Premiered – 1 May 2004 (Beltane)
(July 17 th )
The objective was for a single man to carry through the enemy lines a small tactical nuclear device, about the size and weight of a football. The soldier's tactical support was limited to ten macho men who would serve as allies, but where each of these demented (rhymes with Macho) beings had their own set of unique arms and cruel weapons designed for maximum bloodshed. In addition, each of these "allies" was equipped with a murderous personality, and had come to the battlefield right out of war trade school, having specialized in raping, maiming and goring.
Opposing the "good guys" was the enemy line composed of the ultimate in really-mean bastards, former hockey players, and ogres extremis. Their leader was a conniving, ornery, dastardly, bloodthirsty monster without any socially redeeming value whatsoever -- and a current member of the John Birch Society. His cohorts, who were equally conniving, ornery, and bloodthirsty, included the absolute dredges of modern society: a used car salesman, a financial planner/stockbroker, a new car salesman, a talk show host, two lawyers, three IRS agents, and a partridge in a pear tree.
With such creative assets for pointless conflict, it had become and continued to be the ultimate video game. Maximum Strength All Out Killer War, The Game for Warriors of all Ages, had incredible realism and devastation utterly beyond belief or reason! Bright colors, horrendous sounds, the din and roar of battle, coupled with the fact that all of the slaughter and destruction would be vividly sensed by the player. Not only a variety of inputs from the player or players to the game itself, but even connections from the video back to the player so that all the slings and arrows of outrageous warfare could be personally and physically experienced! Talk about Fun City !! Just the sort of thing into which Lars Gilan could really sink his teeth!
Maximum Strength All Out Killer War also included sophisticated tactics and strategy. Things like deceit, cruelty, and a vast menagerie of diversions to seek out the unwary. In fact, two of Lars' fellow comrades had been severely injured -- mostly in their pride -- after being diverted by two very diverting females with the unlikely names of Thelchtereia and Peisinoe -- which Lars had named for his own purposes, "Wretch-terrible" and "Piss-on-'em'. The game also allowed for changes in the rules in mid-game in order to aid the enemy – a feature which really pissed Lars off! For Lars had not yet realized that he, too, could change the rules -- like remove some of the feedback mechanisms which were regularly hitting, shocking, bruising, and wounding him. Let's face it: Lars was just a bit slow. His was not a fate to be enlightened by judgement or wit.
But he loved Maximum Strength All Out Killer War! Where else could the ultimate macho man enjoy the uncontrolled, irrational frenzy of battle while still in a hospital bed recovering from wounds from a slightly more realistic version of Maximum Strength All Out Killer War -- also known as the "Temporary intervention to save lives in the Middle East "? In fact, Lars enjoyed the game even more than Dungeons and Dragons, that wonderful game where members of the younger generation could live and die in a fantasy world (just prior to lawmakers noting that the number of teenage suicides resulting from the game had become entirely too realistic). Lars still carried the psychological scars -- even if not recognized as such -- of the time when two of his playmates had entrapped him in a fantasy dungeon from which Lars had managed to escape only when his older half-brother had pointed out that the whole thing was just a game! But it had never been "just a game" to Lars.
As was Maximum Strength All Out Killer War. It was a Monday afternoon when Lars found himself really into the game, screaming at the carnage, and yelling at his electronic comrades -- even as one was blown to merry hell by a claymore mine cleverly concealed in a Banyan tree. What incredible fun!! Lars really got into the death scenes as all the limbs, internal organs, and notable body parts were graphically ripped apart in glorious color -- and for his particular amusement, in slow motion. Lars obliquely thought of Aaron's generosity in providing Lars with the extra attachment which allowed him to slow the motion, just in order to savor the moments of such wonderful carnage.
It was during a second screaming, yelling episode that Tina walked into the hospital ward. Tina was unaware that Lars, albeit screaming and yelling, was having an absolutely wonderful day. She quickly looked around, questioning if perhaps a nurse or some male equivalent might be mildly interested in checking out what was causing all the screaming and yelling. What she found was Mic.
Mic was readily identified by the name tag on his white, spaghetti stained coat, a small plague on his desk reading "MIC", and a large sign on the wall above his head, emblazoned with " Mic's Place ". Mic could also have used a tombstone inasmuch as he was either dead in the chair which supported the majority of his body (his feet sprawled on his desk), or was close enough to death to justify the expense of a solemn burial. In reality Mic was merely asleep while "on duty". It was as if Mic was no longer needed (at the moment), and had gone into what would constitute at the very least, temporary remission.
Screaming and yelling from other parts of the room, distracted Tina from Mic's plight. Several others of the ward's inmates were also deeply involved in Maximum Strength All Out Killer War and were naturally enjoying it with much the same intensity as Lars. Inasmuch as Tina had no idea what was actually happening, she could only wonder why she had felt relief in escaping Perses' lunatic asylum. From Tina's perspective, the Mercenaries and Veterans from Other People's Wars, inmates at the local MVOPA Hospital , seemed even further removed from reality than the inmates at the crazy hospital. Of course, everything's relative.
This, when she thought about it, really disturbed her! Lars was a relative!
Approaching him, she once again took notice of the man. Even with various wires and tubes attached at critical points to his body -- none of them medical and instead part of his game -- Tina could see that Lars was still as vigorous and virile a man as she had ever seen (other than perhaps, Don Hess). The slight growth of beard did nothing but add to Lars' earthiness and sex appeal. His body was still lean and taut, but with enough of a muscular build to suggest an adequate strength for all the things he put his body through.
Then, with Lars totally engrossed in Maximum Strength All Out Killer War, Tina reached down to gently touch his shoulder. This, in turn, provided her with a mild electrical jolt!
It had been a critical moment when Tina had touched Lars. The resulting momentary diversion on his part had caused him to be blindsided by a 458 mm, hollow-core, recoilless cannon. Lars' body jumped as he received the full "benefit" of his body being dematerialized by the cannon's "maximum strength blast". As his body jerked, Lars screamed in wretched pain and immediately went into the most complete death scene imaginable. After which, he simply laid there. Tina was convinced that she had somehow caused his death.
Until a broad smile crossed his face and he opened his eyes. "God, I love war!!" he announced. "Really gets the blood flowing!" Then he chuckled at his own pun, as he looked up to see Tina, who had missed the humor altogether. Instead she just smiled down at the allegedly grown man. Lars smiled back and then began to disconnect the electrical leads from his body. This was done to avoid being inadvertently dismembered by the enemy and his pathetically cruel psychosis. For, sad to say, Maximum Strength All Out Killer War did not always cease to cause pain and anguish simply because the game was over!
"Are you okay?" Tina asked. An appropriate question after a death scene.
"Sure!" Then Lars felt the pang of a missed opportunity. "It's just that I almost had him by the throat!! A couple of minutes..." His voice carried the intensity of his emotions as he bemoaned the abrupt termination of his game.
Tina tried to smile. "It's just a game." Then an alternate thought occurred to her. "Isn't it?" The stunned expression on her face underlined the question.
"Yeah!" Lars shrugged it off, accustomed to licking his wounds and moving on. But then he felt the inner passion. "But I almost had him!! Damn!"
Tina felt sudden regret at her intrusion. "I'm sorry. Were you winning?"
"Probably!" Lars was abruptly bigger than life. "I had already decapitated three guys, two of them enemies!" When Tina looked shocked at the apparent mathematical discrepancy on battle casualties, Lars quickly added, "Hey! War is hell! Anybody can make a ‘friendly fire' mistake!" Tina smiled, and Lars, feeling himself now vindicated, continued. "I'd even blown to smithereens two others by sending one of my guys on a hari-kari mission!" Abruptly, he laughed. "Of course, my guy didn't know what kind of mission it was!"
"Oh," was Tina's only comment.
Lars stood up, the best news yet to come. "I had even managed to physically throttle the enemy's principal mutant ninja weirdo!!" When Tina indicated insufficient awe, in part due to the fact that Lars was towering over her with his best menacing, war-like stance, he added, "Which is tough! I must have played this game a hundred times, and that's the first time I was ever able to get my hands on the bastard!"
Tina smiled reassuringly. Then she asked, "Doesn't this hurt you?"
"Sure," Lars replied, taking in a deep breath. "But it's real! Like when my buddy got hurt and I had to pull him to safety. Just like two years ago!" Abruptly, Lars smiled wryly. "That was when I ended up getting hit alongside the head for my trouble. Man that one hurt!"
The words that sprang to Tina's mind were of the caliber of: maniac, blockhead, savage… But then she eased off. Sometimes, Tina had seen similar characteristics in Zak or Aaron. Or even felt them in herself. Only she and the others had controlled their emotions, never allowing their darker side to dictate actions. Lars was different. He didn't control. He felt and then acted. It was as simple as that. It was also a little scary.
It was these same differences that had kept Lars and Tina at odds during their youth. This was until one day when Aaron had suggested an alternative to her. 'Why not help the guy instead of beating up on him?' Obviously, Aaron had pointed out, she could always win out over Lars -- the guy just didn't have the mental power to compete on her level. So why not take the challenge of instilling something of value in him? All he needed was a little discipline.
Ultimately, she had taken the challenge. And in the process, Zak had changed his own attitude toward Lars. At the same time, Tina had incurred a life long friend in her brother who was now looking at her with a twinkle in his eye.
"That a new dress?" It was not the most sophisticated approach but it did demonstrate amazing sensitivity coming as it did from Lars.
Tina wasn't quite ready for a personal compliment, but nevertheless was able to field it pretty well. "Why yes, it is.
"Thank you." Tina felt herself blush, as she added, "It's a bit more feminine than what I typically wear, but I thought I might try something different."
"Sexy," Lars pointed out. Even as he did so, his body unconsciously reacted, giving off vibrations designed to get Tina on the same wavelength.
Tina could only think, 'How long has it been since you've had a woman?' Whereupon Lars emitted a low, rumbling growl, his eyes taking all of Tina into his fantasy. 'A long time,' Tina thought, as she answered her own question. 'And me in heat!' Abruptly, she sensed that it was time for a diversion, military or otherwise. "Heard from Zak lately?"
Lars took a moment to shift his thinking, a challenge equivalent to turning an M-1 tank on a dime. "Yeah," he finally said. "He came by a couple of weeks ago. He wanted to know if I needed anything. Like a private room. I told him I'd rather be with my buddies!"
Tina was clearly surprised. "Zak came by here!?"
"It surprised me too. I always thought that he hated me. I figured that he thought I was some kind of dumb-witted, ignorant Neanderthal ." Lars didn't actually know what a " Neanderthal " was, but he had learned the proper pronunciation from the countless renditions that he had heard from Zak and innumerable other, more literate individuals applying it to Lars.
"I don't think Zak hates you, Lars," Tina replied gently. "He's seen some changes in you that he likes. He seems to respect you a lot more now."
"I don't know. It's like, after you helped me..." For a moment, he looked at Tina with a genuinely grateful look. Then he continued, "Zak acted like he respected me, but it's never felt right. It kind of like he found me useful. But not like he cared for me one way of the other."
"He stopped by to see you," Tina gently argued.
"Yeah." Lars thought for a moment, eclipsing his previous lifetime record of fifty one seconds by a full nine seconds. Then a vague memory asserted itself. "Even Aaron stopped by this morning! Now with you here, it's like a family reunion!" Lars smiled, not knowing why he should be smiling, but just going with the flow and assuming the optimistic view.
"Aaron was here!? Tina tried to cover her intensity.
"Yeah. He's the one who gave me the slow-motion attachment!"
Tina was suspicious, but in enough control that Lars had no hint of her feelings. "Do you know why he gave it to you?"
"He said something about his always having respected me and wanting to do something for me. He thought I might enjoy the attachment." For a moment, Lars felt a pleasant emotion. "I can't believe he knew exactly what I wanted!"
"It is surprising," Tina agreed, even while recognizing that Aaron was not being simply generous. Then she asked, "Did Aaron say anything?"
"Yeah," Lars answered, trying to remember the conversation. "He did say something about me finding something else to do in life. Make a few changes."
Tina smiled slightly. "Sounds like good advice."
"Well," Lars agreed, "I figured, why not!? Then I heard some scuttlebutt about two million Shiite Moslems launching a massive attack on Europe ! I figured, Wow! What an opportunity!"
Tina went from intrigued to horrified. "You're kidding!"
"Hey," Lars replied, "What can I tell you? Shiite happens!" Then he laughed at his humor (the joke having been painstakingly explained to him several times before), and turned to see if Tina was laughing as well.
She managed an encouraging smile, but not quite a laugh.
Not yet discouraged, Lars forged ahead. "Fighting Shiites is a blast! They just keep coming! Wipe out wave after wave of those guys, and they just keep charging! I figure I'll give them all the chances they want to be dumb martyrs!"
"You know," Tina said, putting her hand on Lars' arm, "Aaron may have been thinking about a whole new line of work."
"I doubt it," Lars replied confidently. "I can't do anything else."
Tina could identify with that. She knew of altogether too many people that were having the same problem. Even in the midst of a prolonged Middle East war, the manufacturers of armaments, arms, and various forms of mass destruction were struggling to just stay afloat. International competition had become extreme. Plus which, many manufacturers had become so accustomed to the incredible profit margins, even after paying so much to government agents in the form of bribes (not to mention consulting fees to prospective Secretaries of Defense, Vice Presidents, etceteras), that after the exposes of '05, things had taken a radical turn. It wasn't that easy to make immoral amounts of money anymore, and thus employ so many Americans in the business of bush wars.
Tina had always thought that war was a futile endeavor even when so many people seemed to delight in it. If there were only no one to fight, it might go out of style. But the world still seemed to have an adequate supply of madmen. And the present conflict to defend an Arab country which was one of the most notorious violators of human rights in history -- assuming, of course, that women are viewed as human -- seemed even more mad.
'But Zak wasn't crazy!' Tina abruptly thought. 'And he isn't about to leave Worldwide Enterprises to Lars!' Tina knew that instinctively now, even if she had intellectually found it difficult to believe before. Lars was not the threat. Aaron, on the other hand, was.
While Tina had considered the state of war in the world, Lars had been thinking along opposite lines. Gently he began running the back of his hand along her arm, tentatively. Tina abruptly recalled where she was, and asked, innocently enough, "Is there anything I can do for you, Lars?"
His broad smile and low laugh answered that question. Obviously, Lars' first choice was to fool around with Tina, sort of a quickie, passionate moment that both of them would remember. Perhaps for a couple of days. Or in Lars' way of thinking, ‘Really get down and dirty! Know what I mean, babe?'
The last several days had taken its toll on Tina. It was one thing to have been propositioned by virtually very male she had encountered (with the notable exception of Don Hess). But most of the serious propositions had been from brothers! Maybe it was her perfume! But in any case it was getting out of hand!
Lars was, of course, disappointed at Tina's polite refusal. He did casually mention that she'd not had sex until she'd had it with him! In his own words: "Big and bold!" Tina then avoided further discussion by the old trick of being under a doctor's care, something about herpes. This pretty well diverted Lars.
But only momentarily, as Lars made the leap to thoughts of April Ikaria. Lars bluntly suggested Tina could suggest to April that Lars would really appreciate a visit. Perhaps a conjugal one. When Tina registered total shock, Lars added, "We've always had a real passion for one another."
Tina was amazed, but then figured that April had always had a real passion for every man alive. Consequently, Tina agreed to call April.
"In the meantime," Lars suggested, "maybe you could try and find me a specialized attachment to my video game. It's called 'Infiltration'. It lets me blast other players from a distance when they're playing their own version of Maximum Strength All Out Killer War!!" Lars laughed. "Can you imagine!? I'll be over here in my bed, and they'll be over in theirs! They won't even know what hit them!!" Lars was already into the fact he was going to be laughing like crazy for days.
Tina was slightly shocked. "You'd do that to your buddies?"
"Sure! That's what buddies are for!"
Tina's smile turned faint. "I'll see what I can do." When Lars turned to all smiles, Tina sarcastically added, "Or maybe I'll provide for a real live Ninja raid on your hospital ward."
Lars' eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store. "Wow!! What an idea!!" His whole world took on new meaning as he considered the possibilities. Then pragmatism overrode his initial euphoria. "You'll have to provide us with some arms and weapons first! I mean, in order to really make it fun!" When Tina could only look stunned at the monster she had just created, Lars dropped back into relishing the idea of his own personal combination of adventure land and fantasyland. "A real ninja attack on a MVOPA Hospital !! What an idea!!"
As Tina escaped the ward, her mind kept questioning how it was possible for Lars to have the same seed as herself. Obviously, Helen, Zak's third wife, may have had more than one child by someone other than Zak! It was the only rational explanation!
When Tina returned to her office, it only took ten minutes for Aaron to show up. And this time, he let Tina's secretary announce him first.
This made Tina immediately suspicious. As Aaron walked in, she gave him the kind of look that fathers with young, very attractive teenage daughters give teenage boys as they arrive for a first date. Aaron, meanwhile, was all smiles. His bearing suggested he was totally forthright with no hint of an ulterior motive. This from Tina's viewpoint guaranteed he had precisely such motives!
"Good afternoon, Tina," Aaron said, as he strutted into the room.
"What can I do for you, Aaron?" Tina said with a trace of suspicion.
Aaron ignored the timbre of her voice. "You've certainly been busy lately! You're hardly ever in your office!"
Tina was not yet willing to admit to anything. "I've had a lot to do."
"Yes, I know," Aaron replied, smiling broadly. "Did you enjoy your visit with Lars?" Aaron was really feeling good about knowing this bit of information. As far as he knew, no one else would have thought to include a bugging device in a video game. But Aaron had! It made him feel particularly superior.
"Very much so," Tina replied, maintaining her cool. Her visit to Lars, after all, had not been especially secretive.
"And," Aaron began, taking greater pains to be magnanimous, "Are you about ready to concede to me?"
The question hit Tina like a sledge hammer to the stomach. She visibly winced, only to immediately grab control from what might have become chaos in her mind. Her facial expression became stern, as she asked, in a low and challenging tone, "Concede what?"
"I'm the one!" Aaron let it sink in. "Surely, it's become obvious by now. All of the other possibilities have been exhausted. If not by you, then by me."
"Oh?" Tina continued to martial her reserves, fighting for control, searching for more information -- something on which to hang her arguments.
"Obviously, it's down to you and me, Tess and Herman. Herman's a joke. Zak would never let a feminist take control. And when push comes to shove, I'll get the nod over you." Aaron's confidence seemed insurmountable. But his logic was showing flaws.
They were flaws upon which Tina immediately seized. "Wait a minute," she calmly noted. "You still don't know for sure!"
"I know Herman's off to Maine to try and find Tess."
"But you've heard nothing from Zak!" The change in Tina's attitude was immense. She immediately realized, 'The game was not over!! Not by a long shot. This was all a bluff!!' Mentally, she quietly cursed Aaron.
"I don't need to hear from the bid man," Aaron bluffed. Then, following his previous plan, "But I want you to know that I have the greatest respect for you, Tina. And what's more, I'm going to want you to be part of the team." Aaron's intended earnest approach seemed flawless.
Except for the fact that as far as Tina was concerned, his attempt had gone over like an eight-month pregnant pole-vaulter. Tina snorted, and at the same time, decided to have a little fun at Aaron's expense. "You obviously haven't talked to Perses lately." Aaron's sudden astonishment was just the taunt she had hoped it would be. "Perses Spear is Zak's. And he's been spending a lot of time out at Elysium Fields, where all sorts of changes have been made! Tina smiled as she saw Aaron wince at the new possibilities. Instinctively, she knew that Aaron would be making a visit in the very near future. 'With any luck,' she thought, 'they'll keep him there!
Aaron quickly struggled to keep control and not give way to Tina's attack. He knew he would be seeing Perses on Wednesday (two days away), but he wasn't about to tell Tina. Or give her the satisfaction she might have something. "Perses is not a possibility."
"Who knows!?" Then Tina smiled even more, her confidence building. "In any case, it's a bit premature for concessions."
Aaron mentally put the Perses issue aside for the moment and smiled confidently. He then went back to his game plan. "On the contrary... There are, perhaps, a few facts of which you're not aware..." Then Aaron added with the appropriate ring of intrigue, "Some of which I'm not at liberty to divulge at the present time because of their source..."
Aaron smiled. "But which will become all too apparent soon enough."
"You're really full of it, Aaron!" Tina was adamant. She was also confident. Let's face it: Most of the time she was right!
Aaron wasn't quite up to playing it completely cool. He had to win the argument and leave Tina to lick her wounds. Besides, she had already managed to knock him off stride with the Perses gambit. It was time for some revenge. "I know for a fact," he stated, his voice carrying the ring of authority, "that the heir apparent is male!" For several moments he let it sink in, relishing his moment of triumph. When Tina only glared at him, hardly hinting at her sudden loss of confidence, Aaron added, "Zak is handing over the reins to a man. That, I'm confident of. And it certainly isn't Herman!"
Tina countered immediately, a shade of desperation in her voice. "And just what makes you so certain that it's a man. Where's the evidence!?"
Aaron still had confidence in his conclusion, but wasn't so certain of his ability to argue the case before a very skeptical judge. The evidence was, in fact, circumstantial, a point which Tina would immediately attack. And which Aaron did not care to defend. Not now at any rate. Consequently, Aaron dodged the bullet, "I'm not willing at this time to divulge my sources. I'm sure you can understand that."
"In that case," Tina replied, her voice now quite even and controlled, "I'm not willing -- at this time -- to concede anything."
Aaron straightened, shrugging it off as if her concession was unimportant, as if it was inevitable and merely required him to wait a bit longer. This was something he could do. Then he smiled. "Whatever you prefer," he said. Then he turned and headed for the door.
"One thing," Tina boldly announced, the timbre of her voice causing Aaron to pause and turn back toward her, "I won't work for you, Aaron! It's not even a remote possibility!"
Aaron flinched at Tina's statement and the intensity of her resolve. His arrogance and anger flared, as he replied in a cold, deadly voice, "Whatever!" With that he turned and walked out, slamming the door just enough to make his anger felt.
For several moments, Tina merely sat there, thinking. She was imminently aware that what she had just done was probably very stupid from a business point of view. She had burned some substantial bridges in the last few moments, but hopefully, her mind suggested, they were bridges which she would never again need. 'Not very smart,' she thought, but then quickly forgave herself. Guilt, even against oneself, was the most useless of emotions!
She remained quiet for several moments, thinking intently, until finally she said to herself, "Hurry, Herm. Find Tess, and then get back here! Then, you are I are going to have a long talk with Zachary D'Michael Gilan!!"
Chapter Seventeen – Meanwhile, Back at the Campus…
Chapter Nineteen – Moon in Aries
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