Liedecker Institute #10: Make Your Own Luck Part 3

This entry is part 10 of 13 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 1: Meet The Class

White arcs of electricity danced across the prone man’s body. With each arc, he grew smaller and more cascades of rubble from the shipping containers he rested on came tumbling down to fill the void left by his shrinking. Smaller and smaller he became until he disappeared amid the wreckage.

His scream faded to silence by the maudlin soundtrack, a young man in his teens fought free of his mother’s grasp and ran full out into the heart of the still settling rubble. Miraculously, he found a path clear enough that he only had to stumble over fallen debris until he was at the center of the destruction.

The man, his father lay there bleeding and gasping, the green ichor of a titanic arachnid staining the left side of his body.

His son slid to a stop and knelt beside him as the music cut out and the noise of wind and sirens and flames returned. “Father! No. No. No. No. No. Don’t move, father, we’ll get help. You aren’t hurt that bad!”

“Poisoned…” The man breathed. With great effort, he reached up and patted the boy on the side of his face and up to the crown of his head. “My boy. You… I did this for you. I’m… I’m not sorry. I died protecting you.”

Tears cut paths through the dust and grime on the boy’s face as he lost the battle to hold them back. “Father, no! You’re not going to die! We… What about the Enlarger? Can’t we… recalibrate it? Do something to save you?”

His father’s and found his. “It’s alright. Shh. It’s alright. It’s for the best. But promise me something…”

“Anything, father. Just don’t go!”

“I have to go. And so does the enlarger. Promise me, Usayd, that it dies with me.”

Sniffing, the boy squeezed his father’s hand, feeling weakness there where none had been before. “I…”

But it was too late. His father’s eyes had unfocused. He wasn’t breathing. Usayd started crying fully now, throwing himself over his father’s body as the camera started to pull back, revealing the destruction around them.

The screen faded to black, and as the credits rolled, the Son of the American Titan spoke two more words. “I can’t.”

***

The lights came on in the theater as the bass drum heavy theme to the American Titan franchise started playing. Moviegoers started to stir. In the half full theater, the four students from the Institute had a row to themselves; Arkose on one end, as she was highly unlikely to need a bathroom or drink run, Phil on the aisle, and Eddie and Joy in between.

Eddie noticed Joy’s ambivalent expression and asked, “Something wrong? You didn’t like the movie?”

She shrugged, the merest frown on her face. “I really liked the main guy and the part at the start where he couldn’t control when he’d transform or not…”

“But?”

“Why did it have to be spiders?” She shivered at the memory of the film’s building sized arachnids.

“You knew that were spiders going in.” Arkose pointed out flatly. “They’re in the trailers, he,” she indicated Phil, “mentioned them, and there was one on the poster when we came in.”

“I never saw the trailers.” Joy hugged herself as they filed out of the theater with the rest of the moviegoers. “Plus, I sort of thought they wouldn’t be as scary if they were so big they couldn’t crawl all over you. But it turned out that they were just the right size to crawl all over the American Titan!”

“The fact that he’s gigantic is the whole premise.” Arkose said.

“So what did you think of the movie, Arkose?” asked Eddie, angling toward a subject that didn’t involve teasing Joy.

The stone girl thought for a minute. “It was good. The jury’s still out on it’s better than the first, but at least it didn’t have to waste time on the origin. The actor playing the son was brilliant though; more than making up for how much of a non-entity the wife was.”

She paused in her thoughts when she saw the others’ expressions. “What?”

“I don’t think we were expecting a full on review.” said Phil. He held open the trash receptacle to let the others dispose of their trash.

“Are you a big movie buff?” Eddie asked.

“Not big.” Arkose kept walking past the trash as she’d produced none. “Given the choice, I’d rather climb… would have rather climbed…” She hadn’t been climbing since the accident that preceded her transformation and doubted that any safety gear on the market could support her anymore. “I know film though, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“I’m more of a stage act guy myself.” Eddie held on to his half finished soda and they continued on. “Back home, you could see pretty much anything on stage on a given night; comedians, magicians, acrobats—sometimes we had actual plays!”

“You’re forgetting the most important part, mister Vegas.” Phil laughed, “Showgirls.”

“Not as many as you’d think.” Eddie looked wistful. “So, anything else about the movie, Arkose?”

“The effects were good.” She offered, no longer in the mood to give a long winded dissertation now that she’d been thinking of her old life.

“Too real.” Joy wrinkled her nose and pulled her wings in tighter as if to ward off spiders. “Especially whenever the biggest spider was molting to a larger size. Blech! So disgusting!”

Phil blinked at the statement. “Do spiders actually molt like that?”

“I doubt you can trust any of the science in that movie.” Arkose said.

Eddie checked his palmtop. “Hey, it’s only like six. You guys want to go do something else before we head back?”

Arkose gestured that she didn’t care. Phil shrugged, wracking his brain for an idea. “How about an arcade?”Joy ventured.

“How about that place I always hear your friends talking about, Phil?” Eddie’s brows furrowed as he tried to recall the name and came up empty. “The…uh…”

“The Dungeon?” Phil supplied. “Nah, man. It’s a pretty cool place, but it’s not really an arcade; just an internet cafe with a few stand-up games. I have seen ads for this place called Spectacle; it’s supposed to have all the latest installations out of Japan and Brazil.”

“Do they have a Funk-a-verse or Great Idol Master machine?” Joy asked, eyes wide with hope.

Phil couldn’t help but smile. “I hope so, because that sounds like a challenge.”

As Phil and Joy plunged into their own little world about their best or favorite songs to sing in Great Idol Master, or the most difficult Funk-a-verse dance routines, the whole group was drifting toward a bus stop. None of them had the money to blow on the more comfortable and direct commuter pods.

Eddie found himself a few steps behind them with Arkose straggling even further behind. He dropped back to match her stride and tried making conversation. “I like simulators, better. Like controlling a drone, or piloting powered armor.”

“I don’t play video games.” Arkose’s voice was always hollow, now it really felt hollow to Eddie.

“You probably should have said something before they go all excited.” He chided gently. “Next time, we’ll do something you want to do, how’s that?”

She fixed him with her pupil-less gaze. “Who said there’s going to be a next time? I only came along because I was going to see this movie anyway.”

Eddie frowned. “So you’re not a fan of our company?”

“Don’t make that face.” She looked anywhere but in his direction. “I don’t like company. Period. And don’t expect me to play any of those vapid games either. I’m just hanging around now to be polite.”

***

Arkose looked around, bewildered. One minute, she’d been trying to make her way through the press of people to find a place to sit and wait out her companions’ attention span and the next, she had broken through only to stumble through an out of order sign and onto a wide, black pad.

The pad itself had some give to it in case of falls, and it was flanked on all sides but the entry port by plastic tubing. Circles of light flickered in patterns around her feet, cycling from green, to yellow, to red. And directly in front of her, a monolithic panel was coming to life and displaying an animated tutorial.

A Funk-a-verse machine.

“Hey, looks like it works after all.” Someone shouted.

“Sneaky way to score a free game, rock girl!” came another voice.

“Show us what you got, Rocky!” Someone else shouted. She found the name offensive, but the tone was encouraging.

There was only one explanation for her happening to stumble into and activate a broken video game. Argent and his stupid luck powers. She glanced around to find the offending boy, but a crowd, shouting more words of encouragement, was forming and she no longer saw the others.

“Pick. Youuuur. Poison-son-son.” speakers hidden in the corralling tubing demanded. The already robotic sounding voice became more distorted with each word.

She looked back up at the panel, only to find a green, a yellow, and a red circle floating in air about three feet in front of her. The tutorial, featuring a CGI girl dancing on a pad like the one she stood on, passing her hands and feet through floating colored circles, was still playing, but beside it was a list of options: dance moves, fightin’ moves, free-4-all. Each had a colored circle beside it with a legend telling her to touch one to continue.

‘Fightin’ moves’? Was it possible that the game has a mode for martial arts kata instead of dancing? If that was true, and it was an actually challenging routine, she might actually enjoy it.

The crowd was chanting ‘rock girl’ now. In other parts of the arcade, similar crowds around other machines were also chanting or shouting for other players. Were they sincerely cheering for her, or were they just looking for a freak show?

“Ark-ose! Ark-ose!” A voice rose over the chant. She glanced over to find Joy balanced on the railing, her wings slightly open to help her stay upright and her tail wrapped as tightly around the tubing as her toes. Presently, Eddie and Phil made their way through the crowd and joined her in her shout.

Soon, the crowd had taken it up as their own. Arkose sighed. There was really not turning back now unless she wanted to spend the rest of the evening being jeered by the same people. She jabbed a fist into the yellow circle for ‘fightin’ moves’.

The menu changed to a column of green circles, each corresponding to a song title and artist. A separate legend informed her that green circles in the upcoming game would mean ‘punch’ while red meant ‘kick’.

She selected a song at random and was rewarded by the air around her becoming filled with red circles, forming a loose dome in the space around her. Numbers in their centers counted down from five.

A throbbing baseline came form the speakers and distorted female vocals started.

I’m gonna take you down. I’m gonna take you down. Take you down. Take you down.

The count hit zero and suddenly the red circles were gone, leaving only a green one directly in front of her. It only lasted a split second before the word ‘missed’ appeared in its center and faded.

Right. She was supposed to be punching and kicking. She lashed out with a fist when the next green circle appeared at three o’clock high. A red circle appeared at eight o’clock level and she remembered too late that red meant a kick. Lessons learned, she settled into a pattern of striking as cleanly as possible and returning to a ready stance to watch for the next circle.

You wanna fight, that’s all right. ‘Cause I’ll take you all but myself. Hundred to one, you’re outgunned. Better send some more.

The circles started appearing more frequently, sometimes two at a time, requiring more complex combinations. Twice, she got a score penalty for kicking when she should have punched, but she didn’t miss again.

Her stony joints made grinding noises in protest, but her superior strength let her power through the resistance. Her motions remained practiced and smooth and that made the assembled crowd grow only larger and more exuberant.

Be a sport, give it up and applaud my success. Have some grace, have some pride. You were beat by the best.

A one two punch combination flowed into a side kick and then into a pair of kicks forward kicks back to back. Arkose was emboldened to flourish a bit, replacing a normal strike with a palm-heel strike, and low kick with a sweep.

Gonna take you down! Gonna take you down!

The distortion on the vocals pitched higher as the game directed her into a series of punches the climbed higher in time with the beat. The series ended with a nearly vertical strike, but instead of fading, the green circle turned red when she hit it. With an effort of will, she kicked upward, noticing just in time that there was a punch circle on the floor

The onlookers went wild at the display and with a few more simple punch combinations, the song came to an end.

Now you’re gone. The final line echoed off into silence, or would have if it wasn’t instantly replaced by wild cheering.

“Ninety-one percent!” The speakers declared. “You’re a Funk-a-verse black belt!”

Arkose shook her head at the announcement. It had been a nice challenge, but calling her a black belt was cartoonish. Still rolling her eyes, she turned to leave, only to be confronted by a wall of the most exuberant onlookers, all shouting their praise, admiration, or personal challenges.

Joy was instantly beside her, offering up a string of linked slips of printed plastic. “Got your tickets.” She chirped. “That was amazing! I didn’t know you could do that. I though that with the rock and everything you’d be… I don’t know… slow?”

She wanted to glare at the girl for the terribly back handed complement, but she, of course, meant well. Instead, she gestured for her to keep the tickets. “I’m strong enough to make up for being heavy.” She said blandly.

“I knew you could do that.” Eddie slipped through the crowd and arrived on the opposite side of her from Joy. “After seeing you with your wooden sword in the gym? This was going to be easy.”

“You made this happen.” She didn’t hesitate to glare at him.

“Huh?” He blinked innocently at the accusation.

“With your powers. You made it so I ended up on that game.”

“I tried to explain when we met,” he shook his head. “I don’t control it. There’s not like an on and off switch. I can’t stare hard, or wiggle my fingers and stuff happens. It just happens around me.”

“That’s still how I ended up back there.”

“I’m… sorry?” He didn’t know why, but if that’s what she wanted, it was no skin off his back. “You don’t have to come back if you don’t want to.”

She finally got through the crowd and onto a clear space between crowds watching or waiting for games. Someone else was on the machine she’d just left already and her performance was quickly becoming merely an interesting happenstance to everyone.

Free and clear, she folded her arms and looked at Joy and Eddie, then at Phil as he also found his way to the group. To her surprise, she found that there really had been nothing to complain about, hanging around with them.

The movie had been good, none of those three had pried into her life or her powers, and even the arcade had turned out to have something she could enjoy. She wouldn’t say it out loud, but the Funk-a-verse routine had been more challenging and (she grudgingly admitted to herself) fun than any she’d come up with for herself.

“No.” She finally said. “We’re definitely come back here.”

End Make Your Own Luck.

Series Navigation<< Liedecker Institute #9: Make Your Own Luck Part 2Liedecker Institute #11: A Very Kura Christmas Part 1 >>

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Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter.

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