Sorry this one took so long. I'm not good at large action sequences, and this chapter was difficult to write, mostly because of that. I was trying to keep it gamelike, in that it would be evocative of a failed charge onto take a point with a payload on it in game, as opposed to a realistic infantry scenario. I hope it works.
If nothing else, it's way longer than most of my chapters, so at least nobody's being short changed. ^_^
The opportunity came sooner than expected. An arms shipment, escorted by Los Muertos, task force almost certainly to be led by Jack Morrison - or, as it seems they called him, the white ghost.
Jesse McCree had been the one to catch the rumour, talking with some of his old Deadlock Gang contacts, who, turns out, would be happy if a rival gang did not get to run goods through their territory. And so, they passed the news to him, and he passed it to Amélie, who passed it to Venom, who gave it to Overwatch, and Gabriel Reyes, who built a plan.
Mockingbird lay atop the crest of the hill, silent, even her breath inaudible, even to herself, even she wasn't entirely sure she was bothering to breathe right then, as the small three-vehicle convoy stirred itself, beginning its early-morning trundle out of the two-building ghost town that had once called itself Cloverdale. There had been more here, once, before the climate warmed, but really, it had ended before then, a former bit of a farming town, a little store, a dance pavilion, enough water - just - for a bit of crop and cattle raising, but now, even that last was gone, which is, of course, why they were all where they were.
The sniper had been in her nest since two days before, had watched the convoy trundle its way across the desert and to a stop, loading out into the little stone ruin, and calling it a night. She had not slept; she did not need to, for this watch. Once everyone had tucked themselves in so nicely, so quietly, she'd then confirmed via radio to Gabriel that Jack Morrison was, indeed, in the front truck, and that they were not, in fact, transporting refugees or undocumented workers - there were no innocents to get in the way. Just a simple cargo delivery - maybe the weapons, maybe a side delivery before the main delivery, no way even to know.
Not that it mattered, really.
She watched as the convoy slowly rode its way west, towards her and past burned out soil, past former farm gates, now collapsing along the road, the paint bleached in the sun. She took in a breath, just enough to speak. "They're on their way."
Gabriel's voice in her ear. "Do you have the target?"
Lena allowed herself the smallest of smirks. Less than a kilometre. No breeze, at all. Crystal clear skies. Do I have the target. Honestly, Gabe. But she kept it to herself. "Target confirmed and moving into go/no go. Do I have go?"
Reyes ran through the numbers one more time in his head. Everyone in position for the ambush. A lot more fighters on the Los Muertos side - more than they expected, and it bothered him - but only one hard target. The gang side wouldn't be trying for a capture - they'd be shooting for kills, without hesitation - but Overwatch had surprise on their side.
"Nearing optimal range, Gabe. Go or no go?"
Who knows when we'll get intel even this good again, he decided. "Action confirmed. All team, on my mark - go."
Venom - no, Mockingbird - smiled the spider's smile, and pulled the trigger. Morrison's head jerked to the side as the tactical visor went flying out across the desert in pieces, and he swore, loudly, in Spanish, blinded by his own blood, but not really hurt, despite the proximity of the bullet. The transport vehicle swerved, blocking the road forward, but did not fly out of control, and seconds later he was shouting orders to his team as the Overwatch group moved in from the northeast, from the dried-up spring.
"Visor down," the sniper confirmed, as Mei threw up a wall behind the convoy, Gabriel lay down fire blowing out the front vehicle's tires, and the unlabelled Overwatch carrier blared its orders to drop weapons and be commandeered. Pharah charged into the air, letting loose with a series of rockets aimed at vehicle engines, as Mockingbird readied for a spray of long-range discouragement fire from her position, to keep the grunts under cover. She grinned as she watched the Los Muertos gangsters circle their vehicles and swarm for weapons, and then her grin froze as Jack darted away from her sight, without a visor, then reappeared on the other side of the transport vehicle, with one.
What th'...?! She looked back towards the wreckage of the visor. Yes, there, pieces, still on the ground. She called into comms, "Gabe, he has a second visor somehow, watch it!" just as Jack triggered the device, visual overlay screen appearing almost instantly, knocking Pharah out of the air just as she'd disabled the third vehicle. Mockingbird adjusted her sights and took a second shot, surely hitting him dead on, but somehow apparently not as he just kept shooting through the visor, after briefly jerking to the left.
She waited for a third shot, and Jack's head popped up again, again through the front transport, behind two windows. Mockingbird reacted instantly, and fired. Her vision seemed to blur, and suddenly, it was a Los Muertos grunt splayed out across the sand, her head smashed, and Jack Morrison was still firing.
Nobody's that lucky, she thought, coolly. Something's going on.
Los Muertos got a shield generator running as Mei threw up another wall while taking bullets to the shoulder and chest, saving Gabriel, who had also been hit and hurt by the barrage of bullets. Pharah limped back into the air, got off a single rocket knocking Morrison down, and went down again herself almost immediately, Mercy flying to her wife's side. Gabriel, Mockingbird, and - a moment later - Mercy's fire kept most of the rest of the Los Muertos fighters ducking for cover, as Winston leapt down, shield in place over the wounded Mei, Tesla cannon keeping braver Los Muertos back, as Athena flew in as pickup for the injured.
"Gabriel, Tracer here," Mockingbird shouted into comms, trying to force some emotion back into her voice. "Mockingbird's hit this guy in the head three times and he just shakes it off, something is very wrong. We need to..."
And then Jack fell to the ground, unconscious, and an older woman's voice came over the Overwatch comms, saying, "He's down, but it won't last more than 30 seconds. Get your wounded out while you can, and regroup at my position. Tracking beacon enabled."
"Don't care," insisted the woman in black and green. "I shot the first one off, just like we planned it. It was on the ground, in pieces." She folded her arms. "My sight takes pictures, I can show you."
"But a second visor - that's not possible," Gabriel insisted.
"I know I hit him. I know I did. Three times. There's something we've missed, Gabe. This should've been easy and it was a disaster."
"You look very familiar," said the older woman with the beacon, looking with narrowed eyes at the younger sniper.
Mockingbird blinked, and looked over to the older woman, finally realising who she was seeing. "...no question of it on my side," she said, recovering. "The legendary Ana Amari, in the flesh. You're supposed to be dead. What the hell, mate? And how'd you get on our comms?"
Gabriel glanced away from Mockingbird and brushed dust off his hands, looking resolutely unsurprised. "Ana, this is our sniper specialist, callsign Mockingbird. Mockingbird, this is Ana Amari, apparently not dead."
Ana snorted at her former Blackwatch friend, and gestured over to Mockingbird. "You think that can replace me?"
"You have been dead since 2069," said Winston, stepping in between the new and the old, "as far as we knew." He gave Reyes a look, a look that said they would be talking about Reyes's lack of surprise in the very near future. "She's an independent contractor willing to work with us, and we're happy to have her service."
"I know that kit," said the Egyptian, with a sideways glance back to the younger woman. "And I know that blue tinge. Working with Talon, are we, now? Maybe Jack's not so crazy as I thought."
"Not with Talon, luv," Mockingbird lied. "But I always buy from the best. No second chances in this game. 'Cept for you, apparently. And Jack." She looked around at Angela and Gabriel and Ana, and frowned. "And apparently all you old lot."
Amari glanced disdainfully at the young assassin, then returned to ignoring her, looking back to Gabriel. "And where's the so-called Hero of Old London supposed to be, then?"
Mockingbird glared, anger a flash across her face. No, she told herself. Lena's not here. Ana's trying to provoke you. Realising that, she found she didn't even need to bring up the web further to keep control. It's a game. She knows, she just wants us to admit it. Spill the beans, grams? Not likely.
"We all thought it was for the best if she stayed out of any direct action involving the man who left her to die in the Slipstream." He looked directly into the sniper's eyes. "Knowing you're here, I'd say that was the right call."
"Afraid she'd lose her cool, get hurt?" She made a little unimpressed sound, a kind of pffft. "And yet here you hand whatever they've made of her" - she waved at Mockingbird, without looking - "a sniper rifle. You're fools."
Lena almost spoke up, then almost laughed, but kept her expression flat. Nice try, she thought. "So I shouldn't ask for your autograph, then?"
Winston shook his head at Mockingbird's verbal jabs, and Gabriel crossed his arms, with a frown. "I have no idea what you're talking about, Ana. More importantly - where the hell have you been all these years?"
"Really? You're going to keep up this laughable facade?"
"Whatever. You gonna tell us where you've been all this time?"
Amari glared. "No. But I will give you this." She pulled a small memory card out of a coat pocket. "It's video and notes from a... previous attempt to solve the Jack Morrison problem. If you're going to try to kill him, I need you not to make things worse."
"We aren't trying to kill him," Winston said, taking the card. "We're trying to bring him to justice."
Amari spat at the ground. "There's no justice for what he did, or for what he's become. I thought you understood that."
Well, thought Mockingbird, there's one place we agree. She found she didn't like the agreement. "That's what I thought, too. Maybe I ought t'reconsider the point."
"Does it always make this much noise? Maybe it should be reprogrammed again."
"ENOUGH OF THIS." Mercy glided down from the flat spot on the hillside above, where she had been tending to Mei and Pharah, watching since Ana showed herself, stunned to see her mother-in-law, of all people, reappear from the dead - not her way, but alive and well the entire time.
"Angela, why are you mixed up in this idiocy? I thought you'd know better."
The field medic marched over to the old military officer, and slapped her across the face, hard, staggering her back. "You dare show your face? You dare act like this to my friends, after what you have put us through?!"
"Woah!" interjected Mockingbird, jumping forward to restrain the doctor. "Angela, no! It's fine, she's just horrible!"
"No," she said, looking back, and shaking her arms free, "it is not fine!" She turned back to the old soldier, and pointed to Pharah, unconscious, but recovering. "She mourned you. You ignored her as a child and she loved you anyway and then you died and she put it behind her and now you are here and alive and she is here and wounded and you have not even acknowledged her existence?!"
"I've done what has been necessary, and I've stayed out of the way of the medic while she works. Fareeha will understand that."
"Will she? I hope not! But I will make sure she knows. I will make sure she knows everything. Including how horribly you have just abused our Mockingbird. 'It?! '" She shook herself, as though fluffing feathers she did not have, except in her wings. "You call her an it?! She is a person, not a tool, and you have become a monster."
Quietly surprised, Lena's heart tore, just a little, at the medic's furious defence. "Doc, really, it's fine, she's just digging..."
"I know what she's doing," Mercy said, not looking at Lena. "And I don't care why." She turned to the openly astonished Reyes and Winston. "We should get the wounded out of American territory as soon as possible. They will not be happy with our actions today."
"I agree," said Reyes, taking the opportunity. "Ana, we can pick this up later. Do any of your old dropboxes work?"
"No. Do yours?"
"I'll leave a contact point there, then."
"Thanks. And... thanks for helping out."
"You're welcome. Maybe next time we can work together, make sure the grown-ups are in charge."
Mockingbird's face showed absolutely no sign of emotion, and her hands did not tighten visibly on her rifle.
"We'll talk later," said the former Blackwatch head. "Team - back to the ship. Mockingbird, give Mercy some help with Mei; Winston, I wouldn't mind a little help myself. Let's roll out."
The Lunar gorilla offered his friend an arm, as Mockingbird turned towards the Chinese scientist with a curt "acknowledged." Behind Venom's mask, beneath the web, the assassin roiled viciously, but no hint of that storm made it outside.
Maybe I've got more than one problem to solve, she thought, as she guided the semi-sedated Mei up off the ground. Maybe I've got two or three.
( last days )
I started my new job the following Monday. I need to work out how much I should talk about that in detail here; for one thing it's looking to involve somewhat more blogging and social media presence as my professional persona than the old job did. Also I am still adjusting to living in Cambridge full time, which is probably another post, and I'm up to my eyes preparing for the High Holy Days beginning on Wednesday, so I am going to stick with posting about leaving rather than about arriving for now.
First: backfill on a doomed team, I came in as Widowmaker and made them competitive. We still lost, but they went from being steamrolled - apparently, the entire game, given how much time was remaining when I arrived and how close the enemy payload was to destination - to a serious goddamn problem. We held them nearly five minutes, despite being less than five metres from destination when I arrived. It took a large ult stack to beat us, too.
I've long been able to shift games like that for a while as Tracer or D.va or Pharah, but I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've managed that big of a swing as Widowmaker.
Second, towards the end, I had three games against the same enemy Widowmaker, username something like "animevslife" or somesuch, but it doesn't matter. What matters is that she was completely outclassed, by me. I was headshotting her at will, and had like five just of her in one game. (I was also carding a lot, and the only member of my team to card in the last game.)
It's not that they were a terrible team, or even that she was a terrible Widow - she was not entirely unproductive - but she had to stay the fuck away from me, because I would just end her on sight. I've been the better Widowmaker several times before, of course, but this was just not even close, and wonderful.
This is a semi-sequel to "I Could Murder a Chippie," inspired in part by the fact that my gym's colours are UW Huskies colours, which is to say, Talon purple, and Overwatch gold, and that had to show up somewhere. [AO3 link]
"Th' hell?" said Venom, as the treadmill she was on - black and purple, like so much Talon gear, like so much Talon corporate culture - suddenly gained gold highlights.
"Ha!" said Tracer, as the treadmill she was on - black and gold, like so much Overwatch gear, like so much Overwatch corporate culture - suddenly gained purple highlights.
Venom looked to her left, the previously unoccupied treadmill now occupied by her mirror image, almost, hair almost the same, eyes almost the same, accelerator stripes most definitely not the same, or even there at all.
Tracer looked to her right, the previously unoccupied treadmill now occupied by her mirror image, almost, hair almost the same, eyes almost the same, accelerator missing, but she has thin stripes showing on her shoulders and legs, faintly shining blue.
"Hiya!" said Tracer, beating Venom to the punch. "Somehow I just knew you'd have a gym on Filicudi."
"You again..." Venom's mind raced, as she thought back to the impossible luncheon she'd shared with the Manic Pixie Murder Machine. "...that was real?"
"Kinda!" chirped Tracer. "As real as interdimensional transits can be, anyway. Thought I'd see if I could set up the right conditions and meed up again. You remember me, so I guess it worked!"
Venom reached over and tried, and failed, to touch Tracer. Tracer did the same, in reverse. At least she's not really here, thought the assassin. That's a relief. "So... your Winston's somewhere off... in some impossible direction from here, I guess?"
"Yah! Well, yeah, I guess so, but not to me. He's been helpin' out, but it's by remote. We've had this set up a while - it's the first time it's actually worked!"
Venom looked crossly at her Overwatch alternate-dimension counterpart. "So. Your Overwatch doesn't work with your Talon, does it?"
"So what's this about, then? Intel gathering?"
"Won't matter, y'know. Apparently, our kind of Talon is pretty rare."
"Yeah, I've only seen a few of your lot. Tekhartha always dies, 'cept when it's you... which is..." she looked down at her treadmill, and let it coast to a stop. "...why I wanted to apologise."
Venom blinked, letting her treadmill slow to a stop as well. "...wot?"
"I'm sorry. For calling you evil. I've been thinkin' about that fight we had, and..." She let out a deep breath, and took another one. "I'm sorry. I was wrong. I mean, you're still assassins, and I still can't go with that, but..." She shook her head back and forth, slowly. "Bloody hell, love, you saved Tekhartha Mondatta. D'ya know how rare that is?"
"We've... kind of got that idea, yeah." Venom didn't say that mostly, worlds like theirs, they ended up without her, or with a Venom that didn't question the mission, with Widowmaker taking the shot. With atomic fire and ash. With the war that truly did end all wars.
But not here, she thought. Not us. Not now.
"So..." continued Tracer, "...I'm sorry."
Venom shook off the things that could've been, but weren't, and smirked, but with a little warmth to it. "You went to these lengths for an apology? Maybe you're not so bad as I thought, Tracer. I accept."
Tracer smiled her genuine smile, the soft one, the one she saved for people she really, truly liked. "Thanks."
"But you said you wanted intel. Sorta."
Tracer blushed furiously. "...yeah."
What's that blush? Venom wondered. "G'wan then..."
"Tell me..." she looked nervously off to the side, "...about Amélie."
"Wot." said Venom. This can't be what I think it is, she thought, or maybe it might. "I thought you and Emily were..."
"We are!" Tracer protested. "And we're happy! But..."
"...you've seen some of those universes where it's all three of us together, haven't you?"
"And y'want that."
Tracer looked down, and her voice became very quiet. "I'd... I don't know. I don't know what I want. But I know I'd given up on her, and I... I think that was wrong."
Must do, thought Venom, to poke at spacetime about it. She sympathised, of course. How could she not? But might as well have some fun with her opposite. "Well, first things first. You have another apology to make, luv."
"'Aggressively overstyled shitehawk' ring any bells?"
Tracer laughed. "Ah, c'mon, mate, that was a joke and you knew it."
Venom smirked. "Apologise anyway."
"Done," the Overwatch agent replied, laughing. "I'm sorry. I don't know what is wrong with me, but I'm sorry."
Venom grinned her famous half-grin, and looked off to the side, where Tracer could not see. "Amélie, Em, you think we should help her?"
Em?! thought Tracer. "What?! "
"What?! When?! "
Venom beamed, broadly. "We placed a discreet notice for a private top-class aircraft mechanic. Guess who showed up?"
"Wha... wha..." Tracer quite literally vibrated in place. Venom didn't think she could do that with her kind of accelerator, but, apparently, she could.
"Is that a question?"
Venom just laughed. "It's fate, Tracer. Get used to it, it's probably gonna happen! Mostly just a matter of when."
"But luv, where do I start? How do I get past the Widowmaker and free Amélie?"
Venom frowned. "Y'want a serious answer? Y'won't like it."
"Stop thinkin' they're different."
Tracer blinked. "But they are, Widow's not even - well, fine, not yours, but mine, Talon..."
"Doesn't matter," interrupted the junior assassin. "Got news, mate. If you can't love the Widowmaker, you can't love Amélie."
From out of range of the interface field, but not out of range of the movement of air to carry sound, came the senior assassin's voice. "It's true. Even when they think they've built someone completely new, they have not. They have only forced changes, and even then, fewer than they think. The foundation remains. It must, for the process to work."
"Woah," breathed Tracer. She knew the elder assassin had to be there, somewhere, but hearing that voice sent tingles down her skin. "...Widowmaker?"
Amélie stepped into what she suspected - correctly - was the area of field effect. She put down the free weights, wiped her face with a towel, and turned to the tangerine-clad Overwatch agent. "Hello, Tracer."
Tracer's breath stopped and she blinked, her mouth half open for a moment before she was able to close it, and she shook her head. Venom and Widowmaker exchanged the briefest of meaningful glances - oh, she's got it bad, doesn't she? - before Tracer collected herself, with a "...nice to see you, luv." The teleporter swallowed. "Even though you're not..."
"...your Widowmaker?" interjected Amélie.
"Neither is she," said Tracer.
Widowmaker nodded her agreement. "She is a person, cherie, and she is not yours."
Tracer took the point, and, for once, knew when to shut up. Amélie picked up on the silence, and granted her a small smile. "Ah, you already begin to understand, yes? She is real - as real as I am. As we all are, every one of us. Just as every Tracer is a person - even the most dedicated members of the worst kinds of Talon - so is every Widowmaker, no matter what she may seem to you."
"So she's still in there..."
"No," Widowmaker said, frowning a little, and crossing her arms. "Understand this. She is there, right there, in front of you, as I am now. Perhaps under various kinds of influence, perhaps traumatised, perhaps parts of her are muted, perhaps parts of the old her are even lost, perhaps she is even a new person built from the old - but no matter what has happened, she is that person now."
Tracer's eyes widened, as her thoughts flashed to all the ways she'd tried to talk to her universe's Widowmaker, and how offers to help, to undo what they'd done, to bring back Amélie, always backfired.
"...telling her we'd do the same thing Talon did."
"Exactement," Widowmaker bowed, her arms now spread apart, as if on stage.
"Oh. Oh, oh, no," Tracer said, burying her face in her hands. "What've I done? "
"Hey, hey," said Venom, reaching forward uselessly, to comfort her opposite. "It's all right. She still talk t'you?"
Venom looked back up, towards the voice. "Yeh. Sometimes."
"Then," said Widowmaker, "I think it is not too late. I cannot imagine any version of myself that would talk to you if she had, how do you say, written you down?"
"Also, you are still alive, are you not?"
Tracer snorted. "Don't underestimate me, luv."
"Do not underestimate her, either." Widowmaker nodded towards Venom, whose accelerator stripes suddenly shined brightly, and then she grabbed Tracer off her treadmill, hand strong and oh so very solid. "Or me."
Tracer shrieked, and found herself unable to teleport away, as Widowmaker leaned forward, golden eyes bright, the spider bearing down on her terrified, halfway hypnotised prey. "Understand. I do this for her. Not for you. Can you love the spider? "
Tracer stared back into those gold eyes, and that cold blue face, overcome with fear... and then, suddenly, felt no longer afraid. She reached forward, pulled her arms around the Widowmaker, and kissed her, briefly but fiercely. Pulling back, she held the spider's gaze, and said, firmly, "...I can."
Amélie smiled coquettishly, and let Tracer go. "She does not taste like you, beloved," as Venom and Emily both laughed.
"They never do," said Emily, from outside the field.
"They never...?" replied Tracer, confused.
"You're not the first Tracer to come asking these questions, luv," Venom said, with something between a grin and a smirk. Her glow faded to normal, and Tracer returned to her insubstantial state, at least, for the Talon crew and gear. "All patched up. G'wan back home."
"And good luck!" she heard Emily call, from outside the field. "Most of us are pretty poly, but some of us aren't. Don't hurt your Emily, or I'll come after you myself!"
Tracer looked towards the direction of Emily's voice. "Not for anything, Em. Not for anything."
"I'll hold you to that," she shouted, as the field began to fade, and then collapsed.
Tracer dropped and sat on the treadmill's belt as the gateway failed, the last of the stored charge exhausted, patting the ground, the floor, the chairs, making sure she was still here, still home. She'd not expected to be grabbed completely into their reality like that, and she shivered at the thought of losing her Emily, her Overwatch, her world. That was... a lot riskier than I imagined! she thought. Winston'll want to know.
"So," she said, after a moment, looking over outside the field boundaries, to her Emily. "You still sure about this?"
Emily "Kestrel" Oxton raised an eyebrow. "After seeing you and her kiss?" The flying agent smiled a broad, bold smile. "I am. More than ever."
“Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”
Diana Kwon @ Scientific American: Are Some Psychiatric Disorders a pH Problem?
Multiple studies in the past few decades have found that when people with panic disorders are exposed to air with a higher-than-normal concentration of carbon dioxide—which can combine with water in the body to form carbonic acid—they are more likely to experience panic attacks than healthy individuals are.
Cathleen O'Grady @ Ars Technica: Health benefits of wind and solar offset all subsidies
The climate benefits of solar and wind power were hefty, but the majority of the benefit came from air quality improvements.
Frank Viviano @ National Geographic: This Tiny Country Feeds the World
“Water isn’t the fundamental problem. It’s poor soil,” [van den Ende] says. “The absence of nutrients can be offset by cultivating plants that act in symbiosis with certain bacteria to produce their own fertilizer.”
Rosalind Bentley @ Southern Foodways Alliance > Gravy podcast: Hostesses of the Movement
[These women] opened their homes to the architects and strategists of the [Civil Rights] Movement, providing home cooked meals, places to rest and safe rooms for plotting attacks on Jim Crow.
Just now tho'? Archetypal. Three storeys up in the air, Eichenwalde, headshot, on Pharah, who was also in flight.
Now I feel like I've earned it.
This link should take you to the audio player for The Moth, cued to a story, "Who Can You Trust", 12 minutes long.
The Moth, if you didn't know, is an organization that supports storytelling – solo spoken word prose – true stories. This story is told by Dr. Mary-Clare King, the discoverer of BRC1. It concerns a most extraordinary week in her life, when pretty much everything went absurdly wrong and right at all once. It is by turns appalling and amazing and touching and throughout hilarious.
It's worth hearing her tell herself before the live audience. But if you prefer transcript, that's here – but even the link is a spoiler.
The Brattle just screened it as part of their currently ongoing Tilda Swinton festival. Tilda Swinton, very young at the time, turned out to play England. (I probably should have expected that, but somehow I didn't.)*
He was quite right about it being a masterpiece, and, again as I should have expected from Jarman, it has had me thinking very hard about the nature and purpose of art ever since.
The Last of England is definitely a movie. It's a post-apocalyptic dystopia shot entirely using the decay of the civil infrastructure present in Thatcher's England, and I could identify a narrative-- a pair of brothers, one of whom is subverted by his attempts to subvert a balaclava-wearing, machine-gun-toting agent of the state, so that their romance causes him to wind up in a mask with a gun himself, and the other of whom winds up shot by said state agents-- and there are a lot of interesting allusions to other works of art (the opening narration at one point quotes Howl and then veers crashingly into T. S. Eliot in what is either complete literary blasphemy or the way that line was always meant to end, possibly both).** There's a year-king thing, kind of, except he doesn't get up again, and the childhood of the brothers is portrayed using home videos from Jarman's own childhood, which is fascinating because his parents were among the latest chronologically of the dyed-in-the-wool servants of the British Raj and it shows. There's a vitriolic intellectual critique of just about everything about the concepts "England" and "British".
But the thing that had me reeling and trying desperately mentally to cope is that above all, and with absolute intentionality, The Last of England is not a movie. It is a curse.
I have spent a lot of time considering evil and its relationship, if any, to art, because I try to create art myself and I feel it is a responsible thing for any artist to consider. I could get into a long digression about what I believe about evil and what I don't, but suffice it to say I do believe in evil, and the principle way I have seen evil interact with art is that subset of art which actively attempts to harm the audience, for no reason other than that it can. That sort of art can do a great deal of damage, if one runs into it at the wrong time. The other major way I have seen evil interact with art is art that is promulgating an ideology of evil, a set of beliefs which make the world decidedly worse, such as the racism of D. W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation.
I had never contemplated what I would think of a piece of art which is definitively opposed to an evil ideology-- Thatcherism, fascism, totalitarianism-- and which is doing everything in its power to harm, to hurt, to wreak havoc on, to destroy, and, if possible, to damn in the Biblical sense-- a set of people who are not the viewer.
When I say curse I mean it in a very old way. I mean that Derek Jarman was a great scholar, and he knew more about sixteenth- and seventeenth-century magic and alchemy than most academics, and he knew more about English witch-lore than any other authority I have ever encountered. And I don't know nearly as much about either as he did, but I know enough that this movie consistently raised the hairs on the back of my neck. I am... not quite sure that there is an attempt in and by this film to summon a specifically demonic presence. They may have been aiming for neutral. Or for angelic, and... missed, but I doubt that. I don't mean summoning in an obvious way, it's not like there are pentagrams on the floor, quite. It's done with light and fire and movement and the visual invocation of archetypes. It's done with dance and cross-dressing and other very careful costume.
And it's the precise kind of anger and pain turned into hatred that would cause a pastor to make serious inquiries as to the state of one's soul, and which might cause less theologically minded persons to mutter things about the abyss gazing back. Which is a concern Jarman eyes, and then discards, because this ideology, this thing that had happened to England under the rule of Thatcher and those around her, was to him worth that kind of hatred. And I think he came out of it all right as a human being and an artist himself, because he was objectively correct about that. But possibly only because he was objectively correct about that. The anger and pain and hatred here were so lacerating, so gorgeously done, so implacable and so beautiful that I kept wanting to hide, and it wasn't even aimed at me, he kept throwing in things to remind the audience that it isn't directed at us and honestly that does not help all that much.
Because with that sort of curse witnessing it is part of what drives it and makes it active.
I spent much of the film with some part of my mind trying to figure out if I thought it was moral to do this, to make this thing. Then I came down firmly and forever on the side that it is, because Tilda Swinton came in and played England.
We initially see Swinton's character in the memories of the one of the brothers who gets executed. She's wearing a sundress, and she's sitting in a field full of so many daffodils that it cannot read as naturalistic, even though, unlike most of the rest of the movie, the scene is shot in natural colors. She's his idealized love, that he won't ever be coming back to, and she's England itself, in both nurturing and colonialist aspects. "Don't be sad," we hear her say matter-of-factly as the bullets strike him: John Barleycorn is, after all, dead. She comes in next in full wedding dress and bridal veil, surrounded by attendants who are large and burly men dressed pretty much as Marie Antoinette, wedding a placeholder of a groom (the camera never focuses on his face) in a burned-out, rubble-strewn wreck of an industrial hangar. No dialogue, just the movements of the wedding, jerky smiles, everyone congratulating everybody else, Swinton eying a pram with an odd mixture of fear and longing. Earlier iconography has made it clear that the pram, though it does, of course, represent a baby, should also be taken to represent not a baby, but a cathexis of other ideas around fear and change and darkness.
And then we cut to Tilda Swinton outside, alone, by the water, by what looks like an industrial canal. There's a fire burning in an oil barrel next to her, a bonfire. She has scissors, and she tries to hack her way out of the wedding dress. It does not want to go. (It's really a lovely dress, by the way, in legitimately good taste, with about sixteen layers of veiling.) She rips at it with her fingers. She claws. She bites off parts of it. And these motions, without ever quite ceasing, turn themselves into a dance.
A line from a short story by Tanith Lee was running through my head during this scene, and it's still the only thing that comes to mind as anything resembling an adequate description: "... when she danced, a gate seemed to open in the world, and bright fire spangled inside it, but she was the fire."***
Have you ever seen something so transcendentally beautiful that you don't know how to think about it?
It's not just that this is the best thing Tilda Swinton has ever done on film, though it is, by such a distance that it's difficult to fathom. It's that I suspect it's one of the best things anyone has ever done on film. I am not exaggerating. Watching it is the kind of experience where you don't come away as exactly the same person.
Which she did, in full knowledge, in the service of Derek Jarman's curse.
All right, then. I consider it a moral action. Those few minutes are, by themselves, sufficient justification, and I don't see how the two of them, Jarman and Swinton, Tilda and Derek, could possibly have produced those few minutes out of hatred unless the hatred itself-- well-- to some degree contained within it all of that. Magical curses are, all the books say, perilous things, liable to come back on the caster unless their motives are completely pure. I have to take that dance as demonstration of impeccably pure motivations. I can't see what else it could be.
There are a lot of interesting things about this movie that I haven't even mentioned, of course. I finally understand why Jarman hated Peter Greenaway so much, because it turns out that for Prospero's Books, years later on, Greenaway swiped the aesthetic of some bits at the beginning of this movie that are set in Jarman's actual house and have Jarman playing himself. In fact, Greenaway even swiped Jarman's handwriting for use in his page overlays on the screen. I can see being upset by that. I would have been, too.
And there's the way almost all of the soundtrack is classical, except when it very much isn't. And the way that Jarman on several occasions intercuts between two separate scenes so quickly that persistence of vision forces you to believe that you are somehow watching both of them at the same time (well, and you get rather nauseated, which I don't think could be helped). And there's a scene with a man eating a cauliflower that totally defies all description; never had I imagined such a thing could be done with an innocent cruciferous vegetable. It's not remotely sexual. I'd almost prefer if it was.
But I've summed up the major things I've been pondering since watching the movie, and also it's five in the morning, so. A masterpiece. You should absolutely see it. But be wary.
* It occurs to me only now, writing this, that Swinton's role as both an allegorical England and a theoretically real young woman is an homage to Anna Magnani's stunning performance as the city of Rome in Pier Paolo Pasolini's Mamma Roma (1962). Somehow, all of the critical writing I have encountered on Mamma Roma fails to realize that she is the entire city incarnate and it gets shoved in with Pasolini's Neo-Realist period, which I am starting to think he never actually had. But I digress.
** I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness starving hysterical naked not with a bang but with a whimper
*** From Tanith Lee's "When The Clock Strikes". Worth noting that the character described has sold herself to Satan, and is also the agent of promulgating a curse.
The problem was that it was 130K and I still had a good chunk left to go.
Now, I write fairly short books, as you guys know. 65K is about my perfect length. This thing was monstrous. I plan to self-pub the ebook but the idea of a print version was...well, you guys remember how I threw my back out lugging copies of Digger?
My buddy Mur, queen of podcasting, listened to my woes at coffee and said "Make it two books."
I gaped at her. "I can DO that?"
"Do we have to have the economics talk? Have you on Ditch Diggers (that's her podcast, go listen to it) so we can yell at you?"
This blew my mind.
It also solved a lot of problems for an author who prefers to keep their ebooks cheap and their books not requiring death cement to keep the bindings together.
So! Clockwork Boys, Book One of the Clocktaur War, has been sent to my editor and will be out hopefully this year. (Patrons, you get the ebook for free, of course!)
None of this is the point. The point is that, having split it into two books, suddenly I am working on Book Two (tentatively titled The Wonder Engine) and I am having to do all the stuff that you do at the beginning of a second book, where you re-describe all the characters and do very brief info dumps about how your heroine got that tattoo and why she's still pissed at the paladin after rescuing his armored ass from a bunch of murderous deer people. And re-foreshadow stuff and re-establish that your thief sneezes constantly and the assassin smokes cigarettes and the paladin takes hot baths at every opportunity and all the stuff that you do when you're writing a second book.
Which honestly, is sort of useful for the writer as well as the reader, gives me a chance to re-center myself in the story, but it adds even more words.
The second book is already longer than the first one, and there's still so much more to get through. How do epic fantasy people DO this!?
Anyway. Clockwork Boys, hopefully this year, Wonder Engine hopefully early next year. My brain hurts.
Over the last few weeks, the walking has gone from very determined cruising to one or two steps without falling down to chains of three or four steps connected by moments of serious arm waving, or squatting and standing back up again. They don't really fall down at all, and never have, but they would sometimes cease forward motion. Now we've just gotten to walking across a room, and I haven't seen them crawl in several days. They also climb much better-- can get onto the back rail of the futon, or actively pull themself up onto my shoulder when I'm sitting on the futon. They don't seem to distinguish yet between standing on/climbing on somebody and standing on/climbing on inanimate objects. We need to give them a real shot at stairs sometime here, as there aren't any in our house and they could probably use the practice.
The talking... I guess many people's first words are... more readily distinguishable? I mean, either Fox has been talking for like a week, or Fox has been talking since about April, and I legitimately do not know. They've been saying 'Hiiiiii' to people all along, literally since birth, and they've been saying 'Ma! Ma!' to Ruth and 'Da! Da!' to me and 'At! At!' to the cats for some months, but they also said those syllables to things that aren't me or Ruth or the cats. I just wasn't able to tell babble from intentional speech, and I don't really think there was a way to.
However, what we're getting now is Fox saying 'Ma! Ma!' at Ruth in the morning when they want Ruth to get out of bed and feed them, which is pretty clearly intentional, and they say 'At!' when they see a picture of a cat in any of their books. (I haven't seen them hold a book upside down in a couple of weeks, either. Something about pictures has clicked.) Also today they hugged me and then put the final d on 'Dad' for the first time, which was just as heart-melting as I could possibly have imagined. We've also had 'Es' for a while, which means general agreement, though, and this fascinates me, we have nothing even vaguely resembling no as a word, just yelling. And 'Ba' means ball or book, but 'Ba' in a different tone means bottle; I can't really duplicate this but can hear the difference clearly.
I haven't heard them babble any of the phonemes yet that would allow them to use the names of various grandparents or their third parent, and we're all actually pretty sure they consider their third parent's name too hard right now, given the timing of various looks of frustration.
Their favorite toy right now is the photo album Ruth got them with pictures of extended family, friends, and various significant occasions in their own life, which they will pore over with devoted concentration for long stretches of time. They haven't liked an object so much since they first noticed their mobile at five months. Sometimes we'll go through and say again who various people are and what the event was, though I have no idea if they remotely have or can have the idea yet of a picture of themself.
They do have the idea now of doorknobs, but not the reach. I have seen them try to follow somebody out the door by going over and batting at the knob from below. So far they are about as good at this as our smarter cat, and I devoutly hope those two never team up. I will also be shocked if Fox doesn't start climbing over baby gates rather sooner than us parent-types would like, although at least we have one more level to lower their mattress inside its enclosure if they start getting out of their bed anytime soon.
Solid food clicked some while back, and while they're still having four or five large bottles a day, they also eat two or three solid meals, things like mango puree, applesauce, avocado, yogurt, Cheerios, and/or semisolid oat cereal. Sometimes we mix some of those together. We also give them bits of what we're eating, though we're trying to avoid large quantities of sugar and salt till they're past a year old. They have two and a half teeth, the bottom front two and one I think I see lurking partially emerged in the back bottom left. They can drink through a straw, and they can drink from a sippy cup and, actually, from a regular cup, though I don't let them very often because after they drink from it they'll just toss it down like they do the bottle.
We have never cut their hair, because that's a decision they'll be able to make for themself in not all that long, so they strongly resemble a Beatle, or possibly an emo rocker circa 2004. Putting a barrette across the bangs works until they take it out and try to eat it. Pigtails actually work but are not remotely my aesthetic preference. Fortunately they don't seem to mind hair in their face-- I've never seen them push at it or get frustrated with it.
Ruth took them to a baby swimming class over at MIT for a while, so we now have some notion of how to work with a swim diaper and how to interact with an infant in the water, which is great because we're going to the beach next month.
And their first birthday approaches apace, though milestone-wise-- toddler. I'd say we have a toddler.