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.
"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.
"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.


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


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-


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..."


"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...


"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."



"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? 


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.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Little Moon Dust

The world needs cheap, clean energy. We don't need to put more frakking poisons into the ground, we don't need heavy shale oil, brought to us by incompetents who keep having spills in our water-sheds, from Wyoming to Michigan and coming soon to the Mississippi. What we really need is point-of-use power generation, which is wind-turbines in our glass and steel canyons, solar roofs on our homes and garbage turned into energy. This wouldn't solve our energy problem; we're addicted to cheap hydrocarbons, our economy is based on them (I build food service equipment, some of which is fueled by natural gas or LP, and some of it uses electricity by the half kilowatt and on up; the 36" Electric Griddle has 3 240 Volt, 4,000 Watt elements, for 12 KW!). But it would help, a lot, with our switch over to some other way of powering our vehicles, and providing electricity for the grid. How do we do that? Drop rocks from the Moon, of course! 8-P

11 km/s skimming atmo less 2 km/s to get it off the Moon in the first place, is 121 Megajoules, less 4 MJ, or 117 MJ per kg, some 32.5 KW-hr/kg, about $3.25 worth of electricity. If a million people need 30 KW-hr/day (Wild-Ass-Guess, one kilo of moon dust), that's 10^6 kg/day and 30 GW-hr. Three hundred million Americans need 300,000 tonnes of Moon dust a day; 7 billion people need 7 million tonnes/day, about 80 tonnes/second. 210 billion KW-hr is $21 Billion per day, 210 TW-hrs/day. 7 billion people need 11 MW-hr/year, $1100 worth of electricity (which is more than most of the world can afford), 77 Petawatt-hours worth $7.7 Trillion.

Real demand is probably closer to 30 Billion KW-hr a day, $3 Billion, 30 million tonnes of Moon dust per day, and 35 tonnes per second. If peak demand was 400 tonnes per second, we need a launch capacity on the Moon of 400 tonnes/s, call it 4 million kg worth of mass-driver @ $1100/kg, $4.4 Billion worth, which could only happen if it gets built out of lunar materials.

We need a catcher in low Earth orbit to grab that moon dust and harvest that energy, about 33 times what we need on the Moon, over 132 million kilograms; again, it'll mostly have to come form the Moon, and still cost in the neighborhood of $150 Billion. That supplies 11 trillion KW-hr of electricity, worth about a Trillion dollars at 10 cents a KW-hr. A couple of pennies on the KW-hr would pay for the system in a year... so my numbers must be so much moon dust.

BTW, if we want to stockpile building material in LEO, just slow the moon dust down by 3 km/s, and still get nearly half of the energy... and since we're designing an order of magnitude of extra capacity into the system, we could do it, make money, provide energy for a world thirsty for clean power and maybe build Vinnies' private space program at the same time? 8-P

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rings and Things

There were bright oval rings in the night sky and hysteria on the air-waves. Bernard Arden McKenzie had turned his radio off hours ago, preferring listen to Marion Call, some old Filk, science fiction folk music, or  the man in black, Johnny Cash, and finally he had dug up the entire audio version of 'Team of Rivals'. Listening to how the Illinois lawyer, born in Kentucky and plagued with misfortune and misadventure, had put together his ship of state, was all somehow soothing.

He had taken the long way home. It seemed somehow like he had been driving away, for years, and now that he had decided to come home that he'd driven down long, ancient valleys, into midnight hollows, past Indian ghosts of that first great American apocalypse which had made room for the pilgrims and others, had left a garden tended by one hundred million dead souls...

Bernard shook himself. "Morbid, much?" He said to himself, glancing in the rear-view mirror and catching a glimpse of his own ice-cold pale blue eyes, the brown and grey hair, the deep lines, worry and laughter. He chuckled. He had always been able to make fun of himself, which was good, considering most of his work.

He turned into his sister-in-laws' lane just as the night as giving way to day; daybreak. The last morning of the old world? He wondered, not joking, and not morbidly. He was anticipating something wonderful, come what may.

There was his brother's old car, and his nieces' graduation present, his old jeep. There was a big dark green rental SUV and a contractors' truck, plumbing and HVAC, Jack Knight's 'Sir Fix-A-Lot'. Bernard had a chuckle at that too, and paused, looking through the back of it. Plenty of kultch, but no junk; a place for everything and everything in it's place... He nodded with approval and turned to walk up to the door, which was just opening.

"Uncle Bernie!"

Bernard watched his niece come out of the house, running to him, and he felt unaccustomed emotion; a fierce pride, in his brother and his family. The kidlet had turned out alright... She hit him like a linebacker and he let out an 'oomph'. He braced for the bear-hug, for she was a hugger who put all of her strength into it. She'd done that at her Dad's funeral and almost bought him to his knees.

"Uncle Bernie," she whispered in his ear, and he felt her damp cheeks brush his neck.

"Why so sad, Beautiful? Busy Bee? Been breaking hearts?"

"You're horrible!" She said, laughing.

"You know I am; and you're Beatrice."

Her mom was on the porch now, with two men, one of whom Bernard knew well, and he sighed. The other was a young man with eyes only for his niece.

"Oh-ho, you have been taking hearts!"


"If I'd known so many people would land on my front step this morning, I'd have gone to the supermarket," Stella Mckenzie commented wryly. She indicated Special Agent Bruce Granger, of the FBI. "This is one of yours, I take it?"

"He's looking for me, is what he is, aren't you Bruce?" Bernard said, turning to Granger.

"I'm sorry as hell, Bear, but you really weren't that hard to find. I talked my boss into sending me, y'know..."

The young man said nothing, just stood clear. Granger and Bernard both noted how he moved and Granger stepped off of the porch, putting a few more yards between them, and moving a few yards closer to his charge.

"Would truly be a shame if things were to get any more complicated than they are, Bear," Granger said. Not a threat, exactly. Just voicing an opinion, or at least that was the way Bear chose to take it.

"I understand, but... can I at least have a little while?"

Granger blinked, and then he nodded. "Sure thing..." he said slowly. Both men turned to Stella, who saw that everyone was now looking to her.

"Well... breakfast, anyone?"


Mother and daughter, and boyfriend, headed into the kitchen, but not before Beatrice introduced Axel Knight. Bernard looked pointedly at the truck. "Who's Jack?"

"I work for my older brother, who owns the business. I've been working for him since high school."

Beatrice rolled her eyes. "Uncle Bernie..."

Bernard waggled his hand like a stage magician. "Look, no shotgun. Not pulling the male relative thing, sweetness. Not at all..." and he smiled at Axel, showing all of his teeth.

Axel coolly offered his hand to shake; firm, direct, and no bull-shit. "Beatrice thinks the world of you, sir."

"'Sir'?" Bernard winked at Beatrice. "You got a little something on your nose there, son."

Axel shrugged, a slight grin on his face. Bernard nodded to himself. The boy- man, the man just might do.

Granger brought in a little bag of oranges from the government issue sedan, and conceded to eating a few pieces of bacon, but otherwise acted like a man condemned to a death sentence by his doctor, sadlywatching them consume a magnificent country meal, home-fries and sausage links, a mountain of steaming scrambled eggs, pancakes piled high- Axel and Beatrice took over from Stella halfway through and she sat down with a sigh. "Such good appetites, except for you, Mr. Granger."

Granger shrugged.

"Go ahead and eat, man! It may be the last good feed you'll get for a while..." Bernard shut up as Granger leaned forward and he also saw that the Fed was not the only one looking at him expectantly.

"Would you care to elaborate?" The FBI agent asked with a grin.

"Yes, Uncle bernie, I know you know all about what's going on!" Beatrice was nodding vigorously. Bernard though about idols with feet of clay.

"I'd say that there is a need to know, but you wouldn't want me to disclose national secrets, would you, Special Agent Ganger?"

Granger shrgged again. "I've got NDA's in the car for them to sign, and a scary lecture prepped..." he looked Bernard pointedly in the eye. "And, yes, I think it's high time you briefed me on what I need to know to do my job."


Write about puppies and kittens...

I want to create gardens in space... habitats up there. Roll up a strip of the planet, a few tonnes of stuff/m^2.

For the truly massive abduction scenario, I assumed 10 tonnes/m^2, millions of tonnes strip-mined from the Earth's surface replaced by millions of tonnes of asteroid water... make it rain! 8-P

Final Rotoavator Ring design is 1/3 the circumference of the Earth, there are pi^3 or 31 of them, the strip is 1/3 divided by pi^12 or 14 1/2 meter, 47 feet wide, which rolls up into a cylinder just under 14 km wide and 14 km across (strip times pi^6, about 1K).

The Rings ease into position, dumping momentum simply by dumping or grabbing mass. The ring drifts back out by letting go of mass, water and structural cable. The 10 tonnes/m^2 is released at the top of the ride and goes into interplanetary space at just under 6 km/s. The strip is roofed over with a simple tall A-frame, all as part of the grabbing maneuver. Now that serves as a simple free-floating habitat, a long volume which is in free-fall, falling away from the planet. The next step, not the final step, is to roll this up into a cylinder. That is just a matter of shortening the edges of the strip, so that it starts to curl. Two edges slide past each other and 'zip' together, lapping itself every 45 km or so. Either a squat cylinder, or a long one about 10 times as long as it is wide, 4.5 by 45 km (1/3CotE/pi^7 by 1/3CotE/pi^5).

(much later 8-)

The sky opened up, with thousands of filaments coming down to Earth at great speed, spearing the ground inches apart. Bernard saw his niece and her beau running towards himself and the house, shouting as they came on. The filaments parted around Beatrice, fluffed out somehow, and wrapped her in a shroud. A curtain of filaments fell between them and Axel struggled through it to get to her. That was all the more he saw before the sky fell upon him.

But he could hear, muffled like a snowfall, the panicked yapping of the neighbors' dog, a horse whinnying in fear, Granger softly cursing and speaking with Stella inside the house. His obscured vision seemed to clear and Bernard had the distinct impression that the filaments themselves were emitting light like some sort of cloth display. He saw the filaments wrenching the two young lovers apart very clearly, as if he was only few feet away instead of across the yard, some forty feet from them. And then their fingers touched, brushed against each other and Axel lunged, grabbing her hand. The filaments seemed alive, self-aware, sentient or perhaps sapient, that is to say 'wise', and they ceased attempting to pull the two apart.

There was a groaning and the house behind Bernard lurched, pulled up into the sky, and then he went along with it, pulled softly but inexorably to the 'ground' by his own weight, now more than doubled, and Bernard would have nodded, if he could have.

"We're on our way..."

Things were quiet for a little while, perhaps a full minute, except for the yapping dog and a distant, whistling wind, and then Bernard heard a grunting coming his way from the house. "Granger, you damned fool," Bernard shouted as best he could, and the effort winded him. Finally he added, "Stay where you are!"

"I love you too, man," Granger said, adding, "But I'll manage, somehow. It seems to be getting easier. To move, I mean."

Bernard thought about that and then tried to lift his hand. It seemed almost as if- "They don't want the dumb animals to hurt themselves, so maybe they're assisting, like a soft exoskeleton?"

"Speak for yourself; I'm no dumb animal. I got me a degree from Shipp and everything..." Granger stopped to take a break. "Whew, this is too much like work!"

"Uncle Bernie!"

Bernard stared as Beatrice and Axel came crawling towards them at triple-time, the filaments not just parting but pulling them along until they were lying on the grass at the front porch.

"Alright, everybody just calm down... Stella?"

"I'll be with you shortly... the 'magic fingers' seem to be sending me out there to you," Stella said matter-a-factly, merely raising her voice a little, and presently she came into view.

"Anybody hurt?"

"I fell down on my ass..."

"I sympathize greatly with your ass, Granger, because it has to put up with you just like I do," Bernard said between clenched teeth. "I meant, no broken bones, anyone?"

It seemed that they all were in remarkably good shape and spirits, considering the mass abduction and all... The wind beyond the filament curtain had died away, and when Bernard looked over towards the edge of the lawn, about where Axel had been standing, it seemed like the land just stopped. Which it had. Beyond, falling away, was the edge of the Earth, the sky a pale band and black above that, the edge of space. They were already soaring up above it all, turning on the inside of a wheel which was pulling them to the outside with maybe a gee and a half of force, all the while the Earth's gravity was still dragging them back down a 'hill' that was growing steeper as the minutes passed. Bernard found that something, the filaments probably, was holding them in place as the hill went to thirty or forty degrees and then seemed to get less and less steep, all while the force pulling them to the 'ground' fell steadily away, and the bowl of the Earth changed into an enormous ball that grew ever smaller.

"Wow," Axel breathed.

"I agree," Bernard said. "Wow."

Then the bottom seemed to fall out from under them and they were free-falling into the sky. Bernard saw that his niece was looking at him and smiling.

"'Second star from the right, and straight on till morning!'"

"Love you, kidlet."

"Love you more, Uncle Bernie."

"Love you most."


Bernard felt a sideways tug, a very slight acceleration that went on for several tens of seconds and then died away. Where the filament curtain-wall that hemmed in their long and narrow world came together far above them that line brightened until it was sunlight strong. The starry black to either side turned. The Earth lay beyond them, almost beyond view, obscured as it was by the rest of the strip of the Earth's surface with which they'd been carried aloft. The crescent moon lay off to the side and ahead of them. It rose and set about once a minute and a very mild force now tugged him ever so gently to the grass again.

"I feel so light," Beatrice said to Axel, and then sprang up and up, shrieking and laughing, easily clearing the roof of house where she had been born and raised, and drifting back down lazily, light as a feather, like a leaf on the wind... She landed softly by the chimney and waved down at them.

"Come on up here," she called down to them. "The view is pretty-"

There was a bright, actinic flash and the filament curtain went dark off to one side, back behind them where the Earth lay; that way had been more or less South and so Bernard thought of it as 'South'. The dark patch in the sky moved as the strip habitat turned so slowly on its long, long axis; protecting precious cargo, stolen treasure, Bernard thought.

Beatrice came back down, clambering along by her finger-tips as the force pulling her down was not fast enough for her need to be with them.

"Was that what I think it was?" Stella asked in the general silence. Bernard only then realized that the hoarsely yapping neighbor-dog had shut up.

"If you think it was a nuke, then yes, it was," Bernard whispered. Granger futilely cursed the general stupidity of mankind. Thinking how a lot of people had probably just died, Bernard could not disagree.

"Who was it? Where was it?" Bea's voice had an edge to it which hurt Bernard's heart.

"It kind of looked like we were over Europe, maybe the Middle East," Granger said. "The French? Israel? Russia? Maybe it was Uncle Sugar," he added gruffly. Bernard reached around, grabbed his friend's shoulder and squeezed. Then Stella and her daughter caught him between the two of them and pulled Bernard and Axel into a group hug. Granger protested feebly and wiped surreptitiously at his eyes. He looked out at the lawn and saw the neighbor-dog looking looking hopefully.

"Oh great, we've been adopted..."


A place too far from here; a place too strange for human hearts...
There is, even yet, an alien compassion for us poor humans.
Perhaps they see something of themselves in us?
Do they hope for us, are they waxing nostalgic,
Perhaps, for a second childhood by proxy?
Or do we stand ready to redeem them in some way,
So like they were and fated to do them one better?

(even later on 8-)

"'I'm smiling because I'- I can't see the rest of his tee-shirt to read it all," Beatrice was saying to her mother. The little boy in the red tee was looking about tiredly, lost. There were dried tears on his cheeks. He looked to be about five.

"Honey, leave it be, things are- Beatrice!"

Bernard watched, bemused, as his niece marched right over. Axel fell in step with her, and their hands met, fingers interwove... He filed that sight away for some dark moment, some future need. There was bound to be something else, what with the mass abduction, the alien war between parties unknown, plenty of potential, always. He took the good with the bad, and knew to appreciate ever erg of good that came his way.

"What were you thinking?!"

"Hmm?" Bernard said helpfully.

"Why didn't you try to stop her?" Her mother wailed. The dismantling, piece by piece, of her home had been too much for Stella. Bernard pulled her over and hugged her.

"Stop her? Stop our goodwill ambassador to the worlds? Perish the thought. I might as well hold back the tide, or command the bee to not seek out the flower, the flower to grow, the sun to shine, the rain to fall; in fact, she is a force of nature. Human nature, and a force for goodness and light."

The little boy was smiling. Beatrice had knelt down and was wiping his face with a wet cloth. Axel stood by, taking a sip of water from their makeshift canteen, a one gallon plastic tea-jug. He slung it over his shoulder, adjusting the cloth sash Stella had come up with and considered the young woman and the child, a slight smile on his face growing. He nodded to himself. When Bea picked the boy up, he made horsy whinnies and the laughing child was transferred to Axel's shoulders. They galloped back over, Beatrice hurrying to catch up with them.

"I see we've picked up another stray," Granger commented quietly, for Bernard's ears alone.

"It seems like we have..." Bernard said, turning to his friend. "Are you going to tell her 'No'?"

Granger snorted and dug through his backpack, found an apple from the abandoned house they had raided. "Not gonna happen. Here, pass this along."

"Not brave enough to give it to her, yourself?" The two men laughed. Bernard reflected that they were an upbeat little band.

"In this little army, she ranks me."

'I'm smiling because I know I'm saved', the tee-shirt read. Bernard felt the pit of his stomach drop away, considering all the ways you could take that. It had been a bad couple of days, back on the third rock from the sun, back in the solar system.


Tell me a story...

"What kind of a story?" Bear asked. The petite woman with the heart of a lioness was leaning back against his chest. They were taking a break for lunch, treed temporarily by 'Mort and Morticia' on the roof of a McMansion, but just for today the small herd of a dozen walking dead was somebody else's problem. Stan and Daria had presented him with a 'vacation slip', entitling him to twenty-four hours without worry, as a birthday present. Bear, or 'Dillon Miles', according to his birth certificate, trusted in those two, and so did his 'traveling circus'; no one at all had broken their vowed '24 w/o worry'; at least so far.

"I don't know... a tale which tells the teller?" April Zahn looked over her shoulder at him, smiling impishly, and Bear kissed her on her nose.

I would give you all of me, Bear thought, but I can't. So let me give you some small part of me which is ours... "I used to run a bowling alley, for my uncle. Kept things running, kept the peace..."

"Shocking! And here we thought you ran a landscaping company," April murmured, referring indirectly to his signature weapon against zombies, a pruning hook.

"I did help out my brother-in-law with his business, when he was swamped in the late spring and early summer, until my nieces and nephews could chase a push-mower..."

They both were reminded of folks who were not there. The hurts were not too fresh now, ached numbly and without the urgency of months ago.

"How many?"



"He and my sister were happy, but very tired..."

"I should think so!" She frowned. "Why so many?"

"He'd been an only child, and she, she always liked children. Had a gift for nurturing them, and for herding cats, of course." After a moment he added, "After a few years of marriage and no kids, just lots of doctors, they didn't think that they could get pregnant, so they adopted, and then, five and counting, she had the twins. They were so surprised, and so pleased."


"They were strange people. They didn't believe in accidents or failure; they believed in blessings." He sighed.  "Daria's sort of people, sons and daughters of Mary, if you get that reference, where Stan is a son of Martha... you do know the 'Sons of Martha', right?" April nodded.

"They know they are saved, and believe in providence... but also in being prepared, being open to the possibilities," she said. "Trust, obey; 'fear God and dread naught', which I've always found to be a curious thing- Fear God?"

"A bit of double-think which was why I loved them but never understood them." Bear stared off into the distance. "I wish that I could have saved them."

April reached around and took his face in her hands, turned it gently so that they were looking into each other's eyes.

"They save you, they keep you alive. Good memories."


Something for my poor, sadly neglected blog-

The three youths, late teens to early twenties, sat down at the table next to the fat man with his laptop. They weren't there so much to eat as to socialize, or whatever passed for that, with them. The man, likewise, was much more interested in social media, and ignored them as best he could. But after the sixth 'beyotch' or the seventh 'nixx', he looked over at the white kid acting all 'hood' for the benefit and with the approval of his two black friends.

"Whatchu staring at, beyotch? Ima gonna mess you up!"

The man held his gaze for a few seconds and then turned back to his PC. From time to time he looked up again as the loudmouth dropped another bit of noise pollution.

"Nixx keeps looking at me... whatza mattah wi' him?"

The fat man looked up again and just smiled. The youths finished and took off with a final round of verbal abuse, and the man nodded to himself and powered down his laptop, putting it away.

Outside, he walked across the dark parking lot, past the gazebo where the three youths were arguing in front of a sign which read, 'No Loitering!' The man turned away from them, and in the early evening darkness he smiled, but the youths could not see this. He crossed the little shopping center to a lonely car next to the closed supermarket; perhaps one of the reasons these youths were so bored and abusive was that the town closed up early, out here in the middle of no and where, the man mused. He made a show of getting his keys out, dropped them in a convenient nearby sewer, pretended to panic and waddled around the corner, fleeing.

Predictably, the predators had to give chase, laughing.

They ran around the corner of the supermarket, and seconds later there were multiple screams, which terminated abruptly.


"Do you know what I like about these little hunting trips to Dirt?"

The white kid opened his eyes. It was hard to see anything in the bright glow, every surface lit up with a soft green light, like being under the forest canopy on a summer afternoon, only brighter. He recoiled in horror at the fat man, opened up like a meat-suit, with something purple and slick coiled inside. Then he realized that there was no blood, and the thing inside was speaking to him. It was also eating peanut butter straight out of a jar, with its tentacles.

"The challenge. Your species is really rather cunning, for omnivores, and your governments really so reasonable, when confronted with unpleasant facts. Of course, with you three, not so much, not so cunning nor challenging. So stupid, I really would be doing your species a favor..." The purple slug-thing twirled its eyestalks at him and trilled. The body-suits' head sighed dramatically. "But that would be illegal; I've filled all my tickets for this hunting trip, and your government wants too much for the next tier. You, my young and stupid friend, are not worth my money, but it was amusing, and I do hope exciting, for you as well?"

The three youths remembered mocking laughter, and woke up, stripped but not naked. They wore a layer of peanut butter instead.

(I apologize for nerfing the language, which offends me and might get me into trouble with Big Bro 8-)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Characters for 'Into the Blood Wood'

I reread these characters for a game I never ran at Relaxicon 2010 and decided to post it here-


To recover and bury the bones of lost friends- You could not go, before. The farm needed tending, and your parents needed you. The fence needed repair, and the south-pasture, ditching. But your Pa passed a few years back, and your Ma, just yesterday; and all you could think about, through the service, was how the friends of your youth went south, without you, and never came back… You are Horse

Horse is not an adventurer; he has no wish to go to strange lands, meet strange people, kill them and loot their bodies. He is like the farmers, in The Magnificent Seven or The Seven Samurai, or any of a hundred remakes of those two great movies. He isn't married, except to the land, his families' farm. He did, once, consider going adventuring, with his friends, and he only regrets not going with them, not the not going. He is a widower and has no living family, now that his Ma has passed; he is free to go, and come back, if he can...

Horse is a strapping big plowman, who likes a pipe, a good riddle, and a pint of bitters by the fire, of an evening. He is quiet and holds his counsel, but he is a deep thinker, slowly turning over a problem, like a field to be plowed.

Give me a clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me, and three hours march to dinner- and then to thinking. -William Hazlit

His favorite passage from the Lives of the Servants of the Goddess, is based on this bit from the bible-

'…the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.' Psalms 65:12-13


[Villagers tell Chris they collected everything of value in their village to hire gunmen]
Chris Adams (moved): I have been offered a lot for my work, but never everything.


You've got to have Faith!

In service to your Goddess- Called to serve, to witness for your faith and win the day for Good, your path has led you here, to these companions, on this quest. You are Gods-touched, ever since a fever, as a child, left you prone to visions and opened you to the possibilities… You are Faith

Faith is red-haired and green eyed, a daughter of the land, of the Goddess. She is a paladin, with the scars and healed bones of the hard service she loves so dearly; still young, but beginning to get old. She is based on the female paladin, Paksennarion, the Sheepfarmers' Daughter, from the excellent fantasy series by Elizabeth Moon, the books gathered together in The Deed of Paksennarion. TDoP is my favorite serious fantasy series (The Discworld books are silly, and full of insight into the human condition; I love them just as dearly, but in a different way…). Faith is also based, a little, on Faith from Buffy (just a little), and a female bodyguard, Balsa, from the wonderful anime, Moribito, which revisits, for me, the question of whether the good of the one outweighs the good of the many; do you save the boy, or the kingdom? If you are a hero, you turn yourself inside out, and spill blood, to do both!

'…the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing.' Psalms 65:12-13

The local church is a fertility cult; the words to the marriage service are- 'Go, now, lie together, and bring forth children, of the land…"

I want to shine on you, and always, like the dazzling sun,
I will defend you, from all the darkness,
This is the truth from my heart.

-Shine, opening song from Moribito-

Chico: But who made us the way we are, huh? Men with guns. Men like Calvera, and men like you... and now me.

Calvera: If God didn't want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep!
(Faith is the shepherdess (Shepherd Book), not with a crook or sling to guard her flock, but the blessing of the Goddess, and cold steel! (@Lee- 'Onward Brinnian Soldiers!' 8-))

Hilario: Even if we had the guns, we know how to plant and grow, we don't know how to kill.
Old Man: Then learn, or die!


To redeem cowardice- You ran, and left your comrades to die, years ago; you came home to the silence of the village, and crawled into a bottle. Now you can lead a team into the Blood Wood, and make right what once went so horribly wrong… You are Snake

When he came out of the Blood Wood, he knew that he would be hanged, if caught, and sure enough, he was. But the Old King was a clever man, and ruthless. He pardoned Snake and, far from being made an outlaw, he placed the King's Peace on him… strange mercy, indeed. Snake is wiry, tough. Skinny from years of alcoholism, consumption and bad diet. But the fire still burns, and he's still supernaturally quick. He is going to the Blood Wood, to die.

Hilario: The feeling I felt in my chest this morning, when I saw Calvera run away from us, that's a feeling worth dying for. Have you ever felt something like that?
Vin: Not for a long, long time. I envy you.

Lee: Yes. The final supreme idiocy. Coming here to hide. The deserter hiding out in the middle of a battlefield.


To do your duty to the Crown- The Old King decreed the quarantine, and for all of your adult life, you've kept it. But this morning the Queen fell under the 'evil shadow', and the King gave you leave to gather a team of malcontents and heroes, to make one more attempt on the Blood Wood. You are the Kings' Man, and will do his will, whatever it takes. You are Blackstaff

Blackstaff is a burnt-out old veteran, with nothing left but his duty, and his secret love for the Queen (or King!). He will do whatever it takes. A Royal Bastard? Hard to be sure, but that was one rumor. That would make him half-brother to the King. He had a young wife, once, but she ran off with a bard. Blackstaff doesn't like bards.

Vin: We deal in lead, friend.

Harry Luck: [Dying words] Well, I'll be damned.
Chris Adams: Maybe you won't be.


To save a lover from herself- 'The Sorrows', a wasting sickness of the heart and mind, which leaves its victims listless and unresponsive, has taken your true love, and you know that the cure lies in the Blood Wood, in the Pool of Sorrows; it has to! You are Romeo

Romeo is young and quick to anger. Good with a blade, too, but always running off to get into trouble and needing rescue.

"Since the invention of the kiss, there have been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind." -The Princess Bride

Hilario: Very young, and very proud.
Chris: Well, the graveyards are full of boys who were very young, and very proud.


To find the cure for 'The Sorrows'- You are a great healer, but even you are no match for the wasting disease. Now your daughter is cursed with TS, and the only thing you can think to do is to cross the quarantine line, a hanging offense, into the Blood Wood, and find some answers… You are Doc

Doc is more thoughtful, but no less determined. He has a few tricks up his sleeves, as a loremaster and a herbalist; this is the young healer from Moribito, Balsa's 'Wife', but quite a bit older.

"As you wish!" -The Princess Bride

Village Boy 2: We're ashamed to live here. Our fathers are cowards.
O'Reilly: Don't you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there's nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery. That's why I never even started anything like that... that's why I never will.

Very General Outline/Timeline for the Relaxicon (or any single-shot) Games-
1st Hour- What happens first and/or my goals as GM
2nd Hour- Rising Tension; how can I mess with my players?
3rd Hour- Big Fight/Obstacle to overcome, or otherwise resolve...
Cleanup; bring it on home!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Thoughts on 2112

I ran Microscope with two other people for the first time on Friday and I loved it... but of course I immediately wanted to fiddle with it! I recognized in it some writer's tools which I've never used; writing facts, characters and scenes in index cards, among other things. We've done similar things in previous campaigns when we do a world-building session.

I'd like to world-build the future. 100 years to be precise. 2112 is a palindrome, reading the same forwards or backwards. What do you think?

To paraphrase Pratchett, people want tomorrow to be like yesterday, only better. Warmer, better fed, nicer job. People want to scare us, it goes without saying, want us to do things and possibly for all the best reasons, as in that one cartoon, 'What if we make a better world, for no good reason?' Climate change within our lifetimes is fact, though, whether it is caused by human action or something else. Anecdotal evidence for human culpability lies in the fact that we had a dip in energy use after the recession hit, followed by colder winters, and yet now that the world economy is on a rebound and demand is back up, we've had the mildest winter which I can remember. Cold winter in Europe? There is some evidence that the Gulf Stream is failing...

I'm not worried, over the long term, but I wonder what disaster will do to the psyche of a world becoming ever more tightly knit together. Cynicism is weak tea, to paraphrase Churchill and my favorite Captain. It definitely isn't much of a way of life.

So, what happens if it all goes to shit in a big way? The global economy has no 'give' to it, and a pandemic would kill more people indirectly than ever might die of plague. Other threats which tantalize and titillate readers and audiences could do the same, and over the long term, something will bring it all down.

Then what?

Lots of people die. Billions. And then a few billion people pick up the pieces, go on having babies (or not; babies are a bad return on investment... 8-), and the world keeps on turning, reduced to some fraction of the nonsense we now take for granted.

What would a post-global world look like?

Suddenly the Global Village Construction Set ( makes a lot more sense, and I really do hope they succeed in pulling it off. They are more of a lifestyle choice, maybe even a 22nd Century version of the Amish and Mennonites. Opting out of the global rat-race, downsizing, reducing, unplugging and possibly surviving. Necessarily these folks would set up away from major cities, even possibly in the remains of 20th century rust-belt cities like Detroit... wouldn't that be a kick in the ass?

The other thing which they are figuring out is key, if we are ever going to colonize other worlds; figuring out how to down-shift into a viable industrial and information society. I kid you not, their children are Martians!