February 15, 2019 Location Unknown
A splash of freezing, cold water on the face, like countless tiny needles piercing the skin, is enough to rouse Zach van Owen back into the world of the conscious. He opens his eyes, only to close them again as he is assailed by a beam of focused light. Trying to move, Zach’s situation prove only worse as he realises he is tightly bound to a chair. Understandably the Game-Changer starts to panic though he has the sense to realise acting rashly and losing control would only serve to complicate the situation.
Zach starts by controlling his breathing and casting his mind back to events leading to his current predicament. He remembers beating Xander Haze at Modern Warfare to successfully defend his Impact Championship. The victory was short-lived however as Haze’s former associate, Private Investigator John Kreese, had appeared and with him a sea of ambushers dressed as Zach’s former alter ego, Impakt. Zach and Leona fought valiantly against the tide of green and black but the last thing Zach remembers from that night is the arena fading into the darkness of unconsciousness…
“Had sweet dreams Zachy-Boy?” The familiar voice if John Kreese, scoffs at the young Impact Champion from the darkness.
“Ah Kreese. I should have recognised your scent. Any nightmare’d be better than waking to your ugly 8-bit mug.” Zach replies, seething.
Zach is a fighter through and through and even now shows resistance. Kreese lashes out and punches the Game-Changer across the face, while another hidden figure chuckles from the darkness.
“How cliché, the sinister mastermind hiding the shadows…”
“God don’t you ever shut up?!” Not accustomed to physical violence Kreese backs away cradling his hand and wrist.
“I ain’t a voiceless hero, and you don’t scare me. Either of you.”
“You don’t listen either. You were warned Zachy-Boy. You were told you were too young and unprepared for this world and look at where we are.”
“Are you glitching? You sound just like my fucking father? And what about you Mister Edgelord lurking in the shadows? You working for him too? Cause I got a message for him.”
“No Zach.” The figure steps from the shadows, limping with the aid of a cane, and chills run through Zach’s entire body. “I AM your father!”
In this moment history is made, as Zach is stunned into silence. Sure enough, standing there before the Game-Changer is his dad, once a local wrestling hero that Zach aspired to be, the man had turned bitter and angry when an accident forced him into early retirement. He had tried constantly to quash Zach’s dreams of stepping into the squared circle out of jealousy and spite, maybe even concern, though it seemed unlikely. In response to Zach’s defiance, “Atomic” Adam Vaughn had all but disowned the Impact Champion.
“So stubborn and naïve. Don’t you understand, I did this because of you, FOR you. I saw you, day after day, fighting for that federation and knew it would all come crashing down on you eventually. I knew boy, when that happened, you wouldn’t handle it.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
“I’m not finished!” Hisses Adam Vaugh, now completely bathed by the harsh light and standing before his own son. This is the first direct interaction they have had in quite some time. Not exactly the reunion Zach is expecting that’s for sure. “You hold yourself above the rest as some sort of Hero, and yet, there is nothing heroic, nothing spectacular about you. They may be fooled. But I’m not. What does every great hero require Zach?”
There is silence, so Adam grabs his son by the chin and forces him to look up and look him in the eye.
“What. Do. Heroes. Need?”
“Exactly! So I stoked a few fires, gave you plenty of Villains to face to see you shine and reach your potential. But as always you left me wanting. But now, now you are ready.”
“Ready for what?”
Zach isn’t sure he wants to know the answer.
“To put it in terms you’ll understand son, you’re ready for the next level…the FINAL level.”
February 16, 2019 Phoenix, Arizona
Once again in a state of unconsciousness, Zach van owen is left in the back seat of an older modelled Chevrolet while co-conspirators, John Kreese and Adam Vaugh, meander the streets of an industrialised sector of Phoenix, Arizona. With the captive Zach in tow they had fled Modern Warfare in Oakland, California to a temporary location to coonduct their clandestine operations. Now it is time for the next phase, a return home to Philadelphia, where Adam begins training his son, in readiness for the grand return.
“If I were you, I’d have dropped that kid years ago. Nothing but trouble.” Kreese proclaims in between big drags of his cigarette.
“Then it’s good, you ain’t me. I’m looking at a bigger picture, one you fail to see. I have big plans for my son. He will be capable of great things when I’m done. Terrible, but great. And you Mr. Kreese…Well you aren’t in this big picture.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying Mr. Kreese that our business is finally concluded and I can wash my hands of you.”
“What the fuck!?” John grabs Adam by the collar. “You owe me big time for this Adam.”
“I owe you nothing! You failed. It was only due to my direct interference and a fucking miracle this was a success. Now I suggest you release me and go on your merry way. I am done with you, you vile piece of shit!”
Adam Vaughn’s cane swings upwards, catching John Kreese between the legs, and the incorrigible PI doubles over in pain. Adam follows up with a punch to the side of the face. He spits on John.
“You were nothing more than a tool to get me what I wanted.” The sound of sirens on the horizon grows louder, drawing nearer. “You should be grateful. In prison you have free lodging and free meals. You’re set up for life. And if I have anything to say about it, it will be for life. Enjoy!”
Adam leaves John moaning and groaning in the dirt, returning to the car. He silently drives off before the police he tipped off can arrive on the scene. After John Kreese’s previous attempts on Zach’s life, he was a wanted man. Now the police have him and Adam isn’t worried about John trying to rat him out, no one would believe a notorious individual like John Kreese.
Adam Vaughn smiles as he drives off into the distance.
Everything is going according to plan.
April 6, 2019 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The simple wooden door to Adam Vaughn’s home office is thrown wide open as Zach van Owen storms into the small room, adorned with memorabilia of Adam’s former career.
“I don’t believe this!” Zach exclaims. Some is amiss as Zach is clearly without his senses. Except for Adam, no-one, and that means absolutely NO-ONE, is allowed to set foot into the study. It takes every ounce of restrain Adam Vaughn possesses not to explode at his son.
“You see what they did to the Vertigo Match? Since when was I playing a 4-Player game?! Hashtag Shook!”
“I said OUT! We can discuss it at the table, but get out of my study!” Adam growls at Zach, pushing the Game-Changer through the doorway. Both father and son take a moment to collect themselves before convening at the dining table to discuss Zach’s approaching match at the Vertigo Pay-Per-View. As it turns out, what Zach thought was going to be a singles Cage match against Freddie Styles, is in fact a Fatal Four way Match, with Johnny Graves and Moe Davis inexplicably included.
“I told you, you returned too early. This flight of fancy with that useless belt could cost us dearly.” Zach was not meant to return so soon back to the CWF, but the Champion demanded a chance to respond to Freddie Style’s comments. So Adam adapted his original plan and made the concession for an early return as a means to manipulate the young man, lower his resistances and defiance towards his new…’training’. That didn’t mean everything Adam is working for couldn’t be completely ruined by an errant competitor with delusions of grandeur and glory. It still needed to be played carefully.
“You’re not ready.”
“What? For those four chumps? They’d get lost playing Pong, and while they are down here on Atari. I’m up here in HD on the NextGen PS4. I’m worried, just glitching cause it’s not the match it’s supposed to be.”
“Well stop bitching and get yourself ready. This is your crusade and I am growing tired of all these distractions. First that useless girl of yours and now this.”
“Hey! Don’t talk about Leona that way! That night I turned my back on her I saw how hurt she was…”
“She was holding you back! But if that’s the life you want to return to, where no one respects you, or considers you a threat. Then by all means, leave. But there is no turning back. No second chances. I went to great lengths to support you and I’ll not put up with this for much longer. I promise to make you into something great. What can she, or any one of your so called friends actually offer you?”
Zach stops and pauses, looking out the window to the horizon. His expression is one of nostalgic melancholy. A battle is raging within his mind between the two drawing forces in his life; his loyalty to Leona and his friends, and his desire for his father’s love and approval.
“No. You’re right. Those memories are little more than chains. I’m sorry dad.”
Zach tears himself away from his memories and back to the present, the battle within still raging on. Adam allows himself to release a breath, pleased that Zach seems to be falling further and further under his thumb. After all, all the Game-Changer wanted was to be just like his father. If Zach managed that, then perhaps all these sacrifices would be worth it…
“Good boy. Now continue with Vertigo. Recognise your opponents. Who are they.”
“Freddie, Moe and Johnny…Though I reckon Larry, Moe and Curly is more fitting. They’re the Putty Patrol, all clamouring for the vaunted Impact Championship prize. They aren’t fit to be the Main Characters of this game, they are not Champion Players. None of them. What they don’t realise is that it takes more than claiming victories to become a True Champion, and I’ll happily guide them through that Tutorial. Freddie wants to have a go again, so we find ourselves on Replay. Thing is, when you’re playing a sequel, or a remake, you’d expect some improvements in Gameplay and AI. But not Mr. Ballgame, he’s stuck in the same patterns, using the same moves and button combinations and he’s been copping nothing but losses lately. You gotta be capable of bringing the AAA game to beat me and become Champion. Something Freddie ain’t capable of doing if history is anything to go by. Then the first of the interlopers is Johnny Graves. I guess he helps prove your point dad.”
The response is a slight cock of the head and raised eyebrow, offering Zach to elaborate and pad Adam’s own ego. Of course he is right.
“Not everyone is gonna play fair. Graves forced himself undeservedly into this match, found the Codes to jump the queue and yet wants me to take him seriously? Where’s the Grind? The hardwork? Dude, there’s a Loading Screen, you gotta wait your turn. Sure he’s been winning matches, but he carries on worse than a kid playing Call of Duty. He needs to find the Pixels to face me 1v1…’bro’, before he can even dream of taking the title from me. Freddie may be a Noob, but Johnny can’t even find his way out of the First damned Level!”
There it is. The ever burning fire of defiance that Adam Vaughn is counting on, the infallible drive within Zach that started the crash course of events that is Zach’s CWF career. By directing that passion and desire Adam could control his son.
All for his own good of course.
“And then from out of nowhere is Moe Davis. I barely know who the dude is. He’s like Toad.”
“Alright kid, you lost me, this gaming shit goes above my head. Dare I ask who or what is Toad?”
“Oh…a mushroom kid from Mario, he’s practically useless, easily forgettable.”
Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, Adam has not yet managed to force an end to the game and pop culture references. Zach it seems will always be Zach.
“How is he even a choice on the Character Select screen?! He’s been barely a blip on the radar, wallowing in mediocrity and then nek minnit, Battle Music plays and BAM, Random Encounter! But he won’t be getting any form of Pre-emptive Strike on me. I’ve got the Higher Initiative and prone to rolling Natural 20s. A shame really, he claims to have training of a high pedigree, but he is squandering it…Maybe one day he’ll amount to something-”
Adam scoffs at that.
“But it will not be this day. Not for Moe, not for Freddie and not for Johnny. There's still a game to be played.”
Zach’s father leans forward, not masking his bemused expression to put an end to Zach’s passionate tirade.
“That’s all well and good son, but what about you?”
“What? What about me?”
“I allowed you this pointless detour, so what you gonna give me in return? You need to promise me, regardless of the outcome of Vertigo you will focus harder on what I’m trying to do for us. No more slacking off, or going at it half-arsed. I expect your full attention, your full commitment to my cause.”
Father and Son have a momentary stare off, each trying to get a read on the other. The tension builds, until finally
“I promise dad. There will be no Critical Failures from me. After Vertigo I will do whatever it takes to make you proud.”
Adam smiles as he unsteadily stands from the table, he places a hand on Zach’s shoulder.
“That’s my boy.”
He leaves Zach and returns to his study. Zach is once again at the mercy of his thoughts, trying to convince himself it is the right thing to do...isn't it?