The Role Player...
Hey all, I fixed the font problem. If there still are issues, let me know.
So I mentioned I ran into a few people while I was asking for applications and talking to managers at the Golden Grog and other places. I forgot to follow up on that. Sorry, all.
That being said, I can now say I have had at least two such encounters though I didn’t know it at first. There are two stories to tell here, one involving, of all things, one of the Untouchables who tells me that an Academy is imminent, most possibly on the Hill. But I’ll get to that one next time, assuming I don’t have any other issues pop up between now and then. Sorry, Jingles. Your story is amazing. I have to get the fresh one down before I forget it…you know, when someone comes to wipe my memory of what I witnessed. I can hear it now, Semper. You don’t have to remind me.
So, defeated after several days of hammering over databases and spreadsheets, not my best aptitude I can tell you, I decide to treat myself to something, anything, from the Grog on my way home. It helps that traffic has exploded recently and my supposed 20 minute commute to an almost full hour slogfest, and this is before the recent politicians deciding to shut down the public transportation system for a few weeks for “much needed repair.” It was just simpler to head into town than deal with the onrush of outgoing motorists, bicycles and people who didn’t really know how to operate either of them. What was the quote? “No matter who we are and our collective differences, we can unite in the belief that we are above average drivers.” Yeah, there is something to that.
Anyway, The grog was cold and the room smelled of mead and honeysuckle without being overpowering. I thought me might add some Jasmine and freshly mowed grass into the mix to make the client feel as if they had been transported back to a medieval time. Then it occurred to me that it might be what was in the brewery vats and decided that such thoughts were for another time, a long distant time.
Grabbing my drink, Bobbi, the young redhead girl they did hire motioned for me to her.
“You’re that writer guy, right?” She asked. How she had known any of that, I hadn’t a clue and didn’t think to inquire at that time.
“Yep, that’s me.” I said, bringing my arms to my hips in my most heroic. “Writer Guy, scourge of grammar and sentence structure.”
That made her giggle a chortled polite chitter that reminded me of elementary school crushes. I tried not to think about it. “They you want to talk to Penelope over there.”
She pointed a brunette girl, barely old enough to drive, hunched over her cappuccino, and spinning a little orange die on it’s corner, never letting it fall.
“OK, I’ll bite.” I said. “Why should I talk to her?”
“I know her from High school.” Bobbi explained. “I think she could use a strangers ear and I know you won’t try to hit on her being married and all.”
“How do you know so much about me?” My eyebrow shot up.
She shrugged. “I read your blog.”
“Huh.” Well, that explained a lot. “You aren’t my Friday appointment, are you?” I did card readings for extra cash.
She giggled again.
“”Fine, whatever.” I said and grabbed my drink. “Thanks for the tip.”
“Nice Kid Quantum shirt, by the way!” She threw over my shoulder. I raised my cup in salute as I made my way to the sitting girl.
“Penelope?” I asked when I approached. She barely raised her head, her arm propping her up as she continued to spin the die, a 12 sider I could now see.
“Bobbi sent you, didn’t she?” I was surprised a voice that sounded so cheery could carry such gloom.
“Yeah.” I admitted. “Can I sit?”
She shrugged. “This isn’t Terraq. It’s a free country.” How a kid so young would know about Cheveron’s Meta Nation of Terraq blew me away. Hell, I had been a kid when it was founded and barely got a blip on the news. Like Jonestown, before the tragedy.
I took the chair next to her and let her spin for a few minutes as I settled, placing my backpack on an adjacent chair. The view before her was nice, a full glass window projecting over the riverside park. Joggers and homeless people milled about as traffic flowed steadily if slowly forth across the bridge.
I took a moment to look at her die. “Gamer, huh?” I said, trying to crack a smile. “And a Barbarian fan, I’m guessing.”
“You know.” She said. “We used to love gaming, we really did.” She spun the die on the polished oak, catching it before it could settle on a number, just as it was about to tumble. “Back before, god, everything else.”
Her jaw shuddered for a split second so I brought the conversation around to something else.
“How do you know Bobbi?” I asked.
“She likes us.” She actually smiled. “We go the same school with Jingles, so I think she’s infatuated.”
“School?” I asked. I started feeling like a therapist or a reporter and put on my most receptive face. I’m told it’s good, but I have no idea. When I try it in the mirror it looks kind of pathetic to me. “What school do you go to?”
She spun the die, using the time to jerk her thumb over her shoulder and grab a sip of over overly sugary drink. “Up the Hill.” She said as she caught the die. Spin.
“PTHS?” I asked. She nodded. Pacific Teaching Hospital and Study. I’m told a good place to learn to me a medic of any type. Why they put it on top of a huge hill, practically a mountain, I’ll never know. Most of the ways up, one lane roads over twisting terrain made me wonder if ambulances made it up there at all or did they need to hire sherpas. I did the drive up there a couple of times, something of a tradition I’m told. The view was stunning. The hospital had been made in the early 30s and continued to grow until modernist architecture and cathedral style edifices collided with trams and walkways. To me it always looked like an asylum from a bad gothic cartoon that I would more than likely watch religiously.
“So where do they keep the Riddler up there?” The joke exploded on impact.
“You think we don’t know what it looks like?” She brought her voice up as her cheeks reddened, yet she kept staring at her randomizer. “You have no idea do you? We thought it would be fun, seeing them up there. Hell, I was excited, I mean like really excited. We were going up the hill to be like, well, everyone. All because of that damned wizard.”
“Now you lost me.” I said finally. There were only so many out of context sentences a person should endure. “Wizard?”
She sighed. “I helped guy once. Nice guy, old codger. He kind of looked like Dumbledore vacationing in the Bahamas. He kept asking for help at the Con. I thought he was another panhandler or some homeless guy off his meds or something. We get them up here all the time, especially around convention season, you know? I don’t think about it, much, I had just gotten a signed poster from Wil Weaton and Glory. Glory, man. Do you have any idea how rare it is to get her autograph?”
I didn’t want to tell her I had three.
“So, I was going nutzoid over my haul. Then the old guy slips and falls. Right into the tracks. Like Boom! Down. Just as I hear the Max horn going. This guy was going to be street pizza and made into a train roll in like ten seconds flat.” She blushes at her own unintentional pun. “Sorry.” I motion for her to continue.
“I don’t even think about what I’m doing, I’m just running off instinct, you know? And I drop my bag full of goodies and grab him by the arm. I pull him on the platform just as the train zipped by. Stupid conductor didn’t even see him or my bag as it rolled under. He starts thanking me and like not letting go of my hand. I tell him it was ok and let the fuck go. Mostly I was shocked I lost the posters. He starts mumbling about waiting so long to find me. I’m about halfway ready to think he’s going to hit on me when he leaps of the now open train and promptly disappears in the crowd. Voom, gone, you know? I feel something in my hand and I think he’s given me some sort of reward, like a ring or a stone or something, maybe a few coins that got stuck together.”
“What was it?” I asked. She looks down and spins it again.
“What I got was 12 different characters.” She grumbled. “Each important in its own way.”
“Did you get your bag back?” I asked.
“Flattened by yeah.” She smiled. “Glory heard about what happened and sent me a couple spare autographs. Wil Wheaton sent me a personalized letter and shout out. It was nice of them. Really, it was! But that was all before I rolled up the characters.”
“So are you a writer too?” I was getting lost in the conversation and words sort of avoided my comprehension, pretending to be somewhere else. “What’s with the characters?”
“I’m kind of more of an actor, I guess.” She said. “You know how they say every actor has to reach deep inside himself to find something really meaningful in a performance and the good ones just, I don’t know, channel the voice they are looking for.”
“I hear that a lot for writers.” I said. “J. Michael Straczynski used to talk about how he still has conversations with characters he hasn’t written about in years. I still have a few that keep demanding to be in stories even if they are completely the wrong genre. I was hoping to be more sympathetic than boasting but it’s so hard to judge these sorts of things.
“That’s how it is for us.” Her eyes squinted, neck tensing, locking back something. “I think it is anyway. Oh, god. The nights I think to myself, I remember just playing an elven paladin or Halfling wizard. Not that I ever played anything that simple. Always with the dark elf and the half demon or some other crazy thing that only looks good on a deviantart account. I could be anyone for a little while, pretend away and make a good story. They tell me we are making a good story now, but I’m not sure I believe them anymore. They tell me I can control it soon enough, that we can be…oh Jesus, something more. I’m not even sure there is a term for it. We aren’t, like, going to integrate or anything. We just… you know… are.”
She let her eyes collapse and her head sink, nearly forgetting the fluorescent orange die spinning. It made a bee line for the edge of the table. With well trained reflexes from years at the gaming table, I scooped it up before it crashed to the ground. I put my hand on her shoulder. I know I should probably ask first but I wasn’t sure what else to do. Stupid I know.
“It’s ok. Really.” I meant it. I had no idea why other than to make a girl feel better about her situation and, I guess, it’s what the Good Doctor Quantum would do. Just try to make the world a little better when someone’s world was crashing for a moment. Sometimes lives are held together with duct tape and bailing wire. She started to sob a little, quietly. She let herself go for probably all of fifteen seconds, but we all know what those sorts of seconds are really like.
“This is why they came here, I think.” She said, snorting through post release runny nose. “They wanted another school for us.”
She actually lifted her head and looked at me. “I wanted to go. More than anything I wanted to go. Now we can. We really like it there, and here. We can, you know, help people. People like…” she sobbed again. “Me.”
“Kid, you are going to be fine.” I said almost laughably. “Don’t worry.”
I was about to hand her die back when old gamer instincts kicked in. Before she could scream, “Wait,” I had already rolled the dice to her hands. She looked over in horror as the twelve sider, bounced and folded over, until the predominate number ‘8’ stood proud, black on orange. She was gone. The die was gone. No flash or lightning. No explosion or even a whooshing noise. Reality folded in on itself choosing another Schrödinger possibility and she was gone.
The Sensorite stood. Garbed in black, cloaked and hooded, twin pistols are her side, she stood. Under the hood and covering the top half of her face a solid and smooth golden eyeless mask stared back at me. At her lapel, the only bit of color of her entire uniform shouted back at me. I knew that symbol well, a stylized ‘Q’ of grey and blue.
“You have done us a kindness, Daniel.” How she knew my name I just attributed to her abilities. This was the Sensorite, after all. “We will not forget that. But you must excuse us. There is trouble at the tower. Soon Thunderclap and Cloudburst will disrupt the students and I am needed.”
She didn’t exactly run or fly so much as flowed out of the restaurant, her cloak billowing behind her and around her, swelling and washing over the crowd as they watch another noted superhero leave to save someone. I watched that form flow and flutter right up the Hill.
Behind me, Edgar the Ettin cursed from his upstairs office about not getting a good pick before the Sensorite’s departure. To my side, behind the counter, Bobbi gave a fan squeal of delight asked me what number was that. I waved four fingers twice, fanning the question away, I watched the door finally close, filling the void she left. It had been a while since I was that close to a hero and it would not be the last, I would guarantee. I wished her luck, gathered her spare drink and bussed her table before I finished mine and grabbed my gag-bag.
And that is how I found out that Bridgeton got its own Quantum Academy, up on the Hill.