Movie Review: First Man

This is going to sound stupid, but I think the Moon is the most under appreciated celestial body in the Solar System. I like Mars and all, but it is years away, and we have a perfectly decent planetoid less than a week from us. It is too bad NASA did not bother sending more missions and establishing a settlement after a handful of successful landings. What no one realizes, what we often take for granted, is how far we had to go to before getting off the ground. And First Man is about that prelude.

While working as a test pilot Neil, played by Ryan Gosling, signs up to work on NASA’s mission to the Moon. As the years go by, Neil and his crew get closer and closer to reaching their goal.

Gosling is one of those actors that has one mode, but plays it very well. Keanu Reaves, for example, is very reserved and keeps a lot of his energy bottled up for when it is appropriate. Not to harp on the man’s talent, but outside of John Wick and The Matrix, Reaves is not suited for many divergent roles. Gosling, with the exception of Nice Guys, is also reserved and methodical in 90% of his performances, even when he has to be outgoing. If you have ever heard the guy scream, it sounds like he never raises his voice outside of acting.

This made him the perfect choice for the lead. Neil Armstrong was notoriously private, refusing interviews and keeping out of the public spotlight before and after the Moon landing. A lot is not known about the guy, but given his intense reclusion you can glean what Neil was like as a person. Being a character study more than a historical piece, Gosling could not have sold the part better.

Taking note from his performance in Drive, Gosling was almost robotic. He comes off very driven in his goal to reach the Moon, but uses it to cover a ton of emotional baggage. He immerses himself in his work to avoid dwelling on the past. The very beginning of First Man starts with the loss of Neil’s daughter, an event that informs his entire character. He emotionally confines himself, becomes erratic when something triggers the memory, and never expresses his feelings. You can feel and see it on Gosling’s face with no breaks in character.

The other part of First Man is the program leading up to the landing. It does not go terribly in depth, but enough that you understand we started from square one. So much went into just figuring out how to dock in orbit. The struggle for progress further informs Gosling’s character as people are killed in accidents and equipment is destroyed. The more NASA fails, the more Neil is determined to reach the Moon, furthering the dedication to his work and emotional reclusion.

Another great aspect of the program side is the effects. I would say almost all of them are practical with CG enhancement. Given the cinematography, that was the only way to go. The camera is centered around Neil and what he is doing, creating an air of claustrophobia when it comes to perspective. Any out of place effect or fakery would have looked obvious. For the flight sequences, Gosling is shot from inside real cockpits with real exteriors captured from whatever vehicle he is flying. For added realism, the backgrounds are the result of rear screen projection with quality on par with Interstellar. The only bad effect was a shot of Apollo 11 lifting off at the end.

Being a month late I cannot imagine this review will sway you to see First Man. It is very good, but came and went like most historical films. What I think separates it from the norm is not only the subject, but also how it is presented. What Neil Armstrong was like is a mystery to many and here we get a personal view of the man from his humble beginnings to the moment that made him a legend. It is really one of the few historical movies that bucks the formula and I think you should give it a second glance before it is gone from theaters.

 

Binge Review 6: Apostle

One of the drawbacks of Netflix is the sheer amount of content that becomes available on a monthly basis. I know the site excises shows and movies on the regular, but the volume of present media is so enormous, a lot of the new stuff gets lost in the shuffle. Of course, there is advertising to consider, but for some reason, I had no idea that one of the dozen films I have anticipated this year came out two weeks ago.

Apostle is directed by Gareth Evans, the man behind the amazing Raid movies. To my knowledge this is his first English language film and a dramatic departure from his previous work. Instead of another visceral action thriller, we get a macabre horror movie. Taking place in the early 20th Century we follow Thomas, played by Dan Stevens, who travels to an island to rescue his sister from a cult. As he investigates her whereabouts, Thomas unravels the dark mystery behind the cult’s beliefs.

From the outset Apostle is obvious about its macabre nature. Livestock is sacrificed, people are butchered, and others bleed themselves into jars. The film has no illusions about what it is; it knows you have seen Wicker Man or read Shadow Over Innsmouth, two of its biggest influences. Even the three main leaders of the cult are open about the faults in their beliefs like they are critiquing the script. What makes the movie stand apart from its artistic peers is how it handles these ideas.

The real truth behind what is going on is kept in the dark until roughly three-quarters in. The build up is focused on establishing a sense of relative unease. You understand the cult’s island community is oppressed and on the verge of collapse. The people are doing weird things to themselves and each other and it is difficult to figure if what is going on is supernatural. Given how the leaders are charlatans in way over their heads, you cannot tell if they are scamming people or it is real.

The horror elements are both kept to a minimum and saved for later. At first Apostle is very bloody with people cutting themselves or getting cut. What it means I cannot give away, but it does a great job of setting up what is to come. Even when the gore grows more intense it is not overtly emphasized like torture porn. Actual physical violence, however, is blatant and does not shy away from brutality. With Evans’ action background, these scenes are shown with visceral flair, compounded by the fact all the characters use knives.

Of the performances Stevens is the best. From The Guest to Legion, the man is a practiced character actor that steals the show. In every scene he sells Thomas’s pain and anguish from past trauma written on his face and in his actions without over doing it. Michael Sheen and Mark Lewis Jones provide great support as two of the cult leaders. The former tries to keep everything together while the latter is a loose cannon tired of playing second banana. Jones was also the admiral in the opening of Last Jedi and the voice of Letho in the Witcher games. Thought I should mention that if he seems familiar to you.

Apostle was a pleasant surprise. Being such a departure from his previous work, Evans could have mishandled this and trashed his career with only two other features to his name. In a world saturated in content and a lack of quality horror films, Apostle is just what we need. If you have Netflix, give it a watch. It is also makes for a great Halloween movie and I am going to watch it a second time.

Binge Review 5: Britannia

For a little while now I have reviewed Netflix exclusives when something got my attention. Recently, Amazon has caught my eye with their selection of latest additions, and I wanted to cover what I found. Instead of starting a new review series, I chose to reboot Netflix Reviews into Binge Reviews. Be on the lookout for more in the near future.

***

Game of Thrones was both a gift and a curse when it premiered. It took a simple fantasy setting and injected medieval realism into the mix while inspiring audience mania by killing favorite characters. Thrones also perpetuated the spread of intrigue and cloak-and-dagger tropes ad infinitum. Soon a host of new programs saturated the market with stories of scheming, secrecy, and twists you could guess with little effort. Vikings and Walking Dead are the worst offenders and even though I love it to death, The Expanse is sometimes just Thrones in space. Normally I avoid these kinds of shows, but when I heard about Britannia, I was interested to say the least.

Obviously I have a massive bias for Ancient Rome, but the way Brit approaches its subject with repetitive tropes is different. The intrigue is just one part of the complete narrative and it plays into the real meat of the story. We follow what I assume is a young Queen Boudicca, a Druid outcast, Roman invaders, and a Celt clan locked in conflict with another. That sounds like Thrones 101, but it is all tied up in a unique bow.

Brit deconstructs the ideas of fate and prophecy. The Druid characters are powerful religious figures. They oversee marriage, decide who succeeds royalty, and forbids reading and writing. The leader Veran, played by veteran character Mackenzie Crook, is seemingly prescient and manipulates others to go along with what he sees. Given the historical realism of Brit this raises an important question: do the Druids really know the future or are they asserting control over the masses through deception?

As the series goes on, you realize there is more to the Druids than you once thought. They force a clan leader into sacrificing himself, appoint an heir they control out of the line of succession, and keep a hoard of wealth in secret while living in squalor. We also see Veran use his position to make deals with the Romans to shift the balance of power. Basic intrigue/cloak-and-dagger stuff, but what makes it different from Thrones is the ambiguity.

On the one hand the Druids appear to be fantastical beings that know more than everyone because of magic. Veran is said to be the First Man and he looks like living zombie. His prophecies are on point and how he plays others against their interests is masterful. However, because the Druids have a monopoly on literacy, they use that power to trick the masses into thinking they speak the truth of the Gods. They also consume hallucinogens that inspire visions perceived as prophecy, remaining in a constant trancelike state. The enigmatic facade the Druids put on further compounds this point in regards to how the Celts believe what they say. They appear weird and dangerous, inspiring curiosity. And when they start ranting about the Gods and predicting the future, they seem credible to the ignorant. Brit uses these ideas to break down religion and the idea of believe to ask its questions on fate and prophecy.

What really got me into the show was how it approached the Romans. Brit takes place during the second invasion of Britain after Caesar failed a century prior. For the first time since HBO’s Rome, we see how the Romans fought pitched battles, and approached the nuances of ancient warfare.

In combat they were all about crowd control after learning a harsh lesson at Cannae. The first episode has a scene where legionaries march into a village in columns. They are charged by Celts, but no one scatters or moves out of formation like they did in real life. When a smaller force is attacked, they move into formation against the attackers. The last episode has a siege scene where the Romans use all of their artillery before moving in, exactly like they did to bring Europe into compliance.

However, combat was only one part of the Roman war machine. Rather than slaughter their enemies outright, they would make allies with a faction in a disputed region, and use them as leverage for a greater conflict. During their cold war with Parthia, Rome gained control of Armenia through political negotiation to establish a buffer zone. In Egypt, Caesar allied with Cleopatra and used her supporters to take the throne from Ptolemy, securing the region as a vassal. The same occurred in Gaul before the rise of Vercingetorix and later in Israel before the First Jewish-Roman War. In Brit, the Romans stoked the conflict between the warring clans to gain a better foothold and keep the natives compliant, playing the intrigue game.

Aside from all the themes and history, Brit is a pretty fun show. It is very gory and violent with people losing their heads, skin, and thoroughly dissected post-sacrifice. In the large battle at the end, multiple warriors are skewered by ballista, something I have not see depicted on film until now. Then you have the character dynamic between young Boudicca and the outcast. They both hate each other, but can’t help staying together, making for nice moments of levity. The best character and performance comes from David Morrissey’s Aulus, a Roman general. He is cunning and knows it, relishing in his ability to lead his men and make others bend to his will.

I would not go so far as to call Britannia a Game of Thrones killer, but it takes the same tropes and does them better. It also deconstructs and explores the meaning of fate and prophecy where other shows have not. For history buffs, get ready for something as good as Rome, but you may complain about the leather lorica segmentata and lack of centurions. If you have Amazon Prime, it is worth a look if you are missing Thrones.

Punisher Comics Review 6

Season two of Daredevil herald the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. The character has his own series on Netflix and it remains to be seen if Bernthal can keep up the momentum. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series to covering my favorite Punisher stories.

* * *

The Slavers (2005)
Garth Ennis
Leandro Fernandez

If you were to compare Frank Castle to a movie slasher, Michael Myers is a perfect match. They are both shapeless entities with a singular drive, operating on instinct to get what they want. Where they differ is Frank has a defined moral compass, but remains an emotionless automaton. Nicky Cavella came close to getting a tangible emotional reaction out of Castle, but pissing on the corpses of his family was not enough. What came next would ultimately do the job in one of the darkest Punisher stories ever written.

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Lining up his crosshairs on a Balkan crime boss Frank prepares to do what he does best when someone tries to steal his kill. A lone woman nearly kills the boss before fleeing the scene. The boss sends his boys to get her, leaving him alone for Castle to perforate from his rooftop perch. Tracking the woman Frank contemplates abandoning her before the boys catch her and drop their pants. Castle makes quick work of them, saving the woman from humiliation.

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On his way out the woman begs for help, but Frank wants to stay out of it until she mentions a baby. The next day the woman wakes up in Castle’s subterranean home where she tells her story. Her name is Viorica and she lived in a village in Moldova before she was kidnapped and forced into prostitution. After enduring months of abuse and selling her body to multiple men on a daily basis, she was sent to America as a part of a larger operation run by a Romanian father/son team and a woman named Vera.

After the move Viorica gave birth to a baby named Anna, but she was only allowed to see her if she worked hard. Desperate to escape with her child, Viorica ran away and met a social worker named Jen Cooke, who was building a case against the Slavers. One day, when Jen leaves the baby in what she assumed was a safe place she gets an email from Vera meant for Viorica.

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A dead baby is more than enough motivation for Frank to rip and tear. All he needs is a who, what, and where. While telling her story, Viorica laid out the details of the operation. The Slavers have middlemen to attract clients before sending them to discreet locations where the girls are held. One of the middlemen was the boss Castle deep-sixed beforehand, leading him to the man’s club for answers. Wiping out the remaining gangsters, Frank interrogates the boss’s replacement, and gets an address.

Posing as a driver for a pair of clients leaving the house, Frank pulls over the van and makes them an offer. He wants the clients to tell him everything and then to lie to the house guards about losing their wallets once they drove back. The clients oblige until a cop shows up, siren blaring. Intent on sparing the officer Castle puts the fear of God into him before fleeing, the cop’s arrival no doubt spooking the Slavers.

While trying to get information on a new house location, Frank butchers random pimps until he realizes they do not know anything. He later tracks down Jen Cooke to get something more and she gives it up without protest.

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Tiberiu and Cristu Bulat ran a militia of foreign fighters during the Bosnian War. As they massacred whole villages, the militia took the young women, and killed the rest. Castle assumes once stability returned to the region, the sex trade would be difficult to maintain without NATO intervening. So, the Bulats took their operation underground and moved west. Frank realizes trying to get more information from veterans of the Yugoslav Wars would take extreme measures and plans accordingly.

Following up on a potential location from one of Jen’s rescues, Castle heads into rural New York in search of a house on a lake. Watching from a distance he spies a squad of heavily armed men enter the house, Cristu among them. Knowing they were ready for him, Frank knew to come at dinnertime, and spike their stew with a knockout drug. Soon the whole house goes to sleep and he gives each of the men a twelve-gauge face-lift. The only man to survive was Cristu because Frank needed answers. What followed is one of the most disturbing pages in comics.

 

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Having gotten what he needed Castle makes his way back to the house when he notices Tiberiu and a dozen men had arrived. Apparently, the father came to kill the son over a business dispute. Frank takes the smart route and hides under the cabin’s dock, hoping to given them the slip. Without a second thought he decides to go loud and gives the closest man a 45-caliber castration. Frank opens fire topside until he realizes he is not fighting street trash. The Slavers are real soldiers with more than a decade of experience. As Tiberiu gives orders the soldiers overwhelm Castle, forcing him to dive into the lake.

After returning to the city he meets Jen at a diner with two off-duty cops, Russ and Miller. They came to her after learning Jen was under surveillance by a Detective Westin, a known shitbag. Russ and Miller eventually reveal Westin is on the take from the Slavers. The cops agree to help, but on the condition that the Detective lives. Frank agrees and moves to pull apart the remains of the operation.

Making his way to a business office Frank confronts Vera, the brains of the Slavers. Plunking her two guards he throws Vera face-first into the window of a secluded room. The glass does not break, giving Frank enough time to reveal how much he knows after dissecting Cristu. He throws her again and again, slowly turning her face into a bloody pulp, while looting filing cabinets for information on Westin. With his final throw the window pops out its frame and Vera plummets to the street.

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Vera’s files give Frank the address of the last house and a possible location for Tiberiu. After setting up an explosive under the manhole by the curb of the house he waits across the street for the old man’s arrival. Triggering the bomb after making a positive ID Frank charges inside. He chases Tiberiu to the top floor where he uses a girl as a shield, knife to her throat. The old man eggs him on and Castle knows he is at a disadvantage with a scattergun. Out of options he settles for a gamble and calls Tiberiu a coward in Romanian. The old man tosses the girl aside and charges Frank before Tiberiu takes a knee to the face.

Later, with Tiberiu chained to a chair, Castle brings in Detective Westin to make a deal, threatening him with Vera’s file. Frank offers to surrender the file if Westin delivers a package to the Bulat’s contacts back home and acquires Visa’s for the rescued girls. Westin asks what package before Frank turns on a video camera and douses Tiberiu in gasoline. Sparking a flame from a flip-lighter Castle looks into the camera and says “Don’t come back here,” before tossing the lighter.

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The Slavers is Taken if it were a horror movie and actually good. It shines a light on the darkest criminal enterprise in the world and makes sure you see every detail. While acts of sexual assault are not shown on the page, the description and implication thanks to Ennis’s unparalleled storytelling makes you feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Unlike the usual story arcs, trafficking and slavery is very real, and having the Punisher in the middle of it was surreal to say the least. Instead of cartoonish gangsters and run-of-the-mill thugs, Castle is faced with real monsters that make their money on sexual violence.

If you cannot stomach sexual assault and/or violence against women, stay far away from this book. For Punisher fans, get ready for Frank’s most visceral and disturbing story yet.

Movie Review Catch-Up

So, it’s been a while since I wrote a review. On the one hand, I wanted to devote most of my time to polishing the first volume of Neon Oldie so I could put it up all at once. And between Deadpool 2 and the time of this posting, I have seen half a dozen movies. It has been four months and there were only six films that caught my interest. Call me a snob, but 2018 has not been great to say the least.

Anyway, here is a list of short summaries for the movies I neglected to review on time:

 

Soldado

A lot was lost with Villeneuve’s absence, but director Stefano Sollima did a good job creating an air of tension in what is ostensibly an action film. The nihilism of Sicario in regards to the Drug War is brought back and applied in small doses to the War on Terror, making a note to shed light on the people who pull the strings.

The only issue was the marketing team that decided to scrap the original name Soldado for Sicario: Day of the Soldado. It is about as retarded as Rise of the Tomb Raider or Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is why I am using the original title in this section. Lose your job forever, guys.

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

If you liked the first one, might want to skip this. I am fully aware that the Jurassic movies have become schlock and I am fine with that. The problem with World 2 is there is not an original bone in its body. Other than the first half, the second is Lost World with a fraction of the budget. It is a regurgitation of what we have already seen, but more outrageous, and less interesting. The moment the villains took the dinosaurs off the island, I checked out. Why bother making a sequel and not try anything original?

 

Ant-Man and the Wasp

It is no Winter Soldier, but pretty good overall. Unfocused as a comedy, but somehow works as an unorganized mess. A shame Edgar Wright was not there to make it work properly. If you want more Ant-Man with the addition of a sidekick and more size-shifting action, look no further.

 

Unfriended: Dark Web

Never saw the first one, but watched a long-form review online, and it looked dumber than hell. I saw Dark Web with some friends and it was surprisingly fine. I find the idea of hacking very interesting, especially in terms of hardware, and the movie got me hooked in a lot of ways. Of course, I am biased in that regard and there are elements people will find as dumb as the first. Still, I thought it was harmless and pretty fun if you want to see Internet autists kill idiots.

 

Mission Impossible: Fallout

While I am not a fan of spy movies, Mission Impossible is the exception in many ways. For one thing, it is not boring with an emphasis on action where the characters actually do cool stuff, rather than meander around acting cool. Fallout is definitely one of the better action films I have seen in recent memory.

 

Operation Finale

Many are not aware that after World War 2, Israel scoured the globe for Nazis that escaped justice at Nuremburg. Finale is about their most infamous capture, Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust. Rather than focus on the operation, the movie highlights the motivation behind people like Eichmann. From his point of view, he was following orders and upholding the values of the Third Reich. He knew what he did was evil, but to him it was for a good cause.

This makes the character a tad sympathetic and drains momentum from the subject. The man who organized the deportation of Jews to death camps was a glorified bureaucrat that did most of his work behind a desk. Compared to Dirlewanger, Mengele, and Heydrich, Eichmann comes off rather plane. Ben Kingsley played him well, but I found it very hard to hate his character or find him compelling. It would have been better if we could see the results of his actions to give him weight as a villain, but it was not there in any substantial way.

 

From here onward I am getting back into regular posts. Neon Oldie Vol. 2 will premiere in six months on March 17, 2019, I have something big for my international readers in the pipeline, and there are a handful of small projects I want to get off the ground.

See you soon.

Neon Oldie #13

Cover13

By
C.T. McMillan
+++

Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)

Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Also By CT McMillan
Back to Valhalla: A Military Fantasy

Acknowledgments
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.

Dedication
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.

***

The couch was pushed closer to the TV, making space for the carpet underneath. The corner was pulled over and held down by a portion of the floorboards nailed together. In the shadow of the crawl space sat a narrow strong box caked in layer of dust. Beside it was a square of dust where something had laid previously. Along the edge of the opening sat a plastic bag of money held in wads and a snub-nose revolver.

Kiddo stared at the ticker of the money counter at the workbench. As the machine counted a stack of 100s in the slot, her hand hovered over a pad of paper, pen ready. The paper was scrolled in numbers from top to bottom, the upper most sum increasing with irregular additions. Kiddo’s pen hung under the latest sum before the counter stopped. She scrolled the new total, added the values, and was nearly in tears.

 

The little tools and bits of circuitry hit the floor when Kiddo brushed them off the bench. In their place she lay on her back and pulled Enzo to her lips. It wasn’t much of a kiss because she couldn’t stop giggling. The other gear-heads around the body shop cheered.

“Get some, Enzo!”

“How much to lose the jacket, girl?”

They had to whisper close to hear each other over the noise.

“We did it,” she said.

“What?”

Enzo got his answer when she grabbed his crotch.

“’Ey,” called Junior from the lobby door. “This ain’t a friggin’ cathouse! We got customers!”

“Why not give ‘em a show, Boss?” asked a gear-head.

Kiddo laughed aloud and stared at Enzo, nothing but joy between them.

“We’re having a baby,” she said.

“We’re having a baby,” he chuckled.

They kissed slowly, savoring every second.

 

Two duffle bags sat by the bed with Kiddo’s arms in their case. Enzo had on boxers as he dug through one of the bags, phone to his ear.

“San Francisco,” he said. “…I told you, just a week. That’s a fraction of the vacation time I have saved up. I deserve a little…” Enzo stood with a can of shaving cream. “Then put ‘Resa on it. She’s good. If not, then tell them I’ll be back in a week…” He walked to Kiddo soaking in soapy water and kneeled behind. “Junior, my clients know I’m going out of town, okay? This is pointless. You’re getting in the way of me packing… Okay, Junior. Good night.”

Enzo sighed before tossing his phone onto the bed.

“Geez.”

“Every time we go on vacation, he gets like that,” said Kiddo.

“Thinks he’s going to lose me,” he said spreading a lump of cream on her temples. “Did Sally get back to you?”

“I gave her the key after I got home. She’ll check in after school.”

“Great,” he said putting a straight razor to her temples. “Let’s hope she doesn’t throw any parties while we’re gone.”

Kiddo smiled.

“So what if she has some fun, babe? It’s just an apartment.”

Enzo paused, pulling the razor away from his lover’s skin.

“What?”

“…We should get a real house.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Why not? Human kids need room and fresh air when they’re growing up. If they’re nose to nose in tight quarters for most of their lives, they’ll come out all wrong, like people born in zero gravity.”

Kiddo knew he didn’t mean anything by it, but the last few words hit a place that came through in her voice.

“How do you mean wrong?”

“Well, if you…” He realized what he’d done. “I’m sorry, I meant, uh–“

“–No. I get it… If we want to raise our son right, he needs the right environment. Out here its all concrete and glass under gloomy skies, packed in like cheap caviar. Pyongyang was worse. There was nowhere you could go buried in a city under a city. You had to fight for space or climb your way out. Seattle’s not bad,” she turned to him, “but it’s not good enough for our boy. We’re moving out and going somewhere he can grow as soon as possible. After Cici, there’s no point sticking around. All I care about is us.”

He touched her face.

“Where did you have in mind?”

She managed a shrug and smiled.

“Montana? You could be a tractor mechanic.”

“And you a sheriff’s deputy.”

She chuckled.

“I could start my own gang. That’d be fun.”

Enzo just smiled before she turned back.

“We have time to decide,” he said. “Maybe we go farther than–“

He just finished the back of her head when the phone cut in.

“Leave me alone.”

“Maybe he wants to bribe you.”

“Wouldn’t surprise me.”

They let it ring to the end, but it didn’t last long.

“What’s this guy’s malfunction?” asked Kiddo.

“I’ll threaten to quit.” He stood. “One sec.”

“No, babe. Just let it ring. I’ll break his collar bone before we leave in morning.”

Enzo put the phone to his ear.

“Junior, I told you–“

The sudden silence didn’t catch her attention; it was Enzo’s stutter that followed.

“Uh-uh-uh-uh-“

She turned.

“You okay? Enzo?”

He faced her, the phone falling away. His movement was sluggish and eyes peeled wide, mouth half open. It was like he was learning to walk for the first time, each foot reaching random distances toward the tub.

“Uh-uh-uh-uh-“

Kiddo couldn’t move, watching him walk faster.

“…Babe?”

She got to one knee before Enzo put a hand around her neck. He pushed down, but Kiddo braced her self enough to force him to slide her to the other end of the tub. The faucet and nobs dug into her back while Kiddo jerked her neck slightly loose to scream.

“Stop! You’re hurting me!”

“Uh-uh-uh-suh-“ he said bringing the razor in a shaking hand toward her throat.

Fighting the cold metal pressing to her spine Kiddo pushed her foot into his bicep. The more she applied pressure, the harder he squeezed, and the closer the blade came.

“Please!” she gagged. “Why!”

One of Enzo’s eyes twitched and his grip gave way, not enough to let go.

“Suh-suh-top! Muh-me-ee!” Enzo’s face scrunched as his head twisted to the sides. “Stop me!”

His hand with the razor shook harder as he brought the edge to his other wrist. His blue-black skin broke with a gush of white blood, turning the tub water white.

“Don’t! You’ll bleed out!”

Enzo jerked himself backward, dropping Kiddo’s head on the faucet. She landed on her side, the little cut below her pink hair spilling crimson. Enzo was staggering away, sawing his wrist with a growl interrupted by the stutter. His legs didn’t let him go far, forcing him to kneel before dropping the razor.

“Stah-uh-uh-mee!”

Kiddo watched Enzo punch himself. After a couple licks his arms convulsed and swung away.

“Geh-geh-get the gun! Get the gun, babe!”

The word escaped her lips before she thought of saying it.

“No!”

“You have to stuh-uh-”

He craned his head to the bags by the bed. Enzo staggered over, tiring to ground himself.

“Huh-hurry!”

Kiddo ignored the hot blood crawling down her back when she leapt into him. Enzo hit the floor, but was already shambling upright.

“Sorry,” she said before bolting to her arms.

With her foot she flipped the case over and spilled them out. Only the left arm was positioned with the clamps facing up. Kiddo went to the floor and put her anchor into the connector. The clamps twitched as she attempted alignment. The way she was laying she could see Enzo getting closer.

“Stah-ah-ah-ah!”

Kiddo bit her lip when the clamps came down and squeezed her eyes shut, giving out a loud groan. When the pain stopped she shot up to a knee and grabbed the snub-nose just as Enzo brought it to her face. It was pointed past her right eye, fractions of an inch away from brain matter. His other hand, the one he’d sliced to ribbons, was pushing her in front of the muzzle by the shoulder. Tears streamed from his bugged eyes.

“I-I-can’t suh-suh–“

“–Let go of the gun, babe. Fight it.”

Enzo pulled Kiddo harder while her arm trembled with a whine.

“If I can get my other arm–“

“–You let go, yuh-uh-uh-die–“

“–Shut-up and fight!”

She was bright red, teeth clenched, eyes on the verge of leaking. Somehow, through the crazy mask over his face, Enzo looked content. He knew there wasn’t any other way except one; the one he didn’t want to take. She could see it and it scared her to death. And then Kiddo realized the gun was turning on himself.

“No. No! Let go! Let go right now!”

Her arm was too worn out to put up much effort, whining louder. Kiddo sobbed.

“Don’t do this to us! I need you! Wait!”

His hand on her shoulder kept her from pushing the sub-nose out of the way with her head.

“Stay with me! Enzo!”

“I-uh-uh-love you.“

The pistol was close enough that the gunshot came out as a piercing ring. Kiddo’s equilibrium was thrown out of whack, but didn’t move a muscle as Enzo fell with a hole above his left eye. Her whining arm still held the sub-nose by the barrel before she dropped it. Kiddo looked at him slummed on the floor, the guts of his brain splatter behind.

It didn’t seem real. This was a nightmare. This was a horror movie and Kiddo was seated center-row with the full picture before her eyes. It didn’t seem real until she felt the white blood go cold on her face.

The ringing persisted as Kiddo struggled to cry, choking on her own breath. She reached for Enzo and fell on top of him, his open eyes staring up. Kiddo stroked his hair and pulled his cheek to hers. She heaved on the floor, chin quivering, but nothing came out. Behind her Sally stood in the doorway with a phone to her ear and hand on her mouth.

 

Kiddo Volk will return…

***

Recommended Reading/Viewing/Playing
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scott
Deus Ex: Human Revolution/Mankind Divided, Created by Eidos Montreal
Blade Runner 2049, Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Altered Carbon, Created by Laeta Kalogridis
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
R.U.R., By Karel Capek
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Westworld, Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan

About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.

Neon Oldie #12

Cover12

By
C.T. McMillan
+++

Cover: C.T. McMillan
Model: Megan Crawford (ING: @mleighmoon)

Copyright 2018 by C.T. McMillan
All Rights Reserved
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Also By CT McMillan
Back to Valhalla: A Military Fantasy

Acknowledgments
I could not have come this far without my family encouraging me to pursue my ambition to be a writer.

Dedication
To Razor’ and ’19 for providing inspiration.

***

With a ding the elevator opened to the conference room. Monty stood closest to the door, followed by his Bots, and Takashi and Kiddo leaning against the window looking out to the Puget Sound. The elevator was positioned at the far end of the room. It was wide open with a vaulted ceiling that set it apart from your average office space. Instead of plain walls and doors there were sliding rice paper walls. The floor was polished wood where stood a table that was so short you had to sit on your ass with cushions.

If you ignored our tepid trio in the elevator, there were only five people present in the room. Seated at the head was the Shogun, an old man on the edge of 80. He wore a business suit minus the jacket, hugging his skinny frame. Where his spine met his cranium an external drive hid under the curtain of grey hair. It had a slight curve, flush with his skull. To the Shogun’s left sat two box-standard Yaks, waiting for orders.

Opposite them was a suit and a not-your-average cop. The suit was about as basic as you could get when it comes to a salaryman; clean cut, young face, and a fresh two piece suit that put the Yak getup to shame. A portion of his hair on the left side was shaved and dotted with neural ports, one fitted with a translator chip by his ear. Next to him the cop wore a fancy double-breasted tunic of blue and silver. His stiff shoulder straps bore three stars with a badge and colored tabs over his heart. He looked old with a white flattop and goatee, but he was built like an athlete.

Everyone but the Shogun bothered to acknowledge the new arrivals, looking happy to see them.

“A moment, Montgomery,” he said from the other end of the room.

Monty and the Bots stepped out before they bowed.

“Yes, sir.”

The Shogun returned to the table.

“I trust we have an understanding, gentlemen?”

The cop nodded with a grimace.

“We do, but this isn’t over, Kyrii,” said the suit. “Plenty of variables left to consider.”

“Damn straight,” said the cop under his breath.

“Of course; battle’s over, but the war, and all that cliché nonsense. Think of this as an extended hiatus. We’ll lick our wounds and come back to the ring ready to start again. Agreed?”

The two nodded at the same time. The Shogun smiled and started to stand, the Yaks helping him.

“Have a good rest of your day, gentlemen,” he said with a bow.

The men bowed back and made for the elevator.

“Gimme 12 hours, access to R-‘n’-D, and I–“ said the cop with a conspicuous whisper.

“–Save it for the car ride, Ira,” said the suit. “We have plenty of time.”

Kiddo, Takashi, and Monty were taking off their shoes when they passed. Kiddo caught the eye of the suit when she hung her hat on a hook above. It wasn’t much of stare, but enough she unconsciously logged his face in the back of her mind. The two broke it off when she had to move on into the conference room proper.

“A pleasure to finally meet you both,” said the Shogun. “Names and reputations can only get you so far.”

The Yaks helped him bow and everyone but Kiddo returned it. Takashi looked back at her standing with her hands in her pockets.

“Bow, you idiot,” he said under his breath.

One of the Yaks reached for a wakizashi on his belt before the Shogun waved him back.

“No need, Takashi-chan. Emotions are high enough thanks to your poor planning last evening.” The Shogun moved back to the head of the table. “Come sit. Let us talk business.”

The Yaks switched places and sat to the Shogun’s right. Monty was closest by the corner on the other side while Kiddo and Takashi stacked beside him.

The Shogun cleared his throat and clapped twice. The rice paper walls at the back of the Yaks slid to the side and out came a small troupe to join them. Five of the new arrivals carried something in their hands: a small ream of paper, a fancy raised cutting board, and three platters of nigiri. The platters were placed in the middle of the table while the cutting board and paper were set down by the edge.

“Feel free to indulge,” said the Shogun gesturing the platters. “Rest assured, none of it is poisoned.”

“I already ate.”

“Fair enough, Kiddo-chan.”

A short silence came to the table when the raw fish and rice was picked up and chewed whole.

“…So,” said Takashi, “shall we start?”

The Shogun smiled before he turned his back to the Yak by the corner. She pushed the old man’s hair out of the way and pulled the drive off, leaving behind a pair of old fashion neural ports, the kind that looked like headphone jacks glued to his skin. She replaced the drive with another that was more angular. The Shogun sat up straight, his eyelids quivering for a moment.

“Now we may start,” he said opening his eyes. “Firstly, what do they call you on the street, Kiddo-chan?”

She took what she could get.

“Kiddo.”

The Shogun chuckled.

“I mean your nickname. I am afraid it is not in my backup, but I recall it is something consistent with the flapper terminology?”

Even if she wanted to kill the old man and his boys, Kiddo couldn’t help but feel a little humility in the presence of an elder.

“It’s Pinkerton.”

“Aw! That’s it! Can you explain the meaning or is it in reference to your hair?”

“…Cici explained that a hundred years ago, when companies had problems with workers going on strike, they called the Pinkertons. They were mercs that cracked skulls, pulled security, and hunted people for the right price. I do all of that and with my hair he thought it fit.”

“Given your persona and reputation, I could not agree more. Thank you for the in-depth explanation. Do you speak Japanese?”

“Not a word.”

“I cannot say I am surprised. Your heritage is Russian-Korean, two peoples Japan had treated rather unfairly.”

“Past is past.”

“True, but it is important to consider the faults of our ancestors when the need arises.”

“If that’s case, would you call the Rape of Nanking rather unfair?”

Everyone stopped eating and looked at her with calm shock. Takashi rubbed his eyes while Monty bit his lower lip and looked down. The Shogun pursed his lips and made a shallow grin.

“…Then I beg your pardon as I talk to Takashi-chan in Japanese. We may be American, but we mustn’t lose our language.”

“Don’t let me stop you,” she said grabbing a salmon nigiri, the table still looking at her.

The Shogun looked to Takashi straightening himself out.

“You did well,” he said in Japanese. “Your simple gambit saved lives that would have been lost had our conflict progressed.”

He inclined his head, digging through his memory for how to reply.

“Thank you, Kyrii-sama.”

“Instead, you sacrificed only two, one more than you were ordered to take.”

Suddenly Takashi knew he was in a bad spot.

“I-I didn’t see any other way.”

“That Android was my secretary before she was soul’d. And yet, after gaining her individuality, she decided to stay by my side. She made her own life and you took it for a ploy that was unnecessary.”

“I couldn’t get to Cicero if Kiddo was in the way–“

“–So you devised a distraction to get her arrested in order to kill him afterward? The Trotskys and Deng Chi are morons, but they do not lack finesse in their various schemes. Not only that, but you defied our one condition; no one but Cicero Gorinni dies. Was Montgomery not clear in his instruction?”

Takashi was alone, the whole table looking at him as he searched for an answer that wouldn’t come to mind. He just sat there, red-faced with a sinking feeling in his gut. The Shogun nodded to the Yak with the cutting board before he pushed it toward Takashi.

“You are a proxy, but will pay for your mistake like Yakuza.”

Kiddo didn’t have to know Japanese to understand what was going on. For the first time that morning she was smiling. Then it felt like Christmas when Monty put a knife on the board.

“The small finger on the left,” continued the Shogun. “We will wait.”

With trembling hands he took his time to reach for the knife. Takashi shook even more when he saw his sweaty, scarlet face reflected in the perfect blade. He took longer to place his left hand flat on the board and angle the edge against the second knuckle of his pinky. He winced when the blade broke the skin, not enough to bleed much. Takashi’s shaking made it worse, widening the cut, and creating other scratches.

The whole table waited for him to do it. Kiddo looked like a maniac in a straight jacket, her teeth visible in a grin. Takashi breathed hard when he leaned into the blade. He growled to himself, but all he got for his effort was a deeper cut. Finally he worked up the courage for an old fashion chop, placing just his pinky on the board and raising the knife.

The pinky went spinning upward before rolling onto the polished wood of the table. Takashi did his best to hold in his cry, grabbing the remaining stump with a scrunched face. Kiddo watched him groan before taking another piece of nigiri, trying not to laugh. A few Yaks cleaned up the mess, picking up the finger and wiping the blood with white rags. Two stood and came around behind Takashi to pick up the blade and board, leaving him a cloth.

When the table was clear, the Yak with the ream of paper pushed the stack over.

“Your blood on the line will be sufficient,” said the Shogun.

Kiddo pulled the papers to her side and flipped through them, the text printed in English and Japanese on both halves of each page.

“Profit shares?” she asked.

“Only a 10% percent stake,” he said in English. “No more, no less.”

She put the ream back in front of Takashi. He pulled away the cloth and held his bloody hand over the bottom edge of the paper, a trio of neat crimson droplets hitting right on the line. Monty brought the ream before the Shogun.

“It seems our primary business is concluded. Is their anything more on the agenda?” No one said a word and the Shogun moved to stand. “Then I will bid you two farewell.”

The two Yaks helped him stand while the rest of the table got up. When everyone bowed Kiddo hesitated, her body working against what she actually wanted. Didn’t want to make a deal with the enemy, but she got to see Takashi in pain.

That alone made the Shogun worthy of courtesy.

Our trio returned to the elevator while most of the Yaks filed out of the conference room, Takashi wrapping the cloth around his hand. The Bots were still standing by the door like mechanical art statues. Kiddo slipped into one of her boots before she looked to the Shogun standing by the end of the table.

“I appreciate behaving your self, Kiddo-chan,” he said. “The Nanking remark was unwarranted, but when we are angry, people do what they can to relieve the tension, especially when we are compelled to stay our hand.”

He put his hand out to the Yak at his side before he received a thick envelope. Kiddo caught it after the old man tossed it over.

“A gang is not unlike a real family. There are fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters working together to run a business. Keep in mind, when you feel the urge, that Takashi-chan is my employee, my new adopted son. Should he be parted with his head in the near future, then the Gorinni Family and it’s children will become the Kyrii Family. Understand?”

A bit dramatic for a threat, but Kiddo got the picture and nodded. The Shogun smiled and walked back to the other end of the table, helped along by his people. Before she put on her last boot, Kiddo peaked into the envelope and turned red.

***

Recommended Reading/Viewing/Playing
Blade Runner, Directed by Ridley Scott
Deus Ex: Human Revolution/Mankind Divided, Created by Eidos Montreal
Blade Runner 2049, Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Altered Carbon, Created by Laeta Kalogridis
Ghost in the Shell, Directed by Mamoru Oshii
Neuromancer, By William Gibson
Metropolis, Directed by Rintaro
R.U.R., By Karel Capek
Yojimbo, Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Westworld, Created by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy
A Touch of Evil, Directed by Orson Welles
Battle Angel Alita, By Yukito Kishiro
On the Waterfront, Directed by Elia Kazan

About the Author
C.T. is a Florida native and proud gun owner. He is a fan of all things military, comic books, and a self-proclaimed movie buff. In his off-time C.T. reviews movies on a blog no one reads and writes screenplays that will never get made, but enjoys it nonetheless. He hopes this book thing will actually pay off so he can do it forever.