Wally finishes detailing the resin biceps of his Tribal Warrior (model #AX23, set 13), pausing in his work to glance at his tool. His impatient paintbrush has split itself in two. He dips it in water, watching the ocher acrylic paint blossom in the clear liquid before removing it. No, it's still misshapen. He presses the thin hair of the brush to the top of his tongue, closing his lips around the metal neck and coaxing it back into a perfect point before drowning it in his pot of cobalt paint and painstakingly tracing the tribal face paint of his warrior figure. Now finished with the skin, he moves his attention to the wooden shield clutched in the figurine's right arm. He switches out his detail brush for a larger one, putting away several small glass pots of acrylic before opening several others. He considers the various shades of brown, chewing on the wooden end of his brush. Free period will be over in about ten minutes, and then he only has a minute to put everything away and run clumsily to his sixth period Astronomy class. And if he's still in the hall even a second after the bell… Otto will find him. Wally shivers. But he wants to have his warrior done by Saturday, when he, Moe, Bernie, and a few other friends met at John and Mary's house for D&D and nachos. He takes the brush from his mouth and begins unscrewing the top of the baby food jars he uses to store his acrylics.
He isn't expecting the bell, and when it chimes out smugly that Wally is due at Astronomy in sixty seconds he fumbles helplessly with his things, drowning his brush furiously before screwing the lids back on his paints tightly and rushing to fit them back into his bag. The worn out backpack moans at the intrusion, its ducktaped edges and broken zippers protesting that it is already far too full of books and homework and half plotted out dungeon crawls and absentminded doodles and things Wally found on the side of the road and inside desks and were too cool to just leave even though he had no idea what he was planning to do with them. But he eventually persuades his paint set to fit, disposes of the paper cup full of muddled water, grips the thick wood of his brush between his wire and rubber band covered teeth, and is off, figurine held delicately in one hand and backpack dragged behind him by the other. Unfortunately Wally is not what you'd call athletic by any stretch of the imagination, and Astronomy is on the other edge of the building known as Axiom High, and most of the traffic in the hall is moving in the other direction, and Otto is in a bad mood because when he punished Moe for violating the dress code by making him clean the chalkboards he actually had fun, and he only makes it halfway there when Otto steps in his way. The dark haired boy stares at the Wally sternly, his hands at his hips, his hall monitor sash almost glowingly pristine. Wally opens his mouth, taking out the paintbrush to ask Otto to please move out of the way, when the bell rings. Otto's mouth twitches.
"Oswald." Otto raises his finger disciplinarily. "You're late to class."
"I- uh- I sort of lost track of time. If you could just let me have a second I could-" he tries to bargain. But there is no bargaining with lawful neutral, and Otto shakes his head.
"Oswald, I am disappointed in you. You know the rules. You know you must be punctual."
"Come on Otto, can't you let me off with a warning, just this once?" Otto's eyes narrow at Wally's attempt to wiggle his way out of the Rules. No one can escape the Rules, not while Otto patrols these halls. He will not allow it.
"You received the school handbook upon enrolling in this establishment. If you read it, you should know that punctuality is of the utmost importance in this school. If you did not read it, it is your own fault."Otto takes out his notebook, flipping it open and scribbling a note in pen "Detention. Friday. You'll be cleaning the lunch tables." He says curtly.
"Otto. Leave the kid alone." Wally turns to see a tall, lithe girl with a hall monitor sash more worn, but no less authoritative, than Otto's. She's wearing a crisp, white jacket over an olive green tank top, white capris that stop just under her knees, and tennis shoes that are so worn they seem to be actively longing for the sweet release of death, preserved only by duck tape based life support and nostalgia. Wally can't breathe. Eve is here. The Eve. When Otto hesitates she puts her hands on her hips and quirks her eyebrow angularly. "Otto." Otto's lips thin, but he knows Eve has voluntarily gone to boot camp every summer since she was eight, and he knows she wasn't appointed head cheerleader for her looks, and, perhaps most pressingly, he knows that she could snap him like a twig and wouldn't hesitate to do so.
"Fine. I'll let him off with a warning. Just this once." Otto's voice is bitter, and his eyes narrowed, but he turns and stalks off anyway, and Wally rediscovers his lungs. Eve smiles at the gaping boy, walking over to him and patting his shoulder reassuringly. Wally lurches with the force of the blows, clutching the strap of his backpack until the circulation abandons his fingers and staring up at the taller girl. Her eyes are an astonishing, almost neon blue, and her shockingly platinum hair is pulled back in a simultaneously careless and professional ponytail. Wally loses track of his lungs again.
"Don't worry about Otto. He means well. He's just a bit of an ass. My name is Eve." Wally stares at her, wondering vaguely why she would bother to introduce herself when she was Eve. The Eve. Possibly the most flawless human being in the entire world. Bernie is convinced she was built in an underground lab during the Cold War to be the perfect human and the only reason she hadn't been sent into battle was because the lab collapsed and she was left, cryogenically frozen, only to be dug up years later by Principal McCrea and enrolled in Axiom for unknown reasons. And Wally considers it a credible theory. After all, Eve is probably the strongest girl Wally knew, but she also has the face of a goddess and never gets less than a 98 on her calculus tests. And she isn't obnoxious or stuck up or even aware that she's a role model to the seniors and an idol to the juniors and a God incarnate to the freshmen. Of course, she isn't exactly what you'd call nice either. She doesn't talk to other students a lot, and if you try to tell her, as one unfortunate guidance councilor had, that enrolling in the military the day after graduation (as she planned to do) was a waste of her natural talents she wouldn't hesitate to hand you your ass on a platter. And God forbid you say anything that could possibly be interpreted as "But girl's can't (insert thing Eve can do better than anyone Wally knows)" But somehow she is even more beloved for that. Somehow if she was not only smart and beautiful and strong but also nice she'd be too perfect. She'd be hideously perfect. But that little bit of selfishness, that little bit of stubbornness, means she's human. Means she's admirable. Still, Wally can't shake the feeling that she was some sort of cyborg assassin that emits hypnorays so that you can't help but love her even though a voice in the back of your head is screaming that she's too perfect. Her charisma is at least 15, and her strength is probably 20. If one of his D&D friends created a character with all her traits the rest of them would call Mary Sue and refuse to let them play. And she's acting like he doesn't know who she is.
"W-Wally." He stutters.
"Wally?" she takes in the information and you can see her withdraw into her mind and sort through every possible implication, every memory, looking over his dirty jeans and his uneven collar and his hair which always looks filthy even when he rinses and repeats for an hour. She then chooses her words very carefully, like a programmer painstakingly typing out ones and zeroes. "I remember you. You found my retainer when I accidentally threw it out last September." Wally struggles to respond to the overwhelming concept that someone like Eve knows who he is in even the scarcest of context. "I guess we're even now?"
"Oh it- yeah I mean it really wasn't a problem, you know I- I go through the school dumpster all the time!" Eve blinks. She is not entirely certain how to respond to this statement. She searches, knowing she will come up without results, for a way to respond to Wally's announcement that he regularly goes dumpster diving for no stated purpose. For once her endless pile of nearly programmed responses, her bottomless pit of 'Sir, yes sir!' s and 'Thank you' s and 'Don't worry about it' s, the things she recites to herself so that she's always prepared, the things she practices in her head before she speaks, the mantras that keep her from revealing how very nervous and how very angry and how very stressed she feels are useless. For once she has to cobble together something out of the resources available.
"You don't… smell like it." she offers.
"Well I- um- I- I- have to go Astronomy now." He points helplessly to the hallway with the hand that he still cradles his figurine and paintbrush in before scurrying off. Eve watches him go, biting her lower lip.
"I go through the school dumpster all the time." Bernie repeats in disbelieving deadpan. Moe cringes visibly at the statement, meticulously cleaning his plastic cutlery with a lemon scented antibacterial wipe. "You got to talk to Eve. The Eve. And the first thing you tell her is that you love scavenging in garbage."
"Don't remind me." Wally moans, head in his hands, gazing at his tater tots miserably. "I really need to start thinking before I speak."
"Or stop going through the trash," Moe mutters, inspecting his spork scrupulously. Moe is the oldest member of their collection of misfits, having been held back from kindergarten by parents who feared that the petit, finicky boy wouldn't be able to cope with the paint splatters and sneezing and general chaos implicit in early school years. When they finally let him attend school, however, he immediately set to fixing what he saw as temperament issues in his peers, and by the end of September his remaining classmates were cleaner and more well behaved than most of the ninth graders. Wally considers him the neutral good version of Otto; kind of a prude when it comes to things like cleanliness and order, but always willing to put his neck out for his friends when it came down to it. Like yesterday, when all of Bernie's collared shirts were in the wash and Moe had switched shirts with him, taking the full brunt of Otto's wrath for his friend. ", that's always an option."
"To be fair, Wally's dumpster diving is no weirder than your spork sanitizing ritual." Bernie offers, stuffing his face with his tater tots before cringing and pulling a shard of his own utensil, which had shattered in his mouth, out of his molars. Bernie was always having bad luck. Most of the time he didn't let it bother him, but he tended to get frustrated if he was having a particularly bad week, and this had been a particularly bad week.
"Then I'll be sure not to mention my desire to have utensils that aren't covered in strep, ebola and all other matter of bacterium the next time Eve thanks me for saving her retainer from the trash compactor." Moe replies, voice thick with sarcasm. "Why were you late anyway?"
"Working on my Tribal Warrior figurine." Wally explains, poking at his string beans without passion.
"Ah, speaking of that, who's coming this Saturday?" Moe enquires. Wally and Bernie respond in the affirmative, as do Hans, Ella, Lot, Vick, Filbert and Vincent. Prita, who is the entire makeup department of Axiom High's drama club, says she can't make it because Rocky Horror is playing that night.
"Doesn't it start at midnight?" Vincent asks, sketching absently, food abandoned. "You could come over for the game and not sleep over."
"Well yeah, but I have to prep for at least three hours, and I meet some friends there an hour early so we can have something to eat and get a good place in line." Prita explains, fiddling with her false eyelashes. "I can't concentrate on kicking all of your asses while trying to blend my eye shadow."
"Alright, I'll tell mom and dad you won't be there." Moe nods, finally deciding his spork is worthy to eat with and tucking into his beans. Moe's parents, who insist on being called by their first names, are the hosts of their weekly D&D meetings and novice players themselves. Moe, control freak that he is, is their default Dungeon Master, although on occasion he relinquishes power to Wally, who tends to think up more creative, although slightly less logical, quests. Bernie leans forward, staring at Wally curiously.
"What did she smell like?" Wally considers.
"Um… like…floorwax and sneakers."
"That was probably just the hallway."
"You don't smell like it." Eve recites solemnly as she sits on the bleachers, sandwich clutched in her hands, lunch laid out on her lap and chemistry book, neglected and unopened, to her left. It's the beginning of spring, but it sure as hell doesn't want to be. Nature rebels so that the air is chilly, and although it hasn't rained yet the humidity keeps the dew clinging to the cold dimpled metal of Eve's makeshift haven until the very peak of the afternoon sun, and often even past then. Eve takes a fearsome bite out of her egg salad and wheat bread sandwich before closing her eyes. "You don't smell like it."
She remembers the retainer incident. It was the first week of school. It was just as cold as today but much crisper, much newer, with the perfume of dying chlorophyll and sharpened pencils in the air, when she had thrown out her retainer. It was an accident, and Eve rarely had accidents, but that week she had brought up enlisting to her father. There had been a fight, Eve had been too upset to cry, so she had just went up to her room and breathed in and out and punched the drywall so that she cracked the wall, until she hit a stud and the wall cracked her. Then she had nursed her scratched knuckles and pounding fingers and bit her lip because the screaming and the pain didn't sting as much as the refusal to understand, the refusal to accept, had. Eve had always thought that if there was someone out there to accept all of her, all of her rage and her pride and her desire to be part of a greater good, her desire to depend on the flawless body she had instead of her imperfect mind, it would be her parents. And then, staring in third grade, because her mother wasn't there anymore, it would be her father. It was clear now that what she wanted was not what her father wanted. It was clear that he had his own plans. It was clear that when they gave out mail from home she wouldn't have to bother listening for her name. So she forgot her retainer on her lunch tray and tossed it out with her half-consumed applesauce. When she realized her mistake the next period the garbage was already gone, and she really didn't want to tell her Father she was even more of a disappointment than he already thought she was. So she went to the office and pleaded with them to search the dumpster, but that isn't the type of things schools do, even for a student like Eve, so she walked out of the office, miserably affixed to her destiny. Until she heard the clearing of a throat behind her.
"I could look for your retainer." Wally was short and a bit dumpy, with uncontrollable brown hair. He had an oppressive air of dirtiness, and a more subtle one of honesty. His glasses were thick and wire rimmed.
"…Would you really?" her voice was cracked, but not shattered, like an egg with a pattern of grey veins that meant it wasn't handled carefully enough during shipping.
"Of course." He smiled. It made him look less dirty and more honest. She sort of liked it. She spent the next half hour standing by the dumpster, bookbag at her feet, clutching Wally's grayish brown hoodie as he sorted meticulously through the dumpster. Eve, you see, is in the unique position of simultaneously being at the top of the social pyramid and having no idea it exists. She knows that some people see it, that some people know it by heart, but to her everyone else is everyone else. They are a mass. They are a legion. And for some reason they've chosen her as their queen. Eve doesn't understand why. After all, her beauty is a happy genetic coincidence, and the only reason she's strong is because she can't risk the possibility of getting rejected from the most powerful of all unities, the army. And the charm? Eve believes charm is of their own invention, a false reading derived from insufficient data. Her only real talents, her only born talents, are for memorization and analysis. You can fan out a deck of cards, let her look them over for a second or two, shuffle them in front of her, and she'll have no trouble telling you what order the cards are in. These talents are good for tricks, and better for school, because even if she can't understand she can recite. She watched Wally as he picked through the refuse meticulously, chewing on her lip. He eventually found it, the piece of plastic and twisted metal she had abandoned, and he cradled it like a broken bird as he handed it down to her.
"Thank you." He said before she could thank him. She hesitated. He did her a favor, but he was the one who thanked her. These points of data cannot be reconciled. Eve felt herself being shoved out of her comfortable nest of prepared response.
"Y- you're welcome." She realized too late she should have said 'no, thank you', but Wally was already out of the dumpster, he had already repossessed his hoodie.
"See you Monday. I'm Wally, by the way." He smiled after saying this, walking away in the direction of wherever his home was. Eve held the retainer carefully, staring at it.
That was in the fall. It is spring now, even if the season doth protest too much, and Eve is staring at her sandwich. They started running tests on her in second grade. Apparently she didn't do very well. They put her in a special class, a separate class, a class that devoted an hour a day to learning social skills, a class she wore like a scarlet letter. She fought so hard to get out of that class. She fought so hard to memorize what to say, how to speak, how to appear normal. How to be as human as humanly possible. She did get out, eventually, and she doesn't plan on going back, so instead of trusting herself to know what to say she recites prepackaged conversation. She studies other people; she memorizes their patterns of speech. She became a pretty good actor. She sunk into a decent routine, a comfortable pattern. And Wally had shaken her out of that precious stupor twice.
She can't allow it to happen a third time.
Wally has to admit, he's never really thought that much about Eve. She's just… Eve. The Eve. So it's pretty much taken for granted that she's cool, popular, pretty, smart, and able to kick your ass without messing up her hair. In September he was painfully new to the school, painfully new to the town, painfully new to his braces, painfully new to his family. He didn't know that Eve was a God, he thought she was a girl that had lost her retainer. He thought she looked scared. He helped her, and the next day when he told Bernie, who was always the first to greet new students, about it he had made a face like a suffocating fish.
"Did she have white hair? And blue eyes?"
"Dude, that's Eve."
"So that's her name? Yeah, I didn't get it because-"
"THE. Eve." Wally blinked in incomprehension. Moe, who was more tentative around new kids, but had been friends with Bernie since fifth grade and was therefore obliged to also hang out with them, put down his tray and sat opposite Wally.
"Why are we talking about Eve?" He asked, and after explaining what had happened he had laughed a bit and began explaining. Moe was much more helpful when it came to illuminating the concept of 'The Eve'. The flawless, unflappable Eve. Wally frowned as he spoke, unable to reconcile The Eve with the scared girl who watched with anxious eyes as he sorted through the metal bin he knew rather well already. Unable to understand how he could be so close to her and yet completely unaware of her. Slowly he watched The Eve, he listened to what people said about her, he made a mental note when she was exalted by her teachers, when the coach pestered her to try out for a team, any team. Slowly The Eve replaced the anxious girl, until she disappeared almost entirely.
Until Wally was reminded of her that morning. Until he made himself recall her, made himself try to reconcile the two Eve's. He had never thought of The Eve as someone he could talk to; nonetheless hang out with, nonetheless… something else. But the Eve he first met, the one with the cracked voice and the thankful eyes… She was kinda cute. And he was sort of planning on asking if she wanted to go see a movie sometime before Bernie and Moe made it clear that wouldn't happen. But if The Eve was willing to defend him from Otto then maybe he had a chance. Or maybe he'd just make an utter fool of himself.
The next day is Friday, and by some miracle Wally keeps track of time while finishing his figurine, and by some other miracle his biology project about plants flourishing in extreme environments goes rather well, and by a third (and rather impressive, even for miracle standards) miracle he resists the urge to crawl into the school dumpster during lunch period because he sees what might be a completely black Rubik's cube in there. Which means, of course, that Wally is way overdue to do something stupid. So it really isn't his fault that he starts talking to Eve in the hallway, it really isn't his fault that he walks right up to where she's returning books to her locker and strikes up a conversation. It really isn't his fault that he can't stop the words from leaping past his lips. It isn't his fault he feels an impulsive draw to her, a sort of bone deep magnetism to Eve. It's inevitable.
"Eve?" Eve turns to look at him, her face blank but not surprised.
"Wally." Eve feels that awkward pull again, that distinct feeling that she's somehow betraying the social ladder she can't comprehend, that Wally is going to force her to interact again, that she is jeopardizing her role as overlord to the legion by letting herself slip into an actual conversation. She remembers reading somewhere about spiders that dig pits in the sand so that insects will fall into their mouths. "What is it?" She finally asks after constructing a short list of possible responses in her head, eliminating 'What do you want?' and 'Why are you talking to me?' for being too rude, and 'It's nice to see you.' for being too inviting.
"Do you want to come over to Moe's house tomorrow?" Wally blurts, wondering at the words leaving his mouth as he speaks them.
"What?" Eve doesn't like this turn in the conversation. She likes minimal interaction with other students, other people. She likes to sit in the bleachers at lunch and eat and study alone. She spends her free period jogging around the grounds of the school with earphones around her head that don't play music so she doesn't have to stop and talk. She's a fantastic athlete but she's never joined any school team in her life because she's afraid that her team members might want to get to know her. When she has to talk to her peers she tries to be tolerant, tries to be generous, tries to end the conversation in as little time as possible. She's beginning to regret saving Wally from Otto, but watching the brown haired boy cower under Otto's ruthless enforcement of the rules had triggered something in her, some no-man-left-behind instinct that gets you metals in wartime and fills your house with strays in peacetime. She's not sure about the metals, but Wally seems to have much in common with a stray dog, in both good and bad ways.
"Saturday me and my friends, we go to Moe's house around eight to play Dungeons and Dragons." Wally wants to punch himself in the face. Why is he doing this, talking to The Eve like she'd want to spend time with him and his weird friends when all she knows about him is that he saved her retainer once and he likes trash and he's late for class sometimes? But he can't stop himself, and he continues on with wide gestures. "I painted a Tribal Warrior. He has a loincloth that's almost the color of your eyes." He stumbles over his words, smile straining, ears red "N- not that I did that on purpose." There is an awkward silence. "You can use him if you want to be a Barbarian." Another pause. "There will be nachos. And we can watch Hello Dolly if you want. And we're sleeping over b- but you don't have to if you don't want to."
"Okay, that sounds fun." No, wrong answer, flawed data output. What if it cuts into her study time? What if his friends are weird? What if he wants her to go through the trash with him? What if it's creepy and awkward? What the hell is "Hello Dolly"? And, most frighteningly of all, what if she has fun? What if she lets herself stray from her path, direct and paved with shards of glass, that leads to a vague concept of being happy, of being competent, of being satisfied with herself? But now she's let herself speak without thinking, now she's let herself try something new, something unorganized.
"Really?" No, not really, but now it would be rude to say no. Wally is grinning with surprised delight, the green bands of his braces awkward against his white teeth.
"Sure." She smiles forcefully.
"Eve is coming? THE Eve?" Bernie gapes when Wally tells him after school. Moe looks concerned, calculating mentally.
"But I've bought nachos and cheese for exactly nine people. Now we'll have ten!" He laments. Wally frowns, doing his own calculations.
"Moe, I think you're missing the point!" Bernie stresses.
"Nine, not eleven?" Wally inquires.
"Mom and Dad and watching their weight."
"Both of you are missing the point!" Bernie yelps, waving his hands frantically. "What are we going to do with Eve? What are we going to say to Eve? What class would she even be?"
"Warlord." Wally replies
"Ranger." Moe says simultaneously, before glancing at Wally. "Really?"
"Tactical Warlord. Definitely." Wally nods.
"DO EITHER OF YOU REALIZE THE GRAVITY OF THIS SITUATION!" Bernie exclaims hysterically.
"I think as long as you don't freak out it'll be fine. Besides, Eve could be a valuable asset, especially with her knowledge of military strategy. And if we're lucky she won't like nachos." Moe says optimistically, running his hand through his hair. Bernie opens his mouth to respond, but is interrupted by the sound of Otto clearing his throat.
"Loitering by the stairs are we?" He glares at them as if accusing them of murder. "You're lucky you aren't interrupting the flow of traffic or you'd be spending tomorrow scraping gum off of the desks. All of the desks."
"Alright, alright." Moe mutters "Don't get your sash in a bunch. Let's go guys." They pick up their various bags, getting off the stairs to begin their respective treks home.
"Man, your cousin is such a jerk." Bernie complains to Moe, who simply shrugs.
"He just takes pride in his job. He'll be a very fair judge someday."
"Or the most vindictive meter maid the world has ever seen." Wally offers.
"Or an evil meter maid, yeah."
Eve stares at the front door of Moe's house, anxiety pulsing in her ears, fingers whitening around her overnight bag. It has a sleeping bag, a toothbrush, and her retainer inside it. And mace, but she isn't expecting to need that. Eve is just cautious by nature. She rings the doorbell and it makes a musical beep. Almost immediately the door is open and Moe is there.
"Do you like Nachos?"
"I…" Eve hesitates, unsure of the polite answer. She decides, after some effort, to be truthful "No, not really." Relief floods Moe's face.
"Good. Everyone is in the basement already, I'll show you." The first room is a cushioned, overly domestic living room, which has a door to the hallway that leads to a slightly less plush but still awkwardly domestic kitchen. Everything reeks of cleanliness. Moe opens a door that looks like it should lead to a cupboard but instead contains a set of stairs and makes his way down, Eve following cautiously. The basement has a table with mismatched chairs to one side and an old TV and couch on the other. The mess suspiciously absent in the rest of the house is firmly concentrated on the carpeted floor. Moe looks at it with unfettered disgust. He likes his friends, but sometimes it seems almost as if they radiate discord from their pores. Wally, of course, is usually the worst offender (Moe's gaze twitches towards the black Rubik's cube atop the television, which was most certainly not there this morning. His parents are far too accommodating of Wally's gifts), but the others don't hesitate to pitch in as well. Eve, meanwhile, is less concerned with the environment and more with the ten pairs of eyes fixed firmly on her. She recognizes some of them vaguely, but only Wally by name, and she instinctively locks eyes with him, instinctively searches for the familiar and clings to it. Wally holds her gaze for a few seconds before nervously looking away.
"Everyone, this is Eve." Moe gestures awkwardly. "Eve, this is Wally, Bernie, Hans, Lot, Ella, Vick, Filbert, Vincent and my parents." There is a discomfited rise of murmuring, a slow tide of greeting punctuated by the genuinely enthusiastic hellos of Moe's parents. Moe makes his way over to the table, which is covered by bowls of Nachos smothered in cheese, a large board, several dice, and both painted and unpainted figurines, and sits at the head importantly. Eve follows, dropping her bag to the side of the couch. There is only one seat open now, next to Wally, and as much as Eve wants to avoid the things he makes her feel she still craves familiarity, so she takes it. "So." Moe begins, hands clasped as if in prayer "Because you're new you'll need to create a character." Eve's stare is blank and not necessarily inquisitive. "You'll have to choose a class, a race, get stats, maybe a background…" Moe explains further, but Eve's uncomprehending eyes don't shift. Moe turns to Wally. "You explain." Wally points to himself weakly.
"You. We didn't get to meet last week so I'll go over our recent quests with the others." There is a cacophony of groans from the rest of the table and Wally glances at Eve, who is staring at the board with a bit more interest than she had shown in Moe's explanation of character creation. Eve, feeling like a fish out of water for the first time since her first day of Kindergarten, retreats into what she knows she can do. Analyze threats and form strategic tactics based on the data available. Her eyes suddenly alight, scanning her peers systematically.
Moe is clearly the leader (take out the Queen and the hive dies, but the drones have not yet shown malevolence, so such measures may be unnecessary) and judging by his carefully arranged appearance and occasional disdainful glance at a particularly offensive nest of dirty clothes in the corner he has a neurosis for cleanliness. Wally, seated at Moe's left hand, is- (feed skip, investigate error at later date) Bernie is at Moe's right hand, between him and his parents, and the only one listening devotedly to his droning. He has brown, well kept hair, and looks like he knows how to take a few blows and still get up smiling (possible blockade for leader, assess more intensely at later period). Moe's parents, plump and pleasant and pink skinned, notice Eve's glance and smile at her. She quickly diverts her attention to the large blonde boy sitting next to her. His name is Hans, and he appears to have a sort of nervous muscle twitch, his fingers fidgeting on their own hook, his arms occasionally tensing and releasing, but makes no effort to subdue the movements. He occasionally exchanges looks with Filbert, as if they're sharing a private joke. Filbert is twitchy, but not Hans twitchy, not muscle twitchy, more mind twitchy, voice twitchy. He has a lighter, emblazoned with a cheerful BnL logo, which he compulsively turns on and off. He glances from Moe to Hans to the lighter as if juggling three conversations (Pyromaniac? Further surveillance required). Lot, Vick and Ella, congregated on the far side of the table, are half listening to Moe's tedious review of the past month's adventuring, half conversing about something called the SCA ( Subsidiary Communications Authority? Shuttle Carrier Aircraft? Stored Communications Act? Eve's databanks are barren of a 'SCA' that would have a 'Reeve' or a 'Chirurgeon') and the upcoming Renaissance faire. Ella is tall, with short, uncontrollably upturned auburn hair which she occasionally attempts to put into place. Vick, seated next to her, sneezes into a handkerchief every few seconds. (Dust allergy. Eve concludes. File under weakness, subcategory physical, subsubcategory nonfatal) Lot has sandy hair and a lackluster frame, and he occasionally smiles blindingly. He and Vick are holding hands under the table. Eve glances at Vincent, who is scribbling on a notepad with broad, conceptual strokes. He glances to his right occasionally, moving to speak to someone who isn't there (Vulnerable, but not lost). She's back to Wally now. But her normal tactics don't work on him, so she resorts to data contribution.
"In boot camp sometimes we'd play strategy games." Eve mutters, and Wally would describe her voice as shy if it wasn't Eve speaking. "It was sort of like this, with the grid board and the dice and the statistics. But usually we were submarines or battleships or armies, and usually we just picked out a card from a stack and it told us who we were." She picks up a 20D and rolls it between her fingers.
"Well it's not really that hard." Wally digs his hands into his satchel, which rests against his chair impassively, and retrieves a heavily dog eared tome, flipping through it. "I'm not into the strategy games as much, but Moe likes military games as well as D&D, so you might like it too. It's more… sort of… creative. You don't have a set of actions you're limited to; you can do almost anything if you roll high enough." He finds a certain page near the beginning, showing it to Eve "Here's a list of classes. You can also choose a race; some races come with inherent abilities. Well, most of them really, except humans. And you'll want her," Wally hesitates ", or… him to have a history. Since it's your first game it doesn't have to be complex, but-"
"Which is the best? The best class I mean."
"Well, none of them is really the best. There are some that are better than others in certain areas, but it really depends on what you want." Eve leans over to get a better look at the book, flipping through a few pages before resting at one in particular.
"I like Warlord." Wally and Moe exchange a brief look that Eve fails to catch. Wally's gaze is triumphant, but Moe's is anything but defeated. "…Tactical Warlord, I think." Wally's gaze gets even more deliriously pleased with itself. He spends the next few minutes helping Eve determine her race (she chooses human in a defiantly patriotic tone of voice that Wally is afraid to contradict) getting her stats figured out and hammering something that can pass as a personal history out of her (specifically 'One day she got up and really wanted to punch something.' Eve's lowest grades are usually in creative writing for a reason) just in time for Moe to wind down his comprehensive history of their faction's latest escapades.
"Unfortunately, we are still deeply entrenched in the tunnels searching for the Dragon King Kazul's Treasure. Luckily for our party, we have a new member." He glances at Eve "Although how she's going to join us when we're thousands of feet beneath the peaks of the Mountains of Morning isn't clear." Eve contemplates this. Well, Wally did say you can do almost anything if you roll high enough.
"I punch my way into the tunnel from the surface of the mountain." Eve says levelly. The rest of the table stares at her. Moe blinks before speaking.
"You break your hand."
"Dammit!" Eve growls, glaring daggers at the dice.
"Maybe we should think of something else." Wally offers. "Maybe she tried to get to the treasure before we came along and she's stuck in a chamber." Moe nods.
"Sounds reasonable, we did walk into a new chamber just as the last session ended. Alright." Moe settles notably into his chair, and there is something like a shift in his eyes. "It's dark in the chamber, but no darker than the last. To your left there is a door. It has…"
And so the party finds Eve, alone but not unhealthy and under the moniker of Eleanor-Who-Punches-Things (again, this was as far as Wally could push Eve into the realm of creative naming before she made a face that meant she was close to hurting you) in the newest chamber, and there are introductions all around. Wally is a Sorcerer, Ella is a Druid, Vincent is a Ranger (and Prita, if she was here, would be an Avenger), Moe's mother (call me Mary) is a Wizard and Moe's father (call me John) is a Cleric, Bernie is a Bard, both Hans and Filbert are Fighters, Lot is a Shaman and Vick is a Rogue. They are welcoming of her in a way that they can't express in the real world, welcoming of her as if they are really lost, as if they are really miles bellow fresh air, closer to the core than the treetops. At first Eve isn't entirely sold on this pretending to be another person thing. She can fake social skills (until she gets angry enough) she can fake conversations, she can fake knowledge, but she can't fake imagination. It's a crack in her flawless façade and she doesn't like the way this game seems to know it, the way it seems to be deliberately picking her apart. Or perhaps by the game she means Wally, or perhaps by the game she means herself. But she slowly begins warming to the concept, slowly begins warming to the idea of a separate lifetime, ruled by equal parts skill and chance. She likes the things that remind her of boot camp games, of playing with the adults because she could get a hang of them much easier than she could get the hang of her peers. She likes the clearly outlined abilities, the neatly laid out board, the logical procession of tunnels. But she's also intrigued by the puzzles and the battles, by the curious double layered teamwork, by the dynamic between player and character. So Eve begins to warm to playing pretend. So Eve begins to warm to storylines not her own, as they crawl through the caverns in their minds.
Eve finds, to her surprise, that despite the mediocre grades and awkwardly defeated way of holding himself Bernie can solve the riddles and crack the codes of Moe's creation that even Eve balks at. When he gets them through another door or defeats another guard he smiles a small self confirming smile, as if he's used to facing nearly insurmountable obstacles and tackling them with a raw overconfidence that helps as often as it hurts his cause. The others cheer him on, and Moe looks at him with a simultaneously irritated and prideful expression. Wally's talent lies in strategy and a brilliant streak of dumb luck. He seems to be the unofficial leader of the group, spouting out ludicrous plans which sound delusional on paper but work out beautifully nine times out of ten, not in the least thanks to his habit of rolling exactly what he needs almost every time. Ella, Lot, Vincent and Vick are the ones who get into their roles the most. Their chatter is rife with double meanings Eve doesn't quite catch and Ella speaks with a thick accent that could be Welsh. They keep poking fun at Vincent about missing his 'boyfriend' this aforementioned Pita girl, who apparently plays a male character. Hans and Filbert occasionally make noises at them about how they should be more respectful of the integrity of the game and not use it for their petty interpersonal concerns. They seem to take the game far more seriously than the rest of the group, more even than Moe. They do most of the strategy Wally doesn't, on occasion offering possible riddle answers and trying to make Wally's plans less absurd. Wally explains to Eve that although Hans and Filbert are new to their particular group they've been playing the longest and are also LARPers. Eve pretends to know what that is and makes a mental note to look it up later, but Wally catches the way her eyes skim and explains the concept to her. Eve is surprised that she finds the notion interesting, almost tempting.
She's similarly surprised that the more she plays the more she enjoys playing. Moe's challenges are genuinely interesting, and once or twice she nearly cracks a code before Bernie. Hans and Filbert, who seemed rather awkwardly inept to her at first, are admirably disciplined, and work together like two limbs of the same creature. Mary and John occasionally expose their inexperience by confusing the rules, but their enthusiasm is clear, and it becomes obvious to Eve where Moe gets his cunning whenever Mary makes a particularly crafty move. The others' chatter is occasionally distracting, but also rather intriguing. As a devote student of the social arts Eve is simultaneously perplexed and inspired by their ability to juggle their own, real, living dynamic with one in the game, where they often make decisions that they disapprove of in reality. And Wally… Wally is interesting. He reminds her of several students in her scarlet letter class; awkward, prone to misunderstanding, but shockingly clever and essentially good. He's growing on her, to the point where she's considering asking to attend next week's meeting as well. To the point where she's considering that having her social programming thoroughly wrecked is an acceptable loss. It was due to be rewritten anyway; she doubts the phrases she has carefully cultivated for high school will be as useful in a warzone.
Surprisingly soon they have passed the final challenge, surprisingly soon they are swimming in gold and Vick is making jokes about a crown not fitting over his horns. Eve feels good. Eve feels that she's actually beaten something, actually gained something. Eve tastes victory. The others decide that she should be the one to receive the sword Moe had listed as one of the treasures for her help in the battle with a Phane in the fifth chamber. Eve mutters something about it being her first time and maybe her last, but the others force their good cheer onto her, and she accepts. Wally claps as she concedes, and his smile makes him surprisingly handsome. After they successfully procure the treasure Moe declares the quest complete and, at the enthusiastic prodding of the other players, allows Wally to sit as Dungeon Master.
"Unofficially." He says dryly "His battle against soup can golems isn't going in my logbook." He switches seats with Wally and as it would turn out Moe's player character is a Paladin. They proceed to set off on a quest that takes them deep into the lair of the battle-dentists, who are jealously hiding their stash of golden dental hygiene tools and party store trinkets at the end of three treacherous hallways. Moments after they trick a grass ogre into making its lower half into a tossed salad and so gain entrance to the third passageway Eve glances at her watch, eyes widening slightly.
"I lost track of time." She says, almost in shock and more to herself than anyone else. "My dad was expecting me to call half an hour ago." She continues, now turning to Wally "Can I borrow your cell? I'll be quick, I promise, I'm just checking in." Wally scrambles to retrieve the phone from his jeans, holding it out to Eve carefully.
"Take as long as you want. I have unlimited minutes after 8:30 on Saturdays." Wally feels that he just said something stupid, but he can't think of something less stupid to say, so he decides to ignore it. Eve smiles, and this time it isn't a toothpaste commercial smile, or a forcefully humble smile, or even one of the honest toothy grins he's only seen her form tonight. It's a small spreading of the lips, a small crack in the brightly painted wall she's put up to keep her away from the chance that someone would be able to see her as she was, see her as she honestly felt, honestly wanted to act, and be repulsed. And then she takes the phone and leaves, and he wonders if he'll ever get to see that smile again.
Wally's side-quest completes itself soon enough (with mystical mouthwash, noise makers, golden toothpicks, and temporary tattoos all around), and their group breaks down into its sub factions. Wally remembers a few songs into Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, which he is only slightly watching with Filbert and Ella while Moe tries to explain to his mom that goblins aren't player characters, that Eve borrowed his cell phone quite a while ago and hadn't come back down to the basement yet. He excuses himself, traipsing up the whining stairs to the kitchen. Eve is sitting at the table, legs twisted together, back hunched and turned away from him.
"Dad." Her voice is cracking, and it's painfully obvious that she needs a glass of water, but Wally's feet are stuck to the floor, and if he goes to the sink she will see him, and he's a little bit curious about what's behind the wall. She speaks as if, if she can say the right thing, it'll be alright. She speaks as if, if she chooses her words right, agony will eternally be a stranger to her. "This isn't about forgetting to call." She says the words boldly. "This isn't about the fact that I have a test Tuesday. Or that I haven't finished my calculus homework. This is about enlisting." She is off script now, helplessly estranged and liberated from her preprogrammed reassurances and organized acceptance. There is a quiet while her father says his piece.
"I want to do it." The words themselves would be weak, but she says them as if she has never wanted anything in her life. She says them as if she's never asked for anything in her life. She says them with the power and the force and the agony of an ever expanding universe filled with lifeless planets. With the power of everything. "You said to me once, you said 'every little girl dreams of her wedding day' when I was little, like you were trying to teach me something. But I don't. I dream about enlisting, about serving. I dream about the uniform. I dream about-" she is interrupted, but she interrupts back "-about the pain." She is desperately shoving meaning into her words, desperately trying to fill them to bursting with what she means, in the hopes that her father will bother to examine them, in the hopes that he'll bother to notice the passion leaking from their creases. "I dream about the pain. I dream about having to prove myself. I dream- no, listen… listen dad. You want me to study, you want me to get good grades, you want me to go to college, you want me to be a doctor or a physicist or something else that sounds rich. But you know what? You only want half of that. You want me to do well in school but you complain when I stay up late studying. You want me to go to college but you don't want me to leave home. You want me to become something with a good salary without… without caring if I want it. You want these things, you have all these- these directives for me, but you only want half of them. You only want the nice parts. But I want- when I want, I want everything. I think about the amputations sometimes, about learning how to cope with injuries, with... I have PTSD pamphlets in my room next to the cheerleading trophies and the library books." She blinks fiercely, and her eyelids wrinkle "I know what I'm risking. But it's something that's mine to risk." There is a small pause in which her muscles loosen and her head bows.
"Dad… Don't say that Dad." She shakes her head, it's the only thing she can do. "Don't say that." He must have said it again, because her voice rises, grates, agonizes. "There is nothing wrong with-" another silence "No- not- there is nothing that needs fixing with me. You already sent me to be fixed, remember? You already sent me away, already admitted you couldn't- you didn't even try that hard you know…" there is shouting on the other end, but it is muffled and impotent in the face of the awfulness of Eve's whispering. "You know what, fine. Maybe it is because of Mom. Maybe it is because of you. I've been telling you all this time that what I do- how I- has nothing to do with that, but maybe it does. Maybe I'm going to stop coddling you Dad, maybe I'm going to stop visiting Mom." She is cruel in the way only truly hurt people, only truly injured people can be. "Don't act like she'll mind. Don't act like she even knows." Another pause "She won't." There is laughter, cold and unnecessary, in the last two words.
"She really won't Dad. But if she did I'd rather tell her I was honest. I'd rather tell her I did what was right instead of what I was expected to do. That… oh, so now you care about that? Well if I am then…" Eve exhales with a sound that's painful to hear. "Then maybe you can be all alone. Sometimes I think you'd want that more." The shouting has been usurped by an almost pleading muttering. "More than me." There is silence. The most complete silence Wally has ever been party to. "Dad. Hello? Dad?" she looks at the phone as if at a deserter. She puts it to her ear once more "Dad?" she returns the phone to the table and her shoulders are trembling with the need to sob. But she stops herself, as she has always stopped herself, and perhaps always will. "I know you're there Wally." Wally doesn't move. "It's okay, I'm not mad. Sit with me." Comfort me, hold me, cry for my broken connection to mankind, cry for the affection I desperately want to give, cry for the dream I desperately want to embrace, cry for the feelings I'm having for you that I don't know where to put, do my crying for me because I'm beginning to think I can't. Wally licks his lips nervously before sitting across from Eve.
"Are you alright?"
"…Mom is… when I was little; there was a car accident…"
"She doesn't know who I am." The statement is small, but it's the rawest thing Eve has ever said to someone. It's the last straw, and Eve bows her head, fallen by her own words, useless to the world.
"Oh." Wally doesn't know what to say to that. He doesn't know what to say to this broken, living thing in his hands. "That's horrible." He says honestly, and Eve appreciates it more than she is capable of telling him. "You're thirsty." He says it with concern, getting up from the table and walking over to the cupboard, retrieving a particularly clean glass. He goes to the refrigerator and presses it to the alcove that dispenses ice cubes and cold water, filling it. Then he walks over to where Eve is trying not to cry.
"Want to go outside?" Eve looks up at him. Her neon blue eyes are so bloodshot they look violet. "It's almost time for people to go to bed." She continues staring "They… they'll come upstairs." Eve nods slowly, taking the glass he offers and gulping at the water inside as if she doesn't know how to swallow before rising and following him out the door. They sit on the stoop, Wally loose and open and quiet, Eve curled up and shaking and trying to regulate her breathing. It is cold, and the quiet is like a liquid metal pouring over their faces. Wally picks nervously at a yellow and black striped scarf around his neck.
"I don't really remember my parents." Wally says suddenly "I've seen the reports though. We lived downstate in something like… um… I guess sort of a hovel. The Social Services people took me away. They took some of my siblings too. But I was the oldest, and most people, they want babies. So I just sort of… existed for a while." He kicks at a pebble on the edge of a stair. "I got sent around a lot, no one took to me for more than a few months, but the Forthrights have kept me for almost a year, so…" he trails off. "I think they're okay. I think they might want me. But I don't know." Eve sniffs, glancing over at him.
"Is that why you collect so much crap?" Wally considers this, grinding his sneakers into the concrete.
"I never thought about it like that. But yeah, I think so. I don't get to have a lot of things, to bring around with me I mean, because of the moving. And I hate to see stuff abandoned, especially if it seems genuinely interesting. And… and it's sort of a… sort of like I'm building a nest." He stares up at the sky, devoid of stars because of the ferocity of modern illumination "Like a bird. It's sort of like I'm surrounding myself with all this crap to make a place to stay. A place to live. I think… I think there's a bird that collects blue things and puts it in his nest. I think I'm like that bird." He turns back to her, grinning sheepishly "That sounds stupid."
"No. No it doesn't. I'm sorry."
"It isn't you, I-"
"I'm still sorry." There is a moment of silence.
"Well…I'm sorry too. For you, I mean." another lull "Do you want to watch a movie?" If someone else, anyone else, had asked her if she wanted to watch a movie right then she would have loosened a few of their teeth. But it's Wally asking her, and he's saying it like 'Do you want to feel better?' and that she does.
"Okay." Her voice is cracked, but she gets up from the stairs after taking a long swig from the perspiring water glass, and she lets Wally lead her to the basement. It's late now, as if an impossible amount of time passed in the silences between them. It must have, because most everyone is lying on some surface or other, asleep. Ella, Lot and Vincent are curled up on the living room couch. the living room rug, the easy chair respectively. Filbert, Vick and Hans are in the far corner of the basement amidst a cacophony of blankets. Moe and his parents are gone, probably in their rooms. Bernie is gone too, probably with Moe. But the basement couch is vacant, and it bears Eve's weight for her without complaining while Wally sorts through his bag, taking something out. It's a VHS tape, Technicolor and worn, and it says "Hello Dolly!" in all too enthusiastic font.
"This is my favorite movie." He explains, touching it like it is the most sacred thing he owns. For all she knows it is. He slides it out of its worn casing with the utmost delicacy before placing it inside the dusty VHS player nestled beneath the more pristine DVD player and the bulky, once modern, television. Then he presses play and sits to Eve's right. She watches as the movie jerks to life, and it's 1890 in New York City, and she glances at Wally, whose eyes are wide behind his coke bottle glasses, and then back to the television, where Barbra Streisand is arranging lives and upholstering chairs. Everything is Technicolor indulgence and wit and coordinated swaying, and Eve reluctantly allows it to take her away.
It takes half a dozen songs, but suddenly she can feel his fingers inching towards hers like you can feel someone watching you when you're alone in your house, like you can feel someone following you when you're walking down an empty street, like you can hear the doctors talk about your diminishing brainwaves when you're in a coma. She leaves her hand where it is, fingers spread, like a poorly locked treasure chest, and Barbra Streisand is staring at the picture of her late husband, she's eye fucking him so very hard, and her fingernails are gleaming. Eve runs her tongue over her upper lip and tastes the sweat, and she's starting to think she'll have to listen for her name when they distribute mail after all, and she's hoping Wally has good penmanship. His hand is hovering over her hand now, his palm brushing against her knuckles, and Barbra Streisand is nodding and leaning against the tree like she's drunk, and her dress is so gaudy against the bark. Eve feels like crying again, but she finally knows that it's safe to do so if she really wanted to, so she no longer needs to. She's staring at the naked Rubik's cube on top of the television, and it's starting to get blurry, but not crying blurry as much as unfocused blurry. Then he lets his hand settle over hers, and he sloppily interlaces his fingers with hers, and she flips her hand over so that her life line can cross with his. This time when their fingers lace together they stay, this time she squeezes his hand. She's afraid he'll try to kiss her, she's afraid he'll look at her and see her blurry eyes and misunderstand, she's afraid she'll miss the parade, because it does sound pretty exciting, and Barbra Streisand is just now realizing that being a fool isn't so very horrible, and being human might actually be fun. But Wally can see the shiver in her shoulders, and Wally can tell when someone just needs to touch someone else, and Wally can wait forever because flawed Eve, human Eve, is so much more beautiful than perfect Eve, than The Eve, could every be. He's willing to wait until the end of time, he's willing to wait until the earth is toxic and covered in garbage, he's willing to wait until you can drink cupcake out of a cup for flawed Eve. So they watch the garish, beautiful Barbra Streisand running in her garish, beautiful dress and singing so that her mouth is unstoppably open, and they hold hands, and the parade is on orgy of everything a parade should be, all brass band and American flags and bagpipes. All horses and temperance and sex. All squealing pigs and war veterans and firefighters, and they laugh at the funny parts, and they sing when they can get ahold of the chorus, and after the credits, when everything becomes dark, they drift off to sleep.
In the morning Eve wakes first. Her neck is in agony from sleeping on it wrong, but when she turns it, once the cacophony of cracking bones comes to a rest, she sees Wally. He's still asleep, his head lolling to the side, his glasses askew, his mouth agape. Their hands are still tightly locked and tingling with numbness. She nudges him slightly. He snorts, rouses, recollapses. He's clearly not a morning person. Eve nudges him again.
"Wally?" he responds less to the physical contact and more to his name, eyes opening and focusing loosely.
"Yeeah Eeevaa?" he slurs, still half unconscious.
"Do you think Horace was right? Do you think eighty percent of the people in the world are fools and the rest of us are in danger of contamination?"
"I dunno. I'm part of the eighty percent that've been fools from birth." Eve laughs. It feels good. Wally straightens up slightly, repositioning his glasses. Eve leans forwards, pushing her lips against his. He tastes like nacho cheese and drool, but Eve is optimistic that this is a condition of circumstance. She runs her tongue against the metal bonds around his molars and remembers she forgot to put her retainer in last night. Wally, on his part, is not entirely capable of rational thought; the closest he gets to it is wondering if this meant she wanted to catch his foolishness. Then she grips the side of his face with her free hand and turns his head so that she can have better access to his tonsils, and he's forced to assume that she really does want to catch it. And he's forced to assume that maybe, just maybe, everything will work out.