73. Sherlock bellows down the stairs

“Ooooo! Who’s being ableist now,” Jesse said.

“It’s not a contest,” Anh said.

“Yes, it totally is,” Colin said, staring after the boho woman with resentment.

“When you’ve always been on top, equality feels like a raw deal,” Jesse said.

“Can we have a proper meeting, when you guys have finished with whatever this bizarre verbal death match is?” Anh said.

“I thought it was a demonstration of reproductive fitness,” Jesse said. He stuck out his tongue and flexed his left arm. His tongue did not reach his arm.

Avtar said, frowning at Jesse, “Winnie’s expecting our first child, so I win.”

Anh asked, with exaggerated disbelief, “You’re married?”


“She must be hella brave,” Anh said, thinking of Avtar’s association with George.

“Marrying a Guyanese guy? I guess,” Avtar said, cheerfully taking it the wrong way. Anh pointed a finger at him and made a face.

“Wait a minute,” Colin said. “I remember George saying something about Avtar also being part of an interracial couple – he was joking about him and Kima.”

“So you married a white girl,” Anh said.

“Second-gen Taiwanese, eckshully,” Avtar said. “Her parents hate me, of course.”

“Because you have a tan?” Colin said. It was not how Jesse would have followed up, and he felt sorry for Colin.

“Because I’m not Christian,” Avtar said, straight-faced.

His dining companions burst out laughing.

“This too is our Vancouver,” Colin said, recovering.

The boho woman pulled up a chair and said, “I know it’s none of my business, but I’m asking anyway. What are you guys – coworkers?”

“We’re a LARP team,” Avtar said. As the oldest among them, and the most experienced, he produced the lie with easy confidence.


“Yup, ‘Aliens take over Vancouver’,” Anh said.

“It’s called, Run Sixer Run,” Colin said. He had recently re-watched Run Lola Run.

“No it isn’t, it’s called ‘Last Stand on Granville Island!’” Jesse said.

“I wanted to call it, “We are so fucked,” Avtar said, “But Run Sixer Run works.”

“It seems like it! Well, have fun guys,” she said, and went back to her table.

“You bastards,” Avtar said.

“What?” Jesse and Colin said.

“Now I have to go home and build a website.”

“Like Google Calendar for Sixer lovers,” Anh said. “With snacks.”

“Next you’ll be wanting the Minecraft mod,” Avtar said, gloomy.

“I’ve always found more to enjoy in lifting weights and consensual sex,” Jesse said.

They all looked at each other.

“Hide in plain sight,” Colin said.

“With snacks,” Anh said.  “Without snacks, it’s just trolls.”

Jesse found himself smiling. “You know what’s going to be really fun about this, if we pretend it’s a game?”


“Laying the city out on a grid and looking at it.  I mean, really looking at it. If we’re trying to prevent our city from burning down, then we need to look at every inch of it and assess it for threats.”

“Most of the work’s been done,” Avtar said.

“Really? You know how to lay hands on it?” Colin asked.

“No,” Avtar said. “In the game, that’s not my area of specialty.”

“Ri-i-ght,” Colin said.

“And we don’t mention details in public,” Jesse said. “You know, I think you’re the biggest security risk in the Sixer cabal.” He was looking at Colin.

“But we’re allowed to say Sixer,” Colin said, frowning.

“We’re normalizing it.  You normalize ideas (in other words, bring uncommon ideas into commonality) by normalizing them (in other words you speak, purchase, make, do, practice, worship, enact ideas.) I know that sounds recursive, but that’s how advertising works,” Anh said.

The men sat with that for a moment.

“You guys are unbelievable,” Anh said.

“How so?” Colin said.

“You were actually thinking about what I just said.”

“You included worship,” Jesse said.

“Yeah, I tripped on that one too,” Avtar said, splaying his hands and nodding in agreement at Jesse.

Colin said, snottily, “I thought it was a little over the top, myself. Do we have to descend into fourth year discussions of bad philosophy?”

“Says the man who went to trade school,” Jesse said under his breath.

“Oh, so now you’re ganging up on the PR person again, in the fight that has gone on since the dawn of marketing.” Anh was signalling the server.

“But we don’t want to normalize the fact that we’ve all done illegal shit to play the game,” Jesse said, dragging the conversation back to the subject. “What are the rules of this game?” His dining companions spoke all at once

“The Sixers are neutral good,” Colin said.

“Kima is the smartest,” Avtar said.

“We can’t talk about the First Nations. Nothing about them without them,” Jesse said.  He added, “If they want to write their own module and keep me out of it, fine,” Jesse said. “Or invite me in with a password, I don’t mind either way.

Anh said, “Three more shots and a Shirley Temple,” to the server.

“So we can talk about fight club but we can’t talk about one of the groups that comes to fight club,” Colin said.

“We make all the secrecy about the First Nations part. All the alien stuff is pretty much lying around, in layers of course,” Avtar said.  “Colin,” he asked in a wheedling voice.


“Can you host the game server?”

Colin said, “Er. You know I’m living with my grandparents, and my grandmother is a couple of weeks away from dying at home?”

“Omigod, I’m so sorry,” Anh said.

Colin was solemn. “It’s been a privilege. ‘I want sympathy from no-one for a pain I would not trade for anything.’”

“What’s that? it’s —,” Jesse said. He suddenly thought of Lark.

“It’s something my grandmother said before she stopped being able to talk; I think it was Catalonian poetry, but who knows, and I can’t ask her now.”

“I bet you really needed a break from that.”

“She’s got a caregiver, I’m mostly hanging ‘round with grandad, and he’s mostly okay,” Colin said heavily. “I miss laughing.  There’s not much happening at the house these days.”

“My family’s expecting, Jesse found a body and got beat half to death, Colin’s grandma’s dying… what’s your big dark secret,” Avtar said. His voice was richly encouraging.

“I judge men on how fast they comment on my height,” Anh said, “and assume that I’m Chinese, and assume I can’t speak proper English, and make jokes about massage parlours.”

“I thought we managed to avoid all that,” Avtar said in horror.

“Yeah,” Anh said.  “There’s a bunch of other stuff on my list, and you managed to avoid all that, too.”

“Not quite, Avtar said crazy,” Jesse said. “And so did you!”

“So it is a contest,” Anh said.  “Am I the only person around here who wants this to be a co-operative venture?” She mimed cocking a handgun, and Colin lost his heart.

“When you’re trying to be a better person,” Colin said, stepping up and swinging for the light standards, “It’s always a contest, and you’re almost always losing. And we were talking about a game. So the game is Save Vancouver From Burning Down When Aliens Come Out. The Side Quest is Can We All Be Better People.”

“You first, privileged white guy,” Anh said.

“I am not the token white guy,” Colin said, but this time you could see the tremor in his lip from trying not to laugh, and he was looking right into Anh’s eyes when she started to giggle. Jesse leaned right into Avtar’s ear and whispered, “Warning, crush in progress.”

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Born when atmospheric carbon was 316 PPM. Settled on MST country since 1997. Parent, grandparent.

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