Friday, March 29, 2013

Unfinished Essay


'A thrilling time is in your immediate future.' -Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Oh good, because the last few days have been so un-thrilling, just me and my cold...

So, I've been watching movies; 'Skyfall' and 'Wreck-it-Ralph', two very good (and very different!) movies.

S

P

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They should call this one 'Bond Falls, Then He Gets Back Up Again', or maybe 'The Dark Bond Rises'. It's about the past and the future, but mostly about the past and the painful rebirth and resurrection of the brand, which is funny three movies into the relaunch of Bond with Daniel Craig, but there you go... It's also about saying good-bye; 'Hello, good-bye, I love you,' to paraphrase the Beatles. A psychiatrist suggests Bon has 'unresolved childhood trauma', which I submit is fully resolved, in the end.

I also think that this time around, the Bond Girl beds Bond as a notch in *her* bed-post, and not the other way around; I never had impression, before, of a female agent as someone who was an equal, and whose well-being was important in any way to Bond. The un-Bond film, you might say...

'Wreck-It-Ralph' is my favorite western animated movie. I loved 'Bolt', for instance, and Pixar does good work, but this is the first and best non-Pixar animated, non-anime, movie. Ralph is the anti-hero whose aspect is destruction, wrecking things. It's what he's good at, and according to Bujold, what you're good at is what you're meant to do.  He's the designated bad guy, but after doing the job for thirty years without the rewards which hero Felix, of their game, 'Fix-it-Felix', gets, he's understandably fed up with his lot in life. He doesn't want to be a 'Bad Guy' anymore, and who would? After a confrontation with the other residents of his game, Ralph decides he can change his life by a winning a medal. Off he goes to find a way... and in so doing, he breaks things. First his game, then, briefly, another one, and finally dooming a third game-world plus possibly the whole arcade, a one-man world-wrecking crew in search of meaning and justice, or, as Calhoun, the designated Hero of 'Heroes Duty' mutters, "The selfish man is like a mangy dog chasing a cautionary tale..."

Ralph sneaks into 'Hero's Duty', a horrifying First-Person-Shooter, to steal a medal. The writers never bother to say it out loud, they don't need to, but the old saw about how 'cheaters never win, and winners never cheat' is decidedly in play. Ralph 'wins' his medal entirely too easily and this only sets him up for further misadventures...

His 'Hero's Journey' crosses that of another rebels', just after he has unwittingly dooms her world by accidentally bringing an all-consuming virus with him into 'Sugar Rush', a saccharine race game with anime characters. 'Venelope von Sweets' is an outcast, a glitch in the code who supposedly was never meant to be, but she knows that she's a racer, 'in her code', and she doesn't give up. She steals his medal to buy her way into a race which will make her legitimate, cheating to win. Even so, she charms and blackmails Ralph into helping her win the race and win his medal back, first by breaking into the cart bakery to create and steal a cart, and then building her a racetrack and helping her learn to race... because even though she doesn't know how, she quickly learns and turns out to be a 'natural'.

The problem is that he starts to care about the kid, and then the real bad guy of the movie, 'King Candy', who runs things in 'Sugar Rush', gets to him. As a glitch, Venelope can never leave her game, even if it was to be unplugged and shut down because of, say, Venelope's glitching, which might convince the players that the game was broken and 'out of order'. She would die, and the King has just been trying to protect her from herself... "Heroes have to make the hard choices." Then, having cheated at his own game to get it, KC returns Ralph's medal as a bribe for him to do the right thing.

Ralph wrecks their cart for 'her own good' ("You really are a bad guy!"), and goes home to his game. 'Fix-It-Felix' is 'out of order' without Ralph, and without Felix, who left to find Ralph, all but abandoned except for one resident who tells Ralph what has happened. This is nothing like what Ralph had wanted and he throws away his 'medal', also throwing away his failed quest so that he can begin the one he's meant to make. The medal hits the fourth wall of the game, causing the 'out-of-order' sign to slide out of the way so that Ralph can see Venelope's picture on the side of her game, which kind of begs the question, huh? Why is a 'glitch' on the side of the game console and why is King Candy so afraid of her?

The B plot is about Ralph's 'brother', 'Fix-it-Felix', who of course sets out to fix things. He's a Goody-Two-Shoes and that could get old quickly, but he really cares about Ralph and he really cares about his job. His job is to fix whatever Ralph breaks, and by-golly, he's gonna hop into hell, or a reasonable facsimile, for a heavenly cause, putting things, all things, right.

It doesn't hurt that he's always been rewarded for doing the right thing, but the redeeming thing about Mr. G-2-S is that he keeps at it, even outside of his comfort zone. There are new rewards- He falls in love! As well as new problems- He is rebuffed in his affections! But he means it when he calls Ralph 'brother'.

The other hero out to fix what Ralph has wrecked is Calhoun, the Hero of 'Heroes Duty' (I just freudian-typed 'Her's Duty' 8-). She's got 'the most tragic back-story' about lost love and failed duty and is pretty intense. She has loved and lost and isn't having any more, but, of course, falls for the little hippity-hoppity hero despite herself- because, together, they get the job done, only it takes a bad guy to save all of their worlds...

Why am I writing over a thousand words about this instead of my own stuff? I'm sick, so humor me... but I identify with Ralph for certain obvious reasons and for one that isn't, maybe. I want to fix this broken world, and I don't have the first clue *how*. But I think that it is why I gave up on 'The Walking Dead' comic (it can't be fixed), but not the TV series, not yet, and why I *have* to write about my survivor groups. The Zombie Apocalypse is crap-tasticly simplified and survivable, if, and only if, we can fix ourselves. The hole in the human heart which can't be filled by more stuff, the separation of individuals pushing each other away so that they can't be hurt anymore.

Like I would say to Ralph, my main man, 'Brother, you are broke in a way which can not be fixed. Own it.'

(BTW, great job, Alan Tudyk, as King Candy- "You hit a guy *with* the glasses... well played!" 8-)

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Contact Story


There was this about garden worlds; they looked so damn pretty from outside... up close they were a lot messier, of course.
Chief Petty Officer Michael Logan spun neatly in his hard-suit away from the world below and back to the business of old warship hulk. It was all that was left of the USASF Corpus Christie, named for the city. Her crew had called her, affectionately, CeeCee, and she had disappeared early in Humanity's long war with the Dragons. They now knew where, and were working on why.
How was self-evident. The nacelles which had pulled the starship into and through some other space, faster than light, were gone. That and the fact that this star system lay at the center of the expanding region of troubled otherspace, the leading wave of which ate stardrives and starships, suggested that 'Columbia' and her crew were about to discover the reason why. Why humanity lay behind a wall, within a safe volume of space where stardrives just barely worked once more, and the species' last starship had gone looking for other survivors.
The Dragons had all but won the war, all but wiped out Humanity a dozen years ago, on the second 'Day of Dragons'. Then the Wave had passed through, effectively ending the war. Columbia had been ordered to stand down and shut down, and her engines had survived. Her crew had survived, a very bittersweet thing. They and regular space craft had helped pick up the pieces. Evacuated refugees from Earth, to the habitats in GEO, the Lunatic Republics, Venus, Mars and the Jovian League... seven billion dead on Earth, something less than a billion left alive.
"Chief?"
"Yeah, Carter?"
Jessica Carter was a newbie, spacer-recruit, signed on last time they'd made port in the Verge, the Venus Industrial Region, or Republic of Venus, as they now styled themselves. The kid came from Earth originally, a refugee from just north of Atlanta. How that had happened never came up; Logan did know she'd had a mother who'd also come through and then died in the food riots, later. The Verge was not for the weak or faint of heart.
"Looks like they scuttled the stardrive; it was running hot, they crashed the shutdown sequence, very nearly in time..."
"And the wave carried off the drive, but left most of the ship behind?"
"Yeah..." She pointed at the power conduit. It was melted, but very obviously physically cut. "Somebody had to come out here and do that. Guessed right, they can't have known what was happening, not for sure. Got carried away or fried-"
"But they saved their ship, most of her crew."
"Yeah." Jessica was very quiet, reached out an armored gloved hand to touch the cut. Then she turned to face Logan. "Where did they go, Chief?"
***
Ma Hei Bai sat his horse a little stiffly. He was a city boy from down by the sea and Hannah, or 'Huck', short for her favorite nickname, Huckleberry, teased him mercilessly for all of his 'prissy' ways. Up in the North Country they did things very differently from down in Shanghai, the most populous settlement and only true city on Tien Shan, the Heavenly Mountain.
Now she was riding circles around him. Then she stopped and she and Red, a red velvet colored gelding, walked carefully backwards. Red wagged his head up and down and whinnied.
"The horse is laughing at me." Hei Bai commented tightly to Jules.
"Yep." Jules looked sideways down at his young charge. The 'Little Master' didn't like being laughed at. "Y'know, she only teases you because she likes you..."
Hei Bai gave him a look and Jules couldn't help but chuckle. Then the boy spurred his horse, a pretty iridescent green mare named Dragonfly, forward. She kicked up a little spiritedly, galloping away, and Red and his rider raced after.
Jules remembered to thank God for his life, again, watching the two kids; his all-but-grandson and his Captain's granddaughter. It hadn't always been so good, which is why you treasured these moments all the more...
Jules turned in his saddle and asked George Clinkenbeard, the girl's father, "Shall we go chase'm down, Hoss?"
Half a lifetime ago, the two men had been like father and son. Years had passed since, but there was still a bond, the love of the Mother-Captain who had died last winter, and a rock bottom trust.
George shrugged. "I say, let them work it out..." The boy, Hei Bai, and his Hannah, had been much in each other's company since the disastrous wedding of his nephew Bruce and the boy's older half-sister. The wedding guests had been held up at gun-point and then Hei Bai, Hannah and her little sister Melody had been carried off as hostages. Jules had been the one to go after and rescue them with their own assistance... Hannah, Huck, had killed three men to protect her little sister, and Hei Bai had also killed a man. And then Huck had shot another, when, on the way out of Shanghai for the slightly delayed Honeymoon, someone had tried to have the crippled Bruce murdered. Both men were a little worried about the two. That much blood on their young hands could not be good for them, but really, you had to be much more afraid for anyone foolish enough to cross their path and threaten either one.
***
"Down to the planet, of course." Captain Barnes told Logan a little while later, when he made his report.
"Yes sir."
Barnes laughed, then had to cough and clear his throat. He was getting over a cold, some bug they'd picked up back in the Solar system, which had worked its way through the crew. Logan had had it first, to his chagrin; had brought it onboard, he was sure, although the doc had told him not to be so hard on himself. "Somebody was going to pass the love along and it just happened to be you, y'see... actually, my money is on Jessie, but you didn't hear that from me, understand?" Logan had laughed and felt a little better.
"Less with the stiff 'sirs', Chief. Been a long time since we were a military ship..." Captain Barnes frowned and his eyes got that faraway look. The one you got when you knew a lot of dead people. Logan saw that one in the mirror from time to time.
"Well, I need a steady, responsible hand to lead the team we send down there... that'd be you, old son!" The Captain pulled up some scans of the most interesting sea coast, thermal signatures, particulate and chemical traces indicating dirty old-fashioned industries. "Substantial numbers, if this means what we think it means."
"Or it could be a colony of dragons."
Barnes nodded. "That's exactly what I'm dreading. Not that they're any threat to us. No chance they're building starships or even spaceships."
"Could have something left over, scraps. A shuttle, a missile or something."
"Maybe. Walk soft and come back to us with a few answers, Chief."
***
"You know, you're a big baby," the girl observed. Those startling green eyes sparkled.
Huck and Hei Bai had stopped to water the horses and eat their lunch by a little stream. Earthly willows grew here, somewhere on the edges of the Outfit's range. Orange-furred cattle grazed across the water.
"You know, you're a brat."
"Ooh, you've really upset me now..."
The boy shut his mouth tightly against the words that would further betray his dignity, and breathed, in, out, in, out... she was infuriating! He centered himself, looked over-
She was holding her breath, turning red... then she fell over, giggling.
"Brat!" Hei Bai walked away and the horses stared, ears twitching. He picked up a long straight willow branch and used it to begin practicing his forms. It left something to be desired as a substitute sword. The horses turned back to their grass and Red nipped playfully at the mare.
Huck sat back against a willow, chewing on a grass stem and watching him practice. After a while she spit the stem out, stood up and ambled over.
"What's the deal with the sword? Jules taught you how to shoot, right?"
Jules finished the form and stood up straight, the branch held straight up and at the ready. He opened his mouth to speak and then thought the better of it.
"What!?"
"You can't call back a bullet. But a blow, a swing or a thrust of the blade, you have more control and you can take it back at any point up until the blade falls, or the point pierces flesh. And you can parry, defend."
"No use in a gun fight..." She saw the look on his face. "Oh yeah?"
"I saw Jules block a bullet with his sword- it shattered the blade and the bullet fragmented, hit him in the shoulder... but the bullet was aimed at his heart."
"I don't miss what I aim for."
"I know this."
Huck didn't seem to be listening to him. "That man in the City, he was holding a gun on Melody- he shouldn't have done that..."
"No, he shouldn't have."
"We didn't need to say anything out loud. She knew, and I knew, and Melody dropped through his grasp when he turned his gun on me... he..."
"He didn't stand a chance."
"What if I didn't need to kill him? He was after Bruce, not us-"
"You did the right thing, based on what you knew."
"So you say!"
"Bruce agrees; my sister agrees. Jules... he's talked to you, right?"
Huck nodded.
"There you go-"
"Did you ever, once, doubt the wisdom of Jules Le Croix, or... the Star People? The first ones, our grandparents?"
Hei Bai blinked. Of course he didn't understand them, he never really had, but he shook his head.
"No? Why not?"
Now there was solid ground under his feet and he felt his confidence return. He had an answer for this.
"They brought their war here with them; man and dragon, and they made peace. Captain Cee and General Ma and the freed Dragons chose survival, chose The Hundred Year Plan."
She did not disagree, but he realized as they mounted up again, she had not agreed with him, either.
***
Logan could pilot in a pinch, but since he needed to be the leader on what was certain to be a contact mission, with who knew what variables, he picked Wayne Nunios for his pilot, Spacer-Recruit Carter for his engineer over spacers with years of experience, notably because she needed some, and a few solid ratings, all originally from Earth. He wondered if that was wise; there might be dragons.
He shrugged that particular worry off. If there were, there were, and he was not inclined to cry over a dead dragon or three- or thirty, for that matter. Seven billion dead... nine out of ten humans on Earth or in the Solar system. An ocean of blood cried out for blood-
"You ready, Chief?"
"Yeah, let's go."
The city was not really a good idea. For the initial recon they would stick to the river valley which lay north and northwest of that city. There was a settlement on the river and outlying lesser settlements, clusters of buildings, crops and animals. There were people, horses and cattle, the horses in several startling hues and the cattle in day-glow orange. The city held humans and dragons as well, and whatever that meant, Logan was glad not to have to worry about it on this first drop. Wayne flew them low and slow and came down on the shuttle's vertical thrusters just behind a hill a few klicks from one of the lesser settlements, about twenty from the major one.
Logan got up and looked around at his team. "Everybody remember where we parked..."
They laughed, all but Carter, who looked lost as she often did. "Chief?"
"Star Trek, recruit; we gotta get you up to speed," he added, to more laughter. Columbia was older than any of them, almost a contemporary of the Corpus Christie, but a US Navy starship, from after the squids had built their high port in GEO and revisited the argument they had originally lost to the Air Force. Air Force had had lunar L1, but despite having the high ground they had lost out to superior navy logistics. Logan smiled. The press called the combined star forces of humanity 'Starfleet', of course.

TBC

Hannah saw that the strange man had a strange weapon pointed at both Meng the River Dragon… and her sister Melody. Certain doors in her mind closed and certain other ones opened and she felt her fingers touching her revolver- She stopped her hand, willed it to pull away.
Question- did she need to kill this man?
Hei Bai had gone white, and a distant part of her mind noted the ironic play on the Chinese words of his name, ‘Black-White’. He was light to her shadow…
Please put that away, sir-“
The stranger looked curiously at Hei Bai, hearing the fear in the boy’s voice and not understanding, business end of the weapon wavering in the air just a little so that it was very nearly pointing at the little girl instead of the monster. He quickly put the blaster up, but found himself staring over the sights of a local revolver which the older girl so suddenly had pointed at base of his Adam’s apple, her eyes like green chips of ice.
The boy was breathing hard- “Sweet Christ, sweet Buddha…” 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

George


Melody Clinkenbeard took her sleeping father's right hand into her own and rubbed it in the manner of her mother, Patricia. George C. stirred, mumbled "Trish" and settled again. Melody looked up into that great round face; George was a good man of fulsome, wholesome appetites and his face waxed year by year like a moon come closer and closer to its primary... she turned the purloined hand over and traced the good, working man's scars. Her father bossed a ranch and led by his cheerful example. If he was so tired after dinner, it was because he had been going hard since before dawn.

He was smiling in his dreams.

Melody laid the hand back with its' fellow on her father's belly as he set in to snore. She pulled crude sweet-grass paper and charcoal to her and began to draw that great hand and then the face, losing herself for a time in two dimensional space-

"You okay, sweetie?"

Melody looked up over her shoulder at her sister Hannah, who had come up behind her at the kitchen table.

"Yeah. Daddy's taking a nap-"

She was interrupted yet again, this time by a thunderous snore. The sleeper woke himself and owlishly peered at half his brood of girl-chicks, absently swiping a curly lock out of his eyes.

"Hello?" He said tentatively, just come over the border between the land of sleep and full wakefulness.

"Oh, Dad, you need a haircut," Hannah said. She and her little sister shared a look. George had curls to die for, in the unanimous opinion of his womenfolk. Their mother said that she used to tease him unmercifully for his errant locks, his deep blue eyes and his strength, the strength of two North Country Men and three or four from down by the sea in Shanghai-town. He was their 'Samson'- "And I made sure to scratch out Delilah's eyes, oh yes, my kittens, in a fair and epic cat-fight!"

George looked from one to the other and shrugged as he was wont to do. He was outnumbered and had been for years; had admitted defeat long since... and it was a fine captivity. It suited him.

"Well then, I'm your lamb, girls; shear me!"

They giggled and Melody said somewhat redundantly, "Daddy's silly!" Before scampering off for the scissors and such. George stood creakily, running a hand through the not-quite filthy and still warm, soapy dishwater of the new sink, wiping his face with his dripping hand, for it was sweaty and maybe a little greasy from dinner, and drying off with a towel. He returned to the table and sat admiring his youngest daughter's little scratches. The Sergeant had been one for drawing, developed from sketching out battle-maps and such, but it turned out that he had a real talent. This drawing echoed his not-father in a way that made his heart ache a little. The old warrior and second to his mother, Captain Cee, had loved her boys and taught them many things, including light and shadow, perspective and line... here, Melody had suggested laughter with the fine lines at the corners of his mouth and around his eyes. A laughing face set off by an enormous rough and open hand. George glanced down at the model, really looking at it for the first time in years.

"A mind to imagine what might be, two strong hands to make it so, and a heart to love and feel full well this strange new world you were born into..." It was his mother's odd litany, and it made much more sense now than it had as a boy. Patricia had scribbled it down from him when they had been courting and had pronounced the old woman a better poetess than she knew. George had thought that that was great praise from a good writer like his Trish.

His girls finally came back with their mother in tow.

"Did you get lost?" George asked, smiling. His wife ran her hand through his hair and kissed his forehead. She sat at the table by his right hand and glanced at the drawing while she answered him.

"They raided my sewing room for my good cloth scissors, and I decided to watch over the work, lest they get carried away or forget to put things back." She lay her own weary head down on her outstretched arm, head turned to him, wry smile and a sparkle before she shut her eyes briefly. George took her left hand in his hands and found them cold, so very cold. He lifted her hand to his lips and blew on it, kissed her knuckles and then the palm, blew on it... she giggled and pulled her hand away.

"That tickles!"

Melody giggled, his little giggle-puss, but Hannah smiled a little ways off, it seemed to George. The girls started in on the 'shearing' and he asked Hannah, "Who're you smiling about, Huckleberry?"

That won him a smile of his own. She hadn't insisted on that nickname so much lately, but it was her own bit of identity, priceless in a small mob four sisters. And he knew, as well as she and her mother or sister, which boy she was thinking of.

"A father bird wants the best for his girl-chicks, you know..."

"Dad!" Hannah combed out his hair carefully and started cutting; George decided not to distract her from her work. Trish asked the little one a few questions about the sketch, and Hannah said quietly by his ear, "Heibai looks at me like that; like he sees me and is amazed, maybe..."

"No 'maybe' about it, I'm sure..." he thought about how the eldest two were on the 'wild-husband hunt' and didn't think Hannah was liable to be joining them, which was a thought both comforting and alarming at the same time. He cleared his throat. "Ah, you two-"

"Not to worry Dad," Hannah interrupted, sounding a little sad.

"Now I definitely am. Tell me?"

"There's a lot more to it than just the two of us... I don't want to be this great lady down in the city, and Heibai isn't going to marry me some day, it's just a ridiculous idea."

"What are we going to do with you, kid?"

"That's not your problem-"

"It is; it's my job and my pleasure, anyway. Worrying about my strange little girl-chick comes with the territory. Hey! I know you can take care of yourself, but you don't have to do it alone, y'see? Let your Dad help, please?"

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Working Title: This Old Starship


"Mother puss-bucket!"

Captain Tobias Jump was experiencing extreme distress, going from sweet dreams to wide awake in an instant. The warm squishiness which had wriggled between his toes while he slept, feeding on dead skin layers and athletes foot, departed for safer territory at high speed, which, for the barely sentient slime mold, was perilously slow. It glowed brightly in bioluminescent green and flowed through a ventilation vent to relative safety.

"Wilson!" Cap'n Toby, captain owner of Lucille, a slightly younger light interstellar transport, Osprey Class, surplus from the Jingkillii War, bellowed and then regretted it. The hangover was pedestrian compared to one or two much more memorable benders, such as after Jayda and Max bought it, or after the 'Longest Night' of the war, but Toby was pushing seventy standard. He really had to give up the cheap back-alley startown booze...

Sotto voce, he went on complaining. "Why can't we have a decent ship's mascot, a cat or a dog? How about a rat or a monkey? Something mammal, hmm? But no! We gotta have us a jumped-up jellyfish, coz it's six kinds of fun having it nibble on my toes-"

"And it's much more hygienic than you'd think, Cap'n," Wilson butted in. Jared Wilson was their lifesystems tech and medic. His hobby, no, his religion, was xenobiology, which he pursued every chance he could get. After landings he was always the first of their little crew to pop a hatch and taste the air, even on worlds that were well-known stops in Lucille's wanderings.

"Wilson, I don't care... I want unmolested toes!"

Toby realized that they now had an audience, spilling out of the mess at the end of the passage. Jack was standing, head ducked slightly to avoid banging it, just under three meters of strapping young Martian. Kristin was hiding behind him, mouse-eyed and nervous. That was some improvement over six-months back, when Toby had mentioned spacing her after Jack had sneaked her onboard, and she'd spent the entire night in tears. She'd made herself useful and had stopped crying every time you said 'boo!', but he just had to stop collecting strays like this. Behind them, the paying fares poked their heads out of the Mess.

"Problem, Captain?"

Toby ground his teeth and made himself smile.

"Just a little minor ship's business, Mr. Green; ma'am." Toby nodded at Dawson Greens and his 'personal assistant', Priscilla Lovelace. She smiled in her warm, polite, but somehow distant way. Those grey eyes of hers gave her away if you paid attention; in unguarded moments they went cold and took her light-years away.

"Well, if that's all, I'll get back to breakfast, Captain. Miss Kristin has made something like an omelet, although I don't suppose it has any eggs in it." Dawson smiled to take the poison out of the sly dig, or maybe, just maybe, there had been no insult intended at all. Toby was constantly on the defensive, always expecting the rich man too look down on his little kingdom, 'this old starship', as the Captain had overheard Dawson call it.

In point of fact, Dawson Green wasn't 'the wealthiest man in Human Space' anymore, and hadn't been in some time. Certain slight reversals of fortune had rippled through the interstellar economy and taken the Green business empire down a couple of pegs; that and a divorce. Still, it was strange but fortunate that Dawson had stooped to charter Lucille for a few weeks and with a nice fat retainer, too. It just had left Toby out of sorts; more out of sorts than usual, anyway.

The little 'jumped-up jellyfish' had poked light-sensitive stalks out through the vent and the tips fanned out like a spray of fiber-optic cable. Cap'n Toby found himself smiling at the damned thing, for at least his life was interesting, full of surprises and a bit of an adventure. The critter glowed brightly in happiness and went off down the vent, patrolling. The man chuckled to himself and went into the mess in search of these 'not-omelets'.

***

The Sea People knew what it was to fly under the waves and they had always dreamed of flying over them as well. Long after they conquered the interiors of their islands and island continents, they sought after air-flight, to join the joyous, piping, screeching flyers. They wove seaweed and other fibers into nets and bags and then sails, carved wood and built rafts, then ships, mastered fire and then pottery, copper, bronze, iron and finally steel. They had built gliders for a thousand years, discovered hot air balloons, and steam power. Heavier than air-flight eluded them until long after they discovered fire-ice and began to capture and distribute it.

Internal combustion engines eluded them, but not jet propulsion, not stuttering, buzzing jets...

The sled-mounted jet engine slid down the rails as serial explosions of fuel and air popped off in the round, reinforced steel box of a combustion chamber. First the pop, then a little hop and the flapper valve opened to let in air which mixed with methane gas piped into the chamber, then another pop which slammed the flapper valve shut and propelled the sled on its cable down to the surf, where it floated and accelerated for more than a dozen breaths out into the little bay-

Bang!

The sputter-jet propulsion engine mark seven blew out and a flaming jet of methane sent the raft sideways before the safety valve cut in. The cable played out a little more before Little White Spot hit the brake and engaged the wind-powered crank to wind the remnants of No. 7 back in for a post-mortem.

"That'll be a five hundred star fine for scaring the fish, and I had twenty to thirty breaths, so I win the pool," Village Headman Meewinnikka observed, then belched. "Good pickled eggs, by the way."

"Two hundred stars; just the engine, not the tank. And it pains me to say this, but it was seventeen breaths, so I pay Spot," Blue Sky Tail countered. The Headman grumbled, but left with the money and a cheek-bump, 'All-is-well'.

Tail's mate, Joyful Morning Sky, padded down to the beach and bumped cheeks with him and with Spot, then again with her mate, with interest. "Mmm, I smell pickled eggs... did that old thief leave any for me?"

"A few," Tai said and pushed the little barrel of pickled Thunderfoot eggs over. The bottom of the short barrel was still covered, even after she helped herself to a double paw-full and lay on her back in the sand to nibble contentedly, snapping playfully when Tail stole one and whistling a nursery rhyme about dancing Thunderfeet and their drovers. Tail wrapped his lithe, furry body around hers and laid an ear against her ample belly.

"My, they're active this morning!"

"Wonder why? They've gotten used to explosions, but when my hearts skipped and then took off, so did theirs." Her eyes closed and she added, "I told you we needed to reinforce the flapper valve..."

"We don't even-" Tail stopped as Spot pointed to the blown-out front end of the sputter-jet. "Wind and wave... you're a witch."

"You say the nicest things, dear."

***

Paulo looked up from his game as three people came into the lobby of the flop-house. The usual lurkers-on disappeared fast as they got a good look at the three, and Paulo felt his stomach take a slow roll. He belched and put the bottle in his hand back under the counter.

"Can I help you?"

"In fairy tales, it's always once upon a time," the intense dark man said. He smiled, showing perfect teeth. There was a false humor in his eyes that made Paulo even more uncomfortable. "Once upon a time, a prince and his maid went on a strange quest find a lost treasure, or convince the genie to go back in his bottle..."

"Huh?"

"But those fairy tales were pretty grim, you know. Grimm, even, as in the brothers' Grimm who first collected them-"

"Look, I don't have any money here, and I don't want any trouble..."

"Shh, of course you don't. I just have a few questions-"

"I don't-"

"Stop interrupting! Speak when I give you leave to, and be honest and concise. Be the soul of brevity and wit, even."

Paulo was nodding.

"Good. Now, let me begin with a picture; did these two stay in your establishment? I will know if you're lying, so please, don't."

The woman was wearing a revealing formal gown and had her hair up in some confection of lace and floral accents, nothing like the short hair and thread-bare coveralls she'd been wearing during the week she and the man, a tall handsome fellow with salt and pepper hair and a pleasant, easy smile, had been here. But Paulo had remembered those eyes, not unlike the cold eyes of these three, maybe with a little more real warmth to them...

"Y-yes."

"Interesting. Where did they go?"

***

The corpse would tell no tales and the flop-house was a burning shell, with no survivors, no witnesses. The man sat in the back of the aircar, making notes as they flew back to the cruiser. He looked up at the bodyguard who sat across from him.

"You don't approve?"

The hulking naval infantry rating in plain clothes shook her head, 'no'.

"Not afraid of me?"

"Sir, you're just a man, sir. I am afraid of what's behind you, sir."

"Reason and purpose; Duty. Trust in me and do your duty, rating. You can do no more than that and you should strive never to do less."

"Lee."

"Hmm?"

"General Robert E. Lee, sir."

"Yes, I suppose," the dark man muttered. He looked up, a question plainly on his face.

"His side lost, sir. A good man, all in all, who fought for the wrong side. Probably got more people killed than ever needed to die-"

The dark man smiled. "Don't worry about me being a good man, doing the wrong thing, rating."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Strange New Worlds, Aliens, Starships and Blasters, Oh My!



So I guess that I'm going to go ahead and design a campaign and try to attract a handful of players after all... Since this is something I need to want to run, it's going to be Sci Fi, Space Adventure with strange new worlds, aliens, starships and blasters, oh my!

Working from the outside in is the classic mistake; I will, however, do an overview, a 'State of the Galaxy', but otherwise my motto is "Go Small or Don't Go!" 8-P

Let me begin by saying that there doesn't seem to be any hard evidence for spacefaring Alien civilizations in the Galaxy at this time or in recent history. There are three good explanations for this-

1) Life and Intelligence (of which there's bugger off down here! 8-) are vanishingly rare- We may be alone in a sterile, empty Milky Way... and that thought makes me very sad.

2) The Galaxy is a very dangerous place and we got lucky in being overlooked and passed by. The Powers That Be routinely wipe out younger species to eliminate competition, but mostly keep quiet and to themselves. This is both heart-stoppingly exciting and depressing!

3) The Milky Way is in fact well-kept real estate, with parks and gardens. The Elder Species live quietly within their means and leave fallow worlds on which The Younger Species can be born, develop and mature.

No. 1 means, AFAIC, that we need to get busy and fill up the Milky Way, terraforming and speciating until we have plenty of strange new worlds to play in and we *are* the aliens!

No. 2 means that we must be a force for good and bring about No. 3! (although No. 3 is boring, it would be a good place to live in 8-) In the 'Rot and Ruin' of worlds there would be plenty of call for terraforming murdered worlds and for speciating to fill every niche...

Or the worlds could be a mix, No. 3 falling apart into No. 2 and No. 2 leading to No. 1... our own small arm could be 1/2 and we could be bordering No. 3! In some ways, this is the story of Traveller RPG, the 1st and 2nd Imperiums leading to the 3rd, and the Spinward Marches being a dangerous periphery of a peaceful interstellar state.

The State of Our Spiral Arm- Locally, patchy with war-wrecked stars and persistent genocide; there is a small chance of life and technical civilization. One association of kind and gentle souls, stern and powerful,
 has started to roll up this wilderness, somewhere far away, but Humanity has come onto the scene as the new-kid on the Block and it's a dangerous, run-down neighborhood where we live.

In the 2020s we found and reverse-engineered an alien space-craft which had crashed into the Gulf of Mexico 73 centuries ago during a battle in LEO between two factions in a terminal interstellar war which destroyed the previous local Powers That Were/Big Bads. The USG took the lead in space and beyond our solar system, using the tech advantage as well to arrest a half-century of reversals for the Once Again Superpower.

I owe something about the reverse engineered tech, but it's not super-important; there are a hundred worlds, an active 'grave-digging' industry licensed by the USG but prone to cheats and smugglers. The world strangely doesn't like Uncle Sugar hoarding all the goodies, so that's very much still an issue, and even within the US things aren't that great... the 'Two Cultures' problem is festering in the Southwest and corporations are still people; maybe this is the Corporate States of America (the South, or rather southern Planter-style entitled elites, will rise again!) and an undeclared civil war has been brewing up for a generation and change? 

2053?

I have the bare bones of a setting, need to 'Go Small' now and design the starting point, a colony and world with people and places, local color, problems and possibilities, plus try to 'lay off the politics' or else peeps won't want to play... this should be fantastic escape from the horrible realities of our time and place.

(OB+! 8-)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Re-posting my Everyday Weirdness-ness...


Origami Love-Letter Duck

By Vincent L. Cleaver

You folded it into the origami bird, because you were never going to send it... Not a crane, but a duck, and set it at the corner of the desk, where it could paddle around the open, uncluttered margin. You started to write on the back of some hard-copy, hard at work on finishing that half-finished story that’s been half-finished for a month, and getting bigger all the time, when you saw that it was gone.

It must have fallen of the edge, and you looked around, vowing for the nth time to ‘clean this place up,’ but didn't see it. Then you heard the quack.

You were sure you must have been hearing things, when you heard another quack, and this time it wasn't in your head. That was a real, ‘why are you ignoring me’ type quack, with a rude squirt for emphasis. You looked over by the door, and there it was, the origami love-letter duck, a little nervous roll of paper crapped out behind it, the holey edge of some old dot-matrix paper, tore off and rolled up, like you do. The origami duck is a much more complicated fold now, with feet and wings, and it flaps and waggles its neck at you, then turns and waddles off.

Not sure if you’re really seeing what you think that you’re seeing, you follow, down the hallway, and out the door, and down the walk to the street. The origami duck looks over it’s angular shoulder and razzes you with a blat of quick quacks, more Donald Duck than the real deal, and it happily lays on the flap-pity flap paper soles of its webbed feet, run-waddling away from you.

Now you know where its going, and you've got a decision to make, or revisit, rather; one you've been putting off for a long time, until this little bastard forced your hand.

***

Slowly Thinks The Tree

By Vincent L. Cleaver


A seed unzips and happiness is found.
The Sun that I seek, warms the ground.
Up, up, up I grew, so many seasons.
Of why I did this, so many reasons.
I thought of several, as time the Earth kept.
But I forgot when winter came and I slept.
I added rings to my trunk and grew.
Tall I was- to be tree was all that I knew.
I felt the Earth and Sky, felt the rain,
From my roots to my crown, and then felt pain.
Down I fell, and machines my limbs took.
Today I am changed; today I am book.

***

Bubble In The Clouds

By Vincent L. Cleaver

It was like a jungle in a bubble, floating in the atmosphere of Venus. Hannah could hear her sister Melody singing some song she’d learned from the crew of Columbia, about a bird of peace looking for a place to rest. It was pretty, but even though Melody sang very well, she did not fill it with the same longing that Chief Petty Officer Logan had brought to his performance, three nights ago. Huck wondered who or what the man had been thinking of while he sang.

Huck found a likely place in the fern-like undergrowth and let herself fall over backwards, her arms outstretched. She moved her arms and legs in a fit of vandalism, making a green snow-angel. The minty and green smell was glorious after long weeks of being cooped up in the Good Old Girl, who sometimes smelled like a wet dog, or an outhouse.

Heibai wandered over to her.

“You’re getting dirty-” He yelped as she sat up, grabbed his hand, and pulled him down. From a ways off Jules called out, “We’ve got to work on your stance, Little Master!”

Heibai fell on top of her. Huckleberry, Hannah, Ming Mu, ‘Bright Eyes’; she had many names to him. He relaxed and breathed in deep. Her smell, and the green scents. Heibai found that he had closed his eyes. He opened them again, to look down into hers.

“You know, people are going to talk...” His lips brushed hers, and she opened them to him. She tasted like honeysuckle, or maybe whatever Huckleberries tasted like. They broke off, and she smiled up at him.

“I kinda wanted to do that for a while...”

“Me, too.”

“But I thought that the whole tomboy sharpshooter thing put you off?”

“Oh, yes. Absolutely, it did,” he breathed, eyes wide and hamming it up to gently mock her. She gave him a knuckle in the ribs. But it was a ghost of the one she’d given him for the last stupid thing he’d done, and he only pretended to be hurt.

“Do you want me to kiss it, and make it better?”

“That would be good,” he whispered. “But I know a secret.” She leaned closer to whisper back.

“You do? Wanna share it with me?”

“You’re ticklish...”

“The little rodent told you!”

“No, but you did, just now,” he said, and fell to tickling.

He had her shrieking with laughter in no time at all, and a little later they lay side by side, out of breath. Heibai sat up and saw that he had a good view of the setting sun. It was in the East, of course. He took her hand, pulling her up beside him, and pointed without saying a word. He was holding his breath. All of his nerve endings seemed to be in his arm... She snuggled up next to him, and life was good. Mankind was not in danger of being wiped out by petty disputes or by genocidal aliens, one of whom was a childhood friend. No, not just at this moment.



Sunday, August 26, 2012


'Bending Rules' for Cortex

-Bending is a type of magic from the world of 'Avatar: the Last Airbender' not to be confused with James Cameroon's 'Avatar' (which, for the record, horrible as it seems, I liked; 'the man who learns better' is my favorite plot). Last Airbender is about Avatar Aang, a sort of planetary defense mechanism, a living being who is the reincarnation of all previous Avatars and whose purpose is to protect the world and keep things in balance. It's also about his friends, especially the water tribe girl he falls in immediate puppy-love with, Katara, a water-bender and the last waterbender in the Southern Water Tribe at the south pole.

Katara's waterbending gives her the ability to move water around and change its state, solid, liquid and vapor so that she can throw ice daggers when she's mad (actually when she's really mad and terrifying!), bind hooligans in ice, or form appendages of water, a la 'The Abyss' to fight, block, and defend. The actual results are a special effect, but in roleplaying game terms you need to buy the abilities and the skills.

There are four bendings in LA, excluding energy-bending, which is reserved for the Avatar and certain ancient nature spirits. The aforementioned waterbending, earthbending, which is used by most of the peoples of the world, firebending, which is used by the 'bad guys' (and girls!), and airbending, used by Aangs' people, the Air Nomads who are extinct at the time of the series, wiped early in a hundred years of war perpetrated by the firebending Fire Nation. (For a children's cartoon, LA has some dark content, of which genocide and loss is merely one example. Orphan Avatar Aang is basically adopted by Katara and her brother Sokka, a water tribe warrior without waterbending who is constant comic relief throughout the series.)

For Cortex, my former player-group and I have run at least three campaigns featuring Bending (and Alchemy), and treated them as Assets which must be bought to power the ability and serve as the base attribute, like athletics is agility + athletics, waterbending is the asset plus the skill. And just like you can specialize athletics: 6  to dodge: d8, you can specialize waterbending: d6 to healing watergloves: d8 or, nastily, bloodbend: d12... Toph Bai Fong, Aang's Earthbending teacher, invents metalbending in the course of the series, but I'm sure some creative players can always come up with a lot of interesting and some truly disgusting ideas, approaching mud-bending from earth or water, perhaps shadowbending as an extreme form of firebending, or plantbending a la the swamp tribe. We've seen earthsurfing and airscooters, earthsliding trains and delivery systems, and firebending to lift airships.