Through the still silence of night, Zach van Owen is roused by a pebble lightly thrown against his bedroom window. To say the young Philadelphian man is roused from his sleep is a vast overstatement, as the norm for the Game-Changer of late is restless hours of fitful lying down on a bed. His mind is too tumultuous. On the plus side he isn’t rudely awoken by the cliché gesture. Zach allows his eyes to adjust as he peers out the window and scans the quiet suburban street. He can barely make out the form, standing outside on the yard just beneath the bedroom window. His stomach tightens into knots. It’s his estranged girlfriend, Leona Gainsborough. She motions for Zach to meet her on the roof of the Vaughn house. Giving up on sleep and with no other options, the Game-Changer concedes, preparing for a bonus round likely more brutal than his upcoming match.
“You can’t be here.” He whispers, pulling himself over the lip of the roof, mindful of every creak and groan that could potentially awaken his father, Adam, and spell significant trouble for the young couple.
“Great to see you too…” Leona replies with a snap. The tension between the former couple is palpable.
Their relationship has not been very stable as of late, due to Adam Vaughn’s controlling interference over every aspect of Zach’s life. All for the ‘greater good’ or so Adam posits. In truth it is really for his own gains and despite many warnings, the young Zach is unable to remove himself from under the jaded and oppressive thumb of his own father. It’s some Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader level of messed up. Complicated by an entire childhood spent idolising the hometown heroic figure, ‘Atomic’ Adam Vaughn, as someone to aspire to. At the very least, some part of Zach is beyond happy to see and talk to Leona again, there is no denying that, even if he can’t bring himself to move close to her.
“No it’s just with my dad. If he catches you-.” A single withering look from Leona cuts Zach off in an instant, “Sorry…I really am happy to see you.” He can’t even bring himself to look her in the eye.
“Wouldn’t have guessed with all your efforts to push me away.”
She’s clearly not going Easy-Mode on him.
“I know. I know…”
As angry and hurt as Leona may be, she can’t but feel pity for the young man and want to reach out to him. Zach had made a promise to her to always come back for her if he left, and though she never said it to him, she had made her own similar promise to not give up on him.
“Zach. I’m not here to scold you, but you have to recognise you’re travelling on the path of the Renegade. The Dark Side. And you’ve hurt people. You’ve hurt me. And for what?”
At that Zach is finally able to look up and meet Leona’s gaze. He is conflicted between remorse, anger and confusion.
“How can you say that? It’s all for a chance to make a damn difference. To finally beat the game and not just play it. If not for my dad’s assistance I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
“Alone and at odds with yourself and the world?”
“About to win the god damn World Title! Don’t you get how epic that is?! I’m about to join the ranks of the Platinum Tier competitors. Sure it’s not quite the circumstances I had originally hoped, but ones gotta learn to adapt their play-style if they want to get anywhere.”
“Just listen Zach. Please. We grew up together, so I’m pretty confident I know a thing or two about you, fuck it, I probably know you better than the father you waste so much energy defending, and I know this isn’t you. This isn’t what you want, or how you want it. How can you say you’re happy with any of this?”
“This is the endgame, I’m set to achieve the highest of high scores and seize the World Title. Greatness requires some sacrifices. And that’s, just Prime!”
“That sounds exactly like some bullshit dialogue your dad’s forcing down our throats, to justify the emotional abuse. You were already great. The people loved you. You don’t need any of this. And I’m afraid of what’s happening to you.”
“What else can I do? Dan Ryan is one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever had to face and last time we fought everything I was, my entire move-set, proved super ineffective, like I was Magikarp splashing around the ring. I can’t let that happen again! Not when there’s so much at stake.”
It feels good to be able to talk to someone, to share his concerns to someone who would actually pay attention and not just admonish him.
“Evolve, like you have in the past. Don’t forget your humble beginnings as Impakt. You’ve proved yourself time and again, you don’t need a title for that affirmation. Ask anyone.”
The Anti-Hero pauses, afraid that his rising anger may get the better of him in this moment. Anger directed mostly at himself. He is about to respond when the sound of car doors closing grabs both Zach’s and Leona’s attention. So focused on their tense exchange neither noticed the police cruiser pulled up in the Vaughn driveway. In an instant Zach loses his nerve.
“Shit. Leona you have to go.”
“No, Zach. You can’t just press X and skip this dialogue.”
“No I mean-“
“Ahem.” She isn’t going anywhere.” The familiar grizzly voice of Adam Vaughn freezes Zach in place. “I suggest you both get down here.”
The gravity of the upcoming pay-per-view is not lost on Adam Vaughn and it so happens he too is unable to sleep, finding solace in his study, surrounded by memories of his own past successes. Truth be told, Adam is more than a little worried about the outcome of the match, full of doubts over his son’s ability to win. Disturbed and pulled from his introspection by the late-night reunion, he stands to greet the two police officers, looking up to the couple. Leona and Zach look to each other in defeat. There is no clear avenue of escape. Resigned to their fates they climb down, Zach in shame, Leona in defiance.
“Officers, this young lady is trespassing on my property. Please take her away.”
Zach turns on his father.
“What?! That’s not-“
“Shut your mouth! You ungrateful whelp.” Adam barks, raising the eyebrows of the officers who stand on either side of Leona, motioning towards the cruiser.
“Come this way please miss.”
Leona hasn’t moved her gaze off of Zach by an inch, daring him to defy Adam.
“But dad, you can’t-“
“Is there any wonder you were embarrassed by Mia and Dan last week? I demand undivided focus and commitment from you. Yet you still can’t let go of your ties, distracted by this erroneous concept of friendship. There are no friends when championships are on the line. You let your guard down, jeopardising everything I’ve worked so hard for and are an embarrassment to the Vaughn name.”
That undoubtedly strikes a nerve.
“Fuck you dad.”
Unsure of how to handle the situation, the two Philadelphian police officers, stop in place and warily keep an eye on the quickly devolving situation.
“Fuck you. Yes I’m at this point because of you, but not once have you ever believed him me, not once have you believed in my superpower.”
“What crap are you talking about? What ‘superpower?’”
Zach strikes a heroic power pose, his back to Adam Vaughn.
“Form of a champion!”
Something akin to a smile creeps across Leona’s face as the officers look to each other confused.
“Ah…nothing changed?” Says one.
Zach steps up to stand nose-to-nose and confront his dad.
“Exactly. Those friends you so readily cast aside may not have the connections you do, but since Level 1 they have always believed in me, supported me and had my back. I, as I am, have what it takes to beat Dan Ryan and become a World Champion. You couldn’t give a single Pixel about me or who I am. And why? Because I’m building my career when yours was denied years ago by some sheer accident? And my style and name is of my own design, not yours? Stop living in the fucking past! It’s Game-Over for you! This is the next generation!”
The walking cane comes out of nowhere, striking Zach across the face and he falls sprawled out on the floor. Adam turns to the police who need to grab and restrain Leona from interfering.
“Thank you for your service officers. Unfortunately I have to have a terse conversation with my son on respect and obedience.”
Zach nods solemnly to Leon and the police. It’s not very reassuring but it’s clear there will be repercussions from this domestic dispute so their job for the moment is done. It takes some effort and pressuring but after one final desperate look from Zach Leona concedes to leaving with the officers.
“What will it take for you to be happy?!” Zach almost screams.
“Something close a miracle. I need you to carry the vaunted Vaughn legacy and make the name synonymous with the World Championship. So listen well boy. Dan Ryan has your number in practically every aspect, in-ring AND promos. He matched you move-for-move and word-for-word. I’m not gonna give you the odds, but your chances are winning are slim at best. The only possible way to win is if you do what I say, exactly as I say and stop this nonsense. It’s long past time you got serious. Do you remember what happened last time you faced off against Ryan?”
Zach is silent for a few moments, favouring his jaw after the cane sneak attack, and staring death at his dad.
“I lost.” He says simply, making no effort to stand himself up again. As the police cruiser drives off, Leona watches from the backseat, tears streaming from her eyes, as the family stand-off disappears from view.
“You tapped out. You gave up. You didn’t have it in you. So what makes this match any different?”
“I want nothing more than I want this.”
“What was that boy?”
“I. Want. It. I HAVE to have it. That title is the only thing that is gonna justify all this shit, all the quick-time events, I’ve had to endure because of your ‘guidance’. Last time my code to fight for truth, justice and a good, electric match was holding me back. I realised the limits I wasn’t breaking were my own, the limits of my character. Now I am fighting unchained, unrestrained. I’m hitting Super Saiyan God Mode for this match. I’m tapping into the Force and going all-out. I will do everything and anything it takes to beat him. In truth I was actually glad when he beat Duce to become champion again, because now I have a chance at revenge. He’s the Robtnik to my Sonic, the Bowser to my Mario. There is no greater villain in the CWF than the walking Ego-Trip and I promise by all my powers combined Golden Intentions will not be a Critical Miss. I will prove victorious. There is no other acceptable ending.”
Adam holds out his hand, offering to assist his son to his feet. Zach stares at the proffered hand incredulously before batting it away. Adam sneers as Zach stands.
“I guess it’ll have to do. But if you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it right.” Adam Vaughn drapes his arm over his son’s shoulder. “You will use my old signature move to get the pin and then you’ll announce an end to the van Owen name and accept who you truly are. Zachary Vaughn. No ifs, ands, or buts.”
Zach stops dead in his tracks, stunned by Adam’s newest demands. Adam doesn’t bother to acknowledge his son’s conflict and continues back inside the house, returning to his own fortress of solitude. One way or the other Golden Intentions will see the death of Zach van Owen. But it’s worth it for the world title…right?