her mask is black with some gold, matching her look. She has a photocopied version of her resume within a manilla envelope. But, two seats are empty. Looking into the documentary camera, Michael explains how the interview has gone so far. He has his usual tone with over the top grin.

“Interviewing people is a great chance to get to know someone in a way that beats just reading about them.” He preaches. “Even someone you have been working with for some time. The morning had some interesting results and even some of the longer tenured candidates I found myself closer to as they opened themselves up to be more vulnerable.”

“Are you done with that nonsense?!” A voice shouts. It is Mr. Giunti. Michael gives him a ‘one moment’ hand gesture, and continues.

“And doing it with another person allows you to create a new perspective.”

After looking up at the clock, it becomes apparent to Gabrielle that the two other candidates, Trevor and Alex, will not be showing up. She taps her colleague’s shoulder.

“Hey, have any idea where the other two are?”

Katsu gives a coy look on her face, tricky like a fox. She says, “I have a feeling they are a bit too busy right now.”

“You didn’t…” Gabrielle knows what Katsu did. The tricky little Kitsune might have pulled her first office pranks.

“Well, if it is normal here to pull a prank, then who am I to not indulge?” She chuckles. Gabrielle leans in, asking.

“What did you do?”

“I asked Jim and Pam for some ideas. Alejandro, Jim had an idea he was saving for Dwight. He put a letter on his desk with a clue to a uh… Holy Grail, and the rest was there. He was on a goose chase all morning.”

“I didn’t want to go all out since it wasn’t Dwight.” Jim admits. “That and the last time I did go all out was the ‘Matrix Prank’ and it left 30 paid actors without anything to do, but Katsu also offered me an extra 30 bucks, so I think this worked out.”

“Where is he now?”

Meanwhile, in the warehouse, Alejandro Giunti is tearing through boxes, forgoing the interview and is on a wild goose chase. He looks at a confused staff member and shakes him, yelling. “WHERE IS THAT HOLY GRAIL!?” The employee gives him a dirty look before walking away as the Maltese Falcon continues to search through the warehouse for the fabled holy grail. “Forget the interview, I don’t need a promotion. I’m going to find this grail, and rub it in my dad’s face! That’ll show him! I have plenty of ambition!”

The two ladies have a chuckle, imagining the chaos at the warehouse.

“What about Trevor?”

“Pam helped me with that.”

Flashing to the end of the work day, Pam, having tested the ‘new printer’ walks up to Trevor.

“Hey Trevor, Michael asked me to hand you these for the interview tomorrow. It’s a ‘vision test.’” She hands him to pages with seemingly similar images of a street. Trevor inspects them and raises an eyebrow.

“What’s this about?”

“Well, Corporate wants the candidates to go through this paper and find all seven differences between the two images. If you can’t find them by tomorrow, then don’t show up…”

Trevor hums, finding the request odd. But being good natured, he nods, buying it. “Sounds good. I’ll do my best.”

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“They’re the same picture.”

“I never thought you’d be capable of that.” Gabby is impressed, giving Katsu a pat on the back.

“There was a mentor of mine back home who believes in fighting as far as possible.” Katsu gives a smirk. “But her belief is that ‘fighting fair’ is in regards to the battlefield. So if you have a disadvantage, even things out.”

There is a wink from the masked woman who is showing her tricky side. There is a knock and Michael opens. Interview time is here. “Okay, time for group two to get going and, huh…” He notices the empty chairs. “Trevor and Alejandro couldn’t make it. Strange.”

“Go figures!” Mr. Giunti shouts from inside. “No ambition in the boy. To think he’s a Giunti?”

“In that case.” Michael Scott looks at Katsu. “You’re up first, Miss Katsu.”

“Thank you.” Katsu gives a small bow to her boss before shaking his hand, a blend of cultural practices in both Japan and America. She then adds. “And please… English.”







Friday: 11:00pm The Right Side of the Bed

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Doors begin to open for the club and as expected, a number of Dunder Mifflin’s employees show up, shedding their business attire for clothes better suited for the night life. Pam and Jim are standing in line together, with Jim holding Pam’s hand. Ryan Howard’s trying his best to look good, but as expected, it is a mess. Gabrielle is near the front of her work crew, and even Michael has shown up to try to ‘show support’ for his team (to the dismay of most). Gabrielle leads her co-workers, wearing a revealing dress which hugs her curves. She likely will bring a lot of attention in the club. Finally, nervously, Katsu makes her way in the line-up. She keeps her mask on around her co-workers, but is wearing a cute red dress which goes down to her thighs. Black heels as well. Near her are a couple of her friends, who have joined her to make her feel more comfortable (and who were approved by Gabrielle to come.) Despite the up and down week and the nerves around her return to work. She feels comfortable. Ready to tackle the world.

“The interview went better than expected.” Katsu admits to the camera as she is outside of the club. “In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so nervous. Is it sometimes hard being different from everyone else? Yes. Do I have challenges others don’t? Yes. But sometimes you just need to believe in what you can do…” She covers her mouth, chuckling. “And know when to play a trick. And for every person who may wish for your downfall-” Turning back, she sees her co-workers enter the club. “There’s more who want you to succeed.”

Katsu heads back to meet with her co-workers as the theme begins to play again. Then, Michael mentions a bit of workplace news.
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“Hey, did you hear? Krash may be going on leave. There’s a spot open in-”

DING

Katsu shakes her head as she is on her plane. She has a privacy mask on and is lying back in her chair in first class, with her two contracts and championship bonus in Japan, she was able to upgrade herself for some ease. She looks out to see Toronto, the first stop of this mini-Canadian tour. Though not booked, she’s going to be in the building at Scotiabank Arena. She rubs her eyes from the long flight and sees the show playing on her screen are reruns of “The Office.” She shakes her head.

“Did I really watch this sitcom the ENTIRE flight to Canada!?”

SCOTIABANK ARENA: Approx: 5 hours until Meltdown

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Before the expected call-time for FWA talent and wrestlers, in the back parking lot of Scotiabank arena, just off of Bay Street, Gabrielle Montgomery stands. The famed Goddess is elegantly wrapped in a thin strapped, short little dress that almost matches her infamous skin tone. There’s a smile upon her face, though more of a smirk really. She still exudes confidence through everything. In the background behind her is a billboard advertising the edition of Meltdown which stands over the nearby freeway. Just under it is a sign paid for by an angry hockey fan saying “#TRADEMARNER.” Before Katsu lifted off from Japan, she managed to get in touch with the FWA Hall of Famer and asked to meet her before their tag team match at Fallout.

On the other end of the parking lot is the woman known as Katsu. She remains hidden from the others and is wearing a t-shirt showing a personalised pixel art logo of a Kitsune and shorts. She has behind her a suitcase with her gear, always prepared in case there’s a sudden change. Glancing behind her, she notices Gabrielle standing, waiting for her, but the living FWA legend has not taken notice of her yet. The Japanese woman quickly pulls from the pocket of her suitcase one of her masks. A predominantly red one with a white accent colour, fitting with the country she’s wrestling in. She slips on her signature fox mask, quickly tying it tight and moves towards her tag partner.

Trying to be polite and friendly to make a good first impression properly meeting her outside of the chaos of Carnal Contendership, she greets Gabrielle with a smile from a distance. In turn Gabrielle returns that warm expression. Katsu stands several feet in front of the Goddess of FWA. Not saying a word, she gives a sign of respect in her culture to someone older and more experienced, a bow, recognising her ‘seniority’ over her. The masked woman gives a warm grin to her.

This just makes Gabrielle smile broader. Anyone who knows the history of Gabrielle knows how much she would revel in a gesture like that. That gesture of respect, she returns it by wrapping her arms around Katsu briefly with a hug.

The two unlikely partners, breaking the ice between them without saying a single word, move inside the arena. A chance to build strategy, create some chemistry, and, on the Path to Back in Business and to Golden Opportunity.

Make a strong impression.
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Jimmy King

It’s Britney, bitch
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Fallout 040 had come to an end, and by the time the main event had come to an end, the fans had already forgotten about The Undisputed Alliance losing the number one contender’s match for the FWA Tag Team Championships to FTN. The fans will now remember the shocking conclusion to the show involving the champions and their next challengers, while Savage and Fenix will go back to the drawing board to find their path to Back in Business.

The Undisputed Alliance is backstage of the Allstate Arena in the trainer’s room where Jackson Fenix is being checked on by FWA medical staff. Fenix had taken a considerable amount of damage to one of his legs during the match with FTN, thanks to both members of said team.

“Jackson, I’m sorry to break this to you, but you’re going to need to take some time off to rest and let your knee heal up.”

Jackson looks surprised by this news, like he knew his leg was hurt but he wasn’t aware of the extent.

“How long will I be out for, doc? 3 months? 6 months? A year?!”

“Oh heavens no, perhaps 2-3 weeks at most is all you need.”


A wave of relief washes over Jackson just as Nate Savage re-enters the room.

“Doc says I should take 2-3 weeks off to let this heal up, so I guess no match for me on the next cycle.”

“That’s unfortunate, and I just got word that I’ll be in a singles match on the next Fallout in Montreal against Halloween Knight.”

“Nice, hey, isn’t he a trios champion along with the numbers guy and the trash panda?”

“Yeah, that’s him. I guess a win over him could put us in line for another trios title match.”

“Too bad we don’t have a third partner, though.”


Nate looks at Jackson confused, and shakes his head.

“Did you forget about The Undisputed Xperienx?”

Jackson takes a second to think, and then a light bulb goes off in his head when he remembers.

“It would be good to get the gang back together again. It sucks how it ended for us last year.”

“The team didn’t end, Jack. We just went on a hiatus.”

“I mean, you said you hated Xtacee after we lost.”

“I did not!”

“Well, it sure did seem like it.”


The doctor has left the room, and it’s just Fenix and Savage by themselves.

“I was upset, but I never said I hated him. Stop making things up, Jack.”

“Alright, alright, I was just messing with you.”


Jackson hops off the medical bed he was sitting on and he winces when he puts weight on his leg. Nate quickly notices and assists his friend out of the medical room, and they walk to their locker room.

“I’m sorry I won’t be there for you when you beat that Halloween guy, but I’ll be there in spirit.”

“Jack, you told me the doctor said it’ll be 2-3 weeks tops, so you should be good to go by then. If you don’t want to be there for me, that’s fine.”

“No! I do want to be there for you! Because you know why?”

“Why is that?”

“We ride together, we die together, bad boys for life!”


There’s an awkward silence between them as they reach their locker room door.

“This is where you repeat the line!”

“What line?”

“Bad boys for life!”

“I don’t understand the reference.”

“Wait, you’ve never seen a Bad Boys movie? Will Smith and Martin Lawrence?”

“Nope, I’m afraid not.”

“Well, it’s time to fix that. In preparation for your match, I need you to watch those three movies.”

“How is that supposed to help me with my match?”

“I don’t know, but what I do know is that those are awesome movies! You need to watch them right away!”

“Fine, I’ll do that; now, let’s get ready to leave Chicago.”


********************

“Where am I?”

Nate Savage asks himself this, but there is no one around to answer.

“Where am I?”

Again, no answer.

Wherever he is, it’s a dark area where he can’t see anything. Suddenly, he does see something in the darkness. Nate starts to move closer, but he stops dead in his tracks when whatever he sees starts moving toward him, and Nate doesn’t know what to do, and before he can react, he’s knocked down to the floor.

Nate looks at whatever is standing above him in the dark, and suddenly, a spooky white skull falls forward as he lets out a scream…

Nate Savage wakes up with a jolt as he sits on the couch, where he had been watching the Bad Boys movies like Jackson had instructed him to. He had finished them and ended up taking a nap.

“Daddy, are you okay?”

Nate looks over to see his daughter Delilah sitting on the floor, playing with her toys.

“Yeah, I’m okay; daddy just had a bad dream.”

“It’s okay daddy, you don’t have to be scared, I’m here for you.”


Delilah says as she gives her father a hug.

“Thanks, sweetheart.”

“Like the movie says, we ride together, we die together, bad boys for life.”

“I don’t think that applies here necessarily but thank you. Besides, I told you that I didn’t want you watching these.”

“I know, but you fell asleep…”

“Well, keep it a secret from mommy, okay?”

“You got it, daddy.”


********************

“Jackson, I get it.”

“What is it that you get?”

“The thing from Bad Boys that you said.”

“We ride together, we die together?”

“Bad Boys for life.”

“I take it you liked the movies?”

“Not really my cup of tea, but I get it.”

“Fair enough, man.”

“Halloween Knight, huh?”

“Yeah, that guy has a spooky mask.”

“That’s true, and we just lost to a bozo in a mask, so there’s no way I’m going to lose to another one…”

“Sounds good to me, bro.”
 

Mandalorian

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CAPTAIN
CHRIS PEACOCK

IN…

“THE NORTH AMERICAN”



CAPTAIN
CHRIS PEACOCK

IN…

“THE NORTH AMERICAN”

I.

The captain’s footsteps echoed through the empty corridor. His confident strides allowed him to cover ground quickly as he manoeuvred around the ship; it was necessary that he projected an image of leadership to the crew. A strong leader is easier to follow is something that he frequently thought to himself. The result of abiding by such a philosophy was a loyal and trustworthy crew. The executive officers were like family, and in a couple of instances, actually were.

“Good morning, Captain Peacock,” greeted a cadet with a smile. The young man was ecstatic when the captain returned his salute without breaking stride. It was a reaffirming sight for the captain himself. Whilst not the most popular figure among his fellow captains and the admiralty which he served as part of the Alliance, those aboard The North American were more than happy to support their captain despite the gaping flaws in his personality which caused others to detest him.

Captain Peacock had made enemies of various fellow Alliance officers as well as members of many species that the crew of The North American had encountered across the universe. Just a year earlier, he had fought a Cyrusian on Azteca XVIII and fractured any hopes of brokering an alliance with the proud race. It was on his way to the bridge of the starship that he passed the medical bay. He paused for a few seconds and considered entering to check on the most recent patient, even reaching towards the keypad next to the door but changed his mind at the last moment. A gut heavy with guilt weighed him down, and he balled his fists before walking away towards the command hub of the mid-size vessel.

Another couple of crew members were pleased to be acknowledged by their commanding officer as he drew closer to the bridge. The enthusiasm shown by them could only be truly matched by one other; the occupant of the medbay and the man that was crucial to his victory over said Cyrusian in the fighting arena on Azteca XVII. Allen Price was The North American’s Chief Publicity Officer; a diplomatic role which he was not at all suited for given his own grating personality and perceived lack of intellect. However, what Price lacked in skill he more than made up for in devotion and loyalty to the ship, its captain and its crew.

A recent visit to the Denvaran region had gone awry for the crew of The North American when Lieutenant Price had decided to deviate from the Alliance’s plans to apprehend the two leaders of a splinter group that called themselves the ‘Undisputed Alliance’. Whilst Captain Peacock and the majority of his strike team were focused on taking down the splinter group, Price took it upon himself to attempt an initiation of peace talks with two representatives of former Alliance colonies, the Ramonians and Tonerii. True to form and despite the best intentions, the peace talks were not successful.

Liaising with the dangerous species had rendered Price incapacitated and requiring urgent attention from The North American’s doctor, Cindy Jones. In most circumstances, when a member of his crew was hurt or injured, Captain Peacock would take it upon himself to go out of his way to help them and remedy the situation as much as he could. This was different, though. For it was not the first time that Price had been hurt as a result of a fight that Peacock had started; the war with the Cyrusians only reached a natural conclusion when Price attempted to save Peacock, hurting himself in the process.

It was this previous experience with pain and maiming that gave Peacock hope for Price’s recovery without any intervention. This private feeling was a reassurance to himself that he did not need to check in on Price inside the medbay and confront the guilt that he was holding.

Upon arrival on the bridge, the captain nodded upon seeing everyone manning their stations. The view from the front of the deck was of space’s vast expanse from the docking station on Chiton. The unknown and the exploration of it was something which always fascinated Peacock. He felt an ever-growing need to see as much of it as he could and to do as many things as he could and to be the first person to see and do them. It was this ambition that had led to him earning the command of The North American in the first place. His successful career was another reason why he was not liked by many of his peers within the Alliance.

“Sir, we’ve received a message from Admiral Russnow. Would you like to receive it here or in your quarters?” asked Lieutenant Violet Dreyer, the ship’s Security Chief, as Captain Peacock took his seat next to his first officer, Commander Black.

“Here’s fine. Thank you, Violet.”

Peacock tapped a couple of the buttons on the console built into his seat’s armrest and a holographic image of Admiral Jon Russnow appeared. The stern and authoritative figure - a very senior official within the Alliance - looked straight at Peacock before delivering his missive,

“Captain Peacock, I hope that this message finds you well and that Lieutenant Price is making a speedy recovery. Now, I know that you must wish to seek your own brand of vengeance against the Ramonians and the Tonerii for what they have done but your orders are to wait. Now is not the time for any sort of retaliation.”

From his left, the captain heard an audible grumble from his prickly First Officer. Commander Alyster Black anxiously tapped his fingers on his own console as he listened intently to the message. Black was very eager to exact revenge on those that had attacked Lieutenant Price; Peacock’s clear reluctance to do so had caused several disagreements between the ship’s two most senior figures.

“No, instead we require The North American elsewhere. A large conservation effort is being undertaken, with a number of different governments putting aside differences to ensure that our universe can continue to grow and prosper. You must travel to Eternalia and pick up a rare flower before delivering it to Baxter II. There, it will be planted and help restore life to the desolate planet. One more thing, the Alliance has arranged for a horticulturist to join The North American’s crew for the duration of your mission. He will be boarding your ship whilst you are docked in Chiton. Best of luck with your mission, Captain.”

The admiral signed off and Captain Peacock exhaled, accepting his new assignment for him and his crew, “Lieutenant Dreyer, please confirm whether the horticulturist has boarded.”

“Almost, sir. The horticulturist has boarded and is making his way to the bridge from the shuttle bay.”

“No escort?”

“No, sir. Apparently he refused an escort and requested that he make his own way to the bridge. He should be here in the next couple of minutes.”

“Very good. Thank you, Lieutenant.”
Not wanting to depart until he had met the horticulturist, Captain Peacock decided to address another obvious source of tension, namely his clearly disgruntled First Officer, “Is there anything you want to get off of your chest, Commander Black?”

“I just don’t see why we’re wasting time with all of this. We should be focusing on those sons of bitches that did that to Allen. This is all a waste of time and I don’t understand why you sign us up for things like this.” It was a characteristically bleak and negative outlook being shown by Black, but this was mainly due to him being a natural pessimist by default, “On that, when are you going to visit him? He’s been asking for you.”

Peacock did not answer immediately, considering both parts of Black’s complaint. The answer was simple; he felt too much guilt over what Price went through and the obscure missions that he was taking on was a way to avoid having to confront that guilt. Thankfully, Chris was able to escape the conversation without verbalising his thoughts as he heard footsteps behind him. With a professional smile on his face, Captain Peacock turned to greet the horticulturist but the smile evaporated once he laid eyes on the fanged and horned bipedal almost-humanoid form of the being in front of him, “You… you’re a Cyrusian?”

Aware of the potential future conflict given his history with the Cyrusians, Captain Peacock broke eye contact with the horticulturist and exchanged a concerned look with Commander Black.

II.

The shuttle touched down on the surface of Eternalia with a slight jolt for those on board, “My apologies,” was all Captain Peacock had to say to his sole passenger. He had opted to pilot the shuttle himself to spare his crew from the Cyrusian horticulturist, who had already angered and irritated several of them with his abrasiveness. Cyrusians were renowned for their commitment to telling the truth and never lying, but this regularly manifested in a series of unasked opinions and insults from a deluded position of superiority. A Cyrusian would never admit their own shortcomings, either. The one sat next to Peacock on the shuttle was known as Exilios, and Peacock soon realised that he embodied all of those core qualities ingrained in children from birth on Cyrusia.

“Opening shuttle doors,” Peacock said in a dull and informative way, moreso out of habit due to his training in the academy. Just as he was about to press the requisite button on the dashboard, the Cyrusian slapped his hand away. The captain glared at him, “What was that for?”

“Are you an imbecile? You have not yet determined whether the atmosphere on this planet is breathable. The plant cannot sustain itself on Eternalia, so what makes you think that we can. We should don our protective clothing immediately! Your unearned and unwarranted assuredness in yourself sickens me!”

Peacock bit his tongue; there were so many things that he wanted to say in response to such comments. About how he proved himself in the academy, exceeding all expectations laid on him. About how he had ascended to the rank of captain quicker than anyone else in recent memory and especially how he had defeated that Cyrusian on Azteca XVII. It was only in the last year since not long before that confrontation that Captain Peacock had truly found his footing as a commanding officer of his own ship. The confidence that he had in himself was most definitely legitimately earned due to his record of successfully completed missions. He had only recently placed his crew on The North American after being given its command, thanks to his record and proving himself in the face of all opposition. His only recent regret was what happened to Lieutenant Price.

Almost as if able to pick up on Peacock’s thoughts, the Cyrusian scoffed to himself, “No wonder you could not save that buffoonish lieutenant of yours from those scoundrels-“

“Shut the hell up,” said Peacock after flicking off his communications device midway through the Cyrusian’s rant, “I’m sick of this holier-than-thou crap from you people. As surprising as it may be to you, humans such as myself - especially myself - can reflect on our personalities and identify any shortcomings. I can admit that I make mistakes sometimes. Pretty big ones, too. You judge me because I act like I’m better than everyone? That’s because I am. I have to be if I want to be the man that I need to be to run my ship. The North American is mine and I’ll run it how I see fit.”

“You’ll run it into ruin!”

“Oh yeah? What makes you so sure of that? Because you know better? Oh yeah, there’s that trademark Cyrusian delusion. You also think that you’re better than everyone else, but unlike me, you just think that. You’re not. For centuries the likes of you have crowed about injustices in the universe and how everything is upside down and messed up. Well guess what? You only feel that way because you’re not the one on top. So here’s a piece of truth for you; you’re a narcissist. You all are.”

The Cyrusian, Exilios, was aghast at the suggestions being put to him. In a rare occurrence, a Cyrusian did not have anything to say in response. So often would they retort with a supposed scathing remark of their own. This brought a sense of authority to Peacock and he stood up straight after opening the shuttle door, not caring whether his passenger would be able to acclimate to the atmosphere on Eternalia, “Alright, now we’ve got that straightened out, how about we focus on our mission? And from now on, if you wish to address me, you do so as ‘Captain Peacock’, got it?”

Peacock did not even stay in the shuttle long enough to see the Cyrusian’s meek nod of acknowledgement. However as soon as he stepped out onto the surface of Eternalia, he was taken aback by the increased gravity on the planet. It was not sufficient enough to cause him any real pain, but his first few footsteps were difficult as his feet were almost stuck to the ground. He looked around as he conducted a scan with the device on his wrist and was surprised by the barren landscape. The arid horizon was tinged with a purple hue, as were the large mountainous regions in the far distance.

He heard footsteps behind him and slowly turned with some difficulty to see the Cyrusian behind him. The protective suit provided on the shuttle allowed Exilios to move around unimpaired. Despite his telling off on the shuttle, Peacock could see the smugness on the Cyrusian’s face through the transparent visor. The scanner trilled and emitted a confirmatory series of beeps to confirm that there were no signs of life on the surface, “No biologicals on the surface at all. Aren’t we here for a plant? What’s the deal?”

The Cyrusian was conducting a scan of his own and his attention being on his own device caused him to ignore the question. He purposefully walked forwards, following the direction being displayed on his scanner. With a grumble, Captain Peacock forced his legs to follow, struggling in the increased levels of gravity than that artificially created on The North American to match Earth’s.

Their destination was three kilometres away to the east. The cracked and dry surface proved difficult to traverse, especially when extra effort to ensure that one’s foot was not sucked into a fissure. It took Peacock a good ten minutes or so to properly adjust to the conditions on the unfamiliar planet which the Alliance knew seldom about. He eventually caught up to his travelling companion, who finally thought it necessary to communicate, “Just over one kilometre away, Captain Peacock.”

“Understood,” the captain said in an authoritative way. He was pleased that the Cyrusian had felt compelled enough to acknowledge him in the correct manner, addressing his title, “What is this plant we are looking for? I’m surprised that this planet can support any sort of life form. The scanner didn’t pick up anything-“

“Your scanner did not. I have located what we are searching for. We will continue this way.”

Peacock grunted as he set off again once more after his gruff companion. After traversing the remaining distance towards their checkpoint, the Cyrusian stopped upon his scanner making a large array of different sounds, “This is it.” There was no point in Captain Peacock quarrelling that he could not see anything in the spot that Exilios had focused his scanner over. The Cyrusian would have a braggadocious reason to lecture him why with.

A whirring sound emitted from another device that Exilios pulled from the suit pocket once he pressed a button and pointed it at a specific spot in the dirt. A blue tractor beam emanated from the end of the device, countering the harsh gravity and allowing a pink and green object to emerge through the ground. It was a flower, vibrant and full of life, in stark contrast to the planet that they were on, “The Lizi Rose. Being on Eternalia has not allowed the flower to reach its full potential; it needs to be contained within a more suited environment to thrive. As much as it can convince itself that it can prosper here, it will never reach full potential whilst stuck here in this environment.”

It was a rare instance where Captain Peacock agreed with every word spoken out of the Cyrusian’s fanged mouth. Seeing the Lizi Rose caused a feeling of lament to fill him. All of the things that could have been were it not stuck on Eternalia, “Will it even survive if we get it out of here?”

The Cyrusian shrugged, “I don’t know. The time it has spent exposed to this environment could have caused too much damage already.”

Journeying back to the shuttle was not as arduous as the venture to locate the Rose which Exilios used his handheld tractor beam to suspend in mid air, protecting it from Eternalia’s atmosphere. However, when the two travellers created a hill overlooking the landing area, Captain Peacock placed a hand on the Cyrusian’s shoulder and forced him back down out of view. Another craft had landed next to the Alliance shuttle which had departed from The North American. Peacock could sense a judgmental statement about to exit the other’s mouth and motioned for him to remain quiet before their location could be given away.

Peacock took a cautious look down towards the shuttle and this allowed him a better observation of the other craft, “That’s an Alliance shuttle… but not one I’ve seen in some time… Oh shit!!”

They quickly hid once again as a figure walked from their Alliance shuttle, wanting to remain unseen. Motioning for Exilios to remain down, Peacock looked once again and studied them. Just like their landing craft, the uniform worn by the human man was an Alliance one but it was worn and outdated. Then he saw the man’s face; he was naturally handsome but it was evident even from this distance that those looks had been diminished by years of strife. Peacock stood up upon recognising him and he stormed down the hill towards the landing area.

“I was waiting for you to return,” the man called out as Captain Peacock approached him, with the Cyrusian not far behind. He was struggling in the unfamiliar environment, just as Peacock did when he first landed, “Now, you’re going to hand me that plant, Peacock. Then this nightmare will be over. I’ll take my ship back and-”

“Oh shut up, Parr!” Peacock said dismissively. There was no immediate response from the former captain of The North American, arguably its greatest. Peacock gestured towards the man and his empty hands, “You don’t even have a weapon! You can’t make me do shit, pal.”

The current captain of The North American produced his blaster from his pocket and pointed it at the disgraced former Alliance officer, “What’s your plan here, anyway? Take the plant and complete my mission for me? Like they’ll just give you The North American back? It’s mine, I earned it!”

“But you don’t understand what it means! Something so special and important is wasted on you! You don’t value it, you don’t value anything!” There was clear angst and desperation in Parr’s voice, “Even this guy, whatever he is, knows it! Right?”

Parr motioned towards Exilios, who solemnly nodded his head, “It does appear that way, yes.”

“Oh no one fucking asked you!”

“Captain Parr did.”

“He’s not a captain anymore! It doesn’t matter how much he thinks he needs it, or wants it… he’s not. That’s just not good enough. The Alliance needs officers that are able to achieve their goals and get things done. That’s not you, Mike. It hasn’t been you for a long time, and I think everyone but you has realised it,” explained Peacock with a small hint of compassion. For all of his failings and their shared animosity, he did respect the resolve of Michael Parr, former captain of The North American. It took a lot for a man to repeatedly bounce back from failure and disappointment. Were it not him in Parr’s sights, he’d probably actually be rooting for him.

With Peacock’s weapon trained on Parr, a stand off ensued. Captain Peacock watched on as Parr contemplated his next move, and listened intently to the words being muttered under the outcast’s breath, “Without The North American, I’m nothing. I’d rather be nothing.”

The sad affirmation precluded what would be a rush on most other planets, but Eternalia’s gravity caused Parr to move slowly and with great difficulty. The threat was minimal to Captain Peacock, but it was present. He knew that the admiralty would not be impressed with his actions, but this was not enough to dissuade him. A blue flash of light later and Michael Parr laid dead on the planet’s surface. Watching the life drain out of an enemy’s eyes was a necessary sight for a man in Peacock’s position; life-threatening situations were part and parcel of any good captain’s life. If no one was coming after you, you weren’t doing a good enough job.

Peacock holstered his weapon and glanced over at the Cyrusian, who kept his thoughts to himself. After a final look at Parr and the surprising imagery of him being sucked into the ground and disappearing from sight altogether, he entered the Alliance shuttle.










III.

“How long until we reach the Baxter system, Lieutenant Vance?” asked Captain Peacock as he resumed his seat on the bridge. He could tell immediately that Black had something that he wished to say to him, but focused on awaiting a response from the pilot.

Lieutenant Rick Vance pressed a couple of buttons and then swivelled back around in his seat after turning to face the captain. He along with the ship’s navigator, Lieutenant Dongarelli, were often the sources of various hijinks on the ship. Both had been friends with Captain Peacock for a number of years and had also been recently (and reluctantly at first) accepted by Commander Black and Lieutenant Dreyer. He read the notices that his console had produced for him and looked out into the expanse with unease, “Around two hours, sir, but the long-range scanners are detecting a large cluster of black holes close to the Baxter system.”

It was news that no one wanted to hear and all eyes turned to the captain as the crew on the bridge awaited orders. There was a temptation to abort the mission and forget about what they had been tasked with but Captain Peacock had forged a reputation for himself as a man who saw things through. His rapid ascension through the ranks at the academy and the trust that the admiralty had bestowed upon him were testament to that. The captain was not alone with these thoughts, either, and he knew immediately that his first officer would have something to say about it at the earliest chance.

“Chris, we don’t need to do this. You don’t need to do this, we both know what we should be doing. You want the heads of those Ramonians and Tonerii as much as I do for what they’ve done. I don’t know what made you think that taking on this mission was a good idea, but you need to stop running now.”

“Was that suggestion as a friend or in a professional capacity, Commander?” Peacock knew that his dismissal of Black’s suggestion would put his closest friend in a difficult position. One thing that Captain Peacock resented was being told he is wrong with solid reasoning. It was true, he wanted justice for Lieutenant Price and what those bastards did to him but he was the captain of an Alliance ship. Those responsibilities cannot be dropped on a whim or to settle a personal vendetta.

“I think you know that it was both, Captain,” replied Black, “Let’s just ditch the Cyrusian and get out of here. You really need to go and see Allen as well. It’s a mystery to me that you haven’t yet.”

Peacock loudly exhaled and rose from his seat, “Take the con, Black. Dongarelli, Hail me when we are almost at the Baxter system.”

“Aye, sir,” was the prompt reply from the front of the bridge.

Leaving the bridge, Captain Peacock enjoyed being greeted by several crew members along the way to the medbay where he knew that Price would be eagerly awaiting him. However the closer he got, he felt the same feelings of guilt and dread building up inside of him once more. He did not want to see Lieutenant Price, but his reasons for this were entirely selfish. As much as he tried to convince himself that he believed Price did not need him by his side, he knew deep down that was not the truth. Price relied on him and some acknowledgement and support would go a long way, but the captain held himself responsible. If it was not for Peacock previously failing to make peace with his former allies, Price would not have taken it upon himself to attempt a reconciliation.

Captain Peacock tentatively walked the corridors and then stationed himself in front of the door to the sick bay once again. His finger stretched forwards towards the keypad and this time he managed to begin entering the access code; 4-2-0-6… but he stopped before entering the final digit. He couldn’t do it; he was not ready to face Price just yet and admit his faults and failings which contributed to the situation. Despite what his personal wishes were and what he wanted, there was still an active mission ongoing. He was duty bound to see it through unless he had good reason to abort. Arguably, a highly dangerous black hole cluster was more than sufficient.

Once again, Peacock deserted the medbay and the man waiting inside to speak with him. He cut an ashamed figure and avoided all interaction as he marched through the ship towards his office. It was not like the bridge; it acted as a place of solitude and afforded Peacock a chance to reflect. He had found himself in a difficult situation and needed to consider his options.

The doors slid open and Peacock took a step back, startled by the presence of someone else waiting for him in his office, “I have been waiting for you, Captain Peacock.” The Cyrusian Exilios was the last person that Peacock wanted to see at a time of personal quandary. Especially as this Cyrusian seemed more hardheaded than most others that he had encountered before. Exilios stood in the centre of the office and looked down from Peacock’s face to the object that he had placed on the desk. It was a blue ceramic pot, in which the Lizi Rose had been planted. The plant’s appearance seemed different to the specimen that had been pulled from the ground of Eternalia. The stalk hung low and slightly to the left and a number of petals had been shed.

“We can circle back to how you got into my office later, but what’s up with the plant? It looks like shit.”

“That is because it is dying, Captain Peacock,” the Cyrusian said, matter-of-factly, “I do not think that even in a more regulated environment such as on this ship or even on Baxter II that it had much chance of survival. I would recommend abandoning this mission. It is futile. Especially with the prospect of encountering numerous black holes in the Baxter system. It would be unwise to continue.”

“Everyone has a fuckin’ opinion now, huh?” Peacock asked as he sat down in the chair behind the desk and looked at the plant, “We’re going to continue. We’ve got a mission and I intend to complete it.”

“Do you intentionally put yourself in difficult positions? Is there something inside of you which makes you feel like you need to punish yourself like this? From my understanding, there was no reason or pressure for you to accept this mission. You asked the admiral to make it seem like you had been assigned it but call records detail that you specifically requested it. Your actions got a member of your crew significantly injured and yet you cannot even face him. Everyone was right about you; you’re no captain. A captain cannot be a coward.”

Captain Peacock so desperately wanted to respond in a harsh or even physical manner, but once again he was lost in the moment of getting slapped in the face by the truth. Thankfully, he was saved by his communications device alerting him. He held his wrist up to his face, “Dongarelli, what is it?”

“Sir, I think you need to come up here…”

The trip back to the bridge was highlighted by the lights on the ship turning red, which was an indicator of critical danger on an imminent basis. Numerous scenarios and reasons for such a warning raced through Peacock’s head as he rushed back to his console. The bridge doors were already open and waiting for him when he finally arrived on the top deck of the ship. Everyone in the room turned to him for guidance on what to do but he stood still, mouth agape, marvelling at the scene that he was witnessing through the front window of the craft.

All inquiries from the crew and other officers faded into the background as Peacock’s hearing resembled his sight as nothingness. Within a few kilometres of the bow of the ship was the largest black hole that he had ever seen. Finally, the concerned voices of the people around him reentered his awareness and his head flitted from one side of the room to the other.

“We were still ninety minutes out from the Baxter system, the black hole came towards us!”

“It’s too big, we’re being sucked into it!”

“Reverse the thrusters!”

“It’s no use - I can’t fight it!”

Captain Chris Peacock slowly walked to his chair and looked at the void in front of him. He did not have words of encouragement or solace for his crew that adored him so much. No, what consumed his mind and body was the guilt that it was his decision which led them all here. Faced with the impossible force from the Baxter system that could tear through anything it wanted to. Just like Price, their misfortunes were the fault of their captain. The thought to reconcile the fact that they chose to follow him did not enter Peacock’s mind. No, his focus was on his mistakes.

The last words of Captain Christopher Peacock, the man who doomed his entire crew;

“I deserve this.”






.

Chris groaned as he was struck with the stinging realisation of being back in reality out of nowhere, “Max, what’s happened? Where’s the simulation gone?”

He removed the headset and looked around to realise that he was still in his nephew’s bedroom. It was not the first time he had experienced the alternate realities that Max’s interdimensional die could generate; nine months earlier the technology had helped him understand his place in the Steel Roulette for the then-his FWA World Championship. It was a similar situation that he found himself in once again, as a champion but with multiple challengers coming after his prize. The most important similarity though - like that Steel Roulette - is that the North American Gauntlet and the accompanying dangers to his reign that it posed were entirely of his own making.

It took Chris a few minutes to readjust to being outside of the simulation, given how realistic it was and how real the feelings and emotions that he experienced whilst inside it were. Max handed him a glass of water which he took a sip from and then placed on the desk next to the headset, “So there’s a universe out there where I’m the captain of a starship? Well, I lost that one so can we just find one where I’ve won?”

“It doesn’t work like that, Uncle Chris. Not in this instance anyway because from what I can see here is that in every dimension, every universe and every reality… you lose this one.” The robotic and dismissive way in which Max spoke made the news more frustrating for Chris, “You’ve lost because your heart isn’t in this one. You’re distracted and I think you know what to do.”

“Allen…” Chris said to himself, knowing that was the key to unlocking all of this. Just like Captain Peacock in the simulation, the real Chris Peacock had not yet taken the time to visit Allen Price in hospital after Randy Ramon broke his leg. Chris was more than happy to pay for his friend and agent to receive the highest level of care at the best hospital in New York - money was not an object, after all - but he knew that going to see Allen would be worth more to him than anything that money could buy.

It was Chris’s role in the ambush by the FWA World Tag Team Champions and the guilt attached to it that stopped him from visiting. But with the North American Gauntlet coming up, Chris could not afford having something like this weighing on his mind and diverting his focus. He’d worked extremely hard to become the North American Champion, so he might as well do everything he could to defend it. Really though, Chris was more than satisfied with winning the title and completing his Grand Slam. With a tag title shot in the chamber at Back in Business in his home town, teaming with his best friend against his two former best friends and mentors, the fate of the North American Championship was somewhat low down on his list of concerns.

Winning two matches at back to back Back in Business events was appealing to him, as was being a double champion again. But it was evident to him that none of this could happen if he did not resolve this Allen issue. None of the accomplishments he sought - including running through a gauntlet of some of the best that the FWA had to offer - was going to happen unless he changed something.

On his way out of Drew’s apartment, he bumped into his brother who was returning with groceries. Drew was several weeks sober, and looked much better for it. It was at Chris’s instigation after Carnal Contendership that he stayed away from the booze and as a result of this, the Peacocks were enjoying Drew’s longest streak of sobriety in over a year. Strangely though, Drew groaned and gasped for air as he bundled through the door with a brown paper bag full to the brim in his hands, “Take this for me, would you?”

Chris walked the groceries back through into the apartment and set them down on the table. He waited as Drew then followed him through the door but lurched against the frame, holding his stomach, “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Drew replied with a wince, in obvious discomfort, “I’m just bloated. Makes my stomach feel all tight. I’ll be fine, it usually goes after a few minutes.”

“Are you sure? I’m heading to the hospital anyway to see Allen. I can take you.”

“You’re seeing Allen? That’s good, he’ll like that,” Drew said as he plonked himself down onto the couch and leaned back, “I’ll be fine, it’s okay.”

With that assurance in place, Chris patted Drew on the shoulder on his way out of the apartment and set off to the hospital in the famous white Cadillac. The truck was in for repairs and he did not think it appropriate to drive it to the hospital in any case. Although a “cumbulance” is something that he was inspired to mention to Alyster the next time he had a chance to. Chris resisted the temptation to park in an ambulance bay and instead decided to treat himself to the long walk from the patient and visitor parking at the hospital to the main building. Once inside, be ascertained that Allen was in a ward on the ninth floor.

Much to Chris’s chagrin, the elevator was out of order meaning that he was forced to take the winding staircase up to where Price was situated. With each step the ascent became more difficult, which made Chris once again regret his choice to challenge several opponents to a gauntlet match, knowing that he would need to defeat them all in order to win. The achievement and accompanying bragging rights was a worthwhile prize but up to this point, Peacock had not considered what it was that he’d actually have to do. His simulated self struggled with almost all of the obstacles placed in his way, and of course he along with everyone he cared about died in the end due to his poor choices.

Eventually, Chris located Allen’s room. He stopped outside of it and read the nameplate several times before developing the confidence to knock.

“Damn it, Bernice! I said no more fat free yoghurt! I want the chocolate one and if you don’t have it then get the hell away!”

The unreasonable demands from a familiar voice informed Chris that he was in the right place. He opened the door and peered inside to see Allen lying flat on his back and looking up at the plasma television that came as standard in the private room that Chris had paid for him to stay in whilst he recovered. Price’s attention was on Gilmore Girls, so he did not even register that Chris had entered the room. His left leg was in a full plaster cast and was being suspended from the ceiling to hold it high up. The tired look on Allen’s face combined with the crankiness made Chris realise that Allen must have barely slept since the injury.

A nurse bustled into the room past Chris and slapped down a pot full of thick brown yoghurt on the table next to Allen. He reached across without taking his eyes away from the TV, before examining it, “Thank you! Why was it so hard to get it right before Bernice? HUH?!”

“Allen, you’re torturing the poor woman.”

Upon hearing Chris’s voice, Allen bolted upright and looked in his direction with an ecstatic smile on his face, “CHRIS!”

In his attempt to hug Chris from the other side of the room, Allen lunged forward and this action caused him to slide from the bed and land on the floor. He screamed in pain as his cast struck the ground. Chris rushed over and assisted Nurse Bernice in getting Allen back into the bed. After this, they sat mostly in silence as Gilmore Girls consumed both of their attention. Eventually, Chris felt another twinge of guilt and remembered the reason why he decided to visit Allen in the first place, “I’m sorry this happened to you, Allen. You’ve got your flaws, but you don’t deserve this…”

“Don’t blame yourself,” Allen said, picking up on Chris’s clear distress. He grimaced as he reached forward from the bed, placing a hand on Chris’s arm, “This isn’t your fault. What happened, there’s nothing you could have done.”

Chris squeezed his eyes shut, still unable to look his friend in the eye. Flashes of the attack raced through his mind once more; Randy’s determination to hurt Chris through the maiming of his friend and the sick enjoyment that Danny took from witnessing it. The scans of the resultant damage to Allen’s leg hung up over the bed and Chris saw the clean break. It mirrored the permanent ending of any hope of reconciliation with his former mentors. His body filled with rage but not with the perpetrators of this act or whether the likes of Cyrus or Parr that would derive enjoyment from it. As it so often did, Chris’s anger was with himself.

With red eyes welled with tears of remorse, Chris finally gained the nerve to look at Allen. He was taken aback with how even in this condition, his most ardent supporter viewed him with the gaze of a proud father, “I mean it, Chris. Don’t blame yourself.”

“How can I not, man? This wouldn’t have happened to you if they didn’t want to get to me. Allen, you’re my responsibility here, you understand that? You know how many people would want to do something like that to you, but don’t? They don’t because of me and the rest of the guys. They know what we’d do to them if they tried it… but those fuckers… they did this to you anyway. I’m supposed to protect you, Allen.

“We’ve spent so long thinking that we were untouchable, but we’re not. I thought that I can do anything and even though I’ve done a lot in this last four years, I still can’t beat myself. I’m always going to get in my own way, Allen. I made some bad decisions and they don’t just affect me anymore. You’re here, what if Alyster is next? Or worse, Drew or Max? I’ve put so many targets on my own back that the people who stand alongside me are getting caught in the crossfire.

“I’ve got to remind everyone that Chris Peacock is not one to be fucked with. I’ll take on three, four, five people if I have to. It doesn’t matter… I have to protect the people I love. Fuck everyone else, they don’t matter shit.”

Being around Allen helped Chris put things into perspective. A conversation that he had been keenly avoiding turned out to be the thing which gave him the motivation that he needed. Some may argue that challenging the likes of Cyrus Truth, Mike Parr and Bryan Baxter all at once was akin to digging his own grave… but Chris Peacock will not be the one lying in it at the end of Meltdown XLI.
 
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The ScapeDubb

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A Bryan Baxter Promo

F. T. D.














(or Bryan Braxter Really Needs a Win)











Bryan Baxter rested his head against the glass of the microwave, feeling the heat as the frozen meal rotated on the other side of the door.



He felt like he could bang his head into the window.



That’d feel nice.





Just repeatedly slam his head over and over into the glass until it shattered around his skull.





Needless to say, Bryan Baxter was frustrated.





He pulled his head away from the glass, looking at his own reflection. No one would ever describe Bryan Baxter as a looker, that’s for sure. But his normal five o’clock shadow had grown into an untrimmed beard and his eyes were bloodshot.





No, Baxter hasn’t fallen off the wagon.





Well, I guess it depends on what you call the wagon. Because he hasn’t started drinking again… thought that would probably help. But he had fallen off the wagon of winning.





The draw with… damn, Bryan couldn’t even recall what his name was. X…something or another. Didn’t really matter, he was already gone… and yet Bryan couldn’t even decisively beat a flash in the pan who disappeared immediately after that draw.





Then there was Mike Parr… the big North American Showdown. The match that many criticize should’ve never happened. The match Bryan didn’t have to agree to. That he could’ve just waltzed through the F1 and became a record setting North American Champion. But instead, he cracked open the door…





And yet still, Bryan could’ve slammed the door shut. Another draw. This time a time limit draw. Mike Parr couldn’t beat Baxter in the sixty allotted minutes. Bryan could’ve just walked away. It would’ve been perfectly fair. Those were the rules of the match, after all. But instead… he let the Prodigy get into his head. He let Prodigy goad him into… ugh, those dreaded words. Those three little words… haunt Bryan to this day.





Five more minutes.





Instead of slamming the door shut, Bryan basically opened the door up for Parr like a southern gentleman… and the Prodigy busted through that door.





It sucked. Of course it sucked.





But there was still hope. Bryan just had to do what needed to be done in the F1 and he’d get the title back. Last year, he went undefeated until the semifinals… all he had to do was do that again and then better it (of course).





But then there was Chris Peacock. A second loss in a row. A third winless match in a row. Baxter at least considered Parr a respectable opponent. But Peacock…





Fuck Chris Peacock.





Jeremy had been having to deal with those FTN douchebags for the past year or so… mostly the Alyster Black portion but Peacock had not been afraid to get involved, especially more recently. Bryan Baxter hated everything about Chris Peacock…





So that loss really stung.





BUT YET STILL - he still wasn’t eliminated from the tournament… but he was on thin ice. A win over Michelle von Horrowitz in the semifinals… a rematch from last year’s F1… could still put him back on track. All he had to do was right the wrong from the previous year. Defeat MvH… and give a big fuck you to “Ol Billy Boy” who left him for the Nephews at the same time.





Another year… same result. Michelle beats Bryan in the Semifinals. Maybe Scorpane was right.





What has gone wrong? How did Bryan Baxter go from dominating in the ring for over a year… to a complete inability to win at anything.





What has changed?





He watched the seconds tick down on the digital display, feeling every moment stretch into an eternity. "Almost ready," he muttered, more to himself than to Audrey, who sat at the kitchen table, swinging her legs and humming a tune that Bryan vaguely recognized.





Normally he wouldn’t mind spending time with his daughter. But right now, she was just another reminder of yet another failure in his life. His failure to be around for the first seven years of his life. You may argue that he didn’t even know she existed until last year, but there was a reason why Kristy never sought him out. Even after he became “FWA famous.” It’s not like she wouldn’t know how to find him at that point. Bryan had deserved to be left out.





Bryan looked to his daughter who noticed his gaze and offered a friendly, warm smile to her favorite wrestler in the whole wide world. Her own words, mind you.





But not even that smile could distract Bryan from his own thoughts.





The failure to be there from Audrey directly correlated with his failure with her mother, Kristy. She was a saint for even allowing Bryan to be around these days. He had worked hard to try and prove himself worthy. Showing that he wasn’t the same alcoholic, deadbeat, loser that left her seven years ago. And he wasn’t sure how he did, but she seemed to be seeing something different in him.





But Bryan knew better.





Just take away the alcoholic part. Bryan was still a loser and it was only a matter of time before he became a deadbeat again.





He should be considering himself lucky to have some time to himself for some father/daughter bonding. Granted Audrey still had no idea that Bryan was her actual father. Though she was not dumb. She must be starting to get some ideas about what could be going on. Why else is her favorite wrestler in the whole wide world always around despite not being in a relationship with her mother.





Of course, Bryan wouldn’t argue with rekindling the relationship with Kristy. But it feels like a “cold day in Hell” type situation, at best. Right now, Bryan was staying at their house and taking care of Audrey while Kristy flew halfway across the country with some “guy friend” of hers for a “job interview.”





Baxter rolled his eyes at the notion. Why does she even need to try and get some fancy corporate job? Bryan’s more than capable of providing for both of them… and if she really wanted to get a different job, she should be stepping back into the wrestling ring instead.





BEEP. BEEP. BEEP.





He opened the door and grabbed the steaming meal, the smell of processed cheese and chicken wafting up. He forced a smile as he set the plate of less than desirable looking food in front of Audrey. "Lunch is served."





The little girl’s face expressed just how unappetizing the meal appeared. “Uhh.. what is this?”





“It’s lunch. Eat up.”





“It’s disgusting.”





“What? No it’s not. It’s a Kid’s Cuisine - I used to eat them all the time.”





Audrey eyed Bryan’s less than healthy body structure… “I think I’ll just have a sandwich.”





“What? No, I sat there and made this for you. You’re gonna eat this.”





“You literally stuck it in the microwave and hit start.”





“Yeah, well… it’s wasteful not to yet it… or somethin’.”





“If you like it so much, maybe you should eat it then and I’ll make myself a peanut butter sandwich.”





“Fine,” Bryan huffed, relenting as he took another loss, this time an argument to a seven year old.





Bryan slumped into the chair opposite Audrey. He shrugged his shoulders as he picked up a chicken nugget in one hand and used his other hand to scoop up some macaroni and cheese. "Kids these days," he muttered under his breath, shoveling a forkful into his mouth. The taste was just as he remembered: bland, with a hint of artificial flavor. Ahhh the taste of nostalgia. He chewed slowly, feeling another wave of frustration wash over him while Audrey happily hummed along at the kitchen counter, slathering a piece of bread with a heaping amount of smooth peanut butter.





Returning to the table with her much more desirable lunch, Audrey sat down next to Bryan. “Dude, what’s wrong with you?”





He swallowed, the food going down like a lump of lead. "Yeah, kid. Just got a lot on my mind, that's all."





“Oooh… let me guess. You’re thinkin’ about enterin’ the North American gauntlet, ain’t ya?”





“Maybe,” Bryan said simply, not too interested in a conversation at this point. He finished his food before leaning back in the chair. Bryan reached into his pocket and pulled out a pack of Newports, retrieving a cigarette and lit it up.





“Mom doesn’t allow smoking in the house.”





“Yeah, well Mom ain’t here, now is she?” Bryan replied with snark as he took a puff from the cigarette. If he wasn’t going to go back to drinking, he needed something to take the edge off.





“Yuck,” Audrey replied with disgust as she began to fake cough, over emphasizing it to get her point across.





“Look, just finish up eating and put your glass in the dishwasher.”





As Audrey finished her sandwich, she followed the directions while Bryan leaned his head back, just trying to enjoy some silence as he sucked on the end of the cigarette.





“The machine is full. Oooh, can I hit start?”





“Go for it, kid,” Bryan breathed out. Oh to be a kid and entertained by such mundane activities.





The young girl retrieved a detergent pod from under the sink, plopped it into the proper hole in the door of the machine before slamming it shut and promptly pressing the start button. As the light humming of the machine began, Audrey proudly returned to the table.





“I think you should do it.”





“Huh?” Bryan responded, having already forgotten what she was talking about.





“The Gauntlet. You need to enter it.”





“Why? Just so I can lose again?”





“Uhhhh, no! So you can WIN!”





“Have you seen my track record lately?”





“So? I kept getting 2’s on my Math tests, but guess what… last week… BOOM.. a 3.”





“Out of…?”





“4!”





“And that’s… good?”


“Yeah! Pretty good anyway.”





“Well congrats on being pretty good, I guess.”





“Ugh, the point is… you can’t turn this down.”





“Eh. What’s the point? Why should I keep getting 1’s when I should stick to what I’m good at… beating people up for Jeremy. Now THAT I can get a 4 on.”





“Ew!”





“Fine, I’ll put it out,” Bryan extinguished the cigarette in his empty plastic frozen meal container.





“I mean, yeah… ew… but I meant ew… to Jeremy.”





“What’s wrong with Jeremy? I thought you liked him. I know your mom never liked him… but…”





“I used to. Everyone used to like Jeremy. But he’s using you!”





“Nah, Jeremy’s my friend. He’s one of the few people in this world I actually trust to have on my side. And in case you haven't noticed, lately it’s probably better to have him on your side than not.”





“Well, just forget about Jeremy right now. Because this is about you, big boy. Don’t you want your belt back?”





“Well.. yeah…”





Audrey stared Bryan right in the eyes as she stood up in her chair, reached across the table and grabbed him by the collar of his shirt. The small, petite child getting right in Bryan’s face. “THEN DO IT DUMMY!”





Bryan stared at Audrey, taken aback by her sudden intensity. Her eyes, so much like Kristy's, filled with fire and determination. “Alright, alright, calm down,” Bryan said, gently prying her small hands off his shirt. “You’re really something, kid.”


Audrey settled back into her chair, her serious expression melting into a smile. “Well, someone’s gotta knock some sense into you. Might as well be me.”


Bryan chuckled despite himself. “You’re a little spitfire, just like your mom.”


The brief moment of levity was interrupted by the noticeable sound of silence. The background white noise from the running dishwasher came to a stop. “That was fast.”





“I don’t think it usually works THAT fast,” the little girl got back up, walking over to the dishwasher to examine it. ”Hmmm…” she shrugged her shoulders and pressed the start button again.





The humming began again with the timer reset.





With the dishwasher back to running, Bryan leaned back in the chair. Despite the attempt at Audrey to motivate him, he still wasn’t sure about the notion of entering the gauntlet. He still wondered what had changed since his dominant run…





When he began to wonder…





Was it Audrey?





Was that the difference? Was allowing her into his life the thing that has caused his in-ring success to do a complete 180-degree turn? Had she made him… soft?





“But yeah… c’mon Bryan… you gotta do it…”


“Yeah… maybe you’re right,” Bryan half-heartedly admitted, still not believing it himself. He was mostly saying it aloud as an attempt to appease her and perhaps get the conversation to stop. He could explain to her later that he just couldn’t do it after all.


A few moments later, the dishwasher stopped again. Audrey’s brow furrowed as she glanced back at the machine. “That’s weird.”


Bryan followed her gaze. “What’s weird?”


“It stopped again. I don’t think it’s supposed to do that.”


Audrey walked over to the dishwasher and examined the control panel, her face lighting up with curiosity. “Hey, there’s a code here. It says ‘FTD.’


Bryan’s ears quickly perked up. Did she just say FTN? No way, he just couldn’t escape Peacock and that dumbass masked bitch.

“FTN? C’mon Audrey, don’t mess with me right now. I know FTN has nothing to do with the dishwasher not working. Yeah, they may be a pain in the ass but this is a different type of pain in the ass.”

Audrey was naturally confused about what in the world Bryan was talking about. “Huh? It says FTD not FTN.”

“Oh, I suppose that makes more sense,” Bryan breathed a sigh of relief before realizing it really didn’t answer any questions at all. “Wait, no it doesn’t. What the Hell does FTD mean?”

FTD? FTD?

Bryan racked his brain for what it could possibly mean? Right now the only thing Bryan could think it meant was Fuck This Diswasher, which was certainly fitting.

“Failure to drain!” Audrey declared proudly, having grabbed her Amazon Fire Kids tablet to google the GE Dishwasher error code. None of those have sponsored this promo, by the way.

“Failure to drain? Seriously? Another failure to add to my long list.”

“This is perfect!”

“No, it’s not, Audrey. I’m so tired of everything going wrong!”


“But that’s the thing. You can fix it!”

“What? I’m not a plumber. I don’t know shit about dishwashers. I’m no expert but I think they’re supposed to drain on their own. Maybe I’ll just buy your mom a new one.”

“No! You can fix it! I believe in you!”

Bryan let out a deep sigh of exasperation as he stood up from the table and walked over to the dishwasher. He gleaned the machine up and down… “Fine, I’ll give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen?”

He scanned the dishwasher's door and found a sticker with a customer support phone number. “Alright, let's start here,” he muttered, dialing the number on his phone.

“Thank you for calling GE Appliance Support. Your call is important to us. Please hold while we connect you to a representative,” the automated voice intoned.


Bryan rolled his eyes and muttered to himself, “Yeah, sure it is.” He explained the issue briefly once he got through to someone, but was promptly put on hold.


Fifteen minutes later, the hold music was grating on his nerves, and Bryan’s patience was wearing thin. He tapped his foot, glaring at the phone as if it were the source of all his problems.

“Drain pump!” Audrey exclaimed, continuing to watch her tablet.

“What?”

“It’s the drain pump. Sounds like it’s gone bad.”

Bryan raised an eyebrow, still holding the phone to his ear. “How do you know that?”

Audrey held up her tablet, grinning from ear to ear. “I looked it up on YouTube! It’s all right here!”

The young girl handed Bryan the pretty, pink tablet so that he could examine the video. Sure enough, the video talked about both diagnosing but also showing how to fix the problem complete with step by step instructions for replacing the drain pump. “And look, there’s even a link to find places that sell the part,” she added with more excitement.


“Daaaamn Audrey, you found all this that fast?” Bryan said, once again finding himself hanging up a phone call thanks to her resourcefulness. “Alright, let’s see that video.

They watched the video together, Bryan nodding as he started to understand the process. It seemed doable, even for someone with no plumbing experience. Now he just had to find the part. Bryan went through the link, and just his luck, there was on hardware store in Charlotte that had one left in stock.

Feeling like just maybe his luck was starting to turn around, Bryan felt determined as he stood up. “Alright, kid, grab your shoes… we’re headin’ to town.”












The drive to Charlotte was filled with alternating silence and small talk. Bryan was trying to keep his spirits up while Audrey chatted excitedly about the path to Back in Business. His Toyota Tacoma hummed along the highway, Audrey safely strapped in the back seat, clutching her pink tablet like it was a prized possession.

They pulled up to True Value Hardware, a modest store nestled between a coffee shop and a car wash. Bryan parked and glanced at Audrey through the rearview mirror. "Ready, kid? Ready to get me a win?"

Audrey nodded enthusiastically. “Heck yeah! Let’s GOOOO!”


They walked into the store, the bell above the door jingling as they entered. Bryan approached the counter where a very emo teenage girl, her name tag reading “Elizabeth,” was stationed. Her heavy eyeliner and disinterested expression were indicative of her indifference.


Bryan stands awkwardly at the desk briefly, waiting for Elizabeth to offer up some type of introduction. But instead, she just looked at her phone.

After a few painful awkward moments, Bryan cleared his throat to try and get her attention. The gothic girl lifted her eyes up from her phone. “What do you want?” Elizabeth finally responded with a very monotone voice before immediately going right back to her phone.

“Um… I am looking for a part. It’s for a dishwasher.”

Her eyes remained locked to her phone. “Got a part number?”

Audrey quickly handed Bryan her tablet, the part number displayed on the screen. Bryan showed it to Elizabeth, who sighed and slowly keyed it into the system. She tapped the keyboard with exaggerated slowness, and after what felt like an eternity, she looked up. "All out.”

Bryan’s heart quickly sank. “What? That’s not possible, your website said you had it.”

“Yeah, well we don’t.”

“C’mon, it’s only been like twenty minutes.”

“Guess it just sold then. Should’ve been here twenty minutes ago.”

His frustration growing, Bryan’s face grew stern as he leaned over the counter and in a hushed but intense voice, he made a nearly threatening quest to Elizabeth. “I’m going to need you to check again.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes but complied, typing with the same lethargic pace. "Yep - just sold it a few minutes ago to Prodigy Plumbing."

Bryan felt his frustration bubble over. "You’ve got to be kidding me. Is there no other place nearby that might have it?"


Elizabeth shrugged. "Not here. Maybe try ordering online."


Bryan clenched his jaw, trying to keep his temper in check. Ordering online wasn’t an option if he wanted to get this fixed before Kristy got back from her “business trip.” He felt his fists tightening, but Audrey tugged at his shirt.

“It’s okay, Bryan, let’s go.”

Getting back into the truck, Bryan felt a wave of defeat wash over him. He slumped into the driver’s seat, gripping the steering wheel tightly. Audrey, however, wasn’t ready to give up.


“Don’t worry. We’re gonna figure this out,” she said, her voice filled with determination as she continued to tap away on her tablet.


Bryan glanced over, unsure about what exactly Audrey was up to. “What are you doing now?”


Audrey’s was focused solely on her tablet. “Getting us that part!” She pulled up a phone number for Prodigy Plumbing and reached over, grabbing Bryan's phone and started dialing the number.


Bryan was taken aback. “Audrey, what…”


“Shhh,” Audrey interrupted, holding up a finger to signal him to be quiet.


The phone rang a few times before a woman answered. “Prodigy Plumbing, how can I help you?”


Audrey’s voice took on a serious tone as she pretended to be the teenage worker from True Value. “Hi, this is Elizabeth from True Value Hardware.”


“I’m sorry, who did you say this is? You sound like a wee lil’ girl.”


Audrey’s little face scrunched up with offense. “Uh! No! I assure you I am a teenage gothic girl who works at True Value. I’m calling about your employee who was just here picking up a part.”


“Oh yeah? What about Spike? He mess something up again?”

Audrey held back a giggle. “Well, no… I mean I dunno but he left his wallet. Know where he is heading and maybe I can bring it to him.”

“Typical Spike,” the woman retorted. “I dunno girl, he’s on his way to a project for the mayor over in Climax… probably not worth the haul. I’ll just have him swing back by afterward and grab it.”

“What’s going on…” Bryan asked, not privy to the otherside of the conversation. Audrey smiled back at him, giving him a big thumbs up.

“Okay, cool,” Audrey responded over the phone. “We’ll have it here for him.” She proudly placed the phone back down on the center console of the truck as she climbed into the back of the truck. She grabbed her tablet and began typing into google once again.

“Well?” Bryan asked impatiently.

“We got ‘em. We’re heading to… uh… some town called Climax. Here’s the GPS!” Audrey handed the tablet over the back seat to Bryan.

“You… really are somethin’ else.”


“I told you… I’m gettin you this win!”

“Alright… Climax, here we come.”











The drive to Climax from Charlotte is not exactly a short one. It’s 90 minutes, so it was long enough to definitely show the commitment to the mission at this point.

Along the way, Audrey played her tablet while Bryan continued to wonder if this was all worth it. Was it just a futile endeavor much like him entering the gauntlet? This Spike guy already has a head start on them, by the time they got there, was it going to be too late.

Was Audrey leading him to yet another failure?

He shook his head, trying to repress those thoughts for the time being. At the very least, this mission seemed important to Audrey so he needed to focus on getting that part and getting that win. And he couldn’t help but hold back a chuckle despite his less than jovial feelings lately as he passed a road sign that contained names of the towns of “Climax” and “High Point” next to each other.

“What’s so funny?” Audrey asked, her curiosity piqued.


Bryan tried to hide his laughter, realizing that perhaps this wasn’t something he should be sharing with the young girl. “Uhh, nothing. Something you’ll find funny when you’re older, I guess.”

Audrey rolled her eyes and went back to her tablet. “Adults are weird.”


Following the navigation instructions coming from Audrey’s tablet, they pulled up to the mayor’s house, a modest yet well-kept home with a large yard. Out front, the Prodigy Plumbing van was parked, and a man in overalls was unloading equipment. Bryan parked the truck on the crb and turned to Audrey. “Alright, let’s go get that part. For real this time.”

It would appear their timing had worked out nicely because as they exited the truck, they could see the man who had to be Spike. He was much smaller than Baxter expected, but he was clearly pulling the drain pump part out of the back of his van.

“Hey you!” Bryan called out as he walked up the driveway.

Confused about why the burly Baxter was heading his way with a very unpleasant look on his face, Spike shut the door to the van and stumbled backward a bit. “Uhh… ‘scuse me?”

“You Spike?”

“Uhh, who’s askin’?”

“Me.”

“And just who the Hell are you?”

“Someone who needs that part you got there.”

Spike continued to backpedal as Bryan got closer. “Have you been followin’ me?”

“I’m not answerin’ questions here. I’m just gonna take that part and be on my way.”

“Look dude, I don’t want any trouble. I am just doin’ a job here.”

“Yeah, I get it. I’ve been doing a lot of jobbing lately myself. That’s why I’m here.”

Bryan continued to pursue Spike, catching up to him and grabbing him by his “Prodigy Plumbing” work shirt. “I said… give me… that part. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way.”

Sweat dripping down Spike’s brow, the plumber began to shake as he started to slowly bring the drain pump toward Baxter.

“Hey! Hey! What’s going on out here?!”

Mayor Kristoff, a tall, jovial man with a prominent mustache emerged from the house and rushed out as he saw his plumber being confronted by the menacing Baxter. He couldn’t help but be confused by the scene of this larger, intimidating man being accompanied by a young girl as they seemed to be mugging his hired help. “Put him down or I’ll call the cops!”

“This has nothing to do with you. Once he gives me what I want, we’ll be on our way.”

“I said put him down! I’m the Mayor here and if I alert the authorities, they can be here in 90 seconds or less!”

Audrey, not wanting to see Baxter in pinstripes, gave him another shirt tug to encourage him to listen to the mayor. Reluctantly, Bryan released his grip on Spike’s shirt. The nervous plumber stumbled his way over to Kristoff. “I got your dishwasher part.”

Kristoff looked surprised. “A dishwasher? Oh no, no, no, no, no. This isn’t for my dishwasher, silly goose! I need this for my Climax Truck.”


“Your what now?” Bryan asked, confused.

“My Climax Truck!” Kristoff repeated with enthusiasm as he walked to his garage, pulling out a remote from his pocket and opening the door. The garage door slowly lifted up to reveal a zamboni like vehicle equipped with a large tube and nozzle parked in the garage.

“That’s not a truck,” Audrey astutely pointed out.

“Oh don’t be silly, little girl. My Climax Truck is the talk of the town! Because you see, I go around town shooting soap and bubbles at parks for all the kids to play during our summer Climax parties. But the suds won’t drain out without this exact part. And unfortunately, my drain broke… so if the kids want my sticky suds, then this part I must have.”

Bryan felt his frustration boil over. Sticky suds? Climax Truck? “You’ve got to be kidding me. This is ridiculous. We really need that part!”

“But think about the kids!”

Spike, sensing the tension, handed the part over to Kristoff. “Look, I’m done here. You two work it out…” Spike scurried off in his van while Bryan once again felt a loss of hope as he saw the mayor holding the in-demand part in his hand.

Kristoff, clutching the drain pump, seemed to think the discussion was over. "I suggest you leave before I have you arrested for trespassing."

But for Bryan, the discussion was far from over. He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt and began to make his way toward the mayor. "If I'm getting arrested, I'm gonna make it count… and I’m gonna take that pump one way or another!”


As Bryan approached, ready to strike, the mayor closed his eyes in fear, preparing for the impact of Baxter’s fist. Audrey rushed between them, her small hands pressing against Bryan's chest to stop him.

"Wait! Please!" Audrey pleaded, turning to face the mayor. "Why do you need the part so much?"

Kristoff frowned, his earlier confidence wavering. “I already said this once little girl. Are you deaf? It's for the Climax Truck. The kids…”

"Right, I know that’s what you said. But that’s not what I meant. I mean, why? You already have so much. I mean look at you! You're the mayor, you have a nice house, you're successful! You seem to have an amazing life! How much does this little part really mean to you?"

Kristoff hesitated, glancing down at the pump. "Well, it's just a little replacement part, but still…"

"But to us," Audrey continued, "it's everything. Look at him… He’s so rundown… have you ever seen someone looking so low? Ready to come to blows over a silly little dishwasher part?”

Bryan wasn’t sure if he should be offended by Audrey’s words or proud at the way she was taking charge. As for Kristoff, he was playing right into her words.


“That part is all he has."

“I don’t understand.”

“That man… he’s my father… and…” Bryan was taken aback. She knew? How long had she known? “...and well, he’s dying.” Bryan’s jaw dropped at Audrey now just unloading boldface lies to the mayor.

“Just look at him and I’m sure you can tell. He’s a man who has lost so much in his life. And soon… soon… he’s going to lose so much more. All he wants is one little win. He only has weeks to live right now…” Audrey continued to paint the grim story of Baxter’s upcoming demise, her voice trembling, “Fixing our family’s dishwasher… it may sound stupid… it may not sound important to you… but to him… it’s one small win for a man quickly running out of time.”

Bryan nervously took his eyes from the disturbingly convincing Audrey over to Kristoff, anxious to see his reaction.

And he had soaked up the story completely. Tears were flowing down from his eyes and being absorbed into his mustache. “You’re right…” he said solemnly as he walked over to Bryan. “You clearly need this more than I do.”

He couldn’t believe it… Bryan now held the coveted dishwasher drain pump in his hands. All thanks to the quick thinking of his little girl. He was dumbfounded and speechless.

Kristoff wiped a tear from his cheek. "I'll just pay to have one overnight delivered anyway."

Audrey gave a wink to Bryan before turning and giving a hug to Kristoff. “Thank you, Mr. Mayor.”

“Yeah, yeah… now get outta here before I change my mind.”

Bryan wasn’t taking any chances. He nodded and took Audrey by the hand, leading her toward the truck as she jumped up and down with excitement. As the truck drove off, the jubilant Audrey gave one last wave to Kristoff who waved back from the driveway.

“Suuucckkkkkeeeerrr!” Audrey giggled as they rolled away.


















Back at Kristy's house, Bryan knelt on the kitchen floor, working diligently to install the new drain pump into the dishwasher, following close step by step instructions on Audrey’s pink tablet. Audrey watched on from the dining room table with admiration for her wrestling hero as he finished up the job.

After tightening the final screws, Bryan shut the machine and pressed start. “Alright, moment of truth…”


And they waited…

The machine went through its pre-cycle rinse much as it had done earlier in the day…

“It worked!” Audrey exclaimed as she could hear the water draining from the machine and into the sink’s plumbing. Bryan let out a sigh of relief, a triumphant smile spreading across his face. “You did it!”

“Nah, kiddo - we did it.” Bryan offered a high five to the girl who jumped out of the chair to strike Bryan in the hand.

“So how does it feel? To get the win?”

“Not gonna lie, it feels good. Real good.” Bryan sat back in the chair, leaning back to relax for the first time in ours. “And hey, speaking of lying… where the Hell did you learn to lie like that?”

Audrey shrugged her shoulders, a mischievous glimmer in her eyes. "I guess it just came naturally somehow." She chuckled as she picked up her tablet. “I mean… you… as my dad… could you imagine?” Audrey burst into laughter as she skipped down the hall toward her room.

Heh… yeah… imagine… he thought to himself.

He glanced back over to the running dishwasher.

One small win. A much needed win.

He was wrong. Whatever had changed… whatever had caused his downturn… it wasn’t because of her. If anything, she was the reason he was winning…

And the reason he could turn this around.

One small win. Now for one big win.

He was entering the North American Gauntlet.





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Comeback Kid

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It had never occurred to Trevor how dull the finish on his wedding ring had become. He hardly looked at it when putting it on as the act of doing so was so mundane and part of his everyday routine, but something was different about putting it on this time. Maybe it was the fact that he felt the need to remove it when he was cheating on his wife that made him pay attention to the dullness of it. It crossed his mind that the dullness could be a reflection of the state of his marriage. Maybe that was why he spent his lunch hour sleeping with strippers and any woman who gave him a spark of attention.

He turned the faucet and ran water off the ring hoping that a quick polishing would help it regain its luster. It was to no avail. Trevor dared not to look at himself in the mirror as he couldn’t handle the sight. Seeing a man that would abandon his morals a vow that he made before God and his loved ones was too much for him to stomach.

He splashed his face with the water and wondered where it all went wrong in his marriage. As if he didn’t already know. While Trevor loved his wife, she was not his first love – that position was reserved for his job. He loved being an officer. Protecting and serving the community was what he felt he was born to do. He was and would always be a better officer than a husband. It was his first job and his most cherished position in life. Trevor’s wife had often made the mistake of asking him to choose between her or his career; knowing that she would end up hurt when he ultimately chose the former. She was his emotional safe space and gave him what he needed to stay grounded when things began to get a bit rough. But, his job and the women around town were able to provide him with a physical satisfaction that she could never afford.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you; have you all gotten any leads on Rielle?” a woman called out in a hushed, raspy voice that caused him to confront his reflection. He tried to pull away but the attraction was too much. The once clean, smoothed-skinned, rookie who once looked up at him was no longer there. He was replaced with a man with cold blue eyes with dark shadows of restlessness sagging below them. The cleanshaven face was replaced with a trimmed beard that connected to a short mop of wheat-colored hair that could use some attention from a barber.

“No. There aren’t any leads on Rielle because there isn’t a case open for her,” Trevor answered back. “You all say she’s missing, but for all we know she’s just having another one of her manic episodes.”

“So, you’re just going to write her off until she shows up dead or something?” she called out as Trevor adjusted his belt and holster around his waist and reentered the bedroom. He locked eyes with the young woman who stared at him with big eyes that had a watery glaze over them as she clutched tightly to the blanket that covered her bare chest. Bret was her stage name but Trevor knew her as Elizabeth. She saw herself as a protégé to Rielle. Rielle saw her as the daughter she wished that her own would’ve become. They looked out for one another so it was no surprise that she would be concerned about her whereabouts – especially because of her recent mental failings.

He ignored her question as he turned back on his radio. The usually quiet dispatch was filled with overlapping messages and requests for attention. He went to turn down the volume but stopped as he heard his name mentioned amongst all of the chatter.

“Ocean 1 to dispatch.”
“Ocean 1 this is dispatch your presence is needed at the KUN TV station immediately.”
“What’s it for?”
“The captain has requested you down there.”
“10-4”


Trevor exits the room and makes his way down to the bar. The stairs creaked and groaned as Trevor slowly marched down them, taking good care not to run his hand along the railing or wall. The Monaco Pole Position’s cleanliness was similar to that of a small-town gas station’s bathroom. It was best to avoid your skin making contact with anything that it didn’t need to. But no one came for the cleanliness of the club, they knew what they were getting when they came here. Rielle may not have been all the way there in the head, but she kept young, easily manipulated women employed at the club giving them just enough hope that they’d be able to make it on to bigger things if they just did one more dance for a big-time customer – the customer was never big time. Rielle got off on the adoration that the girls gave her as she promised them the fame and success that she once achieved in the distant past.

Trevor pulled out a pack of cigarettes, Camel Reds, and began to pack the pouch as he approached the bar. It was unusual for this many people to be at the club, let alone at the bar huddled around the TV. It was a small television that was redneck engineered to hang from the ceiling in a way that Trevor couldn’t explain. He pushed past the crowd, eliciting some choice words from the patrons as he did so before he was able to get a good view of the television.

There was a static film over the screen that sputtered occasionally as the picture came into view. Trevor assumed the person sitting at the desk on TV was a woman the way their hands were clasped together and the build of their body and shoulders. However, he wasn’t sure as their face was covered by a mask that resembled a Cheshire cat. Though she sits still behind her there is the sound of commotion and chaos as screams and calls for cooperation can be heard. Trevor finally stops packing his cigarettes and takes one out, placing it between his lips and lighting. He takes a deep drag and exhales letting out a sigh as he does so. It had been a while since he had to respond to a situation like this. The usual adrenaline that would be rushing through his veins was anywhere but inside him. He tossed a couple of dollars on the bar and got the young bartender’s attention.

“Give that to Bret,” he said as he made his way out of the darkened club into the blinding gray light.

The gravel road outside of the TV station is lined with police cars all flashing their lights in a manner that would trigger a seizure for an epileptic. The vans of neighboring news stations adorn the street outside of the police blockades. Their lights act almost in synchronization as the reporters begin their live shots of the scene. This moment was the most exciting thing that had happened in this small Iowa town in some time so it came as no surprise to anyone that it would get as much attention as it did.

The TV station was nothing to remark about. It was your typical gray office building with a large satellite dish pointed north that took up most of the back lot. The lights were dim and everything was inactive save for the occasional shadows that moved inside. The growing crowd outside the police barricade noisily speculated each time they saw movement inside much to the chagrin of the officers positioned there. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and everyone wanted to be there to participate in it – except for Trevor.

He shuffles through the crowd, his cigarette, half-smoked, hanging from his lip as he scans the scene. From the moment that he exited his car, his face was bunched up as if something putrid had taken residency within his nostrils and refused eviction. He reached up to grab the cigarette from his mouth and pluck the ashes, glimpsing at the dull shine from his wedding ring. He wondered what the other officers would think of him taking so long to have come to the scene of something as big as this. It was only his second major call since separating from his partner and he needed to prove himself, he’d already dropped the ball once.

Trevor managed a smile and wave to the two officers manning the barricade as he passed by them, making his way toward the white part tent that acted as the command post for this mission. He stopped as he noticed who was already talking to the captain.

Alejandro Giunti had a good-looking face. The slight scruff that adorned his cheeks and framed his mouth was the look that Trevor had thought he had with his facial hair but was sorely mistaken. His brown eyes were filled with passion that drew you in. His hair was a perfect shade of brown and perfectly messy. The pair of aviator sunglasses that hung from his shirt collar were gold-rimmed and the exact pair that Shawn would wear. They had similar tastes when it came to style and grooming.

They had many similarities. The confidence they exuded was so magnetic that you couldn’t help but cling to their every word when they spoke. They were both from well-off families and Trevor often wondered if they may have been related, but there was no chance. Shawn was proud of his pure German heritage and would spit on the thought of being related to an Italian offshoot. The amount of composure compared to everyone else on the scene was another glaring similarity that Alejandro and Shawn shared.

Trevor hated how quickly Alejandro had risen to the rank of corporal. They didn’t know one another outside of a few passing conversations at the station, but Trevor knew that he didn’t fancy Alejandro. It was no secret that with the captain preparing to retire, the job would be up for grabs and Alejandro made it no secret that he wanted the position. It irked Trevor to hear him speak about his ambitions so freely as if he had worked hard to achieve the respect and rank of captain in a shorter amount of time than he had.

Trevor stamped his cigarette into the ground and made his way to the command tent. The captain smiles and shakes Trevor’s hand.

“Things ain’t looking too good, Trev. I’ve been trying to get dispatch to get you down here for over an hour.”
“Sorry. The wife makes me turn off the radio when we have lunch. You know how women get when they aren’t the center of your attention,”
Trevor says with a laugh that is reciprocated by the captain who nods in agreement.
“Trevor, you know Alejandro, right?”

Trevor gave a half smile and nodded at Alejandro who put his hand out for a handshake but quickly retreated it once he realized it was not going to be accepted by the sergeant. Alejandro couldn’t help but chuckle to himself as he’d experienced veterans of the police force acting coldly toward him due to his fast ascension through the ranks. He expected more from Trevor and thought that he was less like his former partners Shawn and Noah, but perhaps he was wrong. Trevor always seemed like the good guy out of the trio who was just following his friend’s lead, but maybe that wasn’t the case.

“Glad to be working alongside you on this one, Sergeant. We’ve already got some intel on one of the terrorists.”
“Terrorists? Is that what we’re calling them?”
“Absolutely. I don’t think we should downplay the severity of what they are doing. I’ve suggested to the captain that we label and treat them as terrorists first and civilians second.”


Trevor couldn’t help but nod as his stomach cooked from the inside. The skin behind his ears burned as he heard how Alejandro spoke. Since when were they working alongside one another? Why was the captain taking his suggestions on how they should label the assailants – although, he had to admit labeling them as terrorists was the right thing to do. Alejandro hadn’t noticed or didn’t care that Trevor had spaced out as he went over the intel they’d gathered.

“Rielle was last seen entering the news station about two hours before the takeover.”
“I’m sorry, did you say Rielle?”
“Yeah. She’d been missing and me and my team have been looking into it. Imagine our surprise when it ended up being all of this.”
“How can you be sure that she’s not a hostage? How do you know she’s one of the assailants?”
“I wanted to be sure before accusing her of being one of the terrorists so I had my team bring in a few of the girls from Pole Position and they confirmed that the voice shouting demands in the background belonged to he
r.”

Fuck he was good. He was thorough. His thoroughness irritated Trevor beyond measure. He felt his eye twitch as Alejandro laid out more details about how they confirmed it was her. Trevor listened, trying to find one flaw, hell, any flaw in his investigation but couldn’t. Alejandro was young, but he was good.

It all made sense why Rielle would choose to take over the news station. It was the one place in the city that would give her the spotlight and attention she desperately craved. Rielle needed the spotlight and couldn’t accept that she was no longer the apple of anyone’s eye.

She wasn’t above pulling outlandish stunts to get everyone to focus on her. Just the other week she had taken stage time away from one of her girls in the club so that she could perform a routine she had been working on. None of the girls argued with her when she would pull these stunts as they knew that she would get her way one way or the other. They just hated seeing her embarrass herself on the stage struggling to climb to the top of the pole that she once gracefully clung to and slid down with lust and seduction. Now, it would take her several attempts to get up there – falling on her ass and refusing help that she desperately needed. She would teeter and totter as she attempted to walk in the shoes that she once could run in. After many failed attempts at replicating her old routine, she would resort to getting naked and performing a tired old grind that no one wanted to see. Trevor had thrown a couple of dollars on stage for her out of pity, but she grabbed them as if she had earned them.

On the night Rielle disappeared she had again bombed her routine, but this time no one had even provided her with pity tips. Her girls had to help her off the stage as she bawled and begged to stay, demanding that they put the spotlight on her. She pushed them away to bathe in the dull sparkle of the spotlight before leaving the stage and out the backdoor. When Trevor had talked to Bret earlier, he reminded her that Rielle was more than likely going through one of her manic-depressive episodes, but he never thought it would end up like this.

“Based on the blueprints, I’ve come up with a plan for us to neutralize the terrorists without harming the hostages.”

Trevor couldn’t help but snap back into reality as he heard Alejandro speak with directness and in a similar cadence as how Shawn would. The similarities between the two persisted but he couldn’t focus on that he needed to figure out how to put this whole thing to bed.

“I’m suggesting a two-pronged approach – one team for a frontal assault, another for a covert back entrance. The front entrance can only be opened through the inside or with a security fob, which our team has so we shouldn’t have any issue with that. The back entrance will have to be kicked in, but I’ve talked with SWAT leadership and they tell me they’re all good with it. The only thing we need is your signoff, Sergeant.”

Trevor doesn’t immediately respond. He looks over the blueprint again attempting to find a flaw but still to no avail. He almost suggests that they use one of the side entrances but with that many people, they would be easily picked off having to enter one by one. The back and the front entrances were brilliant. Hell, everything he had suggested was brilliant. Trevor lights a fresh cigarette, takes a deep drag, and exhales the smoke upwards – stalling, trying to decide whether to acknowledge Alejandro’s competence or go with another plan; one he didn’t have.

“Seems like you’ve done your homework, Giunti. Are you confident in this plan and intel?”

Alejandro nostrils flare as he takes a deep inhale and places his hands on his hips. He exhales, taking a few steps closer to Trevor locking eyes with him

“I’ve already got the support from the captain, sergeant. Getting yours is a pleasantry. Please forgive me for speaking out of turn but we’re wasting precious time with your hesitation, sir. I know you’re not used to working alongside anyone but Shawn and Noah, but you can trust me. I’ve done my homework. I’ve figured out a tactical plan to end this with no casualties. People’s lives are at stake and I do not have time to massage anyone’s ego. We need to act now!”

The directness of Alejandro catches Trevor off guard. He chuckles at the fact that even still he can see the similarities. He takes one last drag from his cigarette before plucking it from his mouth and crushing it underfoot. Alejandro was right, they did need to act now and he would need to put his ambitions and pride aside, at least for now. He nods acknowledging Alejandro’s orders despite something in his gut telling him they are missing something.

“You’re right. You take the lead on the extraction and I’ll follow point. Let’s get the SWAT team over here to go over the plan.”

With no time to spare Alejandro gathers the SWAT teams and begins to go over the strategy. There is no question as to who is in charge as they listen intently to his every word. Trevor watches on as he thinks about Rielle. How the hell did she get herself mixed up in this mess? What the hell did she think would be the outcome of holding everyone at the news station hostage? Of course, the whole town would be watching her but the moment would only last so long. But everyone will always remember the moment. Maybe that’s what she wanted.

“Sergeant, is there anything that you’d like to add?”
“Where is the surveillance footage?”
“They’ve got it over at the command post. Look, we don’t have time to over that again. Teams, get into place. Await my command.”


Alejandro brushed past Trevor, his gaze fixed ahead and his jaw clenched tight. He could care less to know why Trevor wanted to review the surveillance footage yet again. The respect Alejandro once had for Trevor was now but a memory. He may have been a veteran and led operations like this before, but if his last mission was any indication as to where he was now – Trevor Ocean had lost his touch. Alejandro couldn’t afford to deal with this or anything else at the moment. Saving the hostages was critical to him.

Trevor furrowed his brow as his fingers worked the rewind button on the VCR with the surveillance footage. Alejandro’s whipped his sweaty palms against his pants, his gaze ceased to leave the SWAT teams. He scanned the blueprints once more, then slipped on his headset. His hand trembled as he reached for the unopened water bottle on the table and took two large gulps from it. Alas, his throat and mouth remained dry. Clearing his throat he began.

“Teams, in position,” he rasped, the dryness clawing at his throat. He took another sip, willing the moisture to return. “On my mark be ready to move.” He cast a sideways glance at Trevor, who was enthralled with the surveillance footage. The sound of the tape recoiling back to position as he pressed the rewind button coupled with the sound of the play button being mashed down time after time filled his head.

Rielle appeared on the footage repeatedly, her overly tanned hide was practically luminescent on the grainy footage. Trevor squinted at the screen, running the footage back and forth until realization struck him – someone had buzzed her in!

Alejandro cuffed his hand over his open ear, took a deep breath, and issued the commanding order. The two SWAT teams begin their infiltration of the news station coordinating their entrances. Trevor snatches the headset off of Alejandro’s head and barks a standdown command into the microphone but it is too late. Their heads whip toward the buildings as the first explosion pulsates throughout. It’s quickly followed by a second explosion of blinding bright lights. Trevor grips the microphone tightly and places his hand on the table to steady himself.

“Pull back, Rielle has someone within the news team working with her. I repeat pull back.”

Alejandro grabs a handful of Trevor’s jacket, pulling him almost nose to nose. Trevor could feel the warmth radiating off of Alejandro. He pushed away from the corporal and prepared for whatever would come next. Alejandro clenched his jaw and stared at him his eyes no longer showcasing a sense of calm. No, the calm had subsided and was replaced with an eruption of annoyance and fury that could match Vesuvius.

“What the hell was that, Trevor? We’re supposed to be a team! You don’t just call off the operation without talking to me first. Why are you being difficult about this?”

Trevor’s eyes briefly glanced in Alejandro’s direction but failed to meet his gaze. Without a word, he turned his attention to one of the televisions that began to play the news station’s introduction video. Alejandro wanted to demand a response from Trevor but knew he wouldn’t get one. He too turned his attention toward the television joining Trevor in his focus on the flashing images that danced before them. Trevor stepped forward, leaning in toward the television as the broadcast unfolded.

The Cheshire cat-masked woman from the earlier broadcast continued to sit as still as a mannequin staring forward with one hand strategically placed on the mask. The chrome of a pistol flashed on the screen as her other hand rested atop it. She slowly began to pull the mask over her face, but the Cheshire cat-like grin never left as she gawked at the camera. Her hair is matted and unkempt. Dark circles are pinned under her eyes like a badge of honor for not getting enough sleep.

“This is Katherine Su, speaking from inside KUN TV. What happens when a young investigative reporter attempts to reveal the racism, sexism, and corruption that has marred a local town’s police department for years? She is demoted and ostracized from the very community that she tried to help.

23-year-old Katherine Su, also known as Katy Su, had tirelessly investigated former police officer Shawn Summers after he racially profiled her and treated her like a secondhand citizen during a routine traffic stop. He brandished her with racial slurs and questioned her status as a citizen of these United States simply because she was of Asian descent,” Katherine spat the words like venom, her voice steady but charged.

The mere mention of Shawn’s name and the accusations against him sent a jolt throughout Trevor’s body. His back stiffed as Katherine rehashed the same accusations she’d thrown against the department and Shawn. He dug his fingernails into the palms of his hand as he kept his struggled to keep his eyes on the screen.

Katherine had no problem keeping her gaze on the barrel of the camera lens. When Katherine brought these accusations to light, she was told that she was overreacting and that there was nothing to her claims. Investigations showed that Katherine had not overreacted and was right that Shawn was a racist, sexist, homophobic, stain on society. However, as a ‘beloved’ member of the community, Shawn used his influence to ostracize Katherine from everyone and openly mocked her mental struggles until she had to take some time away, but she’s back now. She’s back and all eyes are on me now, aren’t they, Shawn?”

With each of Katherine’s words, his breathing became shallow and he was confronted with a whirlwind of memories long buried.

“In other news, local small business owner Rielle Monaco was found safely after local police officers refused to look into her disappearance blaming it on her ‘need for attention’. The caramel-skinned goddess was found by local investigative journalist, Katherine Su, and nursed through a manic episode. We turn live to my broadcast partner Rielle Monaco. Rielle?”

“Thank you…Katy,” Rielle stammered as the camera focused on her. She was not as polished with her delivery as Katherine. She constantly raked her hands against her dress, attempting to straighten it out. Her words were almost inaudible as she stuttered and stammered through her monologue. It was painful to watch someone who was once a shining beacon in the town become a broken version of herself.

Katherine Su and Rielle droned on, their accusations of wrongdoing and and being disrespected echoed throughout the air. Alejandro’s eyes narrowed, his lips pursed to the side as a mix of frustration and annoyance flashed across his face. Without a word, he approaches the television and presses the power button watching as the screen goes dark abruptly cutting off the latest tirade from Katherine. Trevor’s blinked, his eyes refocusing as silence fills the tent.

“I think we’ve heard enough from those two, yeah?” Alejandro said, his delivery a combination of calm and firmness. He allows his gaze to meet Trevor’s. “Attention whores. That’s what they are. There is no need to feed into it. We need to focus on getting the hostages out.” Trevor nodded, the resolve within him hardening. “You’re right,” he replied as he rubbed his eyes, attempting to shake off the lingering fog of the broadcast.

Alejandro pat Trevor on the shoulder giving him a reassuring squeeze that conveyed a sense of solidarity and urgency that hadn’t been seen since the two met on the site. “Time to regroup. Let’s go.”

With the SWAT team regrouped, Alejandro and Trevor gathered with them around the table with the blueprints of the station laid out before them. Alejandro took his place at the head of the table, as Trevor stood next to him ready to support his decision. “It’s time to get those hostages out of there,” Alejandro began, his tone decisive. “Katherine Su and Rielle Monaco are looking for the time in the spotlight, but their five minutes are up. Here’s the plan.”

Alejandro and. Trevor laid out their plan with clarity and precision, each step calculated to ensure the hostage's safety. The atmosphere in the room had shifted from apprehension and tension to that of determination. As the plan was finalized, the team nodded in unison ready to carry out the plan.

The sun slowly begins to set in the distance as Alejandro, Trevor and the SWAT team begin to get into position. Trevor grips his hands against the straps of his bulletproof vest. His mouth fills with saliva that comes out as a glob as he spits it on the ground. He takes shallow breaths as his grip turns from the straps to that of his pistol.

Alejandro says a prayer to himself, stuttering over his words as they prepare for the extraction. He finishes and notices Trevor. He reaches out to calm him but retreats when he notices his hand shaking. He stamped his feet in place and took a few deep breaths before signaling to the teams. He directs them to get in position before signaling for them to begin the mission.

The SWAT teams, again, flank the building from the rear and the front as flash bangs and explosions go off yet again. Trevor and Alejandro moved silently through the side doors, flanked in the darkness of the television studio. The hallways of the studio were eerily quiet and remained empty – the absence of additional assailants heightening the already tense moment. Trevor’s heartbeat drummed in his ears as he checked down every corner expecting to be face to face with an enemy. Alejandro and him were in sync as if they’d been partners for years, communicating through silent hand signals and an exchange of looks.

As they reached the studio floor, Alejandro raised a clenched fist to signal to Trevor to stop. He points to Rielle who is pacing and muttering to herself off to the side while Katherine continues her manifesto against Shawn Summers. He points at Rielle and signals for Trevor to stay put as he sticks to the shadows allowing him to conceal his movements. Using the shrieking screams of lost composure from Katherine, Alejandro shrouds his footsteps as he closes in on Rielle. In one swift motion, Alejandro lunges, wrapping his arm around her neck, his other hand covering her mouth as he squeezes. Rielle’s eyes bulge from her head as she flounders within Alejandro’s grip. He grips tighter and feels her body begin to stiffen as he pulls her to the ground. She tried once more to struggle free from his grip but to no avail. Alejandro gently lays her limp body down and secures Rielle with handcuffs as Trevor turns his attention to Katherine.

“I’m cutting this segment short, Katherine,” Trevor says as he emerges from the shadows with his gun trained on Katherine who jumps, startled as she fumbles to point her pistol at him. Trevor notices her hands shaking and can see her chest expand and decompress as he aims at her. He puts his gun down and slowly approaches.

“It’s funny Katherine, I’ve been thinking about similarities a lot today. I’ve seen a lot of similarities between people today, but one similarity didn’t become clear to me until now. You and I have a similarity. Do you know what that is? Don’t answer that, I know you don’t. Your mind is so one-tracked that you wouldn’t know the obvious unless someone told you. The similarity that you and I share is – Shawn Summers,” he said with a smirk watching Katherine simmer with anger in her chair as she was forced to turn her attention to him. Trevor didn’t fancy himself a very good talker and usually left interrogations to Shawn or Noah. However, at this moment, he felt more comfortable than ever.

“Shawn Summers is the reason why we’re both here, Katherine. But, that’s where our similarities end. It’s over. I’d rather not disclose our differences, drop your weapon, and come with us.”

“Come with you? DROP MY WEAPON?!? You’re just like him. Thinking that you can tell me what to do because I’m a woman. Thinking that you can control me? I’m still in charge. If you take one more step my squad will open fire and start killing hostages.”

“No, they won’t Katherine. They’re not going to do that. You know that and I know that. But how do I know that? How am I so sure that that’s not going to happen? It’s because I know who you are Katherine. You’re a liar. There is no death squad. It’s just you,” Trevor says as he casts a squinty smile toward Katherine slowly approaching further as she stumbles backward with the gun still brandished and pointed toward him.

“You’ve always been a liar Katherine. It’s why you never made it at any of the other news markets that you were previously in. Luckily for them, they figured that out quicker than KUN TV did. Yep. They figured out that you’re a liar and shit starter that would do anything to be the center of attention. I wonder if they knew that you would stoop to THIS level for attention. Taking over a news station and securing hostages? That’s…crazy, Katy.”

“Don’t call me that,” she barked at Trevor. He smirked and raised his hands as if to say sorry.

“I’m sorry, Katherine. It was wrong of me to speak to you with such familiarity because we’re not familiar with one another. You don’t know me. You only know that Shawn Summers was –“ Trevor pauses as he stops to think about his words. He hadn’t thought about it, but was he still friends with Shawn? Despite the bad that Shawn had done could he still consider him a friend. He shook his head to bring himself back to reality before continuing.

“Forgive me, I had a momentary lapse in clarity. Where was I? Oh yeah. You only know that Shawn Summers is one of my old partners. You think that I need him and his name to remain relevant, but in, actuality it’s you who needs him. You’ve built your entire time in this town around him. Your greatest defeat in life came from him and his words and I can tell you for a fact that he doesn’t even think about you. You were a moment in time for him and he is your justification for existing here. That’s sad. It’s actually pathetic.”

Katherine raises her her gun again to Trevor and a large bang sends her body jerking backward before falling forward and crumpling at the desk. Trevor turns and notices Alejandro with the gun pointed, his stance firm, and his hands trembling. Trevor looks at Katherine and turns to Alejandro helping him lower his weapon as the SWAT team enters the room.

As the members of SWAT approach and congratulate Alejandro on the great shot and subduing both suspects, Trevor smirks to himself. Regardless of who he teams with, he'll still be seen as the backup. That's sometimes how life goes. He lights another cigarette and takes a long drag, exhaling before walking out as the scene fades to black.
 
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WelshyBOI

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AD_4nXegdoNF5SFbOMAYQN37VP5TifbChw8k19YhW2pO67kJS39H6fFLuZ0BFm3Bl0rnZPbKsUYHFIoc6kk9tyjDZxKR7l_HYz9QQgWDd2nYpVbFrthdEvqCEWHH8pUlfTXd1HWQxiRc5euD6YZzPh7AMDmmadEs


The Coven were up to their usual tricks, plotting away in some random castle they decided to squat in. Figuring out what flimflam they can do in order to get an edge on their opponents. In this case the former Trios champions were facing off against Johnny Johnson, El Vengador, and Aaron Harrows.

As the newly appointed leader of The Coven, Blair Ravenwood had many tricks up her sleeves. She had suggested poisoning, but Trixie shot that down. Then she suggested burning them alive, but Celestia thought given their own heritage that would be too insensitive. Finally, the trio came to a decision…

Going after the three of them would be too easy. It would give those three sniveling twerps an excuse for the loss. A way out. No, the girls needed to do something that would make them stronger, not the three of them weaker. Those three were already weak enough. What’s The Ground Zero Season winner done since his victory? Choked in the TV title match to Kleio De Santos? Choked at Back in Business? What’s Johnny Johnson ever done? Fail to live up to his jobber father’s legacy? And…who the heck is Aaron Harrows? Does he even work here?

“We’ll make a nice little elixir” Blair suggested.

“Make it something that’ll help me drive my fist through Aaron’s stupid face.” Trixie muttered in disdain for her former Two Wrongs Make a Right partner.

“I’m sure I could concoct something, sister. Something that could make us…stronger, smarter…” Celestia went on.
It was settled. The trio would be taking some sort of potions, and they’d come out better than ever.

So Celestia got to cooking, and soon she had three little vials, each with a mysterious green liquid. She handed one to her sister Blair, one to Trixie, and kept the last for herself.

Blair started to go on. “Sisters, when we drink these….we will be unstoppable. First, we’ll take down those three idiots, then we’ll get our titles back, and then…we’ll control the FWA once more.”

All three witches clanked together the three vials and then drank up they did. They all looked at each other.

“Hmm…I feel…the same… did it work?” Trixie said, confused. Usually, Celestia was pretty good at brewing up devilish potions.

Blair gave her sister a death glare. “What did you do Celestia? Why isn’t it working?”

Celestia defended her potion. “Give it some time to kick in.”

And so, the girls waited. But after about 15 minutes or so, the girls still weren’t noticing any effects. “I don’t understand…we should be more agile, our vision should be enhanced…we should have extra lives! Why isn’t it working?” Celestia whined.

Blair wasn’t having it.

The leader of The Coven stood up and go in both Celestia and Trixie’s face.

“This faction isn’t being lead by Kleio anymore. I will not tolerate incompetence. Under me, there will be a higher standard. There will not be mistakes, there will not be failures. I don’t care if you’re my sister, or the idiot we picked up somewhere along the way last year. You will do as I-”

“Who’re you calling an idiot?” Trixie interrupted, meeting Blair’s intense stare with her own. “You’re right, this faction ain’t being lead by Kleio no more… it’s being lead by me.”

Locked in a tense staredown for several seconds, eventually, Blair bursted out in laughter as Trixie looked annoyed, meanwhile Celestia looked on nervously.

“YOU!?” Blair’s laughter grew ever louder. “You can’t be serious… You. Leader of The Coven. Really? Dim-witted little Trixie, afraid of her own shadow? Leader of the most powerful faction in FWA history!?”

“I ain’t afraid of you, Blair….” Trixie said, taking a step further forward, coming nose-to-nose with Blair, who didn’t back down in the slightest.

“Oh, is that so?” Blair said, mockingly. “You’re a brave little girl now? Well… go on then, brave little girl… take a shot.”

As Trixie and Blair looked on the verge of coming to blows, small little whiskers started to emerge out of Blair’s face, as Celestia’s eyes widened in horror as the realisation sets in of what she’s done.

“Uh, guys…” Celestia said, trying to get their attention.

“Don’t worry, Celestia. Trixie ain’t got the guts to take a shot at me. She’s just a little scaredy cat, aren’t you Trixie?” Blair said with a shit-eating grin on her face as Trixie scowled and cocked her fist, ready to drive it through Blair’s face. In her rage, Trixie hadn’t noticed that Blair had spouted wiskers.

Celestia tried to interject once more. “No…sister…it’s…”

“I said stay out of it, sister. This is between me and the dumbass we’ve had to carry like a ton of bricks for the past year.” Blair said, her smile gone as her and Trixie refused to back up. “Go on, Trix… shoot.”

As Trixie raised her fist furiously, looking to drive it through Blair’s smug face, Celestia jumped between them and shoved a mirror in front of Blair. When Blair saw her reflection, all she saw was a little furry black cat staring back at her. The two of them looked over at Trixie, who had just undergone the same transformation. Unfortunately, Trixie hadn’t noticed this as she started laughing at Blair’s predicament.

“Bahahaha! Who’s the little scaredy cat now, eh Blair!?” Trixie said, hysterical. As Trixie laughed, Celestia turned the mirror to Trixie, who’s laughter quickly dissipated as she saw a bright blonde feline face staring back at her through the mirror.

And, moments later, Celestia too had also transformed.

Now, all three of them were fully transformed into cats.

“Celestia! What the hell did you do!” shouted Blair.

“I…I don’t know! I mixed the potion correctly! Just as the potion book said.” Celestia tried to say.

“Well, obviously you didn’t…because we’re freaking cats.” Blair said. Trixie tried to find some reasoning. “Uh, I guess we are more agile? And we’re quicker, and have…more lives…eight of them in fact.”.

“I can fix this!” Celestia hissed. “I just need to find my potions book, and figure out where I went wrong.” but when Celestia jumped up on the table, the book was misplaced.

“I swear I left it here!” Celestia said.

Blair was growing angrier. “We need to find it. Where did you go sister?” Blair asked.

Celestia answered “I um, was collecting the ingredients. I grabbed some toad legs from outside by the swamp. Some uh, newt eyes from the cellar room downstairs, and well…some cat hair from…Ethel upstairs.” Celestia said.

“Wait, you used Ethel’s hair? Oh god, we’re doomed. I turned her into a cat for a reason, Celestia. Ok, ok…don’t panic. We just need to find that book. We need to split up. Celestia, you go check by the swamp outside for the book. Trixie, you check by the newt eyes, and I’ll go see if I can find that furball Ethel. We’ll meet back here, and somebody better have that book.”

It was a plan.

The three kitties would split up to look for the book.

Surely one of them will find it?



CelestiaTrixieBlair
Celestia jumped out the window of the castle to the outside swamp. She was sort of getting used to having this new feline flexibility.

She had a lot to think about as she maneuvered her way down there. Things were getting tense between Blair and Trixie.

Celestia already knew from when Kleio tried to get Trixie out of The Coven, and Blair stopped it…Blair was using her.

But now that Kleio was gone? How long did Blair intend to keep Trixie around?

Those weren’t exactly answers that Blair gave Celestia. In fact, Blair wasn’t too open to Celestia at all about her plans.

Of course now they are in this situation because of Celestia, so she had even more ground to catch up on in regards to restoring things with her sister.

Celestia made it to the swamp but saw no signs of the book. She sighed.

When suddenly, a toad bellowed at her. Suddenly, Celestia snapped. She lunged at the green little thing, and ripped it apart with her claws.

If you asked her she’d have said she was pretending it was El Vengador, Johnny Johnson, or Aaron Harrows. But the truth is, she was pretending it was someone else.

You’ll never get her to admit who.

A little embarrassed at losing her cool, she tucked her tail between her legs and headed back to the castle.
As Trixie walked four-legged through the halls of the abandoned castle, heading towards the area that Celestia had been using as her Alchemy Lab since they arrived, Trixie’s mind was stuck on her confrontation with Blair.

“Call me an idiot. Who do you think you’re talking to, huh?” Trixie muttered to herself, saying all the things she wished she had said during the argument. “How could she think that she’s the leader? I’m The Queen! Like, LITERALLY! I should be in-charge! I’m the one with the title! I’m the one who can actually win a fucking match-”

As though her own words brought the memory bubbling to the surface, Trixie’s mind shot to her defeat at the hands of Aaron Harrows at Fallout 040, and her cute, whiskered-face grimaced. How could Trixie be considered the leader of The Coven, or a Queen, or a Champion, if she couldn’t even beat up Aaron Harrows!? No wonder Blair was challenging her rule after seeing that.

As her loss to Harrows ate away at her, Trixie entered the area where Celestia’s Alchemy Laboratory was situated and had a half-hearted rummage around, trying to find the potions book, while her mind lingered on her many troubles.

Trixie needed to prove to Blair, to Celestia… to everyone, that she IS fit to rule over The Coven, and all of the FWA as its Queen, and she would do exactly that when she beat Aaron Harrows to within an inch of his life at this coming Fallout.

Having not really put any effort into actually finding the book, Trixie decided that the book wasn’t there and headed back to the meet up point, muttering to herself along the way.
Blair knew right after Celestia mentioned Ethel…that’s where the book was.

She just needed to get the other two out of the way.

Ethel had the book, and she needed to be confronted about it. Blair did her a favor by turning her into a cat. She could’ve turned her into anything. An ant, a worm, a speck of dust. But instead she gave her a permanent life as a kitty. It was generous, especially because Blair’s necromancy was why Ethel is alive today.

The black cat walked straight upstairs, to the window Ethel napped. Sure enough, she was sitting right on top of the book.

Blair woke Ethel up with a hiss.

“Oh, you…what do you want deary?” Ethel said with a bit of attitude.

“Cut the crap you old bat. Give us the potion book.” Blair snapped back at her.

“And why should I? I think it’s fitting that you three are stuck as cats. I think that’s called karmic justice.”

Blair was in no mood. “You should do it, because if you don’t…your little Trixie will die as a cat. Tonight. I know you care about her. But she is worthless to me. If I am stuck like this, I am not going to do it with her by my side. I will claw her eyeballs out with my new paws. And you can’t do a thing about it. You might be a cat, but you’re still a fragile old thing.

After that, I’ll find your beloved Kleio too, and I’ll remind her just how unlucky it is to see a black cat.

Ethel had no response. She simply stared Blair down. The question remains…will she give her the book?


All three kitties headed back to the parlor where they started. But only one of them had the book…Blair.

“Don’t worry sisters, as usual, your fearless leader has saved the day.”

Trixie scowled, but held her kitty tongue as Blair held the power to turn her back into a human.

Celestia jumped over to the book, and opened it up. Within an hour, she was able to concoct another potion that would restore the girls to normal. She found it difficult with no thumbs, but she managed nonetheless.

To their luck, it worked.

With all three witches back to normal, they decided that they wouldn’t attempt to make another one to go with their original plan.

“Honestly, I don’t think we’ll even need it. That trios team? They have about the same amount of chemistry as a wet rag. Us though, under my leadership *Trixie bit her tongue once more.* we are a strong team. This group was a laughing stock when Kleio was in charge. But under me? We will be feared. We will be stoppable, and we don’t need a fancy potion to accomplish that.

I have big plans for this group…big plans”.

Both Celestia and Trixie shot each other a look of concern.

Blair didn’t even notice. With Kleio gone, there was no one to stop her. Trixie could try, but Blair’s power will soon be too much to contain.


“Let us be honest: most of us rather like our cats to have a streak of wickedness. I should not feel quite easy in the company of any cat that walked around the house with a saintly expression.” - Beverley Nichols
 

The Gipper

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INT. A PRIVATE HOTEL ROOM - MORNING

We see a lovely hotel room with cream walls and a bed with red covers but that is not what is important as Patty and Aaron are both staring at their phones. It takes a long second for either of them to interact with what they’re seeing, they’re just in awe and confusion until finally.

Patty:
“HOW?”

Aaron Harrows:
“WOOO! Obviously I finally got through to Russy!”

Patty:
“Russy?”

Aaron Harrows:
“Me and Russnow are besties now.”

Patty:
“You have never met him.”

Aaron Harrows:
“Not physically but mentally. We connected mentally through my message and the protest. He wants to give me another oppo rtunity.”

Patty:
“Another opportunity?”

Aaron Harrows:
“Yup. Technically our first one! No more sneaking! We’re here!”

Patty:
“Aaron…they’re throwing you out there without a contract. You’re still not signed.”

Aaron Harrows:
“Yes.”

Patty:
“And you’re going against a group who KNOWS who you are now and wants to kill you.”

Aaron Harrows:
“I feel like I should be used to that.”

Patty:
“You should be. Because one of your team partners said basically the same thing on live television.”

Aaron Harrows:
“Say what now?”

Patty:
“Johnny Johnson. He said it at KODM. Something about filling a cowboys shoes?”

Aaron Harrows:
“Is he talking about my role “Pony watching man” from Killers of the Flower Moon? Lily should have won that Oscar but I don’t think he should blame me for that.”

Patty:
“And Bobby Joel.”

Aaron Harrows:
“Piano Man.”
Patty:
“That’s Billy Joel.”

Harrows:
“Can we retake that? That’s probably a overdone joke.”

Patty:
“What do you mean? We aren’t even filming.”

Harrows:
“Just repeat it.”

Patty:
“Aaron, please tell me you can still tell the difference between real life and filming.”

Aaron Harrows:
“Yes. Real life is a lot more bothersome. REPEAT.

Patty sighs.

Patty:
“...And Bobby Joel.”

Harrows:
“Piano Man, nope couldn’t think of a better joke ANYWAY WE HAVE ADVENTURES FOR US TO GO FORTH!

Patty:
“I wouldn’t call going to a meeting to address the fact that you held a protes-”

Harrows:
“Not that adventure! Me and Joel have agreed to do a little shoot to advertise the match and for bonding reasons.”

Patty:
“Okay no, this? This is what I’m trying to tell you. You've got to listen to me. First off, why was I not informed? You literally give me a million different jobs every day and yet you won’t tell me this? Secondly, Aaron, look at this situation you’re in. Look at who surrounds you in this situation including Bobby. They either want the same thing as you or they want to kill you. We’ve already seen Trixie injure you and that was BEFORE you got on her bad side.”

Harrows:
“Whatever doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger. Isn’t that the Kelly Clarkson quote?”

Patty:
“What if it does kill you though?”

Aaron Harrows:
“Patty, where is this sudden doubt coming from?”

Patty:
“It comes from you jumping into danger not knowing the repercussions. I think you were thrown into this for a reason, Aaron. And it’s not the positive one you’re thinking. They want you to stop and I think this is how they do it without any responsibility on their end.”

Aaron Harrows:
“Well we’ll see how it goes, huh? I mean I know I’ve said it a bunch but every time we’ve gotten closer and now look at it! I’m the new Queen of The Deathmatch! I beat Trixie, I get the throne and now all I need is what should be mine. NOW COME FORTH MY FRIEND LIKE MY IDOL CHARLES MUNTZ ONCE SAID “ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE!”

Aaron leaves. A beat occurs.

Patty:
“WAIT ISN’T THAT THE VILLAIN FROM UP? CHARLES MUNTZ IS EXACTLY THE GUY I’M TRYING TO WARN YOU ABOUT, AARON.”

Patty sighs. He grabs a glass of whiskey and downs it in one.

Patty:
“Guess I have to make some calls. Millie’s gonna be so pissed.”

EXT. DESERT - Still Morning

The desert hosts what seems to be the set up for a movie scene as we see crew members frantically carrying props around as we focus in on weirdly not Aaron Harrows and Patty but instead Vengador and his manager Bobby Joel.

Vengador:
This is a waste of time.

Bobby Joel:
Calm down that raging fire of yours, Vengador. This is all under control and apart of the plan. Aaron Harrows is a valuable asset to our cause, what did I tell you about allies? The right ones will take you far. Speaking of…

A bright yellow Aston Martin V12 Speedster suddenly appears in the distance weirdly blasting the theme song of Space Jam

Space Jam Theme Song

Patty in the drivers seat, Aaron Harrows standing in the back seat fully belting out the lyrics.

Aaron Harrows:
“TO THE JAM, ALL IN YOUR FACE, WASSUP JUST FEEL THE BASS, DROP IT, ROCK IT, DOWN THE ROOM, SHAKE IT, QUAKE IT, SPACE KABOOM!”

This continues in the background as Bobby turns to his client.

Bobby Joel:
“Just be quiet and let me work my magic. Aaron! Good to see you again with some very…appropiate music.”

Aaron jumps out of the car.

Harrows:
“I thought so! I’ll be real with you, I already did the casting on the way up here, I’m Michael Jordan. Obviously. My friend here being Porky Pig.

Patty:
I thought we agreed that I was the Bill Murray role?

Harrows:
Yeah but I played Bill Murray in the sequel so it didn’t feel right so you’re now Porky Pig, Bobby you’re the Bugs Bunny since you desperately need my help since I’m the one with a victory over Trixie.

The Dubb:
With our help, obviously.

Harrows:
Sure. This obviously makes Vengador our Lola Bunny…

Despite his eyes being just barely visible, there is a sense of confusion coming from the Ground Zero winner but Bobby Joel just ignores the comparisons maintaining his grin. Harrows looks around, clearly searching the set for someone in particular.

Harrows:
And where is our Daffy Duck? Did he get into another piano fight with Donald?

The Dubb:
I assume you’re talking about Johnny Johnson? He had…prior commitments. But make no mistake, I’ve helped correct it. Just someone having a double role.

Harrows:
Like Hamilton. Nice. Well are we ready then? Lola, you ready to begin a whole new career?

Vengador refuses to speak and just walks off-screen.

Harrows:
“Awh, buddy already has stage fright. PATTY! Lets do this









































SANDSTORM SERENITY



Written By:
Bobby Joel (who may or may not have used AI)


Directed By:
Patty Reynolds & Bobby Joel

Revisions By:
Aaron Harrows & Vengador

















Revised First Draft
10th June 2024

Top Star Productions

















1.


FADE IN:

EXT. DESERT - MIDDAY

We open to a very recognisable yellow sun polluting the sandy terrain below with its spite as it shines brightly onto the golden sand. The winds hit the ground in waves before finding three new targets to throw itself at. We see Aaron & The Dubb both in very interesting desert attire in order to avoid the wind meanwhile Vengadors still in Vengador attire because apparently that’s enough. They brush past the raging wind to finally make it to a small black box of building where Harrows, Vengador, Bobby find themself a refuge to find themselves in, quickly charging in, before immediately noticing two guards and two doors.

GUARD #1
“One of these doors lead to the person you want to meet.”

GUARD #2:
“One of these doors lead to your death.”

GUARD #1
“You may ask us questions but be warned as one of us only tells lies.”

GUARD #2
“And one of us only tells the tru-”

The guard does not have time to even finish his statement before he is punched in the face by Vengador.

HARROWS:
“OH!”

THE DUBB:
“JESUS!”

Despite the reactions of the people alongside him, Vengador then walks to the cowering actor that is currently in the role of Guard #1, grabbing the guard by the back of his attire and pushing him towards the duo. Despite the aggressive actions on display, there’s a weird sense of routine to this like Vengador has went through millions of times in his journeys. Vengador waits for the duo to speak as guard #1 can barely speak in anything other than gasps and whimpers.

HARROWS:
“Erm…”

Vengador shakes his prey like a human would shake a ball in front of their dog. Staring daggers at the two who are still taken a bit back as this was not a part of the script at all. Vengador shakes the poor guy one more time as he seems to want an answer which comes from The Dubb who proposes a small smile.


THE DUBB:
“...Sir, is the man you just saw get punched knocked out?”

Vengador turns the first guard to his fallen compatriot before turning him back as the guard nods.

THE DUBB:
“Excellent work, my friend. You’re the one that tells us the truth. Now tell us…which door is it?”

The not unconscious guard points to the left door.

THE DUBB:
Thank you for your service.

Vengador drops the guard and impatiently walks through the left followed by his manager. Harrows takes a second to recognise what just happened as what was supposed to be a 7 minute scene just got reduced to a minute and a half if lucky. Harrows looks off screen to someone who we only know through the reflection of Harrows’ Goggles to be Patty with a wide eyed expression shaking his head once again reminding Harrows that this may have been a bad idea but nevertheless Harrows also follows.

INT. THE LEGENDS HANGOUT

We follow the proclaimed “Queen Of The Deathmatch” into an atmosphere very different from we’re used to. We see a person surrounded by multiple bar patrons, telling his stories like he always does. It’s clearly supposed to be Johnny Johnson but he looks nothing like him.

HARROWS:
“Johnson.”

JOHNSON:

“Top Star. Vengador.”

Vengador grunts, clearly just wanting this over here.

HARROWS:
“We need your help.”

JOHNSON:
“With what?”

HARROWS:
“The Coven”

JOHNSON:
“The Coven?”

HARROWS:
“Yup.”
JOHNSON:
“Didn’t you take one down yourselves? Why do you need me for?”

HARROWS:
“That’s one. We’re looking at three.”

JOHNSON:
“And?”

HARROWS:
“Do the match, dickhead.”

JOHNSON:
“Surely there’s more to it than that, that’s almost too easy for someone of my calibre. ”

Harrows’ eyes raise. Great, the kid Bobby has brought in to replace Johnny is also an improviser.

HARROWS:
“There isn’t.”

JOHNSON:
“Come on, this isn’t our first rodeo. Remember when you stole that stuff from erm…what’s his name?”

Harrows tilts his head as the guy suddenly flounders on his own improv skill, so much that Harrows now has to help him.

HARROWS:
“...Dominic?”

The first name that comes to Harrows’ head. And it’s the wrong one as suddenly Vengador, no longer able to suppress his emotions, grabs Aaron’s throat and slams him into a wall! The actor playing Johnny Johnson screams and runs for it.

VENGADOR:
“No! How dare you bring his name into this facade. Do you have zero honor?!”

HARROWS: (Barely able to speak)
“You…you can talk?!”

VENGADOR:
“When I’m dealing with morons who wouldn’t last 5 seconds in the worlds they make up for themselves and others, yes. I draw the line, I don’t want anything to do with this facade.”

At this point, both Patty and Bobby Joel have run in to attempt Vengador to let go.

THE DUBB:
LET HIM GO FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, THIS IS NOT HOW WE DO BUSINESS.

Patty suddenly runs behind Vengador, grabbing the chair The Legend once sat on and swinging it at Vengdor exploding upon on impact but nothing. Not even a reaction other than a smirk as Vengadors gaze slowly lingers from Aaron to Patty and then back to Harrows who’s still struggling.

VENGADOR:
“Honor your friend. He reminds me of someone I once knew. A true fighter. Unlike you, in the match stay out of my way.”

Vengador lets go of Harrows and Harrows collapses against the wall gasping for breath. Patty immediately comes to his boss’ side as Vengador walks away.

THE DUBB:
“I’m terribly sorry, Aaron. Our things still on right? We’ll contact you. If you excuse me..”

Aaron is still catching his breath but he barely has enough air.

HARROWS:
“VENGADOR!”

Vengador stops. Patty pleads for Aaron to chill.

HARROWS:
“You better…you better bring that anger you’re feeling…against The Coven. Because I know… despite everything, I’m gonna fight like hell. Because I’m the damn Top Star and I will not let you crush my dreams. Not again.”

VENGADOR:
“Like I said…don’t get in my way.”

Vengador walks away leaving Harrows still laying against the pillar as he tries to regain his breath only to suddenly see someone familiar.

HARROWS:
“….There you are.”

The camera pans to the ACTUAL Johnny Johnson eating a packet of ready salted crisps.

PATTY:
“Where the fuck have you been?”

Johnny still eating crisps, flips both of them off and walks off.

HARROWS:
“…..I hate this team.”
 

Rawr

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Alyster Black
&
Violet Dreyer
are
A Tag Team That Was Thrown Together
in
An RP That Was Posted on This Cycle

“Fuck, this flight.”


Alyster Black was furious, more so than he had been in months, but not for the obvious reasons. He wasn’t upset about the big Donny Toner identity reveal, he wasn’t upset at Krash’s refusal to partake in the main event of Back in Business. He was furious because his impromptu trip back home to Australia was mired by economy class.

“Every fucking first class seat was taken.” He mumbled to himself, hissing under his breath as he sat between two men resembling Nate Savage and Bryan Baxter, men whose arms were encroaching in his personal space; an indignity he would suffer no further.

“Oi, dickheads, move your fucking elbows. Don’t you know the protocol? Aisle seat gets an arm rest and some leg room, window seat gets a window and wall to rest against, MIDDLE SEAT GETS BOTH ARMRESTS!”

The men were unfazed, or simply not paying attention. Their eyes were glued to the tiny screen in front of them, their hearing preoccupied by the sound of gun fire and incessant unintelligible screaming as they mindlessly consumed the latest gun play shlock to grace the big screen, all tastefully edited down so as not to offend even the least sensitive of viewer.

“You bastards.”

Alyster grit his teeth as he twisted uncomfortably between the two boulders that were slowly suffocating and draining the life from him.

“You unbelievably selfish bastards.”

He wondered what he had done in his life to deserve such treatment. Whatever it was that had incurred the wrath of whatever higher being that may or may not exist, it must have been quite bad. If you asked him after the fact he’d deny it, but at that moment all Alyster Black could do was cry.

And sob he did for the remainder of his flight until finally he arrived in Melbourne. Exiting the baggage terminal, he scanned the gormless crowd for that familiar face, eyes flickering over signs after signs, held by tired, gormless drivers, here to pick up whatever friend, colleague, or passenger they had gotten stuck with.

‘WELCOME HOME FROM PRISON, FRANK.’

One of the brick-build beefcakes shambled past him much like a zombie with only slightly less grace, with a grunt that sounded less like a word of greeting and more of a body protesting being forced to hold up such a sack of shit. Alyster’s gaze moved to another sign.

‘SORRY ABOUT THE FAILED REHAB, KYLE.’

The other beef-build brick shithouse shrugged his way past, openly scratching at his wrist, mumbling something beneath his breath. Feeling suddenly relieved the two fat fucking bozos didn’t hear his protests and adominishments during the plane ride, Alyster moved his eyeline to yet another sign.

‘CONGRATULATIONS ON YOUR PENIS EXTENSION SURGERY, AL.’

“Ha. Wonder what sucker that’s for.”

Alyster’s gaze drifted to the figure holding the sign, and he swore as the painfully recognizable bright green mohawk bobbed, swaying.

“Oh, you shitbag.”

And so, he begrudgingly trailed towards the person with the sign, where he was greeted not by the Carnal Contendership winner as he imagined he would be, but by his friend, and yours (frankly, she’s everyone’s friend) (take notes, Jeremy) (you fuckin’ weirdo), Violet Dreyer. With the kind of smug grin normally seen on those with a hobby of seal clubbing, Violet waved Alyster over, branding the sign a bit too wildly for Alyster’s tastes.

“Sup, dork. Enjoy the flight?”

“Fuck no. You seen the two bozos I got stuck with?”

“What, the obesity twins? They seem fun.”

“Sure, if you don’t like breathing. Loads of fun.”

“Emphasis on loads.”

“Yeah, I-”

“Because they’re fat.”

“Yeah, I got that, thanks.”

The two made their way through the airport, Violet thankfully depositing the sign in a nearby bin (“waste-basket” for those of you who are vernacularly impaired (Americans)). A handful of people seemed to recognize Alyster, but seemed to obey the sacred airline rule of ‘Not Bothering People At The Airport You Fucking Nitwit’. Alyster rewarded them by flipping the bird at them. They seemed happy about it. Better not question it.

“So, where’s Moustache Fuck? Thought he was picking me up.”

Violet shot Alyster a glance, that smug smirk fading into a tight-lipped grimace, and Alyster suddenly felt a wave of awkwardness run over him.

“Whaddya know. Plans change.”

Alyster hesitated, before clearing his throat.

”Is it because of the, uh. The thing…? With me and Chris, and… The Jeremy mention?”

Violet shot him a glare, and Alyster swiftly fell silent. The two moved through the crowd without another word, Violet not offering to help Alyster with his luggage, unsurprisingly. In fairness she wouldn’t have offered either way, and she would’ve likely thrown more luggage at Alyster to carry if she had it on hand. Instead, she quietly led him out of the airport, to her shitty off-white ‘97 Commodore. Brushing away a parking ticket, Violet yanked open the boot (‘trunk’ for those of you who are vernacularly impaired) in the sole helpful motion she had made in at least three weeks, before leaving Alyster to pack his shit in himself.

”You know it wasn’t on purpose, right? It just slipped out.”

“I know.”

”Chris didn’t-”

“Motherfucker, I know, alright? Shut the fuck up and get in, we got places to be.”

”... Your car sucks.”

“Oh, fuck, I’m sorry Mr. California Mansion, Sir High Fuckwads Of Cash Every Week Because I Got That Fat Fucking Money Contract, fuck me for not swimming in cash or having steady employment. You know the economy is in shambles, right?”

”Yeah, no, that’s fair, that was shortsighted of me, my bad.”

“Why do you think I keep bugging you or whiskers for a nepotism contract?”

“I thought you were being facetious.”

“I was being fucking poor.”

“No one likes a nepo baby, Vi. Have you not seen the reaction Jean-Luc gets?”
The two drove in silence, mostly due to the stereo in Violet’s shitty off-white ‘97 Commodore being broken. Alyster aimlessly stared at the roof of the car, eyes closed, not asleep but doing a damn good impression of it. It wasn’t until half an hour later that a thought occurred to him.

“Wait. If you’re driving me around, am I not crashing at Krash’s? No pun intended.”

“Nah. You can sleep on my couch and fuckin’ thank me for it.”

“Do I get to finally see the day-to-day life of FWA’s most popular unsigned wrestler, Violet Dreyer?”

“Rub it the fuck in, why don’t you. Maybe later, we got a pitstop to make. Someone wants to see you.”

Alyster opened his eyes, as Violet’s shitty off-white ‘97 Commodore came to a halt. He let out a groan as his eyes laid rest on a metal warehouse, one he hadn’t seen for a long time, on purpose. Three letters were affixed to the sign nailed to the front of the warehouse, with space for a fourth letter that had long since fallen off.

VCA.

Or, with the missing letter, VCAA. Victorian Combat Arts Association. Aka, Alyster’s training ground that he had long, long since moved on from. Owned and operated by one Murphy Dreyer, who, as luck would have it, had some family ties to Alyster’s companion, Violet.

“You brought me back here?”

“Yup.”

“Fuck you, you’re a monster, why the fuck would you do that?”

“Like I said. Someone wants to see you.”

Without waiting for another word, Violet kicked her door open, getting out and waiting pointedly. Alyster groaned, moaned, and whined, lethargically putting it off as long as possible until he bowed his head, leaving the car and following Violet towards the warehouse. They stepped through the doors, witnessing a small crowd of wrestling students being ‘trained’ rather poorly all things considered. One of the rookies fell right on his head with no-one saying a word, while an old, wheelchair-bound man only shook his head.

Alyster jerked his head towards the old man.

"Cunt?"
Violet rolled her eyes with a huff, quietly shaking her head.

“Cunt."
Alyster paused, before gesturing once more.

"Cunt…?"
Violet squinted, then let out a sigh, relenting.

“... Cunt."
The two nodded, before turning to Murphy Dreyer as one.

"Oi cunt."

The aforementioned wheel-chair bound man turned, a gross smirk on his features as he rolled on over. The cunt (‘treasured associate’ for those of you who are vernacularly impaired) (among other things) (it’s a very flexible term) crushed some poor rookie’s toes underneath his wheelchair as he creaked on over, beaming.

“Alyster, my prized student!”

“I’m… Also here, dad.”

Murphy Dreyer waved a hand flippantly. Alyster glanced around, shifting uncomfortably, noting the large banner with his own visage hanging from the rafters, where he was pretty sure someone else’s banner was hanging there last time he came around.

“I thought Krash was your prized student.”

“Who?”

Alyster cast a side glance towards Violet, who only rolled her eyes.

“Oh. You mean- Ha! That fuckin’ guy? The idiot who ditched a shot at gold because of, what was the reason? Trauma? Ha! Get real.”

Alyster narrowed his eyes, taking a step forward, fist clenching. Violet quickly placed a hand on his arm, quietly shaking her head. Alyster exhaled, letting his fist relax, before facing Murphy Dreyer once more.

“What do you want, Murph?”

“Please. Call me coach.”

“I’d rather saw my dick in half, lengthwise.”

Undeterred, Murphy wheeled his chair around Alyster, circling him in a way that might’ve been intimidating if it wasn’t coming from a shrunken old man in a creaky wheelchair.

“Well, a little birdie told me that you and my daughter-”

“Urgh.”

“-have something of an exhibition match this upcoming Falldown. Or is it Meltout? Whatever. And I just thought, well, the FTN group is so… Varied, but maybe you could do with my expertise too.”

“Are y- Are you asking to join the FTN Family? Are you fucking with me? You gotta tell me if you’re fucking with me.”

“No, I’m not fucking with y-”

“I mentioned the dick sawing thing, right? Violet, did I mention the dick sawing thing?””

“Lengthwise.”

“Yeah, see? Would rather do that. Fuck off Murphy. Our mostly useless wheelchair bound cunt quota is filled.”

Violet squinted, turning to Alyster with her mouth open. Alyster promptly shushed her, quietly begging her not to recap what just happened on Fallout.

“Besides, it’s more of a Chris call than anything.”

“Peacock! Oh, he’d make for a terrific student. Another nepo baby in the industry, just like my daughter here. Give him my regards.”

“I will not.”

“Hmph. Suit yourself. I expect you’ll come crawling back sooner or later. My prize student owes me his care-”

“Shut the fuck up. Jesus. And stop telling people you trained me. Your contribution to my training is akin to a small child’s contribution toward dying of measles. I’m going now. We’re going now?”

Violet shrugged, nodding.

“Yeah, we’re going now.”

“Thank god.”

The two turned, starting to exit. Murphy Dreyer made a halfhearted effort to follow in his wheelchair, but got stuck behind a moderately sized pebble, blocking one wheel.

“Oh, and Alyster? My prized student? Tell that fuckup Krash that I’ll be seeing him soon.”

“No.”

Alyster promptly slammed the door of the warehouse behind him, before following Violet to the car.

“Fuck I’m pissed off. I’m legitimately going to kill one or two people on Fallout. I swear to fucking christ, I cannot fucking deal right now. I am so goddamn angry, I will be tearing genitalia from crotches. That’s how mad I am.”

“Sounds like my kind of party.”

Alyster is seething in the car, watching as the VCA sign behind slowly disappears from view.

“But, now that we’ve got that commitment out of the way. Now what?”

“Now? Now it’s my time to shine! The Violet-portion of the adventure! Everyone loves me, I’m what they’re here for, you get to experience MY day-to-day life now!”

We then cut to black because this promo shitpost is over.​
 
Last edited:

The Golden One

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Sierra walks down the hallway of the cheap motel in Montreal, Ontario, Canada where The Menage are staying. She has uncovered something, but she’s not at all sure exactly what. Her phone is in her hand – unlocked – with an image on the screen.

When she turns the corner, she can hear the voice of XYZ through the walls. He’s sitting in the two-bed room with his mom, Lizzy, Frank, Christian Howard, and Wild Jerry. It’s a tight fit for the seven of them to sleep together in a two-bed motel room, but they make it work thanks to three of them sleeping on the floor every night. They would sleep in the Magic School Bus, but it’s still being repaired.

"When the moons align with the stars, you must chase the rabbit with the purple tail,” XYZ says on the phone, which Sierra hears through the motel room door.

She pushes it open to see XYZ talking gleefully into the phone while his mom gives him a back scratch.

“And the purple tail ... is your blossoming career in the eyes of the world of wrestling demons. My XYZites will be with you in peace as we fight together for the light."

X hangs up the phone before the person on the other end of the line can respond in full.

“Who was that?” Sierra asks.

“That? Oh, that is my tag team partner for Fallout! Gino Galucci. Fine kid. FINE kid. He’d make a good addition to the XYZites, if we have an opening.”

“I think we might be getting a little too crowded,”
Sierra says.

“Hmm? Well. I don’t know.”

Sierra has been one of the biggest advocates of X trying to find his mom. She sent out ads, feelers, internet fliers. Anything to send a signal to her. Then, when X’s mom showed up in Paris and joined the group, Sierra felt she finally gave X something. She might have accomplished something for him.

She feels maybe it is time for her and Lizzy to part ways with The Menage. Maybe it is time for them to forge their own path, possibly away from the FWA. There is too much pain from the memory of him, and everyone knows it. Sierra feels lonely. Lizzy is fine, but Sierra cannot fathom leaving her daughter behind.

So she began conceptualizing possibly leaving the group. She hasn’t told Lizzy yet. Only problem is, she had this pit in her stomach. A gut feeling. She felt a pull to stick around and check on this woman. XYZ’s mom. Is there something Sierra could find out about her?

“X, I need to show you something. Can we chat in private?”

Frank, Christian Howard, and Lizzy are sitting on one of the beds watching “Bourne Identity” on a cable channel. They’re gripped to the TV. PacMan Bert is, as you’d expect, playing his handheld PacMan game. X and his mom are the only two giving Sierra any attention at all.

“Can I join you two?” X’s mom asks. “I need some fresh air.”

“I uh … I’d rather show X myself. It’s important for theeeee ... theeee ... match.”

“Well, I’m part of the group now, right? I think I can help! Maybe offer some insight.”

“How about I tell X and then he can tell you if he thinks he needs advice? Sometimes we all start giving advice and it never really goes well. Remember, X, when everyone started talking at the same time in that galaxy that one time when we were trying to save those rabbit-faced people?”

“Ah, yes. Planet Bulbasaur. I remember that. One of Wild Jerry’s not-so-finest moments.”

“Speaking of Wild Jerry,”
Sierra says under her breath.

“Huh?” X asks.

“No, nothing. Let’s go outside. I have something you should know about …”

Sierra forgets momentarily who X and Gino Galucci are facing.

“Brooklyn Xavier and Sawyer Steiner.”

“No, no, it’s Brooklyn Sawyer and Xavier Steiner,”
X replies.

Frank suddenly looks up from the television.

“I don’t think that’s it, either. I think it’s Steiner Sawyer and Xavier Brooklyn.”

“Are you sure X isn’t facing El Vengador again?”
Lizzy asks.

“No, I’m sure of it! And it’s Brooklyn Galucci and Gino Steiner.”

“Then who is your partner?”

“Which partner?”
X asks.

“The one you were just on the phone with!” Sierra says, losing her patience.

“Hey! Don’t shout at my son!” X’s mom barks, rising up from the bed.

“You know, I think I should come to your little palwal chat. I don’t like how you’re speaking to my boy.”

“I’m sorry. X, I’m sorry. Please, let’s go chat.”

“Okay, but first, let’s land on who we’re facing.”

“You’re facing Gino Galucci and Brooklyn Steiner. Sawyer Xavier is your partner. It doesn’t matter right now. Come on.”

“Well, I think it may matter a little who he’s wrestling,”
X’s mom says.

“Are we sure X isn’t in the North American Championship Open Challenge?” Lizzy asks, stoking the confusion.

“He has never been North American Champion!” Frank barks.

“Ooooooooooh, that’s right,” she says with a smirk.

“Lizzy, stop now,” Sierra remarks. “X, please. Let’s go in the hall.”

“XYZ is teaming with Gino Galucci and he’s facing Sawyer Xavier and Brooklyn Steiner,”
Christian Howard says sternly. "We should all know this. ... Ugh, what did I get myself into when I left that marketing job?"

No one replies back for a while. Frank nods his head and returns to the movie. So, too, does Lizzy. X’s mom shrugs her shoulders and offers a “sounds right to me.”

As X walks out of the room and into the hallway, he can sense Sierra’s consternation in her energy.

“Sierra, you are one of my trusted friends. What is going on here?”

“X … I have to show you something I found. This is a picture that was posted on your mom’s Instagram a few weeks ago.”


She hands him the phone.

“Okay?”

“Look at the date.”

“May 14.”

“Now look at the location.”

“Mexico City?"

“Don’t you think that’s a little odd?”

“That my mom was in Mexico City? Not at all. She told me she has been traveling quite a bit.”

“But we were recently in Mexico City.”

“Okay? Maybe she has been following us for some time now.”

“I just find it a bit coincidental. It … I don’t know. Something feels weird about that to me.”

“Sierra … I would not feel any weird in your stomach pits. I at first was hesitant to trust her. But everything she has said … it sounds like my mom. It feels like my mom. She even looks like the person I remember.”

“Maybe you just want to remember her this way, X.”

“Why are you so concerned, Sierra?”

“I don’t want you to be hurt. I’m not saying she is lying. I’m just saying maybe … she has bad intentions. She was gone for nearly THIRTY years, X. Why is she back now?”

“I wondered the same thing, but I have stopped wondering and am just enjoying it. I am getting back the childhood I lost, Sierra. A piece of me is healing. I need you – more than anyone else – to be happy for me. You know more than anyone how difficult this has been for me, not having her. Not having my own mother in my life.”

“I get it, X. I do. I don’t have … you know who … my own husband … Lizzy’s father. It’s painful. I can empathize with you. But … I don’t know …”

“I cannot help but wonder if your own pain is making you subconsciously want me to also suffer in pain with you. I can’t help but wonder if you are subconsciously sabotaging this for me, Sierra. I hope not, but it is in my head.”

“X, I …”

“Please drop it. Just … Mexico City … is Mexico City. It can be a coincidence, or it can be another clue that yes, she was trying to find us for a while. And maybe she just missed us by a few weeks.”

“A month. More than a month.”


“And maybe it’s a coincidence. Sierra, if you do not drop this, then I am not sure I want you to join us for Falldown. I want a united front. I cannot have inner turmoil. There's too much of that with The Coven and Wild Jerry. Can you please just ... put this to a mental resting place? Nothing is afoot in the outer galaxies of the XYZites and bulbasaurians.”

X leaves Sierra in the hallway holding out her phone – which is now locked – and returns to the motel room. Before entering through the door, he gives a dramatic, melancholy look back at Sierra before looking down and walking into the room.

The door then closes behind him, and as Sierra walks by, she peers into the window and sees X sit next to his mom on the bed, his backscratch continuing.​