Dec 22, 2013

The Ingenue (6) - The Problem with Mary

Chapter Title: The Problem with Mary
Rating: PG  (adult language).
Word Count:  ~4,056.
Characters: Maraina Stratten, Jeremy Rylon,Riley Stratten, Lucia Stratten, Richard Jackson, Robert Barker, Cate Willis, Sterling Mitchell.
Warnings: Unbetaed (probable grammatical errors).
Synopsis: Robert Barker gets unexpected news and makes some unanticipated gains in his cold war against Sterling Mitchell. Riley Stratten faces his first mandatory therapy sessions while Mari starts getting comfortable with her new writing partners.

“Are you really going there, you misogynistic prick?

“So, are you going to tell me what is really going on?” Lucia moved through the small kitchen with ease and purpose, getting various ingredients for what Riley was sure was going to be one of her massive breakfast bonanza.
He snorted because she hadn't paused at all from her cooking and it still never ceased to amaze him how mother’s, or at least this one, had eyes in the back of their heads. He straddled the stool and propped his elbows on the counter. Then waited.
“Are you really out of the Army?”
He could tell she wasn’t happy with his simple answer by the way she started banging the pans on the stove.
“You’re going to wake them up with that racket, ya know.”
“An earthquake couldn’t wake them up right now. They were up talking after we went to sleep.” She flipped the omelette with expert ease on the plate and placed it in front of him. “How bad were you injured?”
Riley shrugged, not meeting her eyes. He grabbed the fork and let it sink slowly through the layers of egg, meat, cheese and vegetables. He inhaled deeply. It was easy to take for something as simple as breakfast made by your mom for granted. He certainly had. At least now he realized how precious this really was, especially knowing how many of his comrades no longer had this opportunity.
“Bad enough,” he said, still toying with his food, “that I’ll forever be in the shirts side of any sports.” He tried to smile but realized how weak the joke had been so he just forked the omelette and shoved it in his mouth. “I missed this,” he said between bites.
She drank her coffee while he inhaled the food, but her silence spoke volumes. He hadn’t wanted to go into the mess he’d made, but the one thing his mother was a master at silent pressure and manipulation. For someone who had killed, often viciously, more men than he could count, he had no backbone when it came to his mother.
“There are scars. Plenty of them, but I’m not ready to move to the catacombs of the Paris opera house so don’t worry.”
A small smile tugged at her lips. “Liar. I always knew you liked that movie.” She picked up his plate and took it to sink. “So what else aren’t you telling me?” she said over her shoulder.
“I have mandatory therapy sessions for a minimum of six months as part of my discharge.”
The soapy plate slammed against the sink. He raised his hand and shook his head.
“It’s not that bad, just a precaution and I’m totally OK with it.” That was such a crock of shit that he hoped he wouldn’t start oozing it from his pores. It wasn’t remotely OK but he’d been left with little choice. Discharge and therapy or the brig. “I think it will totally help me readjust to civilian life.”
He knew by the look in her face she wasn’t buying it, then he remembered that the best lies had a basis of truth to them.
“I was burned out and my CO knew it. The accident was just the final nail on the coffin of my career. The therapy is just the Army’s way of ensuring I don’t climb a bell tower with a semi.”
She reached over the counter and smacked his head. “That’s not funny, Riley.”
“I have some back combat pay coming my way so if I could just crash here for a few days that will really help out.”
Lucia sighed. “Of course you can stay. We’ll figure something out. There’s no rush.”
“Coffee,” Mari, the sleep deprived zombie, begged as she shuffled into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes.
“You look worse than I feel,” Riley said. “And that’s pretty bad.”
Mari snarled and flipped him off. “Coffee.”
“You want something to eat?”
Mari shook her head and pulled out a vat some might call a coffee mug. “Coffee.” She poured more than half of the coffee pot into her barrel.
“Wouldn’t an IV drip work faster?” Riley asked.
Mari stuck her tongue out at him and blew a wet raspberry. Then went to the refrigerate, grabbed the creamer and proceeded to dump half of it into her vat.
Riley shuddered. “Can you even taste the coffee after all that cream?”
“Stop. Talking.” She blew into her cup then closed her eyes, took a long sip and sighed. “Please tell me I have at least an hour—”
“To become human?”Riley asked. “Nope. You are patient zero of the zombie apocalypse.” He turned to Lucia, “Since when has she been this bad in the morning?”
“Since puberty,” Lucia responded. “What time did Sterling tell you to be there?”
Mari shook her head. “Jeremy said not before ten thirty or he’d have to kill me.”
“You’re too mean to have one boyfriend, much less two, so wanna fill me in?”Riley looked at her and waited and was struck by the beautiful smile that lit up Mari’s face.
“I met Sterling Mitchell and he offered me a job.”
“The creator of The Odyssey.” He shook his head. “The show with Jaime Connors.” He just looked at her. “The one with the girl in the steel bikini?”
“Oh, yeah, I remember that one. She was smoking’”
“I met her, too and she’s so out of your league you’re not even playing the same sport.”
Riley looked at Lucia who shrugged. “You're my favorite son and I love you, but she’s totally out of your league.”
He ignored her and turned back to Mari. “He’s an old guy, right? So what exactly are you going to be doing for him?”
“Eww, it’s not like that.” Mari crinkled her nose in distaste. “I’m going to be his assistant and giving his crew a fan’s perspective of the series. Maybe throwing in some ideas.” She paused and chewed her lip. “There’s a chance I might be able to do some of the story writing. I don’t know. It will probably end up a disaster but I’m determined to ride this nuke until it explodes in my face.”
Riley smiled. He couldn’t help it because the shear enthusiasm of the now, mostly alert, Mari was blinding him. “Enough about you. Tell me more about bikini girl.”
Robert Barker slid his luxury sedan into the parking slot of the golf driving range with a confidence he didn’t feel. He hated the pretentious air that lingered whenever money influenced beyond reason, but he especially hated the people who wielded that clout. It grated his nerves that regardless of how much he made in this town, of his thousand dollar suits, or power lunches, he would still be on the outside looking in. He climbed out of the car and stalked through the concrete walkway, slowly counting to a hundred until his pulse settled into a calm simmer.
He especially hated the man about to smack the little white ball with an overpriced stick. Richard Jackson had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth and into one of Hollywood’s most powerful families. Sheer luck of birth had put him on the path to success and throne he’d stolen.
Barker stood back and silently waited as Jackson expertly hit the ball a respectable distance. It was clear even to the uninterested like him that Jackson’s polish came from lessons as a youth, that and the clubs that cost over forty thousand dollars. He only remembered the brand because a couple of junior executives had mentioned it during a meeting once and his only thought had been that the over privileged always spent their money stupidly.
“I hear congratulations are in order,” Barker said, hoping the generic smile on his face would hide his anger and frustration about his current predicament.
“Ah, Robert. Thank you for meeting me in such short notice.” Richard’s smile was both condescending, since both of them knew that Barker had no choice, and predatory. Barker couldn’t help but be impressed even as he seethed. “I see news traveled with it’s usual lightning speed.”
Richard leaned down and put another ball on the tee. He took a few practice swings before stepping up to hit. “Do you play?” He didn’t look up as he adjusted his stance.
“No, it’s not my game,” Barker answered.
“Pity,” Richard replied. He shifted his weight, lifting the club over his head and swung, hitting the ball squarely. He watched the distance markers. “I think that was nearly three hundred yards.”
Barker nodded. “It certainly looks like it.”
“So what is your sport?”
“Writing,” Barker replied without a pause.
Richard smiled again. “Of course.” He leaned down and picked up another ball. “Variety will carry the announcement tomorrow and, despite Barney’s sudden retirement, I believe this transition will occur without a hitch, which is why I asked to meet with you today.”
He swung at the another ball with a resounding smack that caused Barker to flinch. He couldn’t help but see it as a sign: do as you’re told without complaint or I’ll crush you.
“I’m giving Odyssey to Sterling for this season.”
Barker blinked. He’d known this was coming, he’d prepared his reaction — professional acceptance — but he’d prepared for a twelve episode hiatus from the flagship show, certainly not a full season. The damage that dinosaur and his merry band of miscreants would cause in a full season might be insurmountable.
“Perhaps you were expecting me to say something like…say, twelve episodes?”Richard nodded. “It was an inspired attempt, Robert. But you never had the resources or the loyalty to pull it off. Take this as a friendly suggestion…a professional courtesy. Use this time to deal with your floundering flagship. Wayfarer is your show and if that continues to spiral as it has for the last two seasons because you’re actively sabotaging Odyssey, I can guarantee your next job will be for some public access television in Nowheresville.”
Barker’s lips tightened into a thin line. “Odyssey’s numbers improved when I took over.”
“Short-lived,” Richard said. “And you alienated half of the crew and most of the fans while doing it. In the end, both Odyssey and Wayfarer suffered. I’ll send you this years’ after Con report. Have you heard the term, jumping the shark with a nuked fridge? We had to pull in an intern from Marketing to explain it and let me tell you, it’s not good.”
“You can’t let fans dictate how we run our show.”
Richard settled another ball on tee. “Of course we can. Technology has changed entertainment and fans react and interact with it. We adjust or become extinct. Barney couldn’t adjust, so he’s out and I intend to stay for a very long time.” He turned his attention back to the ball and prepped his swing.
Barker seethed. He hated entitled fans as much, if not more than, entitled executives. Neither group could understand, much less participate, in the creative process. But the one thing he knew was strategic retreat and this was it.
“If you want Wayfarer to succeed, I need a bigger budget.”
Richard stopped mid swing and stared at him, that’s when Barker realized that had been the game all along. The carrot after the stick. Richard had planned on giving Wayfarer more money in order to climb the cutthroat ratings ladder, but he’d waited for the demand in order to appear as if he was compromising. Yes, it was very easy to concede something he’d always plan to give. Barker saw the game now and he was going to show Richard that he wasn’t a novice player.
“I’ll give you five million to start with and an extra million each time you win the time slot by more than ten points.”
“Be prepared to pay up. Wayfarer will be in the top twenty next season.”
Richard smiled. “If that happens, you’ll get another show, but it won’t be Odyssey.”
Barker gave him a brusque nod and turned, heading back to his car. This time the walk was short. Once inside, he pulled out his phone, dialed and waited for his assistant to pick.
“Phillip, go through the Odyssey crew and pick up anyone talented who has no ties to Sterling. Writers, costume and set designers, stuntmen, everyone. We are doing the Psi Wars.”
There was a long pause on the other end.
“Sir, it’s my responsibility to remind you that if we do the Psi Wars as previously planned, we’d go through our annual budget in less than ten shows.”
Barker smiled. “Are you looking out for my job, Phillip, or yours?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Let’s just say that Richard Jackson has guaranteed us more money and I want to make sure that we have all of the personnel needed to take on such a large project.”
“What about Odyssey, sir?”
“That’s no longer my problem.”
“Okay, we have the repercussions to last season’s battle and we’ve connected the Camerians to everything, but I’m still worried about this character,” Jeremy said. “I really think we’re writing a Sue.”
Cate growled. “Are you really going there, you misogynistic prick? If this was Ken instead of Kele, you wouldn’t have mentioned the dreaded Sue.”
Mari watched the interchange silently. After three days of brainstorming ideas and creating a whole new pocket of the Odyssey universe, she was starting to realize how much work all of it really was. It’s not like she didn’t know it was work, but her expectations and the reality had been completely different. They had spent over twelve hours each day working out the kinks of their storyline, changing when things didn’t work out and researching to make sure the holes were plugged. She’d gone home at the end of each day and simply crash out in her room from the exhaustion, only to return next for more brain punishing creativity. All of it had been done at Chuck’s house and, for all the work, it had been amazing. Whether outside, inside, kitchen, living room and office — though Mari had to admit she’d been distracted thinking about Patrick Westfield anytime she’d stepped into the office— she’d been blown away by the creativity of The Scribblers. She was rather fond of the name even if Jeremy and Cate thought it was lame. All of the writers, Cate, Daniel, John and Wayne Garson were amazingly talented but it was Jeremy that had blown away with his sheer brilliance. It was Jeremy that inspired her, pushed her and frustrated her. And he was the one that she wouldn’t give an inch, despite her being the low man on the totem pole.
“Do you know that in fandom, writer’s are constantly worried about writing original characters but completely terrified of writing any original female characters?” she said, looking at Jeremy. “And heaven forbid if you do write an female oc that just happens to interfere with the Dane/Leonidas ship because the writer gets blasted for not only writing a ‘Sue’ whether the character is one or not, but also interfering with fandom’s favorite ship. Do you know how stifling that is for female writers? For female fans, in general?”
“You’re such a fangirl,” Cate said, then winked at Mari before turning to Jeremy. “You don’t get it but it’s so hard for us,” she pointed to herself and Mari, “who are fans but only see female characters be the girlfriend that needs to be rescued or the arm candy in a short skirt,” she rolled her eyes, “who needs to be rescued. And it pisses us off when fan boys like you go on and call female characters a Mary Sue when most male characters would be Gary Stus if put through the same test.”
“I rather like Kele and Camerians,” Chuck said with a smile on his face. “Never would have come up with all this on my own, especially from a few lines of an episode over fifteen years ago.” He looked at Jeremy. “There’s nothing wrong with a strong female lead. I like her connections to Dane and her overall story arc but I really don’t like this love triangle fiasco with Davina and Tuck. Not that I ever really liked those characters anyway.”
Jeremy sighed. “Fine,” he said to Cate and Mari. “I’ll refrain from calling Kele a Sue, but the minute there is fan backlash over it, I’ll make both of you eat crow.” He turned to Chuck. “I know. The triangle deal is cliche and way too teen angst, but it’s only meant as a transition. It’s a red herring. A lot will depend on what actress gets cast for this role. On the surface, Kele should be a perfect match for Tuck, but—” he shrugged.
“I hate Tuck,” Danny piped in. “He’s an annoying, know-it-all, asshole.”
“You’re only saying that because Wesley Tanner is an annoying, know-it-all, asshole,” Cate replied. They smiled at each other.
Mari had yet to meet any other actors but she knew she was already forming opinions based on what the writers thought. It was interesting really because Wesley Tanner, with his Southern California surfer look, had been one of her childhood crushes and she’d been ridiculously excited when he’d joined the show, but now all she could think about was Patrick Westfield and his newly promoted Captain Rafe Leonidas. She was being absurd, really because now she didn’t know who she had the bigger crush on: the actor or the character he was playing. She’d been utterly disappointed when Cate had told her that actors rarely had any say in their character arc, much less any writing for the upcoming season, regardless of them being part in Chuck’s coup-d'etat. There was no way that Patrick Westfield would be showing up for their brainstorming sessions. At least Riley had been just as disappointed because he’d really hoped to catch a glimpse of Jamie Connors.
“Maybe Kele can actually hook up with Kendrick,” Jeremy said. “They can do the big, will they-won’t they hook up?”
“Kendrick is the man-whore of the show and Dave plays him to perfection,” Cate said. “It’s not very original, that good girl/bad boy hook up.”
“Well, we’ll see who the new actress has chemistry with then go from there,” Jeremy said. “Okay, so we really need to have a legit reason why the Camerians would allow the Alliance to just take over that sector of the galaxy.”
“Why would you say they allowed the Alliance to take over?” Mari asked. “What if they had other problems to deal with? A war that the Alliance has no idea is even going on?
“What if the Camerian have access to or are able to control jump points and ended up on the wrong side of another species that is in a completely different sector? That would explain why they left the Alpha Sector to the Alliance,” Danny suggested.
“What if they didn’t leave it to Alliance,” Mari said, “but instead infiltrated the Alliance? They are a super power in the quadrant, they wouldn’t leave the back door open to barbarians at the gate.”
“I like that,” Jeremy said as he started to scribble madly on his notebook. “Maybe we can use some genetic manipulation to add to the Camerian mystique.” He looked up to see Wayne Garson and John Dae walk towards them. "You two are so late, I want to fire both of `you. Grab a notebook and catch up. We have this idea—”
“We have a problem,” Wayne said, walking down the steps. He glanced back at John, then plopped down next to Jeremy and leaned his head back against the cushions. “A big one.”
Riley sat on the unbelievably comfortable sofa and stared silently at the man in front of him. Even without knowing, he would have pegged Dr. Oliver Monroe as ex-military and one who’d seen combat. It was the way he held himself and the fact that his office had this unshakable Army vibe. Everything was in perfect place, nothing out of order and expertly aligned in some new age, feng shui attempt to align some intangible mystical force.
“Sergeant, do you know why you’re here?” Monroe asked.
“I’m no longer a Sergeant,” Riley responded, then cringed internally, he’d learned long ago never to show any real emotion to shrinks, but he couldn’t quite manage to keep the surly annoyance out of his voice. This was going to be a long hour.
“Sergeant, once a Ranger, always a Ranger. The Army takes care of its soldiers.”
Riley always wondered how shrinks could always say the biggest bunch of crock with straight face. “I’m here, because of the Stratten name and because the Army wants to ensure I don’t climb a tower and start taking pot shot at civilians.”
Monroe looked at him and jotted something in his notebook. “Do you feel like climbing a tower and killing civilians?”
Shrinks never knew when to take a joke. “Sir—”
“Call me Dr. Monroe or just Oliver if you prefer,” Monroe said. “There are no ranks in this office.”
"Doc, you should have enough clearance to know that I was more than just a Ranger and had been for most of my career. All those missions took their toll which is why my CO had me lined up for a extended leave, but SNAFU happens and people die. I was angry. I’m over it now.”
“Sergeant, you took a bed pan to a Colonel’s face, dislocating his jaw and crushing half of his face. It’s going to take years of reconstructive surgery to get the Colonel back in action, if ever. Angry seems a mild description of what you were feeling.”
Riley blinked away images of fire and screams, of feelings of helpless frustration when he couldn't save his comrades because the powers that be had decided they were expendable. That and the fact that the Brass in charge of an operation that had gone beyond FUBAR were trying to cover their asses. He certainly didn’t feel bad about crushing the bastard’s face in. Colonel Dumb fuck had got off easy. Had he been in the field he would've been shot by his own men. But that was certainly nothing he would with an Army shrink.
“Do you often use your grandfather’s connections to keep you out of the brig?"
Riley clenched his jaw. “I have nothing to do with Alexander Stratten and asked nothing from him. Perhaps you should talk to my commanding officer as to why I’m not in the brig if it’s not on my file.”
“Sergeant, I’m here to help your transition into civilian life but you need to work with me.”
“Listen Doc, I have to be here and I will show up for every appointment. You can talk about whatever you want, but you aren’t going o help me transition to civilian life. I’m already doing it. So you don’t have to worry about me. I’m fine.”
“And your injuries? How are you dealing with those?”
Riley forgot about those. Or almost had. He should’ve seen it coming though. Monroe was touching all the bases, scrutinizing Riley’s every response. But this time, the good doctor was barking up the wrong tree.
“Injuries happen. It is what it is.” He shrugged, but this time he really meant it. The injuries didn’t really bother him. He’d heal, maybe not completely, not to the same level he’d been before but overall, he counted himself lucky. He was alive. Several of his friends weren’t.
“Have you made plans for continuing your physical therapy?”
Riley thought of his blown knee, strained shoulder and wrecked lower back that had been fused in order to allow him to walk again. No amount of additional therapy would get any better off than he was. He could run if someone was chasing him, at least until his knee gave out.
“I'm done with therapy, but you knew that already.”
Monroe wrote something on this notebook and smiled placatingly. Riley looked at his watch and refused to show any emotion, but it was going to take all of his prior training to deal with another thirty minutes of this therapy.

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