Paradise Hotel 51

Where Gaming Dies

Epoch: Chapter 21

Music is Life, Life is Blood

Con realized, suddenly…what had been missing. The gaping hole in foot traffic should have been obvious, given the fact that they were neck deep in a medical facility. Of course, it seemed pretty late at night by standards. Con simply couldn’t let it go any longer. He ‘peered’ up at Window as they proceeded down the long hallway towards the plaque Con had just recited not too long before.

So…I guess this would seem a whole less like a dream…or an upbeat horror movie…if there were people around…and all. Don’t you think, Dr. St. James?”

“Oh, God,” Window said, sounding angst ridden. “Please, call me ‘Window’. Or ‘Win’, which I would prefer for all of you Smiths, if you could stomach it. Awards, wall hangings and an army of medical students who are afraid to be in the same room with me…and I feel the need to force familiarity.”

“Okay then, Win,” Con responded easily. Window beamed, exhaling relief. “Now,” Con went on. “Where is everybody?”

Art by Kitano Smith

“In the other thirty or so wings. I needed one for the night, god damn it. I’m sure there are enough able hands to handle catastrophes and emergencies for one single night. After all…it’s only a Monday. That’s a prime day for myocardial infarction, but for other tragedies-? “

Emir suddenly grimaced, as Kevin stiffened, looking towards Kaede. And Window had accidentally over-extended himself.

“November 25th, 1996 was a Monday.”

The whole of the Smiths quieted as Kaede spoke with a haunted chill to her usually meek, yet will-driven voice. Kevin put a hand upon her shoulder, and she hesitated in meeting his eyes. Anyone’s eyes. Kaede even refrained from the brilliance of Dan’s overt glare that usually drew her vision away from whatever she was doing, save…targeting. His focus didn’t lessen, but then Window was speaking up.

“Forgive me, Kaede, dear. I didn’t mean to speak so out of turn. I know…events are still frightfully recent for all of you. But…that’s why I –“ Window motioned to Emir –“We thought it would be better…to give you a bit of peace as we introduced you to the Fields.”

Coyote scanned Con and Ric, to stoic silence on both their parts; then, Con flashed a brave smile in his direction. Somehow, Coyote still looked to Con for that; his boldness in the face of the worst possible scenario. The thought of the teen being so righteously blown apart…made him insane. Coyote pushed the thoughts away, as hard as he could. But then Con’s smile was changing intensity. It was becoming reassuring, not just heroic.

And Con had picked up on his unrest, as he always did. Maybe it was because they had grown so close, but it was more than always because…Con was gifted at reading people. It had always been a benefit. Certainly one Coyote had grown to appreciate. That, of course…and Con’s more than amazing ability…to perceive and aid him in cracking safe mechanisms. It was a glorious gift…one Coyote even envied a little. But the fact that Con was every bit a worthy protégé for his techniques? Now that…was everything to him.

“You haven’t thought…out of turn, Win,” Kevin volunteered, as Kaede nodded that she was alright. “But you’ll forgive us our wariness, even now…when by all accounts, you’re probably one of the most honest people I’ve ever laid wits against.” Con nodded vigorously, and Dan rolled his eyes.

“Isn’t it quite fatiguing to you,” Ric ventured, speaking directly to Dan. “To be flippant all the time, amigo?”

“Isn’t it quite fatiguing to be a six foot tall Lucha Libre all the time?,” Dan said without thought.

“Well…I believe I’m still five foot, ten, Dan…but I see your point. And, no.”

“Well…there you go, then,” Dan responded, fumbling for something in his pockets; remembering the lack of cigarettes, he cursed under his breath, and ceased in his efforts.

“Ten minutes or less,” Dan told Emir.

“Do you need a carton to go with that bottle of Jack,” Con cracked at Dan.

“I’ll be fine with one goddamned cigarette, I swear,” Dan answered honestly, and Con nearly let his jaw drop open. Dan then realized the straightforwardness of his reply, and shrugged.

“If I perceive cigarettes on anyone,” Con volunteered, “I’ll jack those for you so fast, you won’t even need a lighter.”

At this, Dan did smirk. Then, the fire was back in his eyes.

“Well, don’t expect a pat on the back from me when you hang out with the living reason why latches and keys were invented, punk. You need more honest friends if you’re going to pony up any respect from me in the skill department. Everything you know, you learned from present company.”

“Yeah?,” Con was suddenly irritated out of his joking nature. “Well, what have I learned from you, then, Old Faithful? Besides how to keep breathing with a ‘bottle a day’ whiskey habit?”

And Dan’s smile darkened, even as Kaede shot him a warning glance.

“Obviously, you haven’t learned the one thing I’ve been trying to teach you…which is to shut the fuck up when you’re around me. I don’t hear anyone else requesting your vocal activity. And I don’t think they ever do. So-“

“That’s quite enough, Dan.”

Art by Kitano Smith

Even Dan was surprised, as Window, while in the midst of apologizing for an indiscretion, reprimanded him. It wasn’t harshly, per se…but it was a firm tone of voice that he used. Con was startled in his own right, as he noticed Coyote starting to fume in Dan’s general direction, aptly.

“It may not be my place, but well…this is my place. So, if you’re going to be so unjustly harsh, you’ll have to do so through me. You make it impossible to feel remorse for you sometimes, honestly.” Then, in the mute of his shock, Dan was side stepped before he could react in his own defense. Someone else was beating him to it.

“Win,” Con spoke up. “It’s cool. You just…get used to all the melodrama when you live with the bastard for a while. I’ve heard worse. Really. You should have heard him with a couple bullets in him that time-“

“Thank you, ‘O wise and loud one’,” Dan groaned. “Now could you please shut the fuck up, and let the Doc, here apologize and finish our tour of his amazing science experiment?”

“Dan, you need to shut it yourself, man,” Kevin said in a low voice, to Dan’s unabashed eye screw. Kevin lowered his own glasses at the man, and it was then that Dan finally remained silent. Mostly.

“Look out,” he jabbed.

“Don’t make me slash you, Dan. This place looks like it can handle a good victim or two.”

“Don’t threaten me, or-“

“That’s not a threat, is it?” Kevin looked towards Con, to Dan’s interest. Con shook his head without much ado.

Elysian Fields Facility: Bombers Bay, Bar and Music Venue

Ben was nursing his fourth round, and doing a mercifully good job of it, at this point. And every so often, Carve Wintermute, the bartender/owner would glance over at him. It was in that knowing ‘enough isn’t quite enough yet’ fashion that he would always use with him. Honestly, today…it was just nice to have an appropriate chaperone…with mixology skills.

“Ben, don’t you want to be there at all, tonight?,” Carve finally asked him, wiping down the bar needlessly. “I haven’t seen Dan since ’94…but…only etiquette is keeping me away. And you know I have plans for heading to Chicago as soon as I have clearance.”

“You have clearance everywhere, don’t give me that bullshit, Carve.”

“I have clearance of the official kind, but…the clearance I’m talking about…is necessary if I don’t want a bullet in my brain via Red Vector. Capisce?”

“Since when are you Italian?”

“I’m not,” Carve replied with an easy smile, adding a Duval to Ben’s selection, pouring by tilting the glass sideways, first.

“You could survive a bullet to the brain. I know for a fact you could.”

“But…there’s the etiquette thing again, Ben. When life and death are off the line…it’s all about appearances. And I’d rather wait for my clearance. Curtis…always liked me, anyway. Even when he suspected…I was in on Harry being…you know. But Rivas? Christ, no. Harry got me out clear, but…that little bastard…he’s got it in for us all. Ever since he got to stepping on this earth again. Honest? I’d love to have it out with that sly coward. Especially…after what he did to Harry. I would’ve followed the true blue straight to hell’s den and back. In fact…I did just that a time or two, in my opinion,…except…when it really counted.”

“I heard the story straight from Harman,” Ben strained not to slur, though he really wasn’t drunk by standards. The subject matter was muddling enough. “And it wasn’t your fault. That was going to happen, regardless of what you or Morgan did. Alright?”

“Tell that to Morg. He was inconsolable for weeks, from what I heard, from what he tells me. If not longer…and well…we all did what we had to do. Even…Harry. No clearance in the world is gonna keep me from White City, I’ll tell you goddamn true. Me or Morgan…but I know he’ll want to see Kevin first.”

“Well, that explains, him… what the hell are you still doing here?,” Ben smirked, a jade clearly upon his face in the dim light of the bar area.

“You tell me. Didn’t you get here this morning?”

“I’ve been nursing this one since 1pm. And I doubt I’ve spent more than-“

“I don’t care about the money by now, Ben. That much should be obvious.”

“You’re waiting to see the Hellion,” Ben reasoned. And Carve smiled, signaling that Ben was right.

“He’ll wind up here eventually. Of course, maybe that’s why you’re still hanging around.”

“No,” Ben replied. “I don’t know why I’m still hanging around.”

“It isn’t my charming personality, is it?,” Carve flashed a huge grin. Ben shook his head, smiling somewhat.

“I’m not tipping any more because you’re coddling the alkie,” Ben chuckled.

“No, I guess not. But, I think you’ll have a little more than coddling on your hands in a second.”

“What the hell-?”

“Hey, Carve.”

A young, yet rich voice spoke over Ben’s right shoulder, and Ben recognized it immediately. He tried not to cringe, though – given his present company – the voice, the presence wasn’t a surprise, exactly.

“Hey, kiddo,” Carve responded warmly to his new charge. “I guess…you’ve got some venting of your own to do about today…don’t you? Or maybe…you’ve got some questions stirring your mind up?” The young man, hair a bright red, smiled easily and sat at the bar, next to Ben…but down a couple of seats.

“I guess you could say that. I really wasn’t sure…where to go.”

“Have you talked to your mom, yet?”

“Yeah. She…,” the young looking man smiled, deep reflection in his eyes. He looked to be in his early twenties. Of course…he was much older. “She’s happy. I’m sure Win’s having a fit, though.”

“He’s always having a fit about something,” Ben snorted.

“Well, I can’t argue with Ben, there. Huh, Sean?,” Carve responded warmly, setting a chilled draft Blue Moon in front of his younger patron.

“No. But…it’ll be fine. She just…needed to go. I’m surprised…you didn’t go with her. But…yeah. I guess you would have to wait.”

“You got that right, kid. Did Shell tell you…about your dad any?”

“Yeah.” Sean smiled with deep affection, and nodded.

“Maybe…we’ll go together,” Carve offered. “What do you think?” Ben listened, though he was staring obsessively at his large, Duval filled glass.

“That…would be the thrill of my life, I think, Carve. I’m…pretty sure.”

“Well, alright then. And I should have seen it before. That’s why I’m waiting. The time will definitely be right for us, kid.”

“I know,” Sean said, nodding again. “Baty…Christ. He must be beyond himself. Considering. All the guys were…and Val, of course. I was happy to hear Chris was going with mom alone, though. They…need the time to talk.”

“They deserve every second of that. That’s very true, Sean. I know…we’ve talked a good spell…about everything your mom could never bring herself to tell you. I felt…I owed at least that much to you. What did your Uncle Charlie say?”

“A lot. But…he just…I don’t know. He’s always known about it. It wasn’t a surprise to him. It’s been the only reason the Wide Eyes haven’t at least tried to kill him.”

“And… how do you think Dan will react to your Uncle being around?”

“I think he’ll try to kill him. At least the first time he sees him. I’d kind of like…to actually…speak to Dan. Not about that, though. Not just that.”

“Well, I guess so, kid. He and your dad…well, I guess I don’t have to say, at this point. You should talk to him when you’re ready. Of course…you should be prepared for the initial shock, on his part. And he doesn’t shock easily.”

“I know. I’m prepared. Emir spoke to me about it. He spoke to everybody about it. Apparently – though I don’t really believe it – the human body and mind can only handle so much at once. And especially…just after being Ouroborized.”

“Is that even a word?,” Carve joked as Sean ingested some beer.

Ben raised an eyebrow at Window’s step son.

“If Window has anything to add,” he said. “And you’re brave to even entertain the thought of talking to Dan. Even I don’t know how I feel about doing that.”

“I’m sure you’ll say what you need to, Ben,” Sean said easily. “You always do.”

“We’ll see about that, red,” Ben shook his head.

“Oh,” Carve began without the least amount of foreboding in his tone. “We’ll do more than see, Benny. Need another ‘blood clot’?”

“Several,” Ben said flatly.

“Well, then I guess I’ll stay to help you to your room,” Sean smiled.

“I’d like to see you try, junior,” Ben said, unimpressed, but without direct anger. Sean still smiled.

By all accounts…Sean was the spitting image of his father. And really…Ben doubted he could really be surprised. He just wondered…how exactly Dan would handle it. Or any of it, for that matter.

Elysian Fields Facility: Med Lab – The Courtyard.

The wide expanse of grass, marble benches, and trees was wonderful. In the distance, yet not too far from the main entrance to the E.O.R. itself, was a fairly Roman looking chapel. It was nearly adjacent to the main complex of the Med Lab, and the huge building towered over it; the effect made the park-like area nearly…cozy, as it lay nestled within the heart of technology at its best. The blend of fauna and city was also a satisfying mix.

The chapel itself had a high, domed glass ceiling that was lit from within; Con ‘eyed’ it with a good deal of pause. Glass was still unsettling, but…the textures of the designs…were incredible. Simply dazzling to within reasonable amounts. Con noticed Dan mussing his hair again, more out of restlessness than irritation. Then, Window sighed dramatically. And he dug in a pocket. Undramatically, he tossed Dan a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. They were Pall Malls. Emir just shook his head, smiling, as Dan brightened without provocation; it was almost endearing.

“Fucking thank you,” Dan replied, pulling two cigarettes out, lighting one, and tossing the lighter and the nearly full pack back to the Doctor.

“Hey,” Dan snorted, hesitating in his first drag, Emir’s words of full healing bouncing into his mind. He was speaking to Con. “I thought you said…”

“I doubted Dr Killjoy, here would want you to bum his cigarettes, or Emir to know he still smokes a little,” Con chuckled. “I’m trying to make a good impression, here. I stopped trying to impress you years ago.”

“Good thing, too. And I know Emir knows the Doc smokes. I fucking know he does.”

Con ‘glanced’ to Emir…and met a wise stare. Window seemed a bit on the spot.

“Well, of course he knows. He knows damn everything. Now, smoke your damn cigarette. Careful of the first few drags. It won’t be easy on you, at this point.”

“I fucking know. And I don’t care,” Dan said flatly. He inhaled, and promptly coughed raggedly. Tried again. Did so again. Eventually, the coughing stopped, or lessened, at least to a dull roar. Then Dan seemed relieved. “Thank fucking god for that. Bullshit healing.”

Con ‘looked’ up at Coyote…who was shaking his head. And swearing under his breath.

“It wasn’t that hard the first time…was it?,” Con asked hopefully.

“I don’t remember. I was eleven.”

“Ah. Good job.”

Coyote kicked Con behind the heel, and Con faked a run in the opposite direction. Then dodged again. He felt so much better than he had…just hours before. It was wonderful to feel the exhilaration of a wide expanse again. And this was just…breathtaking. There was even a marble path carved out of the green leading fully up to the Med Lab. This part looked more like a school. There was even a large clock, positioned at the opposite end of the chapel. The entire courtyard was probably elevated within the Facility, like a safety zone. Con actually had the audacity to feel…safe. But then again with the worse having already happened, for now…he’d work with lesser evils. Like smoking.

Dan wheezed again. Seemed proud to. Then, he held the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, as he spoke, and Kaede just shook her pretty head at him. He raised his eyebrows at her, ‘you think that’s hot?’, and went on about his business. “So,” he began, voice muffled by lit tobacco. “What’s this place called? The graveyard?”

“I don’t think that would be appropriate, Dan,” Mask finally volunteered, having been quite silent for a long time, possibly reflective.

“Oh, I think it would,” Dan still mumbled, unaffected.

“Actually,” Window began. “It’s simply called the Courtyard. But, the chapel was placed here to encourage…faith. Many different kinds of faith. Freedom of religion or the seclusion from such doctrines is something the Fields prides itself in. The chapel and the Courtyard are merely places to meditate. Really – as far as the chapel goes, however – ‘temple‘ would perhaps be a better word for it. It simply isn’t big enough.”

“Oh, it’s big enough,” Dan still mumbled, inhaling and exhaling smoke as he spoke. “In fact…I like it just fine from the farthest I can get away from it. No offense.”

“It’s an elective place of worship, Dan,” Emir spoke easily. “It provides solace for many who need it. As does this area of the Fields. You’ll find there are many places like this for our students, agents and faculty alike to vent…or to focus.”

“Wouldn’t it have been less expensive to open an aquarium?,” Dan still smoked.

“Not really,” Window answered honestly. “Do you have any idea how many species have gone extinct in-?”

Then, Dan was just staring at Window with his now familiar, ‘you have to know I was kidding’ expression.

“Oh,” Window said shortly. “Well, in that case…we’ll skip the interior tour of the chapel, and move right along to something I feel you’ll all appreciate. I know it would be riveting to explore the in-patient, and rehabilitation areas of the Med Lab, but…well, there’s time for all of that. Who’s interested in a change of pace?”

Dan was the only one who actually raised his hand. The other hand was being used to chain light his next cigarette. Window just…sighed. And he put his hands in his pockets.

“When exactly do I get to join this tour, Bright eyes?,” there was a garish New York accent, and all Smiths present seemed rattled in unison. But then, of course…it’s not every day that you witness the appearance of a hologram for the first time. Mills shuddered to life, in the midst of the Courtyard, and Window just…shook his head. “Oh, Christopher,” he moaned tragically. Dan was still chain smoking, discarding the spent Pall. He seemed unimpressed.

“I think there’s room for the Big Top in this circus act you’ve got going here over there,” Dan motioned to the chapel. “Or would that be undignified?”

“I’m going with ‘undignified’,” Mills snorted. “Thank you very much.”

“Oh, my fucking god,” Con nearly laughed, as Coyote kind of tilted his head at the sight he was struggling to fathom. Kevin simply had a hand clasped to his mouth, as if he was witnessing the devil in action, and simultaneously drawing similarities from other occurrences of horror. Con, however – as nearly always – was unphased.

“That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever goddamn ‘seen’.”