Fil-Am. Plucky Accountant. Cat Dad. TTRPG Nomad. (He/him)
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"BIMPOC in AP Media" (VGC CON 2020)
-- Last Year --
“You really screwed the pooch this time,” Jaime panted as he sprinted down the alleys. His sister Pyrria was just one step behind. Angry shouting in Korean echoed through the streets, no doubt their pursuers were getting frustrated with all the pedestrian traffic that slowed them down. “Bringing you into the family business might’ve been a mistake.”
“We got the money didn’t we?” she retorted, giving the rucksack a bit of a shake. “And we’re in the clear, they won’t find us here.”
With a hop, a skip, then a mighty leap, Pyrria managed to reach the bottom rung of the fire escape, then swung her bag over her shoulder before deftly climbing the ladder. She was always athletic, but working out with her boyfriend Carl over the past fifteen months added some muscle and tone to her frame, adding even more allure when it shifted her from girl-next-door to femme fatale. Her brother trended along the bad boy side of things, though he grew into it much earlier in life.
“Put your gun away,” Pyrria hissed when Jaime clambored onto the landing. “I promised to keep the shady shit away from his place.”
“How’s that working out?” Jaime smirked, tucking the pistol in the small of his back.
“Not well, clearly. But he loves me and always bails me out of trouble. They won’t think to find us here.”
Pyrria glanced around and quietly slid the window up, then crawled in. She frowned a bit as there was usually a light on somewhere in her boyfriend’s place. Pyrria used her Agent to give her some working light and went to turn on a table lamp as her brother clattered in behind her.
Pyrria’s breath hitched when the lamp illuminated the room. Jaime looked up as his eyes adjusted to the light. The apartment was small, but clean. The furniture was second hand but presentable and the walls were bare. Looking at the nearest wall Jaime saw dabs of fresh paint blended into spots where picture hooks once embedded.
“What’s wr…” Jaime asked in confusion. He paused when he saw a box on the coffee table with various odds and ends packed in a neat, organized fashion. He recognized one item on top, one of Pyrria’s favorite hoodies.
Pyrria stood there, reading a letter with her hand clasped over her mouth.
“I have to go.”
She crumpled the letter and tucked it into her pocket then fetched her agent to call a ride and left through the apartment’s door.
“Man, I’m glad you decided to go with me. I tell you, hopping to a new territory by yourself isn’t easy,” Scott Colton grinned excitedly as he and his friend walked to the terminal. He was a big bear of a man, barrel-chested with wide shoulders and stood about six inches taller than his companion.
“I bet,” Carl replied. Though not as giant as Scott, Carl’s athletic frame was apparent even in his loose-fit clothes and he walked with a smooth, confident gait. He kept his gaze straight ahead, occasionally glancing around at all the other travelers milling about. He and Scotty were dressed shabbily compared to everyone else. They scrounged every last nubuck they could to buy airline tickets at the last minute.
“You’re not having second thoughts now are you? You’re making the right decision for yourself,” Colt saw the whitening on his friend’s knuckles when Carl gripped the shoulder strap of his bag real tight. They arrived just in time as the gate agents had announced they were boarding.
Scott was met with silence until their tickets to Austin were punched.
“No. I’ve been lucky ‘til now, but things would just get worse for me. I don’t want to be another wrestling cautionary tale, getting into trouble. I’d just continue to enable her if I stay.”
Scott chuckled. “You see, that’s the kind of attitude that’ll lead to big things! Well, once you learn how to play backstage politics better.”
Carl wrinkled his nose and began to reply but heard his name called out loudly. Glancing back, he saw Pyrria sprinting towards the gate.
“Carl, baby wait!” Pyrria cried out. She came to a halt when she made eye-contact and saw that it really was the end. Confused tears spilled when Carl gave her a melancholy wave and smile before heading through the gate.
-- Today --
“This is different,” Ximenez muttered to himself, idly twirling linguine with his fork.
“What’s different?” Dr. Frost asked with that typically deep intonation. He leaned in just enough to ensure the table couldn’t hear their side conversation. There wasn’t much risk of that; Nona was miming holding a bowling ball while wiggling her fingers as Rynn, R3no and Trinz shrieked in laughter.
Ximenez hid a faint smile behind a sip of water and gave Trinz a brief glance before replying.
Season 3 Prelude, Part 1
“Thanks for coming on short notice. Side F/X is super hot right now, but we’re short-handed thanks to roster injuries. We need to split the team up because Fiona is needed to help fill out the higher end of the card,” Russo explained briskly. The last thing he wanted was to cause any backstage drama, but Fiona threw down an ultimatum. She wanted to go back to singles competition.
Russo was met with stony silence, and began to twiddle his thumbs nervously.. He feared making eye contact with Ximenez and revealing the real truth. Fiona refused to look in Ximenez’s eyes too, for that matter.
“What am I going to do then?” Ximenez finally asked, his mind whirling with possibilities at a thousand thoughts a minute. This was bad. He was just getting started and already the rug was being pulled out from under him, just like the time Fiona signed with NCW originally. Ximenez had matured since then, and he would not get caught off-guard again.
“Well, we’ll keep you, obviously. You’re still under contract and you’re a great worker,” Russo replied, looking a little relieved that things had not escalated. Fiona’s lips creased when Russo complimented Ximenez but she remained silent, looking away from them both with her arms folded across her chest. That spoke volumes to Ximenez. He knew the injured roster was a convenient excuse. They could easily pull up some folks from Club Underground who were ready for the limelight.
“We don’t have anything right now for you so we’ll just fake you having an injury and try to repackage…”
Fiona clawed the arms of her chair and began to rise to her feet but Russo held his hand up to stop her.
“If we’re going to break this team up, we’re going to do it right. Put us in a tag title match at Five Star Melee. We’ll put Punch and Judy over,” Ximenez continued. Fiona eyed him critically but his expression was unreadable. “It’ll give them a big boost.”
Russo followed that idea through its course.“Yeah. Yeah! Ok. That works. No sense letting your work go to waste right? We fake your injury in that match and Fiona will be free to get slotted into the Continental Champion pic...no?”
Ximenez shook his head again.
“Fiona and I should work a short feud,” Ximenez settled back into his chair and stared coolly back at Fiona. He could feel her seethe at the idea and begin to speak up, but she stopped when she saw Ximenez’s expression practically daring her to come up with a better idea.
Sorry, Fee. But I’m not getting left behind again. If I’m going down I’m doing it on my terms, Ximenez thought.
“Now there’s a thought,” Russo replied as he texted Punch and Judy to visit him asap. “What else you got, Ximenez?”
Ximenez told him.
“Hey! What the hell are you doing?” Fiona yelled as Ximenez packed his gym bag. She slapped the Found Familiar tumbler out of his hand and leveled an accusatory finger at him.
Ximenez sighed and straightened up to address Fiona, ignoring the pointing finger. The rest of the folks in the locker room watched in shock at the angry outburst. “What are you talking about?”
“Your booking! I don’t want any of this and now I can’t get Russo to change his mind.”
Ximenez eye-rolled. “You can wait an extra month before your Continental Title run. What’s the rush? You don’t want to team up anymore, that’s fine. But that’s not any reason to throw everyone else in the tag team division under the bus. They worked extra hard to make us look great and help revitalize the division."
“I don’t care about that,” Fiona sneered, causing on-lookers to scowl. Realizing what she just said, she decided this was not the time or place. She turned around and stormed out of the room, yelling over her shoulder. “I should’ve never brought you in.”
Aha. There it is, Ximenez thought. A flicker of disappointment crossed his features before his expression turned blank again and he returned to packing up for the day. Another awkward moment passed before Ximenez heard someone clear their throat.
“Hey CB,” Judy said with an easy smile as she handed him his Found Familiar tumbler. Punch wasn’t too far behind. They were a beefy pair, standing a few inches taller than Ximenez and well muscled.
“Don’t listen to her. You’ve been an awesome addition to the locker room, and we’ll back you up,” Punch said, clapping a mitt-sized hand on Ximenez’s shoulder. “You’ll bounce back from this and get your chance sooner or later.”
Ximenez just nodded and slung his bag over his other shoulder.
“Sooner than you think,” he finally answered before stepping out of the locker room too.
Season 3 Prelude (part 2)
“How would you book it?”
Carlton frowned a bit as his surfboard rocked with the waves. It was a perfect day for the beach; then again the west coast always had good weather for surfing. It was quiet out here but on the shore was a small but raucous crowd hovering around a wrestling ring. Carlton couldn’t make out who the wrestlers were, but he didn’t care. Carlton hated answering this question, so he feigned ignorance. “Book what?”
“You. How would you book Ximenez? How would you pave his way to the Grand Prix world title?”
“C’mon. Thought exercise. How would you do it from obscurity to best in the world?”
Carlton shifted uneasily on the board and let the next wave go.
“He'd start in an indie darling promotion like...I dunno. Club Underground. Cut a scorching promo that blurs the line between kayfabe and reality. Folks connect with that realness and see that his struggle is just like theirs. They buy-in on what he's selling. Then he maybe gets called up to the main roster at NCW, build up even more momentum there.”
“How would you do that?”
“Tell a story. A real, personal story and play it out in a feud. If it connects with the fans, they won’t accept anything less than seeing Ximenez in the main event challenging for the world title.”
“That’s still not Grand Prix.”
“No. But imagine if Grand Prix’s Battle Kingdom Royale is hosted in Night City. And that smart crowd of twent thousand can just feel something special is going to happen. They've been waiting for it for so long. The clock is counting down. 3, 2,1...bzzzt. The titantron flashes and Ximenez comes out. The crowd sees their guy putting on the best and most dramatic Royale match in decades. They're too jaded to believe that Ximenez could win. But what if he did? That would mean two months later he’s in the main event at GPW’s Show of Shows. Champion vs. champion. Night City vs. the Corporation.”
His fellow surfer chuckled. “Now that’s big.”
“You asked,” Carlton replied defensively.
“Because how’re you going to make it happen if you can’t even see it?” Sting replied. It wasn't Crow Sting though. It was Surfer Sting, facepaint and all, straight out of 1989. Carlton did a doubletake when he saw the Icon right there in the ocean with him.
“Uh...what are you doing here?” Carlton looked around again, but Sting was getting ready to catch the next wave and Carlton quickly followed suit. That ended up being their last round of the day.
“You know, there’s one thing standing in your way,” Sting commented idly.
“Yeah yeah. GPW would never let their championship title be disrespected like that.”
“No, someone else.”
“Who?” Carlton asked just before he turned to face Sting, only to discover he disappeared in a flutter of crows.
And when Carlton turned back to continue to the surf shack, a massive boot connected with his chin. Onlookers winced and oooo’d with sympathy as Carlton hit the floor with a thud. Before he could recollect himself, Carlton felt claws sink into his scalp and drag him back up to his feet.
“Me,” whispered Fiona. “You want this feud, you got it. I'll kill your push personally.”
And at that, Fiona drove Carlton through the surf shop’s front window.
“Ximenez tried to dive through the window to escape! What an act of cowardism!” an onlooker proclaimed, pointing accusingly at Ximenez, slumped over a window pane. Shattered glass littered inside the surf shack. After several minutes, Ximenez lifted himself off the window pane and slumped onto the ground, sitting back against the base of the shack. Blood streamed down from a dozen cuts and as his vision tinted red, Ximenez was startled out of his daze when Blanco blared over the garden speakers.
Ximenez sat up in his armchair, woken by the loud music filling his apartment space. His eyes focused on the source, a certain diminutive neighbor holding her agent just a few inches away from his face, swaying her hips to the music.
“Christ, Trinz! You couldn’t have come up with a more pleasant way to wake me up?” He glanced over at the clock. Just a little past eight.
“It’s so much less dangerous to wake you up this way. I have a brother you know,” Trinz replied, lowering the volume to a less jarring level. Ximenez sighed a bit, head tilted backwards to rest on the edge of the armchair. When he shook off enough grogginess, he reached a hand out to Trinz.
“A kiss and a gentle nudge would’ve worked,” Ximenez muttered. He cracked a gentle smile though when Trinz took his hand. He pulled her onto his lap and nestled in cozily. They were silent for a minute before Trinz broke it.
“You missed our usual dinner. Were you busy with something?” she asked, glancing at the TV screen, which was just static now.
“Just...had a bad work day,” Ximenez replied, resting his chin on top of her luminescent hair. His stomach growled loud enough for them both to hear.
“Merc is out for the night. Want to come over and have some of Mrs. B’s casserole?”
Ximenez looked up at Trinz and smiled wordlessly before his lips met hers for a brief kiss. He then pulled back with a tranquil face.
“What?” Trinz asked, slightly confused.
“Nothing. Just glad we have this. Casserole sounds great.”
Give & Take
(takes place after to Cyberpunk Red S3E2)
"Hey buddy," came a deep voice through his agent.
Carlton had been stretched out on the couch and staring at the ceiling before Russo called. "Agent, please project the video call on the external display."
A screen slid along a track system installed on the ceiling, and came to a stop at a reasonable distance from Carlton's face without forcing him to get up. He felt a bit foolish, having teased Trinz about not needing something like this but that was before getting powerbombed through a car windshield.
"Just wanted to check in and see how you're doing. You took a nasty bump," Russo said, peering closely at the screen on his own end.
"I'm resting. Comfortably and quietly until you called," Carlton replied dryly. "Thanks for getting that medical team to me so quickly by the way."
"Hey, Hayes said that the car was gimmicked and you'd be ok. Sorry. She's been fined for it and I'll make sure that the rest of the feud goes smoothly. But..."
Carlton's eyes narrowed. "But what?"
"Fiona's made a couple of requests for the feud."
"Of course she did. Fine, what does she want?"
"You gotta change your entrance music and ring gear."
"What? Why?! Ooow..." Carlton sat up quickly and paid the price for it when his bruised muscles spasmed from pain.
"Well, she was covering the licensing of the song and said she wasn't going to continue paying the royalties. And NCW doesn't want to pay it. Also, your attire vibes to well with hers. She said that you need to change it up so it's clear you and she aren't a team."
Carlton closed his eyes for a moment, but decided to choose his battles. "Fine."
Russo blinked. "Wow, really? No push back on that?"
"I'm playing the long game. But I get to go over on the live show before our match at the next NCG event, Retribution. It only makes sense because I'm putting her over. I expect her to cooperate with my match-calling. I can turn this into a Match of the Year contender."
Russo looked back skeptically. "It takes two for that. Do you think you can get her to not just phone it in?"
"She'll realize soon enough that she can't do that if she's going to thrive as a heel. I'm going to go. I won't be at the next couple of shows, so I can sell the injury. I will book a few matches in Club Underground to test a few things. Is that cool?"
"Yeah, sure. Just make sure you don't go too crazy." Russo hung up.
"Have a good one too jerk," Carlton muttered before pulling up the usual social media outlets. He snapped a quick selfie of his bandaged chest and typed a call out.
Sore but recovering. This isn't the end; it's just the beginning and new starts need new music! Who out there has a song for me to use as entrance music? Bonus points for violins and straying for the metal/punk norms. #PickMineX
After clicking to send his request out into the universe, he stood up and stretched gingerly. Almost lunch time, he thought. I should check on Trinz and Jefe's car. Not wanting to head down there empty-handed, he made a few grilled cheese sandwiches and plucked a six pack of Jolt from the fridge before heading down to the garage.