Matt Doyle © 2015
All Rights Reserved
JOHN FORRESTER – 10:58
The outside of the E(E)SFC is pretty nice, you know, as far as large but pretty ordinary sports arenas go. The new statues either side of the main entrance are pretty funky. No idea what they’re supposed to be though. They look like some sort of bizarre four dimensional something or other. Well, not really four dimensional. An artist’s rendition of a three dimensional representation of a four dimensional … I dunno, mess. But a cool mess, that’s the main thing. It doesn’t really matter how bad something is, as long as it’s cool.
I take another quick glance at my watch. Two minutes to go. The doors are already open, at least to competitors like myself, but I have to time this just right or I forfeit the game. Carnival may be at the other side of the building, but she’d know if I cheated. Plus, there’d be no fun in that. No-no, no head starts for me. I shall just have to be content with dancing back and forth in front of the strange statues and waving to the fans as they pass outside the gate. Being a non-discriminatory sort of guy, I also wave to the people who clearly have no idea who I am. I really don’t know which ones make me smile more, the ones that look confused or the ones that shoot me looks of pity.
Time check. And I’ve been foiled by the evils of ‘the mysterious gust of wind that blows your hair into your eyes’. I always loved the look of long hair. It has that vintage rock star feel, ya know? I can’t think of a single video where the wind machines swoosh it across the guys face and obscure his vision at an inconvenient time though. Nope, I don’t think there has ever been even one hit song about not being able to tell the time because the wind has a vendetta against shoulder length hair.
That’s OK though. What was that old saying? The hand is mightier than the naturally occurring inconvenience? And so with a quick turn and a flick of my wrist I vanquish my foe, just in time to see that I’m now … fifteen seconds behind. Whoops.
Ah well, can’t be helped.
I grab my bag from beside the four dimensional mess on the right and bound through the main doors and up to the reception desk, where I face obstacle number one, ‘staff who follow the rules’.
“John Forrester! Welcome back champ,” says ‘man in suit with rebellious red tie worn surely for no other reason than to stand out from his black tied compadres’. And so begins the search and chat formalities that comprise the opening stage of the game. While I’m trying to find a way to speed through the process, Carnival will no doubt be facing her own set of challenges. Or repeated singular challenge anyway.
See, this is a race. It’s an obstacle course too. At my end, I have to go through the checking in process, the everyday interactions with staff and colleagues, all the little things that make up a normal day but slow you down when you’re trying to get somewhere. It’s a challenge for me, because while I probably could speed a lot of things up, I can sometimes get carried away with verbal detours and quirky small talk and end up letting things drag on far longer than I intend, much like this train of thought right here. Yup, time may fly when you’re having fun, but it’s not near as quick as Carnival when she has an open run.
Lucky for me, an open run is one thing she’s not likely to have. It’s the first day of the tournament, so most of the staff will have arrived early so that they can check everything is up and running. Plus, the race officially started at eleven, so I’d put money on the vast majority of the other competitors already being here too. Which means the corridors should be fairly active, which is great, because her challenge is to reach our changing room without being seen.
It’s actually quite dangerous too, because if she were to be seen, then we’d both potentially be in a lot of trouble.
Not to worry though. She’s not been caught yet, not once in the last three years, not here, or anywhere else.
Obstacle number two is ‘staff that keep you informed’ and I’ve somehow ended up wrapped up in that one before I even clear the first obstacle. Which means that I don’t get an early opportunity to make up some ground. On the positive side, I am getting a verbal run down of my schedule for the day. Apparently, I’m expected to be filming my interview for the requestable content thingy in a little over an hour or so. I guess I’ll have to get changed pretty sharpish. And what’s that ‘Mr doesn’t want to leave me to my own devices’? My match is on last? Well I knew that already. The defending champion always closes night one.
I’ll be closing night two as well. Losing just isn’t an option. Not for me, and not for Carnival.
I finally clear obstacle two somewhere around halfway to the finish line and quickly pick up the pace, breaking into a jog as I turn the corner of one corridor and start heading down another. Being able to pick up speed like this is a new experience for me. Last year, the spare Data Wick in my bag weighed me down a lot more than I expected so I made sure to gut it before packing this time. The shell is pretty strong, but it’s definitely the insides that give it the weight. I’m sure there are plenty of techys that would have heart attacks seeing the mechanical carnage back home but rendering it useless really isn’t a big deal. No one knows it’s just a spare other than Carnival and me, and it’s really only here because a competitor turning up without a Data Wick would lead to a whole bunch of awkward questions so it’s kinda essential for me to carry it with me until the I reach changing room. That’s cool though, pretending is fun.
Another corridor goes by and I speed past several obstacle threes, ‘the friendlies’, giving them just enough interaction to satisfy their needs, while I try to get a clear picture of where I am. I know where the changing room is because I’ve requested the same one every year, so I’m kinda running on auto pilot at the moment. The problem is, I know that I’m probably way behind Carnival right now, so I need to figure out a short cut if I’m gonna win.
There’s no prize for winning. Actually, no, there is a prize. If I win, she doesn’t taunt me. She does sulk though. Which is kinda cute. Not cute like the chibi version of her from the Spark Force cartoon, or the cuddly-plushie-thingy they made of her after my first tournament win, just, you know, cute. And pretty amusing. But then, so are her taunts. So I don’t really lose, even if I lose. Which sounds ridiculous in my head.
I glance down another corridor as I sail past, then remember four corridors later that I probably should have turned there and cut through one of the interview rooms. I guess I could double back. Ah, but if the interview room isn’t empty then that would probably take longer.
No, I think I should probably just keep going.
I’m nearly there now anyway. It’s pretty clear too, which means I’m still in with a shot, so I give myself a little internal cheer, mostly because the tongue-in-cheek self-adoration of a mock-narcissist is harmless fun, but also because an external cheer risks drawing the attention of stealth obstacle threes hidden behind closed doors. It takes until I finish pointing out to myself that that last part isn’t as paranoid as it actually sounds to realise that if it’s clear at my end, it’s probably equally as clear at Carnival’s end, and she’s a fair bit quicker than me so …
I round the last corner and sure enough, there she is, casually leaning against the door to our changing room. She tilts her head towards me with a big toothy grin, pushes the door open and walks inside, moving just slow enough to make sure that I catch the triumphant flick of her tail.
I bet she’s been there a little while, just waiting to make sure that I see her snatch the win.
I let out a nice big laugh and trot up to the now open door, smiling happily as I prepare myself for Carnival’s inevitable decrees of victory.
MEERA THORNE – 11:11
I can see why Jeanine is the lead make-up artist for the championships, but the more she applies, the less I recognise my reflection. It’s just so … over-the-top.
This whole tribal thing that’s overtaking the right side of my face is too much. I mean, I don’t even normally wear eyeliner.
“Are you really sure about this?” I ask as she gently closes my right eye and makes sure that the design joins up before going back to adding a thin layer of solid black inside the thicker white outline.
“Absolutely,” she says, carefully altering the angle of one of the points. “I know it’s not quite the same as the jacket, but trust me, the crowd will love this.”
The jacket. That’s another thing I’m not sure about. It’s a full length, white, sleeveless PVC trench coat with a gold tribal design running up the left side, reaching over my left shoulder and sprawling out across the back before reaching back over my right shoulder and finishing just above my arm pit.
The trousers and the bra they’ve given me are white PVC too. The bra is pretty plain, but the trousers have a gold tribal design running up the outside of the right leg. It balances the jacket they said.
I’ve got a yellow mesh tank top too. I really wanted a plain black vest but the wardrobe department wouldn’t let me have it. They said that this one will match my hair and eyes, but my eyes are more of a muddy gold than yellow and my hair’s black. Or it was anyway. After they’d finished making it choppy, they bleached the tips. I kinda wish they’d left it as it was. Or if they really had to dye it, then I’d rather they’d done the whole thing.
The problem is, I know that they’re right. People will see all this and think it looks cool. I still think PVC is too sweaty though. Plus, I always thought that people who wear stuff like this are just … I don’t know, trying to get people to look at them?
I don’t want that.
I feel kinda bare in it too. I mean, I know I am actually wearing a top but it’s not like my normal sweater. It feels too open; I can’t hide if things get too much. The only saving grace I can see is that they let me have a hood on the jacket.
I hope Hong Chan gets back soon. He’s been so supportive, and far more understanding than I deserve. I begged him to help me get here, and now that I am, all I can do is mope about everything. Thinking like this doesn’t help much either. He always tells me not to beat myself up so much but every time I remember that, I start berating myself for berating myself in the first place.
I hear him entering the room before I catch sight of his smiling face in the mirror. “Wow! Love the make-up Meera. How’s she doing Jeanine?”
Jeanine smiles but doesn’t look up from my face. “Nearly done now. She’s been an absolute star.”
“You hear that Meera? You’re a star,” he says, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
I don’t know how to respond to that. Rather than work myself into a pointless panic, I just blurt out, “Did they say you could come out with me for the match?” The moment the words leave my mouth I start kicking myself for how desperate I sounded.
I guess Hong Chan must have noticed that too, because he gives my shoulder a light squeeze before answering, “Yeah, it’s fine. They weren’t sure at first, because my contract with Emblem means I’m not really meant to be involved at all. Plus, trainers don’t tend to appear on camera much these days. I sorted it out though. I just pointed out that my contract specifically prohibits me from competing but it doesn’t technically say I can’t be seen around the arena. The only thing is, they don’t want it to look like I’m playing the match for you, so I can’t be in the competitor zone with you. I can enter with you and be out by the field though, so you won’t be alone out there. Turns out the contract doesn’t stop me running my mouth either, so if you make it through today then you won’t need to worry about interviews tomorrow either.”
I relax a little hearing that.
“All finished” says Jeanine, stepping back from my face at last. “What do you think?”
Hong Chan answers for me. “It looks fantastic Jeanine, thank you.”
“Not a problem,” she says. “It should last the day, but the air con in this place sucks, so if it happens to run at all, just come grab me and I’ll tidy things up.”
“I’ll do that. Thank you.” I manage.
“You’re very welcome Meera,” she says with a smile. “Well, a make-up artists’ work is never done. On to the next one.”
Once she’s left the room, Hong Chan turns to me again and asks, “So how are you feeling Meera? I mean, really.”
He gave me an opening. Why did he have to give me an opening? Now that he’s asked how I really feel, I can’t stop the panic spilling out.
“I don’t like it,” I say, my voice small and wavering.
I’m struggling not to cry. The only thing holding the tears back is the thought that my make-up will run and all of Jeanine’s hard work will be ruined. “It’s not …” I try to swallow my upset. “… It’s not me.”
“That could be a good thing Meera. Do you remember what I told you after the marketing meeting last month? About how Meera Thorne and the character Laqueta are different people? Look at it this way. If you look in the mirror right now and the person you see isn’t you, then maybe that will make it easier to stay in character. Take everything that upsets you about this and let Laqueta shoulder the burden for you.”
My gaze has dropped to my feet and I can’t stop shaking. I’m near enough having a meltdown, and over what? A jacket? Some make-up? A stupid top?
I clench my fist in effort to stop myself shaking.
Hong Chan drops to one knee so that he can see my face. He speaks softly. “You can do this Meera. I believe in you.”
I nod and try to smile. He’s believed in me since the start, that’s not the problem. The whole thing is just so overwhelming. It’s like a completely different world here. I have to do this though. I have to move forward or I’ll never be ready to meet Fahrn.
WICK (The Spark Form Chronicles #1): GameLit / Sci-Fi – Card gaming and pro wrestling combine as we ask: Can an AI ever be alive?