Moral Compasses

The fight was over, the corpses looted, the captives restrained and sat around the campfire. The party fell to their usual post-fight habits — fighting amongst themselves. All could agree on searching the captives, that much was common sense. Various weapons and loose pocket change were removed and set aside.  But then the arguments continued about the captives and the information they surely had.

The youngest captive, a not so bright fellow lured into his fellow brigands' company through promises of regular meals (which had turned out to be a mite thinner in reality than the recruiter's speech), blanched at the lanky fellow tossing around all the knives' casual mention of torturing them.

The next captive, a survivor of two previous encounters in this forest and not yet beyond thinking himself immortal, smirked at the obvious ploy to frighten them into talking. He would not fall for so transparent a ruse.

The eldest captive, a full forty years above ground and veteran of an actual army before the war ended and discharged him with no other skills than wielding a sword, winced and swallowed hard. No ruse this or else they had all missed their calling as actors. Too much vitriol and spite for acting.

The eldest's eye was drawn to the priest kneeling at the edge of the camp, facing the woods. One of the fighters saw him and followed his sight to the priest.

"Damn it Jacob, quit yer mumbling to some demented forest god and help us out over here!"

The priest paused, brought his hands down, and shouted back, never turning around, "We all need a moral compass here! And if it's shaped like a rabbit, so be it!"

No Gods, No Masters

“Hi there,” my new boss said, rising from their chair to lean over the desk and shake my hand. They had a sharp, crisp-edge shirt on today instead of the flowery blouse sporting the height of embroidery fashion from my interview last month. The cleaner lines made the bones in their cheeks look sharper. “Officially, welcome to the Diplomatic Corp. Today’s just going to be orientation and assignment I’m afraid, so grab whichever one looks the most comfortable to you–” they gestured to the array of five chairs in front of the desk “–we’re going to be here a while.”

Two of the chairs were obviously for different species — the padding for knees (presumably) went in a direction only a yogi could find comfortable. A third was for someone human shaped, at least, although scaled a bit… larger than myself. The divan for the drakes tended to be comfortable for humans too, but I took the human standard chair anyway. The padding looked good.

“Alright then,” my boss said once I’d settled, “first thing I’ve got to ask is if you’re terribly religious?” They gestured at the cross at my neck.

I raised an eyebrow. “Is that even legal to ask?”

“Good on you. Not during your interview or to hold against you, but luckily for everyone here in the Corps, it’s just about finding you a post where you’ll be able to practice without it impacting our missions. And the places it’d be a problem are no more or less prestigious than where it’d be a benefit. Or not relevant. So, terribly religious?”

“Uh, I guess not particularly.”

“Would you be alright not wearing any faith symbols?”

“Where would this be a problem??”

“Lughaidh, capital of Belenus. Or anywhere else in the Orc empire for that matter. The further out in the rural areas you go, the better the odds you’d be murdered for preaching.”

“Just… just for having a symbol of faith?”

“They’re incredibly strict representational democrats with strong beliefs in decentralizing power. I’d say they’re big believers in separation of church and state if they hadn’t eliminated the church several centuries back.”

I sat, stunned, my jaw slack and mind fritzing out. An entire multi-planetary society with no religion at all? My home planet’s preeminent theologians had already been proven wrong once I’d gotten off planet and found multi-religionist planets the norm instead of the exception they’d argued was only right. But no religion at all?

“Look, their motto of ‘No Gods, No Masters’ carries a lot more punch than you’re probably used to in their society. That tends to happen when you can physically point to the decapitated skull of your former chief deity and enslaver over the legislative assembly’s foyer door.”

I just blinked at my boss.

“Right, not Lughaidh then. How do you feel about bodily modifications at the genetic level and cybernetic enhancements?”


Inspired by Prokopetz's modern takes on fantasy races here

Grandfather Clocks

"Cathy?" John's querulous voice floated in from the front foyer. "You have some super-people."

Cathy put her pen down (the school forms would just have to wait a bit) and poked her head out of her office. Three teens, no two teens and preteen, were standing in her foyer. The oldest one, probably fifteen or so, was glaring at John with the horrified gawp of a teenager who couldn't believe some adult had just said what they'd said, so embarrassing. Their clothes and backpack were sturdy, well-cared for, and a year out of fashion — Cathy would bet they had been bought last year, a little big on the girl, and worn since. The middle one, male, had the lanky build of a sprinter and the rumpled clothing of a speedster who'd forgotten to slowdown to normal human walking speeds recently. The youngest, the preteen girl, was obviously related to the boy, what with those cheekbones and nose. She was looking around the foyer with a look of awe on her face; Cathy regretted letting John and his ostentation rule the foyer decorations yet again. Her eyes widened a bit when the girl trailed a hand along the grandfather clock ticking away next to the door before pulling back with a wince. Cathy knew the clock's history — she had a psychohistorian on her hands. 

The poor girl.

Interesting, the older girl was wincing now with a look of concern at the younger. Delayed reaction. Probably an empath then.

"Well, don't just stand there," Cathy said, gesturing into her office. "Come in and tell the nice witch why an empath, a speedster, and a psychohistorian want her help."

Out sick

hey all you lovely people who make time to read my ramblings, unfortunately I haven't written ahead in a few weeks and woke up fairly sick today. Like sleep until 10:30am and then take a four hour nap in the afternoon sick. So no story today, sorry. Write to everyone Monday!

Those are new...

Beorhtric uncomfortably shifted in his saddle. His chest was tight, like a greater weight than Pyri’s slight form rested against him. He wanted to rip his armor off, somehow manage a deep breath that went all the way through him. But he need to get Pyri and the rest of his warband back to the healer. Whatever that naturmagier had hit him with, right before Beorhtric had run them through with his father’s longsword, was just going to have to wait.

Pyri slumped back against Beorhtric again; he was bleeding from the nose. Again. Agathe reached over, but her horse shied away from the sudden shift in weight. Beorhtric sped up to match speeds and slid in next to her on the forest path. Agathe laid her hands on Pyri as Beorhtric grabbed Agathe’s reins. The blood slowed and finally stopped (again) several lengths down the path.

Several hand spans of the sun towards setting, Beorhtric and band found the healer’s hut on the edge of their village. Agathe was swaying in her seat from exhaustion. Pyri hadn’t woken yet from passing out earlier. Two of the newest recruits’ wounds were bleeding through the hasty bandages they’d slapped on before riding for the village — such shallow wounds, no one was giving them any mind though.

Well, if the recruits were, no one was going to listen to a thing they said about it.

Beorhtric scooped Pyri off the horse and carried him into the long hut; Pyri never did weigh much more than a child just large enough to begin sword training. The healer motioned to the first bed, the one closest to the door, and Beorhtric deposited him there. Agathe had hurried in behind Beorhtric and began grabbing jar off the healer’s shelves. The healer peeled back Pyri’s eyelids and barked instructions at Agathe.

Beorhtric stepped behind a panel and finally, finally, peeled off his chest armor. A deep, gasping breath later, the sensations against his calloused hands actually registered — he grabbed his tunic, pulled it straight forward, and looked down.

“Huh,” Beorhtric said, looking down at a pair of breasts he hadn’t woken up that morning with, “those are new.”

Abbess Superior of the Authorial Confessional

“Forgive me Mother, for I have sinned. It has been three weeks since I last wrote.”

“Hast thou done any outlining?

“No Mother.”

“Revision? Editing?”

“No Mother. I haven’t had any ideas.”

“Hmm. Thou art aware of thy backlog of ideas? The one in thine journal that is even know about thy personage?”

“I…”

“Did thou lose thine journal?”

“No Mother. My partner took it and critiqued my ideas…”

“And thou hasn’t written since?”

“Yes Mother.”

“Very well, this then is my penance for thee. Break up with thine partner, for they have proven themself a right asshole. Purchase thine self a new journal of the prettiest, most joyful choice thou finds, and write thee the silliest, most cliched introduction of a new character in it. Then return thou to the church and our scribes will copy over thine ideas, without thy former partner’s commentary, into thine new journal. And we shall see where thou art with thine writing.”

“Thank you Mother!”

Allergy Season

Hey so, first off, I’m really sorry about all this. And I apologize for just leaving a note, but I really have to get to class.

My teleportation is usually under control, it’s just allergy season is driving me haywire. My phone number’s at the end, if you text me, I can forward my doctor’s note to you. Um, so, there’s some cash under this note for the wall where I slammed into your bookcase. I cleaned up the water from the vase I spilled and the… liquid where your pet freaked out about me, but that talisman over the door seems to have broken beyond my ability to do anything about. Give me a call, I might be able to find someone who won’t rip you off replacing it.

The good news is I walked your dragon?

Character Development Questions: Hard Mode — Pria

The last of my three main characters for the unnamed novel project


1. Does your character have siblings or family members in their age group? which one are they closest with?

Yes. Brandon (older brother by 2 years), Eveline [Eve, Evie] (younger sister by 2 years), and Jordan (younger brother by 4 years). She’s closest to Evie.

 

And in case you’re wondering, Pria had her name legally changed. It used to be Dinah. She hated that name. Evie and Jordan are also planning to legally change their names when they turn 18, although neither are sure what to, yet.

2. What is/was your character’s relationship with their mother like?

Bad. Really bad. Pria’s mom, Charity, was emotionally abusive to Pria, in the name of ‘saving her soul’ and getting her to ‘act like a lady’. Basically, Pria could never be feminine enough for her Mom.

3. What is/was your character’s relationship with their father like?

Bad. Not as bad as as with her Mom, but bad. As a teen, Pria kept expecting physical abuse from Joseph, her Dad, in the infrequent circumstances she actually got caught being ‘sinful’, but it never happened. She doesn’t realize it, but it didn’t happen because Joseph could tell she’d swing back.

4. Has your character ever witnessed something that fundamentally changed them? If so, does anyone else know?

No, but only because she’d already lost all trust in her parents and older brother. Honestly, she thinks it should have changed her, but seeing Brandon attack Evie really only confirmed what she suspected about Brandon and about herself (no, she didn’t freeze, yes, she did attack him). So, obviously Evie knows. Evie told Jordan later, and Pria told Gwen and Roland, her grandmother and grandfather, the outlines of what happened.

5. On an average day, what can be found in your character’s pockets?

Her phone. In her backpack is her laptop, books for class, binder to take notes in, pencils, a couple pens, highlighters, index cards, lunch (probably), and a water bottle. She has a bunch of sympathetic tokens on the insides of a bunch of bracelets she wears.

6. Does your character have recurring themes in their dreams?

No.

7. Does your character have recurring themes in their nightmares?

Still being at her parents’ ranch. Getting to the barn too late.

8. Has your character ever fired a gun? If so, what was their first target?

No.

9. Is your character’s current socioeconomic status different than it was when they were growing up?

Yes. Her parents were barely on the middle-class side of lower-middle class. Now that she (and her younger siblings) are under her grandparents’ care, they’re really wealthy.

10. Does your character feel more comfortable with more clothing, or with less clothing?

Less. But she’s living in a group house in New England. She dresses for the temperature and her roommates’ comfort level.

11. In what situation was your character the most afraid they’ve ever been?

In the barn when Brandon was attacking Evie and later while she was trying to get herself, Evie, and Jordan across the entire freaking country to Boston (and her grandparents) without getting caught by their parents or the police. 

12. In what situation was your character the most calm they’ve ever been?

When she was breaking up with her high school sweetheart, Betsy.

13. Is your character bothered by the sight of blood? If so, in what way?

No.

14. Does your character remember names or faces easier?

Names but only as they attach to faces.

15. Is your character preoccupied with money or material possession? Why or why not?

No, not anymore. She was preoccupied with money as it could enable her to get the hell out of her parents’ home, but now that she has access to more than she knows was to do with, she sees it as a useful tool that she’d like to learn how to utilize to the full extent it can protect her and her family. So maybe a little preoccupied with money.

16. Which does your character idealize most: happiness or success?

Happiness.

17. What was your character’s favorite toy as a child?

The copy of The Hobbit she managed to successfully keep hidden for four years.

18. Is your character more likely to admire wisdom, or ambition in others?

Wisdom.

19. What is your character’s biggest relationship flaw? Has this flaw destroyed relationships for them before?

She’s so careful about keeping and enforcing her boundaries that she’s not as careful of other people’s needs and feelings as she should be, to be a good partner. It’s stopped relationships from ever getting started before, which if she’d noticed would have been alright with her — she wasn’t interested in a relationship since she broke up with her girlfriend in high school, although she’s ready to date again, now that she’s in college.

20. In what ways does your character compare themselves to others? Do they do this for the sake of self-validation, or self-criticism?

She compares her knowledge of pop culture, general knowledge, and life skills to others, in order to find what was deliberately kept from her growing up. 

21. If something tragic or negative happens to your character, do they believe they may have caused or deserved it, or are they quick to blame others?

Somewhere in between those two extremes.

22. What does your character like in other people?

Integrity, willingness to learn, willingness to teach, respecting other people’s different life choices 

23. What does your character dislike in other people?

Zealotry, bigotry, sexism

24. How quick is your character to trust someone else?

Very slow

25. How quick is your character to suspect someone else? Does this change if they are close with that person?

Reasonably quick but that completely flips if they’re close — Pria doesn’t get close to people she hasn’t decided if she can trust them.

26. How does your character behave around children?

A little standoffish. She doesn’t really know how to relate and hasn’t learned yet how to draw them out to find something to interact over. She’s protective of her younger sister and brother though — them she knows how to interact with.

27. How does your character normally deal with confrontation?

Blank stone-face. She’s learned to control her impulse to lash out in anger from having so much practice dealing with her parents. 

28. How quick or slow is your character to resort to physical violence in a confrontation?

But if it’s a physical confrontation, she entirely willing to stand in their faces, not back down, and deck them if they swing first. So, quick to intimidation and quick to respond with physical violence if offered — she don’t start none, but damn if she doesn’t want to end it.

29. What did your character dream of being or doing as a child? Did that dream come true?

Run away. And yes, she did that.

30. What does your character find repulsive or disgusting?

Religious zealotry/fanaticism/fundamentalism.

31. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most comfortable.

Honestly, that moment right after sex at her place when her partner has dropped off to sleep and she’ll fall asleep shortly.

32. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most uncomfortable.

Dealing with her parents or her older brother again.

33. In the face of criticism, is your character defensive, self-deprecating, or willing to improve?

Defensive — she perceives it as an attack on her self and her boundaries. Yeah, she knows that’s not healthy and she’s working on it.

34. Is your character more likely to keep trying a solution/method that didn’t work the first time, or immediately move on to a different solution/method?

Different solution.

35. How does your character behave around people they like?

Like as in interesting in sleeping with them? Vivacious. Like as in like being around them? Quiet — she’s comfortable enough not to be ‘on’.

36. How does your character behave around people they dislike?

Dismissive. Unless she’s trying not to let on she dislikes them.

37. Is your character more concerned with defending their honor, or protecting their status?

Defending their honor.

38. Is your character more likely to remove a problem/threat, or remove themselves from a problem/threat?

Remove the problem.

39. Has your character ever been bitten by an animal? How were they affected (or unaffected)?

Yeah sure — she grew up on a ranch. Animals occasionally lip or take a bite out of you. She learned how to handle them better.

40. How does your character treat people in service jobs?

Politely.

41. Does your character feel that they deserve to have what they want, whether it be material or abstract, or do they feel they must earn it first?

Earn it.

42. Has your character ever had a parental figure who was not related to them?

Nope.

43. Has your character ever had a dependent figure who was not related to them?

Nu-uh.

44. How easy or difficult is it for your character to say “I love you?” Can they say it without meaning it?

Very easy to say if she doesn’t mean it — she’s had so much practice lying in that way to her parents.

45. What does your character believe will happen to them after they die? Does this belief scare them?

No damn clue. She figures she’ll find out when she gets there. And yes, that’s a scary thought, but it’s the only one she’s got to work with.

Character Development Questions: Hard Mode - Eric

This is for the same story Lucas from last Monday will be appearing in. Eric is the second (out of three) characters I’m trying to flesh out.

1. Does your character have siblings or family members in their age group? which one are they closest with?

Eric had a younger brother, Marcus, who was three years younger than him. All their cousins were hundreds of miles away, so the families weren’t close. Marcus and Eric weren’t super close but they were friendly and sometimes did stuff together (video games or catch. Occasionally Eric chaperoned Marcus and some friends at the movies [‘cause he could drive]), but mostly they hung out with their respective friends group.

2. What is/was your character’s relationship with their mother like?

Reasonably good. Eric’s mom, Nadine, worked longish hours as a professional so he didn’t see her as much as his Dad, but he respected his Mom’s professional accomplishments, her work ethic, her outlook on life, and her chili.

3. What is/was your character’s relationship with their father like?

Close. Eric learned a lot of household skills from his Dad, Eliot, and had long discussions about literature and ethics with him.

4. Has your character ever witnessed something that fundamentally changed them? If so, does anyone else know?

Yes. And he really doesn’t want to talk about it.

(Pria has the news article summary version of what happened, but not from Eric. So her view is that she doesn’t know what happened, not really. Lucas doesn’t know.)

5. On an average day, what can be found in your character’s pockets?

Phone, wallet, pocket/multi tool (Leatherman actually). In his backpack is his laptop, today’s class textbook, notebook for the appropriate class, homework, pencils, notecards, highlighters, sunglasses, water bottle, and a deck of playing cards.

6. Does your character have recurring themes in their dreams?

Walking through the woods during the fall with his Dad and brother.

7. Does your character have recurring themes in their nightmares?

Theme, no; event, yes — his parents’ and brother’s murder. Technically, his murder too, except for the permanently dying part.

8. Has your character ever fired a gun? If so, what was their first target?

Yes, he went target shooting once. He decided it’d take more time and work than he could afford to get accurate enough to make a gun a reasonable weapon choice. So that was the last time he touched a gun too.

9. Is your character’s current socioeconomic status different than it was when they were growing up?

Yes. Eric grew up solidly upper-middle class — two working, professional parents — and now he’s a black college student on financial aid and work study with no family support.

10. Does your character feel more comfortable with more clothing, or with less clothing?

Eh. It’s cold in New England and heat is expensive. More clothing for now.

11. In what situation was your character the most afraid they’ve ever been?

The night his home was invaded and his family was murdered.

12. In what situation was your character the most calm they’ve ever been?

Calm might be the wrong emotion but he appeared incredibly calm at his family’s funeral. That was shock, numbness, and disassociation though. Actual calm would probably be last night, right before falling sleeping with Pria, or the walk through the woods with his dad when they talked through applying to colleges and career goals.

13. Is your character bothered by the sight of blood? If so, in what way?

Yes, it makes him angry and shaky (in sufficient quantities. A paper cut or scrap is fine.)

14. Does your character remember names or faces easier?

Faces.

15. Is your character preoccupied with money or material possession? Why or why not?

A little - he has to be right now for survival.

16. Which does your character idealize most: happiness or success?

Happiness.

17. What was your character’s favorite toy as a child?

A puppet stage he and his brother put shows on together.

18. Is your character more likely to admire wisdom, or ambition in others?

Wisdom. Reminds him of his Dad.

19. What is your character’s biggest relationship flaw? Has this flaw destroyed relationships for them before?

He’s been a bit too passive and too willing to put up with shit (like people staying in the closet) for the past year, year and a half. There’s some self-loathing issues going on.

20. In what ways does your character compare themselves to others? Do they do this for the sake of self-validation, or self-criticism?

Eric compares himself to what other people accomplish as a method of self-criticism. He’s carrying a lot of guilt (and anger) and thinks he should have been capable of doing more.

21. If something tragic or negative happens to your character, do they believe they may have caused or deserved it, or are they quick to blame others?

Depends on the severity of what happens, but right now, Eric definitely thinks he deserves everything bad that comes his way.

22. What does your character like in other people?

Imagination, creativity, empathy, follow through, reliability.

23. What does your character dislike in other people?

Violence, dullness, meanness, cruelty.

24. How quick is your character to trust someone else?

Give people a chance but verify.

25. How quick is your character to suspect someone else? Does this change if they are close with that person?

Depends — does he have a reason to suspect someone? If he does, he’ll worry at the problem until he figures it out.

26. How does your character behave around children?

He’ll try to engage them in a storytelling or imagination game. It usually works.

27. How does your character normally deal with confrontation?

Depends on who’s on the other side of the confrontation. He’s black and very aware of the disadvantages that puts him in New England, even (particularly) on a liberal arts college campus. If it’s with people he knows and trusts, he’ll verbally stand his ground, preferably engaging in a debate. He doesn’t trust people it’d turn to violence around, so during such a confrontation he’d work to calm things down so he can get the hell out of there. And preferably never interact with them again.

28. How quick or slow is your character to resort to physical violence in a confrontation?

They need to swing first. Except when it comes to Lucas’s frat brothers, the ones older than Lucas. Eric thinks they swung first a long time ago.

29. What did your character dream of being or doing as a child? Did that dream come true?

A professor of literature, preferably African-American or Japanese.

He’s 18. He’s working on it. Maybe.

30. What does your character find repulsive or disgusting?

Organ meat. Sewage. Anything with a bad enough smell.

31. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most comfortable.

Reading a book with a cup of hot chocolate. Maybe some music. Maybe some other folks hanging out.

What? It’s cold in New England. He may have grown up here but it’s still cold!

32. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most uncomfortable.

Angry authority figures — particularly law enforcement or security services.

33. In the face of criticism, is your character defensive, self-deprecating, or willing to improve?

Willing to improve

34. Is your character more likely to keep trying a solution/method that didn’t work the first time, or immediately move on to a different solution/method?

Socially, different solution. Physical problem trying to solve, try again to figure out why it isn’t working and then correct from there.

35. How does your character behave around people they like?

A little intense, in that he’d like to keep talking/interacting so he’s paying a lot of attention to the conversation. Unless folks are just hanging out, then he’ll relax into whatever activity is going on. If he really likes them / is attracted to them, he’ll be as physically close/affectionate as their body language indicates they’re comfortable with.

36. How does your character behave around people they dislike?

Disengaged.

37. Is your character more concerned with defending their honor, or protecting their status?

Status, as in the status of being alive.

38. Is your character more likely to remove a problem/threat, or remove themselves from a problem/threat?

He’d prefer to remove himself, but recognizes this isn’t always an option.

39. Has your character ever been bitten by an animal? How were they affected (or unaffected)?

Not a thing that’s happened to him.

40. How does your character treat people in service jobs?

You’ve got a job to do and I’ll try not to make it any harder than it has to be.

41. Does your character feel that they deserve to have what they want, whether it be material or abstract, or do they feel they must earn it first?

Eric thinks it doesn’t matter, he’ll have to earn it and keep demonstrably earning it to prevent it, whatever it is, from being taken away.

42. Has your character ever had a parental figure who was not related to them?

Yes, his freshman history teacher — she taught him a lot about text analysis.

43. Has your character ever had a dependent figure who was not related to them?

No.

44. How easy or difficult is it for your character to say “I love you?” Can they say it without meaning it?

Fairly easy if he means it, but also yes, he can say it without meaning it.

45. What does your character believe will happen to them after they die? Does this belief scare them?

He’s not sure — probably hell, assuming anything exists after death. (Have I given the impression that Eric is a bit depressed? Because he’s a lot depressed.)

System Review : Monsterhearts 2nd Edition

What, an actual gaming blog post on a Thursday like I originally envisioned for this blog, whaaat? 

Any rate, a review of the second edition of Monsterhearts. 


Monsterhearts is a role-playing system about the drama being a teenager and a supernatural monster. The game is centered around the social ties between characters and various ways they interact with each other. It is explicitly poc and queer friendly, with the ability written into the game to turn on another character, without restrictions on gender or sexuality — in fact, the author urges players to discover their character's sexuality over the course of the game through who successfully turns whom on. It's a collaboratively narrative game focused on social interactions and characters being not very nice to each other, in that way that generates drama and fun at the table.

The second edition is  primarily a refinement and expansion upgrade. One character type (The Chosen (think Buffy)) was moved from a default option offered in the book to an expansion option available on the system website, based on feedback the author received on how that centered a game on that character type (and how often people chose to play the character). Another character type was promoted to replace The Chosen in the book. Some of the abilities of characters were refined. A discussion on asexuality, how it interacts in the game, and suggestions on incorporating it into a game was included. New writers added a section on explicitly including diversity in the game and suggestions for handling playing characters outside your own ethnicity responsibly. A discussion on checking in with players and tools to use to making sure everyone is comfortable with potentially difficult material was also added.

Over all, I would say that the second edition of Monsterhearts is a worthy and useful continuation of the game. If you're new to the system, I would recommend the second edition over the first. If you already have the first edition, I would say to save your money for a new system altogether. Unless you want to support the author — I'm never going to object to people looking to support their artists. The mechanics updates aren't different enough to get you a new game. The expanded discussion of factors at the table is a good one and one the industry and its players desperately needs to keep having, but if you already have the first edition, it's a discussion you can research and educate yourself on online.

Takeaway: Good update, I'm glad to own the 2nd edition, recommend the 2nd over the 1st as the place to get into the game, not necessary for folks who already own the 1st edition.

Character Development Questions: Hard Mode - Lucas

This is for a story I've had kicking around in my head for a while. I'm trying to flesh out the two (out of three) main characters I feel I don't know as well. In an attempt to push the project forward. So, I introduce to you Lucas, at the beginning of my as yet untitled story.


1. Does your character have siblings or family members in their age group? which one are they closest with?

Lucas has four younger siblings, as two sisters younger than him by two (Maria) and four (Julia) years, than a younger brother (six years younger, Martín), and finally another sister (eight years younger, Ema). He’s was close with Maria until they hit seven and five, when Maria started getting closer to Julia. Now, in the family, Lucas is closest with his eldest cousin, Alonso, but it’s not very close.

2. What is/was your character’s relationship with their mother like?

A bit distant. Lucas feels ignored by her and actively discouraged from having a good relationship with her by his father.

3. What is/was your character’s relationship with their father like?

Resentful. Lucas isn’t entirely aware of his resentment yet, but he’s been passively resisting his father for years. As much as he feels he can without making his or his siblings’ life awful. 

4. Has your character ever witnessed something that fundamentally changed them? If so, does anyone else know?

Yes, his full initiation into his fraternity beginning of sophomore year. It’s... not a good memory. His frat brothers, obviously, knew and now Eric and Pria know something happened, even if he hasn’t shared the details.

5. On an average day, what can be found in your character’s pockets?

His pockets have his cellphone, wallet, his student id (usually floating loose from the wallet), a couple coins, and a pencil nub. His backpack is more interesting: laptop, notepad, notebook, pens, pencils, highlighters, crumpled flashcards, a couple crumbled bills (anywhere from 1$ to 10$ bills), wall plugs and charging cables for his phone, an external battery, rolled ace bandage, jock strap, and an ankle splint.

6. Does your character have recurring themes in their dreams?

Not particularly. The closest would be once or twice a month dreaming about running of some variety. Sometimes on two legs, sometimes as a wolf on four.

7. Does your character have recurring themes in their nightmares?

Yes. The smell and taste of blood. Running.

8. Has your character ever fired a gun? If so, what was their first target?

No.

9. Is your character’s current socioeconomic status different than it was when they were growing up?

No, Lucas grew up lower-middle to middle-middle class and he’s at college as a semi-broke student. This isn’t all that different on a day-to-day basis than high school.

10. Does your character feel more comfortable with more clothing, or with less clothing?

More clothing. Not layers and layers, but fully dressed.

11. In what situation was your character the most afraid they’ve ever been?

Two instances: 1) his full initiation to his fraternity and 2) last night when Eric came by the frat house.

12. In what situation was your character the most calm they’ve ever been?

Arriving at college. Once everything was unloaded into his dorm room and his Papa said goodbye, Lucas just went... peaceful for a few minutes. And then he went to dinner with his new roommate and tried to make friends.

13. Is your character bothered by the sight of blood? If so, in what way?

Yes. It’s an unpleasant reminder of... last night.

14. Does your character remember names or faces easier?

Both/neither? Lucas has a good memory for faces but he always has a name associated with the face.

15. Is your character preoccupied with money or material possession? Why or why not?

No, because he hasn’t had to worry about it much. Also, being preoccupied with money or material possessions is closely connected with being preoccupied with status (to him), and Lucas is avoiding being like his Papa that way (not a conscious choice. yet.) If you asked him, he’d say he wants to maintain the same lifestyle he grew up with, but he doesn’t have a concrete career or goal in mind to do that.

16. Which does your character idealize most: happiness or success?

Happiness.

17. What was your character’s favorite toy as a child?

His stuffed octopus. Until Papa substituted in a football. He didn’t really have a favorite after that. 

18. Is your character more likely to admire wisdom, or ambition in others?

Wisdom. He feels he’s lacking that.

19. What is your character’s biggest relationship flaw? Has this flaw destroyed relationships for them before?

Lucas is insecure. He’s grown up with a particular image of how he’s supposed to be around girls / women (macho) and that doesn’t come naturally to him. So, when he tries to fake it, he worries everyone can tell he’s faking. When he doesn’t fake it, he worries that people think he’s not a man. He thinks he’s supposed to want to get with every woman and perform with single one of them who’s willing. 

It’s sabotaged things from ever getting started for him.

20. In what ways does your character compare themselves to others? Do they do this for the sake of self-validation, or self-criticism?

Lucas compares himself to how other guys (particularly guys in his frat) act around women and it’s totally for self-criticism. He’s half disgusted (okay, mostly disgusted), half ‘damn it, how do I act that confident / macho.’

21. If something tragic or negative happens to your character, do they believe they may have caused or deserved it, or are they quick to blame others?

Oh, definitely with the self-blame and thinking he deserved it.

22. What does your character like in other people?

Confidence. Being kind. Reaching out and helping others. The ability to have deep discussions on various topics and the ability to sit back and listen.

23. What does your character dislike in other people?

Arrogance. Anger. Being a bully. Trying to win every conversation.

24. How quick is your character to trust someone else?

Slow. He’s not sure he’s every trusted someone completely, and now he has more to loose.

25. How quick is your character to suspect someone else? Does this change if they are close with that person?

Also slow. But it doesn’t really change if he’s close with that person. Actually, it might be faster — since he’s close, he has more opportunities to see behaviors that would make him suspicious.

26. How does your character behave around children?

Responsible. Where’s their parent(s) and do I need to watch out for this child until they get here. Keep in mind, Lucas is only 19ish, so ‘children’ is pretty much anyone younger than seven.

27. How does your character normally deal with confrontation?

Avoidance. Go quiet, withdraw, say what you need to or nod to get the other person to drop it.

28. How quick or slow is your character to resort to physical violence in a confrontation?

Very slow. He avoids, avoids, avoids, until physical violence is already on the table / happening. In which case he’ll try to back-up the person he thinks is in the right and run away if the violence is only directed at him.

29. What did your character dream of being or doing as a child? Did that dream come true?

Lucas isn’t sure anymore what he wanted to do/be as a child. Papa has had him working towards college and a financial Wall Street job since he started school.

30. What does your character find repulsive or disgusting?

The smell of rotting flowers. Dead fish.

31. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most comfortable.

Snuggling with Pria or Eric on the couch, watching a movie, when they’re the only one’s in the house.

32. Describe a scenario in which your character feels most uncomfortable.

Scenario 1: Verbal fights or confrontations. 
Scenario 2: Being naked and about to start having sex. He’d like to get over that.

33. In the face of criticism, is your character defensive, self-deprecating, or willing to improve?

Well, criticism feels like a confrontation, so Lucas is avoidant and self-deprecating in order to placate the person giving the criticism.

34. Is your character more likely to keep trying a solution/method that didn’t work the first time, or immediately move on to a different solution/method?

Depends on the problem to be solved, but if he’s the one to notice it didn’t work and if it is possible, he’d like to immediately try the solution/method a second time to understand what he did wrong.

35. How does your character behave around people they like?

Relaxed and a bit tactile. He’d like to have some part of body in contact with someone, not necessarily skin-to-skin, although if he’s really comfortable skin-to-skin is really nice. Otherwise, he’d like the pressure to reassure his hindbrain they’re there. He’s not consciously aware of any of this. And is a bit touch starved.

36. How does your character behave around people they dislike?

Withdrawn. If at all possible, he’d like to leave or ignore them.

37. Is your character more concerned with defending their honor, or protecting their status?

Honor, if you define honor as integrity and acting ethically.

38. Is your character more likely to remove a problem/threat, or remove themselves from a problem/threat?

Remove himself.

39. Has your character ever been bitten by an animal? How were they affected (or unaffected)?

Not something he’s experienced.

40. How does your character treat people in service jobs?

As kind and briskly as possible. They don’t get paid enough to deal with what they deal with (he knows, he’s worked service jobs in high school) and if he can get the heck out of their way, their day with not suck just a little bit more.

41. Does your character feel that they deserve to have what they want, whether it be material or abstract, or do they feel they must earn it first?

That would involve knowing what he wants. But if you ask him about it abstractly, he’d tell you he has to earn it.

42. Has your character ever had a parental figure who was not related to them?

God no, Papa would have put up with that.

43. Has your character ever had a dependent figure who was not related to them?

No, not yet.

44. How easy or difficult is it for your character to say “I love you?” Can they say it without meaning it?

Difficult. He hasn’t been in a situation where he’s really needed to say it without — he’s not entirely comfortable saying it to his parents, but they’re not the demonstrative kind. He’s comfortable saying it to his siblings. And he hasn’t been in a relationship long enough that it’s come up.

45. What does your character believe will happen to them after they die? Does this belief scare them?

Lucas is culturally Catholic and is now pretty sure he’s going to Hell when he dies. And yes, this scares the crap out of him, but he’s really not sure what else would have been the right thing to do.

Bug Hunt

Jorah ran down the alley, barely keeping pace with the suspect sprinting away. His gun was pointed down, his coat flapping in the spray he was kicking up as he ran down the metal floor. The suspect’s heavier, rhythmic thudding run wasn’t slowing down as Jorah tried to add a burst of speed before they all reached the edge. An electric light flickered to his right and he skidded to a stop; the end of this floor was ahead of him much sooner than expected. The hover platform to inspect the rest of the storage facility was copious in its absence. Row and rows of old subway cars were stacked in metal girder frames ahead of him. Cables swung over the edge the drop off in front of him.

Something was wrong.

He'd had his quarry in sight the whole time. Barely, but in sight. The platform wasn't fast enough to have pulled out of sight before he ran up.

Pain ripped through his shoulder. Jorah staggered, then pitched forward and over the edge. Wind rushed past as gravity claimed him. Everything went dark.

Jorah took deep breaths as the technician removed his VR goggles and released the haptic bands controlling movement in game without allowing him to flail.  A second technician, this one with a clipboard and name tag reading “Oshira,” finished writing something and looked up.

“Well,” she chirped, “how was it?”

Jorah winced as the final band pulled hairs off the back of his neck. “Either y'all got a major bug or a serious writing error in the train warehouse.”

The tech’s pencil poised over the touchscreen.

“The suspect disappeared at the platform. Seems like the simulation didn't take my actual running speed into account. I kept him insight but he disappeared. There wasn’t enough time for him to duck off and hide, let me get past him. Not with the sound cues of him still running. Also, there was a problem with my gun — the weight never changed, even when I emptied the clip.”

“Any other sensory information?”

“Yeah, send someone down to an actual warehouse sometime. Y'all need more ozone.”

“Gameplay?”

“The gun thing. Other than that, a lot of fun. Clues were just hard enough to get I had to work for ‘em.”

The tech finished her note, slide the pencil back in its slot, and held out a card to Jorah. “Thank you very much for you time, we'll be in touch next time there's an opening in the betas.”

“How about quality assurance, you got any job openings there?”

The tech looked him over again and took the card back. She scribbled something on the back with a ballpoint and gestured it towards him again. “Give this to Eriksoon at the desk at the end of the hall, other direction than the entrance.”  

“Thanks.” Jorah took the card with a salute, gave the first tech a wave goodbye, and headed out into the hallways and reality.

Travel

Hey guys, I've been out of town this weekend and haven't yet been able to expand what I was going to post today like the story needs. So, my apologies, no fiction today. Convention season is awesome (Dragon*Con!!) but hell on my writing schedule. Hope y'all have had a great Labor Day. See you Thursday.

We are

Hey guys, I'm traveling today for a convention and, honestly, haven't had a good week. So today's post is a lot shorter than usual. Maybe take it as a writing prompt for your own? Hope y'all enjoy.


We are the witches you failed to burn. The priestess you assigned to the dark. The apothecaries who persisted. The alchemists who found chemical properties. The librarians who saved books and music and ideas and history. We are your neglected daughters. Your despised sons. And those you cast off for being neither. We are the heart of every innovation you use. We are the organizers. We do the work while you hog the limelight. We are the sailors who dared the last horizon. We are the nameless workers who tirelessly laid the foundations you built your “heroism” upon. And you are not welcome here.

Closure

“Hold up a second guys,” Yew said softly, stopping by the side of the path.

“Damn it man,” Oak snapped, “I told you it was too early to be hiking on your ankle.”

Yew glared at Oak and silently pointed at the brush by the path. Sarge doubled back and took a closer look. “Pix, how far from the coordinates are we?”

Pixie slide her specs down from her forehead, over her eyes. “Mile, mile and a half east of here. East-ish.” She fiddled with the lens opacity, set it to clear, and left them on.

“There's a path that direction, or what's left of one.” Sarge shrugged. “Bet it was a dirt road before the Crash. Good catch, Yew.”

Oak took point, cutting off branches and brambles where they’d completely overgrown the path but otherwise the group moved silently. Pixie grabbed some of the wood Oak cut off for tinder later. The air was cooler under the trees, a slight relief against the oppressive humidity. They crossed a small creek  still bound by its banks, refilling their second water skins to boil at the campsite in the evening.

An hour later, the trees thinned out. Oak held up a hand and everyone slowly joined him. The peak of a house was visible just past a small hill through a gap in the tree line. Yew brought out his bow and nocked an arrow. Oak resettled his shield; Pixie and Sarge drew their guns, and everyone slowly advanced.

The house came into view over the crest of the hill. The front door gapped open. The remains of glass windows were visible on the second floor; the two windows on the first didn’t even have shards. Portions of the roof and peaked turret on the side showed sky behind the house. There was a soft shworsh of leaves behind them and stillness in front.

Oak and his shield took point, Sarge and his gun (plus spear across his back) behind his right shoulder. They entered the front door, Pixie and Yew bringing up the rear. The front room was empty, lengths of cloth on a series of hooks marking where the coat rack had hung. Leaves crunched under foot as the moved to the side room. A decaying couch faced a pile of dirt, brick dust, and leaves spilling out of a blocked fireplace. Nothing here either. A dull thunk carried from the next room to the back. Sarge kept his gun trained on the doorway; everyone slowly inched towards the open doorway. Another thunk sounded.

Looking over Oak’s shield, Sarge aimed at the decaying figure standing at the kitchen counter. Roughly five feet, three inches tall, their clothes had rotted away enough to show the mummifying skin over their ribs. Black veins crawled down the ribs and arms, covering the fingers completely. Another thunk as its wrist knocked the counter and rose again. A rusted knife stuck up out of their foot, pinning the foot to the floor when the knife had slipped out of the corpse’s hand.

Slowly, carefully, Sarge silently put the gun away and pulled out the spear. He and Oak advanced towards the counter and Casualty blankly staring at a rotted wooden cutting board. Oak’s foot caught the edge of the counter with a knock. Everyone froze.

The Casualty never looked over.

Sarge lined up the tip at the base of the skull and slid the spear through, clean out the jaw on the other side. Oak caught the Casualty on his shield; Sarge slid the spear out and Oak lowered the permanent corpse to the floor without a sound. Pixie walked over and got thirty seconds of the face from a couple angles recorded on her 'specs.

Another twenty minutes of careful searching confirmed there were no other Casualties in the house. In the upstairs office, they found the family birth certificates and social security cards. Everything else of value had already rotted away.

One night in the house on the second floor, three hour shifts at the doorway in case anything was smart enough to take the stairs, and they’d be on their way back home in the morning. No fire tonight. Trail rations for dinner, and maybe an hour with a fire in the morning to have clean water for the walk home.

Pixie hopped online as Sarge took first watch and the other two set up bedrolls. She sent the video proof to the Sisters of Silent Mercy; their payment sat in the enclave’s cryptoserver shortly thereafter.

Pixie kissed Sarge goodnight and slid into her bedroll. A simple job, but well done. She was looking forward to going home tomorrow.

Playtesting a Scenario

So a few weeks ago I ran the scenario I wrote in late October/early November (parts one, two, three, and four) over on Technical Difficulties. Originally we were going to have three players, but someone had to drop out last minute. Thus, I ended up running it for just two players, like I originally decided to write the scenario for. I think I got lucky with who ended up being able to play, from the perspective of getting good feedback — Ethan designs scenarios himself and I could observe Partner in the moment to get body-language feedback on how things were working. Folks had fun (me included), even if the scenario didn't work out how I intended. Or produced the type of game A Dirty World is written to facilitate.

The issue I found was that I had written the scenario backwards. I started with what had happened and worked out from there what evidence was left for the PCs to find. Which would have been fine except for one thing: I had a huge disconnect between the PCs knowing nothing and getting their first clue. More or less, once they had the first piece of information about the crime, they had everything. Or so it felt to me. I think, in terms of building a scenario, I would have done better by starting from the no clues stage, figuring out the first layer of clues and what they'd point towards, figuring out the layer after that and what that pointed towards, and then arrive at the end goal (which I needed to keep in mind the while time). So that's a thing to keep in mind for next time. 

Another issue I found is that I had failed noir the genre. The characters I wrote weren't morally grey in a way connected to the plot. While I liked their secrets/backgrounds and they  made for some cool characterization, it wasn't connected to the issue at hand and thus never came up. What I actually ended up getting was a buddy cop scenario. The player characters had no reason to distrust each other and could bump their stats up by being semi-horrible to the suspects and therefore did. Also, I wrote a plot that happened because people did stupid things, but not in a tragic way. We all had a lot of fun playing a buddy cop scenario, it just wasn't my goal. And therefore a thing to work on – hitting my intended tone.

I was pleased with how the scenario worked with two players. But, per Ethan and Partner's suggestions, I'm planning to write up two more characters, either beat cops or detectives from another division, so the scenario can run with two or four players. I'm not designing it to work with three, because I like the structure of sets of partners.

Lessons learned: 

  • Write mystery plots as layers building up to an end goal, not as what happened so what clues are left. 
  • The One Roll Engine can do comedy in the A Dirty World instantiation
  • A Dirty World scenarios can play well with only two players
  • Ethan, Partner, and I enjoy giggling our way through playing a buddy cop scenario

Sisters of Quiet Mercy

Part of the Pixie & Sarge Red Markets stories


Yew collapsed into the seat across from Pixie and leaned his crutches against the bench. Pixie logged off the LifeLines forum and pulled her Ubiq ‘specs up and off.

“Hey man. Where's Oak?”

Yew waved vaguely at the line on the opposite wall, in front of the food bar. “Cutting in line to stand with Sarge. Told me he'd grab enough for both of us.”

“How's the ankle?”

“Mostly good; Oak and the doc are being worry-warts. It'll be fine in a couple days.”

Spike dropped into the seat Pixie’d been saving for Sarge; Pixie shied away from the sudden intrusion and Yew growled. “When you and Sarge gonna ditch these outside losers and–”

Yew whacked Spike on his crown with a crutch; Pixie involuntarily snorted.

“No wonder they don't want you watching their backs in the field,” Yew sneered at Spike. “Don't even notice a crutch coming at you from three feet away.”

Sarge slid two tray in front of Pixie from her left, then grabbed Spike by the back of his shirt and lifted him out of the seat. The entire cafeteria looked over at Spike’s yelp. Sarge simply dropped Spike in the aisle way behind their benches and sat down next to Pixie. Oak joined their quartet as Pixie slid a tray over to Sarge.

“You alright?” Sarge murmured to Pixie as Spike scuttled off and conversation around them resumed.

Pixie rocked a hand back and forth in a ‘so-so’ gesture. “He's getting pissier. And more aggressive.”

“We should talk to his boss after lunch,” Oak said.

“I did last week, before we headed out,” Pixie shot back. “He did nothing.”

“All of us, I meant. We're the only Takers in the enclave, we've got some political power,” Oak said.

Yew turned to Sarge. “He racist as well as sexist?”

“Yep,” Sarge mumbled around a bite of sandwich.

“Probably not to fond of foreigners either then.” Yew leaned into the traces of his Yorkshire accent. “Congrats Oak, you're playing spokesperson today.”

“Hurray… We actually going to talk about finding our next job today or not?”

“I've got two leads.” Pixie swallowed her bite of sandwich. “The council’s looking for escorts for the first batch of folks heading over to that prison we cleared out, although I think that one’ll keep. Rumor is they’re still pulling together some materiel and figuring out personnel.”

“And we’d probably end up playing Fencemen for a while,” Sarge added.

Everyone turned to look at him.

Sarge shrugged. “I’d add it to the contract. Keeping us on the new fence for a while frees up folks for carpentry duty. Or setting up the agriculture.”

“Sounds like a good job for the winter,” Yew said. “Escort them over at the end of fall, after all the harvests are in. Winter’ll be cold, but the casualties’ll be slower. Plus how else would everything be ready for crops in the spring.”

“I’ll try to sell the council on those points if they argue now or never. The second possibility is something Janice dug up–”

Oak looked up from his congealing pasta. “Janice the freaky proto-Black Math kid?”

“Yep, her. We’d owe her two bounty for throwing the lead our way, but it looks like our kind of job. A recession group, the Sisters of Quiet Mercy–”

“Does that sound like an assassin cult to anyone else,” Yew yelped. “Because that sounds like an assassins’ cult to me!”

“Reviews on LifeLines and their website–”

“Because we can trust that…”

“They at least match, Yew. Will you let me finish for Christ’s sake?”

Yew dropped his eyes and poked at his tray of food.

Another moment and Pixie continued “Their website claims they’re an order of nuns who’ve devoted themselves to laying to rest quote unfortunate souls end quote. The only jobs other Takers have mentioned doing for them are closure jobs for not great, but not terrible pay, with a side order of tragedy data trading. My best guess from digging around is that this is a form of ‘administering to the poor’ for them; they fundraise across the economic spectrum and do data brokerage to stay afloat.”

“What’s Janice say,” Sarge mumble around his food, then swallowed and continued “the job is?”

“Closure outside of Lyon. No further info.”

“That’s the opposite direction of the new place, so no doubling up, even if we wanted to,” Oak said.

“What was the population density like out there?” Yew asked.

Pixie pulled down her ‘specs and fiddle with the interface for a couple minutes. “About a thousand, thousand and a half inside Lyon per square mile, less than a hundred in the suburbs out.”

“Sounds worth risking,” Sarge said, catching Oak and Yew’s eye. Oak nodded; Yew looked rebellious, then shrugged and nodded.

“Alright, I’ll tell Janice,” Pixie said. “Sarge, talk to Jinks on the forums, their crew are the last folks to leave the Sisters a review. See if they won’t give you some tips. Oak, Johnson over in the council office should have some local maps of Lyon.”

“Borrow your ‘specs to take photos?”

“Sure. Yew, poke around, see if anyone else is looking to take this one.”

“You’re the boss.” Yew wiped his mouth, grabbed his crutches. “Everyone done?”

“Yep.” Sarge grabbed Pixie’s tray and stood up. “Time to track down Ezra.”

“Why don’t we go right over his head to…” Yew leaned forward on his crutches and followed Oak towards the cafeteria entrance. “What’s the pit crew boss’s name?”

“Low Key, but he’s not in charge of the gate Fencemen,” Sarge said. “It’s got to be Ezra.”

“Hurray, arguing with bureaucracy,” Oak whined. “Remind me why it’s gotta be me again?”

Gravas's Rules for Newbie FBI Mages

  1. Do not transform into your badass were-self in the elevators
    1. There's cameras in there
      1. Not all the security folks know about magic
      2. You're totally naked for bits during a transformation. Don't do that to the security guys and gals
    2. Some of y'all are bigger than the car!
  2. Yes, yes it's very cool you can conduct electricity under your skin but tasing your computer in frustration is counter productive
  3. That's not electricity that's magic
    1. You're having magical growing pains
    2. Go to the mage gym and work that off, RIGHT NOW
  4. Special Agent Delacroix, the female one, is God and chief scientist.
    1. Don't tell Supervisory Special Agent Jones. It'll just make him sad.
    2. Do not earn her angry face.
    3. Tell her about the cool new magic thing you did
      1. She'll tell you how to do it better and for less energy.
      2. She’ll teach everyone how to do it.
    4. Learn the new tricks she teaches. They’ll save your life.
  5. Special Agent Delacroix, the male one, is God’s right hand man, Team Mom, and confessor.
    1. Do not earn his I’m disappointed in you face.
      1. It's like kicking a puppy.
      2. The tech support staff will make your life miserable.
      3. When tech support is unhappy, we all suffer.
    2. That dumb thing you did in the field? Tell him right now.
      1. He can't fix it if he doesn't know about it.
      2. He can't teach you how to do better if he doesn't know about it.
  6. The kids we're in the field for are more important than our pride
    1. You will do dumb, stupid, humiliating things in order to convince them to let you help
    2. No one will give you shit about it
      1. They've done worse
      2. If they do, SA Delacroix, the male one, will give them the disappointed face.
      3. No one wants the disappointed face.
  7. This is not a pissing contest
    1. The Delacroix's win all Agency pissing contests from now until the end of time, amen.
    2. Weres are not allowed to mark territory on the premises.
      1. Why the fuck do I have to make a rule about this people?! Professionalism, God damn it.
    3. Mages from puberty aren't better.
    4. Mages by ritual aren't better.
    5. I swear to God if I hear one more ‘my life sucked more in order to get my magic’ contest, I'm getting both Delacroix's drunk and getting both of them to fucking END this contest. They WIN people, shut up!
      1. The last time I had to enact this rule, the agents were in therapy for 5 months coping with the DELACROIX’S shit.
  8. Do not threaten civilians with magic. They might believe you.
    1. Do not threaten anyone outside the department with magic. They might believe you.
    2. Be prepared to spend five hours signing paperwork if anyone believes you.
    3. Either use it and deal with the paperwork and board review or don't. No threatening.
  9. Your title is Agent or Special Agent. HR is never going to sign off on Mage, Wizard, or any variant thereof.
    1. HR is not in on the magic thing.
    2. We'd have to spend too long reading them in.
    3. You thought five hours was bad? Federal employees require a security clearance.
  10. No one is allowed to add “In accordance with the prophesy” to the end of any answers given to a supervisor
    1. Or fellow agent
    2. I see you, you little shits, Skippy’s list stopped being funny back in the early aughts, damn it
  11. The HR office worker signing off on your travel expenses is Ms. Rodriguez, not Sugar Daddy.
  12. Having magic does not mean you have superpowers
    1. Bullets still hurt
    2. Bullets can still kill you
    3. YOU'RE STILL FLAMMABLE
    4. Falls can kill you
    5. You aren't immune to drowning
    6. Oh my God, it's like you all regressed to being toddlers
  13. No singing Bohemian Rhapsody during firefights
    1. Not even as psychological warfare
  14. Magic bullets do exist
    1. SA Delacroix the female is the only authorized teacher
    2. Only on the rifle range people! I have to sit in on the paperwork meeting too! Next time I'm sending Delacroix the male
      1. He will wonder why you're interrupting him getting therapy resources to the kids for this shit
  15. Past lives have no effect on seniority
    1. They don't exist
    2. Prove it in the lab Agent
  16. SA Delacroix, the male, has the forms for “wall-to-wall” counseling
  17. Shooting is not too good for people threatening our rescues, but you still have to fill out the paperwork and go through the review.
    1. This also applies to knives
    2. Also chairs, pool cues, and broken bottles
    3. It especially applies to government vehicles
    4. And civilian vehicles.
    5. We're still a law enforcement agency people!
  18. You have to fill out the warrant and paperwork before eating someone else's magic. Otherwise that's assault. Possibly attempted murder.
  19. Love potions
    1. Don't exist
    2. Would be rape if they did
  20. Mind control is rape
  21. Werebugs and weresnakes of any variety are not allowed to transform around Agent Harmon. Phobias are not funny people. We don't want to end up in extra sensitivity training classes again. The yearly ones on sexuality and unconscious bias are enough already, okay?

T00:01:02.053

Continuation of T00:00:03.308


Esme ducked; a metal rope whipped by over her head with a hiss of air and sickeningly liquid sound of metal flexing. She crouched behind a greenhouse bench.

T00:01:02.053

The rope retracted into the impossibly round ball hovering over the central bench in the greenhouse module Multiple benches had been torn out of the deck plating, their water systems spilling onto the grating, bare roots systems drooping in the half-gravity out of their frames.

Another metal rope (smooth to mathematically precise flatness, more nimble than a neo-octopus’s arm) punched out of the ball hovering over the central bench and slammed Burn onto the grating, punching through their exosuit and out the back to disappear between the grating. Esme was the last one still mobile. Burn’s life-signs on the tactical network flickered; the metal had torn through them just below the sternum and their suit was frantically trying to patch the hole.

T00:01:03.131

Esme fired her rail-pistol at the rope, hands trembling as she leaned across the bench. What didn't hit the arm slammed into the ball behind it. Esme heard Burn grunt over their tactical network as he hauled his plasma rifle up off the deck and blasted the arm near where her bullets were slamming into the metal. On the second burst of scorching liquid fire, the arm was cut through and dropped onto the deck plating. Esme followed Burn into switching targets to the hovering ball. Another arm was forming, pushing out of the ball, stretching against the metal surface like it would split open shortly. Esme’s pistol clicked on empty as Burn forcibly dropped off the network.

Plasma burst the ball open, the interior dripping onto the deck in pools.

T00:01:04.547

Esme’s hand were shaking badly; she almost dropped her last clip as she reloaded her pistol. Burn motioned weakly for Esme to come over to where he was still pinned by the metal arm. Esme kneeled behind his head, as far from the twitching metal as she could, and touched her suit faceplate to his.

“You ever collected stacks, Specs?”

“Five hours in simulspace, twice in meatspace.”

Burn took a deep breath and nodded. “You've got three minutes to grab as many as you can.” His pupils blew open as the adrenaline and second dose of combat drugs flooded his system. “Grab Digits, they're least likely to be compromised. Then five minutes to get the hell back to Wings.”

T00:00:07.438

“What are you doing Burn?”

“The nice thing–” Burn gulped. “The nice thing about using a plasma rifle, kid, is you always have a nuclear bomb if you need it.”

“Fucking hell–” Esme bit off. She made an abortive motion towards Digits’ corpse, then touched her faceplate to Burn’s again. “Burn, my name's Esme.”

Burn gave her a pained, lopsided grin. “Nice to meet you, Esme. Now move it kid.”

Esme launched herself towards Digits as fast as she could in .5g, pulling the melon baller out of her suit belt pockets.

T00:00:07.212

Digits’ corpse was leaning back against the bulkhead where they'd been thrown; Esme yanked it forward to expose the back of the neck, pressed the baller against the suit where spine turned into skull, and pressed the button. Fabric, plastic, and polymers went flying as the baller burrowed through the suit. Esme swallowed and turned slightly towards Burn when it started kicking out blood and bone.

The metal arm was slowly slumping, spreading out into Burn’s suit. Esme caught a glimpse of silver streaking through Burn’s body where the arm had originally punched through them.

T00:00:05.539

The melon baller jerked back in her hand, diamond-coated grape-sized cortical stack firmly caught in its clutches.

Esme surged to her feet and bolted for the greenhouse doorway as fast as she could in half gravity, tucking the baller back in a pocket. Microgravity and the increase in speed she’d get in her native gravity was two modules and a couple hundred meters away.

T00:00:05.021

Bester, her muse, laid the most efficient route from here to the airlock Wings was last at over the map in Esme’s visuals. Esme turned on her T-Ray emitter and pulled the map into the center of her vision as she ran, tweaking a few spots to take advantage of handholds and furniture not noted on the map. The emitter would paint her as a target to anything looking the same way, but it was worth it for the heads up on any real-time deviations from the map.

She banished the map to her peripheral vision at the transition point to microgravity and launched herself forward.

T00:00:04.137

Halfway point to the next spot she could kick off, Esme tucked, flipped over, and turned her magnetic boots on. Bester updated his estimate of how fast Esme could make this run. Now she’d have a full fifteen seconds to get in the airlock. Right before before hitting the wall, Esme cut the boots, touched down, and then kicked off hard. She wished she’d taken Mav up on his offer of a combat drug, any combat drug.

T00:00:01.524

Bester had kept his estimates worst case conservative again. Wings was 50 meters straight through the bulkheads, 78 meters of freefall to get to them. Thank Hawkins, they had their T-Ray up as well. Esme blinked her emitter on and off. ‘open airlock. detach. open airlock. detach.’ She couldn’t remember if Wings or their muse knew Morse Code. Bester sent a coded burst to the station to open its airlock.

T00:00:01.304

Careening into the airlock, Esme grabbed a hold bar just inside the lock. Breath rasping in the back of her throat, she paused as the interior hatch closed to line up with the airlock in Wings’ ship, slowly drifting away from the station. Lined up, Bester sent an emergency override to the station — the exterior hatch opened as Esme pushed off the interior, following the escaping air. She careened across the gap between space station and ship. An inelegant tumble into the ship’s airlock included clipping the hatch into the ship.

T00:00:00:551

‘go. go. go.’

Esme braced herself in a corner of the airlock, as far from the opening as she could, back against one wall, boots locked against the other. The airlock slowly closed as the ship turned from the station and began acceleration.

Wings came on over the speaker, sound strangely attenuated in the partial vacuum of a refilling airlock. “What am I running from?”

Esme stuck with Morse code; there was no way she was getting on anyone’s network before the Firewall specialists cleared her.

‘overloaded plasma gun.’

“Specs, blink twice if that’s fucking Morse code.”

She blinked the T-Ray twice.

T00:00:00:358

Swearing in a mix of Cantonese, Russian, and Cherokee came over the speaker; Wings must have loaded up the translator for Morse. The ship acceleration increased, hard; Esme gritted her teeth and pushed harder against the walls.

T00:00:00:000

Esme let out a slow breath and started deep breathing, trying to counteract the acceleration squashing her rib cage.

T -00:00:00:303

Thuds and reverberations pinged against the metal hull. It sounded like recordings of rain she’d listened to last week. Except, deeper. And hurled by exploding plasma bombs, not gravity.

T -00:00:00:458

The sounds against the hull let up and died away.

“Well alright then, we’re not dead.” Esme would have felt better if Wings hadn’t sounded so surprised. “Let’s get you into the—”

‘no. quarantine.’

“It’s three days to the rendezvous point.”

‘yes.’

Wings chuckled ruefully. “Alright, it’s your suit. Congratulations on saving the solar system and killing the monster.”

‘another day. another monster.’

The Greatest Accolade

Collins looked over the edge of his ‘reader at the train car from under the brim of his hat. It was late; another long day at the office. His fellow late commuters on the subway were out numbered by the folks calling it a night early and heading home from revelries, but neither were numerous enough to crowd the train car. Collins had a seat against a wall; no possibility of a surprise attack from that quarter.

The train pulled into platform 28; Collins dropped his ‘reader in his bag and walked out onto the platform. The lighting here was harsh, creating sharp edged shadows and isolated pools of light. This station was rumored to be the next up for repairs. He would have to find a different route home while that happened.

Collins found his usual spot against the wall. He leaned back as the train pulled out of the station. His suit would need dry cleaning after tonight. He'd toss in the red tie. The platform was empty now, the few other passengers exiting with him heading up the stairs, train gone from the platform, not even a homeless fellow bedding down here tonight. Collins crouched down, pulling a small, felt-covered box out of his bag. Another glance around to confirm he was unobserved; he shoved the box behind the loose tile in the wall and straightened up.

Smoothing down the lines of his jacket and picking up his bag, Collins stepped forward to enter newly arriving train. He found a seat and settled in on the new line for the rest of his ride home.

Tomorrow, he’d drop off his dry cleaning and by the end of the day, his message would be on its way. If his handler was still alive, they’d understand a box of the enemy’s highest military medal.

His cover was still intact. His information was still good.

If.