Evolution 51: 7/5, Dallas, Texas
All CWF backstage staff are quick to clear a path as Zach van Owen marches through the corridors of the American Airlines Centre after his tag match alongside the Shadow against Ataxia and Nathan Paradine. Though the match ultimately resulted in victory, it had taken an interesting turn. In a matter of two weeks he had turned on, and attacked, two former allies, two former friends. Zach is clearly conflicted, a man at odds with the world and himself and no one with a brain wanted to be near him, let alone in his way. So set upon his course is the Game-Changer that if anyone had risked his attention he wouldn’t have noticed.
A car awaits him in the parking lot, with ‘Atomic’ Adam Vaughn standing beside the vehicle. Zach’s father is smiling in his snide proud way, and that makes Zach all the more angry and upset. After all, here stands the man that Zach is giving up everything for, a man he idolised and revered as a hero growing up but clearly holds no respect or admiration for anything Zach has done or is doing and is only using the young man for his own means. Yet for all his assertions of being a powerful and heroic figure who can save the Championship Wrestling Federation, Zach is powerless to defy and stands against his own father.
Now having turned his back on everything and everyone, Zach van Owen has no other option but to stand beside his father. He had dug his own grave.
“Well that was certainly a surprise. I’m proud of you boy, I didn’t think you had it in you.”
Zach shrugs off Adam’s congratulatory pat on the shoulder and seething, steps into the car. He is joined by Adam, Zach drawing a modicum of satisfaction from Adam’s continued struggles to navigate with his cane, who signals to the driver to take them back to the Fairmont Hotel.
“Perhaps you are ready after all.” Adam continues to muse.
“I don’t think you have a fucking clue…” Zach replies thoughtlessly.
The feeble attempt at contemptuous defiance only seems to encourage Adam who laughs with a profound guffaw. That anger will only serve Zach, and thus, Adam when it is redirected towards the ring and anyone who may be in it alongside the Game-Changer, either as opponent or ally. All as the Vaughn Patriarch planned and hoped for.
13/5, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Marcus Maximus fidgets and shuffles in the sofa, nervous beneath the grim expression of Zach van Owen. The Game-Changer sits opposite him in the family room of the Vaughn household (Zach’s home), which has been converted into an impromptu interview room for the CWF correspondent and his film crew. After the events of Evolution 51, the CWF universe wanted answers and surprisingly Zach and Adam Vaughn conceded.
“Ahem” Marcus clears his throat, hoping to commence the interview in a bid to mitigate the tension. “I was surprised to hear you didn’t request Miss Robinson. As I understand you two had a rapport.”
“Can we just skip the pleasantries and small talk…” Zach groans.
Perhaps it is that very same past connection between Zach van Owen and Tara Robinson that excluded her from this iclusive interview opportunity. Especially with how quickly Zach is burning bridges with his past affiliations.
"Very well." Marcus simply responds.
Sufficed to say the figure that is now Zach van Owen is a far-cry from the popular Paragon Underdog he once was, the young man who had won the hearts of the CWF through optimism and determination. It has since been replaced by a cold edge and emotional turmoil as his alignment shifted more towards the Chaotic side of the spectrum.
A curt nod has the cameras rolling and the interview is underway.
“Zach van Owen, let’s start with the obvious. We’ve all witnessed a drastic change in you, one that culminated in a brutal attack on Ataxia in the parking lot and a sneak attack on the Shadow after he helped you win a tag match. Both former friends of yours in the Forsaken. What’s going on?”
Zach turns to look behind his shoulder, to Adam Vaughn leaning in the doorway. The former hometown wrestling icon may not be in view of the camera but he’s still very much an intimidating and imposing figure. He’s clearly the one in charge of the interview.
The father beckons the Game-Changer to respond and Zach returns to the question at hand.
“Simply cause I’m not playing a co-operative game anymore. This is purely a solo run-through, and I can’t have them, or anybody else, holding me back. They can stay where they belong, in my memories.”
“Holding you back? Holding you back from what exactly?”
“From restoring order and saving the CWF from itself. It’s evil and corrupt, right down for the very core, and I gotta go straight for the heart. I realise now that truth and justice are all hollow lies, and I’m not content with being just your everyday, average hero. I intend to make a mark. I’m bound for greatness…”
Ignoring the potentially deliberate shade aimed at him with the Everyday, Average Hero comment (An alter ego that Marcus once adopted himself), Marcus raises an eyebrow and switches his gaze from Zach, to Adam, then back again.
“You certainly seem determined to have the people notice you. For good or ill. So let’s focus on your opponents for next week and the opportunity this upcoming match presents itself. Seizing a chance at the World Heavyweight Title would certainly put you in a position of power to fulfil whatever it is you think necessary to ah…’save’ the CWF. What are your thoughts on Lindsay Troy, a relative unknown to you as far as in the ring is concerned, and Nathan Paradine?”
“Don’t really feel as if I need to go on too much more about Paradine. Not after last week. Safe to say I got me a strategy guide with everything I need to know about the guy. He’s got some moves and proven himself an able competitor, and I’m sure the opportunity for a World Title shot will inspire him to dig down deeper than before. But he still ain’t on my level. It’s like the old days of PAL and NTSC. He’s the outdated system and I’m the Next Generation of gameplay and I never stop playing. I’m always evolving, always spiking the difficulty level. Now Troy…she’s made a grave error.”
“Oh? What error?”
“Error 404. She’s underestimated me, overlooked me and discounted me too quickly, when there is so much more to me than meets the eye, and I have neither the time, nor the crayons to walk her through the tutorial stage. I’m going straight to Epic Tier where only punishment awaits Lindsay for her arrogance. She would have us all believe that she knows what’s she’s doing, that she has the controller and is primed to take the federation by storm. But alas she has failed her Bluff check and has been found drastically wanting. She is floundering around, a lost little lamb without quest markers to guide her, bashing at the keyboard like a child and hoping for a miracle. Does she have talent? Yes, I won’t deny that, she has points in all the right skills and attributes, but we’re talking about a Special Edition match, the Bonus Dungeons, which is always so much harder than the Main Game. She is vastly under levelled.”
Marcus again shifts uncomfortably as Zach’s tirade takes on more of a threatening growl, baring teeth, and taking on a more sinister, and predatory countenance. The young, idealistic ‘Hero’ has definitely taken on a darker side. Some competitors have had a history of attacking the staff on a whim and Maximus begins to doubt his own safety.
“Well ah…you certainly sound confident. But I’m certain Nathan Paradine and Lindsay Troy will certainly make you work for the victory.”
“I am counting on it.”
It’s almost time to wrap things up, Marcus steeling himself for the final, most profound (and controversial) question. Despite his misgivings and concerns, Marcus wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t raise the matter.
“There are some who feel this change in attitude and these words, aren’t actually yours, but those of your father’s. Some believe your controller is in his hands, so to speak.”
Zach slowly begins to stand, but Adam Vaughn stumbles into the room, placing a firm hand on his son’s shoulder.
“This interview is over. I suggest you leave.” Adam growls. Zach emphasising the point with the deadliest of death stares. Marcus is not one to argue, nodding his assent and urging the team to pack up.
“Want to know the real hidden truth Marcus…”
Against his better judgement the interviewer pauses to look at Zach and Adam quizzically.
“The dark side offers way much more than just cookies, and one way or another, I will save this company. The rest of the roster can either get out of my way or face the consequences. After all I am the monster they created, and resistance is futile.”
With that the interview team take their leave, Adam Vaughn watching their departure with the greatest of contempt while Zach has returned to his seat, seething with conflicted thoughts and emotions. The default system setting these days for the Game-Changer. As soon as the CWF staff has disappeared fully from view, his dad turns from his vantage point to regard his chosen champion and progeny, the young man who is responsible for perpetuating the legacy Adam Vaughn had worked hard to build.
“You did well Zach.”
Zach grunts in response.
“I’m serious. You’re making great strides and are moments away from a profound moment in your career. The question is, are YOU ready?” There is the slightest hint of concern and compassion in Adam’s voice, taking Zach completely by surprise. When the Anti-Hero turns to look at his father, for the first time in years he can actually see the paternal figure. Not some hard taskmaster, but a father, someone that Zach would never dream of disappointing. In an instant Zach’s walls come crumbling down.
He knows what is necessary and for his father he is more than willing to go to those lengths.
“Trust me dad."
"It's not about trust-"
"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.”
Father and son share a knowing grin.
“That’s my boy.”
Twilight of the Gods will not be a playtest, because when Zach plays the game. He plays for keeps and the Championship Wrestling Federation is what’s at stake.