Duel 29 – Declining the Challenge
Two months later on Valentine’s Day, Maya gave birth to a healthy baby boy in hospital, with Yukio present. The parents named the child Narmer in reference to the land wherein he was conceived. There was not a sweeter time of year for a child to be born. Yukio watched mother and child with joy and amusement, seeing such a fierce mother melt into goo nursing her baby. Later that month the couple merged their finances, in essence marrying.
Later that month all of Team Baby Blast Furnace; Maya, Yukio, Sophia, were invited to the The Duel Network to talk about Yugioh and the tournament they won. They accepted the challenge, but first the chancellor of the New York Duel Academy took the team out on a tour of his school. Maya and Yukio both tried to enter the academy and failed five years ago.
The trio gave something of a lecture in the main hall; the chancellor gave them notes telling them exactly what to say, which they did. Students then asked them questions, which were more revealing than any answer they made up. Sophia remarked how the students acted exactly like her adopted brothers and sisters, completely sheltered. At least Pegasus’ children were once orphans. Maya grew furious, but bottled her anger; she tore the chancellor’s notes apart during the lecture.
And within due time, our heroes arrived to The Duel Network talk show, and even some other finalists arrived, presented by none other than Gail Aphor.
APHOR: “Today! All new! A fascinating celebrity gamer meetup! World Champion Marina Bozuslowsky, teammates Yukio Fujiwara and Sophia Yanova, rival finalist Maria White, and finalists Rex Raptor and Weevil Underwood GIVE IT UP! We’ll go inside their dueling adventures next! Let’s give them a big round of applause, people!
“So, Maya – can I call you that? – What’s it like being the King of Games? How does it feel to be the first woman and the first black person to be world champion?”
MAYA: “As long as the Huffington Post and Jezebel don’t embarrass me, I’m fine. I feel very happy and grateful being world champion – who doesn’t? – I always wanted to be a great duelist and rock the boat, but I never thought I could be King of Games. To be honest, I went into this tournament because I needed to pay the bills, being a finalist would have been enough. As for all the talk about race and gender, I’d rather have that discussed in a more level-headed and intellectual environment than reality TV.”
APHOR: “What, we’re not smart enough for you? You want to only talk to an academic elite? – Can I get that, people! – Everyone loves a true duelist!”
SOPHIA: “You willingly rocked the boat, Maya. You can’t runaway from people’s reactions now.”
MAYA: “I’m not running away. I know how easily the so-called masses bastardize complex social issues and make asses out of everyone. And perhaps I simply changed. I was a different woman before the tournament than now, so perhaps I became a bit more mature.
“As for said social issues; I’m very proud to represent women and black people everywhere. All my life society told me, explicitly and implicitly, that I could never amount to much; that I lacked the intellectual and creative potential. That was a big motivation for me challenging the status quo. Forcing conservative dorks to eat their own words is very satisfying; I freely admit.
“But being a big role model becomes a curse over time. People will revere you as an idol, sure, but they will soon try to control you like they own you. I can’t be everything to everybody, but I guarantee you, idiots will try to manipulate and abuse me into acting exactly the way they want for the pettiest of reasons. They will not listen to anything you say or follow your example. They will kill you by turning you into a celebrity.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: “Why you gotta’ throw shade like that? How can my little girl look up to someone who calls me, and other people of her race and gender, ignorant savage morons? Honey, I’ll show you how to throw shade! Talk like that and you’ll be the least popular world champion of all time!”
MAYA: “I don’t care. This is boring. Can we please talk about the Yugioh game itself?”
WEEVIL: “To be honest, I kind of miss the good old days when Yugioh didn’t have all this political garbage in it. I just wanna’ win and have fun.”
APHOR: “Okay guys, calm down a bit. – Shut up, Weevil! – Maria, what do you think about Yugioh right now?”
MARIA: “Yugioh is dying, and rogue duelists are killing it. You could only use a few decks back in the day, sure, but that gave duelists a standard to aspire you. They had to netdeck each other but they also had to tweak their decks a bit to get ahead. That was creative; that was like netdeck Inception. But now there is no standard; a duelist can win with whatever God forsaken trash if they have the brains to do it. Any loser with a good strategy can easily surpass even the God Cards these days. Once the gods were a force of destiny. Now they’re just another archetype. A dueling world that stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
APHOR: “I’m getting a pretty mixed vibe from the audience right now. So Maya, how would you respond to that?”
MAYA: “People have been saying ‘Yugioh is dying’ since forever. If I had a dime each time someone said that, I would never have to duel again. Yes, netdeck Inception is pretty interesting, but without new duelists challenging the old, the game will stop evolving. Pegasus creates new cards every weekend, so expecting the same meta deck to remain for all eternity is unreasonable.
“Regardless, Pegasus will always keep a metagame because he profits from it. He creates a new banlist forcing you to buy expensive new cards, which also forces you to sell old but good cards to afford said new cards. Next year, Pegasus creates new cards and a new banlist, and the cycle repeats. Kaiba updates his toys and gives them planned obsolescence, just like Apple does. Kaiba and Pegasus don’t care about the game anymore. For them, it’s all about keeping the capitalism machine running until Yugioh one day implodes on itself.”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: “You ain’t a commie, are you, ma’am? Because I’ll tell you right now, communism is just as bad as fascism, and if you’re a commie you might as well be a Nazi. Why don’t liberal arts colleges speak about communism as the evil it is, just like we all do about Nazism? Did you know, Stalin was just as bad as Hitler!”
REX: “And we passed Godwin’s Law.”
APHOR: “Shut up, Rex! – Maya, how do you respond to that?”
MAYA: “I don’t respond to people that stupid. I talk to whomever I want. No one is entitled to my time and attention, no matter how famous I am.”
APHOR: “A true duelist wouldn’t disappoint their fans. Yukio? Sophia? Any thoughts?”
YUKIO: “I agree with Maria a bit. Yugioh used to have a nobler aspect to it. Back then, Yugioh had real sense of honor and competitive spirit, which was a good thing no matter how dumb the ‘honor of the duelist’ is. Now being a duelist is about having a career, just like in a corporate office. It’s all about money.”
SOPHIA: “I would like to address the many deaths that occurred during the tournament. I am deeply ashamed of it all. I would never have gone to the tournament if it would mean getting so many people killed. I’m so sorry!”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 3: “BULLSHIT! We gotta’ lock her up!”
MAYA: “Don’t feel guilty, Sophia. Let me wipe your tears. Matthew and his Ghoul underlings forced us to fight for our lives. Calling us murderers would be like blaming the victims in the Saw movies.”
YUKIO: “Not the best example, Maya.”
APHOR: “I heard you guys visited New York City’s Duel Academy. Can you tell me what that was like?”
MAYA: “The kids are spoiled and sheltered, and learn nothing about the real world. Academies do them more harm than good. Imagine if there was a basketball academy that taught kids nothing but how to play basketball. No algebra, no literature, no history. Nothing. Then you dump those poor kids into the real world with no life experience. Only a few of all basketball players become superstars; the rest starve. Yugioh is the same way. Even child prodigies have no guarantee surviving.”
TRAVIS: “Not cool, man! My name is Travis T., and I’m the number one duelist in the academy! No one disses my school and gets away with it! I challenge you to a duel! Right here! Right now! If you lose, not only do you apologize to everyone you hurt today, you give me the title of King of Games!”
MAYA: “I decline your challenge.”
TRAVIS: “A true duelist never declines a challenge!”
MAYA: “I just did. First of all, you have no right to challenge me. You don’t walk into a corporate boardroom and demand to become senior administrator. The same applies here. Win a national tournament, and maybe I will accept your challenge. Second of all, you’re no match for me. I would tear you apart in ten seconds, you brat. Third of all, even if you beat me and become King of Games, you will burn out fast and die young. You don’t know how to manage money, manage a busy schedule, handle debts, or avoid getting screwed over by every conman in the world. You’ll end up sucking dick for meth within a few months, and show business won’t shed a tear.”
YUKIO: “You just had to piss everyone off, Maya!”
AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: “What foul language!”
MAYA: “Get bent, asshole. Now if you excuse me, I must take care of my child.”
Jolene, who was tending the infant at this point, tried her best to comfort the little creature, which was wailing from all the terrible noise and shouting around it. Jolene returned the child to its mother. Gail Aphor ensconced her guests away as much as she good, but could not fully save them from the ravenous audience. Though blocked by security, the audience harassed the guests as much as it could.
The third audience member screamed, “She’s making controversy! She’s doing it all for money!”
The poor baby would not calm down, and both parents blamed themselves for going to the talk show. Yukio, Sophia, Jolene, and Maya all traded time with the infant until they calmed it down, putting it fast to sleep. Yukio then fell to blaming Maya for causing such turmoil during the talk show, with Maya retorting how she had to stand her ground; followers are vicious creatures that could never be appeased. It was their first argument as a couple, and it was so severe they nearly divorced.
The couple briefly split. Yukio taking the baby with him since he deemed Maya an unworthy mother, causing Maya to break into tears for her baby, overcome by a mother’s instinctive despair. Jolene and Sophia found Maya a hotel room for a few days, and stayed with her for a few days to comfort her.
Heart-broken, Maya wandered to a soup kitchen in the west side. Slumping her head on the meal tables, she stared at every homeless person she could find. Her parents drilled within her an intense fear of becoming homeless. If they didn’t pay rent, they would get evicted and become homeless. If Maya acted out, her father could lose his job and they would become homeless. If Maya didn’t do well in school nor go to college, she would become homeless. If Maya did not win a big Yugioh tournament, she would fail to pay her debts and become homeless.
Never did it occur to Maya’s parents, or even Maya herself, that “the homeless” were human beings. Understanding this for the first time, Maya wondered if playing so much dumb Yugioh was even worth it. Maybe becoming homeless was the better choice. They seemed happy in the soup kitchen, but that was probably a lie.
A volunteer, an old man, tall and clean-shaven approached behind her, and said, “I remember you!” Maya turned around. It was Greg, the old homeless man the team knew from four years ago. Maya greeted him joyously; and they talked through the whole afternoon.
Greg, it seemed, used part of the team’s prize money to rebuild his life. He managed to get a job in human resources and lived in public housing. It was no rags-to-riches story, but it was a miracle, or so he said, and Maya agreed. Maya told him her own story, feeling ashamed how she, someone who did have a rags-to-riches story, could be so unhappy. Greg reminded her, jokingly, that Hollywood actors did drugs and went to mental hospitals for a reason.
The two bade each other farewell. Maya called Yukio, telling him she was sorry for everything, and Yukio said the same. They would move back together after the weekend and promised to never argue again. Next time, they would work things out like rational mature adults, which, I’m sure you know, most couples are.
Maya went to a hipster bar and had a few good old shots, happy she could drink again as she was no longer pregnant, played darts a bit, danced, and returned to her hotel room. Though everything was dark inside, Maya could see the body of a woman.