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Some Days in the Life - John Bankert and Pentads

Posted 6/2/99

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My friend John turned 32 a couple of days ago, which is a Pentad age. So, I should talk about John and I should talk about Pentads.

John, who was Alacrity in the old BITnet Relay days, a gaming cohort and a Large Manly Man in Wet Clothing, has settled down into a computer engineer and pleasantly surly fellow, who likes hockey, cars, his wife and his daughter -- not necessarily in that order. We've always been close -- I was the best man at his wedding. We cowrote Round Robin, Rialto and Raconteur together. I shared a room with him (sleeping on the floor, no less) for one summer of acting, up in Syracuse. He's always been someone I trusted and who I could count on.

We have a ritual greeting, more or less. Whenever we see each other, or speak on the phone, we open with Mister Bankert... Mis-ter Burns. This harkens back to one of the first times we spent a lot of time with each other.

It was a long weekend party in Ithaca, and I -- through sheer luck and likely no fault of my own -- had managed to spend one night of it in the company of a truly beautiful woman, body and soul. It was one of those nights that warm you a decade later. And, like any twenty year old worth his salt, I was smug enough to cut glass the next morning.

There are some things we're all good at. I'm good at 'smug.' I consider it a gift.

I was leaning on the balcony of a loft of the house we were staying at. And John was walking underneath. I looked down and he looked up. I looked smug. He looked amused.

"Good morning, Mister Bankert," I said.

"Oh yes, good morning, Mis-ter Burns," he replied.

It's important to know where your rituals come from. So. Clearly I associate my good friend John with a really good night of sex.

Perhaps I shouldn't tell John that.

Which leads us to Pentads. And boy is that a tale.

A long long time ago... I can still remember... John and I, along with Gary Olson, Evan Pongress and Bill Paul, the man they call the AntiBill, were all Superguy writers. You can see the Superguy Essay for more action packed details on that. We decided it would be fun to co-write a story, which we called Round Robin. The idea would be that we would take turns writing it. Each of us would have to use the foundation provided for us but have total creative control to pick up and continue where we left off.

An intoxicating thing, really.

I started it, and made it into a kind of a Legion of Super Heroes meets Deep Space Nine, though it predated DS9 and Babylon 5 both (so the fact that it was set on a space station wasn't bandwagoning). It was a goofy little story.

Evan, who followed me, blew all that out of the water. His post was full of metaphysics and mysticism and characterization... it was truly good stuff. And one of the things he added was the idea that there were five Lords of the Outer Darkness (mapped to the five Round Robin authors) who had created the universe, and who were guiding it. They represented different aspects, of which he defined two -- the Gold Lord, who represented Creation (and was supposed to be me), and the Red Lord, who represented Destruction (and was supposed to be Evan). Two concepts, in opposition to each other, associated with color. And one of the Lords of the Outer Darkness, according to Evan's post, was a traitor, who meant to do a mischief to the universe and his brethren.

Bill Paul added the Black Lord, who represented Chaos. John added the Green Lord, who represented Order. Gary Olson added the Blue Lord, who represented the Balance of the other four. Creation, Destruction, Chaos, Order and Balance. Gold, Red, Black, Green, Blue.

Gary also built on a fascination with fives that Evan had inserted, throwing in lots of stuff from the Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. Twenty-three and thirty-two in particular.

The Pentad was born.

The story went well (if often very weird) and added the Serfs of the Inner Light and the Middle Managers of the In-Between Greyness. We had lots of philosophy about these universal constants and lots of little bits of Pentad business show up. Color schemes and Pawns of the Lords and who knows what else. And we ended it all and it was lots of fun.

Except... Gary started using Pentads in his other fiction. After a while, so did I. And various other people (chief among them a fellow named Matt) started applying Pentads to other things. We started noticing Pentad Colors in other places. While Magic: The Gathering had a "White Mana," for example, on the back of the card it was yellow, and the order of the Manas on the back of the card was Gold, Red, Black, Green and Blue. The Lions in Voltron were Gold, Red, Black, Green and Blue. Saturns were available in those five colors that year.

Soon, people were referring to 'points' on the Pentad. "Oh, of course Jesse Taylor did that. He's a Chaos point." "Is that Frob a creation-point or what?" It became a shorthand. Some people got sick of it.

My favorite Pentad Story comes from the Washington State Lottery. I like playing Lotteries. I don't expect to win them -- that's not the point of playing. No, I expect to, for a buck or two a week, get to plan what I'll do with my winnings. As Sally Forth put it -- it's meeting insurance. When the meeting gets dull, I can plan my condo from my lotto winnings.

Washington State, in its Lottery, gives you two plays for a dollar. I needed to come up with a second set of numbers for it. So, I did variations of Pentad numbers.

For the first five times I played those numbers, enough of the numbers came up so I won five dollars, or twenty-five dollars total. I kid you not. Fives are everywhere. Respect the Pentad.

I've occasionally poked around with the Pentad for more mature fiction, but it's not really gelled in my head for that, just yet. We'll see.