Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Seriously! Yes, I’m not lying. I’m telling you the truth. When I was ten years old I saw a knight!
No, dammit! He didn’t walk around the street in metal armor. He didn’t have an elaborate helm. And no, he didn’t look like a Power Ranger. But I will tell you this much, he definitely had a sword. It, him, the sword and what he did with it, it was all just the most amazing thing I had ever seen, and to be sure I haven’t seen anything so amazing since. He stoked my imagination and fanned my belief and love for things fantastical, that the worlds I had come to love could most certainly bleed off the movie screen, or leap off of the written page, the inked panels of comicdom, into the real world. Yes, apparently it could happen.
No, I don’t take medication and I’m not schizophrenic.
You see, I was a child of the Star Wars generation, and if anything this knight put me in the mind of a Jedi, a grizzled old Obi Wan Kenobi, except he was deep brown with close-cropped curls, a black man, just like I would grow up to be. As a child of seventies America this left an indelible impression on me, and informed my actions for the rest of my life. Combine such a realization of ethnicity, seeing myself in the face of what was clearly a hero, combine that with a mind that spent an inordinate amount of time loving comic books, yes my mind, and well … I think you can see where I’m going. It left me mentally blown, pushing me on a path of pursuit, wanting fervently to glimpse again the real of what I loved, knowing that it wasn’t all fantasy, that indeed, there was a reality to accompany the fiction.
I never saw his like again, but I certainly did remain a witness to his wonderings through the world, or at the very least the aftermath of others like him, and the conflicts in which they were engaged. I became obsessed. No, not like the Illuminati schizoids who believe Jay-Z and Beyonce worship the damn devil, and sold their souls so they could make hit records. That’s stupid. And no, I’m not like the New World order fanatics who take what’s real in the world and divine theories of domination that make absolutely no sense. Oh, they get some of it right, just not alot. There is no all-controlling power. There are plenty of secret organizations. However, there is no global Illuminati. People can’t get along well enough to form such a group anyway.
You see, there are many powers, some way above others, and they all vie for control of whatever it is they want. And let me make it clear, it’s not a comic book world domination thing either. These people, these powers, for the most part they want we what we all want. They want to be happy, and often enough for them that requires they control a great many things, entire industries, including the people that work in them. That’s where we regular folk come in.
A few, wrapped in their money and their dealings and yes their secret organizations, a few of them want to live forever, and this they pursue with a strength and vigor that I find terrifying. So terrifying that I can’t stay away, and dare not get too close. It’s like an addiction. You see, the problem is the information. It’s there, if you know how and where to look for it. It’s there for all of us to see.
Understand, I never lost my love of Star Wars or all things fantastical, somehow I managed to make room for both the imaginary and the geek reality in my head, and in my daily world. I built my first computer when I was twelve years old. I dove into programming and trained myself. I became a hacker by hobby, a designer of things to break, unlock, ferret out, learn. I dove deep into the dance of logic, the language of software, the manipulation of hardware, developing simple algorithms that unlocked the information I so urgently needed to find. Even back then, I knew the secret to finding the truth lay in the power that was promised in the chip. Computers were and still are the great leveler. Technology enabled me.
“Eddie!” My mom would yell. “Eddie, come on out of that room and play outside!”
“But Mom, I’m busy!”
“Eddie, you come out of that room right now! The world is not inside that screen!”
I went outside. I played. I enjoyed it. The distraction was a good one, still it would not prevent me from enduring the results of the wonderful and flavorful excesses provided by a good double-decker bologna sandwich with cheese slices and mustard, Doritos, and honeybuns. Requisite energy food in the eighties followed by the rush of Kool-Aid, all powering the mental engine the plumbed the depths of reality on the other side of the screen at 1200 baud.
I was online as a child and knew that the movie Wargames was no movie. There was truth behind the fiction. Yes, Mathew Broderick played a role. I was the real thing.
The truth wasn’t an easy thing to find. But if you dig long enough and hard enough, deep enough, covering the bits and bytes that people think are innocuous, people who work hard to stay in the shadows leave patterns. You see where they have been, not by what they leave behind personally, but in what happens to the things they interact with, the people on the periphery who sound crazy, but mirror what someone else said exactly. Crimes averted, people saved, lives lost, constrained devastation.
There were BBS’s, Bulletin Board Systems, dedicated to the strange and innocuous, things that people had seen, things that had shocked them, made them afraid, or for some of us, excited.
Needless to say I was of the excited variety. What I had seen not many others had seen. He was there. He was real. My family and I were supposed to be enjoying an outing at Central City Park in Atlanta, today known as Woodruff Park. It was a festival, Light Up Atlanta. It turned into a hot mess, a complete tragedy ending in bloodshed and violence. A man was killed.
It all happened so fast. There was the darkness, the bright light, the knight, his sword, and something I still struggle to describe. What I do know is how the thing the knight was fighting made me feel. It had an affect on the crowd. And to this day I know that the thing was the cause of the rioting, the cause of the violence, the reason a man died.
“Be still,” he told me. “Do not move and inch! You are unpredictable and it will only make it worse.”
I was smart enough to know exactly what he meant. It felt like if I took one step, that step would be me grabbing and snapping off the fingers of the kid that was just next to me. The kid that was now running across the park howling like a banshsee. The man in the flowing coat hadn’t even looked at me. He was focused on the two men in front of him, and the larger over-muscular man behind them. He was a giant. They were all white, but the giant was bleach pale, his skin as white as snow. His face was a horror show, crooked teeth, scarred cheeks, thin lips pulled back, huge eyes and a raggedy shock of blonde hair atop his head.
“It’s too late, knight,” said one of the men. “We have what we came for. And the Inciter will ensure the rest. You best leave.”
The knight smiled. “You know I can’t do that.”
“How long do you think you can hold out?” Asked the other man. “Your training can only take you so far.”
“Far enough to end this, and claim the artifact.”
The first man laughed. “You overreach Tolomainian.”
“You think I can’t stop your monster?”
The giant grunted. “I think you can try,” it growled. “I will crush you, even as I destroy your mind.”
It was the giant. He was the Inciter, clearly. And whatever it was he could do it had driven the crowd insane. It was driving me insane. I could feel its weight on my mind. I wanted to turn and run. Where was my mother, my family? Were they hurt? There were gunshots from the other side of the park. My heart was racing a mile a minute. Why was I here? How I could be here? Why was I allowed to see this? And more importantly, would I survive?
“Enough,” said the second man. He pulled a gun from his jacket. “I’m going to kill this bastard.”
A bright light like silver flashed before me. My eyes went wide. The gun’s muzzle was cut off and the knight’s left fist moved as fast as the sword, smashing the man’s face. The giant and the other man tried to attack him, but he was too quick. They were all fighting and I couldn’t follow it all. It was too fast. Before I knew it, they were running. There was blood on the ground. The knight was standing stoically, with a small satchel in his hand. He was breathing mightily and apparently thought better of giving them chase.
He turned and knelt down in front of me. “It’s okay,” he said. “You can feel it now, yes? It is okay.”
And he was right. I could feel it. The pressure, the need to do violence was gone. Part of me wanted to cry, the fear was so overwhelming. The other part of me was so excited I wanted to jump and demand he take me with him, go with him and crush the evildoers. “Who are you?” I asked.
The knight stood. “Just a friend.”
“Are you a superhero? I mean, you have a sword. Who were those guys? And you cut that gun in half. HOW DID YOU DO THAT? And where is your sword? Can I see it again? Wait, are you some kind of Jedi Knight? That guy called you a knight! Then they called you a toloman! What is a toloman? You are a real Jedi Knight! You gotta be! Is a toloman some kind of Jedi Knight? Is that what you are? You don’t dress like one exactly. Well, you kinda do. Your coat is black and brown. It’s really cool.”
The knight chuckled. “Whoa, slow down. No, I’m not a Jedi Knight, whatever that is.”
“But that bad guy called you a knight."
“And a knight I am.”
That was when my mother interrupted, yelling my name. I turned around, elated to hear her voice, and slightly irritated at the interruption. I could see her in the crowd, pushing through towards me.
“I think your mother is calling you, young man,” the knight said behind me. “You’re going to be okay.”
I turned back around, and he was gone.
That night there was no real accountability by the authorities. A man was killed in the riot that ensued. No one ever found out why he was killed. However, I know the truth. Everyone that night was incited to riot by means we didn’t understand. The cops don’t know the truth. The news people don’t know the truth. The crowd was lost and confused. Somehow, no one saw what I saw. None of them felt it he way I felt it, with understanding. To this day I don’t know why I was alone, how I happened to be alone. How I alone witnessed what happened. All I know, is I saw him. I saw him fight. I saw him push back evil. He acknowledged me for a moment, and then he was gone.
That was over thirty years ago.
Now, after following for so long, learning so much, for some reason that was beyond me fate had chosen again to allow me a seat in the theater. The information I had come across was sound. It would get no better. For the first time I was going to be ahead of the curve. I could be there before the action took place. And for some strange, crazy ass reason, the action would be taking place at Dragoncon. In this, it was so like a comic book I could barely stand it.
There was no question I was going. I went to Dragoncon every year. There was no question my data was right. I was just that good. However, given what I had seen and learned over the last thirty years I still found it amazing that somehow these forces, these people that fought for power and control over eternal life, yeah you heard me right, this crazy ass crap has been about becoming immortal, you mean to tell me you didn’t see that coming? These crazy people amazingly enough didn’t scrutinize data, or understand the events that happened in their lives, or maybe they did and just didn’t care. Dragoncon apparently was the setting for a handoff, and just who do you think would be there to stop the handoff? Oh yeah, you got it. And I was going to be there to see it all.
I almost forgot to tell you, these folks do have names. I was able to ferret it out. The knight belonged to a secret order of men and women sworn to protect humanity. They're called The Knights of Avros Tolomain. What the other guy had called him all those years ago was Tolomainian, not Toloman. Imagine that, an honest to goodness order of knights that fight the good fight. These weren’t Masons, or the Knights of Peter Claver, they weren’t some mythical Templar holdovers. These guys were honest to goodness secretive in the shadows bona fide badasses, and every time I ran across some information on them I grew a little more scared, hoping they never found me out. The other group, they call themselves The Darasim, and they fucking terrify me. I avoid getting close to them all together. Both groups are thousands of years old. IT’S CRAZY!
See, when I start thinking about this stuff I get to hacking around the web, digging up information, the fear drives me like an addiction, and I can’t stop. However, I do maintain the presence of mind to realize that people are getting killed out here in the real world, and that these people are deeply involved in it, and that at the center of their conflict is an almost impossible to believe pursuit of immortality.
I will always be a fantasy, sci-fi man but the knowledge that this shit is real … well, sometimes it’s overwhelming and I have to put it down. But like I said, it’s an addiction. I keep coming back. This year, in 2014, the action is back in my hometown, in my backyard. It’s in downtown Atlanta at one of my favorite events. I simply have to be there. I don’t have a choice.
I had my pass. I was on my way to the parade. I was constantly praying. Man, I hope I live through this.
Well, by the time morning had arrived I was fully committed. I looked down at my belly as I sat on the Marta train, winding my way south. It was too big. I had a weenie-do, a dunlap. Translation, my stomach sticks out farther than my weenie do, and my stomach dun lapped over my belt.
At 303 pounds the muscles I once possessed had gone to seed, very very flaccid. I am most certainly a junk body, with what many consider a junk fetish. My wife tells me if I ever decide to put on a costume we just might have a serious problem. She indulges my proclivities, my eccentricities, but she says there has to be line.
“Look, you know I love and support you,” she said. “But I’m not trying to go down there in the middle of all that. “
“I know,” I said, my face a half-smile half-smirk.
“Well, just so you know. I realize that sometimes we, and by we I mean you, have to indulge our fantasy lives, but some of these friends of yours tend to go overboard.”
“So you wouldn’t like it if your favorite geek put on a costume?”
“Let’s be clear, if you start putting on outfits … we’re gonna have a problem.”
“What?” I asked, chuckling. “I’ve always wanted to be a Stormtrooper, or dress up as a Jedi Knight. That’s just flowing robes. The only actual superhero I would want to dress up as is Prince T’Challa of Wakanda.”
She was giving me the side eye, looking at me like I was crazy. “And just who is that?”
“You know, you’ve heard me mention him before. He’s the Black Panther.”
Now it was her turn to chuckle. “Let me be clear, you think I’m going to be cool with you putting on black spandex and walking around in public?” She glanced down at my mid-section.”
“Okay,” I said. “Maybe the black spandex on my body isn’t such a good idea.”
I tell her my choices of Black Panther, a Jedi Knight, or a Storm Trooper and she tells me she loves me but I won’t fit into Storm-Trooper armor, that I would not be acknowledging the truth if I stuffed myself in black spandex trying to imitate the Wakandan Prince, and that she imagined Jedi Knights didn’t run in extra-large. But that’s the whole point of Dragoncon.
On this weekend, in downtown Atlanta, people like me, who pledge their lives to the exultation of the fantastical, the other-wordly, the heroic myths of our youths, and the impossible desire to imagine ourselves as arbiters of justice, we can come out and express ourselves freely, bulbous flesh and all. And let me tell you … we do come out.
By the time I arrived downtown for the parade my mind was all over the place. I checked my iphone. It wasn’t time, and I didn’t know what to expect exactly. I was certain it would be plain, maybe so plain that it would hurt. However, it wouldn’t hurt me so much, not with what I had managed to put together, and of course staying out of the way.
I had figured out what had happened all those long years ago, and the affects of the giant could be counteracted, if that happened again. What was needed was the right sound frequency. It was recorded in my iTunes library, set to repeat. Any person standing near me would not go nutbag. Precautions were of the moment, checked and forgotten. After all, this was Dragoncon. I was here, in my element, and my wife acknowledged it.
No, of course she had no idea about my other hobby, my addiction. Can you imagine how she would react? Most definitely not. The biggest challenge between us was whether or not I took cosplay too seriously. However, that did really present a problem for me. I love cosplay and just to be clear I was taking it more seriously with each passing year. That left me in a difficult place.
As I took up my spot for the parade I wondered about my lack of costume. My wife didn’t want me to pack my flesh in spandex, and I agreed. I was starting to see my acquiescence as a sort of violation, an oath breaking to what I hold dear. As I stood in front of the Hyatt Regency I felt the violation all the more intimately.
I smiled as I rooted myself to my spot, my vantage for the parade. The view was perfect. I had just enough height to see over the heads in front of me, the slight rise from the street to the hotel aided me. I could see Peachtree Street perfectly, and as such would be able to see all the action as it drove, or walked by, whether the action be real or staged. No, they wouldn’t go that far … would they?
Yes, I stood there and contemplated the moment, smiling at everything I saw. I dropped the primary purpose of this year’s visit to the Con to truly enjoy why I attended every year. This event always spoke to my inner child and my inner adult. This spoke to my soul, the creator of software and the dreamer of the fantastical; a man who had made a significant amount of money in technology, indulging the power of nerd culture, and cultivated a hobby on the side that continued to validate for him just how real the fantastical actually was.
I was one of many, a titan in the world of technology, a dreamer from the world of the nerd, a true ruler of the planet, and here I was at the premier event for those of us who love the fantastical, at an event not driven by industry, movies, books, or otherwise, but a true Con for True Believers … and I was underdressed.
Yeah, yeah, yeah I know. At this point you probably think I am a schizo. I mean, I do have knowledge of real titans, people who use money to do crazy things, endanger real people; that get into conflict just like the stories I read in books, comic books, and see on film. Yeah, I know all that. But you see, I rationalize. I touch the reality and fully indulge the fantasy. I have done well and think I know just how dangerous the real world can be, and I’m not that stupid. However, I freely admit I want a taste. I just want a taste. And you see, what I discover, and how I indulge my hobby, this is how I get a taste. A mix of this, a mix of that. All from the safety of my devices … well, until parade day that is.
Even in my bout of disappointment at not being dressed in black spandex the smile would not, could not leave me. I had seen it in years passed, but this year, as I again chose to be underdressed, it affected me. You see, Dragoncon is for everyone, if you be willing. Superman walked by with a huge dunlap. I MEAN GINORMOUS. You could not see the yellow of his belt buckle. His stomach looked a painted pregnant blue. There were dunlaps everywhere. Flesh hanging out of the sides of costumes, people not unlike myself who clearly could not run a mile to catch a criminal even if their lives depended on it. But that’s the point. This is about fun and self-expression, not fighting crime. Shut up, I know already. Dragoncon is for everyone.
Now, of course there are those who clearly try to fit the bill as best as they can. I saw a couple of Wolverine’s that could clearly give Hugh Jackman a real run for his money. Thought about asking these guys to hang with me for the next few minutes, just in case. They looked like Crossfit squared. Clearly they worked out like lunatics and ate lettuce to survive. I could never, nor would I. I love cheeseburgers too much. And the McDonald’s French Fry is by far my all-time favorite food. But still, they looked great. I applauded them. Dragoncon is for everyone.
I couple of Sailor Moon’s walked by. The schoolgirl outfits looked right on the money. The wigs of blonde hair with pigtails were situated on their heads perfectly. Their makeup was on just right. One of them looked like his cheeks needed a bit of smoothing, as though it had undergone a bit too much stress under the razor. These men were dressed like Sailor Moon and you could not tell them a damn thing. They were out and proud and I’m quite sure if you challenged them they could and perhaps would get loud. Maybe even whip your ass. They looked like they were in way better shape than I was. Thought about asking them to stick around too. But you see, that’s the great thing, they didn’t have to get loud. They didn’t have to explain a damn thing to a damn soul. This was their event too. Dragoncon is for everyone.
There were several different Captain America’s. J’onn J’onnz the Martian Manhunter walked by in full superhero regalia, his entire body painted green, including his bald head. He was clearly another workout guy. He was super fit too. A couple of Wonder Women passed in front of me and they definitely looked very attractive. They were followed by a group of Steampunkers, their Victorian era themed outfits resplendent and detailed, some of the women stunningly beautiful, a few not leaving much to the imagination.
Yes, nerds can most certainly be ridiculously hot as well. A couple of John Stewart Green Lanterns walked by, and once again put me in the mind of my wife, forcing me to once again consider my oathbreaking. The Green Lanterns lacked a significant amount of muscle, and clearly didn’t care. The shape of their bodies had nothing to do with it. They looked happy as hell to be in the mix. Dragoncon is for everyone.
My phone buzzed.
It was ten o’clock, and the parade was about to start. If everything was going according to plan I should be at the right place at the right time to see the right thing. And the right thing was a meeting, and its eventual disruption. The pattern had been validated. My model told me this was the place, and this was the time. I didn’t know what to expect, but whatever was coming I was sure it was going to be spectacular, something that would again stay with me for life. I didn’t want a bookend, an end to what was started so long ago. I wanted access. I wanted to be certain, to see and to know. To fully understand why.
“Why, young man of course I am to be feared. After all, I broke the back of the Batman.”
I stiffened, smiling as I turned. The accent was exact. Whoever he was he sounded just like Tom Hardy, who played Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. I sometimes affected that accent as a joke, making an ass out of myself to elicit laughter. And now, the burger has pushed me to the limits of resistance. I struck it down demanding it get in my belly. Now, it is striking back, driving me to the toilet. But know this, I cannot be defeated by porcelain and toilet tissue.
As I turned, my phone buzzed again, and again. It wasn’t the timer. It was the alarm. This was not Tom Hardy, and it was not that Bane, not Bane from the Batman movie. He was the Bane from the comic book. He had on the full Bane outfit, with a mask covering his entire face the better to fit into the crowd I assumed. People were smiling as they took pictures of him, some even posed with him. He tolerated them all. To me he stuck out like a sore thumb. He was huge. He was at least seven feet tall. He was real. He had muscles on top of muscles. He was frightening. He was a mutant giant! He was familiar.
My stomach felt as though it had jumped onto an express elevator going down. A script on my phone had started running. The little program I had written was incredibly efficient, managing power consumption even as it used the phones capabilities to scan frequencies. If it picked up a particular frequency, it would play the sound pattern I saved in iTunes. That tune, silent to the human ear, was playing now. The script also kicked off a directional app. All the app did was point to danger. And right now, it was pointing at the terrifying humongous Bane lookalike.
This is it!
Two men were standing a little ways behind the Bane lookalike. They had on shades. Their suits were immaculate. They looked very expensive. They didn’t look at Bane or the young man he was talking to, the young man who looked very uncomfortable.
I glanced around. The people in my immediate vicinity were smiling, looking at the parade. Closer to the street I noticed some folks holding their heads, like something was bothering them, interfering with their concentration. Out on Peachtree Street the parade had stopped all together. The Spartans had suddenly started attacking each other, and clearly they weren’t play acting.
“Shall we go inside,” said the monstrous Bane. “I do believe we have business to discuss. Do we not?”
I turned back around. The hulking Bane and the man he had clearly come to meet walked towards the entrance of the Hyatt. The other two men, followed. No one seemed to be approaching them now. In fact, people seemed to stay clear, as though getting close for a picture was painful. One of the men in the shades appeared to be talking. I assumed he had on communication gear. He was looking around, and seemed agitated. I slowly looked down at my phone, pretending to check my text messages. No sudden moves. I glanced back up and the man had followed his partner and Bane into the hotel.
“He was looking for you.”
“Whoa!” I jumped, surprised at suddenly hearing a voice right behind me.
The voice belonged to a man with a grey beard and old eyes, a few deep wrinkles on his face, but that was about all that appeared old on him. He too was very familiar. Amazingly so. He was accompanied by four other men, all younger then he was clearly. All wearing the same outfit, crisp white shirt, flowing black and brown coats that moved like robes. To me all these people in outfits should have died by now. It was too damn hot for all the clothes.
“It’s you,” I said. “It’s really you! The Tolomainian Knight!”
“Yes it is, Eddie,”
“And you know my name?”
“I’ve kept an eye on you.”
“You, you … what? But, but you have to be a hundred years old. It can’t be you.”
“Just as that caricature you saw can’t be the same man exuding power that incited a riot all those years ago? The same Inciter who threatened to start a riot just now, if not for you and your … phone?” The old man smiled.
“I am Javier Steel,” said the old knight, holding out his hand.
I shook it. “Eddie Brown.” I tried to squeeze it hard, not give him the limp, wimp shake that we nerds are so known for. The man’s hand was like his name, like steel. He just kept on smiling.
“Sir, we have to get going,” said one of the knights standing behind him.
“Indeed we do my Andrun.” The smile vanished from his face. “Ready yourselves for battle.”
The three knights all pulled staffs from their coats as one, fluidly, cleanly, like magic. It was so damn cool. The old knight didn’t pull out a staff. Eddie looked at the sword in his hand and was terrified and elated at the same time.
“Stay behind Roderick,” the old knight said. The knight closest to him eyed me and directed me with his staff. I obeyed without hesitation. “We don’t quite know what you did with your phone. It should have been easy enough to duplicate, but we could not.”
“We could have just grabbed him and made him explain,” said Roderick.
“Is that our way, Roderick?”
“Just so. Eddie Brown, you are now with us.”
I couldn’t help it. The smile that appeared on my face was about a mile wide. I glanced around and no one seemed to be paying us much attention. I few folks glanced our way, but everyone appeared more focused on the parade. BSG was walking by, and as the assorted Capricans, Taurons, Picons, and Virgons, and whatever else from the Battle Star Galactica Universe starting shouting “So say we all!” the crowd responded in kind, louder and louder with passion. They were even yelling it from the balconies of the hotel. “So say we all!”
It seemed fitting, as I followed my new friends into the hotel. I gripped my iphone tightly. It was the only weapon I had. I followed the Knights of Avros Tolomain into the hotel lobby. Yes, I followed them and with that one action, I entered into a world of impossible adventure. I saw a giant at Dragoncon 2014, a giant and several knights. And my world was never the same …