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We Used To Be Pretenders

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"It's your legacy."


The old man lights a cigarette, inhales and begins to cough. It's Sunday, late in the afternoon but the impending rain casts the sitting room in a grey that sucks the cigarette smoke into it like it never existed.


Mi-Rae's tired from running, but she listens. She hears the story she's lived, of The Drunken Tigers, of a chip that they traded and protected as if there were nothing on Earth as precious. She listens, through a hacking cough and several cups of tea, through thunder and a clock so loud it begins to hurt her ear drums.


"He's your destiny."


The tea cup clatters as he puts it down, and finally the rain begins to fall.




It's been raining for four days now, a continuous rumble that acts as her soundtrack as she learns everything The Old Man has to offer. He's sick, sicker than she thinks he realises, but he knows it enough to try and pass everything on to her. The stories of fate and hate and everything in between, the toxic mission he's trying to prepare her for despite her heart telling her not to.


"They're going to set you up, in a world of their creation."


"A world?"


"They can create them. With their power - a world that's constantly changing and evolving."


"I don't believe in their power."


"You're not as clever as you think, girl." The Old Man coughs, and leans against his sword. It looks as old as he does, with scratches and dents all in the same places. "You know their power is real. You know the chip is real. You know -"


"I get it. I know I'm -" Mi-Rae stops at the words, balking at saying them aloud. The Old Man smiles, and points to the shed outside.




He puts her in a room - a room that's controlled by her own hand, through electronics and something else that doesn't have a name. Magic, she wonders, as she pulls across a sliver of light to create a landscape of pixels, before swinging her sword hard to make it crash into nothingness.


These worlds, like a video game if a video game were dangerous and discombobulating, created and controlled by The Drunken Tigers before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were ever born. These worlds, magic and sharp, and she begins to know them so well that she can see them in her dreams.


He's always there, too, but she puts him back into the dark part of her heart and prays to someone unknown for forgiveness.




Mi-Rae was always lead to believe that love was the only way. Her mother and father, teaching her the way of the sword in a tiny town outside of Busan, before her mother had cut and run for the States in an attempt to try and give her daughter the better life she deserved.


The next time she'd seen her father, he'd been standing on a corner in Portland, surrounded by the men Mi-Rae had always noticed behind every corner. "Daddy!" she'd screamed, and her mother's face had paled - an hour later, she'd watched the woman who'd worked only to protect her get cut down in an alleyway by the deft hand of her father.


His eyes were cold, his wife's blood dripping from the point of his sword. "Come here, baby," he'd whispered.


"Daddy," she'd said against his chest, trying to trust her heart, and she began to cry as he put his arms around her tiny frame.


"The Drunken Tigers have their princess," and finally, he'd smiled.


Twelve years later, she'd garrotted and killed her first man in front of him just to make him smile like that again. The blood from the lifeless man's throat had been warm against her cheek, and she'd known without a doubt that her eyes were as cold as his.




During the day, she trains. At night, she puts her son to bed and tries to sleep, his warm body nestled beside her like a treasure undiscovered. Jordan doesn't ask her why they'd run, nor does he ask after Daddy any more than she volunteers information, and it's all she can do not to grab his little arm and make a break for it once again.


They're safe with The Old Man. She knows this, despite jumping at every tree branch scratching their window and every creak the old house makes. They're safe, even when the envelope arrives with just her name across the front, a piece of paper with a date and address in the middle of Seoul the only contents.


She's safe, but scared, because she knows the handwriting like she knows her own.


The Old Man eventually gives her some of her father's diaries, and she tries, impossibly, to piece the puzzle together. Why she had been kept unaware of her connection to the chip, of it's power and it's power in her own hands, and why people were trying to kill her to assure she never got her hands on it.


And most of all - why people were trying to kill her when they'd loved her unconditionally before, and she allows her self an ugly moment of self-indulgence to finally let the tears flow.




"This microchip bullshit."


"It's a chip. No micro. And it's real."


"Oh, right."


JK had stopped drinking and narrowed his eyes. "You don't believe it."


Laughing, she'd made a cutesy face and given an exaggerated shrug. "Call me crazy, oppa, but I can't believe there's some chip that's powered by a so-called 'chosen one'." Mi-Rae - or Tasha, as she'd been known in the Tigers - picked up her beer and took a long swig. "A sword is a fucking sword. This isn't some sci-fi meets Tarantino movie, it's real life."


"Maybe you're the chosen one."


"Maybe you're the chosen one, and we're all inside a dream." She had laughed again, but he didn't join her. His face, heavy with contemplation and something else she didn't recognise, scared her so much that she'd kissed him until he eventually kissed her back.


"Marry me," he'd whispered against her mouth, and later, she'd taken him to bed.


Hands, mouths and legs all tangled, and, as the dawn had crawled into the room, she'd realised he frightened her more than she'd liked. He scared her, because he was exactly like her father and everything she'd never wanted to become. And if she could have saved him with something like love -


"I'll only break your heart."


"I know."


The loneliness ached in her chest like a knife wound.




The Room begins to make her crazy by the tenth day, and she begs to be let outside to use her sword in an analogue environment. The suns hurts her eyes, but she smiles.


The Old Man watches her from the veranda in silence as she moves through a series of drills. Her hair, tied up loosely with a piece of string, gets picked up by the wind and seems to dance to an unheard song.


"The note was inevitable," The Old Man remarks, finally. "He was always going to come for you, once he knew you realised your power to work the chip."


"I know all this."


"I know. But you need to remember it." The Old Man coughs, but she doesn't look at him. "You need to remember it, when you face your past in order to claim your future. Love is only a commodity for these men. I should know."


The sweat drips from her arms, and it's only when it's falling to the ground red does she realise she's clutching the handle of her sword so tightly, she's bleeding.




Her ring finger catches her attention as she ties the laces of her little red shoes.


"You're too old for those," he'd laughed as she'd pulled them out of the box. "You'll be a mother soon, you need -"


"Boring shoes, right?" She'd poked her tongue out. "Screw you. I'm going to be the coolest mom on this planet."


"Coolest ahjumma, you mean."




It was less than two years later that Mi-Rae had taken their child and run, because she'd begun to see he could never keep his promises. Because he'd married her and loved her, all because of some plan put in place by her father to ensure the chip's power was always theirs, irregardless of who they hurt in the process.


Because JK had never really loved her, only the purpose that she served - but every time she tries to tell herself this, her heart and mind begin a war that makes her so tired, she feels like she can barely stand.


I'll only break your heart.


She blocks it out of her mind. Something she's getting pretty good at, even if it seems to bleed at the edges of her subconscious continuously.


Mi-Rae pulls down the blinds, and pulls off the ring. Keep it simple, a plain band with a set of characters inscribed inside it; she drops it in an envelope with her son's name on it and puts it on the bedside table. Jordan's sleeping, soundly, thanks to the rain and a bittersweet late-night bedtime story marathon, and she feels a sob choke in her chest as she kisses him goodbye.


He looks like his daddy, says the ugly voice inside that sounds exactly like her father.


사랑해. The ring had fit perfectly, her bouquet a perfect match for his tie. They'd kissed and the crowd had cheered; The Drunken Tigers' king and queen bound together, forever.


Memories are only as good as what they eventually become. Your weakness is only as strong as the hold you have on what you had, and she bites her lip to stop the tears and the scream that threatens to escape.




"I will kill you."


I love you.




A boring warehouse in downtown Seoul. The door is ajar, the sound of electronics and something else hum loudly as she walks in and sees the sword in the middle of the room.


Their power was only as strong as hers, so she picks up the weapon and waits for her destiny to come screaming towards her.




We were always going to be this

We were always going to be against each other

It was the only way for one of us to survive

Your power, against mine

The only way for one of us to survive and teach our child the right way to be.




The blood of the slaughtered Tigers drips from her shirt. Gary and Bizzy and the others, her old friends who turned on her as soon as she'd turned on them - but there's no time for sentiments when everything is so obviously black and white.


It's you or me.


She's entered their world, and she's cut it down.


The blackness rips out of nowhere and she can't see anything, until she's soaking wet and her toes are numb from the cold.




"Mi-Rae," she growls, her voice tripping a little on the last syllable. He's beautiful, and she's almost run down by the barrage of images his face triggers in her mind.


"Mi-Rae, ah." A click, and she's almost drowned standing up. The floor is covered with water and she stares at it, gathering her courage. She can't look at him in the eyes for fear of seeing the man she knew before - the man who'd held her through the night, had whispered all those lines you'd hear in movies to her under the blackened sky - instead of the ugly man in front of her.


You need to remember it.


"You can do better than that," she pants.


His smile rips her apart. The rain pounds in her ears as if it's trying to silence the drumming in her chest.


He's your destiny.


Her little red shoes are clean, her mind suddenly clear. She runs towards him and he stands there like he knows he's going to die, waiting for her to take revenge for what he's done.


The sword slides in and she almost doesn't hear it over the rain in a fake room he'd created for this very moment -


"Forgive me."




The sword powers up, the light flowing from it almost blinding. It leads her out of the dark of the warehouse, and she stands in the real rain to let the fake world of The Drunken Tigers wash away.


She doesn't cry, because there's nothing left to cry about, and she gets in to the car and drives home to her son.