Thursday, August 27, 2009

Heist, Part Twelve

A bit long, perhaps, but it's the final "official" part. After this, I'll post the story outline, so you can see where I would have gone with all this.

Amanda tried to ignore him as his rants descended into the sub-vocal level. “So someone sold you out, too. That makes at least three of us that got informed on.” She looked over at the Dyna. “What about you?” she asked, trying to make her tone as gentle and reassuring as she could. “What’s your name, and were you caught in the same way as the rest of us?”

The Dyna looked at her, and for a long moment, he fought the impulse to speak. Finally, he nodded. “I am Vorimar, and I believe so, yes. I had concealed myself well enough, I thought, but a few close friends knew my secret. I did not believe they would reveal it. I see now I was wrong.” He sighed. “It will not be so bad. Nirvana has many of my people. At least I will be among my own kind again, even if I must share it with—“ He broke off suddenly, and Amanda assumed he must have realized that the phrase ‘criminal scum like you’ wasn’t a bright one to use, even in a maximum-security cell.

“So that’s four,” the Doctor said chattily. “And you, Miss Delacourt, did you also encounter difficulties in your professional capacity?” His straitjacket twitched slightly, as though he wanted to be doing something disarming with his hands, but they were bound in front of him securely. Amanda almost didn’t answer. How could he just ask her what had happened to her, when she still wanted to know what had happened to him?

Finally, though, the pressure to speak overwhelmed her. “I…yes, I must have been gotten at. I didn’t go after the Styrax Medallion on my own. One of my contacts in the aristos told me that Baroness Alexandra Winter would pay dearly for it. She was even there at the party, but I didn’t want to give away any connection between us. The snitch must have been either Winter, my fence, or some link between the two.”

The iron mask clanked slightly as the Doctor nodded. She wondered why she thought he was smiling under the mask. “I’d heard of the Baroness, of course. Something tells me she wouldn’t be one to have you locked up so quickly—not if you and she were in the habit of collaborating.” Something in the tone of his last word sent shivers down Amanda’s spine. She suddenly felt certain he wasn’t smiling anymore, and something in her wanted to speak up further, to try to justify her actions to him. But that was absurd, right? The Doctor was well-known for sticking it to the aristocracy; surely he’d understand stealing their precious baubles from them?

She found herself speaking to cover her uncertainty, which worried her; that was something guilty, stupid people did. That was how they let things slip and got caught—oh, right. Moot point now. “So who could have done this? Who knew this much about the five of us to be able to betray us all?” She realized even as she spoke that she’d subconsciously included the Doctor in the group that had been betrayed, without even hearing his story, but she also realized that she didn’t want to know.

Joachim spoke up again. “Six, not five. It’s the same story with me. Someone broke into my apartment and rewired all my systems. Nothing showed up on the diagnostics, but it slowed down the link between my neural network and my computer systems by a fraction of a second. I didn’t even notice until they’d planted the first tracer virus on me, and by then it was too late. I jacked out, but they scrambled a transmat team to go after me.” He shuddered. “When they busted down my front door and shot up my computer, I thought I’d die of a heart attack, you know, save them the trouble? It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I wasn’t supposed to get caught.” His shoulders sagged. “I dunno, man. I ever do get out of here, I’m never touching a computer again unless it’s to play video games.”

“I sincerely hope not, Trau Velasquez,” the Doctor said, his voice echoing out of the iron mask with a sudden power and command that belied both his helpless appearance and his earlier inoffensive attitude. Everyone in the room spun to look at him in that instant. “After all, I went to a lot of trouble to get the five of you here, and I’d sincerely hate to find out that it’s all gone to waste because you’ve gotten cold feet.”

For a moment, it seemed like everything in the room stopped. Each of the other five criminals heard the words, and each of them took a long, silent moment to consider what had just been said.

Then the yelling started.

Corvus leapt to his feet and hammered at the transparisteel wall separating him and the Doctor, only to have a stun projector blast him to the floor. He remained conscious—barely—but no longer had the energy to do more than mutter vague and slurred threats of revenge.

O’Donnell started to her feet, but saw what had happened to Corvus and quickly contented herself with swearing loudly, profusely and in no less than thirteen different languages at the little man in the next cell. Amanda thought the woman would burst into flames at any moment; or, at the very least, melt the transparisteel between her and the Doctor.

Vorimar held his head in his hands and wept. No doubt on some level, he cursed his fate and the day that he had stumbled into the clutches of this insidious mastermind and his cunning schemes…even if, Amanda realized, he didn’t necessarily put it in quite such a dramatic fashion. He probably thought something much more boring.

Joachim rocked back and forth even faster. It looked like he really wanted nothing more than to hide underneath his bunk and pretend the Doctor wasn’t even there, let alone telling him that he’d been the one that had broken into his house, rewired his computer, and departed without leaving even a single trace of his presence. The fact that the Doctor now seemed to imply that he had further plans beyond that probably left him just about one step short of wetting himself.

The Doctor just lay there—not that there was anything more he could do, but he didn’t interrupt any of their actions, or attempt to justify himself, or to do any of the other things guilty people did. If anything, he radiated smugness almost as powerfully as that guard had, and in an even more impressive fashion since he had neither voice nor body language to do it with. It didn’t seem possible for a man straitjacketed, tied to a wall, and locked in a prison cell to act smug, but the Doctor was doing it at that very moment.

And Amanda? She smiled. More than that, she stared at the Doctor with the eager adoration of a child. It was all part of his plan. He knew what he was doing. This was only the beginning. He still was the One That Got Away, even if he hadn’t gotten away just yet.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dollhouse and the Metastory Trap

There's a reasonably famous experiment on perception in which people are asked to watch a short clip of a basketball game, and count the number of times that the players in white T-shirts pass the ball. After watching the video, the viewer is asked one very simple question:

"Did you notice the gorilla?"

Because a gorilla walks through the shot, about halfway through the video. It even stops and does a little dance. And you know what? Nobody does notice the gorilla. Once we've decided what we need to focus on, human beings turn out to be very good at tuning everything else out in order to pay close attention to the things they're looking for.

So what does all this have to do with 'Dollhouse'? It's very simple. The series (which I watched on DVD over the course of the last couple of weeks) quickly developed a reputation as being underwhelming, not worthy of Joss Whedon's reputation. Even among Whedon fans, 'Dollhouse' was seen as a creative misstep. "It moves too slow." "Not enough happens in each episode." Whedon and Eliza Dushku had to personally plead with the fanbase to keep watching for at least six episodes to give the metastory, the overall arc of what happens to Echo and what secrets the Dollhouse holds, time to develop. When the DVD finally came out, fans watched the unaired pilot and said that it was better because so much more of the "real story" was in it.

The thing is...the metastory? That's the three men in white shirts passing the basketball. The stories in each episode? They're the gorilla.

The central concept of the Dollhouse is something that can generate a near-infinite number of good stories without ever changing the status quo. (More on this when I get around to writing "Storytelling Engines: Dollhouse", natch.) It's a series where the lead character can turn into anyone, enter any situation, play any part with perfect accuracy. That's a hook for so many good story ideas, and the first five episodes play through some great ones; Echo goes from being a bodyguard for a singer with an obsessive fan to infiltrating a religious cult to staging a complex theft on a museum, all plots that should be engaging and interesting.

But the fans are saying, "We were promised that this was about Echo regaining her memories and personality! We were promised that this was about an FBI agent trying to crack open the secrets of the Dollhouse! We were promised Alpha, dangit!" And those stories are designed to simmer under the surface slowly over the course of the run of the entire series, not boil over in the first six weeks. (Just imagine if someone told you that Season Two of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' was "about" Angel going bad and Buffy having to fight him. You'd be absolutely out of your mind with boredom by Episode Eleven. "...the heck? Ted Ritter as a killer robot? Boy, talk about your lame Monster of the Week series!")

Now I'm not saying that it's the fans' fault for not liking the show. Well, okay, I sort of am. Ever since 'Babylon 5' introduced the idea of an overarching metaplot that would build from one episode to the next, we've been conditioned to expect that the metaplot is more important than the individual episodes (possibly because metaplots reward diligent and loyal viewers, and sci-fi fans tend to be both of those things, so we feel kinda special when watching shows with big oomphy metaplots because it feels like they're aimed at "us".) Nothing kills the fun of watching a show faster than projecting expectations onto it that it can't meet. (Even though "Babylon 5" spent a lot of its time on stand-alone episodes, too...)

But of course, the fans didn't form their expectations in a vacuum. (Which is why I'm not actually saying that it's the fans' fault for not liking the show.) Fox, Whedon, Dushku, and everyone concerned picked their angles to promote the series, and they gave people the impressions and expectations that turned out to be, um, not so realistic. If people were expecting Echo to be on the run by Episode Five, accompanied by FBI agent Paul Ballard, that's in no small part because that's how Fox sold the series. (It also doesn't help that it's hard to wrap your head around the idea that mind-wiping pimps could be anything other than unequivocal bad guys. You expect Echo to escape or avenge herself because that's what heroes do. It's kind of difficult to accept the idea that the Dollhouse owners have their own side to the story.)

Which is, in the end, why the season finale--"Epitaph One", which didn't actually air due to weird contractual obligations and which is available on the DVD--is so clever. Without getting into any spoilers, it gives people almost more metastory than they can handle, a great big chunk of game-changing events that flow seamlessly out of the previous twelve episodes, but that alter things so much that fans will be poring obsessively over Season Two (and if we're lucky enough, Three, Four, et cetera) to figure out the details. It tells the fans, both current and potential, "Hey. Be patient. We're going places, this is the map...just sit back and enjoy the journey."

I don't think people were expecting to "enjoy the journey" when they watched 'Dollhouse'. I think they were so impatient to get to the destination that they never looked out the window to see the scenery. If they did...or, thanks to the miracle of DVD, Hulu, iTunes, Tivo and DVR, if they do...they might see some very cool gorillas.

Monday, August 24, 2009

So Very Sorry...

I am so deeply ashamed of myself for inflicting this on you, but ever since finding out that the last David Tennant Doctor Who special would be called 'The End of Time', I just cannot stop imagining what Meatloaf's reaction would be (assuming he was a Doctor Who fan, which I can totally see, honestly...) And I think I just have to blog it.

I think he might say...or actually, sing...

So now I'm praying for 'The End of Time'
To hurry up and arrive
'Cause if I gotta wait another minute for Who
I don't think that I can really survive
I'm praying for 'The End of Time'
That's all that I can do
Praying for 'The End of Time'
The end of Tennant's time on Who!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taken Out Of Context Theater!

This week, on "Taken Out Of Context Theater", we present an absolute gem from Flash #149 (December 1964):

"I've got to help Kid Flash recover his memory! By taking him to places where we experienced exciting times together, it may arouse him--cause him to remember!"

(The truly funny part of this comes from the mental image of an amnesiac Kid Flash standing there, gaping in horror as a strange man in a skin-tight red suit says, in all sincerity, "Do you remember the exciting times we had together here? Does it arouse you?" And then, no doubt, screaming for the cops.)

Tune in next time, for another exciting installment of "Taken Out Of Context Theater"!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Heist, Part Eleven

And introducing...

Her mind simply stopped when she saw the man in the next cell. It was true, then. They did have him. Amanda saw that they’d taken extra security precautions above and beyond what they’d prepared for the rest of the group; his legs were shackled together, his arms bound in a straitjacket, and his entire body strapped down to a stretcher that was locked to the wall. His feet didn’t even touch the ground; he was such a small man, but if even half the rumors about him were true, Amanda wasn’t in the least bit surprised that the Monitors took such precautions. Rumor said he could change his shape, and that he’d changed his entire physical appearance on at least three occasions—height, weight, everything. Amanda couldn’t tell what he looked like now, though. An iron mask that covered his face obscured his features; most likely, to ensure that he couldn’t hypnotize any of the guards and convince them to let him out. Beneath the straitjacket and the mask, he wore the same paper clothing as the rest of them; he’d been stripped of his eccentric costumes that supposedly concealed all manner of technological tricks and sabotage devices. He didn’t even look like he could move, much less perform one of his legendary escapes.

Seeing him like that almost made Amanda want to cry. It just seemed unfair that the man who couldn’t be caught was sitting two cells away from her, trussed up like a very unsuccessful escape artist on Amateur Night. Amanda had been brought up on stories about him, the single person that the entire Tinarian army feared. They claimed he defeated whole armies with nothing but wits, sticky fingers, and a few trusted friends. He supposedly stared down the Empress herself and somehow shamed her into releasing a thousand dissidents. He wasn’t just a person, and it seemed both wrong of the Monitors to treat him like one, and him to let them do it. He was too important for his legend to just end like this, taken to the prison built for him and expected to rot. She still remembered the first time she heard of him; the Gingerbread Man, they sometimes called him, or the One That Got Away or the Oncoming Storm or the Butterfly’s Wing or the Ka Faraq Gatri. Even the ubiquitous name plaque didn’t list his real name; it just said, “John Doe, alias the Doctor.”

Amanda wanted to talk to him. She wanted to ask him how the Monitors had caught him. She wanted to ask him how he could let down five hundred years of notoriety by winding up on a prison ship. But she didn’t know what to say.

* * * * *

Joachim broke the silence first. He seemed like the type who would.

“So how’d they catch you guys?”

The mousy woman responded by spitting on the floor. “Bribed my mechanic, that’s my guess. My hyperdrive shorted out and I dropped into realspace right in front of a whole blockade. That couldn’t be coincidence.”

Corvus snorted. “That could be an Interdictor Fleet, O’Donnell. They do make trawls through hyperspace looking for smugglers like you.” On hearing the name, the identity of the last criminal clicked in Amanda’s head; she must be Eileen O’Donnell, the gunrunner and smuggler. Amanda was surprised at how unassuming O’Donnell looked. They’d made a holo about her involvement in the Seventh War of Acquisition, and the actress certainly didn’t look anything like the real woman. Then again, not many people ever got to see the real woman…and for that matter, the holo was awful. From the way Corvus talked to her, the two probably knew each other.

O’Donnell’s eyes widened in anger, and she suddenly didn’t seem so mousy anymore. “An Interdictor Fleet would never have caught me. I’d have noticed the disruptions in hyperspace and changed course before I hit their disruption field. They didn’t do anything. My drive just shorted out—and it was timed to do so right when I got there. Had to be my mechanic. When I get out, I’ll—“

Corvus didn’t just snort this time; he outright laughed. It was a bitter, scornful laugh, but Amanda didn’t think he could do anything that wasn’t bitter or scornful. “You won’t get out. None of us will. That’s Nirvana they’re sending us to, not some minimum-security penal colony. Nobody has ever escaped from Nirvana, and nobody ever will.”

The Doctor spoke for the first time, surprising Amanda and probably everyone else as well. His tone was light and airy, as though he was just discussing the weather with a group of old friends rather than locked up in a prison cell, and his voice had a rich, archaic accent to it that reminded her of ancient Earth and stories of the Scottish highlands. “Oh,” he said, his voice echoing slightly beneath his iron mask, “I shouldn’t think it to be too difficult. We’re a resourceful lot, between us.” He rolled the R’s in ‘resourceful’ playfully. “We have the finest thief, the finest pilot, the finest slicer…and, of course, my own modest talents.”

Corvus shook his head. “It’s not a question of what you can do. It’s a question of what you want to do. Nirvana was designed to contain you, Doctor. It has a psionic field generator at the heart of the asteroid it’s made from. Anyone within its field of influence becomes apathetic and unwilling to make any effort to escape. Even if they left the doors unlocked and a fully-fueled space-ship sitting right in the docking bay, you’d walk right past it to your cell.” He smiled cruelly. “It’s been four hundred years since the Empire ordered the creation of Nirvana, and in that time nobody’s ever left the prison alive. Delacourt might be able to pick every lock in the building, and O’Donnell might be able to fly every ship they’ve got. But we’ll all spend the rest of our lives on that rock.”

O’Donnell clearly remained unconvinced. “And you won’t? If you’ve got some plan to get off, go ahead and share.”

“Oh, I don’t exclude myself. I’ll be right there along with the rest of you, serving out my excessively dull life sentence with a blank expression on my face and a psionic wave over-writing my brain. I know something those bastards who sold me out don’t know, though. That field doesn’t impede any other desires. I won’t want to leave, but that won’t stop me from making sure a few of my little secrets get out into the open. It won’t even be difficult. They’re all going to pay for this. Oh, yes…”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

An Open Letter To the Writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Dear Writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,

Andrew is not nearly as funny as you think he is.


All the Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

PS. This is by no means a slight on Tom Lenk. Andrew is just as unfunny in the comics as he was on the TV show.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Somethng Someone Else Wrote

This week's section of "Heist" is just below, but I did want to take a moment and direct your attention to this link that the fine folks at "Shortpacked!" brought to my attention. It's a Q&A session with Hasbro about Transformers that contains some of the finest fanwankery, the ripest retconnery, and the most exquisite good old-fashioned BSing I've ever seen.

Behold, the Hasbro story lore Q&A!

Bravo, unnamed Hasbro copywriter. Bravo.

Heist, Part Ten

Next time, some actual Doctor-ness, I promise...

Amanda turned to the holo-projection just in time to see the jury punch in their decisions. “Remarkably quick, too,” her guard said behind her. “The prosecutor’s going to get an Judicial Efficiency Commendation for that…and the verdict’s guilty, no surprises there. Congratulations, Krau Delacourt. You’ve just earned a life sentence on the prison asteroid of Nirvana. Please prepare for automatic neural destabilization as preparation for prisoner transfer.”

Amanda’s last conscious thought before she fell to the floor was, ‘How exactly does one prepare to be shot by seven stun projectors?’

* * * * *

She sat up, rubbing a sore patch on her forehead, and muttered blearily, “Sitting down would have been a good option.” One of the other prisoners, a mousy-looking woman with dull brown hair, looked at her, but said nothing.

All six of the cells were occupied. It wasn’t hard to pick out which one of them wasn’t the Class A prisoner; he was in the cell next to hers, the farthest right on the half-circle, huddled on his bench on the side of his cell furthest away from all the other prisoners. She couldn’t see his name plaque from this angle, but he had an expression on his face that neatly mixed fear and disgust, and once she got a good look at his eyes, she understood why. Dynae were supposed to be pacifists; being in this close proximity to so many dangerous criminals probably terrified him. Of course, she’d never met one before, or at least not one that admitted it. Most of the ones that hadn’t been rounded up in the initial purges concealed their identities, got special contact lenses to disguise their reflective irises, and tried to keep it a secret that they were a member of the most feared species in the Tinarian Empire. Those that didn’t wound up on prison ships like this one. He had to be the odd man out, though. Despite their power, the Dynae never tried to escape from prison once caught. They accepted their fate with stoic resignation.

The cell on her left, the other one whose name plaque she couldn’t read, contained the mousy woman. She didn’t look that dangerous. In fact, she looked like the sort of woman destined for celibacy, a career in the secretarial industry, and an eventual future as a grey old woman whose greatest excitement was in taking Pootles to the vet because he had the sniffles. Then again, by process of elimination, she was probably a master criminal headed to the most secure prison in the galaxy, so it didn’t pay to judge by appearances.

She could read the name plaques on the other three cells, and now that she knew who she was in the company of, she understood exactly why that nameless, faceless guard had been filled with industrial smugness. These were criminals that she’d only heard of, and that in awed whispers; these were the kind of people that were to their respective fields of larceny what Amanda was to the field of burglary. The cell opposite the Dyna contained Joachim Velasquez. The name meant nothing to her, but the plaque also handily included his alias, which meant considerably more. He didn’t look like much in person; in fact, he looked scared witless, probably because he did most of his work through a computer terminal. She’d be willing to bet, though, that if she met his avatar in a VR sim, he’d be a lot more impressive. It was rumored that he’d made his wealth on a single caper, slicing the systems of every single banking computer in the galaxy and transferring a millionth of a diam from each account to his own. Everyone knew his net-name, Quetzal, but if anyone had ever heard his real name, they’d never mentioned it to her. She knew that nobody had ever met him personally. Judging by the expression on his face and the way he rocked back and forth on his bench, that was the way he liked it.

Next to him, a dark-haired man with a stormy expression sat, arms folded, silently seething. His name plaque read Peter Corvus, again not a name she had ever heard, but she recognized his face. She hadn’t had many dealings with him, but it would have been difficult for her to avoid him, given the intersection of their respective fields of influence. He was one of the best fences in the Empire, capable of turning even the hottest goods into money—and of turning money into hot goods. He had fingers in every criminal enterprise, and rumor had it that he made a lot of his money from blackmailing the wealthy and powerful. Amanda quickly reasoned that he’d probably been classified with the rest of them for that very reason; Class A criminals weren’t allowed to speak to either the courts or the media, something that the upper classes would be desperate to avoid in his case. From the looks of him, it was certainly something he was kicking himself for not having expected. Beyond him was…

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I'd Like To Try Making a Meme

I've been reading J. Gregory Keyes' "Age of Unreason" series recently (I read the first book when it came out, then got behind and am just now getting back to it. In a few years, I might look into picking up that "Da Vinci Code" novel.) I'm enjoying it greatly, and I've been trying to describe the plot to different people. At one point, I explain that one of the threads of the narrative involves an expedition led by Blackbeard and Cotton Mather to discover what happened to England after the end of the first book...and I suddenly stopped. "That sounds like the weirdest 'buddy cop' movie ever. He's a pirate. He's a Puritan minister. Together, they have to join forces to discover what happened to England...that is, if they don't kill each other first!"

And now I want to see if someone else can come up with an even more unlikely buddy-cop pairing. (Of course, the "buddies" in a 'buddy cop' movie don't actually have to be cops...'Turner and Hooch' is one cop, one dog, while 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' is one private eye, one cartoon bunny.) So go ahead and, on your own blog (or in the comments section here if you don't have a blog) come up with your best bizarre buddy-cop pairing.

Here's mine:

"He's an anarchist. He's the ghost of a nobleman. Together, Gavrillo Princip and the spectre of Archduke Ferdinand must discover who framed Gavrillo for Ferdinand's murder--and they only have 48 hours before all of Europe is plunged into a bloody war!"

And a bonus:

"He's one of the most respected and revered physicists in the history of the world. He's the new mascot of 'The Today Show'. Together, Albert Einstein and chimpanzee J. Fred Muggs must stop the Rosenbergs from delivering atomic secrets to the Russkies...or the next world war might start sooner than we imagined!"

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Heist, Part Nine

And here's another chunk of Chapter Two, featuring the first oblique mention of the Doctor. Yes, he is in this, and here's the proof! (By the way, as an aside, note the chapter titles are both the titles of "caper" films. This would have been continued throughout the book, if I'd had the chance to continue.)

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, members of the court, esteemed nobility…” the prosecutor began, addressing each of the three pillars of the Imperial Judiciary in turn as he did so, “I come here today to speak to you of grave crimes, committed by a master criminal.” Amanda raised her eyebrow at that; shouldn’t she technically be a mistress criminal? Then again, that didn’t exactly sound right either. “The evidence we have uncovered should lead you to determine, within a matter of hours of deliberation, that Amanda Delacourt of the planet Shantar deserves her current status as a Class A criminal—one of only five such criminals within the past five centuries of Imperial history—and that she deserves, without question, a life of internment at the Nirvana Prison Facility where her anti-social and grossly disturbed tendencies can be kept away from law-abiding citizens of the Empire. Blah blah blah blah blah…”

Or, at least, that’s all Amanda heard. She hadn’t heard much of anything after the phrase “five such criminals”. She felt surprised, and oddly cheated by the sudden revelation that she wasn’t the only master—or, for that matter, mistress—criminal out there. Somehow, somewhere, three other people had been caught and deemed so dangerous that they couldn’t risk the slightest chance of escape. Worse, the Empire considered these three other criminals to be her equal, and that seemed more than a little arrogant to her. Had any of these criminals managed to steal the Seven Keys to Salvation from the very hands of the Bishop of Marahad while he was unlocking the Vault of Holy Relics—and done so, no less, after having already robbed the Vault bare? Were any of these thieves wanted in seventeen systems, under eighteen aliases, for two hundred and thirty seven crimes? Did even one of these so called “evil geniuses” know how to disassemble every kind of security system in existence, while blindfolded, underwater, and being tickled on the soles of their feet? She most profoundly doubted it.

She stood up and marched over to the door of her cell, totally ignoring the prosecutor as he spoke of “crimes so audacious in their intent, design, and execution as to stagger the imagination”, and waved a hand frantically at the guards she knew to be there. She almost knocked, but remembered the stun field emanating from the walls at the last moment.

A voice crackled through the cell intercom. “Yes?”

She wanted to respond sweetly, but surprised herself by sounding indignant. “I want to enter in an objection.”

The intercom crackled again. “All objections will be handled by your lawyer; as a certified barrister, only he is allowed to directly speak to the court.”

Amanda looked back at the holo-projection, this time focusing on the young, earnest, utterly out of his league barrister sitting at the bench reserved for the defense counsel. She could have afforded something much better, but as a Class A criminal, she forfeited her right to private representation. Anyone she hired, after all, might be a confederate helping her plan her escape. Instead, she got a barrister assigned to her by random selection from the court-selected pool. “I see,” she said. “Then I’d like to assist my lawyer by pointing out an objection. The prosecutor is in error in his assertion that five Class A criminals have been prosecuted since the formation of the Empire. I’m the second, not the fifth.”

This time the voice behind the speaker sounded a bit smug. “You’re a bit behind the times, Krau Delacourt. It’s been a busy week for the Service.”

Amanda crossed her arms and glared at the small grille, aware that she probably looked like an idiot to anyone watching. “You can’t tell me that you’ve captured three other Class A criminals in the span of a week! That’s absurd! I don’t know how you found out about me, but I can’t believe that your source—whoever they are—also knew about three other legends of the criminal underworld and how to dig them up and put them away in that span of time.”

“You’re absolutely correct, Krau Delacourt,” and this time Amanda realized that the smugness wasn’t directed at her. This was serious smugness. This wasn’t just the ordinary, everyday, ‘I know something the prisoner doesn’t know and I’m putting her in her place as part of my daily prison routine' smugness. This was the ‘encode this whole week’s experiences onto a memory crystal and spend my off-hours reliving it in all its glorious detail every night for a year’ smugness. “We haven’t captured three other Class A prisoners this week. We’ve captured four other Class A prisoners this week. The biggest law-enforcement coup in centuries, and you’re lucky enough to be a part of it.”

Somewhere in her mind, Amanda had already made the connection, but her conscious mind simply refused to accept it. “Then the prosecutor’s still made an error,” she said, her voice suddenly brittle. “He said ‘five Class A criminals’, and you said you’d captured five this week. That makes six, counting—”

“Counting everyone we captured, Krau Delacourt,” the guard responded, and Amanda understood exactly where that smugness came from now. “We captured him as well. In fact, he was the easiest of the lot.” There was a moment’s pause. “Yes, I thought that would get your attention. He’s something of a legend to you scofflaws, isn’t he? The One That Got Away. Well, he’s not getting away this time. There’s a cell on Nirvana that’s been waiting for him for four hundred years—and it looks like there’s one for you as well. That’s the jury delivering their verdicts now.”

Sunday, August 02, 2009

That Magic Feeling

Part of being a geek, at least my particular sub-species of geek, is the joy of neophilia. It's that moment when you find something that you've never seen, never heard, never read or played or experienced, but that fits perfectly into the spectrum of experiences you enjoy. It's that moment of infatuation, when you find a new TV show or a new movie or a new book that just clicks, fitting seamlessly into your imagination so that you drink it all in. That joy is almost as tangible as the joy of whatever it is you're watching/reading/playing, that feeling of, "Yes, I have found something new and wonderful to love and I want to share it with everyone!"

All of which is by way of introduction to saying, "LEVERAGE is awesome."

I've been aware of the series for a long time; I started reading John Rogers' blog, "Kung Fu Monkey", back in February of 2005 (when Warren Ellis, if I remember rightly, pointed people to it on his own blog.) So when he announced that he was doing a new TV series, that it would be called "Leverage", and that it would be a caper series about modern-day Robin Hoods robbing from corrupt corporations and giving back to their victims, I was interested.

But I work nights, I have little patience for commercials, and so it wasn't until the first season came out on DVD that I actually got the chance to sit down and watch it. (And watch it, and watch it..."Leverage" is one of the reasons this blog post is almost three days late.)

And it is everything a geek could want. Sharp, funny, action-packed, full of smart scams and high-tech sneakiness, and a quirky sense of humor that will delight geeks. (One episode manages to brilliantly work in not only a World of Warcraft reference, but also a Doctor Who gag so subtle that only fans will even notice its existence.) It fits perfectly into what I call "cult fiction", fiction that portrays the real world as crazier and more interesting than it actually is.

And it taps perfectly into the real-world zeitgeist; in a world where the health-care and insurance industries are actively trying to scuttle attempts to fix a broken system because it would cost them money, and banks are sucking up funds from the public trough while fighting government regulation as "unnecessary"...there's a strong sense that the world no longer works for people like us. It only works for the rich and powerful, people who can do anything and get away with it. When Nate Ford and his crew screw those people over, it feels like catharsis.

In short, LEVERAGE is awesome. But I think I said that already.