Chicago Geek Guy

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Tag: Champions Online

Reaching for the Sky and Grabbing Only Air

Another story from my archives, posted as a sample of my work for potential RP partners.

Gotham Academy for the Gifted. Shortened to GAFTG in all of its publications. Abbreviated to GAG by all its students, as in, with a spoon. There’s not a day when I don’t wander these halls on my way to and from class wondering, “Someone didn’t think this one through, did they?”

It’s not a bad place as far as exclusive, private, preparatory schools go. The uniforms don’t itch too much. The building is large enough I can usually get through the day without running into my snot nosed and occasionally annoying nephews. They don’t use metal detectors so I can sneak in my costume and collapsible staff, just in case I need to skip class to go fight crime.

Yeah. I’m one of those, a super-hero. I prefer the title, “Perky Teen Adventurer,” but everyone teases me that it sounds too much like a kinky personal ad on Craigslist. I’m Mercedes Agnes Thomas-Arasaka, Kid Harrier, daughter to Silent Strike and the Harrier King. All my friends call me Des, except for my nephew (yes, one of the two I try to avoid at school). Nick calls me “Mercy,” the twerp. Maybe it’s a crush. Whatever it is, I hope he grows out of it soon. I live with my ”vader” (Father in Dutch. I speak four and a half languages. My Mandarin, sorry, ”Putonghua”, is in development) in one of the worst neighborhoods in Gotham’s East Side. We’re reclaiming the streets, block by block around two of the apartment buildings we own there. My mother? That’s a whole other conversation.

The conversation I was trying to focus on at the moment included my best friend, Veena Batchu. She leaned on the locker next to mine, dark skin and an athlete’s body dressed in our cheerleading uniform. There’s a beauty mark on her cheek that sinks into a dimple when she smiles. I think she’s really pretty. I hear her father is some famous surgeon in the city. Since that incident with the alcohol burner in the chem lab, I can’t see her with a scalpel. There wasn’t too much damage and that whole painted eyebrow look worked well for her as they grew back in, but give her a wicked sharp knife and say, “cut me, cut me?” Like, no way.

“Brad will be there.”

I can admit it. I wasn’t paying my best friend much attention. I’d been receiving the same Friday pitch for six weeks. “So and so is having a party. Wanna come with me? The other cheerleaders are starting to say things about you.” blah, blah, blah, blah. 

“Huh?” I stopped poking through my locker and looked over to repeat, “Huh?” Yep. That’s me. Clearly erudite and master of my vocabulary.

Veena smiled broadly, setting the hook. A perfect eyebrow (completely healed, seriously) lifted. “I said Brad will be there. Weren’t you listening to me?”

“I hang on your every word, Vee. Lisa’s parents are out of town. Big party at her house. Come at seven.”

“Wow,” she replied, eyes widening. “You’re like an idiot savant, absorbing everything you hear, except for that it’s Andrea’s parents, it’s a small gathering, and it starts at nine. Hmmm, maybe I’m half right.” I thought about sticking my tongue out at her, but if the other cheerleaders were talking… Oh godver. Like I care what the rest of the team thought. Maybe I could punch her in the arm. Nah, that would look too boyish.

I swallowed. “Are you sure?”

Her head tilted to one side as she rolled her back against the locker. “Of course, I’m sure, Des. I have a talent for these things.” She wasn’t kidding. Veena has this like, innate sense of the social scene. If someone will be somewhere, she would know. It’s like she’s telepathic, or something. Seeing what I’ve seen in Gotham, it’s a distinct possibility.

Brad. I turned back to face my locker, trying to hide the warmth that rose to my cheeks. Brad’s a senior in my honors American Lit class. Lacrosse team captain. Sandy hair with just a bit of a curl. Really dark, brown eyes. Reads Thoreau. No really. He actually reads all of his assignments and participates in class. Call me a geek, but I find that a major turn on. My knee started trembling.

“Well,” I stammered. Surely Va can do without me for one Friday night. “Will you come pick me up?”

“Really?” Vee squealed in excitement. “I mean, really! You will have the best time! I totally promise! I never believe anything Tricia says about you…”

I should have objected, defended myself. But at that moment I was thinking about talking to a dark pair of eyes and what I was going to say.

——

“Hi.”

I was sure he could see my knee shaking. It threatened to vibrate my entire body, leaving me standing on the stairs with chattering teeth like some hypothermia victim. I choked out a, “Hey.”

Brilliant. Witty. Fantastic first start. Please kill me now.

We were standing next to each other in the line for the bathroom. Like, like, I know everyone goes, but I was hoping it would be a while before Brad and I had to actually face that each of us had bodily functions to tend to. I looked into my half full cup of water, wondering if I could swear off drinking. Not just alcohol. Everything. I’ll get just enough via IV fluids and never have to go pee ever again. I heard the biologist part of my brain start explaining how that’s just not possible.

“Great party, huh?”

I’d only seen two people vomit so far. I’m pretty sure I saw a partially digested pea in Angelena Cortez’s hair. The modern meaning of “small gathering” equated to “as many as we can cram into the place.” When Vee and I arrived, we spent the first 15 minutes checking out the trends of Gotham’s hip teen scene; cute, short skirts with tall boots; lace and drooping necklaces well suited to one of my dad’s old 80’s movies. At 20 minutes, Vee and I agreed the beautiful people had started to turn ugly and a trip to find some ice cream sounded like a great idea, right after a quick detour to the bathroom.

Brad’s eyes looked darker up close. I took the liberty of looking into them as we stood in the queue. He didn’t smell like vomit or alcohol. So close to him, he smelled nice. My bangs lifted from my forehead with a puff of air from my mouth, something people say I do when I’m nervous. “Hmm, no,” I tried to muster a grin, but my lips felt lopsided. “This really isn’t my scene.”

Those eyes, those beautiful eyes, widened and a smile spread across his face. “Oh man, I was worried I was the only one.” It took me a second to recognize the noise coming from me as a laugh. “I got talked into coming here by a friend,” he continued. “You’re Mercedes, right? We’re in AmLit together, aren’t we?”

I nodded, feeling the smile even out on my face. “Des,” I blurted out. “My friends call me, Des.” He extended his hand. “Des, I’m Brad Winterborne. It’s a pleasure to…”

It’s human nature to run from screams; from those all too natural sounds that emanate from pain, shock, loss. It’s a behavior that I didn’t inherit. I vaulted down the stairs, cursing in Dutch that I had left my massive Chrome messenger bag in Vee’s car. Tracing the source of the screams took no effort. I ran towards what everyone else was running from.

I saw the body on the kitchen floor first, blood slowly spreading from a collapsed female figure. The screaming filled the room; Sharp, shrill, cries echoing off cold, yellow, Mexican tile. “Demons!” My head snapped left. I didn’t recognize the girl. Wet blood covered her all too short dress. Violent, red cuts lined her exposed legs and arms. She had shed her shoes sometime in the evening and stood barefoot. She held a $500, 8″, Hinkle sushi knife in one hand, pointing the tip at me. What can I say? My family knows cutlery.

“Demons!” She screamed again. I spared one look behind me. Demons are an occupational hazard in the hero biz. Movement brought my attention back to her, but not before I felt that exquisitely crafted blade cut through my silk, violet top and bit into my skin.

“Hey, no!” I yelled. “I’m no demon!” It didn’t take much to restrain her. It took a lot to keep her restrained. Her body flipped and skidded beneath me, slippery with blood and filled with unnatural strength. My side burned from the wound. I didn’t think she hit anything vital, but I found the pain distracting. When Vee and Brad poked their heads into the kitchen doorway, it took all my concentration to call out, “Call 911!”

——

Nothing clears out a party like a stabbing and a police presence. Well, maybe gunfire. To their credit, the GCPD arrived in record time. I took comfort in watching six peace officers try to get a pair of cuffs on Christine after they asked me to back off. Eventually, she just passed out.

Christine. Her name was Christine Dawley. We had Calculus together. I didn’t recognize her until the EMT’s had got her on a gurney and wiped the blood from her face. The other girl was named Jennifer Acosta. She had been critically injured, not expected to make it. I didn’t know her.

The police interview took about 45 minutes. They did offer me some medical attention before starting the questions. By then, my wound had completely healed. (Regeneration, improved dexterity and strength. All gifts from mom. Thanks mom!) Once they figured out I hadn’t been drinking, they didn’t even call my dad. (I inherited a bunch of stuff from Va, too! Thanks Va!)

The cops asked me a lot of questions about drugs. What I saw at the party. It didn’t take a detective to figure out drugs figured in here, somewhere. I was guessing Angel Dust. I have red hair, but confusing my cute, energetic self for a demon takes a serious hallucinogen.

Veena stuck around the whole time. She got drilled too, but not quite as long. Brad, sadly, had faded at some point. Difficult to say if my skill at wrestling a crazed, knife wielding teenager made a good first impression. Some boys don’t like it when girls can break them in half.

We didn’t say anything until we got to her car. The door barely shut before I called on Veena’s power of social awareness. “Do you know where she got the drugs?”

“Adam Farintino.” A junior. Slouches a lot. I had seen him at the party earlier, hanging out with Christian Rickey and Max Waguespack. I felt pretty sure I could track him down before the cops could.

“I know where he is.” I looked at Veena across the small space between the seats of her red Volkswagen Beetle. Telepathy looked more and more like a possibility.

“Could we talk about that later?” OooooooK. Yeah. Conversation needed. My eyes flitted to my messenger bag in the back seat. “Yes, Des,” Veena told me. “I know.” Make that, long conversation needed. I bit my lip and tried not to think.

“Yes. I’ll drive. You’re flexible. You can change on the way.” The whole not thinking thing apparently doesn’t work too well for me. As she put the car in gear, I crawled into the back seat and started pulling my costume out of the bag.

——

I’m not terribly intimidating. I stand about 168 cm (oh sorry, 5’6″) and I’m not really bulky. Still, you think that the costume, the mask, and the staff; and the fact that I had just trashed the two of his friends who had attacked me would have shifted Adam’s attitude a little.

“I didn’t do nothing!” he challenged. “She asked me! I didn’t even charge her for it!” He fished a small packet from the pocket of his jeans and threw it at me. I plucked it from the air. A pair of long legs and flowers adorned the small envelope; Vanilla Sky bath salts.

“Bath salts?” I asked. I had heard about this craze. Snorted or ingested, certain substances marketed as bath salts, acted like cocaine or PCP.

“Completely legal!” Emboldened, Adam took a step forward. “I didn’t do anything wrong! The cops were already here and didn’t find nuth’n! Now, get out of here, Harrier, before I call them back to arrest you for assault!”

I didn’t let my jaw drop. I like to think I kept a stern expression on my face while I worked through options. Technically, his buddies could charge me with battery. Self-defense wouldn’t work. The two of them really weren’t a threat and I could have gotten away too easily. These weren’t street punks. These were three kids from GAG, children of some of Gotham’s wealthiest; the city’s most likely to sue.

I stepped forward. Adam retreated a bit as I brought the tip of my staff to rest on his breastbone. “You didn’t do anything illegal, Adam. There are two of your classmates in the hospital. One of them might die. You did something wrong. Stop.”

I turned and left, trying not to trip over the tail between my legs.

——

“Well, this just sucks.” Veena plopped down on the curb next to me. I had slipped back into my jeans and cut up top as we hunted for supplies. My friend rummaged through the 7-11 bag for a moment before handing over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Karamel Sutra. I could get used to hanging out with a mindreader.

I started rolling the container in my hands before replying. “Total, major suckage. That great wooshing sound? That is the sound of suck.” Veena pulled open her ice cream and started in with a spoon. Some people just don’t care about the proper temperature at which to consume the holy dessert. “Does it usually end like this?” she asked.

I shook my head, squeezing the ice cream, checking if it had reached the right consistency. “It usually ends in arrests and a few bruises, maybe a pat on the back from a local cop or saved citizen, and then a bunch of questions from a DA”

“Do you ever have to testify?”

I peeled off the lid of the cup and dipped my spoon into the cold, creamy goodness. “Sometimes,” I answered, mouth full. “Most DA’s don’t want to get a mask with a secret ID in the courtroom. Too easy to attack credibility.”

“What are you going to do now?”

The ice cream rolled across my tongue as I thought about an answer. “Talk to my dad about it.” I knew that wouldn’t sound too geeky to Veena. Who tries to hide anything from a telepath, anyway?” I scooped up another spoonful as I pondered about things a bit more. “I’ll definitely keep an eye on Adam. I’ve heard that he deals in harder stuff. If he does, I want to bust him.”

My train of thought took me to a station I didn’t want to visit. “If Jennifer dies, Christine will likely face a manslaughter charge. Maybe then the DA can hit Adam with something like ‘willful negligence.'” I shook my head, dropping it between my knees. “Chris is looking at assault with a deadly weapon, at least. When you boil it down, she’s really the problem.”

“What do you mean?”

“If we believe Adam, she asked him for the salts. Nobody forced her. I don’t think seeing demons is what she expected, but…” I shrugged. “If everyone stopped using drugs, we’d stop having drug related crime.”

“Making them legal would stop drug related crime, too.”

“Maybe,” I said, shoveling out some more. “Vanilla Sky is legal and that didn’t stop a stabbing, tonight.”

Veena nodded, her spoon poking around in a cup of Chunky Monkey. “That’s true.”

“”Va” knows a few drug counselors, really good people. I might point one of them in Christine’s direction. I will pay for it.” I rolled my eyes. “Not like she needs the money.”

“Whether something like this happens to Chris again, will really depend on her.” We sat there in silence a few moments, finishing off our ice cream. A good thing about superpowers? They burn a ton of calories.

Veena turned her head towards me, her dark eyes settling on mine. “Do you like it? The hero thing?”

“Usually,” I answered, puffing the bangs from my forehead. “My family and I, my mother, my father, my sister, my…” I couldn’t get it out without a short snort, “nephews, and I have helped a lot of people, made a lot of people’s lives better.” I stopped, thinking about two classmates in the hospital and a drug ‘dealer’ I couldn’t touch. “Do I like it, tonight? Not so much.”

Reprisal

In January of 2014, I was invited to join a rather elite super-group, The Protectors of the World. I came into the group, mid story. Unlike my most previous experience, the leader of PotW, Pallas, went out of her way to include Chance, The Harrier, in the ongoing tale, and made excellent use of his abilities as a detective. After pushing a suspect a little too far, Pallas asked me to come up with come up with a response that would test Chance’s resolve and commitment. This is what I came up with.

This doesn’t tell the whole story. Some parts occurred during real time role-play. I’m hoping there’s enough to convey the gist.

Hurt, fear, and anger welled in his stomach, pushed up his throat, and out past his teeth. Chance felt the rough gravel through his palms and knees where he heaved by the roadside. Winter’s bitter wind ripped through his silk shirt and jacket. He thought he was through when his body spit out another glob of bile on the Michigan highway.

He hadn’t even made it back to Millennium City. The car had been on its way from a small, private, airport when the call came in. Senator Channing hadn’t wasted any time in bombing a vulnerable spot in Chance’s life, Kori’s. Chance had stopped listening to his phone after Paz told him about the death. The face of Incul Adomo hovered before his closed eyes. Incul had a quick wit and a quicker smile. A smile now darkened.

Chance ordered his driver to pull over. He barely made it out of the car before he threw up.

“¡Jefe!” his phone yelled at him. “¡Jefe!” Chance picked himself off all fours, then struggled to seat himself, back against the tire of a black Mercedes. His mouth tasted bitter. “I’m here, Paz,” he told the phone. “How many others hurt?”

“Thirteen at last count,” Paz replied. “Things are still very chaotic here. MCPD is on site and some engineers. They want to check for other explosives and make sure the building is safe.”

He had traveled to Texas to get information and provoke a response. One dead and almost a score more injured twisted and curled Chance’s stomach again. He swallowed down another dollop of vomit. He had brought this on his people.

“Give them everything they need, Paz. Call Eddie. As a superhero, I want SCIU involved.”

“Claro.”

“Has anyone talked to Incul’s parents?”

“No lo sé” Paz answered. “Chance, we need you here.”

Chance stood, accepting help from his driver. “I’m going to find the Adomo’s first. Call everyone in. We’re going to need as much help as we can muster to keep things calm in the neighborhood and find the people who did this.”

He knew who did this. He knew who killed, injured, and threatened the people that put their faith in Harrier. That catalog of ten powerful men had just become a hit list.

——

She found him kneeling amidst hovering words and lists, photos and diagrams. Her husband’s eyes looked red rimmed; his face unshaven. Kori crossed to him silently and wrapped her arms around him from behind. A deep sigh of relief filled his right ear.

Chance closed his eyes and took a deep breath of her. Kori moved, setting in front of him, a hand on his cheek. She kissed him deeply before embracing him.

“I am so sorry,” she whispered to him. “I love you.”

The space of a few heartbeats passed before Chance spoke. “How many more, Kori? How many more will die? I look at this list of names….” She took a deep breath as he paused. “We could have them killed. Couldn’t we? Isn’t that how…” He turned his head away, unable to look at her.

Kori exhaled slowly before leaning in to kiss his cheek. The flesh tasted tear stained salty. “I can’t count how many have lost their lives in my past and in my family’s history. Nor can I count the tears.” His eyes found hers as she continued. “We make choices and hope for a better way.” Chance could see the love in her violet orbs. “But we can’t anticipate all of the tragedies.”

She reached out to touch his chest and rest her palm there. “These are important people, judges, businessmen, scientists. They’ll be well insulated by lawyers, plausible deniability,” he explained.

“Everyone has a weakness.”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier if they were dead?” he asked

“For some, yes. For others,” she cautioned and pressed on his heart, gently, “not so easy.”

“When I first met you, I saw what I wanted to be,” she told her husband. “And I strive for that every day.”

“You don’t murder.” She shook her head. “You’re not a villain. And the ability to stay the course even after enduring the pain of all these deaths is what makes you a hero.”

Chance swallowed as Kori moved her face closer to his. “My hero,” she whispered, “and a hero to your children.” He embraced her, held her tightly against him.

“We’ll take care of the families,” she told him, “and the services for them

“I love you, Kori. I… ” Chance choked on the confession, “I wanted them all, that whole list, just even for a moment, dead. Judges, Senators, all of them. They used their children as lab rats. Put chips in their brains to control them.”

Kori breathed a sigh of some relief. “It’s not who you are.” Chance’s body shuddered for a moment in her arms. “There are other ways to deal with them.”

“I need some help.”

“Anything,” she answered with a nod. “After the bombing I contacted a specialist that I’ve used in the past, along with Kei, and others at the castle.”

“I need a system hacked. A company called Cyberchane. It’s way beyond what I can do.”

“The specialist can handle it,” Kori explained. Kei has been infiltrating the MCPD for about a year now in several departments, and Gen can handle the UNTIL end of things.” Her eyes hardened. “Please don’t ask any questions about this specialist. He’s known as Raven and I used to work with him on past operations.”

“I won’t,” Chance assures her with a shake of his head. “He’ll be contacting you when he’s ready,” Kori said and then kissed him. “He owes me a favor for something I did for him. A huge favor, And he’s on our payroll.”

“I’ve had security increased in all of our major branch offices,” she continued, “the castle, and here in Millennium City as well.”

“Thank you,” Chance said to her. “You are my hero.

“Of course,” Kori replied, her lips turning into a smirk. “I’m your wife.”

——

The initial meeting went quickly, a few words spoken over a hastily devoured breakfast. The results came to Chance in the form of a flash drive and a note to his wife. “We’re even,” it read. The analysis took more time for Harrier to plow through than it took Raven and his team to steal.

Control. It was all about control.

Initially started as a method to provide battlefield telemetry, the DoD scrapped Project Apotheosis as too invasive. From the data Chance had gathered, if looked like Cyberchane decided to press on, anyway.

The tiny chips could allow remote control of a body, like a marionette on strings. The chips went into four children of the group, including Alex Harper and Justin Channing.

Chance reviewed the error logs on the implanted devices

20131227-13:56 Device activation, Alex Harper<br>

20140119-13;04 Device Failure: Justin Channing<br>

20140119-14:56 Device Failure: Robert Mann<br>

20140119-19:03 Device Failure: Marcus Gate<br>

20140125-17:53 Device Failure: Alex Harper

Apparently, failure equaled death. Their perfect brains, Chance supposed. Their perfect brains couldn’t abide by an attempt at foreign control. Only Alex has survived, a roll of the dice.

Sloughing through the financial data brought a slow smiled to his lips. A thin trail of dollars and cents traced from Cyberchane’s 56 employees right back to partial owner, Senator Oliver Channing. Obtained illegally, Chance knew he couldn’t take this to a Federal Assistant DA, but Chance had other ideas.

After making a secure copy of all the information, he dialed the offices of the Millennium City Horizon. “Susan,” he asked. “How would you like to bring down a political dynasty?”

“What do I have?” He chuckled. “Illegal experimentation, casual disregard for human life, all from the great state of Texas.”

Pictures hovered around him, faces staring to the unseen recesses of his living room. Chance turned as he heard Nora’s boots on the hardwood floor. “You’ve broken me,” he told her. “Kori and I chatted yesterday. Futuremax will be installing the holo-emitters in my BSP office, next week.”

The raven-haired young woman grinned. “Athena be praised,” she chuckled. “What are we looking at?” Chance spread his hands, a mage wielding technical magic. “These are pictures taken at the scene of the bombing.” He looked around as if trying to absorb all the details of the hundreds of images. “Everyone in the barrio came out. Those that didn’t help the injured took snapshots, just like they were supposed to” He flicked a few fingers. White circles appeared over a common face in the crowd. “That’s our bomber. Look how he’s moving away in time as everyone else is either moving closer or watching at a distance. He’s getting away.”

Nora opened the folder in her hands. “That is our bomber, Chance. The FBI got a partial print off the detonator.” She turned the folder to show Chance a picture. “You’re looking at Lawrence Shelby. He’s got a healthy list of priors. Bombing is his thing.”

“You got alias’ and last knowns?”

“Indeed, I do.” Chance turned to grab his jacket. A wave of a hand dissolved the floating collection. “Let’s go do this the old fashion way. On our feet.”

——-

Chance plopped down into the uncomfortable chair. People hustled and moved around them, some dragging luggage along behind. The detective fiddled with the newspaper in his lap than turned to look at the man sitting next to him. “Morocco, huh?” Chance said. “Nice choice. You’re got plenty of money stashed and it doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US. Well done.”

“I’m sorry,” the other man told him, confusion adding wrinkles to his face. “Do I know you?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure you do,” Chance said. “I certainly know you, Lawrence.” The detective bit back a smile as he watched the color drain from the other man’s face. Chance reached out to place the newspaper on Lawrence’s lap. The headline read, “Corruption at Cyberchane. Charges Expected.”

“Stupid boss,” Chance mused. “Got caught before the heat died down and suddenly you have to risk using a known alias to get out of town in a hurry.” Chance patted his thighs. “You thought we wouldn’t notice. We noticed.” Lawrence shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“I figure this is going to go down in two ways,” Chance told him. “You’re going to sit there then nod at me, once. I’m going to give the agents with me the high sign and they are going to come over and arrest you. No muss. No fuss.”

“Or,” Chance sighed, “You think you can get the drop on my with that handgun you smuggled past the security checkpoint and I get to shock you before you even make it to your feet. Then, I signal the cops and they come over and arrest your drooling, unconscious body.” A wide smile spread out over his face. “What’s it going to be?”

Lawrence swallowed then nodded, once. Chance raised a hand and waved. A small group of plain clothed agents descended on them. “Thank you, Larry,” Chance quipped. “Please do try to have a nice day…. In prison.”

Morality

In 2012, I participated forum RP that I used to explore the varying moralities of two very different characters, a witch and a superhero. It wasn’t exactly what the original author intended, but she liked the read.

Siobhan’s Story

The quiet girl clung to her kilt. Siobhan turned slowly, her sword at the ready. No other demons appeared. No more tentacles threatened to snake out from the darkness. The witch’s eyes settled on the huddled, whimpering form in the corner. “Don’t kill me,” he whispered. “Please don’t kill me.”

Siobhan knelt and faced the little girl. Her senses reached out. Her magics could heal the broken parts of this body. The fragmented emotions would take more time. Calloused fingers wiped away the dirt and tears from the innocent face. “Yer safe now, lass.”

Her attention turned once more to the man in the corner. A minor practitioner, he had decided to turn his skills to terror and power in ways Siobhan once believed un-imaginable. After her long lifetime, the witch could now easily envision the dark places a young, male imagination longs to visit. She turned back to her young charge, removing the remaining smudge from the little girl’s face. Dim, dark eyes stared into Shiv’s. “Stay ‘ere, lass. Will ‘ave ye hame soon.”

At one time, she would have called the police. She would have accepted mortal justice and hoped this man would seek redemption. That was lifetimes ago.

The witch rose, sheathing her sword, and walked towards the cowering figure. “Please don’t kill me,” he muttered again, his eyes widening as she neared. “I didn’t know…. I didn’t know.” Her knee touched the ground as she knelt by him. “Ye will knoo,” she hissed.

The mixture of dirt and tears on her thumb glowed briefly as Siobhan breathed across it. Harsh, whispered syllables called upon ancient powers. She reached out to press the grime into his forehead. “Ah curse thee. Ye will knoo the terror that girl has known. Ye will know the ripping, the blood, the pain. Ye will knoo these things for as long as she knew them.” The witch gathered her breath and exhaled in his face. “Ye will never knoo magic, again. An fer yer lifetime, ye will ponder and regret what ye ‘ad, what ye did, an what ye lost.”

Gentle as a lover, Siobhan leaned forward to place a tender kiss on his blacked, dirt and tear stained forehead. “Ah curse ye.”

Chance’s Story

“We didn’t have to pick him up here, Mr. Thomas. This is a courtesy to you and your special relationship with the police.” Chance smiled and nodded to slightly shorter narcotics cop. “I understand and appreciate that, Officer Jackson. I know you’re taking a lot of time out of your day to handle this case.”

Chance’s head tilted to look back at the teenaged boy sitting alone at the hardwood dining table of the private dining room in Kori’s wine cellar. “There’s no way we can keep Shon out of the system, Peter?” he asked.

“No, Chance.” The officer shook his head. “The case is too high profile. Between you and me, I think I’m going to give up my season tickets. I don’t think I can watch a team whose players offer up a bunch of kids to avoid jail time.”

“Thanks, Pete.” Chance nodded again. “Let us have a moment while our lawyer gets here. Go ahead upstairs and let us get you some lunch.” The officer started up the narrow stairs before stopping to turn and address Chance. “I think it’s sad, Chance. Teens look up to these guys and all they want is a quick score.” He shook his head and continued up the stairs, leaving Chance and the teenaged boy alone.

“Abaline will be here is a few minutes, Shon,” he said as he walked towards the table. He slid out a chair and sat down next to the boy. Shon kept his head down. His hands fidgeted with the strings of his long apron. The young man arrived for work today expecting to bus the lunch rush, not get himself arrested. Chance didn’t even think about trying to contact Shon’s mother and decided to summon his lawyer right away, instead.

“Jefe? Is my shift being covered?” the young man asked quietly. “I don’t want to anyone to work extra because of…”

Chance waited for the thought to pass before he answered his employee. “It’s OK. Chandra needed some extra hours. She came in.” The boy nodded, his head bobbing slowly. “Jefe?” Shon’s dark brown eyes turned up sluggishly to look into his boss’, “I did it, Jefe. Derek Palmer asked me if I knew where I could get some… incentive. I went out to talk to my brother, came back, and sold Mr. Palmer some cocaine in the men’s toilet.”

The long exhale disguised the sound of Chance’s anger banging against the inside of his forehead. He wanted to yell, to scream at the kid. Tell him in no uncertain terms that if he wanted to fuck up his own life, do it as far away from Kori’s and the people wanted to work towards a better future, as possible. To remind him how crack ruined his mother. Tell this bright future sitting here that some pro-ball player asked him for drugs because of the color of his skin, because he looked like a dumb ass kid. Speak of the risk and temptation Shon’s actions just exposed every one of his co-workers and friends to.

Chance tried to breath out a bit more anger before he finally asked in a calm voice, “Are you going to do it again?” Shon’s head shook back and forth quickly. “No. Jefe. My marks are up. It’s only another year until I graduate high school. I want to go to college.” Tears welled up in those eyes. “I’ll never do it again, Jefe.”

“This is how it’s going to work, Shon.” The restaurateur leaned forward in his chair. “This is nonnegotiable. There is no compromise.”

“You are going to cooperate with our lawyer and the police. If Abaline tells me about a hint of sass, you’re fired. You keep clean and do everything Abaline tells you, you will have a job here. You will have off for every court appearance, every time the MCPD wants to talk to you. This is your first offense. I don’t think it’s likely, but if you have to do any time in juvi,” the boy’s face blanched. “If you have to spend any time in juvi,” Chance continued calmly, “you will still have a job here when you get out, you will not lose your scholarship, and the restaurant will cover the costs of your legal expenses.”

Silence stretched out the moments. “And my expenses can get expensive,” said a voice from the stairs. Chance rose, extending a hand. “Thank you for coming, Abaline.” the young man at the table stood as the professionally dressed woman walked into the room. “Abaline Rose, this is Shon Tuft.” The attorney glared at her young client. “You talk to the cop upstairs?” Chance asked. “Yes,” the woman responded. “I’d like to meet with Shon for a few minutes and then we’re all going down to the station. I think I talked him out of handcuffs.”

“I’ll leave you two alone, then,” Chance said as he began to walk towards the stairs. “Jefe?” said a weak voice behind him. Chance stopped and turned, his foot on the first step leading up. “I’m sorry,” Shon told him. Chance spoke clearly. “I believe you, Shon. And I believe in you.”

The Snake Knows… Creative Notes

In 2013, I started then had to prematurely stop a super-heroic RP. I took to the forum to explain to the participants the plot and why I decided to cut it short. I’ve learned a lot since this time, but I wanted to share some of my thought processes and insight into the type of RP’s I’ve participated in.

With me pulling the plug on “The Snake Knows…” I thought I would post a few notes about how the story got started, what I learned in this effort, and possible endings. A confluence of factors led to me trying to run it as a RP and I appreciated everyone’s help in trying to pull it off.

The initial impetus for the story came from a reading of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein. I had friends that decided to stay in Japan as hostesses after their contracts with the JET Programme ended and I met a few hostesses during outings into Tokyo. Many of them described the “Job” like paid dating with a real potential to receive expensive gifts and money before heading back to home countries. I don’t think anyone understood the dangers that went into the job and/or the business’ ties to the forced sexual exploration of hundreds of women throughout Japan.

Armed with some new information from the book and my own experience, a mystery involving the disappearance of an American hostess seemed like a good fit for Chance. I originally saw the tale as a 5 to 7-part short story and sketched out this outline:

* Investigate the death of an English teacher

* Chance visits a local crime boss

* Discovers she was working as a prostitute

* Discovers she was talking to a reporter

* Questions reporter

* Learns girl talked to him about forced sex workers

* Something leads him to murderer

* Discovered murder with introduced to victims by pimp of forced laborers

* Chance is told the pimp is untouchable to police due to a tip years before.

* Chance confronts pimp.

As I wrote the outline, I realized that I didn’t know what Chance would do when he solved the case or the particulars of how he would solve it. This isn’t unusual for me. I set my characters up with a base framework of a story and I write what they do and how they react using their voice in my head. This case would challenge Chance, calling into question what he would find acceptable in a pursuit of justice. I honestly didn’t know how this would turn this out.

Given that a few of friends had asked Chance about the next time he was going to Japan, I thought I would open the story up to other players. It would provide an excuse for Chance to go back to Japan for something other than meeting his contacts in the intelligence services or Yakuza and give me an opportunity to play with a different group of people. I was also very curious to see if the other players could come up with a solution I did not.

Think I overshot with this story as an introduction to my storytelling style, but I found it a valuable experience. I don’t think I would have used two pronged story as my first RP with this group. Sticking to a single objective would have made it easier to maintain focus and shortened duration. Some in game time would have really helped things along. The setting added unnecessary complexity. The Japanese legal system is considerably different from Western organizations, as are the populace’s relationship with the police.

While it provided some great character moments, this story could at best end in a draw. I. Didn’t hear any plan so far that would lead to shutting down the Nigerians permanently or getting Kumagae convicted with certainty. That might be a standard in the worlds I usually GM for, dark fantasy, but it doesn’t work too well for superheroes.

So, what happened next?

If the group can get the women away from the Nigerians and to the Polaris Project, the women will be safe. This seemed very likely. The nightclub owners have no reach outside of Japan. Unfortunately, it is just a matter of time before the two start again with another collection of foreigners. It’s possible that anonymous tips about drugs in the bar will finally attract the attention of the police and get the Nigerias deported, eventually.

I’m still struggling about Kumagae. Initially, I believed Chance would steal video of the man assaulting a clearly drugged hostess, then handing that footage over to the reporter for Pittard to give to his contacts at the police. This would force a search of Kumagae’s house and reveal hours and hours of video. This is by no means a slam dunk. It took years to convict Joji Obara, the criminal upon which I based Kumagae, and they had similar evidence in that case.

To give the party a “win” I had considered making Kumagae a kappa, a type of Japanese vampire. That would give the group something to fight against and offer a clear victory over an evil creature. I wasn’t sure I was going with this idea and was waiting to see how things went at the noodle shop.

In either case, I found it pretty likely that Kumagae would meet some form of justice for assaulting and killing an unknown number of hostesses.

Stephanie Burdette would eventually turn herself over to police and be charged with the Japanese version of obstruction of justice, get released after she makes a public apology, then quietly booted out of Japan with a request to never return.

Pittard is finished as a reporter in Japan. Loosely based on Jake Adelstein, I imagine him starting to work for a human right organization trying to end exploitation in Japan. It will consume the rest of his life.

One last note, the title “The Snake Knows…” comes from the Japanese proverb, “The snake knows the way of the serpent.” It reflects something that Jake Adelstein was told when assigned the Lucie Blackman case. It takes a foreigner to investigate a crime involving foreigners, basically.

May you never forget… Mnemonic Devices

I offer this up as an example of urban fantasy forum RP between myself and another player from 2011.

The address led to a nondescript brownstone, up the street from a haberdashery, on the city’s northwest side. A simple brass plaque identified the offices of the Black Swan Project. The receptionist greeted her with warmth and professionalism, pushing her ill-fitting glasses up her nose as she assured Ms O’Mallory that M’lady Warwick expected her and then led the slightly nonplussed woman upstairs.

The roof door opened to reveal a steel framed greenhouse, its contents hidden behind the moisture clinging to the glass. The clanging of metal sounded from the wooden shack next to the structure, a steady curl of smoke wafted from a brick smokestack.

Siobhan wore a t-shirt in the heat of the smithy, muscular arms working the metal beneath repeated hammer blows. The item of her attention went back into the forge, clasped in iron pincers. “This bae mae first trade,” the woman said as MacKenzie waited in the open doorway. “Ah cuid make most simple tools before ah ever saw a telly.” The item returned to the anvil from the fire and the pounding began anew. Four iron bars as thick as Mac’s pinky twisted to form a setting for a jewel as large as a man’s hand.

“Ah cannae teach ye ‘ow tae craft an enchantment, naet in one day. Ah can still make yer charm, iff’n yer still willing.”

MacKenzie smiled as she watched the woman working, amazed to see such an old craft still being used in these times. She nodded to the witch, “I understand and yes I would still like you to make it for me. I think we are going to need it.” The druid forced a smile across her lips.

The setting sizzled as Siobhan placed it in a bucket of water. The red headed woman gestured towards a tunic hanging on a peg. “Change. T’will bae easier tae clean up iff’n ye make a mess.” Mackenzie nodded as she slipped the simple shift over her shoulders. “Shiv? is it bigger in her than it looks, or just a play of the lightening?”

“What di ye bring of this man ye want tae find?” the Witch asked, grinning at the comment about space as she weighed the locket in her hand. Mackenzie pulled out of her pocket a small chain with a wolf’s head locket on it. “Umm I am not sure if this is from him, but I think it is him or my father. I… uh.. I am sorry that I am not better prepared for this. I just wish I could remember more.” She handed the chain and locket over to the red headed woman.

“Iff’n yer naet sure, this may spoil the charm.” She set the jewelry on her anvil and walked over to a satchel hanging from another peg to pull out a few items.

“Oh then umm maybe we should not use that, because I am really not sure where I got it. I just know that I have had it since I came to the states.”

“The spell used tae repress yer memories reflects the nature of its maker. We need tae read that mage’s signature, iff’n ye will. We need tae draw his handiwork closer tae the surface.”

The witch slung a length of netting between two pegs then knelt. Within a few moments, she had drawn a circle beneath the makeshift hammock. A thick nob of chalk rested in her hands as she checked the sigils surrounding her work. Satisfied, she stood looking around the room. She found a large, clay bowl and set it in the center of the circle. Her face expressionless, she pressed her hand to Mackenzie’s abdomen. She nodded then held out a flask to Mackenzie, its cork sealed with dark red wax. “This will naet bae pleasant, lass. Drink this.”

“Eh.. umm sure” She takes the flask and drinks it, scrunching up her nose. “Oh… uh..”

Siobhan leapt forward, clearly surprised by the young woman’s level of trust. “What ye shuid bae asking yerselv now, lass,” the witch clucked, “tis what ye now have in common wit Socrates.” Strong arms caught Mackenzie as her legs gave out underneath her.

“Dinnae fret, lass,” Siobhan cooed as she carried Mackenzie to the makeshift hammock. “There shounae bae any pain.” The young druid’s legs refused to answer her commands. Her breath quickened as the tingle from her useless limbs spread into her chest. “Shhh, shh,” Siobhan comforted, watching the spittle build at the corner of the young woman’s mouth as her

Lips struggled to form words. The witch brushed locks from MacKenzie’s face, then crossed her arms across her breasts. “Yer life will flash before yer eyes,” Siobhan whispered, watching the panic blossom across an angelic face. “Yer memories will press again the fetters that bind them. Ah need tae grab ahold of those chains. Ye need tae remember.”

The rough sounds of a Gaelic lullaby echoed from Siobhan as the witch placed a hand against Mackenzie’s chest. She sang with unexpected sweetness at the girl’s heart slowed, then stopped.

”When she saw her, she felt like she was five again. She wanted to run to her and hold her and be held in her arms, but she didn’t… Mackenzie stood there and watched her mother and she knew she could not go. She could not leave Chance, no not her. She knew his fear was of losing her and she was not going to go out, no like this, no matter how much she wanted to run to her mother’s arms, she knew it was not her time. She had plans dammit, so she turned away from her mother and walked the other direction.”

The witch worked quickly, spreading her hands over the young druid’s body, ensuring the bowl and the circle below captured all she needed to fashion the charm. Quiet mantras passed her lips as she felt life flow and ebb around her. She plucked out the foreign streams of magic and sent them to the bowl below. Like dye in a river, the mage who suppressed Mackenzie’s memories had left traces; traces a skilled practitioner could find and track.

When finished, Siobhan took a deep, deep breath, sucking up all the life in the magically contained space. With one forceful exhale, she pushed the life back into Mackenzie’s lungs. A heart began beating again. The woman would rest for a few more moments, letting the witch work in peace.

Siobhan removed the bowl from the ground and broke the chalk circle with a rubbing of her toe. She kneaded the fowl mixture of excrement and magic with her hands, reaching out to add powders and liquids from nearby racks. She set the dun colored patty into the flames, driving the heat with a bellows. She washed her hands in a bucket then brought the water to Mackenzie’s side. The soiled shift slipped easily from the young woman’s shoulders. Siobhan bathed her naked body, drying and wrapping it in furs before stepping back to wait.

Mac sat upright with a gasp and whispered “Chance?” She looked around the room slowly remembering, where she was and why she was here. Her body trembled as she looked to the witch sitting there. It took her a moment before she was able to speak again. “What did you do to me?”

The witch stepped over to her forge, plunging the pincers into the coals and pulling out the burnt paddy. She struck it one time with her hammer, revealing a crystal within. She carried the still warm gem back to Mackenzie. “Making yer charm, lass.” A faint light glowed in the center of the amber. “An it seems that whoever ye bae looking fer still lives.”

She held out the gem to the young druid.

Mackenzie watched her intently, curiously, as she worked at the forge. She took the gem from the woman, her eyes holding a mixture of emotions. “You could have told me what was going to happen. You could have prepared me for it.” Her voice was calm and steady as she spoke. “This will help me locate him?”

Siobhan returned to the anvil, picking up the setting and attaching a chain to a ring at its back. She walked back to Mackenzie to pluck the gem from her hands and press it between the tines. The witch dangle the charm in front of her. It lilted slightly if pulled by an unseen force.

“The pull will git stronger as ye git close. T’will also brighten.” Siobhan explained. “It may naet function iffn’ ‘e warded.”

“Oh? Well then let’s hope he is not warded.” She looks to the older woman “Thank you for your assistance in this matter”

Siobhan nodded her head, slowly. “The service t’was bartered fer. That lad must care about ye a fair bit, ah ken. When ye return,” a sardonic smile passed across her face, “we’ll talk again about teaching ye what ye wannae knoo.”

Mac frowned and then looked up to Shiv. “Is there any way that I can make it to where I owe you and not him?” An eyebrow lifted in curiosity. “Dinnae faesch yerselv, lass. Ye will owe mae in tiem.” Siobhan’s lip curled. “Fer now, ah keep tae the original terms of mae agreement wit yer boy.”

Mac grinned at Shiv “Oh but I do worry myself about him, that is not anything that is going to change anytime soon. Since the favor was for me. Are you sure there is nothing I can do to convince you to let me pay this debt?”

“If he agrees,” Shiv explained patiently, “I will consider it.” The witch inhaled through her nose and sighed. “Young love. So delicious.” Mackenzie smiled “Deal. Now, thank you again for your help with this, I will see you when I get back.” Mackenzie slowly stood to offer the older woman a hug.

Siobhan accepted the offer of the hug, her strong arms squeezing Mackenzie tightly. “May this bring all the knowledge yer ‘oping fer, lass.” ”An none of the pain”, the witch thought to herself.

The Mighty Thundrax Speaks! An Interview with Scott Bennie

415px-Thundsham

The Legendary Thundrax, Canadian Powerhouse

The world knows him as Scott Bennie: born 1960 in Abbotsford BC, son of local teachers James and Alice Bennie, and younger brother of Vancouver radio announcer/producer Jim Bennie. I first met him as Thundrax, The Legendary Canadian Powerhouse. We met in the MMORPG Champions Online.

I discovered Scott’s long history in pen and paper and computer RPG the more we interacted. His thoughtful play style and engaging stories revealed a gamer of rare talent. His contributions to the field are numerous and well regarded. He’s one of two friends of mine who have an entry in the IMDB. A few weeks ago, Scott agreed to an interview. I’m happy to share his thoughts with you.

Tell me about your background. How did you get into game design and writing?

My involvement in game design predates my involvement in Champions. I was first published in early 1981, in Dragon #52, doinga Bounty Hunter NPC class for 1st edition D&D. A person had suggested the class in an earlier issue of Dragon and Kim Mohan had essentially said: “Hey, anyone want to give this a shot?” I said why not, wrote up an article, and miracle of miracles, it was published.

Later that year, a friend came back from Pacificon raving about a new game that had been released there called Champions. He raved about it, and I loved superheroes and comics, so I bought the only other copy in Vancouver and ran it with friends. I later reviewed it in Dragon. Eventually, I got to know some of the publishers, submitted scenarios and some articles for Adventurer’s Club, and eventually worked my way up to full supplements such as Villainy Unbound, Day of the Destroyer, and Classic Enemies.

I got into the computer game business via connections made in the PnP field, namely the late Aaron Allston. Brian Fargo wanted to hire Aaron for Interplay, but Aaron wanted to remain a freelancer, so he recommended me instead. It took me awhile to get on to some of the differences between computer games and PnP games, and I don’t think things really clicked until Star Trek: 25 — I have a tendency to be too detailed in what I’m attempting to simulate — but my career at Interplay had its fair share of successes as well as failures, and I look back at it with some fondness.

When and how did you start role-playing? When do you make the transition to online role-playing?

I started RP-ing in 1977. I heard about this weird new game called Dungeons and Dragons that some friends played at V-Con (Vancouver’s premier SF con) let you be the hero of your own fantasy novel. The concept really hooked me, as I’d entered my Tolkien fanatic stage of my literary development several years earlier. So when the next year’s V-Con occurred, I decided to attend.

My first excursion into the dungeon involved me rolling up a cleric, then promptly dying a half-hour into the adventure from one bite by a giant rat. Ooops! The next year, however, I had a substantially different experience; I rolled up another cleric and set out on an adventure, and the DM rolled a random encounter – Tiamat. My fellow party members fell to their knees and begged for mercy -some heroes, ha! – while I took off my armor and dove into a nearby river. Tiamat, having dined well on craven adventurer, got to attack me. All five of her heads missed, while her tail hit me for one point of damage.

Dice, gotta love them.

The moral of the story was; one giant rat > five headed dragon queen.

So I was hooked. I collected the AD&D books as they came out, gathered a gaming group, then another in college. I was on my way to becoming an RP fan.

Online RP came much later. I loved single player RPGs (Bard’s Tale, Ultima, Alternate Reality and others). I had friends who did MUSHes but never got involved. I did try Ultima Online, but the gankers turned me off early. When, years later, City of Heroes came out, the siren song o superheroes drew me back. I played from launch for close to two years, but a lot of my friends had jumped ship to WoW, and I joined them eventually. When Champions Online was announced in 2008, right after Champions of the North 5e had been published, I had to see what Cryptic was doing with my babies, so I joined in late alpha.

What did you think of Champions Online when you first saw it? What was the transition like from tabletop to online RP like for you? What are key differences?

My first impression of Champions Online was fairly negative. Things were still pretty rough, and I have never been a fan of the tone of many of the initial missions – too jokey and too in-jokey. But after bouncing off the game a couple of times, by late beta, I had begun to have a lot of fun. Champions Online is a strange game -for me its whole exceeds the sum of its parts.

It took some effort to get into the RP community. I didn’t come into CO via Virtue, like so many other players. so I felt like a stranger. I’m very slow to assert myself in the company of strangers. Rune (of the Silver Age Sentinels) was very helpful; I had made contact with him on Atomic Think Tank, bemoaning my outcast plight and he was kind enough to take me into his wing and introduce me to bits of the online community. I was waylaid when my computer died and I missed the first Bloodmoon (an event in Champions Online), but I was back shortly after, and I began making contact with CORP (Champions Online Role Players) members. So I insinuated myself into RP like a fungus, making a lot of friends at once. But I hate cliques, and I like to be as open to as many options as possible. That’s why, RP-wise, my PC Thundrax often appeared to be the Wolverine of the Champions Online universe, guest-starring everywhere. It also gave him a much higher profile than he should have had.

The transition from tabletop to online hasn’t always been smooth. You lose a lot of communication without the face to face element, and it’s even harder to maintain engagement. You always wonder if the person who dropped out did so because they DCed (disconnected), or they just lost interest in the scenario. There’s a definite disconnect in RP approaches, based on how the player came into RP. I like scenario-drive play, modeled on tabletop sessions, but then you get people who didn’t come into MMOs from tabletop, who don’t realize how to conduct themselves in a scenario, who hate structure, and they can get downright nasty to people who stage scenarios, accusing them of an elitism that is often unwarranted. Then you get people who come from tabletop who aren’t used to such a mobile RP environment, one that often plays more like a LARP than a traditional tabletop group, and they ghettoize hub based play. It can lead to fractionalization and hurt feelings.

If we were to look at RPG’s in ages, like comics, where do you think we are now? What do you think the future of RP will look like?

Sadly, I think we’re in the Copper Age. With the exception of single-player RPGs such as Fallout, monetization and the need to marry content with the need to put food on the developers’ tables. The cycle of stimulus-reward is constant, at least in smaller titles, and whatever the developers think will immediately sell gets priority. There are few “long tails”. How will the future look? I think we’re getting toward the end of the development of graphic technology, but whether we’ll be doing 8K+ tech in VR or on a screen remains to be seen. I really hope we get to new ease of customization of RPs powerful and easy to use construction sets, built for collaborators to bring their strengths to a project.

But my priorities aren’t the same as other people’s. People who work on something like the Foundry (a content creation system available in a the MMORPG Start Trek Online) spend a lot of time niggling over environments in a way that doesn’t appeal to me in the least; I want a good story with good fights, if appropriate and I’m happy with very little work on customization. That’s why I want good collaboration tools, so we can have the best of both worlds. My vision for future RPGs is more along the lines of people working on a wiki together. One person making a remake of CoX? Unfeasible. But a hundred? A thousand? Very doable.

When role-playing with others, what do you think are the key elements you want to keep in mind while playing face to face or in person? Are they the same from medium to medium, or do they differ? What makes a good role-player in person? What make a good role-player online?

I think the lack of personal contact in MMOs mean that we have to work much harder to support each other and build chemistry as a group. Looking at recent sessions I ran that were unsatisfying, I realize that I couldn’t just rely on the central premise for the player to react to the situation, I had to work more actively to incorporate them. I think players can also do some heavy lifting here: if a player only interacts with the GM or a single other player in a scenario, it’s far more likely to be a failure than if the player is reaching out to the group, having broader interactions with more people. RP is a collaboration of players and GM, and no one should be left out in the cold. We lift each other.

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