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Openness, Trust, and Commitment

My post from yesterday elicited some comments from people, and one of the comments that came up concerned being open to possibilities.  I’m paraphrasing since I can’t remember exactly what was said, but essentially it was this:  if you are open to all futures good and bad and try to live in the now, how do you reconcile planning things for the future?  You have to accept some things will be such-and-such way in order to make plans for the future, especially when you are talking months or further away, right?

Yes.  I can’t argue with that.  I spoke a lot about living in the now, and not letting the past rule the future.  I still think that is very true.  But in order to plan nearly anything, I am placing a bet that something will be the same as it is now (or perhaps better).  I am taking a risk that things may not be the same, which could lead to anywhere from small to massive disappointment and pain, and sometimes loss of money as well.

So what can you rely on?  Well, only one thing really comes to mind: trust.  In order to plan for the future, trust has to be there.  You need to trust that what the other person says will be true.  You need to trust that their actions will follow their words.  You need to trust that they are not lying to you, or taking advantage of you, or misleading you for their own gain, or not taking things seriously, or etc. etc. etc.  I think you get the point.

But what happens when you don’t trust somebody?  What happens when you don’t trust yourself?  Can you plan for the future when you don’t trust that someone will hold true to what they say?  Can you plan for the future if you aren’t certain your own feelings will be the same?  Because how can you truly be certain your feelings *will* be the same X time from now?

You can’t.  You can never say for certain, which is why I loathe when people say something will be absolute for the future.  I am a different person than I was a month ago.  That person was different from the one 5 months before that.  And that person was different etc. etc.  People evolve, sometimes rapidly, sometimes slowly.  Sometimes one event can change everything if you are open to it.  Sometimes it will take a hundred.

The only thing I think can be done is to make a commitment.  It can be to a person or to an idea.  The word “commitment” has been a bit bastardized over time, but it really just means that you are committed to something or someone.  No, you can’t know what is in the future.  No, you don’t always trust someone, or even yourself.  I definitely have trouble trusting myself sometimes, especially since I know I occasionally lie to myself.

But if you can commit yourself to something/someone…  Maybe you can help shape the future.  Maybe you can help shape the now.

Who knows.

The Past; The Future

This post is in part prompted by another post that was shared with me, some from finding out that yesterday was something like suicide awareness day, and some from my own thoughts.

I don’t intend for this to be a really long post if I can help it, so let me get straight to my first point:  yes, I have had suicidal thoughts.  If you know me, then this really shouldn’t come as a shock.  I have chronic kidney disease.  I only knew my father during the time that he was on dialysis.  He lasted a long time on dialysis, so I had many years to know my father, but I saw what the disease does over time.  Other events in my life, both recent and prior, have had a very negative effect on how I look at the future.  There are moments, minutes, hours, or days where it’s bad, and during those times it’s hard to see why I should continue.

No, I have never taken action on any of these thoughts, nor do I intend to.  Why?  Concerning CKD, yes, I saw what it did to my father.  I know he lived longer on CKD than many others.  Well fuck that, I intend to live for even longer.  In part I think it’s what he would want me to do.  He would definitely not want me to just give up.  Concerning the other stuff, the dark thoughts that plague me about the future…  ::sigh::

Those go with my second point, or at least my second set of thoughts.  Does the past rule the future?  Can you, as a person, disregard the past and live right now?  The past is a memory.  It’s only in your head.  It exists nowhere else.  You cannot prove to me that the past even exists.  OK, yes, there are pictures, videos, etc.  There are items that have been passed down in families.  There are the clothes that I am wearing.  But did they exist in the past?  My memory says so; my senses can’t prove it.  They can only prove the now.  If I watch a movie that says it was filmed in 1980, where is the proof?  There isn’t any.  There intrinsically can’t be.  There are only memories, passed from one person to another, written down or spoken or recorded.  When several people agree on the same thing, it’s counted as truth.

But only in the now can something be proven.  But once proven, it’s a memory.  And can you trust your memory?  Can you really trust it?  How often do you remember something differently than it actually happened?  How often does your current situation flavor past experiences?  When I’m depressed, I remember more of the bad and can’t even bring to mind the good.  When I’m in a good mood, I remember more of the good and have trouble remembering the bad.  Which is true?

So when thinking about the future, how can you look at it?  What determines it?  Action.  The current plan is that I’m going out to dinner.  My memory tells me this.  My memory of the past *could* flavor my impression of what is to come, what I might eat, what I may feel, what may happen.  But can the past really tell me about the future?  No.  Nothing about the past can really, truly tell me about the future.  I may have had a wonderful chicken dish in the past.  Tonight it could be the worst thing ever.  I might have memories of being angry with my dinner partner for this evening.  Will I be angry with her now because I remember being angry with her in the past?  It’s in my past, right?  Been there, done that?  That means the future will be the same, right?

Bullshit.  I take the action.  I take the initiative.  My actions right now are my own responsibility.  If I can go forward with a truly open mind and do not let the past, the memory that may or may not actually be true, flavor what I do right now, then I can truly experience what is happeningnow.  I can’t let the past rule now.

I can’t let the past rule the future.

Everyday We Lie

At some point when I was much younger (I don’t remember exactly when) I did something bad and tried to lie to my parents to get out of trouble.  It doesn’t really matter what I did; it was probably something small, like not cleaning my room or whatever.  When I was found out, my punishment was made more severe because I had lied.  My father in particular took exception to being lied to, and I was warned that in the future I should always tell the truth, because the punishment would always be made far, far worse for lying.

At some later point in time I did something bad again, but this time I tried a smaller lie so as to not get in quite as much trouble.  It wasn’t all that bad, I had told myself, because I would be getting punished.  I would just be mitigating how much punishment I got.  The lie had worked and the punishment wasn’t very bad…until I was of course eventually found out.  As promised the punishment was made far, far worse and I’m sure that I received another lecture.  I was told once again that lying was wrong, and telling the truth is always best.  I would still be punished if I told the truth, they said, but not as badly.

Time went on with me getting into more trouble over little things, stuff that I generally was caught while doing so it would make no sense lying.  Then I did something bad again that I wanted to lie about…but this time I didn’t.  I stood straight, looked my father in the eyes, and told them what I did.  My father looked sad that he had to punish me, but if I remember correctly he looked proud that I had told the truth.  I was punished, of course, but the punishment was one that was quickly over.  I had finally learned.

As a teenager I found wisdom in using truth.  My parents always had to work hard to keep track of my brother, but for me that wasn’t the case.  I always tried to be where I said I was going to be, and if something changed I always tried to let someone know if I could (this being before cell phones were common).  I was not the perfect kid by any stretch of the imagination, but at least they could trust me because I would tell them the truth, and since the trust was there I was allowed a lot more freedom.  Trust is, at its core, based on believing what another person tells you.  That freedom also allowed me to give more vague answers to where I was going (generally because I was meeting friends and didn’t quite know myself), because my parents knew that if they asked a direct question I would give them the direct truth.

Note that, though: if asked a direct question.  It had been nailed into my head that lying iswrong.  I wasn’t to speak an untruth.  However, I did not have to speak the whole truth all of the time, or, to put it bluntly, I could just keep my mouth shut.  This became important especially around my friends.  Because of certain circumstances I became known as someone who wouldn’t lie, but at the same time I became someone who was a confidant.  It can be a terrible thing to know something, to have someone else know you know “something”, and for them to ask a direct question.  When I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t tell the truth, I quickly became proficient at either redirecting the conversation or, failing that, shutting down until the person stopped asking.  But more often than not if asked a direct question I gave the direct truth, regardless of the consequence.  It is wrong to lie.

But nearly everyday I lie.  And I bet you do, too.

Oh, they aren’t “big” lies, not most of the time.  Most of the time you could say they are even quite socially acceptable.  The majority of them I do without thinking.  How?  Let me give you an example.  On the way out to lunch as well as at lunch, I was probably asked at least 2 or 3 times how am I.  Each time I rattled off the answer “fine” or “good, thank you”.  This morning I went to the dentist.  Each person I ran into, from the receptionist to the dentist himself, asked how I was doing and chatted with me.  Each time I responded that everything was fine/good and chatted back.

I’m not fine right now.  There can be no mistaking that.  Neither am I good.  I will not get into the reasons why; that is not the point of this post, and frankly I do not wish to air the reasons to the internet.  But each time I said that I was fine I was flat out lying.  I was raised to value the truth, to tell it despite the consequences.  But I lied.  And…I will likely do it again.  Why?

Because sometimes people don’t want to know the truth.  They want you to lie.  Inside some of them are yearning for you to lie, because if you don’t your problems suddenly become part of their life.  The coworker in the elevator chatting with me, he doesn’t really want to know what’s going on with me.  Once out of the elevator I will be forgotten; heck, he may have been thinking of something else entirely while he was talking to me.  Why do I think that?  Because I’ve done the same thing.  Is it right that society is this way?  I don’t know. I know it’s not going to change anytime soon.

You might be asking yourself if that’s all this post is about, the little lies of “polite” conversation.  No, there is another category I’m guilty of, and probably you as well.

It’s the category of lies we tell ourselves.

No lie can be stronger than one we tell to ourself.  Who is there to refute it?  Oh, I’m not talking about the small lies we can spot in an instant, something like “one more piece of cake” etc.  No, I’m talking about the deep down lies, the ones we want to believe.  And we really want to believe it, yes.  Some emotion, some feeling, some want, some pain. We will want something to be some way so much that will tell ourselves nearly anything to make it so.  It could be anything.  It could be something solid or insubstantial.  It could be real or imagined.  It could be a positive thought or a negative one.  Hope, fear, either way it’s one that we want to believe.

Or maybe no.  We really don’t want to believe it.  Some emotion, some feeling, some want, some pain.  We will want so much to not believe something can exist that we will tell ourselves anything to make it not be.  Again, it could be anything.  Hope, fear, either way it’s one that we don’t want to believe.

As I mentioned above, trust, at its core, is based on believing what you are told, to believe an action or what is said is true.  So what happens when you suspect that you have been lying to yourself?  What happens when you don’t know if you can trust yourself?  How do you find out what is true?  How do you regain that trust?  When you are dealing with someone else that you have lost trust with, the only answer I know is time.  With time and effort trust with another can be eventually regained, though it can be a long process riddled with doubts.  Perhaps it is the same with yourself?  That all you need is time and effort?

Or is that another lie…

 

Digital Ownership

I think it would be safe to say that I’ve bought into the whole “digital” thing.  I own a lot of digital music, videos, games, etc.

But do I?

There has been a lot of controversy over the past several years over whether or not you truly own your digital content.  I, like many, many others, rarely read even a paragraph of the giant agreements I have to digitally sign before purchasing content.  I just want the content!  I’m not a lawyer, and frankly my session will probably time out before I’m through reading the document, not to mention that if I don’t agree I won’t be able to purchase said shiny content.

Ah, but you see, many of those agreements state that you are essentially renting the content from the provider.  Oh, you can download and listen/watch/play it as many times as you like, and words like “buy”, “purchase”, and “own” will be used to give you a false sense of security.  But do I really own it?  No.

One of the first times that concept really hit me was when I started listening to a book I “purchased” from Audible.com.  After the generic “This is Audible” opening, the following recording played:

[the author] has asked us to remind you of certain terms of the Audible license that you agreed to when you became a customer of Audible.  Namely, Audible grants you unlimited license to access the content solely for your personal and non-commercial use.  You are not allowed to copy, reproduce, distribute, or use the content in any other manner.  You cannot sell, transfer, lease, mortify, distribute, or publicly perform the Audible content in any manner, nor can you exploit it commercially in any way.

If Audible becomes aware that you have sold or attempted to sell Audible content in any form, your membership will be terminated immediately and you will not be allowed to rejoin or purchase any Audible content.

Thanks for your cooperation.

Now, whether or not the author really asked them to put that in or not is inconsequential, but I for one am glad they did.  Why?  Because it was easy to understand.  All that legal gibberish that I agreed to when I became a customer of Audible I skipped.  But since they knew that they couldn’t take up that long on a audiobook or they’d piss people off, they actually distilled the agreement down to what you needed to know.

And wow.  OK, yeah, some of the stuff is pretty basic and needs to be in there because of copyright law and I completely agree with it.  Don’t copy the content, don’t publicly perform it, etc.  But what is this about not selling the content?  Or transferring it?  Or passing it on to my descendants?   What if I don’t like the audiobook, or am done with it?  How are you going to keep me from…oh, yeah, DRM (Digital Rights Management).  I really can’t, can I?  Not without breaking the law.  But what happens if the company who sells me the product shuts down for whatever reason?  Oh, I lose the content I purchased.  Wow.

So let me get this straight:  basically I paid the full price of buying a physical copy of the audiobook, but the only thing I can do with the digital copy is listen to it, whereas with the physical copy I can listen to it, sell it, give it away, pass it on to my descendents, keep it if the publisher goes bankrupt, etc., etc., and using freely available legitimate software (iTunes), make a digital copy of it for my own personal use?

Umm, is it me, or does something seem wrong here?

So why do I buy things digitally?  Convenience, more than anything, as well as, weirdly, a sense of security.  Why wait for a book to arrive in the mail when I can purchase it digitally in seconds?  Why waste gas to go to the store and purchase a CD (or again, wait for the mail) when it could be downloading in moments?  Why wait for a movie to arrive…  etc., etc.  As for the security part, if I lose my physical copy of something I’m screwed, whereas all the major resellers of digital content that I know allow you to re-download the content again, and again, and again….

But things are changing, at least where I’m concerned.  I’m now opting to purchase things physically over digital, the most notable exception being eBooks since, well, they are eBooks (I really like being able to carry and entire library of books with me that weighs only a few ounces, especially where giant 1,000+ page tomes are concerned).  Oh, and PC games, since it’s actually easier to deal with all the DRM associated with games when you purchase them digitally (you have to deal DRM with PC games whether or not your purchase them physically or digitally).

Why?  Because the content is then mine.  I can do what I want with it.  I can watch a DVD/Blu-ray 100 times and then resell it on eBay, or give it away to a friend.  Or I can loan it out, or take it with me to a friend’s house to watch.  Or I can check to see if the effects of a acetylene torch on a Blu-ray can make it even higher definition (it can’t, I’m just joking).

There is also my primary fear:  that the provider will go under.  OK, so it’s not that likely for the major guys.  The thought that Apple will go under just doesn’t make sense right now.  But what about 10 years from now?  Perhaps they will make terrible business decisions in the meantime, so what happens if they fold in 2022?  Or 2032?  Will I still be able to see that season of Doctor Who I purchased when their DRM servers go down?   No, I know that’s not true, because we weren’t able to watch something we had purchased one night when they were having issues.  Or what happens if they are bought out?  Will they be bought out and everything be fine?  Or will they be bought out and everything is lost?

True, a Blu-ray may not make it to 2022 either, or 2032.  It could get lost, it could get damaged or destroyed, or maybe Blu-ray will go the way of the LaserDisc or beta cassette.  But as long as I have the equipment to play it and the disc is undamaged, I know that it will play.  It won’t require the presence of a company to be able to play (or at least their servers).  I won’t have to remember a username and password for an account opened many years prior.  And perhaps at that time it will be an antique, i.e. something I can sell.  Who knows?  But it will be mine.

Do I really think that physical purchases for music/video/etc. is the answer?  No, I really do like digital.  It just makes sense.  It takes up far less space, is far lighter, you can get it faster, has a higher likelihood of still being playable in some manner 20 years from now, etc., etc.  So what needs to change?  Simple.  Remove DRM.  Get rid of it.

Without the DRM, I don’t have to worry about whether or not the company exists anymore.  There would be no username or password to have to remember.  You could put it on whatever you want, take it wherever you want.  Want to play it at a friend’s house?  Fine!  Want to give it away?  Fine, as long as you don’t keep a copy.  Ah, but there’s the rub.  Trusting people to do the right thing.  Not just copying stuff everywhere, or bumming a copy from a friend.  That’s why DRM is there in the first place, to try and keep people honest.

But the problem is DRM is not working.  Just run some searches on the net.  You will find many articles, some written by quite famous individuals/journalists, which speak of how DRM is not working.  Is it keeping people from pirating stuff?  Nope, not a chance.  It’s not stopping those who are breaking the law, so what is it doing?  Generally, harassing people whoare following the law.  It may just be me, but if it’s not doing what it was intended to do, why is it still out there?  Oh, because somehow they think they can make it better.  Somehow, they think they can make it work.  I don’t think that’s really possible.

OK, this post has gone on long enough.

Pay to Win?

Let me outline a scenario:  you just purchased (or rented) a new game that promises hours and hours of entertainment.  The game isn’t specifically easy, but it’s not prohibitively hard, either.  You play for a little while and enjoy the game.  Then you notice there is new content you can buy.  What is it?  It’s a special “pack” of items specifically designed to majorly power up your character.  For just a few bucks you can leap over hours and hours of gaming and have a fully powered up character.  Do you do it?  Is it a good thing that the publishers of the game even offer this option?

Personally I say no to the first, and…I don’t know to the second.  This is something that is being talked about more and more lately in the realm of video games, i.e. downloadable packs that you can buy to essentially cheat.  Except it’s not cheating, since everyone can do it…right?  But the developers of the game would really prefer you play it through the way they intended…right?

I’ve heard different reasons and such on both sides of the issue.  On one hand, there are gamers who think this is ruining the true experience of the game, and blame the publishers for being money grubbing bastards.  They also don’t like that (especially where multiplayer is concerned) that someone can just buy there way to the top.  On the other hand, I’ve heard the argument that some gamers just don’t have the time to put 10-50 hours into a game, or that they just want the story of the game and not have to deal with “powering up”.

I do have to agree a bit with each side.  I do think publishers are trying to get every dollar they can out of gamers, and I don’t think buying your way to the top sends a good message to the game developers who put a lot of time and effort into building a experience.  However, I’ve seen the statistics:  for many games out there, the majority of players willnot play the game to the end.  Some don’t even get half way.  If you are curious, the statisticians are using the achievement/trophy system that can be found in most games for the past several years to track these numbers, so they should be pretty accurate.  Yeah, maybe a game developer would rather you play it like they made it, but maybe they would rather you at least get to see the story through to the end than not?

I can also respect that some people don’t have a lot of time to play games, but who are interested in the story.  However, without the experience of building your character up and overcoming obstacles, you are just playing a very expensive interactive movie.  Price can vary greatly, but the game in question above currently costs $50-$60 depending on which platform you buy it for.  If you buy the extra packs, you’ve spent even more money but will get less out of the game.  Instead of 30 hours to complete, it may only take you 5.  I guess if you want to spend your money that way, then fine.

So, yeah.  No easy answer.  I’m interested to see how this all will play out over time.

Passion of the…passion?

Part of my last post sparked some discussion, so I think I’ll reply/elaborate on my own thoughts in a (hopefully short-ish) post.

First off let me say that I respect all replies and comments that I’ve heard, either online or offline.  There are many different ways to think about “passion” and relationships in general; frankly if we all felt the same way  (maybe/theoretically) relationships wouldn’t be as difficult to get started in the first place.  Human interaction with one another can be fascinating yet utterly, utterly frustrating at times.

But anyway, let me separate the three elements I’ve heard talked about most: lust, passion, and friendship.  Lust is a visceral word that really brings forth to mind all the intentions inherit in the feeling.  Lust is also the easiest of the trinity to sate, and as such I feel one of the quickest to fade.  As it pertains to a relationship, lust happens.  In the early stages of a relationship I feel that it may (major emphasis) lead to a more fulfilling relationship, but I agree that it can’t really be the basis of a long, stable relationship.

Passion.  That is a word that brings up many, many different thoughts and images.  That’s in part because there are many different kinds of passion, even in a relationship.  Yes, it could be the physical kind of passion that leads to bedroom activity and “boot scenes” (ask later if you don’t know the reference).  But it could also be the passion to be near someone, to cuddle with them on the couch, to talk about their day and yours, to go places and do things, to watch TV or share thoughts on something mutually read, etc., etc.  It could be a passion to make/do something, either for someone or yourself, because making/doing something even for yourself can make you feel better, which in turn strengthens the relationship.

Passion can be applied to nearly anything that you have some inner feeling about doing.  But so often the word gets intertwined with lust that it gets…dirty.  Wrong.  Not right.  Does a relationship need passion?  Yes, I think at some deep down point a relationship needs some level of passion.  But, and I mean this in the best possible way, some kinds of passion, especially the physical kind, will eventually ebb.  That does not mean that just like a wave the passion doesn’t eventually rise up again, but…

Look, I lead a fairly interesting life.  I have my times that I’m up, and I have the times that I’m down.  There are times that I’m extremely busy, and times of peace.  There are times that some people need me, and times that I need others.  That was before I even got into a relationship, before I fathered a daughter, etc.  When you add it all together…  There are just going to be times that I don’t feel… well, you might just stop there.  There are times I just don’t feel.  Sometimes it goes on for a while, sometimes it’s only a moment.  I just keep going, getting things done, doing what I need to do, but the passion for the physical side of the relationship…well, I ignore it, because it takes time and energy.  Some people may say it’s effortless, but I call bull.  When you get up in the morning and have to deal with a cranky daughter, stressful work conditions, then come home and have a pile of things to do…don’t tell me it it’s effortless.

Some people link passion with want and desire.  I agree and don’t agree.  When I’ve been stressed out and have issues, or I’ve been so busy I’ve barely had time to think, what do I want?  What am I passionate for from my partner?  More than anything:  support.  Second to that would be closeness, to be near the other, to talk, to share experiences.  I desire my partner during those times, but not in the same way that “desire” is generally used.

That is where the third and most important part of the three comes into play: friendship.  My partner and I have to be friends.  As I said, lust happens, but it comes and goes (no pun intended).  Passion is there, but it morphs and changes form all the time, and occasionally in periods of doubt (which happen in every relationship) you wonder if it’s there.  So what keeps me going?  Friendship.  That deep down, I like being with my partner, sharing time with them.  Passion and lust ebb and flow, and let me make this clear:  waiting for one or the other doesn’t work.  You have to actively keep them a part of the relationship.

But what is the effortless part?  What part is just there and I don’t have to think about it?  Friendship.  Some people term this affection.  Some term it caring.  Some call it love.  It’s all part of the same thing.  Love.  Heh.  What a word.  People use the phrase “I love you” in a relationship and try to make it mean so many more things than it needs to.  It simply means that a caring connection exists between you and another.  That’s it.  You, and only you, can make the effort to put the other parts of the relationship in, the commitment, the passion, the time and everything else.  At its core, all friendship has some component of caring, some component of “love”, though society places too high a emphasis on the word.

So yes, I think friendship is the key to a relationship.  If I don’t care about the other person, if I don’t want to just be around them in general, then on the day that doubt sets in and the other stuff fades what am I left with?  True, the doubt may be short lived.  I may just be having an off day.  Or maybe I’m having an off week.  An off month.  Who knows?  What I know, though, is that I care deeply.  My friendship with my partner is rooted deep.  As I said, it’s one of the things that is just there.  It’s the one effortless part of the relationship.

OK, so it wasn’t that short of a post, and I was rambling again.  That’s what happens, I guess.  :)

Something different

So, yeah.  It’s been quite a while since I posted anything on my blog.  The reason is pretty simple:  I had started a project, meant to continue it, and every time I came back to the blog I was reminded of said project.  However nobody is really clamoring for the next installment or anything, and it has been…8 months since my last post.  I think it’s time to post something different.  This post will not be a promise of any more posts to come, but at least when I come to the blog my old project won’t be staring back at me.

Many things have happened over the past 8 months, and most of the people paying attention to this blog already know the majority of things that happened.  A very quick glossing of some of the highlights:  a wonderful trip to the Pacific Northwest (including a sliver of northern California), two DCI related trips (one in Muncie, IN, and the other in Allentown, PA/Berlin, NJ (maybe more on that below)), stuff at work (which won’t be talked about, obviously), various adventures and mini-journeys, a daughter who is now in kindergarten, and…well, I guess that’s about it.  The rest of the stuff is normal.

By normal, though, I don’t mean unimportant.  On the contrary, the normal stuff is the most important of all.  Normalcy is sometimes supremely underrated.  “In a rut”.  “Just the same thing, over and over”.  “Things we keep doing”.  “Same thing, day after day”.  “Unexcited/unexciting”.  There are a hundred ways of saying essentially the same thing, which is simply that tomorrow is much like today, and at least part of us hopes that the following day is much the same as the one before.  That doesn’t mean that changes don’t occur.  You may be in a new job, or try a different place to eat.  Read a new book, or watch a new movie.  Finally win a game that someone else is better at.  Open your eyes to see something you hadn’t before.  Commit yourself to something new, or recommit yourself to something familiar.  You will (or at least I will try to) have new experiences each day, even if they are just small ones.

Even if I spend all of my possible vacation time each year traveling to new and exciting places (or old but still excellent ones), I will still spend 87% of my time in normal day-to-day activities.  And to that I am grateful.  Why?

Well, one of the reasons is simple:  without ordinary, the extraordinary is unattainable.  I found the trip to the Pacific NW to be excellent, fascinating, etc., etc.  Likewise even though the trip to PA/NJ was rushed it was overall a good trip.  If by some miracle I could travel all the time…well, it just wouldn’t be the same.  You know what I would probably be doing after the first few weeks?  I would be doing my best to routinize my travels to the point where things were “normal”.  That’s what happens; when you do things long enough, they become routine, and naturally lose some of the “excitement” of being new.  That doesn’t make them any less special than they were before, but you have work a little bit harder to see what makes them special.

And the other reason?  Because I’m immensely privileged to be living with my two best friends and a little girl who (most of the time) is wonderful.  And yes, before you say anything one of the best friends is my wife.  I’m not trying to make the relationship seem less than it is, rather I’m pointing out what I feel is the most important aspect of my relationship with my wife, i.e. that she is my best friend.  Yes, yes, I know there are those out there that cry out that a relationship has to have Passion! (at lot of those who cry out, coincidentally, are of the younger persuasion).  Bluntly put, I would rather have a relationship built 99% on friendship than passion.  What do you think you are really going to be doing most of the time in a long-term relationship?  Let me put it this way, the list of things you will be doing most of the time is much longer than the list of things you won’t be doing most of the time.  I trust I don’t have to spell it out any more than that.

Ahem, sorry, got a bit sidetracked there.  The point is that my day-to-day activities include people I would not want to be without.  Yes, OK, sometimes these are the same people I travel with, and traveling is that much more special for their being along (technically sometimes that’s why traveling is special).  But my “normal” is…hard to put into words.  I feel lucky to be around the people I am, to have the job that I do.  No, I don’t like having CKD, but you know what?  I don’t care.  That doesn’t define who I am, or my abilities, or who I hang out with, or anything.  Yeah, it’s a downer sometimes.  So what.  If it means being able to be in this life, this body, to be around and with the people I am, it’s worth it.

OK, well, yeah.  Not sure how to wrap this post up, since it has kinda gone a little bit of everywhere.  I apologize for the somewhat rambling nature, since I took the approach of writing what I was generally thinking at the time.  So yep, until next time.

Oh, as a footnote, you know what I’m also glad is normal now?  Spell check in web browsers and such.  I’m not actually that bad at spelling, but my posts would be riddeld wit prblems oterwise.  Jut saing.

Not So Novel: The Movie Trailer (NN Episode 6)

[continued from episode 5]

Several months had passed since the incident at the infirmary.  Nightingale had slipped quietly out of the room with the test results and flower, hid them, met up with Lady Taro in the cafeteria, and continued about the day like nothing had happened.  He had waited for the investigations to start once Kadota’s body was found, but weirdly they never did.  Some lucky Taro become the new Kadota, and….. that’s it.  For a while Taro 1 the lab technician acted a little more unhinged than normal, but no one had asked questions or frankly even seemed to care.  The rumors Nightingale heard was that everybody figured someone had finally gotten fed up with Kadota’s bullshit and did something about it.

As for the test results, Nightingale had retrieved the file folder and flower later in the evening and taken them back to his room for study.  After a couple minutes of reading the test results, though, Nightingale had to give up.  In his haste to get the results, he had forgotten one key thing:  he had received training to be an operative, not a doctor or lab technician.  Certain key words and phrases had caught his eye, like “abnormal”, “divergent DNA structures”, and “flagged for further study”, but most of it was just gibberish to him.  The flower had yielded even fewer answers.  Pretty?  Yes.  Smelled nice?  Yep.  But even after pulling it carefully apart he found no trace that it was anything other than a common chrysanthemum.

After that he had kept his eyes open for more clues, but days turned into weeks, and weeks into months.  Nightingale sighed as he sat down by the computer in his room.  This day already felt like it was going to be just like the others.  He was going to get to watch his friends go out on more missions, while he went to the infirmary and did whatever Kadota thought up for today.

Friends.  Hah.  They had all been sympathetic at first, sending him emails telling him to “Hang in there!” and “You’ll be back to full status before you know it!”.  But after witnessing a couple of his….episodes….firsthand, the smiles started fading.  It wasn’t long before the emails stopped, and the taunting began.  The first taunts seemed playful, his “friends” pretending to drift off in the middle of conversation and then springing back out of it with a laugh.

He grimaced.  But then someone, someone who one day was going to pay dearly for their actions once he found out who it was, coined the nickname “Narcoleptic Ninja”.  The nickname spread like wildfire throughout The School.  Suddenly people who had never paid attention to him before snickered as he passed.  Even some of the younger students did it!  Respect had been firmly supplanted by derision and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it.  The School’s rules prohibited any kind of dueling when you were on medical suspension, even the mock kind that you can engage in at the training center.  True, he was protected from them, but they were also protected from him.

Nightingale sighed again as he turned the computer on and started going through his email.  Junk.  Junk.  More junk.  He was amused about how much junk mail he got on a closed network.  Some of the other guys had found out about “spam” when they were out on missions, so they had decided to make their own.  “Is your climbing rope not long enough?  We can make it longer!”  “Stun the ladies with our new portable electric field generator!”  “Takedowns and other conversation starters!”  “Rank enhancers!”

But what was this?  There was a message in his inbox from Talon, Naginata’s personal secretary.  The subject was “Reinstatement”.  He clicked to open it:

Nightingale,

You are reinstated to active duty.  Report to 0800 briefing this morning for your next mission.

Talon

He read the message.  He read it again.  What, that’s it?  No reason given for why he was reinstated?  Nightingale stared at the screen.  It’s possible, he mused, that it could be a trick.  He shook his head.  It wasn’t very likely, though.  Emails are traceable, and Talon wouldn’t play a practical joke, at least not like this.  Well, he didn’t think he would….  Nightingale glanced at the clock.  Damn it!  It was 0730 already!  Practical joke or not, he would have to hurry to make it to the briefing room.  He changed into his ops suit, a form fitting set of pants, shirt, gloves, and mask so dark green as to almost be black.  Before leaving the room he checked to make sure the test results were still hidden, then he raced off to headquarters.

As he entered the building he heard some mutterings from the other operatives he passed, but security waved him through without incident.  The muttering got worse as he entered the briefing room and took his seat.  Nightingale chose to ignore it.  Maybe they weren’t talking about him.  And maybe Wraith would cartwheel into the room singing a jolly little song….

Ah, and there he is.  Wraith walked into the room, settling into the chair that faced the room.  Wraith had been ops commander for more  than 35 years.  He had achieved his rank at the age of 40, and even now at 75 he was considered to be one of the deadliest operatives still alive.  Nightingale had went on a mission with him a year ago.  There were 5 guys blocking the path onwards.  Nightingale had wanted to find a new route, but Wraith had shook his head.  Stepping away from him, Wraith had walked into the shadows… and disappeared.  Moments later he materialized behind one of the men and killed him with one quick movement.  As the others turned he disappeared again, just to appear behind another one.  Within seconds the way had been cleared.

Nightingale shuddered.  After that night he had vowed to never try and take Wraith’s position by force.  He had wondered sometimes if the older man was still alive because even death was afraid to come for him too soon…

Wraith said softly, “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, settle down.”  The room quieted instantly.  “As you all know, we welcome Nightingale back to our ranks.  I congratulate you, Nightingale, on your….recovery.”

Nightingale shifted uneasily in his seat as everybody turned to look at him.  Someone raised their hand in the back of the room.  Wraith looked up, surprised.  “Yes, what is it?”

Nightingale turned to look as one of his former “friends” stood up.  “Sir, I just have to ask, sir…  Why is he here?”

Wraith looked annoyed.  “Why shouldn’t he be here, Mako?”

Mako squirmed under the gaze.  “Well, sir, he…well…you see….given his condition…..no one wants to really go on a mission with, uh…….”

“Are you trying to say you don’t want to go on a mission with the ‘Narcoleptic Ninja’, is that it?”

“Yes, sir.”

Nightingale inwardly reeled as if struck.  That damnable nickname had reached even the higher-ups!  And for Mako to say that…  No, he couldn’t show weakness.  He gripped the chair arms and resolutely stared straight ahead.

Wraith snorted softly.  “Well, Mako, it’s your lucky day.  For the rest of you, too.  Nightingale has been chosen for a solo mission, so nobody will have to go on a mission with him today.  Now sit down and shut up.”

Mako quickly sat down.  Wraith then turned on the projectors and went through the assignments.  After each team received their assignment, the relevant team members left to go on the mission.  Pretty soon the only people left in the room were Nightingale and Wraith.  Wraith turned off the projectors and turned to Nightingale.

“‘Narcoleptic Ninja’, huh?  How do you like your new ‘title’?”

Nightingale gritted his teeth.  “It’s not one I would have chosen, sir.”

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t, would you?  Well, I can’t say I blame you.  But I will tell you this.  I don’t give a shit.”  Wraith leaned back in his chair.  “In fact, you shouldn’t either.  But enough of that.  I’m sure you want to know what you’ll be doing for your solo mission today.  Truth is, I’d love to know it too.  Oh, I received the orders.  But I’ll be damned if they make any sense.  We have received coordinates for a movie theater.  You are to infiltrate the theater, get into the projectionist’s box for theater 3, and watch the movie.  Once done, you are to make your way to the top of the theater for extraction.”

Nightingale blinked.  “That’s the whole mission, sir?”

“Yep.”  Wraith reached into his pockets and pulled out a piece of paper.  “Here are schematics to the theater.  There is a staff entrance around the back that you can use to get inside.  The theater only has a active roster of 6 employees, so you should find it extremely easy to get in and out.”

Wraith looked at Nightingale for a moment, then he got up and closed the door.  Wraith walked back slowly and sat down.  He leaned forward.  “I’m going to tell you something that I probably shouldn’t.  But this mission seems…wrong.  One of our wealthiest clients paid for you to watch a movie.  They paid, they paid well, and they paid enough to keep the mission off the books.  We could have bought a copy of the damn original film for what they paid!  Besides us, only two others know the full details of the mission.   Your pilot doesn’t even know.  She knows where to drop you off and that’s it.”

Wraith stood up.  “I just thought you should know.  Now get going.”

Nightingale stood up, saluted, and headed for the prep area.  He opened his locker.  The equipment they took into the field was based on the mission; it seemed that he was cleared to take his katana, a couple knives, some basic climbing equipment, and a standard issue multi key.  Sparse equipment for a normal mission.  Nightingale shook his head and left for the airfield.

The flight was long but uneventful.  Wraith was right about the theater; getting in was extremely easy.  Someone had even left the staff door propped open when they went out for a smoke break!  A couple glances at the schematics lead him right to the projectionist’s booth for theater 3, and his multi key easily opened the lock.  He inspected the room.  A screen showed the countdown to the next film (2 minutes), and from what he could tell everything was digital.  He sat down to wait.  The lights in the theater dimmed, and a trailer started to play.

[“In a world gone mad, one woman struggled to bring down an empire….”]

Nightingale felt a blade press against his throat.  A female voice said, “Don’t move.  I just want to talk.”

[A flash of lighting and a peal of thunder.  In the rain, a woman stands in a field holding a sword to a kneeling man’s throat.]

Nightingale raised his hands, then he spun, planting his shoulder into the woman and throwing her back, while his hands moved quickly to disarm her.  She chuckled and in a blur he was facing the tip of a sword…..his own sword.

[“You took children!  You have turned them into mindless warriors!  You will pay for what you have done!”  She beheads the kneeling man.]

Nightingale gulped.  He said, “OK, what do you want to talk about?”  Now that he was facing her, he could see that she was a little shorter than him, with short golden hair and a lithe body.

The woman chuckled again and said, “You.  The truth.  You interested?”  She tossed him his katana.

[The woman stares directly in the camera and says, “You’re next”]

Nightingale eyed her warily.  “How can I know that I can trust you?  I don’t even know who you are!”

[“Snowfield pictures presents: A Rose Among Thorns”]

The woman grinned impishly.  “Of course you can’t trust me.  But you can call my Chrys.”

She walked towards the door, stopping for a moment in the doorway to grin at him one more time before stepping out of the room.  Nightingale stood perplexed for a moment, indecisive about what to do next, but then he shrugged and stepped out of the room to follow her.

[to be continued]

Not So Novel: Profession (NN Episode 5)

[continued from episode 4]

As he reached the training area, Nightingale came out of his reverie.  He had received his codename only 4 years ago, but so many things had happened since that time.  It had taken him some time to heal, but just a month after his release from the infirmary he had been challenged to a duel.  The guy had been huge and quite confident he could take Nightingale down quickly.  Nightingale smiled grimly.  He had learned from his previous duel, and though he didn’t employ the same methods the previous Nightingale had, this time he had been the one laying the trap.  The other student had rushed in…and died very quickly.

Nightingale hadn’t quite broken the record that time for the shortest duel ever, but he had come close.  And though what happened in the Dueling Hall was supposed to stay confidential, some details invariably leaked out.  Of course he didn’t receive any slaps on the back or hearty congratulations from the other students, but what he had gotten was the occasional slight nod of the head.  Respect.  He hadn’t just proved that he could get a codename, he had proved that he could keep it.

That respect bought him time to train, and when the next student challenged him he did break the record.  After that no one stepped up to challenge him again.   From the rumors he had heard, if someone thought they could beat him they also believed they could go for one of the top 4 spots, so….   But the other students had been confounded; why didn’t he go for one of the top spots himself?  Nightingale shook his head.  They hadn’t understood.  Being “the best” wasn’t his goal.

So he had graduated 5th in his class, right where he had wanted to be.  Then the missions had started.  He closed his eyes for a moment as he remembered.  Things had gone well for the next 3 years, but then…..  He sighed.  Nothing he could do about it….yet.  He had to get his hands on those test results before they were deleted.  For now, though, training.  He could train, focus, and get his mind straight.  He approached the head trainer.

“So, what’s on the agenda today, sir?  Climbing?  Balance?  Stealth?”

The head trainer looked up.  “For you?  Nothing.”

Nightingale blinked.  “What?  What do you mean, nothing?!  Sir.”

“I meant exactly what I said.  Orders from Naginata herself.”  The head trainer pulled out his iPhone, flipped through a couple of screens, and showed Nightingale an email.  It was depressingly short:

“Nightingale is not to be allowed access to the training areas, nor is he to receive personal training, until such time as he has been deemed fit by myself or a duly appointed member of my staff.

Find something for him to do.

Naginata”

Nightingale gaped.  No training!  “But that… that…. that can’t be right!  I’m an operative!  I have to be allowed access to the training area if I’m going to stay in top shape for missions!  Sir.”

The head trainer listened with his head on one side to Nightingale’s feeble excuses, then said, “Look, kid, I really don’t care what you think.  If you are feeling suicidal, feel free to take this issue up with Naginata.  Hell, I’ll even take you to her office myself!  But until she says you can, you aren’t training, period.  And don’t you think that you can go to another trainer and ask for their help; I’ve told them all about this already.  You understand?”

Nightingale nodded glumly.  “Yes, sir.”

The head trainer glared at him for a minute, then he started tapping on his iPhone.  “Good.  Now Naginata did say to find you something to do.  There are a number of jobs around The School you can do with little-to-no training.  I can assign you to any of them.  So what do you want?”

Nightingale listened with growing dismay as the head trainer read out the options.  Be an “assistant” for the administrative staff in the headquarters building.  Not a chance.  While it sounded interesting to work in HQ, he had heard from his friends how the “junior staff” were treated.  Personal assistant for a couple of the more unpleasant higher-ups didn’t sound any better.  Library assistant?  No way.  He liked books and reading, but he didn’t want to have to deal with the looks his fellow operatives would give him if they came in to do research for a mission.  Work as a assistant in food hall?  Ugh.  Trash and recycling collector?  No.

The next one, however, caught his attention.  “Infirmary assistant?”

The head trainer tapped the screen.  “Yep.  Wasn’t sure you’d want to do it.   It says here that you wouldn’t be allowed to interact with the patients or touch any of the medical equipment.  More than likely you’d be doing janitorial stuff.  Your rank will mean next-to-nothing there.  You sure you’re interested?  There are better jobs to be had.  I suppose I could even find something for you to do here.  There’s always equipment to clean.”

But what the infirmary job did have, Nightingale thought, was access to the infirmary itself.  Which means potential access to the test results…..  “I’ll take it.  Sir.”

The head trainer shrugged, spent a few moments entering things into his iPhone, then told him to be on his way.  He was to report within 15 minutes to the central security office to get set up on the infirmary’s security system.  After that he was to report to chief orderly Kadota for assignment.

Nightingale walked out of the training area, and then ran to the dormitory.  If he moved quickly he knew that he could grab a couple choice items from his room.  Normally all equipment had to stay in their respective areas; The School did not want any individual to take certain matters (such as rank advancement) into their own hands.  However Nightingale, just like several others he knew, kept a couple….tools…..hidden away in his room for private training and……protection.  He strongly suspected that The School knew about these transgressions but let them slide, as long as those involved brought no attention to themselves.  He reached his room, found what he was looking for, carefully concealed the items beneath his clothes, and then ran for the central security office.

His visit at the security office was brief.  His new “job” required only the most basic level of security, since he wasn’t going to be allowed into any of the labs or administrative areas.  That meant keycard access only, whereas all of the labs and administrative areas required additional handprint and retinal scanning.  He frowned as he left the security office.  He knew wherever the test results were stored, it would be somewhere needing more than just keycard access.

He frowned.  There was nothing he could do, though.  He had his assignment.  He found the staff entrance to the infirmary, used his new keycard, and went inside.  Chief Kadota was pretty easy to find: Kadota was waiting for him.

“Took your time, didn’t ya?”  Kadota sneered.  “Well, operative, I have quite the mission for you today.  We don’t get to play on the jungle gym and go galavanting everywhere.  We work for a living!  And as it turns out, we are up to our asses in dirty sheets, clothes, bandages, bedpans, and you name it!  Taro!  Get over here!”   The last part was said to a passing woman who hurried over at the shout.

“Yessir!”

“Take our new helper down to the laundry area….for a start.  Then he can move on to the cleaning rooms.”  Kadota’s eyes gleamed maliciously.

“Yessir!”  The woman grabbed Nightingale’s arm and dragged him away at high speed, but once they rounded a corner she let him go and slowed to a walk.  She grimaced.  “Fucking prick.”

“What’s his problem?”  Nightingale asked.

“Oh, you mean beyond his loving personality?”  She rolled her eyes.  “He never had the courage to go for operative several years ago.  He apparently ‘got sick’ right before his ‘big chance’, and then the class graduated. He ended up here, and somehow the bastard worked his way up to chief.  Nobody likes likes him, but he had been here too long not to get some kind of promotion.  We do what he says because we have to, and we jump when he calls because it’s not worth hearing the lecture if we don’t, but….”  She shook her head.

Nightingale winced in sympathy.

She looked over at him.  “Well, I’m sorry.  I really am.  It’s not often that he gets to pick on a operative.  You guys are generally out of our jurisdiction, other than when you have to be patched up.  And even then….  But like I said, I’m sorry.”

“Why are you sorry?”

They reached a door marked Laundry.  “Because of this.”  She pushed open the door.  The smell was overwhelming.  Nightingale’s stomach churned, threatening to bring his breakfast back up.  “You see,” she said, “it’s like this.  Yeah, normal dirty laundry doesn’t smell all that nice, I’ll grant.  But this stuff is covered by every kind of bodily fluid you can think of.  All of the various infirmary areas send their dirty linens here.”  She pointed to a rack of machines.  “Those machines will do all the actual work.  You?  You get to suit up in protective gear and help Taro out.”  A man in what looked like a radioactive suit waved at him.  “You will be moving the laundry from one machine to another.  I’ll be back in a couple of hours.  See ya.”  She turned and left.

Taro walked over and pointed to the far wall where a couple more protective suits hung.  Nightingale asked him, “So what did you do?”  Taro shook his head and slowly mouthed the words, “Don’t talk”.  Nightingale soon got the point.  The smell was bad enough going through the nose; it was even worse going through the mouth.  Nightingale could already feel his taste buds shutting down in self defense.

The work was nonstop.  The lady Taro had been right: the machines did most of the work.  But the laundry had to be swapped between machines a few times before it was considered sanitized, which meant carrying it by hand from one giant machine to another.  After the final machine, the laundry had to be sorted, folded, and stacked.  And there didn’t seem to be an end to it!  As soon as it seemed like the piles were getting smaller, another infirmary staff member would roll another cartload in.  After two hours of this Nightingale started watching the clock.  After three hours he practically stared at it.  After four he glared.  Finally the lady Taro returned.

“Did you enjoy?”  She laughed at his expression.  “OK, no, I expected that.  Let’s get something to eat.”

As they walked down the hall chatting Nightingale’s thoughts turned to his task.  He had to find some way…..  Wait, who was that?  Yes!  Walking down the hall towards them was none other than “Taro 1” from this morning.  Nightingale turned to the woman he had started to think of as Lady Taro.  “Do you mind if I just meet you there?  I can see the signs pointing the way to the cafeteria, and I think I left something back in the laundry room.”

“You probably should just forget about it given that smell, but whatever.  Sure.  I’ll see you there.”  Lady Taro walked on.  Nightingale walked back the way they came for a couple of steps, then stopped and stepped into a doorway.  He slid his hands into his clothes, and when the hand came back out it was holding a dagger.  As Taro 1 walked by, Nightingale grabbed him from behind and pulled him into a headlock, dragging him back into the room.  Nightingale placed the dagger carefully against the man’s throat.

Nightingale altered his voice slightly and whispered, “Now, why don’t you be a good Taro and help me out.”

Taro 1 started babbling.  “Now wait, I’m just a lab technician.  I don’t know anything!  I don’t have any rank!  I can’t help you out!  Who are you?”

Nightingale sighed.  It was so much easier out in the field.  “Now you know I’m not going to answer that last question.  As for the others, what you do have is access.  That is what I need.  In particular you have access to some test results that happened earlier today.”

Taro 1 gulped. “What test results?  I don’t know about any test results.”

Nightingale tightened his grip, but as he was about to speak a voice called out, “What the hell is going on here?”  Damn.  Kadota.

Kadota strode into the room.  Nightingale shifted his grip on the dagger.  It would have to be done quickly and at the proper angle.  Couldn’t have him scream.  He pulled Taro 1 further back into the darkness of the room.  As Kadota turned, cursing about finding the light switch, Nightingale deftly knocked Taro 1 out with the dagger’s hilt.  He started to move towards Kadota….the world went dark.

……

……

……

Nightingale’s eyes popped open.  Shit!  Not again!  He sprang up and looked around.  What?  He was still in the dark room next to Taro 1.  He wasn’t expecting that.  So where did Kadota go….?  There!  Nightingale moved stealthily towards Kadota, but once he got closer he saw that he needn’t have bothered.  Kadota wasn’t going anywhere: Kadota was dead.  Very clearly dead.  Nobody could still be alive with their throat cut open like that.  But something was on Kadota’s chest.  Nightingale bent down.  It looked like a file folder and….a flower?  He picked them up. The flower turned out to be a chrysanthemum. The folder?  A label attached to the folder identified it.

It said: “Test results for subject:  Nightingale”.

[to be continued]

Not So Novel: The End (NN Episode 4)

[continued from Episode 3:  “In that same year, he carefully chose his target.  He didn’t choose one of the top 4; on the off chance that he did win, he would be a marked man (even more so than usual).  No, he chose to go after the 5th…..”]

He walked behind his opponent on the way to the enormous Dueling Hall.  She was a small girl, a foot shorter than him, slim, with close-cropped black hair.  She walked with an air of confidence, and no wonder.  He knew her record; she had obtained her rank and codename a year ago, taking out a guy who had outweighed her twice over and had 10 kills of his own.  Since then, however, she had only had to defend her rank twice.  That was one of the main reasons why he chose to challenge her; 5th was a respected position, but it didn’t attract the attention that the top 4 spots did.

They both stopped in front of the teacher who stood in front of the Hall.  Behind the teacher were two doors.  The teacher looked up.  “Nightingale, I know you have been here before.  Do you need the rules explained to you again?”

Nightingale shook her head.

“Fine.  Until the duel is over, I hereby bind you to follow the rules on pain of death.”  The teacher pressed something into her hand.  “Head into the left door, prepare, and wait for my signal.”

Nightingale nodded at the teacher, nodded to him, and then entered the left door.  There were no wishes of good luck, no camaraderie.  While they hadn’t been the best of friends before now, they had at least been friendly to one another.  But given what they were both planning on doing, you had to break all ties of friendship before going in.

The teacher turned to him.  “Well, I know this is your first time here, so I’ll go over the rules.  There aren’t many.  Once you pass through that door, you will have time to prepare.  You each will have access to the same set of equipment, and you may take as much as you think you need.  When you are ready, just stand by the inner door.  I will be observing the both of you at all times, so I’ll know when you are ready.  Understand so far?”

He nodded.

“Good.  When I see both of you are ready, I will unlock both inner doors.  Once you pass through, the door will lock behind you.  Inside you will find both open space and closed environments.  The only thing I will tell you is that the doors will put you in opposite ends of the Dueling Area.  You are free to engage your opponent in any way you see fit:  set traps, frontal assault, distance weapons, etc.    However, I must make this clear.  You enter the Dueling Area, one of you will die.  That is the primary rule; either you die, or she does.  If you yield, she will kill you.  If she yields, you are to kill her.  If neither of you can follow the rules, we will kill both of you.  Do you understand, and do you wish to continue?  This is your last chance.”

He nodded.  He wasn’t going to back down now.  There were a couple students who had backed down before, and they had been made fun of at every turn for it.  “Are you going to run again, little Rabbit?  Run!”  Even he had made fun of them.  In the end one had transferred to another division, but the other one had taken his own life.  Oh, it technically hadn’t been suicide, but when he challenged the number 1 ranked student to a duel….  Well, it ended up being pretty much the same thing.

The teacher held up a hand.  In it was a small stone etched with a rabbit design.  “Take this, and keep it on you.  Nightingale has a similar stone with her.  If you succeed in killing her, find it and take it along with yours to one of the cameras.  Show it to us, declare your opponent dead, and then we will come in to collect the body.”  He took the stone, and the teacher led him to his door.  “Until the duel is over, I hereby bind you to follow the rules on pain of death.”  The teacher turned and left.

He went inside and looked around.  Several kinds of weapons, gadgets, and traps lined the walls.  A quick look confirmed a rumor he had heard: no rations of any kind.  He smirked.  They didn’t want the duel to take that long, and frankly neither did he.  Alright, weapons.  Though students were trained with several types of firearms, apparently The School preferred duels to have more of a “classic” feel; the only weapons available were blades and bows.  Huh.  They probably probably got tired of fixing bullet holes.  It wasn’t a big deal, since he had trained extensively with swords and knives.  He strapped on a standard katana, one knife to his leg, and after thinking for a moment, stripped off his shirt so he could strap a knife between his shoulder blades.  He put his shirt back on and looked at the rest.

Trip wires?  Good, he’ll take a few of those.  Laser detection alarms?  No, too bulky.  The same thing could be said about a few of the other gadgets.  There were backpacks provided if you wanted to take several things with you, but he wanted to travel light.  Shurikens?  Definitely.  He hid several about his body, making sure the more concealed ones were wrapped in leather.  He had a couple of scars in embarrassing places from when he had forgotten……  A bow?  No….  That could give him an advantage if he got a clear shot, true, but more than likely it should just slow him down.  He sighed.  OK, enough.  Wait.  What was that in the corner?  There was a tiny bottle of spray medical sealant, just enough for one use.  It was the sort of thing used in the field for medical emergencies, to keep a person from bleeding out before they could get to a hospital.  What was that doing here?  The whole point was….  Eh, who cares.  He grabbed it and zipped it into an inside pocket.  Could come in handy.

He stood in front of the inner door.  The teacher’s voice came on over the intercom.  “Both duelists are ready.  Unlocking the doors in 3, 2, 1…”   There was an audible click as the door unlocked.

He raced into the room.  Houses.  Streets.  The Dueling Area was essentially like a tiny neighborhood that they had studied about in class, complete with grass.  He went to the closest house and started scaling up it.  Perhaps if he could get up high enough he could find his opponent.  He reached the top of the house and carefully climbed onto the roof.  Crawling on his belly, he got to front edge and looked around.  No sign of her yet.  He could see now that while there were many “houses”, none of them were wider than a room or two.  They had windows, porches, driveways…  He glanced in a window.  Yep, they even had some furniture.  But it was as if the builders had gotten lazy and just stopped working on each house halfway through.  He waited for a few minutes and then….there!  It looked like she was setting traps all around a couple of the taller houses.  He sighed.  OK, well, perhaps it would have been a good idea to grab the bow.  Nothing can be done about that now, though.

He carefully climbed down the house and made his way over to one of the houses she was at.  As he got close to the porch, he found the first trap: a razor sharp trip wire stretched across the doorway.  He shook his head.  She won with those tactics?  He went over to the window…  Scree!  Scree!  Scree!  Damn!  She had hidden a laser detection alarm!  As he turned and started to race away he heard a loud thud.  What the heck?  Turning back, he slowly made his way around the house.

There, in between the two houses, was Nightingale.  Oh….  She was lying facedown on the grass, her face and the grass underneath covered in blood.  Perhaps she had tried to jump off the house and misjudged?  She stirred.  This was his chance.  He could win without a fight! He unsheathed his katana and strode towards her.  Pain lanced through his legs as he fell, his katana falling to the side.  Shit!  He had just walked right into a expertly concealed razor trip wire.  He swore some more and gingerly pulled his legs free of the wire.  He started to get up….. Icy hot pain lanced through his body.  He looked down.  The tip of a katana stuck out of his chest.

Nightingale put her foot on his back as she tugged the blade free, kicking him to the ground.  He gasped for breath as he rolled onto his back.  Blood seeped out of the wound.  His sword!  Where was his…..  He saw that Nightingale’s own blade was still sheathed.  Stabbed with his own sword.  It was bad enough that he was going to die; did he have to die being such an idiot?

Nightingale walked over to him, wiping blood off of her face.  He could see now where she had carefully cut some of her own clothes to make a tourniquet for her left arm.  She saw his glance.  “Yes, I drained some blood out of my arm.  It’s amazing that little trick has worked on three of you guys now.  I wonder who the fourth idiot will be?  Now just lie still.”  She eyed him critically.  “With that wound I give you….oh, let’s say 3 minutes if you stay still.  But”, she said as she raised the sword, “only 3 seconds if you try to move.  Consider it a last kindness.  Pray to your god, make amends or whatever, but just be quiet and die.”

She held the sword to his throat as she rummaged about his clothes.  A moment later she had his rabbit etched stone, as well as the knife that was strapped to his leg and several of his shurikens.  She walked towards a nearby post which he could see had a camera inside.  He could hear her talking.

He fumbled in his clothing.  He nearly blacked out before he found what he was looking for: the sealant.  He carefully used one hand to open the wound slightly.  A spasm of pain made him gasp.  He looked at Nightingale.  She hand’t noticed.  He pressed the tip of the sealant can into the wound.  He pressed the button.  Blood flowed down his chin as the pain made him bite clear through his lower lip, but the sealant had done its job.  As he slowly sat up he could still feel a little blood coming out of the wound on his back, but he was no longer bleeding as freely.

He blinked rapidly.  He might not be bleeding, but he had lost a lot of blood, and he knew it.  He only had moments.  Struggling to maintain silence, he got to his feet.  He reached up his shirt and pulled out his one, last knife.  Reaching into his clothes, he found one shuriken.  He fumbled and finally got the leather wrapping off the shuriken, and then he cupped it carefully in his hand.  He staggered towards her in silence, this time stepping carefully over the trip wire.

Nightingale was still talking to the camera.  A voice was coming out of the speaker below.  “You know the rules, Nightingale.  If you don’t finish him off, we can’t come in there.  Are you certain he’s actually dead?”

“Fine!”  Nightingale said, “I’ll…”  Her words finished in a scream as he thrust his knife into her back.  As she turned, he took every ounce of strength he had left and thrust his other hand forward, burying the shuriken in her throat.  Her mouth moved soundlessly for a couple moments, then she collapsed.  He folded up next to her.  He started to black out again….

No!  He got up on his hands and knees and started searching.  A moment later he found what he was looking for in her hand: the two stones.  He grabbed them and held them up in front of the camera.  “She’s dead!”  With that, he collapsed and fought to stay conscious.

A moment later a door burst open and 3 medics came into the room followed by the teacher.  One of them went to check on Nightingale.   The medic nodded to the teacher.  As the other two medics bound him to a stretcher, the teacher bent over it and said, “Congratulations, Nightingale….”

[to be continued]