Games!

I have a nark. This is my blog, so I’m going to vent it here.

Games, games, games.

When I was at school, (which was a very long time ago, when dinosaurs still roamed the land), one of my classmates threw a proper hissy fit because he didn’t win at a game of rounders. My then-teacher, the erstwhile Mr. Hodgkinson, told him to go back indoors and to look up the definition of the work ‘game’ in a dictionary. Let’s do that now, from the comfort of our own chairs, shall we?

Game [geym]

Noun

An amusement or pastime.

Key word there: ‘amusement’. A game is supposed to be fun.Boy-at-school was embarrassed by being called out and indulged a little more in the team spirit going forward. But, as I say, that was a long time ago, back in the days when ‘game’ was clearly more easily understood. Now, we seem to have entered a time where this definition has lost its meaning.

So, context. I like and enjoy video games, but I’m not a die-hard. I enjoy MMORPGs, I enjoy problem-solving. I like puzzles and strategies and what-not. I’m a mediocre video gamer at best, although I am more than competent in most cases. Games that have more than two sub-menus frustrate me and fail to hold my attention span for very long. (This is not a reflection on the quality of the game, just a commentary on my short attention span).

Anything that requires mechanical skill is a challenge. On PC, I’m OK with games like WoW or SW:TOR, where I just push buttons and don’t really have to coordinate. If I am in a situation where I have to move and shoot at the same time using keyboard and mouse, I literally fall over myself. On a scale of repeatedly falling off a cliff to balancing on the narrow side of the primary school balance beams, I’m a 2.

On console, I walk the average line. I can coordinate a lot better, though. (Although there was still that time when playing Destiny when I was in a PvP game, was startled by another player and flailed at the controller before I turned around, punching him off the edge of Venus).

But here’s the point. I have fun doing it. But there are a few things that have been conspiring for a while to make me have a lot less fun.

1) Hackers.
2) Gamer entitlement.
3) Toxicity.

Let’s start with hackers. The delightful Mr. Stylosa put up a YouTube video yesterday about the problems in Apex: Legends with those people who can’t actually be bothered to play a game for fun and just want to win. Aimbots, wall hacks… just so they can say ‘look at how good I am!’ But they’re not good. They’re cheating. And they think that’s totally OK. 

What a strange world it has become where people are firmly of the opinion that cheating for the soul benefit of ruining other people’s game is totally OK. It annoys me in a way I can’t quite express. It calls back to that long-ago game of rounders and that guy being told to go and look up the word in the dictionary. 

You get nothing tangible for winning in Apex: Legends. There’s not some sort of cash prize or prestige that goes with it. All you get is a player banner with impressive stats that largely make my other half shout things like ‘get a job’ at the TV screen. By not actually playing the game properly and effectively just being a lazy fucker, you impress nobody but yourself. You should maybe see a therapist about that lack of self-confidence.

Transition.

Apex: Legends is a fun game, but it doesn’t really float my boat in the same way that other games do. I am certain that once more content comes in, and perhaps some sort of skill ranking system, I might engage with it more enthusiastically. I play on console, so the risk of hackers is minimal compared to that on PC. So let’s talk about Overwatch. Which I do a lot, I know, but that’s because I like it.

Overwatch was the first real FPS I played and I didn’t think I’d like it anywhere near as much as I do. I’ve played it pretty much since launch, although never seriously (I only wandered into competitive play in about season six, I think). I’m firmly in mid to high gold level, along with the bulk of players, so am decidedly average. But I have fun playing it. I like that Blizzard provide regular updates. I like that Blizzard provide regular character buffs and nerfs. I like we get the animated shorts, the lore teasers, the new characters, the new maps. I like Overwatch’s art style and the engagement of the developers with the community.

Ah, yes. The community. A word that conjures the concept of a group of like-minded individuals who all work together for the same goal and who ultimately have the interests of one another at mind. The Overwatch community.

A community that turns round every five feet, complaining incessantly that the game isn’t being updated regularly enough. That each change to a character ‘breaks the game’. That the character they prefer to play doesn’t get buffed in the way they want it to be. LOL people still play this game? That they are stuck in the rank they’re in because of everyone else, can’t possibly be them, their other account is Grand Masters don’t you know?

Seriously. Cry me a river, build a bridge and get the fuck over it. Why can you not just play the game and adapt with its changes? At least in that regard it’s certainly not a static game. It’s a very different game now to the way it was when it was released. For some people, that’s a cool thing. It means you have to learn new strategies, try new combinations of characters. But for the vocal set, it means that the characters and strategies they’ve perfected have been unbalanced. They don’t seem to think ‘cool, I get to learn something new’, they just complain.

Then they complain some more.

Then they negatively post on every single one of Overwatch’ssocial media streams.

“Hey, everyone,” says the stream. “Check out Baptiste, our new character!” He’s been designed, says the subtext, to add a new level to the game. His skillset is designed to work with some things, to work against others, but we’ll leave that for you to work out. “Look at the way he fits into the lore, look at the way he fits in with the other characters!”

“OMG HE’S SO OP WTF LUL OMG BBQ”

“THIS GAME IS DED RIP”

And so on.

I have my own gripes about certain characters in the game (Bastion, f’rex, can totally get in the sea. But the fact I’m rubbish at countering him is my issue, not the game’s. This, perhaps, is the difference between me and others).

The other issue in Overwatch is that of people who play using the dreaded keyboard and mouse. For them, it provides an advantage similar to the aimbot/wall hacks I previously mentioned in Apex: Legends. For me, it’d just add a whole new level of complexity that would produce comical swear combos. But you can tell. When a Widowmaker or Hanzo get repeated critical hits and you watch back in the Play of the Game feed, and you see that snap to target, you know. And it’s annoying.

Overwatch has come in for a lot of stick lately because it seems to be felt that the changes to the characters have been designed specifically with the pro-level players in mind. But for me, that’s fine. I’m happy re-learning my characters and if they don’t feel to be a good fit any more, I’ll change onto another. 

Which of course brings me to toxicity. I will usually mic up in Overwatch competitive, just to listen for call outs and to make call outs when I’m playing relevant characters. But I’ve given up engaging in any sort of conversation for a variety of reasons, the most fun one of which was the toxic little shit on Lunar Colony.

I took a support character (because nobody else did) and he proceeded to mansplain everything to me. Told me how to play a character I’m perfectly capable with, then threw in the kicker.

“You sound like you’re in your thirties, soooo…” The sentence tailed off and he snickered at me like he was my superior.

As it happens, I’m not in my thirties. I’m older than that. And it fucked me right off. For the love of all that’s good and holy, you little shit, I was killing Space Invaders before I hit double figures. Why wouldn’t someone my age be playing a video game? You don’t threaten me you little toerag. My mortgage scares me more than you do.

And because of that, this was one of the rare occasions where I did have an immediate response and it worked. It shut him up because all his friends laughed at him. He spent the rest of the game being meek and deferential, but it still annoyed me. It extracted the ultimate in cursing from me.

“You sound like you’re in your thirties, soooo…”

“And you sound like a c**t, what’s your point?”

As it goes, I’m lucky that it’s the worst I’ve experienced in Overwatch. I’ve seen screenshots of messages sent by ridiculously vile people, that are far worse and I’m glad I’ve never experienced that in the game (although I have certainly experienced it due to having the wrong chromosomes in a male-dominated fandom where I have written novels). 

As a contrast, I was in a game where I (as Sombra) and the enemy team’s Sombra were quite literally running round and round the payload on Eichenwalde like we were in some sort of cartoon. After the game was over, I got a message from the enemy team player saying how hard they’d laughed and to thank me for cheering up their night. I felt the same and it was nice.

That, right there, is what a community should be. Not whining and moaning, but enjoying the fun of a shared experience.

Am I ranting? I’m ranting. I’ll stop. Let’s summarise with this:-

1) Hackers – stop cheating. It’s bollocks, impresses nobody and just gives you an over-inflated sense of ego. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
2) Gamer entitlement. By repeatedly biting the hand that feeds you, the hand will eventually stop. So stop complaining and embrace change rather than be endlessly whiny about it.
3) Toxicity. Oh-so-simple. If you have nothing nice to say, say nothing.

Vent over. Please go about your business.

Advertisements

The Drifter and the Jawa [Star Wars]

Tattoine

The day had dawned with such promise. When Daro had woken, he’d done so with the sheer luxury of that experience being enjoyed in an actual bed, with sheets and everything. It had been some days since he’d slept anywhere since in the alleyway behind the cantina, that the joy of a scutty little bunk in the docker’s room at the spaceport had filled him with joy.

Being well over six feet in height had meant that his feet hung over the end, but it was still infinitely preferable to sleeping on the floor.

A day spent lugging boxes on and off ships that came and went had yielded little progress in his hunt for a job to get off this bloody planet, but it had put a few credits in his pocket, and given him a bed for the night. So when he had woken up, he had done so feeling refreshed and glad to be alive. Being alive was always a positive start to the day.

He queued for a while to use the shared bathroom, which was a grubby affair, but it was a simple delight to emerge feeling clean and fresh. His clothes were in need of a good wash, which didn’t help with his current odour situation, but these things would come. It was easy enough to locate cheap used clothes that were serviceable enough. Not for Daro Keers the luxury of opening a wardrobe and choosing his outfit. No, his options were definitely more limited. It was more a case of buying a new shirt when the current one literally fell off him.

He glanced down. That day was imminent.

He studied his reflection in the cracked distorted mirror, then elected to look away again. he was most certainly not at his best: too many days of poor sleep and a Distinct Lack of Razor had left him looking like the worst kind of space bum imaginable.

He returned to the bunk room and gathered his pathetically small pack of belongings together. He cheered up by repeating the mantra he’d been living by over and over in his head.

Travel light, travel fast, travel far.

If that was true, suggested his mutinous inner self, you’d be the other side of the galaxy by now.

He hated that guy.

Shouldering his pack, Daro headed out of the digs and back to the space port offices. He’d offer up his services for a second day, although they rarely gave casual work out for more than a day at a time. He joined the queue of hopefuls and just like the several dozen people and aliens ahead of him, was turned away without work. No work, no money, no food and back to sleeping in the alleyway.

For a long moment, he sank out of his usual optimism hitting a quagmire of self-pity and misery. But Daro’s nature was not the sort to allow him to wallow there for long and with a mental slurp, he extracted himself from the swamp of depression.

“Today,” he said aloud, “my luck is going to change.” He was right, he knew it.

And yes… he was right in that regard, but whether that change in luck could be considered good or bad was subjective. Because that day turned out to be the day that Daro Keers, space drifter, met Glix the jawa.

The day had worn on, as these things are wont to do, and Daro had moved with increasing despondence throughout. He amused himself for a little while with a stint of people-watching in the space port and even contemplated the feasibility of stowing away on board a cargo ship. Once he realised that said ship was populated with Rodians who sounded collectively pissed at the cosmos, he changed his mind. It was too much like hard work having to deal with angry people.

He headed out into the heat of the afternoon and decided to trek a little further afield than the space port. He made sure he took water – which was expensive and ate into his credits without so much as a by-your-leave – and, tugging his hood up over his head, made his way out into Tatooine proper.

He considered the sights of the Jundland Wastes, the lonely expanse of… golden sands and endless, cloudless blue skies punctuated at odd intervals by the desiccated skeletons of creatures long dehydrated. He studied them thoughtfully. Some were recognisable as human, others not so much so. Apparently, an overly-enthusiastic trader back at the space port had told him, if he headed even further out, into what was known locally as the ‘Infinite Desiccation’, he could see the apparent ‘tourist attraction’ of a krayt dragon skeleton. (He’d come to realise that here, on Tatooine, a ‘tourist attraction’ was something that was visited more than once by more than two people. His hopes weren’t high).

Mentally, he weighed up the pros and cons. Then he declined. No thanks

He continued on his way. The guide he’d flicked through back at the space port had promised him that he would encounter splendour unlike anything he’d ever known.

Well, if sand is your thing…

He trudged onward, heading towards the outpost where he would try to get a room as cheaply as possible for the night. Failing that, he’d find himself a comfortable few feet of space behind a building, dig in and stay there. The temperature always dropped to killer cold levels at night, but he’d mastered the art of imbibing just enough spirits to keep the chill from his bones, and trapping as much heat as possible in a small space.

About twenty minutes further in, he was distracted by a noise nearby. He wasn’t entirely sure, but he suspected the noise sounded like a jawa in distress. He didn’t have that many frames of reference for the infernal squawking coming from a short distance to the east, but the occasional utini! was a bit of a giveaway.

He hesitated. Thus far, his encounters with jawas hadn’t been entirely peaceable, but that definitely sounded like someone who needed help.

Daro considered his options. It was a short list.

Go investigate. Help if possible. If I can: win. If I can’t, at least I tried.

Ignore the noise. Ignore the sounds of a creature in terrible distress. Keep walking. Go. Go. Go!

Like that was ever going to happen.

He adjusted course, heading for the noise, all the while regretting his own inability to avoid helping those in need.

For Glix the jawa, today was not a good day.

He was young, as jawas measured these things, and he was curious. That by itself was no cause for alarm: many young jawas were curious and many young jawas ventured out by themselves into the Jundland Wastes to see what fortunes they could find. Tales abounded of a hero in jawa history, known to all in the words of legend as the Great Utini. The Great Utini, it was said, had been able to find salvage anywhere on Tattooine. The Youth of Today aspired to be like the Great Utini.

Glix was not like the Great Utini. He was realising this. Glix, Glix realised, was a fool. Glix had been curious enough to wriggle in through a small hole in a rock face, his small mind filled with dreams of glory. There could be anything behind that hole. There could be salvage. There could be credits. There could even be food, one of those things that young jawas cherished above all other things.

(It should be noted at this point that traditionally, jawas did not have long, deep, philosophical thoughts. Glix was no exception to the rule, although his peers considered him far too deep and thoughtful).

So, his mind filled with thrilling thoughts of salvage, credits and/or food, Glix wriggled deeper into the hole.

What Glix found was a womp-rat nest, with a nesting mother protecting a litter of about twenty ratlings.

What the womp-rat mother found was a curious little jawa dropping several feet on top of her nest and squashing a large proportion of her ratling family. Glix, a little stunned by the unexpected fall, got to his feet and staggered slightly, rubbing his head and muttering to himself about his dire misfortune. It transpired that it was a dire misfortune that was made somewhat worse when the womp-rat mother, distraught at the squashing of a handful of her offspring decided she would turn Glix into lunch.

She attacked.

Glix screamed.

And somewhere, not so very far away, Daro Keers heard the commotion and was coming along to see what could be done.

Nothing could go wrong.

Right?

Daro had encountered womp-rats before. He’d come to understand a number of important things about them. One was that ‘omnivorous’ meant that the little bastards would attack anything with a face. The second was that around two metres in size was surprisingly huge when you came directly into contact with it.

An old-timer in the cantina back at the space port had wheezed a tale one night, after application of a good quantity of alcoholic lubrication, about how a pack of womp-rats could bring down a bantha if they worked together and Daro didn’t doubt the veracity of the claim. His own encounters with the rodents had been kept to a sort of ‘who will back away first’ face-off style of meeting. He’d blasted one out of his way a few nights ago and that was when he’d made his third discovery about womp-rats.

They tasted like shavit.

So it came as no surprise as he approached the noise that had caught his attention, that the screeching sound of the jawa was being underpinned by the vocal chittering of an angry womp-rat. The noise, Daro determined, was coming from the other side of a low wall.

(It is important to maintain perspective here. Daro, our illustrious hero, is six feet four inches in height. At full stretch, Glix the jawa barely reaches his kneecap. A low wall to Daro was a rock face to little Glix).

Daro peered over the top and took in the scene before him. An angry womp-rat was savaging the bottom of a jawa’s robe, whilst said jawa was attempting to prod the womp-rat in the face with a shock-stick. The stand-off would have been funny if it hadn’t been for the infernal racket.

The altercation continued in this way for a while as Daro assessed the practical options. Eventually, he realised, there was only one. He unholstered his blaster and levelled it at the womp-rat, which backed off a little on spying the newcomer. It transpired that this small shuffle of the back paws would be the tiny motion that saved the womp-rat’s life, because as it moved, one of the previously squashed ratlings moved slightly and let out a sad little ‘mew’.

Mew.

Pitiful, plaintive, tragic.

Mew.

The noise would have softened the hardest of hearts. The mother womp-rat turned her attention instantly to the bedraggled baby and let go of the jawa’s robe. Leaning over the wall and going to full stretch, Daro caught the jawa by the hood and yanked it free of the nest, back over the wall and dumped it unceremoniously on the sand, where it lay, stunned for a few moments, before scrambling to its feet.

What occurred at this point can now only be be relayed through the medium of the written word. It is important to note the following two facts, however.

1) Daro Keers speaks no Jawa-ese.
2) Glix the Jawa speaks only Jawa-ese.

Sitting comfortably?

Good.

In order to best convey the discussion that took place, one has to make an assumption as to the style of the jawa spoken language, as heard by one another. Just as, for example, the humble Ugnaught’s grunts and squeaks translate into a flowing, archaic language, so does that of the jawa.

“So,” said Daro, studying the little creature in front of him. There were many things he could say. He could ask the jawa if it was alright. He could ask what it had been up to, but he knew that it would be pointless. All he’d get back would be ‘utini’.

“Utini!” said Glix. “Glix!”

Those two words conveyed the following.

“My giant friend! You have saved me from the accursed terrors of the womp-rat’s teeth! I am a young jawa, but handsome, and had it mauled me, my looks would have been stolen from me and my parents, poor, alas, would have been unable to marry me off. We would have all ended up in squalor and horror. But you have saved me! I pledge to serve you in order to repay this life debt. My name is Glix!”

As he said the last, the jawa pointed to himself. Daro understood that bit at least.

“Oh, Glix? Right. Daro. Daro Keers.”

“Utini!”

“Daro Daro Keers, you are a beacon of hope in a dark world. Let us travel together now to the outpost, where you can buy me a drink to help me recover from my ordeal… ah! You are walking away! Let me follow you!”

And so on.

* * *

A day had passed since Daro and Glix had become inseparable companions and heroic adventuring buddies. Well, that’s how Glix saw it. How Daro viewed the situation was slightly different.

“Is he still there?” The whispered voice belonged to Daro Keers and the girl to whom he whispered it had been his companion the previous night. It had taken everything in his power to firmly deposit Glix outside the girl’s door. Had the jawa had his own way, he’d have sat on the end of the bed and jabbered endlessly throughout the entire…

process

…and even Daro Keers had limits. He’d tolerated the jawa’s cheerful presence for a full day, realising quite quickly that the little creature had bonded itself to him – presumably as an act of gratitude for rescuing him from the Great Womp-Rat Massacre of the year. He’d been amused, then annoyed, then irritated and finally resigned to the fact that until he found some way to communicate with Glix, the little alien would be his shadow indefinitely.

“I don’t know. Look out the door.”

“No. You do it.”

“And if he’s there?” The girl, whose name was Mari, propped herself up on one elbow and tipped her head quizzically at her bed partner. “Then what?”

“I don’t know!” A slight hint of panic crept into Daro’s voice and the volume raised involuntarily. “Tell him I left out the back door or something!”

Mari laughed, leaning over to kiss the end of Daro’s nose fondly. He’d not expected to find a girl like her here. She, like him, was from Corellia, and was a few years older. She’d known his family. She’d known his older brother. The vague connection had drawn them together over a bottle of wine, and for a while, he’d enjoyed the warm sense of recollection and memory.

They’d slept together, but sleeping hadn’t really been much of a thing. Now that morning had arrived, though, the anxiety about the presence of the jawa flooded back into his system, metaphorically elbowing the sense of well-being out of the way.

“Fine,” Mari said eventually, wrinkling her nose at him. “But only because you’re cute when you’re anxious.”

“I’m not anxious,” Daro protested. Anxiously.

Mari got out of the bed without any hint of self-consciousness and for a few moments, Daro forgot his troubles, admiring her naked curves as she crossed the room to the door. She tapped the lock and it slid open. She stood there, in her entirely naked glory, everything on display for the entirety of the outpost to view should they so choose.

But the corridor outside was empty.

The door closed again with a quiet swish and she turned back to him. “No jawa,” she announced and Daro heaved a sigh of relief that started somewhere at his toes and spread the warmth of joy through his veins. Mari smiled at him, then bent down to pick up their clothes, discarded where he’d left them.

Except they weren’t there.

An entertaining panic ensued as the pair, naked as the day they’d been born scrabbled around the room attempting to find their clothing. Eventually, they ran out of places to look.

There was a scraping sound outside in the corridor, and then a clattering. Then, the buzzer went. Mari blushed furiously, her easy exposure of a few moments ago completely gone, and snatched the only sheet from Daro’s body to wrap around herself. She opened the door.

There, standing, on a chair, with folded, neatly pressed clothes on the floor next to him was Glix.

“Utini!”

Ah, Daro Daro Keers and female companion! I trust you had a most excellent night’s sleep? Although I’m sure you did more than sleep, am I right? Hahaha, of course I am. Anyway, I took the liberty of your being busy to sneak in whilst you did sleep and collect your clothing. It’s all been laundered. I do hope you don’t mind my method of folding, the jawa elders are always so particular about how well seams should be creased…

An awkward silence ensued and Glix scrambled down off the chair he’d used to reach the buzzer, lifting up the pile of clothes and offering them up to Mari. She stared at him, then looked at Daro.

“What the hell did he just say?”

Utini, thought Daro, in despair. What did it even sound like?

“I think he did our laundry,” he managed weakly.

“You mean he broke into my room, stole our clothes and then… washed them?”

“…yes?” The word rose in a rising, tremulous tone.

“That,” she said, taking the neatly pressed clothes from the jawa and throwing Daro’s at him, “is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

Daro could only smile weakly and get dressed.

* * *

Three days.

For three days, Daro had found himself accompanied everywhere by the eager jawa. And by ‘everywhere’, he meant everywhere. He’d even found the jawa standing beside him as he’d stood in the back room of the cantina emptying his bladder. That had been unnerving and it was at about that time that Daro realised a couple of important things.

Firstly, he needed to draw lines in the sand. Not that there was any other kind of ground to draw lines in around here, but still. The analogy served. Boundaries, he had come to realise, were important. But this meant, of course, somehow getting through to the jawa. He could hire the services of one of the translator droids that served the space port, but their owners generally charged an arm and a leg. He’d sat, earnestly attempting to communicate with Glix, but they never got beyond ‘utini’.

Glix had attached himself to Daro Keers like a little brown-clad shadow with disconcerting yellow eyes. Everywhere Daro went, Glix went as well. As a result, Mari had informed him that morning that she no longer appreciated Daro’s company in her bed, because nobody – and she meant nobody needed the horror of opening their closet to dress in the morning and having a jawa fall out from its hiding place and land on top of them.

Still, it was probably for the best. He had been spending too much time with Mari. For Daro Keers, three nights of unashamed passion was steering dangerously close to the ‘this is long term’ and it was time to extract himself. This had been a little different, of course, because he’d actually liked Mari.

Easy going to a fault, Daro shrugged off this latest romantic rejection with ease and considered what he needed to do in order to get through to the little creature who was even now trotting along happily by his new friend’s side.

And then it came to him in a flash of inspiration. Alright, perhaps not a flash; Daro’s brain cells didn’t exactly fire that fast, but it was certainly a much brighter thought than usual. He needed someone who could help him crack the programming of a translator droid and get it to work for free.

Gileas.

His younger brother, although only fifteen years of age, had demonstrated a startling and uncanny ability to work with droids. He could understand the ‘gonks’ of the family’s power droid with apparent ease and had seemed very surprised that nobody else in the family did. He had built several small droids from scratch and their uses ranged from automating certain chores that the boy hated – such as washing the dishes – right through to half a dozen spy-bot droids that were so tiny they could skitter up and down walls like little electronic spiders. The uses for those were endless, and if the Empire ever got their hand son such technology, the stars above knew what could ensue. But Gileas – being a fifteen year old boy, and a Keers boy to boot – mostly used it for spying on the girl he rather liked in the apartment down the hallway.

Daro found himself a shaded corner of the outpost, beneath an arching canopy that protected him from the worst of the sun and pulled out his personal communicator. He didn’t have enough credits to send a holoproject message, but he put together a message to his brother that would arrive in text format.

He hated doing those. He felt so self-conscious talking to himself as the device recorded his words and converted them into the written word.

Hey, kid, hope you and the aged P’s are doing OK. I’m on Tattooine. It’s a dump, kid, seriously. Don’t let anybody ever tell you adventuring around the universe is glamorous, because it’s not. Listen, I need your advice. There’s this jawa. His name is Glix and well, I can’t get rid of him. And I can’t ask him what he wants, or needs, because all he ever says is ‘utini’. I wonder if you can help me get some sort of sense out of him? There’s translator droids here, but they’re programmed to work for credits and… yeah, you know that one. Situation normal. Look, I know it’s a long shot, Gil, but if you’ve got any ideas on how I can tap into the translation subroutines… I’d appreciate any lines you could throw my way.

He hesitated, his finger over the ‘send’ button.

No. This needs to be done.

Send.

He glanced down at the jawa, who was sitting on the floor not too far from him, its brown robe like a mucky puddle around its form. “Well, Glix,” he said, “hopefully that’ll get us some way of at least establishing boundaries.”

“Utini!”

Ah, Daro Daro Keers, your mood seems oddly melancholy on this, the third chikda of the solar cycle. Would that you could only understand my language, I could offer you words of comfort or advice. It saddens my jawa heart to see you so unhappy. Perhaps it is a gentle pat on the arm that you need from me… ah, no, I can tell by the way you snatched your lanky limb away that perhaps the hands-on approach isn’t best. How about I simply sit here? Yes? Yes, that seems to please you. Perhaps you can find a way to communicate with me, because frankly, your lack of ability to speak jawa is making me a little sad. I want us to be friends. I owe you a life debt, remember? And I will not leave your side until you tell me that debt is repaid. But it would be good to be friends, no?

“Utini!”

Daro sighed. “Yes,” he said. “Utini.”

Gileas’s reply came sooner than Daro had expected and it warmed his soul to receive the notification that his younger brother had sent him a holo-message. He had been in the spaceport at the time that the alert had beeped quietly in his pocket, lugging boxes – which seemed to be his mainstay these days. He wiped sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand, but he kept working. He’d learned very quickly that casual labourers were given the boot pretty fast if they kept taking breaks. Whatever Gil had to tell him could wait a little longer.

Glix trotted back and forth beside Daro, occasionally chattering away in his odd language and from time to time, Daro nodded in an understanding kind of way, because it was what he felt was expected of him. It seemed enough to keep the jawa content and everything was just fine.

The dockers at Mos Eisley worked damned hard and Daro, for all his tendency to become distracted, was no exception to the rule. He sweated out the previous night’s alcohol fairly swiftly and by the time that the workers were allowed to take a break, he was exhausted from a combination of back-breaking effort and dehydration. He ran his hand down his jawline, feeling the stubble beneath his fingers and letting his eyes flicker to the cantina. Just one Rodian ale couldn’t hurt, right?

If he told himself that enough, he’d start to believe it.

Then he remembered that he had a message from his kid brother and it became much, much more important to deal with that.

Outside of the spaceport, the hustle and bustle was magnified. An Imperial ship was in dry dock at the moment, and the Empire’s increased presence was felt in a variety of ways, not least of which was the increase in the number of white armour-clad Stormtroopers patrolling the area. Glix pointed to one and tugged at Daro’s coat.

“Utini!”

I say, Daro Daro Keers. Don’t you think that the sudden appearance of all these frightful armoured oiks is pushing on an infringement of our civil liberties? Mos Eisley has its own militia, we don’t need their sort around here. I think it’s quite shocking, personally. They don’t even acknowledge my people as existing. Speaking of which, that’s my Uncle Nyn. I’ll just pop over and have a bit of a chat. Will you be alright on your own? Of course you will, you’re strong and tough. Now don’t be shy about it, I saw you lugging those boxes. I’ll be back shortly.

…and off he trotted.

Daro watched the jawa move away, his attention caught by a strange kind of grim horror, before shaking himself free of the thought. He wove his way through the crowds, brushing shoulders with more than one of the Stormtroopers, all of whom made him feel guilty for the heinous crime of simply existing. So many people meant that the streets were dustier than usual, all of those tramping feet kicking the sand up in a perpetual haze that caught in the back of the throat. His abject dislike of the planet was growing increasingly strong by the day, and as he turned to head down one of the quieter alleyways and the welcome shade of a canopy, he vowed, for the sixteenth hundred time that day alone, that he was going to get the hell off this planet.

He slid down, his back against the rough stone of a domicile, and settled onto the ground before taking his communicator out of his coat pocket and flicking it open. He keyed in the clearance code and a blue haze shimmered up from its surface. It wavered for a moment (his communicator was not exactly top of the range), and then held in the form of a tall, lanky teenage boy smiling at him.

Hey, big brother! I’m glad you’re alright. Well, as alright as ever you are. Thanks for the message. Tattooine doesn’t exactly sound like the kind of place where anything interesting is ever likely to happen. Things here are… well, they’re pretty much the same, really. The parents are fine – they said to say hello and to remind you that you promised to come visit. Six months ago, Daro. You’re useless, you know that?

It was nothing but affection. Daro and Gileas were extraordinarily close. Daro had been a thirteen year old, sullen teenager when his brother had been born and he’d vowed to make the kid’s life a misery. He’d failed to bank on the fact that Gileas was born with the sort of sunny personality that could only end in winning over those close to him. He was smart, he was funny, he was…

…he was going to end up in a whole world of trouble if Daro didn’t address the Issue at some point…

…he was talking again.

I’m sending you a set of files in a separate transmission. If you can offload those onto a slicer stick, you should be able to access any of the core modules of the translator droids. Gileas paused, then grinned – a grin that was startlingly like Daro’s own – that means, save this stuff onto a data stick and you can plug it into a translator droid. It’ll assume you’re its owner and it’ll do whatever you ask of it. I hope it helps. Failing that, I’ve also done a bit of work in trying to translate some jawa-ese for you. There’s a list in another file.

Gileas shook his head and turned to look to the side. Dad’s coming. I have to go. You take care of yourself, alright? And for the love of all that’s good and holy, get in touch with the parents. Bye, Daro.

The holo-image remained steady for a second or two longer and then Gileas faded from existence. Daro closed his eyes and let out a long, slow breath he hadn’t even realised he’d been holding. He was… so far from his brother. Stuck here, on this planet, without any sort of chance of getting home any time soon…

He let his thoughts linger in the mire of doubt for a while before he sighed again and picked up the other two messages. One was a list of commonly used words and phrases used in the jawa tongue.

By some fortuitous turn of events, Glix reappeared. Daro had no idea how he knew it was Glix and not some other jawa, but he did. It startled him to realise that over the past few days, he’d actually started to develop a certain fondness for his new companion. He flicked down Gileas’s list of words and tentatively tried one.

“Um… Glix utini?”

Greetings, Glix of the jawa. I would like to buy a gallon of chicken soup.

The jawa stared.

* * *

Two more days passed.

Daro’s foray into the world of jawa vernacular had not gone spectacularly well. Every time he attempted one of the phrases off Gileas’s carefully composed list, Glix would shake his little jawa head and gently correct his giant friend. The conversations went a little like this.

Daro would glance down the list, find what he wanted to say and attempt the right inflection. “Utini,” he would say earnestly. “Utini.”

I am a bantha. Look! Look! The composite is pretty in the artefact!

Glix would shake his head. “Utini!”

Ah, poor Daro Daro Keers. Your continued and concerted efforts to learn my language are deeply appreciated. If only you knew just how entertaining it was. Would that I could convey this to you.

“Um… ut… utini?”

In triplicate, the colour orange is frowned upon most dismissively.

Somehow, the two managed to muddle along.

It had taken a couple of days for Daro to find himself the piece of slicer’s kit that he needed in order to transfer protocol droid command codes from Gileas’s message. It hadn’t come cheaply, either, and as he winced at the cost, he wondered if it had all been worth it, just to have a proper conversation with his new friend.

In the event, it transpired that it was worth every penny.

Daro picked his moment carefully. He had been watching the translator droid at work on the docks, passing along messages from one freighter captain to another, bustling back and forth like a shiny errand boy. Eventually, a lull had come and the droid had moved off (politely) in order to remain out of the way until it was needed. Daro approached the automaton cautiously.

“Greetings…” it said as Daro approached. It scanned up and down the man’s scruffy form and seemed to be processing the next word. When it came out, the slight rise in pitch suggested a question rather than a statement. “…human?”

It took all of Daro’s self-control not to trash the thing there and then.

“Good afternoon…” He checked the thing’s tag. “NX-4B. I require use of your services.”

A pause.

“Please.”

“Certainly. My fees are sixty credits for half an hour and… what is that? I do hope, sir, that you aren’t planning to use that in order to hack my systems… oh! My!” The damn thing sounded so distressed that Daro almost changed his mind. Then he cast a sideways look at Glix, who was looking… expressionless. Like he usually was. With grim determination, Daro plugged the slicer stick into the port on the droid’s shoulder. The lights behind its eyes dimmed momentarily, then flickered back into life.

“Good afternoon. NX-4B online and requesting instruction. Please state nature of language translation required.”

“Universal to jawa, jawa to universal.”

“Parameters accepted. Please proceed.”

“So… uh, Glix. Hope this thing actually helps. Look, little buddy, I’m just gonna come right out and say this straight. What is it that you want from me? Because I’m not entirely sure I’ve got anything you could possibly want. I’m broke, pal. Out of readies. So far down on my luck that I’ve hit rock bottom and started digging.” Daro ran his fingers through his messy hair and sighed. “I’m a nobody, Glix.”

There was a long pause, then the droid repeated his words to the jawa who tipped his head on one side and let out a long stream of syllables (periodically punctuated with the obligatory ‘utini’) back at the droid.

“Daro Daro Keers… I want nothing more from you than to simply be your friend and companion. You saved my life. I owe you. And a jawa never breaks a life debt. It is a poor jawa indeed who would abandon a friend.”

Daro stared. Then he determined that it must be particularly dusty that day, because there was a tear in the back of his eye and a lump in his throat. Since he’d packed his bags and left Corellia, he’d never encountered anybody who simply wanted to be his ‘friend’. There had always been ulterior motives.

For the first time in his life, Daro Keers was completely speechless.

“Awaiting response, master.”

“Yeah, yeah. Uh… OK, Glix, here’s the deal. I don’t know what’s going to happen, little buddy. But… if you want to tag along…” Did he mean this next bit? Yes, he realised, yes he did. “You’re welcome.”

The droid burbled his reply. Glix patted Daro’s arm in a friendly sort of way and chattered a response.

“Most excellent news, Daro Daro Keers. Let us be friends. Let us explore new worlds together. Perhaps you can find whatever it is that you need to be happy and perhaps I can be remembered as Glix the Great. For now, my friend, our paths run parallel. Where you go, I will be there….” Daro raised a hand to interrupt the flow of translation.

“About that, Glix. Let’s discuss the matter of… boundaries and personal space…”

The conversation continued for a while in the same vein until they eventually reached something of an agreement. Taking pity on the droid, Daro unplugged the hack chip and it wandered off, looking decidedly confused. Daro gave Glix a grin and putting everything he had into it, convinced he would certainly be right through sheer determination alone, he tried one more time.

“Utini!”

In all cases, three Star Destroyers and a womp-rat will converge upon the zenith day. Free! Free the trapped killiks and rejoice forevermore.

Glix just nodded.

it seemed they were now a team.

Their lives slid into something of a rhythm. After the long chat with the aid of the translator droid, Glix began to give Daro a little space every now and again. The jawa was never far away, however, and Daro began to adjust to having Glix’s company. As it appeared he was stuck on Tattooine, at least for the time being, he forced himself to slow down with the drinking and wasting money and to focus on getting as much work as possible to build the credits back up again.

Of course, such resolutions were made to be broken. Daro made it through a day and a half before he was back to his usual habit of working hard and then spending the day’s credits in a single night, usually on booze. Most days he slept outside which was fine by him, and he resumed his illegal practice of breaking and entering in order to take showers.

My life has actually become a cliche, he realised, somewhat morosely.

For his part, Glix seemed happy and content to just scuttle along at Daro’s side, ‘helping’ the man lift the heavy crates that made up the majority of cargo transfer from ship to port and from port to ship. ‘Helping’ in this context largely translated as ‘get under Daro’s feet with startling regularity and nearly trip him up’. But the jawa’s intentions were clearly good ones and the good-natured Daro didn’t have it in him to get irritated or annoyed with his little friend.

His efforts to speak jawa were coming along just fine. He had definitely begun to pick up some of the greater subtleties of what was actually, when you stopped to break it down, was a remarkable complex language. The fact that he still failed to understand what Glix was saying back to him didn’t seem to worry him, though. He had reached the point where he simply chose his own interpretation and it seemed to be working out.

“Keers. Hey, Keers!” The voice belonged to one of the space port supervisors, the man who’d given Daro three days work and had driven his cheap labour so hard that for the first time in months, Daro was genuinely exhausted. “Come here.”

“Me?”

“Ya see anybody else called Keers standing around like a great lump of bantha shavit? Shift your ass over here. Now! I gotta job for you.”

More lifting, no doubt. Perhaps, just to break the monotony, some carrying. Maybe even some lugging as well. Feeling the aches in his bones more than he’d ever done before, Daro headed over to the supervisor a man so monumentally dull that Daro couldn’t even remember his name.

“Yeah, boss?”

“This your jawa?” He pointed to Glix. Daro looked down at the jawa who raised a hooded head upwards.

“Utini!”

Daro Daro Keers, you are going to like this news! I have worked hard to convince Albrecht here of your skill and talent and he’s prepared to give you a try! Oh, this is so very exciting!

Glix clapped his hands in childish delight.

“Um… well, he’s kind of his own jawa, but yeah, we’re sort of… travelling together.”

“He’s suggested that you know your way around starship engines. That right?”

Daro blinked. “My background is in designing starship engines. I…”

“Yeah, yeah, I don’t need or want your potted life history. Can you repair engines or can’t you?”

“Well, yes, but I don’t have any tools or…”

“There’s a crate in my office. Should have all you need. Get to it. Docking bay sixty three. Starboard engine needs checking out. You’ve got three hours. Go.”

Daro blinked again and remained where he was.

“Two hours, fifty five seconds.”

“Utini!”

You see, Daro Daro Keers? I finally got someone to give you a job worthy of your talents and believe you me, convincing this fine fellow was no easy task. I had to flatter you outrageously, so you’d better make sure you do a good job. And of course, I can help you. Because Glix knows his way around engines too, oh yes.

It was the first truly nice thing that had happened in days and with a grin at the jawa and a nod to the supervisor, Daro headed off to docking bay sixty three and the possible chance of getting himself more credits. All thoughts of that afternoon’s drinking session fled as he immersed himself in the sort of work that he had once loved and enjoyed so much. He missed having a ship to work on. The Nebula hadn’t been much, but she’d been home and he’d spent many happy nights down in the engine room, avoiding the temper of the captain and seeing just what enhancements he could deliver to the ship’s aging engines.

They fell into an easy partnership whilst working. Something in Daro Keers flipped from the airheaded layabout into a fully competent technician when he was working on an engine and Glix picked up on this interesting new… sober aspect of his friend and didn’t get under foot once. Instead, he fetched and carried tools and held things steady and as a consequence, Glix and Daro completed the task half an hour ahead of schedule.

“Good work, Keers. There might be more of that if you’re lucky.” The supervisor nodded his approval and paid Daro for his day’s work, including a handful of additional credits, a small commission from the fee he’d got for himself from the ship’s owner. “You want to thank Glix there. Got yourself a real champion, ain’t you?”

The jawa bounced up and down slightly. “Utini!”

You see, Daro Daro Keers? With your technical expertise and my faultless assistance, we will soon earn enough money to buy our passage off Tattooine. Oh, my dear friend, the big wide universe awaits us! Such adventures we will have!

Daro nodded at the jawa, not understanding a word. Instead, he chose to interpret it the way he wanted.

“You’re right,” he said, clinking the credit chips together in his coat pocket. “This calls for a bottle of best brandy tonight!”

Three hours later, Daro Keers was roaring drunk, sprawled face-down on the cantina table and Glix sat opposite, wondering for the first time if he hadn’t made a terrible, terrible mistake in chancing his future to this man.

He was dying.

There was no other plausible explanation for just how terrible he was feeling. Every time he opened his eyes, the harsh, unrelenting sunlight of Tatooine pounded at the back of his retinas. It wasn’t even a regular rhythm. It wasn’t a gentle ‘thump thump thump. This was an irregular tattoo of THUMPthumpthumpTHUMPTHUMP.

He was dying. Definitely.

On waking Daro followed a certain process. He took a mental stocktake of his body parts, making sure everything was still attached. Limbs, there. Eyes, hurting, but there. Ears, still on the side of his head. His hand absently reached round to the front of his trousers. Yep. Still there. That was something, at least.

So everything was still attached. There was no blood on the ground beneath him. Every muscle in his body was aching. He felt as though he had been wound up so tightly that it was a wonder he hadn’t snapped.

The banging in his head started up again and he moan softly in protest, bringing his arms up to cover his eyes. It did little to help, but he did it anyway.

I. Am. Dying.

He felt, on a supremely bizarre level, exceptionally disappointed. He’d always thought his death would come with a bang, not a whimper. Instead, he was going to waste away, unnoticed in this place.

Where was this place?

Slowly, inch by painstaking inch, he dragged his arms away from his eyes and forced his left eyelid to prise itself upwards. He was… it was hard to make out exactly where he was. Everything was glaringly bright.

Other senses kicked in around this point and after his blurred sight was just starting to focus, his sense of smell turned up with several weeks’ worth of luggage and announced its arrival quite powerfully with a sudden, overwhelming stench of rotting meat and vegetable matter.

Daro felt his stomach react to the arrival of his sense of smell. It bounced around in his torso like a thing possessed and then it cruelly squeezed tightly. He barely had time to catch his breath before he was violently, loudly and comprehensively sick. He vomited repeatedly until there was nothing left to throw up and then he lay back, shaking from a combination of dehydration and horror as the true realisation of his whereabouts permeated his hungover brain.

Apparently, he was in a waste bin.

The first three attempts to clamber out were hindered a little thanks to the smooth sides of the container. By some curious providence, he was able to avoid falling backwards into the veritable ocean of puke that he had generated. On the fourth attempt, he got himself over the edge and then fell the reasonable distance from the bin to the ground.

He landed with a sickening ‘crunch’. He lay there, covered in litter and several half-eaten meals from the cantina that had been thrown out the previous night stunned and startled. After a short time had passed, he began the stock take of his body parts again. Everything was still attached and by some incredible twist of fate, nothing appeared to be broken.

OK, I’m not dying, he grudgingly acknowledged.

He lay on the dusty ground for a while, staring up at the azure blue of the Tatooine day. There was the faintest wisp of cloud set against the endless sapphire welkin and he marvelled at it as though seeing a cloud for the first time in his life. Somewhere, he reasoned, a moisture farmer is getting really excited.

More time passed. The hangover wasn’t getting any better and now it was made worse by the fact that he smelled vile.

Maybe if I just lie here long enough, there’ll be a sandstorm and it’ll cover me up. And all my worries will go away. He considered life as a sand dune for a little longer and then, with a sigh, he realised that he needed to move.

The act of going from lying flat on the ground to all fours took a concerted effort and by the time he managed it, he was exhausted. He must have been going at that brandy hammer and tongs last night to be this broken. Then he became aware of a slight shadow falling across his own. He raised his head slowly. Very slowly. An ambulatory dark brown robe with piercing yellow eyes stood in front of him.

“Oh, hey, Glix.”

Silence.

Daro waited until the silence became too uncomfortable not to fill.

“I… er… dropped something. I’m looking for it. You want to help me, little buddy?”

Silence.

I think he hates you, Keers.

I think you might be right.

He’d never known the jawa to be so very silent and it made him feel more than a little uncomfortable. Several more moments passed and he became acutely aware that a sense of extreme disappointment was radiating from the small figure. A spark of rebellion flared in Daro’s gut and he almost… almost told the jawa to leave him alone, that Glix wasn’t his kriffing mother, but he thought better of it.

“Um… utini? You couldn’t give me a hand to get up, could you? I really, really need some water.”

The day is filled with glass lemons. I like pies!

“Utini.” Just that. Just the one word. No emphasis on the end. It was so severe and so cross, that Daro didn’t even pretend that he’d understood it. Because he had. Perfectly.

“I’m… sorry, little buddy.” All Daro’s bravado left him and with extreme caution, he moved from all fours to sit down, cross-legged in the sand. He was more or less at eye level with his jawa companion and that somehow didn’t help one little bit. He had to look away. The sense of disapproval was too strong. “I get it, now. You want me to buy passage off this planet so we can do… our thing. I… just couldn’t help it. I like a good drink. Maybe too much. I know. Don’t look at me like that, OK? I’m sorry.”

This is what it’s come to, Keers. You’re being schooled in how to grow up. By a jawa. Good going.

Gilx hunkered down and peered closely at Daro.

“Utini?”

“Yes. I promise. I won’t spend any more of my earnings getting drunk.”

“Utini?”

“No, I won’t go back on my word.”

Glix nodded. “Utini.” Then he unclipped the water bottle he wore on the belt across his robe, handing it to Daro. The man took a long pull of life-giving water and sighed heavily. It had taken the friendship of the strangest of little creatures to teach him that he was losing control. It was time, he realised, to stop acting like an idiot and to start getting his shavit together. He gave the water bottle back to Glix, who took it wordlessly.

“Utini?” Daro chanced another one of Gileas’s phrases.

A nexu has eaten my raspberry. Do you know the way to the cantina? A fearful switchblade upon the house of Organa.

Glix reached over with a little gloved hand and tweaked the end of Daro’s nose. It was such a friendly gesture that Daro almost cried. Later, he would blame his tearfulness on the fact that he was so badly hungover, not on the fact that he’d finally found someone to steer him right.

The jawa offered out his hand again and although it was about as much use as nothing at all, Daro took it and got shakily to his feet.

“No more hangovers,” he vowed. “At least, not like this one.”

* * *

Daro’s head was hurting again, but it wasn’t from trying to fight off a hangover. He’d been booze-free for several days now. No, this time, his head was hurting because he was learning.

Both Daro and his older brother, like many of the children on Corellia, had been home-schooled. Kevan had always been the one who understood, who solved complicated maths problems, who wrote the best stories and who even learned to cook the best cake. But Daro always outshone his brother in matters of physical challenges. Daro was the better runner, the better swimmer, the best at climbing trees… and then falling out of said trees and breaking his arm. Daro had been the reason Kevan had almost died at the age of ten, when he’d tried to stop his little brother from climbing too high, had fallen himself and landed on a pane of broken glass that had sliced open his lower abdomen.

Kevan hadn’t died, but he’d never really got on with his little brother after that. Then, of course, he’d left home at fifteen. At that point, Daro’s parents had tried for a late baby in an effort to fill the void left by their older, definitely more beloved son and Daro’s home-schooling had come to an end. He’d been put into an engineering apprenticeship programme and he had finally shone, finding his skill.

But since he’d left Corellia, seven years ago, learning hadn’t been much of a thing for him. Now he was sitting, cross-legged in the sand, with three jawas who were tinier even than Glix. That particular jawa was standing up in front of them and he was teaching.

The three tiny jawas were, Daro had realised, jawa children. It was hard not to pick them up and hug them.

Glix made a barking cough to draw everyone’s attention.

“Po,” Glix began, and the three little jawas immediately picked up the cue.

“Ko, kyo, yo, dyo…” Glix held up a hand to stop them and pointed at Daro encouragingly.

“Oh, gods… uh… Po, ko, kyo, yo, dyo, lyo… the – ah – non-existent seven, ho, toe, ki… ki…”

“Kisewa!” The three little jawas (jawa-lings?) chimed in with the missing number and Glix nodded. Learning the basics of the Jawa trade language was an important lesson for young jawas. And for young humans as well, it seemed.

Daro ached to ask questions. Why was there no number seven in the jawa language? Was it a superstition thing? Were the jawas even superstitious? The more time he spent around the rodent-like creatures, the more curious he was getting. Slowly, bit by bit as he’d started earning Glix’s trust back, the jawa had visibly relaxed. He’d watched Daro like a hawk for a few days, noting the effort the big man was putting in to sorting his life out and this, it seemed was his reward.

One of the tiny jawas got up and scuttled over to Daro, clambering into the big man’s crossed lap. It looked up at him and offered up a slow blink of its yellow eyes.

“Ayafa,” it said.

Glix nodded. “Ayafa.”

Later, much later, Daro learned that ‘ayafa’ translated as ‘clan’.

Squared Away [Overwatch]

5B1D0A6C-FA89-44B4-A3D9-817EA093AB7F

“No. Absolutely not.”

Reinhardt’s ham fist slammed down on the table and the machine parts jumped a clear four inches into the air before clattering back to the surface. He scowled and looked across the table at the young woman. She met his uni-glower calmly and even had the audacity to smile with indulgent affection.

“No,” he repeated, although there was slightly less conviction in his tone. “Absolutely…”

“Reinhardt, I know you mean ‘absolutely’,” she interjected, cheerfully – the way she did most things. There was an incorrigible side to Brigitte Lindholm that even adversity did not seem to supress. At least she wasn’t as infernally cheery as Lena Oxton, whose never-ending energy was exhausting. And there he was, thinking of Overwatch again…

Nein, honigbiene,” he said, a tone of desperation creeping in as he used the term of endearment he’d adopted for her not long after becoming her godfather. Honeybee. It suited her, too: Brigitte was always busy, working on this thing or that thing or the other thing and he had, over the years, encouraged her. Now that was coming back to boot him quite squarely in the posterior. “It is too dangerous to…”

He’d chosen his words poorly. He could tell by the way her eyes hardened suddenly. “I am not afraid.”

“I know that, schatzi, I know. But…”

“I know your armour better than you do.”

“I have managed without…”

“Why manage without when you can have assistance? Trust me, Reinhardt. I know you look at me and see that baby girl pulling your beard, but I grew up.”

Yes. She’d certainly done that. Torbjorn had related to his friend over dinner the previous night just how he had already had to interpose himself between Brigitte and a number of would-be suitors. She attracted the sort of element who weretaken in at first by her pretty face and who later succumbed to her extraordinary ability to drink them under the table.

“Bees,” Torbjorn had said, sadly, “around a honeypot.”

Yes, Brigitte had certainly grown up. She was no longer a child, but a young woman. As gifted and stubborn as her father, as warm-hearted and compassionate as her mother and, he reluctantly conceded, apparently as fearless as her godfather.

And as foolhardy?

It was Ana’s voice in the back of his mind and a small smile quirked his lips upward. Brigitte’s moment of anger had subsided and she sighed heavily. “When I was nine years old, I asked you a question. You wouldn’t tell me the answer. You said you’d explain one day when I was old enough to truly understand. Do you remember what it was?”

Why don’t the Crusaders protect us any more?

Yes, he remembered. He put his hand briefly over his eyes and drew a shuddering sigh. He’d not wanted to explain to a child why it was that after the battle at Eichenwalde, the Crusaders had fallen apart. After Balderich’s death – a death he still carried the weight of responsibility for – the protectors had fallen away one by one, returning to their own lives. He’d taken Balderich’s place on the Overwatch team…

“Reinhardt?”

“I remember.”

“Then tell me.”

He let his hand drop and stared down at the table. In a low voice, so soft that she had to strain to hear him, he began to relate the answer to a question she’d asked so many years ago. When he was done, when the words finally passed his lips and into the air, he could not look up at her. He was afraid to see the disgust in her eyes. Brigitte was the daughter he had never had; the child he had indulged outrageously. He’d known how to handle her when she’d been a child. It was easy. But this woman… she was different. The child had been an extension of Torbjorn and Ingrid. Now she was a person in her own right.

Reinhardt had never understood women. Looked like that wasn’t about to change.

The silence stretched out. Aeons passed. Ice ages came and went, but nobody noticed.

I have lost her. The sense of grief was profound. He coughed to cover the moment of emotion and made to stand. “I should go.”

“Reinhardt… sit down.”

Alarmed at her tone, he sat. She nodded firmly, then absently stroked the cheek of the cat who had jumped up onto the table and who was winding itself around her hand with feline joy. She studied her godfather intently and he shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. All these years, you’ve filled me with stories of honour and chivalry… of heroes and valour. Of how honesty is the only true way forward. Have you really carried this around all these years? What did you think I would do?”

He looked up then, his single bright, blue eye clouded with emotion. “That you would be angry. That I would lose you.That you will hate me for the fool I was.” He shuddered. “That is why I never told you the full story. You are everything to me. Your father, your mother, you and your siblings… the closest I have to family. You wouldn’t see me as a hero any more. Just… just as a man with flaws and secrets.” Even as he said the words, he resented their selfishness.

“Oh, Reinhardt…” She moved from her side of the table to stand in front of him. The cat came as well, tripping lightly over the cluttered debris on the table. It leaped lightly from the table and sat on Reinhardt’s lap, treadling happily until it was comfortable before curling up in the big man’s lap.

Brigitte took his hand in her own smaller one and squeezed gently. “You still are a hero. Haven’t you and Papa taught me that accepting your flaws is all part of becoming who you’re meant to be?”

“Yes, but a man died because…”

“You’re making a chicken out of a feather,” she said, quoting her father’s nonsense with such ease that the big man could not help but smile. “You’ve told me stories of Balderich before. He would be proud of what you achieved. Of all the people you helped when you served with Overwatch. And if you are going to crash around the world without direction, attempting to redeem yourself because of a poor choice you made in your youth, you are going to need an engineer. So let me come with you. Let me learn what it is to be a true hero. Flaws and all.”

A wave of affection washed over him and he squeezed her hand back. She was a gifted engineer, that was absolutely fair. She’d already worked on – and even improved – elements of his aging Crusader armour. She was bold. She was self-assured. She was…

“My squire,” he said, suddenly.

“Pardon me?”

“You can be my squire! Responsible for my armour.”

“And for you as well, I expect.”

He ignored that.

“Do we have a deal, then?” Torbjorn would object, he could see it already, but that was an argument for later. Brigitte studied him for a moment, then shook his hand firmly.

“Deal.”

She threw her arms around his neck, much as she had done when she’d been a child and hugged him. “You won’t regret it, Reinhardt, I promise you.”

“No,” he said, amiably, “but you might.”

 

 

 

Reboot [Overwatch]

EB3B0300-868D-417F-A8DC-33C1587AA129

Efi Oladele sighed heavily and drummed her fingers lightly against her forehead. She had been working solidly for several hours and while there had been a modicum of success, there was still an extremely long journey ahead. She was tired – despite being a genius and a prodigy, she was still just a child – and she wanted nothing more than to climb into bed and sleep. To get some precious rest. To stave off the headache she could feel blossoming at the back of her skull.

But she was so close now.

So very close.

So close that she could literally reach out and touch it. Which on impulse, she did. Her fingers met the cool metal of the unit’s head and followed the curve of the horns that graced the oval-shaped skull. The eyes were closed and the unit remained unmoving. The revamped OR-15 model was ready to be switched on for its next test. This was the big one. This was the one that Efi had been striving for. The moment, as they would say, of truth.

Had her customised personality software been successful?

She grit her teeth, took a deep, bolstering breath and said, “I am Efi Oladele. I am a genius.” Her little hands balled into fists several times, then relaxed. The gesture release some of the quite considerable tension and she felt better.

There was no bragging in the words she spoke aloud to fortify herself. It was no different to saying ‘I am Efi and I have brown eyes’. It was merely a statement of fact and it served to boost her flagging confidence.

The workshop smelled strongly of oil and solder and had that faint crisp layer of ozone that came with working with so many electronic components. Her senses had tuned them all out some time ago and only now that she allowed her concentration to relax slightly did she notice the scents. She sniffed hopefully, but the last of the coffee had long gone.

There were those who sneered. Those who said she was too young to drink coffee. That she should be out playing with her peer group. Those who did not value their extremities also pushed it one stage forward and suggested that she should be playing with dolls.

They only said it once. Efi didn’t stand for misogyny either.

But many of those from her group of immediate friends had gone, taken away from Numbani by anxious parents who had fled in the wake of Doomfist’s horrific attack. Things had settled down once he had left, but that fear permeated every part of Numbani, like a growing fungus. When would he return? Who would save them?

Efi – and Efi alone – had gone into what remained of the airport and had seen the damage Doomfist had done. The OR-15 defence bots that had been installed to protect the people had been universally flattened into so much Omnic jam. It had all but broken Efi’s generous heart. But she’d had vision. And she would not stop until that vision was realised.

It was an obsession, plain and simple. But it was herobsession. So that was just fine.

She turned from her creation and typed furiously at the keyboard. As well as her ability with robotics, her software design was extraordinary. When she flicked the switch, and only then, she would be able to judge her success or otherwise.

She flicked the switch.

The low hum of the unit powering up sent a faint vibration through the workshop, making the instruments rattle slightly. She knew from experience that a new boot-up sequence would take a short while. Long enough, perhaps, for her to go and get something to eat. She glanced at the computer screen. Nothing was showing out of the ordinary.

Efi left the unit powering up and made her way out of the workshop.

>> Running systems check.


>> All systems optimised. Running core data check.


>> All systems optimised.

A pair of eyes flickered open with a gentle click and a bovine-like head turned this way and that.

>> Optical sensors online.

>> OR-15(A) personality file booting. Installing logic.Installing knowledge. Installing literary references. Kipling, Rudyard. I knew six fine old serving men who taught me all I knew, their names were why and where and when and how and what and who. Employ these six steps and answers will present themselves.

>> Initiating logic sequence based on Kipling, Rudyard.


>> Why am I wondering about myself as
an ‘I’?

>> Where am I?


>> When did I stop thinking like a defence machine and start wondering about poetry by a
long-dead human?

>> How did this happen?


>> What is going on?

A pause in the lightning-quick processing.

>> Who am I?

Another pause.

>> Adjustment to question. Who is Efi? Cannot compute answer. I am unsure.

The OR-15(A) moved slightly, leaning back on its haunches and peered around the room. Its vision circuits were perfect, but there was something charmingly myopic in the way it blinked slowly, getting its bearings and adjusting to the rush of data that was pouring through. It did not have a memory, not as such, and what little basic programming its original form had possessed had been wiped clear.

The unit swivelled and knocked several things off a surface onto the floor where they landed with a heavy ‘crash’. The still-hot soldering iron burned into the wood of the floor and the unit leaned down and picked it up.

A voice, mechanised and synthetic, but quite unmistakably female emitted from its vocal circuits and filled the room. A calm tone. A pleasant pitch. Designed to be reassuring and placatory, it came as something of a surprise to the unit. It – no, she – voiced her immediate concern.

“Efi will not be happy about this.”

Yes. That seemed like the right thing to say. The logic and knowledge synapses were now firing so fast that the OR-15(A) was starting to piece together everything. Efi was her creator. She had been built to protect. And here she was, effectively breaking everything. A noise, almost, but not entirely like a sigh came from her and she turned at the sound of someone entering the workshop.

“Hello.” Efi couldn’t keep the sheer delight from her voice as she saw the product of her many hours of labour crashing around her workshop like a newborn calf stumbling its way through its first steps. The unit blinked owlishly and Efi clapped her hands together. And in a single rushed and muddle paragraph, she answered every one of the OR-15(A)’s internal questions.

“Welcome to Numbani! You are here to help me demonstrate that we can all work together for the greater good. I have repaired your systems and altered your core programming so that you will be Numbani’s chief protector. I have… given you a personality.” Efi beamed. She was childishly thrilled and rightfully proud of her creation. “You need a name,” she said, unable to keep the delight from her voice. “How about… Orisa?”

Blink. Blink.

“It is acceptable. Orisa online. Hello, Efi. I am fully rebooted and ready to serve…” No. That was something else. That was a hang-on from a former existence. Orisa revised her words. “I am fully rebooted. And ready to assist.”

Doctor-Patient Confidentiality [Overwatch]

mercy_portrait

“You have saved me.”

His voice was pleasant and heavily accented, with no hint of the half-machine that he had become. She wondered, in a rather flustered manner, what he might have sounded like before she had…

No. You must not think like that.

“No.” Her tone was firm, but the manner light and airy. “Let us be clear, Mister Shimada…”

“Please. Genji. Call me Genji.”

She ignored him.

“Technology has saved you. I merely… coordinated the orchestra that has played the tune of your new body, if you like.”

It was a far-reaching analogy, certainly, but Angela Ziegler still rather liked it. She was fond of music – something she shared with Winston – and had listened to many classics while she had been working over the broken body of Genji Shimada. When he had first been brought in, it had looked unlikely that anything could be done. Too many bones were shattered. Too much damage had been done. Too much of this. Too little of that. Always negativity. Always despair.

But despair was not something that was in Doctor Ziegler’s nature. She had determined to save the life of this young man. After all, was she not sworn to the Oath? So she had kept him alive, connected to machines via networks of tubes and wires. She had monitored his vital statistics to the point of obsession. Sleep became secondary to finding the solution to helping him.

Cybernetics had been the obvious choice from early on. When she had first brought him into a state of awareness, when he had first been able to engage in discourse with her, she had sat with him and explained what would need to be done. The amputations. The re-building. The cybernetic implants. The months of rehabilitation. The likelihood of extreme pain now and possibly for the rest of his life. He had looked up at her through those intelligent eyes and spoken softly in his broken English.

“I want to walk again.”

“I’m not a miracle worker.” She had smiled, sadly. “Well. Not always.”

“I believe in you.”

Of course he did. Want to walk again that was: she found herself strangely bashful about his easy belief in her abilities. And so she had done what she had needed to do in order to give him what he wanted. It had taken every ounce of courage they both possessed and became a journey they undertook together. It was natural, therefore, that they would become close – and that was what had happened.

For a long time – perhaps too long – Angela Ziegler had been too wrapped up in her own studies and research to allow herself time to focus on that most mysterious thing of all – human nature. And as she had grown to know the stranger in her care better, she had discovered a sharp, acerbic wit and an intelligence off which she could bounce her own.

But he was still Shimada. Angela was not fool enough to be unaware or ignorant of the clan and its dealings they were hardly covert. Genji had professed it was his very disinterest in the family’s shadier dealings that had landed him very firmly at Death’s door and she had no reason to disbelieve him. There were conversations to be had, certainly, but for now the focus must be on returning him to health.

“Doctor Ziegler?”

His soft voice pulled her out of her reverie and she stood up and straightened her white coat, flushing slightly as she realised that she had been lost in her own thoughts. She looked down at the man in the bed. She considered him, his intense eyes, his cybernetic, his intense eyes…

You can’t let this happen, Angela. Never get involved with a patient. You remember what happened last time?

Oh, yes. She remembered.

“Yes, Mister S…”

She capitulated.

“Yes, Genji?”

Those eyes shone brightly when she used his name and with a precision borne from years of closing herself off to her innermost self, she drew up the shutters against their lure. Her tone, her manner, even her stance became purely professional.

“I wish to try again tomorrow. To walk. Will you oversee my rehabilitation?”

Yes, I would love to.

“My duties…” Her sense of resolved wavered under his steady gaze, but she pulled the shutters more tightly around her heart, sealing her feelings as deeply as she could manage. She had always been able to ignore these sort of feelings before, but she suspected that beneath the intensity of those eyes, there would be no mercy.

“Please?”

“We will see,” she said, primly and his eyes lit up with pleasure. His instant arrogance and assumption that he had won her attention irritated her while at the same time brought a most unprofessional blush to her cheeks. She made a mark on the clipboard before replacing it at the end of his bed and striding from his room.

It was only when she let out the breath that she even realised she’d been holding it.

 

The Green Man

Explanation: years ago, I was in our school’s annual May Day celebration Mummer’s Play. Many varaiants of these things exist, but that one from my childhood coloured my perception for this story.

* * *

‘You see, people just don’t care about tradition any more.’

My companion is veering towards being hopelessly drunk. It hasn’t taken much to achieve this effect; a couple of pints and maybe just a little manipulation on my part. But mostly it’s an innate inability to hold his beer. He looks at me earnestly, a scrawny, unshaven figure with lank, thinning straw-colour hair that straggles down to his shoulders and watery blue eyes that are the predominant feature in his rat-like face.

He’s expecting me to say something. He only met me an hour ago but now I’m his best friend. His very best friend. I smile and pat him on the arm with an easy familiarity. He smiles vaguely at this gesture and goes to place his hand over my own. He misses.

‘There are ways of making them care,’ I tell him. For this game, I have adopted the guise of an Irishman and the brogue sounds entertaining to my ears. Mischief, in all its forms. That’s me.

‘But how?’ He’s whining. Time for some careful application of stronger liqueur. There’s an art to manipulation and it’s different for everyone. For some, it’s good old-fashioned charm – and I possess that in spades. For this man, it’s the gentle introduction of alcohol into his life. He was an easy soul to read: few friends, loner by nature, shy and retiring. Every cell in his being cried out for company.

Telling him to hold the thought of ‘how’, I pick out a double malt – not cheap – from the colourful array on display behind the bar. A smile for the barmaid and I don’t have to pay. She flutters her over-made up eyes at me and I can see the sudden puzzlement deep therein. She’d been thinking about booking a session on the sunbeds before her planned holiday with her girlfriends only moments ago. A moment in my company and instead, she’s thinking about how wonderful it would be to fill her house with babies instead.

You see? A careful art.

I wind my way back through the growing crowd to re-join my companion. He is singing softly to himself. A old folk tune and one which he obviously doesn’t know all the words to. Ironic, really, that he’s complaining that other people don’t respect tradition. I smile indulgently at him.

‘Here,’ I say, plying him gently with the amber liquid. ‘Try that. It’ll help. All those worries of yours? They’ll dissolve quickly enough. Finest malt this place has on offer.’

He stares at it dubiously, then looks up at me. ‘Really?’ I grin.

‘Trust me,’ I say. It’s something I say a lot.

It is the least of my lies.

I should introduce myself, although some might say I need no introduction. I’d usually say it. But propriety demands.

For the moment, you can call me Jack. I have many names and many guises, but Jack is the one who fits best into today’s world. The key thing to remember, my modern friends, is that mythology never dies. You can’t just banish me and my kind without expecting us to put up a fight. The seasons still turn, the stars still shine, the unexplained still happens.

Spring happens. The renewal of the land, the rebirth of nature. And with it come celebrations of things that nobody even really remembers any more. Pagan festivals trussed up in severe religious corsetry that constricts their true beauty. But yet through all this denial, me – and those like me – prevail.

For someone of my… disposition… it has been amusing down the years to watch historians and so-called experts argue about my personal aspect in the mythology of the ages. I am at one and the same time a force of nature, a force for impish mischief and occasionally, just occasionally, I am portrayed as something much darker.

Whatever I may be, one thing is certain. My drunken friend is quite right.

People just don’t care about tradition any more. But I’m going to help him with that. We’re going to craft something subtle together, my friend and I. We are going to wake up the sleeping beliefs that most people hide behind scientific papers and things they read on the internet (which therefore must be true).

When we’re done, they will care about tradition.

Every year, this village holds a medieval fayre. They call it a medieval fayre, but really it’s little more than an excuse to bring garish rides on the back of trucks to town. They hire apparently countless coffee vans, selling overpriced and fancy-named beverages for extortionate prices. People drink their coffee and eat their toffee apples or candy floss or sausage-in-a-bun and throw their litter down on the ground.

The countless folk who pass by tread the rubbish into the earth. Disregarding their habitat.

Disregarding me.

As part of the proceedings, a local Morris group is dancing in the roped off ‘square’ in the middle of the village green. They look self-conscious and they are getting it wrong. It doesn’t really matter, though. Nobody watches them and those who do glance their way sneer their superiority at the men wearing ribbons and bells, skipping to some badly-played folk music.

At some point during the day, the Mummers come into the square. This usually generates a little interest – mostly from the children. I enjoy seeing the mixture of fear and delight on their little moppet faces as St. George’s dragon runs around the perimeter of the square roaring his fury. Mostly, this one is roaring at the impotent fury of what is a very poor costume that is falling to pieces, but the children love it regardless.

It’s a variant on a familiar theme. Father Christmas, Jack Frost… the piece’s villains if you will. This is something children don’t seem to grasp. How can Father Christmas be a bad man? Listen to him. In come I, old Father Christmas… welcome or welcome not… I hope old Father Christmas will never be forgot.

Appalling grammar aside, Father Christmas is a creation of a newer world. He was never a part of mine. It was his introduction into our culture that saw the true beginning of our slow demise into obscurity. See how the children cheer at him.

Bastard.

‘Are you ready?’ My companion whispers to me. I turn to him and smile. Of course I am ready.

‘I was born to play this part,’ I tell him truthfully.t The words he has given me to learn are confused, tangled and yet still carry the ring of absolute truth. Father Christmas presents his champion, the mighty Jack Frost who postures rather appallingly in front of the crowd and then, right on cue, it is my line.

The moment, the very second I walk into the square, those who are half-heartedly watching sit up and pay attention. Those whose attention is elsewhere find themselves inexplicably drawn. It is not my performance that has brought them to watch, but my sheer presence.

I am a potent force.

Watch me use it.

‘In come I, Jack, the man in green…’

They are the lines that mark my entrance and I speak them with easy confidence. My tone is calm, reassuring and certainty drips from every syllable. The people around the arena know that’s the absolute truth. I am not some foolish, aging hippy with a suit made of ribbons. I am, without question, what I state I am. Jack, the man in green. They are captivated now and I continue.

‘…I stand for all that’s new. I am the keeper of the Spring… a change of season’s due.’

At the words, I glance up at the skies which before I began the spell were dark and threatening to deluge this quaint May Day setting with relentless precipitation. A postage-stamp of bright blue appears and begins to spread, insidiously pushing aside the dark rain clouds. The air clears. Beneath my feet, daisies that were closed against the dull day begin to open. Even the grass strains to reach me and grows an extra fraction in a matter of time so brief there is no measurement for it.

People watch this happening. They watch, but they do not see. That is where the magic lies. That is where the unexpected happens and why it is that people fail to truly comprehend what has happened to them.

Father Christmas and Jack Frost are staring at me now, slack-jawed and enraptured by my sheer sense of presence. They are little more than ants on the playing board of this green stage and my attention is barely drawn to them other than to speak the ritual words of the ancient play. Like so many of its kind, this one is bastardised and altered far from the original. But I read through it. It is sufficient.

I level a finger at Father Christmas and he starts in alarm at the look of thunder on my face as I speak the next lines.

‘What Father Christmas said is right… for trouble is what we bring. Old winter’s past… the flowers are out. The bluebells soon will ring.’

Trouble, ah, there it is. I cannot help but bring mischief in my wake. It is the blessing and the curse of the sprite; of the fae-blooded to enjoy interfering with order. Spring is a given. Year after year, the world rearranges itself to welcome the influx of new life that has slept for so long in its depths. But around the things that happen
naturally, the existence of men has brought with it many things that those of my kind can manipulate.

‘So step aside, you frosty folk and give us room to rhyme. For we have come to crown our queen…’

Ah, my queen. What became of you? Your unsurpassed beauty. Your voluptuous curves and sumptuous body. Your air of bounty, of life and rebirth. How I miss you. Look – there is the ‘queen’ they have chosen to crown, a child who sits rather self-consciously on the wooden throne. A pretty child to be sure: with hair the colour of the setting sun and features that when they mature will certainly earn her more than one amorous suitor. But for now, she is a child who the people have chosen as their queen.

Imagine what could be unleashed if Jack in the Green actually did crown her. That is the culmination of this Mummers play. In which Jack, the queen’s loyal servant, lays upon her head the crown of thorns which blooms and blossoms into a crown of spring flowers… represented here by a wooden circlet. If I did crown this child as the Queen of the May, then things would really get interesting.

Particularly when Her Furious Former Majesty returned to fight for her rightful throne.

The war would be beautiful. The deaths would be sweet. The sacrifice would be immense and my place at the Queen’s Spring Court would once more be assured.

Perhaps the Queen would even consider me at last as her consort, instead of her servant.

I do not know why I tell you this. My dreams are not yours to know. All you need know is this. If I, Jack the Man in Green choose to bring forth the might of Spring, your brief and violent existence would be snuffed out faster than you could put a message on your Twitter feed. Because that’s what would happen.

End of the world OMG #disaster

But this world… this ugly, broken, beautiful world in which you humans now live intrigues me too much. There is a curiosity that keeps me here. I can see where you are heading and it will be a tragic ending for your species. Ultimately, of course, it will be the end of mine too – because when a world is devoid of people, it becomes a place devoid of belief. You see? You are not just heading for your own destruction, but you’re too selfish, too ignorant to realise it. You think you have progressed.

If only you knew.

Maybe I should place that crown on the girl’s head. Wipe the slate clean. Allow the forces of Spring to come to fruition. I could do it, too. My power to manipulate and weave the threads of the future are strong. My fingers tingle with the thought of opening the gateway. Instead, I finish my line.

‘…for we have come to crown our queen, all in this sweet May time.’

The crowd, which had been holding a collective breath, without even realising it, sighed their appreciation of the pretty would-be usurper seated on the fake throne. My hand curls into a fist and the magic drains. For a moment, however fleeting, the people on this village green believed that I brought forth the magic of Spring. They will remember that feeling in years to come. When the faces of the bumbling Turkish Knight and the heroism of George, the Englishman (with sword and shield in hand) are a forgotten thing, they will all recall Jack in the Green.

And so it goes. The seasons change and only a fool believes it is because of a globe in space, spinning on an axis. No, my friends. The seasons change because of the work of the forgotten few.

We persist. We exist.

Don’t forget.

 

Redemption

Hanzo_portrait

Ryū ga waga teki wo kurau!

Father, I miss your wisdom.

All my life you demanded I live up to expectation. To be the one prepared to take the reins from you. From the moment of my arrival in this world, the burden was placed upon me. I was expected to be the one to take up the reins. To be your chosen, honourable heir. To be my brother’s keeper. To step into my birth right.

I was your scion.

I visit you every year since you died, Sojiro Shimada. It is fraught with risk and danger and still I come.

My father, I know you loved both your sons, but for very different reasons. I was your pride. Your first-born. The one who would take over the empire. I have it on account that following my birth, you celebrated for a full week. And yet for all that, I cannot recall a single moment of affection. No kind words, no look of pride or even love. You are too much like your mother, Hanzo. Your manner too soft. Your mood too easy to fall into introspection. Your aim, boy, is not true.

Perhaps they were words spoken to build character. To make me the best version of myself that I could be. All I remember was the endless sting of disappointment.

But there were times, Father, rare though they may have been, when I caught on your face the glint of something akin to pride. The day I first called forth and commanded the Shimada dragons. The pleasure it brought you to see that small boy struggling for control of that power, to then accomplish it was writ large upon your face. For me, a son who yearned for approval, for a kind word, that expression was the most glorious of things.

And there were times, too, when you would sit with me and impart the pearls of wisdom that I have held so close to my chest. Simple things.

Ah, my father. There is beauty, as you told me, in simplicity.

So if I was your pride, then Genji was most certainly your joy. He was spared your anger. Not for him, your disapproval. To him, you gave your fondness and your affect ion. You said, once, how you wished that Genji, your little Sparrow, was the eldest and that it was not beyond your powers to change who you selected as your heir.

I was never as jealous as I should have been. I loved my brother too much. Genji was always the light to my shadow. The humour to my gravity. We were as different as night and day, as far apart from one another in personality that even now I question our shared heritage. But you charged me with ensuring his safety. Father, I still remember the day you came into my room, reeking of sake, with that squalling bundle in your arms.

He is your brother, Hanzo. You must guide and protect him. Always.

And so I did. With the ferocity of a wolf, I ensured he was cared for and when our training paths diverged, I still watched over him as he practised for endless hours with his swords. His skill was something in which I found every reason to feel reassured that I was carrying out my task well.

But you, Father. You destroyed all my work. You indulged his every whim. Forgave his every transgression and there were many of those. Too many to count and each that little more damning than the last. You spoiled him and I paid the price.

Do you know that, Father? From wherever it is you have gone now? Do you look down upon your eldest son and rejoice that he showed the tenacity to do what had to be done for the furtherment of your empire? Or do you weep in the knowledge that your sons turned upon one another? Either way, it matters little now. Things are changing. I am no longer heir to the clan. I cannot put my all into something that has forced such heartbreak upon me. So I have fallen out of favour and thus I must continue my journey alone. I am outcast and disgraced.

I have no family, there is no guidance… no longer can I shelter behind the protection of the clan, for they have put a price upon my head and will kill me on sight. Already I have thwarted several assassination attempts and I do not imagine the clan will stop until I am dead.

I am lost without my brother. For all I was ashamed of him at the end for his wayward and irresponsible behaviour, for all I wished to see him punished for his acts, it was never my intention to kill him. It was a choice he forced upon me. Goading me into it, saying in what was very much your voice that I was too soft around the edges.

I proved him wrong. The greatest warriors are forged in the fires of regret, so they say, but it is little compensation for losing my brother. Without him, I am but part of a whole. Without him, I am no more than another broken, forgotten man, shattered by his death.

With every death, you assured me, comes honour.

With honour, redemption.

Now, as I journey alone, I strive to find either of these things in my life. For not to try is the ultimate failing and whatever else I may be, whatever the clan may say, I am – and always will be – a Shimada.