Wednesday, June 29, 2011

#29 -- Behold, The 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance®: A Break-Up Story

"Being in vengeance is like being in love -- you can't be told you're getting revenge, you just KNOW you are."

I broke up with a girl. She didn't reckon I had the backbone, or the wherewithal, to emotionally cripple her in the way she did me. This isn't karma. It's something more callous. It's vengeance.

The next sentence involves the word "ass." Coming out of a relationship, you can either kick it, or suck it. I will not suck it.

She said she was going to make something of herself and I was just treading water with my life. First of all, know that at this point, I have stopped caring about all things when I'm in her presence. You know it -- you know the feeling when that switch that gets flipped. Now I'm quite literally bound by the laws of physics to find everything about her repugnant, lest I sink into depression like her failed-future career as a patent attorney! BOOM! That is verbatim what I said to her. She didn't even realize that not only did I already know she was going to try again to pass the bar and become a patent attorney, but I ALSO already knew she was cheating on me with Dan, her carpool buddy, with whom she also shares a subway pass with.

Dan is the worst name in any language. Try saying, "And the hero's name was: Dan." Seriously, try it right now. Just you try it. See? You try to say it and you just end up barfing your mouth full of vomitus.

She thought she was breaking up with me, but I'd come to the breakup prepared to counter her ending our relationship with a 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance®! You should've SEEN the look on her face. It was repugnant. She thought she was just going to reveal her secret plan about breaking up with ME and moving in with DAN and her new career as a patent attorney. I'd been with her for a while and I KNEW I could easily take the wind of her sails, and I ALSO knew that she sucks ass at sailing -- a vain shortcoming that's always bothered her -- so tacking against the wind was COMPLETELY out of the question with her. Her entire  nautical vocabulary is limited at best, so when I said that, "Baby I'm going to take the wind out of your sails and you'll be fucked because you don't know how to tack," she was BLOWN. . . nowhere. Her brain was in the doldrums. I'm awesome at crossword puzzles and I'd come to that brunch prepared.

I drank like 3 cups of iced coffee at the Dunkin' Donuts across the street prior to meeting up with her and I wrote down some notes on a notepad that I'd bought earlier with the change from my coffee. I decided on my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance® right then and there. She was going to come and tell me that she was going to become a patent attorney, that I knew. Know what? Fuck her. I'll become a stand-up comedian. I wrote that down and underlined it. What's she going to say to that? She knows I'm funny and she knows that I know that she hated studying for bar the first time, and she knows I LOVE being funny. I'll be pursuing a kick-ass dream -- she'll be backsliding into lifelong career of professional, regretful nitpickery. And she's pissed that her roommate Charlotte always said I was funny and even said I should become a stand-up comedian when I wasn't in the room one time. I know she said that, because I trained their pet parakeet, Toucan Fran, to tell me secrets. Toucan Fran and I are in very good terms.

"Well done, Toucan Fran," I whispered to him, handing him a Salteen. "Yes, yours are the words that shall topple the first domino in my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance®."

That was number 1 on my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance®. Turn the people in this coffee shop against my ex!

Turning a crowd against somebody else is easy if you're me or if you're like me. You don't even need to be mean about it, they usually do most the damage to themselves. All you need is some money, not even a lot! It's super fucking easy. For example, with money, you can get cheap plane tickets and go places, but before you do, tell people you're going to go somewhere and do something. Public knowledge is the truest knowledge, and rumor is her sexy half-Japanese cousin. Make sure that the person you're telling your plan to will think that it's really fucking stupid-sounding, but make sure uninvolved others are there to hear it too, because it'll sound cool to them. For example, I'll say: "I'm gonna go to Iceland. Bathe in some hot springs. If the mood strikes me after I visit Haukadalur, of course."

Number 2 on my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance® had already been set in motion. Vacation in Iceland. My ex didn't believe me, but when I pushed my bought-and-paid-for Iceland Air ticket across the table to her, she started denying it. Like I couldn't do it? Please, the seeds are already planted. Dudes eating brunch with their girlfriends were already pulling out their iPhones to see how cheap tickets to Iceland were. My ex looked fucking dumb saying going to Iceland wasn't a good idea. She wanted so much for me to be unhappy. I will have none of it. Fucking with people is easy if you take something impractical and make it awesome, which is what I did with my time in Iceland!

It's a beautiful country, by the way. I took pictures and I sent them to her new address when I got back to the U.S. I borrowed my grandmother's old camera that I gave to her for Christmas in 2002, and I included that fact in the note I sent to my ex along with the pictures. It wasn't a digital camera either, it was an oldish, but still really good-quality film camera, so the actual for-real photographs that I mailed to her of me tacking against the wind while sailing off of the coast of Reykjavík with Jóhanna and Flóki made her concede how awesome my time in Iceland was, thanks to the pictures I took with my grandmother's camera.

That's number 3 on my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance®. Help HER family members get jobs. It's the most thoughtfully hateful thing you can do to somebody. Her younger brother and I play Mario Kart Wii online all the time and he just graduated from RISD. Well, guess who works in HR at a design firm downtown? Charlotte! She's already refused to talk to my ex when she called to ask for help on getting her brother an interview. But Charlotte and me are super-close now ever since we got drunk on kick-ass maitais at the Cheesecake Factory a little while back. BOOM! My ex's little brother got the job offer this morning, he sent me a video message from his smartphone of him celebrating in the elevator after the interview. Now, even after the breakup, my ex's family knows how kind I am. Her mom is already refusing to buy her a plane ticket home for Thanksgiving! Her brother's already been put on a project at the job doing logo design for a Chinese flower company that specializes in genetically-engineered lilies.

That's number 4 on my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance®. I learned about flower arrangement. Why? Because girls love flowers but don't know SHIT about arrangement methods.

A girl might know how to speak a second language or be really good at running or yoga or be a really good cook, which are all NORMAL things a guy coming off a break-up might pick up to get back at his old girlfriend.

See, girls don't know ANYTHING about flower arrangement, so when my professionally-arranged piece shows up in a local magazine that I know she reads because I re-forwarded it to her new address, it drives her crazy. She doesn't know if it's good or not because she only speaks French, cooks chicken cordon'bleu, sits in a full-lotus position, and runs half-marathons. Talk about BORING!

I found these reactions to be kinda trite. They exude a deliberate, inorganic sadness-aura. Why be so predictable? Being in vengeance is like being in love -- you can't be told you're getting revenge, you just KNOW you are. Remember your Palpatine and let the hate flow.

My security and self-confidence annoys her so much it makes her menstruate early. It's satisfying, but really fucking gross. Here's the real great part: flower arrangement is FUCKING EASY.

I also told all the girls in the seminar class that I got into, wherein I learned what little there actually is to know about flower arrangement, that I'm color-blind, so when they realize how amazingly put-together my display was, it drives them fucking WILD. All I did was Google color-blind and figured out all I needed to know about what colors look like what to somebody with the affliction.

"What? Green? No, I see something darker, something closer to what you might call 'blue.' " Then I tell them that my ex was a cocktease and always left me with green-balls.

"Wow. Sounds like she sucked ass."

"Yeah. She did. I'm getting over her though."

That's number 5 on my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance®. I convinced Dan that HE was color-blind. They don't have their cable modem hooked up yet at their new place, so when he went to Starbucks to get a wireless signal, I got a bunch of my buds together, and at random intervals, had casual background conversations about how the way Dan was dressing suggested that he might be color-blind. Then my friend Spike, who graduated magna cum laude in computer science, fixed up some kick-ass fake websites with some unproven research on color-blindness. We Google-bombed the search terms for his site and associated them with color-blind searches. Dan found them no problem when he Googled it, and BOOM! Dan now thinks he's color-blind.

So now Dan thinks he's color-blind, his Internet isn't hooked up, I enjoyed my time in Iceland, and my ex's family is neglecting her during the holiday season. Not good enough. Too many of her friends still like her.

Logically, step 6 on my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance® is simple: deprive her of sleep on the week of Saint Patrick's Day. There's nothing worse than a malnourished grouch on Saint Patrick's Day. This is a little tricky, but I basically remove all substances from her life. Aspirin, ibuprofen, Ambien, caffeine, alcohol, vitamin-C supplements, sugar, all of it. It just involves replacing all the pills with placebos, the coffee grounds with decaf, the sugar with salt, and the alcohol I'll just steal from her.

I was debating hiding metronomes in her apartment to wake her up at random intervals during the night and I liked the idea that I had, so I did it. I already installed auto-run features on her laptop and work computer so they randomly turn on and off be it day or night. How pissed does that make you when you computer shuts down for no reason? Very. I can actually activate these background-routines on her computer from my phone with the supporting app I wrote, so I'll know when she's sad and I'll know when to laugh.

Come Saint Patrick's Day, she's a wreck. She'll be utterly repugnant, and yet, it DOES. . . NOT. . . STOP. She'll want to do hair-of-the-dog, or drink an Irish coffee or some shit. No. I don't let it happen. Keep it up, swapping everything out. She'll hate the sight of smiling faces, scowling constantly at drunks, and she’ll be so upset that eventually, dehydrated and exhausted, she'll collapse. Sober, she'll be taken to the hospital on Saint Patrick's Day, and nobody will be able to come and get her because a) we hate her for being whiny and annoying and pouty all day, and b) we'll all be too drunk to drive over there. Hope you enjoy getting felt up by puke-soaked forty-somethings, Honey.

Finally, step 7 in my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance® is to convince her that she's been indirectly responsible for the death of a homeless guy. This is easy. On Halloween, I'm going to have one of my friends that she doesn't know dress as a homeless guy. It's a common costume, it'll work perfectly because she's looking for a pity-fuck by now. When she asks who he is, he'll be from out of town, and nobody will know, so I'll start spreading the rumor that he is, in fact, an actual homeless guy. He'll deny this when she asks, and despite the fact that he smells like spoiled fruit, they’ll hook up. Then he'll go back on his word, adamantly confirming that he is entirely homeless. His story will be something like: he dropped out of school after his parents died and he blew his trust fund right after it came out of escrow, and now he's homeless at a very young age.

This will gross her our, and she'll kick him out of the building where the party is, thinking that he's lying, that he's playing a joke on her. He'll crawl into a doorway and make sure that she watches him go to sleep, and she’ll go home. Now, the next day, the host of the party will release a statement on Facebook saying that it was a great party and all, but demand to know who let the homeless guy in? First, she'll be grossed out that she hooked up with a real-live homeless person, who is still just one of my friends from out of town that owes me a favor. I gave him a ride to the courthouse so he could fight a speeding ticket and then bought him an iced coffee outside the DMV while he got his license renewed, and now that he’s helped me with this, we're even.

Pay it forward, people.

The real coup de grâce though is that the host of the party, another one of my friends, will begin to complain about a smell outside his window, occasionally updating his status or Tweeting, or wherever. Finally, it will be revealed that the smell is coming from a corpse. We take a few pictures out of his apartment window with a gurney and ambulance that we borrow with the help of some buddies at med school, my "homeless" friend, still in costume, sorta bloated and very dead. Autopsy reports suggest that he's actually been dead for about a week, passing away on the night of Halloween.

So not only did she hook up with a homeless guy, but her cruelty and disbelief that he was in fact homeless, resulted in him getting dead.

And that’s my 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance®. I would say that you should have heard this coming, especially since I was actually planning it while we were still "together," but you're a repugnant stump, and you're as deaf as a haddock, so you get what you deserve. One last bit of constructive criticism: it isn't the light, you look bad no matter how and where you stand.

Die alone.

-- Ghost Little
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

#28 -- The Diffused States (Part 3)

"It was a stunning alchemy of human talent and organizational drama -- in short, it was just really damn-good television."

Read: [#23 -- The Diffused States (Part 1)] and [(Part 2)] to stay caught up. . .

The public devoured it. It was real and it was human and it was intricate and it was dangerous and it had innumerable personalities involved at so many levels. People have always loved watching esoteric talents clash with neuroses, particularly when there's a good soundtrack and there's the possibility of injuries and explosions (D3's serving both the thermally- and emotionally-charged varieties). There wasn't a person in the Diffused that didn't watch every Sunday, or gobble up the pre-race hype broadcasts during the week. 

It was unprecedented. Oh, there was no precedent, baby! Speed and danger joined with physicality and engineering brilliance unheard of in human history. People had to design the machines, people had to design the software, people had to manage the machines' hardware-halves (and different people had to monitor the Runners' relationships with the machines' organic-halves). Rivalries developed. Each team bubbled with its own style -- people wanted to know what made them different. All of the doors were open to the viewers that wanted to enjoy the prep-work before competition. It was a stunning alchemy of human talent and organizational drama -- in short, it was just really damn-good television. It was a marriage that had no business being this successful, particularly when it required trust between all those eccentric individuals operating in tandem. If they didn't, the brave soul that had been strapped into the D3 was going to wreck at 800 km/h doing a 5-G turn.

"They don't do a ton of D3 racing in Texas," admitted Shaw in an interview on a quiet Sunday after the most recent race was finished. A three-quarters moon had snuck up early on a bright blue twilight sky over Dallas when she sat down to talk. The woman was young, younger than you would expect for her candor and rivalries with long-tenured racers. None of that grinning swagger we'd seen in post-race press conferences was in her voice now though --  the fire in her, infamously capable of burning off all of the oxygen in a room if she wanted, was toned down to smaller, twisting blue flame. She sat cross-legged wearing jeans, well-fitting training shoes with toe-slots, and a hotel robe.

I noticed her grab at the carpet with her toes. She leaned back when she talked and leaned forward when she listened, breezing about the conversation like a tropical plant.

"Been to Texas & The Sooners before?"

"Twice," Shaw answered me. "Once to Old Oklahoma City. Once to San Antonio. I wanted to go closer to the border but we weren’t allowed. Have you been to the border?"

"I have. It's scary."

"They're scared of the southern border here. Well, I guess not scared of it. They just don't like it. There isn't much to see there, I guess."

"They seem to like you here though. The fans."

"Except they can't pronounce Montblanc," Shaw laughed. "I mean, they love us, you can see it in the their faces, but they keep mispronouncing it. It's endearing though. Having fans in different parts of the Diffused is half the reason we do this. Even if they don't get that, even if the fans themselves don't get why I love to race, that's fine. We're different but competitive. That's what makes these countries great. It's just so great to see these people at the races. They're so kind and so humble, and the racers just love what they do and feel so lucky that we've been given the ability to do it. I love it. I fucking love it."

"A lot of the fans in other countries, and let's not mince words, basically those other than the folks in Blue England and the Sierras, have no clue how the D3's even work. At least, that's the accepted rumor, the 'canonized' rumor, so to speak. And yet they just love to watch. Does that bother you? It's a sport that necessitates so much science, so much chemistry, so much artistry. It requires deep physical and emotional balance that no sport in history has demanded."

Shaw nodded. "That’s very true, and you phrased the question perfectly, so thank you for that. Well, I feel that the sport is simultaneously about emotional vulnerability while being confident and present and able to overcome insecurities. Simple, basic human traits. You can't trick the D3 into trusting you, into believing you, because it's very much a part of your own heart and your own mind when you're in sync with it. You need to be able to trust yourself on a level some people have difficulty communicating –- I know that I still do sometimes."

"That goes unnoticed by the crowds on occasion, that relationship, and is that hard for you?"

"No, of course not." She leaned back in her chair but keeps talking while looking dead ahead, skydiver-blue eyes still telling the truth. "It's clear that they see something good when they watch the races, and that's what's really important to me. That's vital to me, to my life as both a racer and as a person. Understanding the physics of life -- like a molecular composition that draws the defining-line between a live body and a dead one -- that's not important because we don't see it and it sure as shit doesn't effect whether or not we like to watch a race."

"Can you explain it then?" I was curious to see if Shaw's perception of D3's scientific portion matched her philosophical panache for the subject. Overachiever. "In layman's terms? How do the D3's really work? How do you work with them. Maybe people are afraid to ask and afraid to sound silly. Learning the intricacies of a new sport, the lingo, the slang, can be hard."

Shaw nodded again and agreed. "Sure, absolutely. So, it begins with us scouting the course. The term for it is called 'slipping' because we trace lines in the track as we drive them in normal vehicles -- trucks, cars, whatever. This can take an hour if it's a circuit course where we're running laps, or it can take an entire day if it's a point-to-point race. And the entire team comes to slip the course. We all talk the entire time, checking corners, blind jumps, hairpins, places to tuck, all of it. The Runners for our team -- for Montblanc, that's Stro and I -- we have to talk to our team's Smith, the engineer, and our Angel, who does psyche, and those conversations are usually mediated by the Jockey, who is our code writer.

"Anyway, Stro and I, we have tons of fun with those talks, trying to keep the peace amongst everybody. It's always exciting crafting a plan of attack on the course. It helps that we're friends, all of us, and we trust each other unquestionably. You have to. It requires so much, you can't survive if you don't believe the advice from your not just people you trust, from experts in software engineering and mechanical engineering and genetic engineering.

"There's important ritualistic dieting
that goes along with it too. To increase memory-association with the track's layout, our team's Angel will have the Runners eat something very specific during the slip."

"Why's that?"

"Because we usually slip the course in the afternoon and then don't eat anything until right before the start the next morning. When we finally do eat the day of the race, we eat what we did during the slip the day before, and the taste creates the memory-association. It's always distinct; bitter, or spicy, or sweet -- all closely planned. Think of when you were a kid. You have a memories that smell like holly and woodsmoke, or like maple and apple peels, and even today, things can be reactivated in your brain and you get giddy when you experience those sensations. Why? Because of thoughts of Christmas, of family, of safety, of excitement. That's what we've done with our pre-race meals, developed the right emotional association. We factor in weather and race-time temperature, it's weirdly precise. And it helps. And also, for whatever reason, not eating prior to syncing with the D3 reduces confusion in the biomech. As somebody that's done it on an empty stomach and on a full stomach, the difference is night and day.

"So after that, after the slip and after we've gone over the hardware versus software debate, we Runners begin our fast, and the rest of the guys will go off and do their genius work to tailor the D3 so it will be optimized for the track. Then I usually talk to Laureate, who gets a feeling on how I’m feeling in here--" she tapped her fist to her heart "--and we build out a playlist."

"Right, they pipe in the music to help you keep rhythm during the race. I downloaded your soundtrack from last year five minutes after they released it. It was a fantastic mix."

"Awesome! I'm pumped that you liked it. Those were just the tracks we could get licensing for, and we're getting better at getting the release-rights as it's becoming more popular and profitable. Axel Rose is still a dick about us using 'Paradise City,' I can't believe he's even still alive," she leaned back casually into her chair, reminiscing. "Track 15 on the mix was this song 'Walk With You,' by an 1990's band called Dispatch. I remember I had just taken the lead in a race, it was a night race, actually, and the song came on and I never looked back. I just zoned-in and started running faster and faster laps. Nobody was going to catch me that night. What sucks is that we didn't even release a lot of our original music, which is seventy-five percent of what we use -- Laureate is hesitant to release it, despite the pent-up demand."

"The Laureate?" I encouraged after Shaw stopped talking. I led her back into the conversation. "That's what you call the musician. Why are they called Laureates?"

"Oh. It's just slang, like Blue England.
Like anything. There used to be artists in residence or poet laureates before the Schism. These are the teams' musician laureates. Or 'Rocker Laureate,' as Aran put it. Rockstar in residence. Each person on the team is our go-to for a piece of the puzzle that makes this sport so great. The Smith designs, forges the D3's mechanics. The Angel handles, guards the vitals for the D3's biological portion. The Jockey writes the software, the code itself, and acts as the go-between the D3's living and non-living halves. But it's the Laureate that helps me talk to the D3. It's the base, poetic language and rhythm found in the music that begins the conversation.

"The music is imperative to my ability to communicate with the D3. It brings me up to its level and it brings it down to my level in terms of cognitive speed. It's a machine with biological underpinnings, and in a lot of ways, we humans are biological entities with brains built like computers. So to get us in sync and to put us in a better state for shared consciousness, we use music. Like I said before, some of it is licensed music from old bands, but lots of it, Laureate writes based on what she sees in the course, composing what she sees, anticipating how we might be feeling at that moment. Some of it is from her extensive back-catalog that she and I fill out constantly. And the rest she noodles out on the fly during the race. You should see her play a 12-string. She is a samurai with that thing.

"To start, she usually goes with some of those pizzicato strings that raise your short hairs on end, you know the feeling, that horror-movie stuff -- then she moves right into some really driving drum bass-lines. Heavy metal. Guitars that sound like cars. And it's all her. It's fantastic.

"If a Runner needs a kick in the ass, she'll rattle off a pounding, complex beat at just the right moment. I know there have been times when I've gotten too emotionally entangled with a particular racer rattling my nerves during a race, making me lose focus, and Laureate will calm me down with some slower strings -- some kind of ballad, maybe. If I'm brawling with another Runner, she'll know that I need heavy percussion and chunky electric guitar. She takes cues from me, from what we've talked about, and occasionally from Aran, who is our Opticon."

"Aran Stephens, you mentioned him again. Your team's owner." She nodded. "What does he do? During the race?"

"He runs the whole show. He's on the horn the entire time, planning plays for Stro and I, filling us in on what the other teams are doing, reminding us to move from Roid into Tuck and back."

"Explain Tuck and Roid."

"Sure. So, aside from the fact that I almost always fuck it up and say 'tuck and roll' because I'm a space cadet and I have a terrible verbal filter, it basically describes how you're positioning yourself on the D3. I begin each race inside the D3 in what's called a Roid-stance. It's where I'm standing up, fully enclosed in the D3 mechanical exoskeleton, which could be anywhere between 10 to 15 feet tall. Ours are bigger, right at the maximum height of 15 feet.

"That's the humanoid Roid-stance -- short for 'android.' What can I say? The sport was invented by geeks. But when the D3 is upright like that, it's agile, augmenting normal human movement. It's simple to operate, it's as easy as walking once you develop a report with the D3. I can run in a dead sprint in that thing, without assistance from jets or vents, at about 340 km/h, thereabouts. With jets accelerating everything and the rollers lowered, it can top out at almost 500 km/h. We have laser-sharp stabilizing edges made of a diamond-laced alloy installed on different parts of the frame so we Runners can carve through turns like a train riding rails, even at high speeds. These edges can also vibrate at ultra-high frequencies that you can hear, but can't really see with the naked eye, and what this means is that we can use them to carve sharp turns through asphalt, rock, metal -- nearly anything. When you're doing it right, you wonder if you're even doing anything at all.

"The friction is lessened, and it's almost like gliding when it's all going
and the jets are active. What the jets do is emphasize the already-enhanced movements that the D3 gives me. They're mounted all over the Roid, so if I want to lean into a turn, the jets'll work in conjunction with the series of gyroscopic overlays built into the exoskeleton's middle tier to keep me balanced when I'm carving a turn. I can almost lay out entirely--" she went rigid as a plank, laying across her armchair in perfect form, extending a pointed leg at a right angle straight up "--And still be in full control at high speed. It's also very hard to knock a D3 over because of all these counterbalance measures. That's why we incorporate so much controlled spinning and rolling when we’re throwing around our momentum in tight areas."

"So as long as you don't fight the inertia too much--"

"--Right, we can make it work for us. A good Runner should be like hot water flowing over ice. Fight the gravity, but don't hate it. Otherwise, it'll hate you back. I studied a lot of ballet, interpretive dance, short track speed-skating, parkour, yoga, downhill skiing, and tai chi to see how they deal with channeling and carrying momentum."

"So it accelerates your normal human movement and reflex."


"So you're saying you're fast?"

"I'm saying I could catch an errant electron with chopsticks."

The boast strikes me hard in the chest. "Okay." But I can see it in her eyes, still soft and blue -- at the very least she thinks she's telling the truth. "Okay, but the D3 also has Tuck-stance."

"Yes, Tuck-stance, of course. The D3 is a versatile machine that we can calibrate to emphasize speed when we need it. Basically, it rearranges itself from something two-legged and agile to something more horizontal and straight-ahead. It becomes more of a charging rhino or one-seater car than gorilla or, uh, robot, I guess. More vehicle than 'advanced prosthetic,' let's say. The Runner partially emerges from the D3 and basically begins to ride it in this stance. And ride really is the opportune word: you're on top of the thing. It used to be a more dangerous maneuver because it leaves the Runner exposed, but we ironed out the kinks. The Smith on our team is an amazing technical engineer. When the jets are actively re-arranged and the wheels come down and the whole thing becomes built for straight-ahead speed and aerodynamics, that's when the velocity kicks in. When you want to go straight and you need to go fast, you go into your tuck and you hold on."

"It's like a long-nosed motorcycle. Powered by jets. Balanced by the same gyro-system as the D3 in Roid-stance--"

"--And balanced by me too. You have to be strong
to wrangle productivity out of Tuck-stance. It hurts to stay in the tuck, it's physically taxing, gravity and the terrain slamming you around. A lot of people can't take corners at all in that stance. I mean, you've got to squeeze the shit out of the saddle with your legs if you want to stay on the thing. If you're strong though, and you can keep calm, and you know what you're doing, you can almost have the D3 completely sideways on the track and still maintain speed. You can scrub a ton of speed doing that too, it's just a matter of communicating to the D3 what you need out of it, putting the thrust and the balance in the right place. That's why you need the trust and the courage. And the stupidity. But knowing the D3 is there with you, looking out for you the way you're looking out for him. . . that's what makes it different from just strapping somebody to a missile and pointing it at the finish line. 

"It takes finesse. Strength is important, but it's not just that. It's not something anybody can do and it's not something you can even really learn to do overnight. You have to be both physically smart and emotionally grounded to wrangle the D3 into sharing with you; into trusting you. And that's when you really start to go fast and enjoy feeling the danger, particularly in Tuck-stance."

"Interesting. And last but not least,
there's another famous man on your team. Victor Han. He was head of the Drug Admin for a while. He works pro bono. He's the general manager, the Dealer for your team. How deeply involved is he with the team?"

"He protects us from entanglements. We focus on racing. He negotiates our contracts, does marketing, he lets us focus on what we do. He's also legal counsel. He's our Dealer. Self-explanatory."

"You said at the beginning of the interview that you start the race by slipping the course. What happens before that though? Where does the D3 itself come from?"

"From science. They come from science." She laughed, aware of her limited response. "I'm not involved with much of the actual construction. Ask Smith. Or better yet, ask Aran. He's always investigating how this shit really works."

NEXT: [#30 -- The Diffused States (Part 4)] to see what happens. . .

-- Doberman (is getting worried)
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

#27 -- "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask" Reviewed | * * * ½

"It's the best prom ever!"

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is the day in your life that you look back upon years down the road and say: "That was the last time anybody ever treated me right." Chronologically, Majora stands after your loss of innocence but before the onset reality of adulthood. In Majora, you say goodbye to firefly-questions, and accept that you do indeed have to live in a world where you must consciously accept your ignorance to the universe around you -- a universe that is entirely full of monsters and that you must nonetheless live in until the day you die. Majora is the first and only time you experience genuine, crystal-clear, 1080p, surprising euphoria following the appropriate build-up. 

Many stories are journeys. Majora is journeys through a story

Isn't that what the best memories are? Revisited again and again -- on purpose or not -- to honor the best bygone moments. The memories that stink of emotion, of fire, and of revelation. We can come at this story over and over, in repetitious discovery, with repetitious joy. Layered as it is, it can't be sullied, it constantly cleans itself like an obsessive-compulsive cat with a disorder.

After Majora, videogames entered an awkward phase. Like slavery being the base-cause of the American Civil War -- despite the cries for "states' rights" and a thousands of other actual reasons -- the base-cause of videogames' slide into self-fellatio was Halo: Combat Evolved. Now, we love Halo, but it was such a sudden growth-spurt that we all started tripping over our comedic ginormagantuan-foots in excitement, and we still, to this day, have not yet arrived at the equivalent of the Emancipation Proclamation. Today, we will continue to kill our brothers.

With Halo's arrival, games shed personal purpose in favor of pleasing a focused-tested personality. Videogames began to be created in order to serve us. People began to seek out what connected best to their own pre-constructed personality. It wasn't like when rock 'n roll happened and everybody wanted to be rock 'n roll. Today, people build out a meager semi-self-styled personality, and then walk towards the nearest counter-culture they can find -- there is something for everybody, marketing made sure of it. Portfolios in databases in mainframe blade servers at corporate headquarters have been filled out to make sure that you, sir or madam, have been served, and that your needs and tastes have been met. There is a shade of paint for every man, woman, fatty, grandma, and child's needs now. There's something for you, designed just for you, tailored just for you, crafted just for you. . . and for those like you.

It will never be like that anymore though. That feeling of innocence's closure, before you knew what it was even called. It's more an acceptance than an ending. Majora dwells in prolonged instant of emotional osmosis. It's the feeling of personal transference made sweeter in retrospect. After that discovery, after that encounter, after that end, as the sun sets, you understood where you'd been and even though you might not know where you were going, you look back on that memory -- altered for time and content -- in blurred joy. It couldn't have been as good as you remember it, and only in that very specific endorphin-infused moment of your life could it have been that good

It's the best prom ever! 

Falling out of the sky like the moon crashing in from orbit, Majora starts weird, gives you tools to inflict your own weird, and then challenges you to de-weirdify your world. Different from the other Zelda games because it hates you, Majora is a moody middle-child's re-arrangement of his younger sibling's toys. This is no longer young-adult literature, comprende? This is The Legend of Zelda & The Half-Blood Prince

Men in love will die at your feet, begging you to save their illegitimate children. Seriously! Horrifying. Seriously horrifying. 

There are people in this land, Termina, it's called, that you can indeed trust, but they aren't the ones expect. There's unease in your heart from the first snap. The defense, mothering in Majora's precursor (The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time  |  * * * * (Certified: Best Game Of All Time)), is smothering this time around.

. . .so begins our actual conversation on the game which you shall play when plugging The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask cartridge into your Nintendo 64. . .

In the game, you are Link, again, and you've been mugged. And turned into an anthropomorphic shrub. It's far from your standard intro, growing progressively more emo when you're told time is really short, what with the goddamn moon about to go totally Cretaceous on your asses in three days. Everybody will die if you don't master time travel, because you can't stop a lunatic, you can only hope to contain him. . . with time travel!

The weirdness and the hopelessness plants an angry, rebellious fire in you. It gives you the the Ash Williams swagger -- the "I'm going to fucking take shit over" attitude. While others not named Link would buckle and cower under the pressure, you decide (that Link has decided) he'll grow a pair and claim the three weird magical transformation masks as his own, maybe saving this 'effed up bizarro world in the process. Groovy. Lambada-a-go-go, motherfuckers!

There are a lot of corners in Majora. Corners to turn and corners to hide things in. There are basically 6 versions of the world, two per day (night time and day time) of the three days you have left on earth. You can travel back in time to Dawn of the First Day, but no further. To save your game, you must go back in time to Dawn of the First Day. This is done by playing a song on your ocarina, portable pipe-organ, bongo drums, or fish-bone guitar. 

Chunga-chunga! 72 hours remain. 

The sound effect that greets you when you spawn back at the center of town, lunar crisis averted for just a little while longer, is that of a machine being kind to you. The time travel takes all your "gathered" stuff but not your "personal" stuff. To save money, you have to go to the bank and deposit your cash at the bank vault, which we assume exists in some kind of pocket dimension -- it will be waiting for you when you Groundhog Day yourself. 

We got away from our earlier point about corners. You need to explore every corner at every time of day on each of the three days. It's constantly changing. It's a great, purposeful reason to travel around the world again and again because you might find something new. We don't mean that in a World of Warcraft, "oh, maybe Goldshrubs or Arcanite drops will finally respawn over here," way. No, it's way better than that. We mean that the something new you discover might be the solution to a friend's problem. There's no arrow, there's no compass, no indicator saying: "check here for quest completion." The best you can hope for is maybe somebody's loose suggestion to "go north tonight." It's enough to pique your curiosity. Almost every NPC in the game has a story, an issue, or a lost, uh, something, or whatever. Helping people with whatever is the kindest form of helping, or whatever, that a person can give. You want to help them because they deserve to be helped. You can't be everywhere at once. Explore the world as many times as you can. Fortunately, you have all the time you need.

We almost summed up this review with the tagline: "The day before an unwanted pregnancy." This is the Internet, you can be horrible here if you need to. But Majora isn't horrible, and we would want to be horrible to her. A friend once said that cars and boats must always be named after women, because if he's going to enter anything, it's going to be a lady. We sidestepped the question about mechaphelia, but we laughed at the statement, because it was funny and it seemed right at the time. Videogames are asexual, they can be either bros or bitties. Majora is a girl though. She's sensitive and complicated. Men are never sensitive and they're only complicated if it helps them fake sensitivity (which they do a lot).

As always, we wish we could review games in a vacuum but Majora's resonance only grows brighter in recent years. What's past is certainly not prologue. What's to come are shitty sequels. We loathe Twilight Princess even more with every passing day. If Twilight Princess were our twin sister, we'd push her into a marble quarry and delete her Facebook profile. We'd tell everybody! We accept the world we are in and we love the games we play. Yet we are in a down-generation. The HD era of the PS3 and Xbox360 will not be looked back upon fondly. We promise you that. 

Here's how it works. Odd-numbered generations age badly. We don't count the Atari generations because they're fucking terrible.

1st, the NES era. Go back and play Metroid or Dragon (Quest) Warrior. They are janky, poorly-programmed, over-imagined pieces of ass. Exception: Super Mario Bros. 3.

2nd, the SNES / Genesis era. Timeless, even today. Chrono Trigger, Donkey Kong Country 2, Sonic 2 -- these are the literature of videogames. 

3rd, the N64 / PS1 era. Muddy 3D, foggy draw-distance -- blurry character faces and limited voice acting clash with good music and CGI FMVs. Games on CD are cheap to make and are pumped out rapidly. Games on cartridges are expensive to make and few are released. A few gems, but even fewer have aged gracefully. Good RPGs and a few 3D platformers. Final Fantasy IX, Ocarina of Time / Majora's Mask, and Soul Reaver are diamonds in the rough. Developers like Rare shot for the stars and missed, their games ending up as brilliant space-dust, purged out the opposite end of cold reality by a supermassive black hole. See: Jet Force Gemini, the closest we ever got to Itchy & Scratchy: The Videogame.

4th, the PS2 / Xbox / GameCube era. The 3D realm is mastered. Dozens of quality games that endure into this modern era, so well, in fact, that the good ones like Shadow of the Colossus are getting HD-remakes to fix textures and framerates. Other fond memories exist with Devil May Cry 3, Half-Life 2, and Resident Evil 4, better than most games released today. The pieces of technological presentation are in sync with the design limitations imposed by the hardware. For a while, ambition and capability were one, and things were good. Also, Shadow of the (FRAKKING) Colossus!

5th, the present, PS3 / Xbox360 / Wii era. And it's also the modern iPhone / handheld / Zynga era. Yes, we'll look back upon that fondly, won't we? What a fucking preemie generation this is. We have the winners of the generation, sure. Mass Effect 2, Gears of War 2, and Assassin's Creed II. But honestly, this is just the previous generation without the limitations that force developers to actually think. We get new Halo, new God of War, new Grand Theft Auto (urgh), new Mario Galaxy (twice), except their production and vision is so laser-focused that we can't help but feel like we're being led around on a leash. Don't get us started on Call of Duty's nauseating annual popularity. We adore the joke that is Metal Gear Solid 4 even more with every passing day. 

So how is it that Majora, an afterbirth / sketch-dump / bastard child of a down-generation in game development become such a smooth operator? What business does she have being this good? She could make Vanilla Coke cool. Damn, we love Vanilla Coke. How weird is it that for once, adding vanilla to something makes it "non-traditional?" What a mind-fuck. Yes, Majora does the impossible, like a church without stained-glass windows, an irregardlessly anti-backwards nega-concept, so revelatory, so Elvis, so übermench, that if you described it to a man, it would impregnate him with a Star-Child, and if you described it to a woman, she would orgasm every time she sneezed for the rest of her life

The best, brightest light shines on Majora.

See, this was before players demanded "balance" in their games. There was never "too much combat," or "not enough puzzles," or "broken mechanics." If they got sick of fighting, they went off and did something else. The Zelda formula -- and Majora in particular -- was flexible enough to allow this. Occupying the game space is the most fun you'll have, so being freed from the main quest once in a while is double-liberating -- meaning that you're taking time off from your demanding world-saving within the game that you play during your actual, human-person time off. The concept of "getting stuck," was once a good thing. It meant you got to faff about and swim around as a fish-man and forget about saving the world. It was vacation². The dictation of that flow doesn't feel like it was not put there by design. No, we, not some code monkey, put that happiness there.

At it's heart, Majora is a moment of focus in a blurred life. It hurts a lot to see other moments lose clarity in comparison. The swimming is the best in any videogame ever. You don't swim, you soar like electrified oil among ocean waves. The NPC-relationships are the best in any videogame ever. You see the effect you have on their lives, and then after traveling backwards in time to avert disaster, as you must, you see them again reliving what they would have been without your help. The whole game is a side-quest you aren't told about and then you are overjoyed when you realize the whole game is not a dream.

So much is packed into this game's molars. You want it to chew you forever. 

Why is it only * * * 1/2 out of 4 stars? Because of that cow-protecting / alien shooting quest. The first-person, inverted y-axis (Why, Japan? Why?) arrow-aiming while riding on horseback is the devil's grundle. It is not Fleshy Fun-bridge. It's so bad that we knock an entire half-star off of an otherwise flawless game.

It's weird inside Termina, so all you want to do is be good and inflict good on a person, on a town, on a world that's been dealt a bad hand. That spark ignites the whole quest -- your compulsion to complete a videogame will never be more pure than in Majora's Mask. It never has before and it never will again. 

* * * ½
(out of 4)

Related recommended reading:
[The Prestige  |  * * * ½] by Ghost Little
[Paradise Lost  |  * * * * ++ CERTIFIED: BEST THING EVER WRITTEN ++] by Ghost Little and Doberman
[LittleBigPlanet  |  Z E R O] by Ghost Little

-- Ghost Little
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Monday, June 13, 2011

#26 -- "LittleBigPlanet" Reviewed | Z E R O stars

". . .a pretentious, private elementary school compressed into a hyper-concentrated videogame form. It's the most indifferent game of all time."

Kids, put your fingers in your ears, daddy's home, and he got the tip of penis clipped off by a cigar-cutter.

How, and why, would we allow this asparagus-scented game whose original title, we assume, was: Circumcision II: The Dick-Clippening, a piece of entertainment whose box-art displays a cuteness so violent that it violates the Geneva Convention, to get some playtime? Playtime that would lead to an over-abundance of dong-to-blade closeness? Because it was free. 

You could not pay us to play this game. We've never walked out of a movie. We've never turned down a free drink. We go outside when it's sunny for one good reason. We turned off LittleBigPlanet after 3 levels. 

LittleBigPlanet is Hipster: The Videogame. It wears its tasteless, unslightly goofiness pinned to it's tight denim dude-capris. The game has such an overabundance of stuff and yet it is so indifferent to every ounce of stuff within it. None of it is there for a reason. It's like owning a massive dictionary whose best feature is that: "at least the pages don't stick together because of errant spurts of semen across the paper." As far as we can tell, the object of the game is to collect bubbles on a 2D plane with a beanie baby that jumps like a drunken kite brought to life by black sorcery. As you collect things, you can then customize levels that you and your indie band, "UkuFAILe," designed on Sunday instead of finding a drummer. For your band. Get a fucking drummer for your band, LittleBigPlanet! You need rhythm. You have none. 

It's terrible. It's insulting. It's a pretentious, private elementary school compressed into a hyper-concentrated videogame form. It's the most indifferent game of all time. You can see the pride-boils popping on it's skin. As far as LittleBigPlanet is concerned, it, like Sarah Palin, can do no wrong, and the people that are fans of it can do no wrong. The game controls toddle like a stubborn mule with a bout of irritable bowel syndrome and a blue ribbon from the Wyoming State Retard Rodeo. 

LittleBigPlanet is a guy and the girl he wants to kiss -- him on ukulele, her on milk-jug -- playing Led Zeppelin covers at a burger joint; because they couldn't book time on a street corner. It's shit masquerading as confidence for the talentless mouth-breathers. It was designed to give morons hope. Dipshit dubstep fans in Brooklyn that "modded" their older sister's original Gameboy into an ashtray will love LittleBigPlanet

The visual aesthetic of LittleBigPlanet is that of the activity room in a Presbyterian Church basement. Go explore the emotions God cursed your souls with, children! The 2D side-scrolling gameplay itself has the personality of a 7 year-old introvert. Problem is, we must admit that LittleBigPlanet possesses the best reason to play a game: "no good reason," and we like games where the game is its own self-propelling compulsion. The reward for playing the game is more game to play, but playing LittleBigPlanet though is like chewing tin foil. There's always that feeling in the back of your head that because you're playing this game, a husband is forcing his wife to get a third abortion. 

In-game, you can't distinguish purpose from bullshit, nor objective from something far-off in the background that looks like a handlebar mustache on a falcon. Seriously, dude, why? People will shout: "there doesn't need to meaning behind this, it's just goofy for goofy's sake!" YouTube is goofy for goofy's sake, child. We laugh at it because its hilarity comes from the certifiably asinine -- but we don't sit down and watch YouTube for hours on end. We don't go to the British Diorama Museum to relax after work. We don't want to see the British Diorama Museum's Curator's YouTube channel. This is like wandering a Girl Scout's arts and crafts fair and every fifth step, you have to lube up another lead musketball with dark molasses, and shove it into a different orifice. It will poison you. It will poison your brain!

There are four buttons devoted to emoting or smiling and two buttons devoted to moving your arms. Just, moving them, ya know. It's exactly as we've feared. They've successfully simulated the act of operating an instant messenger client with nobody on the other end.

The game has no imagination. There is no need to simulate the feeling of playing with your childhood action figures (your "guys," as you referred to them (seriously, you did, don't be embarrassed (it's not embarrasing, LittleBigPlanet is embarrassing)). There's no simulation required, no need to simulate giving them your personality and then having them run through an imaginary world while a stern adult lectures you. That in and of itself is already a simulation. No, wait, it's better than simulation because it's imagination! Don't get all childhood-meta. Spike Jonze tried to do that in the Where The Wild Things Are movie and look where it got him. . .

. . .actually, that was a pretty decent movie. Not important. Imagination, yeah, uh, you can do this without a PlayStation 3. You should have already had these experiences in life -- when you were fucking six! Shit, you can still do it right now if you really, truly have to! Don't let our hatred for LittleBigPlanet stop you, and in fact, it should encourage you. Run down to a craft store and lay down $12 for pipe-cleaners, cardboard, felt, and a Nunchuck-Michelangelo. You don't have to be embarrassed to do those things, and if you are, distilling these hands-on activities into videogame form is not the answer you're looking for. 

At least when you played with your own action figures back in the day, you could huck them across the room if they missed the jump. Imagination lives in your head, not as a PSN handle out there on the Internet with every other fuckskull that got a free copy of the game after the network went down. We cannot imagine paying $60 for this game. We would not recommend it to adults, because if they think this is fun, they have no good childhood memories of actual fun -- and should probably get their meds balanced if they think this is going to displace the memories of broken beer bottles hurled at them when they were young -- and we can't recommend it to children because their imaginations shouldn't be nurtured in a digital world

And kids deserve tighter 2D control than this. Shame on you for not telling them that it exists! Go download your child a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Wii Virtual Console right now. Let them pick apart a Japanese idiot-savant's imagination for a while, shut off the Nintendo, and see where their creativity goes when you give them good role models instead of the conduit to the social media videogame clusterfuck that is LittleBigPlanet.

z e r o
(out of 4)

-- Ghost Little
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

#25 -- The Diffused States (Part 2)

"It was tangible, inky, and deep. We could now bottle sensations. We could distill joy. We could inject awe."
Read: [#23 -- The Diffused States (Part 1)] to catch up. . .

America stood still below carbon-caked skies. Nothing went in, nothing came out. No trade, no communication, not even porn. A few people probably maneuvered through their new country's firewall and had a little communication, but not enough for real news to get through. It was more trouble than it was worth. More people just ended up dead.

On occasion, some refugees from other parts of the world would be exiled to the US as punishment, most of whom were shot for fun by the Coast Guard before they reached dry land. Those that weren't killed and managed to make into society were called the Noir -- the blacklisted.

Fuck the USA. Rightfully so. The diffused-Americans needed time to think. Nobody attacked us, fortunately, since it was assumed that we were strung-out addicts with itching trigger-fingers, which was a three-quarters truth.
We had no foreign policy. Alone in the universe. All sides in the Schism, were in shock, a silent agreement that things had gone too far, that much was true. The country rotted, and what didn't rot, rusted.

Aran Stephens was in college at that time. Before the Schism, he was taken at age twelve by his father from what was then Chicago -- in what would eventually become The Kingdom -- to what was then Boston, and would eventually become the twin-city capital of Blue England, sharing the duties with New York City after the District of Columbia was abandoned.

The people that lived in Blue England continually patted themselves on the back for suffering the fewest lives lost during the Schism, a notion whose factual accuracy they still debate endlessly with the Sierras. The fact that Washington DC was the only major metropolitan area that was altogether lost was a commendable achievement though. New York City, Boston, most everything up and down the eastern seaboard was intact, as was Blue England's citizens' limitless self-obsession. Finally, they proclaimed, without the rest of America to drag it down, the northeast could truly run a country the way it was always meant to be run. 

Funny joke. The intellectual ego quickly turns to cannibalization with nobody to bully. Who do you think they turned up their noses to without the red states? Who else? Themselves. There's always something.

Take their art, take their cultural philosophy, for example. Progressive in their thinking, and optimistic, true, but the Englanders were perhaps pointlessly fascinated by all new things, giving any fad their undivided attention for its fifteen minutes of fame, and then disposing of it, downright cursing it when they grew tired of it, or when the newest fashion, or artist, or band, or trend arrived. 

Society didn't crumble altogether after the Schism. The visible card at the top of the deck had just be shuffled a bit.

When I went back into the artistic style that was conceived in Blue England during that era, it's unmistakably garish -- made by over-educated people with an over-abundance of time. There was no happiness to be found there -- no color, no rounded joy. I would go so far as to call it hateful, perhaps even self-loathing. Childish, pitiful, absurdly complex -- and relentlessly absurd -- its closest cousin would be post-modernist American, while mixing blatantly knowing homages to Salvidor Dali (without the creativity), Vincent van Gogh (without the color), and Tim (fucking) Burton of all people. Tactless irony. Their painting was layered, and their artists diligent with every detail, yet the message was always the same: 

"We have a secret, try to find it, when you do, you will be mocked for seeking it. LMFAO."

Came to be that if a person in Blue England adopted a vice that wasn't ironic or self-aware, it wasn't worth mentioning -– for the best in some instances, I guess, a lot of trends were better off forgotten. Remember floor-hammocks? Yeah, I try not to either. Nothing stuck around for very long or was worth the air in your lungs to talk about.

Until the D3's came along.

The New Confederacy was the first nation to popularize passionate fandom for the D3's. The D3's were just a side project of some programmers and engineers in Blue England and the Sierras, so it just dripped with irony that it took the Confederates to say: "Hey, there's something more to this." The Confederates were proud, gentile, and let's not mince words: Southern. They were the most similar to the Old USA, the Schism effected their daily lives the least. Their lands were sprawling, either with busted-up asphalt or with untouched wilderness. Strange how the Confederates insisted that people who they deemed ignorant and uneducated were rounded up and forced to live in tighter urban centers.

They believed that a man was entitled to his freedoms, but left to his own devices, he might could well run astray, if ya get my meaning. They demanded everybody learn their history. Their education system was tightly-run, it was just their curriculum that most found curious. The Confederate children went to school until age fifteen, no ifs, ands, or buts -– everybody needed schooling, careful you don't grow up to be an unkind dumbshit. If you want to know more about what they were taught, go open a Bible.

In my travels across the Diffused States, I must say I was shocked at how different Texas & the Sooners was from the New Confederacy. A lot of people don't quite get that. Things moved slowly in the land that was basically the old Texas and Oklahoma territories merged together. They moved slowly until they moved quickly, and when they moved quickly, well, brother, be careful you weren't on the receiving end of speed -– bullets, justice, harsh words, for example. It's quite the libertarian existence of: "I don't mess with you, you don't mess with me," wild-west utopia. Think young-Eastwood, so more Hang 'Em High, and less Unforgiven. A more chipper, agreeable dispensary of justice. Lawmen were given the six-guns and all the lead they needed to keep the peace, and they were united by their love of the western mythos to which they were unerringly devoted and worshiped.

There was a fair amount of Jesus to be found in Texas & the Sooners, but he was more of a drinking buddy and a fella you give some credit to when you succeed, as opposed to a deity that made sure you were on your best behavior. Men were responsible and noble out there.

Good men would right the actions of bad men, always. They adored the honest personalities of the D3 Runners, making the races an instant hit in that country.

The Republic of Western Sierra tried to take credit for the D3's. They tried to take credit for most everything though in technological, cultural, and societal movements, even more so than Blue England. The Sierras were the most internally-divided nation of the Diffused States, particularly in the early years during their failed diplomatic relations with China. It was a constant competition between the old Los Angeles glamor, the Silicon Valley Nor-Cals tinkering with the old tech that got us to the Schism in the first place, and finally, the EcoPunks, a sub-group that despised the decedent trends of the other two factions, yet needed their resources to further their sustainability and energy-neutrality agendas. The Sierras were expansive, running entirety up the west coast, to the borders of Texas and all the way to the edge of what used to be the Dakotas, which was where The Kingdom had built their wall.

Nothing goes into The Kingdom. At the time of the Schism, the mid-western states east of the Dakotas, north of Tennessee and roughly half of Pennsylvania, united the most quickly, declared their independence, and vanished instantly behind their walls. Nobody knows what happens inside The Kingdom. People rumored that they had a space program, or that there were fragmented remains of the old American Congress in there.

Aran's father would always wonder if they had done the right thing, moving, leaving behind some family in The Kingdom. Ten years later and still nobody could answer. The Kingdom was sealed in the year Aran graduated from school at age 22. Zero wireless signal, dampened on the borders and outright scrambled in the center. Dark, tall walls with no guards -- fly over it at night and you'll see no lights, fly over it in the day and you'll see the overgrown greenery taking over the streets in Chicago, Cleveland, and Indianapolis.

The Kingdom was left to its own means because that was how things worked in The Diffused States. Every year, the D3 governing body extended an invitation to them to participate -– they have never responded.

Individual survivalism proved to be a powerful code to live by. Blue England's Zen, post-capitalism, flea-market, pseudo-city-state society ran the East Coast. It was the party at the end of the world, except the landlord had cut the power and taken all the beer. It's okay, brewing your own beer was like doing laundry back then. There was plenty of unlicensed booze to go around and smuggling stuff out of Canada was too dangerous. Any warm body, human or animal, that got near the Mexican border was shot after three warnings: two verbal, one with a bullet -- they don't miss twice in Texas. As I've inferred, things were different everywhere, but there was little dialogue between the Diffused States.

The cultural renaissance was slow coming. It took half a decade before the self-pity malaise started to lift somewhat. Any progress began making people smile and people became less worried about what was happening across the oceans, what they might be missing. These were the first shoots of grass growing from a dilapidated car. News of new bridges being built was cause for celebration. Fifteen years after the first 6-Jack, in the month June, there were zero recorded 6-Jacking deaths since its invention. 

This date was June 29. There was some celebration, including a limited Yankees vs. Red Sox game played in renovated Madison Square Garden, of all places, one day in early July.

Baseball was old hat though. We'd had enough of the dreams of our fathers. Ageism was the new racism. If you were making six figures during the Schism, or older than 35, you were seen as a leech that was feeding on and promoting a corrupt system. The less than one-tenth of 1% found it tough to flex their influence when there was no singular federal government to hide behind. All of their powerful friends were dead or disposed of. It was a system that had choked on the truth that 6-Jacking had revealed. These fortunes that were made, validated by binary code on a mainframe in the Caymans or Switzerland or on a satellite in orbit, were frozen or pinged back to $0.00 by cyberattacks. The money was insured, natch, but when all of a nation's wealth is taken offline simultaneously, the result is economic triage -- battlefield surgery, man. 

An entire generation of infinite, intangible wealth evaporated, and credibility had fallen out of the hands of the shrewd and the gray. When those American accounts were dissolved, foreign investors loathed the Diffused America even more, so these motherfuckers couldn't get a loan if they were on their knees, hands cupping, mouth open.

The older generations had nothing to offer the world, they had nothing to offer a modern America. The youth didn't want to grow up to be them. The old had nothing, not even wisdom, to offer the young.

That isn't to say young generations hadn't felt this revulsion towards their parents in the past -- honestly, who ever does? The difference in this instance though was that the older generation was the worst group of role models since the Borgias. Their advice was immoral, their actions had destroyed a country. They had been punctured. The concepts of correctness and success as a society had been implanted by generations past, and now, modern, immediate thinking was deciding the future. The old dreams didn't belong to a new America. Those dreams belonged to great-grandfathers -- men that had died at Normandy. They belonged to men that built atomic bombs, and to women that demanded suffrage, and to the children that crafted the Internet v2.0, and to an age where modern human identity hadn't fully formed. Without an establishment, Neo-Bohemianism became the norm, whose aching irony we chose to ignore. Our time, as people, and as a nation in a world that held the former-US in the greatest disdain imaginable, had to different. It had to be ours.

D3 was our true calling.

Direct Diffusion Drive. Out of the wreckage of 6-Jacking defense attempts -- wreckage because nobody ever really figured out how to protect themselves consistently -- came the D3. The brain, and all human senses were penetrated, understood in to their fullest capacity. That was a win. We could tell what made a mind twinge, what it looked like when it did, and why. We couldn't stop it from being invaded, but in our attempts to discover how the attacks truly worked, we learned that we could, quite plainly, watch what a human brain, and its senses, were talking about. Not the brain reacting to nerve impulses, it was more vivid, more tangible.

It was tangible, inky, and deep. We could now bottle sensations. We could distill joy. We could inject awe.

Now, first reaction would be rampant abuse of these artificially-activated sensations. But we were in an age of digital resentment and substance abuse was sort of taboo. So many thousands of people had died in the 6-Jacking Plague, that these designer-sensations flopped at the marketplace when they hit pharmacy shelves. Making them entirely legal was a shrewd move by the head of the Drug Admin, Victor Han, and soon became an exemplary talking point for how the young generation in power, the Jacks, truly were in command now. See, if the product been forced underground, it might have found more success, but as it was, it arrived, fully legal, with negative stigma and in bad taste. 

It died in the open market faster than New Coke.

It was about understanding how we, as people, worked, how we thought. The D3 was going to give us that. Discoveries became more frequent. They were newsworthy. It slowly became a national obsession, the way our country's bipolarity and eventual downward spiral had become a national obsession. First in it was in the Sierras and in Blue England, but it didn't blow up until the Confederacy and to Texas got a taste for it.

They liked the danger involved. They liked the pageantry. The Blue Englanders got chortles because people that they considered to be adorable, simpler folk in the other regions were interested in something they could never truly "get" the science of. So they had no choice but to become fans of the D3's themselves, drooling with irony at first, but utterly in awe when they saw it in motion. The money kicked in, holy shit, the money kicked in. Excitement surrounded our rapid advancement. Cultural agility was back.

It was quickly concluded that constructing a D3 wasn't mere thought-reading, that was still far too complex of a "code," so to speak. It was in what the mind was sensing, what electrical comings and goings between mind and body, where the data -- for lack of a better term -- was being interpreted, and what was being sent back. An unusual sight the first time you saw the data. It was organic, but still so inverted from what you'd imagine, like water flowing up a raw, jagged cliff. In time, it started to jive, a weird hidden alphabet. The logical questions leaped forward.

Could one sense be substituted for another? Or be removed altogether? How would the brain redirect "bandwidth," so to speak? Could an artificial sense be added? What would that look like? How would that change how the person interfaced with the physical world?

Start small. We were already pretty far along in "thinking at" something. Drive a radio-controlled car, and not just driving it, but sharing the very sensation of its movement. If the little car was alive, maybe? They put a pin in that idea for later.

Maybe control a video game? Little more than refined early 21st century tech, to be sure, but interesting nonetheless in its stunning, rapid improvement. 

It was smooth in a virtual space, and naturally tougher in the physical world. But prosthetic advances came in leaps and bounds, at first with just hard-wired cybernetics. Later, with a mixture of machine, artificially-grown stems cells, nanomachine gray goo, and cloned tissue, a potent bond of specific human-machine interface was perfected. Grow a web of cybernetic tissue, incubated with human brain cells that were chosen for neat compatibility with the user, and engineer the machine you want the person's senses to diffuse into, and you have your D3. 

The Direct Diffusion Drive quite literally allowed us to grow, bond, and share with any kind of machine.

Eventually, we realized that what we were doing was essentially having the subject 6-Jack their own personalized machine, and they would acquire the senses of the biomechanical organism specifically created (and specifically matched) for them. In turn though, the machine took over part of the subject. Even more crucial, there were the intangible factors of willingness and trust -- it was human(ish) consciousness in there. You couldn't lie to the machine because in many ways, you would just be lying to yourself, and the biomech would know it, tapped into your brain as it was. Trust had to be honed. The human and the biomechanical organism learned to honor the presence of one another. Senses were no longer being hijacked, they were being shared and exchanged in true physical symbiosis. The machine granted the subject control of a construct that a human brain could normally comprehend on such a micro-level.

There was less risk of technical fatality with the D3, since they weren't accessing the senses wirelessly. In fact, it was even a harder-wiring than a piece of fiber-optics from earlier in the century. The connection was nicknamed Soft Iron -- a direct, solid-state connection between two pieces of living tissue. Two similar, mutually-identifying consciousnesses. And no moving parts. The human tissue portion was grown from a separate human DNA sample, so it was less of a clone, and more of a synthetic mate.

By the way, never cook the synthetic DNA for the new biomech directly from the intended operator. The operators end up talking to themselves. They ended up going in circles for a while before going altogether bat-shit fucking crazy. Lesson learned: you need a different DNA code for the operator to bond with. Not only did it drive the operator certifiably insane, it killed the biomech's brain tissue and ten times out of ten, the operator became brain-dead. It killed people. It creeped people out. A few engineers likened it to "incest with a robot," and it got really messy really fast, watching the D3 prototype turn on its operator. It interpreted the test subject as a gigantic, talking 170-pound tumor. The synthetic white blood cells from the D3 coagulated around the operator, suffocating them, then dissolved the tester like powdered milk. So find a different DNA to synchronize with and don't try to fuck with your own biomechanical clone, kids!

In time, and with practice, humans could now interface with the movements of a machine, and it was as easy as breathing.

Then they added wheels. Then they strapped rockets to those wheels. They started to race them. Then they marketed the hell out of it. Oh, but there was so much more to it.

Ego, arrogance, bravado, daring, genius, huge risk, minor reward, the D3 races had it all. How fast does a 21st-century open-wheeled race-car go? 340 km/h? A D3 does double that when it slows down through a chicane. It's super-human. That's why the bond between the D3 and the operators (called Runners) needs to be 1:1, the human needs inorganic reflexes, and they can get that strength, stamina, and awareness from the D3. They aren't Jedi, they're normal people. A D3, being half-organic, and something that the Runners quite literally shared their minds with, could not be lied to -– they demanded respect and balance. Separate and equal. Heart and soul, all that.

It was like if horse racing had never existed in human history until 1972, until some crazy rockstar had that one drug-laced idea to tame gigantic living things and race them -- and that rockstar's name would've been David Bowie. Theatricality, but unlike Bowie or Gaga, or pop-stars of old, this time, the theatricality had purpose. It was important that the best Runners be earnest, young, fit, and absurdly charismatic, and they had to be, otherwise the D3's organics would reject them, shunning their lack of personality and honest individuality, and the relationship would fall apart in the same way any would. It didn't hurt the ratings if the Runners were agreeable, good-natured folk bringing some charm either. 

You know, flashing coquettish smiles at the boys and blinking sky-diver blue eyes at the ladies. They made more money in a year than God has made in his whole bloody existence, and God invented tithing.

NEXT: [#28 -- The Diffused States (Part 3)] to see what happens. . .

-- Doberman (knows what happens next. . .)
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