The burnt out remains of a scorched Russian tank lie in the center of the E-40 highway, a burnt out monument to the five weeks of hellacious warfare in one of the most important cultural centers in all of Eastern Europe. Russian forces may have strategically retreated from Kyiv, but the horrors left in their wake are nothing compared to the wholesale slaughters still being committed in its very suburbs. To be standing in such a place is as humbling as it is terrifying, trivializing the problems that we face back home in the United States. This is real war. Real suffering. Real loss of innocent human life.
This is an atrocity.
“Yo pops,” Tyler shouts. “Say cheese!”
Raising his iPhone up to just the perfect angle, Tyler Adrian Best clicks the button and snaps a perfectly cropped selfie of himself and his father, framed with the burnt out tank right in the center. He pulls the photo down to look at it, furrowing his brows as he tries to figure out if it makes his cheekbones look weird.
Michael side-eyes his son– even he is a little taken aback.
“Jesus, Ty.” the CEO mutters. “Show a little respect, maybe? A little reverence?”
The Grandson of God smirks at his father, looking up from his phone.
“Oh my bad.” Tyler laughs. “Did you know this tank? Did it have a family? Bunch of little baby tanks at home, wondering why daddy never came home from the war?”
He looks back down, navigating to Instagram on his phone and flipping through the filters. For just a moment, he’s a little annoyed that his father isn’t smiling in the photo, but ultimately it isn’t any obstacle to posting it for the world to see.
“People died here, Tyler.” Michael shakes his head. “Show a little class.”
Behind the father and son duo, a long armored car awaits the both of them, with two members of their security detail standing on the outside and keeping guard– Michael had been insistent from the beginning that if he was taking his own son into the site of an ongoing conflict, necessary precautions were taken.
While many of the checkpoints in the area have been dismantled and this is no longer an active warzone, barricades and sandbags still litter the sides of the highway, ready to be put back into place at a moment’s notice. Not even one full hour ago, air raid sirens had sent them running back into the airport for safety– a false alarm, but an alarm nonetheless.
“I’ll remember that.” Tyler nods, as he brushes past his father toward the car. “Remind me again, how many people have you killed? I can never remember. Is it more than zero people? Cause if it’s more than zero people, maybe I can take a selfie and it’s fine.”
Tyler makes his way to the back door of the armored car, shoulder checking one of the security guards as he ducks into the backseat. Michael crosses his arms, looking back at the burnt out tank as a long sigh escapes from somewhere deep inside of his chest.
Something inside Tyler was… wrong.
Where you at, bruh? Come on, my Grandpa dropped five promos and you’re still sitting at home, playing with your joystick? Shit, more sandbags on Team CowBoom than I’ve seen sitting roadside in fucking Kyiv, and this place is an active war zone. Guess you both respond the same way to having bombs dropped on you.
This motherfucker is corner camping.
Little screen-watching bitch. Nobody is gonna play co-op with you if you wait for everyone else to run out of ammo before you start shooting, dickhead. Has anyone ever even responded to a Boomer Fuse promo? Fucking Gannondork drops three Links at 11:59 like he’s carrying the Ocarina of Sorry But Two Weeks Wasn’t Enough Time.
JOKES ABOUT ZELDA.
Figured I’d try it like my Dad, since he’s got all the high scores on that belt you keep sticking quarters into, thinking you’re gonna knock him off the leaderboard. You know what else I borrowed from him, Boomer? His fucking sense of competition, that’s why I dropped first while you were still trying to figure out what convoluted, metaphorical journey to go on the eighteenth pay-per-view in a row. HEY BRO REMEMBER MARIO? HERE’S SOME SHIT WITH MARIO BUT BOOMER FUSE IS WEARING A RED HAT AND THE PRINCESS IS A BELT AND COWBOY CLAY IS BOWSER AND WAIT WHY IS EVERYONE SKIMMING.
But don’t worry dude they’ll tell you you did great.
That whole team is gonna prop you up on their shoulders and suck your dick like there’s a title shot inside it, because you are the single most fawned over indy darling of all time. Someone tell me one single thing that Boomer Fuse has ever said that isn’t RANK UP and I will CashApp you forty seven thousand dollars. I’m serious. I’m a fucking trust fund kid, I’m good for the money. Tell me something significant he’s done as champion. Tell me something memorable he’s achieved. Tell me someone he’s beat who isn’t part of his little slackjawed yes-man gang who worships the fucking ground he walks on.
I’ll fucking wait, someone tell me.
You’d better take a piss break before I slap the shit out of Boomer Fuse at War Games, because as full of it as he is, it’s gonna take hours. And I’ll let it take hours, too, because like a dumb fucking video game boomer once told my Dad… “I’m younger, faster, and hungrier than you are”.
Enjoy the last few days with that title, douchebag.
You’re leaving Ukraine unranked.
“Maybe I’ll make the strap gold.”
The car rumbles down a nearly abandoned highway, with six security guards in total to defend the lives of two men. The ride has been anything but smooth, as the driver has avoided potholes and even entire chunks of the road that have been absolutely demolished in the ongoing conflict. Michae Lee Best rides with his face pressed to the window, staring out into the war-torn hellscape outside of the safety of the armored car.
“No, you won’t.” Michael answers, not even looking back at his son.
Tyler doesn’t look at his father, either– no one told him that his unlimited international data package was going to be an unlimited amount of slow as fuck data, as he continues to stare at the swirling circle on Instagram. Was he really going to have to wait until he had wi-fi to upload this picture? What an absolute shithole Ukraine was turning out to be.
“Oh come on.” Tyler jokes, nudging his dad with an elbow. “Big gold belt to match my tights? 970 gold, I already talked to marketing. It’s on brand and everything.”
The Son of God still doesn’t look back, as he takes in the horror of the streets around him. They’re quickly approaching the Grand Admiral Resort– an entire resort apartment which had been available for an entire week for the chillingly low rate of about two night’s stay. The gravity of all of this seemed to be lost on his son– the war in Ukraine, the war within HOW, all of it. And not in that “too cool for everything” way that eighteen year olds tended to epitomize, either– Tyler just seemed to be completely unphased by any of it.
“You had your own ICON Title.” Tyler goes on, unabashed by the silence. “This could be my thing, you know? I already priced out a strap from this site in–”
“STOP IT!” Michael suddenly shouts, whipping his head around from the window. “The belt is fucking RED, Tyler. It has ALWAYS been RED!”
The Legend in Training doesn’t even seem to flinch, still just staring down at his phone. Unphased by the yelling. Unphased by the warzone. Unphased by how fucking terrifying literally everything here should be right now.
“Just a belt, bro.” Tyler chuckles, raising his phone up to try and get a few bars. “Didn’t realize it was gonna trigger you so hard.”
“I’m NOT trig—“ Michael begins, but realizes the trap. “Tyler. Look, forget the color of the belt for a second. What the fuck is wrong with you? You’re taking selfies in a war zone. Talking about the World Championship like it’s an accessory. And a forgone conclusion. Does anyone of this matter to you? Are you even taking any of this seriously?”
Finally, Tyler raises his eyes from the phone and looks at his father. A smirk falls over his face, but the CEO of HOW is not finished quite yet.
“People die at War Games.” Mike says, staring Tyler in the face. “I have been stabbed, twice. Your Uncle Cecilworth almost fucking hung a nineteen year old girl in the name of winning that match, Tyler. You keep clowning on Conor and Clay like this is all a fucking game to you, but you’ve had exactly one match in HOW and it was Jace who finished that one off, while you sat on the apron and enjoyed a free lesson from a fucking Hall of Famer. I did everything I could for you, Tyler. Announced you at the last minute just to throw a wrench in the works. Got you the best team that being the CEO can buy. You’re coming out LAST.”
Michael shakes his head, looking beyond frustrated.
“But none of it matters.” he goes on, his voice lowering. “None of it matters if you don’t take it seriously. If you don’t go out there knowing the world expects you to be the first motherfucker eliminated from that match. None of it matters if you think that the HOW World Championship is just something you’re gonna collect like one of your fucking… Pokemon… or something. You need to walk out there fighting to survive, not deciding what color you wanna paint your winnings, man. Please.”
Tyler Adrian Best nods his head, tenting his fingers under his chin and looking Michael clean in the eyes. He sucks the left side of his cheek inward, gnashing it beneath his teeth. He doesn’t speak for a moment, but when he does, his words are filled with a diluted sort of venom.
“Listen.” Tyler leans back in his seat. “I appreciate good condescension as much as the next kid being told how the world works by a forty year old dude, but if you wanna do this real talk thing, let me be pretty clear with you about some shit.”
The Grandson of God clears his throat, his arms crossing slowly in front of him.
“You fucked my mom, bro.” Tyler says, bluntly. “Like, I appreciate TEN-X, the contract, the War Games spot, the credit card. I appreciate all this shit, for real. But end of the day, our connection? You and me? You fucked my mom. I’m not saying I don’t wanna get to know you, and I don’t wanna bond with you, but don’t sit there and talk to me like you were cheering for me in the stands at my fucking wrestling meets, dude, cause you fucked my mom and then scooped me back up once you knew we could draw money.”
The son of the CEO stares directly at his father as he speaks, but Michael can’t seem to maintain eye contact. His eyes drift ever so slightly back out the window, mostly averting himself from the shame that he’s otherwise feeling. Unfortunately for him, Tyler is not finished. This has been a long time coming– maybe eighteen year’s worth.
“Look man.” Tyler continues, unabashed. “I get that this whole Oh man I wonder if I have what it takes to win this thing energy is how you got your dick hard for big matches, but I’m not you. I know I have what it takes, and I don’t have to do some bullshit mental gymnastics and trick myself into thinking I’m the underdog just to get it done. I can see it. I can fucking visualize it. So if I wanna talk about getting a big gold belt and take a selfie in front of a fucking tank because it gets MY dick hard for a big match, how about you shut the fuck up and let me draw the money that you recruited me to draw? That work for you, Dad?”
The CEO’s eyes are drawn back to his son’s, once he realizes that it isn’t going away. A long sigh escapes the mouth of Michael Lee Best, as he wipes the jet lag and exhaustion from his eyes.
“Yeah, Ty.” Michael nods, speaking quietly. “That works for me.”
Tyler reaches out, the smirk returning to his face as he offers his father a fist bump. Weakly, and without my heart behind it, Michael returns the same. The armored car continues to barrel down the road on its bumpy, winding path in a shared silence that seems to go on for a long time.
Finally, it is the father that breaks it.
“You know,” Michael smiles softly, staring back out the window. “It took my father and I two years to have this conversation. And I was right then, just like you’re right now. You’re a disrespectful little shit… but so was I. You’re gonna do great things, Tyler. And I’m proud of you. I might not have been there, but you’re a Best. Make no mistake about that.”
He reaches out a hand, to place it on his son’s shoulder, but can see that Tyler is already balls deep in his phone again, scrolling through some kind of a dating app on his phone. The Son of God stifles a laugh, half legitimate and half disbelief. Tyler speaks, but he doesn’t look up— clearly he hasn’t been listening to a word that his father has said.
“Ay, real quick.” he begins, flatly. “I got my own room and shit, right?”
“Yeah, Ty.” Michael laughs, again. “It’s a suite. We’re not poors. Why?”
With a flourish of his hand, Tyler raises the phone up to the face of Michael Lee Best, showing him the Tinder profile on the screen. A very attractive blonde woman is staring him back in the face.
“We’re in the fucking Ukraine.” Tyler smirks, pulling the phone back. “War Pussy is craaaaaazy, these girls wanna fuck like there’s no tomorrow cause like… there might literally be no tomorrow. Air raid sirens and chill, bruh.”
The CEO wears a blank expression, blinking mindlessly as he stares at his son. The thought had been boiling in the back of his brain for the better part of two weeks now, but had become pulsating and impossible to ignore since the second they’d landed in Ukraine. His seeming indifference to the ongoing conflict. His unimaginable confidence, going into the single most difficult match he may ever face in his career. His ability to turn on the charm or turn on the fire in literally the blink of an eye. He was unfeeling. Unempathetic. Seemingly uncaring about literally anything or anyone but himself.
He might not just be “his father’s son”.
Tyler Adrian Best might be a fucking sociopath.