Before I post the story I wanted to get a little thought in edgewise because my brain is weird these days, it never faithfully delivers blogging material except when I’m about to post something else! 😀
I watched a short vid last night about a guy tirading against pot-smoking. (Well so do I, especially if one of the kids were experimenting with making Mac’n’Cheese and forgot and ran away and the next thing, there’s a pot smoking up the whole house.)
This man actually let himself be talked (against his principles, he says) into smoking a “joint” with an old friend. (Let’s not get into the company people keep…) He then proceeded to take the friend to a 5-star dinner and Richard Strauss opera (as he’d planned to do), and both experiences were incredibly deep and amazing. The most profound music he’d ever heard; the most tastebud-explosionary meal he’d ever consumed.
On the way home, he heard some banal little jingle on the radio, and it became the deepest, most profound music he’d ever heard. And he and his old buddy stopped at a fast-food place to get some cardboard burgers and chemical cooldrink (did anyone mention that apparently drugs give you the munchies?), and that became the most taste-boggling meal he ever consumed. At which point he “got it”.
Hubbs and I have observed many times how people on “pot” seem to have no drive, no motivation to get things done or better their circumstances (which are usually atrocious). Here is the answer, as this guy in his video also explained:
If chewing a piece of gum is the best meal you’ve ever consumed, if watching ads on TV rates up there with the best movies, if cuddling the Maltese poodle is as profound as exploring the mind of a soulmate, then – who needs bother go to the trouble to find the “real stuff” – genuine music, genuine stories, genuine people? A cardboard box or a mansion, it’s all the same, it’s “awesome”.
That explains the inertia and lack of motivation.
While I don’t recommend that everyone should go out and get some “zoll” now, I do want to highlight another little quirk.
Humankind did not arrive at civilization by being content.
Look at a tribe of chimps in a forest. Well, if they’re not just-then under direct attack from relentless humans driving them out to chop down the trees for profit, they usually are quite peaceful. They hang around in the trees, grooming each other, nursing babies, being “chill”. Look at most mammals and you’ll have a fairly similar scenario. Life’s good; no work pressure, no drive to “improve” what is already pretty great living.
Now look at humans. We didn’t want to be attacked by predators, so we tamed fire. We didn’t enjoy our food cold, so we started cooking it. We were discontented with having to chase animals, so we tamed them and invented farming, and we were unhappy that we couldn’t always find the plants we liked eating, so we started growing them. (By the way the prime motivation for growing grains, 10 000 years back, was apparently beer. Bread was an incidental by-product.)
We got tired of running on foot so we tamed horses. We didn’t like the draughts in our caves (which furthermore were never where we wanted them to be) so we learnt to build houses. All of civilization is based on the human drive of discontent. Today, people drive themselves crazy looking at faster, richer lifestyles – having such a lot and still discontented!
Discontent can have a very detrimental effect on a person though. It turns one negative, especially if you set your goals so high that it takes years, and endless effort, to realize even just a little part of them. And being driven like that, we get sick… emotionally, mentally and physically sick. We start being critical of each other; we shoot at our own relationships, or say scathing things about others who don’t appear to be as driven as we are.
So how to escape that negative, judgemental cycle? How to avoid the “Cat’s in the Cradle” syndrome, how to avoid missing one’s entire life chasing after tomorrow?
What the Yogis teach us: Get centred in the moment, and learn to be content. Learn not to worry. Be thankful for what you already have, and appreciate it – or them. Enjoy the experiences you seek. Be Zen, be at peace.
Whoa – that sounds like the experience of that pot smoker!
Anyway here is your story:
(Please remember, this story has not yet been “doctored”. It is as you find it.)
Here is the link to the rest of the story:
And the previous chapter (I’m running out of time, will update the Smashwords file tonight:)
And here is the next chapter:
Connor McNaught slammed his front door behind himself as he came in. He took off his vest and his gun belt and dumped them on the kitchen floor with a grunt, made a beeline to the cupboard and poured himself a double Jack Daniels on ice. He stumbled into his front room and crashed down into his settee without bothering to first switch on the light, and released an abysmal sigh that tore some online worlds asunder.
He was beat. He also felt beaten. He had returned home shortly after clocking in at the station, ostensibly to pick up a forgotten file, but in reality because he wanted to steal some minutes with Nadee… and he’d found her gone.
She’d promised him that she wouldn’t leave him! He had returned to work broken-hearted and dragged on through the morning, feeling as though the sun had gone down – only to discover, when calling Henderson in Detroit, that Nickells and his accomplices had been released, based on a false arrest. He had spent some time stripping himself in anger, until his colleague Charlie had taken him for a beer to calm him down.
“You know, you’ve got a bit of an obsession with that hacker,” Charlie had observed. “This morning you waltzed into the precinct as though you were in love – and now, when you find out he’s been let go, you’re acting like a jealous rival!”
“You’ve got that so wrong,” Connor had growled, but he couldn’t find a more convincing reply. He had looked up the files. There were no files on Mike.
Obsession? He couldn’t even tell his friend Charlie why it was so critical that he got the hacker back to New York, back under his control. It may look like an obsession to others, he thought, but he himself had no choice about it. Obsessive behaviour? Probably a good cover, he thought. Let them think that. Let them in fact think whatever they wanted!
“Here’s trouble,” Charlie had informed him after lunch – a lunch through which Connor had worked, glumly, thinking of an empty apartment and a spellbinding dream that had been far too short. “They’ve put you under investigation.”
“What?” Connor’s jaw dropped. “Me? What the hell for?”
“Cooking up false charges against Nickells and his team,” said Charlie darkly. “And cyber-theft, of all things! Cyber-theft? Intentional damage to computers via a virus? How imaginative is that! Hang in there, buddy, we’ll clear you in no time flat! They have no leg to stand on!”
“That’s Nickells,” growled Connor. “Unbelievable.”
“What a crook,” said Charlie with feeling. “That’s the thing with catching a snake. Sometimes it bites you.”
Bad news upon worse news upon atrocious news, thought Connor as he sat down in his lounge now with that whiskey in his hands. But none of it had the same deep impact as Nadee deserting him. He thought back with an ache to those moments this morning in the sunlight. And he swigged that Jack Daniels and nearly choked. The stuff tasted of blooming daisies, no alcohol in it at all!
And she stood in the doorway from the back rooms. Barefoot and in her fairy dress as she had been last night, shimmering slightly in the semi-dark as if by an inner light.
“Are you alright, Connor?”
He came to his feet. Oh hell, she was supernaturally beautiful! His worries melted away as she drifted into his arms, welcoming him home. The next few minutes neither of them had any inclination to speak.
“Where were you this morning?” he asked eventually, cautiously, keeping her in a close embrace in case his words upset her. “I thought you had run away.”
“I only went out a bit,” she replied, suddenly very serious. “Oh, Connor, there is work to be done…”
“You let Nickells out, didn’t you?” he challenged, letting go of her. Her ephemeral blue wings withdrew from embracing him and folded away, and her face fell.
“It wasn’t right, Connor. I knew you wouldn’t do anything to clear him and I couldn’t just let them all rot in jail!”
“So you picked him!” he snapped irrationally and turned his back, moving to the kitchenette. His head was fizzing; his blood was pounding in his ears. He couldn’t think straight.
So she’d let Nickells go.
He knew his jealous reaction was not rational. He fought it. She didn’t carry a torch for the young hacker. But his own emotions aside, there were deeper ramifications to her irresponsible act. Oh hell, this was not good! She had no idea what she’d done there. How could he even explain to her… this would become a serious problem, he realized. On every level. It would destroy him, and it would destroy her too.
“No!” She was right behind him, her hand touching his arm in a placating gesture. “It’s not like that, Connor. Mike is a friend. How can I not care about him, and Jen, and Benita, and Nancy?”
“So your friend presses charges against me, and you’re content with that,” he retorted, facing her, bitterness all over his eyes.
“I’m not!” she replied and reached for him. “I’m not!” Kissing him was probably not the right answer either, but still, it silenced him. “I’m not, Connor,” she repeated when she was once again safely in his tight embrace. “If I can get him cleared of charges, don’t you think I can do the same for you?”
She thought she was omnipotent.
“Oh Nadee…” He gazed into her eyes that seemed luminous in the semi-dark of the kitchenette. “Why do we have to be on opposite sides in this battle?”
“Why must there be a battle?” she asked back. “Why is Mike such a threat to you?”
He glanced up. “What on Earth have you done to my kitchen?”
The whole place was one mess of tangled vines, strewn with white starflowers.
“And my lounge is a jolly impenetrable rose hedge,” he added.
“Oh!” Nadisda waved the plants away with a careless flick of her hands. “It sort-of – just happens. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize!” he muttered, kissing her forehead. “It’s who you are.”
“We have to go online,” she said urgently. “We have to play the game tonight.”
The game! He’d nearly forgotten about that disastrous game. But if winning her over entailed settling things in the game once and for all – which, in fairness, was her home world –
That part really bothered him. He had to somehow extract her from that place, or else make it independent of Mike Nickells’ game. Perhaps duplicate it after all, or maybe just a small private version of it, for exclusive use, on his computer.
Perhaps she was only a gamer… he thought of tangles of roses and starflowers. Right, a gamer with wings, and PSI? How the hell was she making it work in this world, anyway? Was it all illusion? Was she an illusion? Had he finally cracked?
“I have no computer,” he reminded her. “Something popped the power box.”
“I fixed it,” she said chirpily, and swatted the birdies away that had started twittering around both their heads. “Go home, you lot! Shoo!”
“You fixed it?” He followed her to the study, still too rattled about the disastrous course things were taking with Nickells, to focus on any of her magic effects.
There was his computer, already up and running and online, with the game loaded. The original, not his version. He sat down, intrigued, taking the mouse and logging in.
“There she is!” cheered Valentine as the Forest Fairy came gliding across the meadow, her blue wings fibrillating.
He, Benita the flower fairy, Jen the practical heroine and Nancy the Fairy Princess had rounded up considerable forces of beta-players, all set to meet and punch up Hero Hugo. This time, the levels were better balanced. The troupe of beta-players ranged from levels twelve to fifteen; still not a real force against a level twenty-nine, but with that army they had better odds than last night.
“I’m here on borrowed time,” Nadisda told them. “Our success hinges on whether Hugo can make the transformation.”
“So aren’t you going to curse him?” asked Valentine in surprise.
“I bloody did,” she reminded him. “No thanks to you, Valentine! He’s so cursed…”
“That bombed out on us,” replied the Villain. “I don’t think that spell even worked.”
“Anyway, he’s already cursed in real life,” said Nadisda lightly. “Poor fiend! With a name like McNaught, who will ever want to marry him?” She laughed.
“McNaught,” repeated Jen and laughed loudly. “You’re right! That’s funny!”
Nancy giggled too. And she granted a whole lot of the mercenaries upgrades to their armour and weaponry.
“I’m going back to bring you Hero Hugo,” said Nadisda. “Remember, the idea is not to kill him, just to beat him into submission until he makes the transformation.” She lifted off.
Mike glanced at his friends over the rim of his laptop.
“Did you copy that?”
“She was doing what she always does,” said Nancy lightly.
He shook his head. “She’s blooming fallen for him. See how she hedged about that curse?” He scowled. “Damn! Should have known! Should have stopped her from going back.”
“So what do we do?” asked Jen.
“She’s still acting like she’s on our side,” said Mike. “We’ve got to be careful. Here’s what: We take down Connor but make sure we don’t hurt her.” He started hacking away at his keyboard. “I’m reducing her powers so she can’t turn on us… Maybe I should pull her out of there and put her back in her grove. I don’t think she’s got the stuff for being a double agent.”
“No,” said Nancy. “Don’t! You’ll delete her personality.”
“Let her do her thing, Mike,” said his sister. “C’mon, she’s still on our side. She’s just trying to bring McNaught round. Who knows, with her fairy magic, maybe she’ll get it right.”
“Yeah, really likely,” grumbled Mike as he reduced Nadisda’s mana levels.
Connor looked around his study for something to use as a second chair. He’d given Nadisda his large, black-leather boss chair, the one that swivelled and tilted. He’d already logged her into the game. It occurred to him for the first time that he wasn’t exactly set up to have anyone visiting in his study.
He found a small metal filing cabinet full of case studies and dragged it closer to the desk. Then he dug in his study cupboard and unearthed a second set of controls and plugged it in.
“I’ve got to hand it to Nickells,” he said as the interactive window popped up, asking his game identity, “this is a nice game. Makes allowance for multiple players on the same system, as long as each has his own set of controls.” He logged in as Hero Hugo.
“I have to do something,” said Nadisda, pulling the keyboard closer. “Sorry, Hugo. I’m the Forest Fairy. I’m setting you a challenge.”
“What challenge?” asked Connor.
“The name of the challenge is ‘Truth’,” she said and started hacking away at the keyboard at high speed. A programming window opened; she minimized it.
“Hey! Do you program without even looking?” asked Connor, surprised.
“Wouldn’t be much of a challenge if you could see what I was doing,” she commented. “Now, Connor, the first thing Hugo must do is find me in my grove. I have this quest for him.”
“First, before anything else?”
“That’s the deal.”
He glanced at her, sitting so close to him, the blue light of the screen lighting up her opalesque eyes even more intensely. She was truly exquisite, with those black tendrils of hair curling against that bone-pale skin. Those words sat on the tip of his tongue, but he never spoke them. He just wished she knew.
Forest fairy or none, they had a lot in common. She was game-mad. A real tech-junkie. As was he. Her eyes flicked to meet his. She was so serious!
“You have to trust me,” she said. “Promise me?”
“Sounds ominous,” he smiled. And glanced uneasily at the ceiling, from where vines were starting to drop down, their tendrils moving around searchingly.
“They will try to break you, Hugo,” she told him. “Stay close. Trust me. And focus on your quests. Okay?”
He nodded. The excitement of the game was allowing him a break from relentlessly agonizing over everything that had happened today, and the consequences it was drawing in its wake. He’d unwind for a few hours, playing his favourite game together with this lovely co-fanatic here. And let tomorrow’s worries take care of themselves, tomorrow.
She was right: They would most definitely try to break him, even in the game! And Nickells, his sister and the other two programmers did stand a chance – if they did what they always did: change the program in mid-flight. One aspect that kept this game brilliant, was that its creator was in it, changing the rules as you went. It made for very advanced gaming. He loved it.
But they could technically simply delete his avatar and block him. It would be what he would have done, had the roles been reversed. Somehow, Nadee had got them not to do that.
“Before we get too involved in gaming,” he said, pulled her close and kissed her. A black rose creeper silently started wreathing its way up the back legs of the desk. Vines reached for him from above. Gossamer blue fairy wings spread out and folded around the two of them.
The forest fairy took stock of her grove, and the ingredients for Ben’s spell which were still lying there. She put them away. It would be a while before the Shadow Knight quest was going to be called on again. She fleetingly recalled the handsome, mysterious Shadow Knight. But now that she had met Connor, all the games characters seemed shallow and limited to her in comparison.
She picked up the pieces of where the other spell had blown apart some of her crystals and tidied those up too.
There was a crunch on her moss.
“Valentine!” she greeted the Villain with a quirky smile. “How’s the round-up going?”
“We’re thirty strong now,” he said proudly and disentangled himself from the slightly thorny vines that came down from the trees to check on him. “Nadisda, are you sure you can do this?”
“Course,” she assured him.
“Don’t you rather want to wait outside until we’ve pulled him apart?” he asked. “Are you sure you can handle this?”
“You misunderstand,” said Nadisda. “We’re correcting the flaws in his character. By fixing Hugo, we’re giving Connor a chance to make up for what he did. Now remember, I’ve got to set Hugo up. Give me a bit of space. I’m sending him into the Dread Wastelands, level thirty, and you guys will have to find him. Be prepared.”
“And then we clobber him to within an inch of his life, and downgrade him to level six,” said Valentine with a big smirk. “You say you cursed him? What did you do?”
She shook her head. “That’s still lying ahead.”
Valentine gave her a long, scrutinizing gaze.
“Fix Connor’s character? The guy’s a swine! You have no clue, fairykins! Be very careful when you deal with him. He’ll eat you up for breakfast, chew you up and spit you out.”
“Why do you let him be a beta-player in your game, if he’s such a threat?” asked Nadisda. “That’s been puzzling me!”
“The most vicious hackers are a game’s best test,” said Valentine proudly. “Friendly beta-players find glitches and so on; but enemy players actually try to destroy or rip your game. Like he showed me. Right now I’m patching the gaps as we’re playing, like you won’t believe. I’ve found the spot where the virus got in. It’s fixed.”
“So in a way he’s doing you a favour?” asked Nadisda.
Valentine grinned. “And how! That should piss him off like crazy!”
“So… it won’t help you if I break him tonight?”
Valentine hesitated. “Whom are you breaking, Nadisda? Hero Hugo, or Connor McNaught?”
“Both, it seems,” she said.
“Break Connor,” replied Valentine. “Leave Hero Hugo his own arrogant self. I need him vicious and ambitious, the way he is. Connor is an ace gamer. But as a cop he is getting too dangerous. Are you sure you can cope?”
She rolled her eyes. “Just play,” she said.
“Let me rally my troupes,” announced Valentine with unconcealed glee. And he walked off back in the direction of the meadow, leaving footsteps of wilted plants behind. Nadisda waved her hand, undoing all the damage he’d done to her grove.
“Hold on,” said Nadee and bent over her keyboard, programming like mad. Once again with a minimized window.
“What are you doing?” asked Connor.
“Creating something,” she replied vaguely, then looked up. “Connor, do you love me?”
He gasped for air. “I’m sorry, I’m – I’m not ready for that question!”
“Sorry I asked,” she said and returned to her programming. The tangle of black roses around them became an impenetrable thicket; the creepers from above thickened into gnarled, woody ropes that strangulated each other. An owl hooted somewhere close by; something rustled in the undergrowth. She didn’t seem aware of any of this as she hacked away furiously at the keyboard.
Connor turned to her and lifted her face in his hands. He couldn’t just leave this where it was. Her fingers on the keyboard stilled. Her eyes avoided him; he thought he saw something shimmering in them.
“Do I love you? Do I! Nadee, I didn’t expect the question, that was all.” He gathered her close and kissed her, blind with hunger.
She was not real! She was from a world that could disappear in a blink; programmed by a very dangerous young gangster. She could change, or fade away at any moment, at Nickells’ wish. The fact that she was still here told him that Nickells had an agenda. He should be fighting what he was feeling; he was walking open-eyed, deeper and deeper into a trap – one that probably, Nickells had set for him. But he couldn’t.
“I don’t ever want to be without you again! I want to keep you, forever. Do you understand that? Is there space for that in your strange forest fairy heart?”
She nodded. Black roses? He was learning to read her signals. The black briar roses were an expression of her despair. It reflected his own.
“I’m creating safe spots in the game,” she said. “Doesn’t matter which level you’re in, if you get into real trouble, come to my grove. It will be there on every level. I’ve moved it between levels. Then wait for me. You realize they are after your blood, don’t you?”
She had hoped that by kicking Hugo out of the game, Mike would let go of his revenge against Connor. But she had just learnt that it wasn’t enough.
There was no telling what damage Mike, the first-rate hacker, could do to Connor. If she herself, a complete novice, had found it so easy to hack around in the police files… she only hoped that she could assuage Mike so he could let go of his anger.
She looked up at her love without hope. She would probably end up betraying him tonight. She was as cursed as he was.
“Here we go,” she said resignedly, closed the programming window, flickered and disappeared into the game.
“Nadee, wait!” exclaimed Conner in dismay.