The Octopus Started It

 “It’s not my fault! The octopus started it.”

I stared at Farad, seated across the virtual table from me in the bare bones simulspace we were situated in, then pinched the bridge of my nose in mental stress. The department ‘space designers knew me pretty well — they'd done me the favor of program in the sensation of pressure on the bridge of my nose. Usually helps relieve the mental stress of talking to the fucking idiots I run into in this job.

“The octopus started it,” I repeated back as flatly as I could.

“Yeah!” Farad’s image in this space was closer to a bare blob than a rendered person. I knew from his pictures that he'd been sleeved in a nondescript Ruster morph which been suffering from a shit-ton of allergies and muscle tremors from missing payments to the Corp that’d originally sold him his body. Dark hair, probably North American phenotype, mixed with some southern African and Southeastern Asian, assuming the Corp had grown one based on his original genetics. Bland facial features and a mouth more accustomed to stress and anger than laughter. At least, before he'd gotten his ass asphyxiated and we'd had to dig out his cortical stack to question him.

The designers hadn't bothered programming enough facial features to render emotion, the cheap-ass department having decided our muses could handle the raw data fast enough for interrogations to continue. Nevermind that an off the shelf simulspace from the Argonaut collectives would have been both free and better. Or that it'd have been cheaper to buy from a micro-corp here on Mars than pay for in-house design. Hence the blob I was talking too. And personal quirks added as favors. At least vocal cues worked.

“So you screaming at her to go back to Ceres with the rest of her ‘hodack, fabber-chow criminal buddies’ and leave Mars to the quote ‘real people’ end quote, before taking a swing, with a knife I might add, at her doesn't count as starting it?”

“Hell nah, octo ain't people, ain't no more starting something than kicking a cat! So when she paying for my new body?”

I scrubbed at my face, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “First off Mr. Farad, if that were true, we still have animal cruelty laws and you'd be on the hook for that. Having started it. Secondly, if she isn't a person, she can't have money, so how the hell would she pay for anything? Third of all,” I said, voice rising to cut off his protests, “whatever your prejudices, she is a citizen of the Titanian Commonwealth, here for trade negotiations, and is considered a person by two different polities, the more relevant one to your situation being the Martian Planetary Consortium. You are under arrest for unprovoked assault on a corporate diplomat, have had nothing to say in your defense, we have three witnesses who meet even your definition of ‘person,’ as well as visual and auditory recordings from two different angles. Your trial will be in 56 hours and only because the courts are a little backed up at this time. My recommendation? Hire a lawyer if you can, take whatever deal they can finagle for you, and you might serve your community service on a decent server in time to start working towards a new body before your kid graduates from high school. You know, instead of being out of circulation on a cold server for five years.”

I logged off before he could start whining about the unfairness of it all. Yeah Mars is unfair, it's run by corps. The uplifts have nothing to do with that. Hell, they get screwed over by the Consortium worse than baseline-humans do, much less folks like Farad. Mars is hell on our poor, I'll grant that, but still, at least he hadn't been stuck as infolife after the Fall. And now he'd gone and thrown that away.

Heroes and Villains

I’m not a hero, Ezra. I’m just trying my best to not be a villain. And what you're asking me…

You say they're poison, no sorry, that some of them are poison. We let them on and our biome will be polluted, the bacteria cultures all out of whack from new species. The air ducts choking off with, the greenhouses dying.

You have so little faith in technicians? You think we can't learn and catalog new variations on old strains? Our department can't handle new data in the models?

Or is it that you know how much that'll cost in finding? Is that it? You don't want to absorb the increased costs?

They're fleeing war Ezra. They're gambling their children's lives on finding a station with enough fortitude to let them dock. They've asked for two days Ezra. Two days to recharge their solar panels. You know we have the room, the food, the capacity to take them all in. They won't even be a full percentage of the population. It just takes a little funding, a little work to give them a home Ezra, a little work to save children from bleeding out on some station deck, from starving to death as their ship dies around them, from choking to death as the air runs out. And you're worried about new bacteria stations? About the money to do the science properly to integrate them?

You're asking me if my comfort, my luxuries, matter more than their safety, their lives.

What kind of monster thinks the answer to that question is yes?

Especially when all I had to do to stop you was keep talking?

SWAT Team

 “211, may I get your name and location please?” Darcy asked, fingers poised over her keyboard. The headset she'd grabbed for her shift was too loose again and was rotating backwards, out of her hair. No time to fix it with a call on the line.

“He-hello?” Darcy's heart sank. The voice on the line was a child. “There's a bad man—” The little boy was trying to whisper (smart kid), but his voice kept cracking upwards in fear.

“Sweetie, I need your location or I don't know where to send help,” Darcy coaxed, waving John over from the corner.

“M-my house,” the child whispered over a sudden burst of static. “The bad man's making the TV crackle.”

John stood behind her now and lay his left hand at the base of her neck. “Which city is your house in sweetie?” Darcy asked while trying to simultaneously relax enough for John to sync up his mind, project through the phone, and enter ‘probable electromagnetic powers’ into the computer. John was rotating her headset back in place, the sweet man.

“Springfield.” That came fast and steady, all though Darcy could angry voices in the background, a man shouting and a woman pleading for him to calm down.

“Good, good job, sweetie. In Missouri?” John’s mind linked up, finally, and Darcy could feel him following through her to the connection she'd made with the little boy on the line.

“No, Massachusetts.”

Shit, the East Coast centers were slammed today. A few too many hostages in bank vaults spread across the entire seaboard. Darcy pulled the Kansas City and Boston dispatches into a chat window to inform them they're need to do a hand-off teleport. “And what's your street address love?” She was simultaneously linking John to the psychic keyboard she kept in her memory palace, hooked up to the dispatch chats.

“932 Elk Street.” The boy gulped audibly over the phone. “Please hurry, the bad–Daddy's really angry, the couch is spinning.”

John was dumping all the data on his daddy's powers the little boy was thinking about into the dispatch chat. Boston was setting up the relay from the fixed pad in their offices over to Springfield. Kansas City was sorting their roster into a team with the right mix of skills and powers for a Powered domestic disturbance. Darcy had the local center’s jail on a different line, warning them to prep a suppressor for the range of suspected powers and kept talking to the boy on the line. She got him breathing regularly, even when his mom started screaming, and creeping out the back door. John had disengaged a while ago and was linked up with Amiki in the row behind her, on another call. She was still on the line when a ‘whomp’ of displaced air told her the SWAT Team had arrived and the kind, matronly voice of KC’s best door kicker came on the line to tell her they had the kid. Darcy thanked the team and signed off.

She sighed, grabbed a swig of water, and cracked her neck left, then right. She might not have the flashy powers necessary to swoop in and save the day. But hyper-organization, hyper-multitasking, and voice-projected calming was one of the most useful, if rare, sets of the quiet powers in the dispatch centers. Not that she was going to find out what happened in Springfield unless it went wrong and made the national news. No one had time for follow up. Besides, there was another call coming in.

Breaking Up

How DO you break up with a demon? I'm not talking about that ex you hate so much you think of them as a demon and wonder what the hell you ever saw in them. Nope, literal fire-and-brimstone, incantation to summon from the depths of hell, contract to exchange a portion of yourself for a particular type of power demon.

So yes, technically I'm a witch. No, I never did the dancing naked in the moonlight thing — come on, we live in a city, I’m not giving the pervs on the 20th floor a show. No, the devil orgy thing is a lie too. Dude, what the fuck? Seriously, you taking the European medieval church’s word on this? Aren't you a freaking atheist? And gay? What the hell man.

Well I don't know, the ones I've talked to refuse to answer the question. Closest I've gotten was absolute disgust at the idea and buggering off before I could ask the rest of my questions. Got my sister to stop pushing me to ask though. Yeah, the born-again evangelical one. I don't know, I guess she's not feeling the faith part of it all right now. Look, are you going to help me talk through this or not?

Right, so I've got to break up with this demon. Just the one. Yeah, I'm still talking with the others. What? ‘Cause they're getting pushy and their answers have gone to shit. Like, they're turning into encrypted clues to a freaking metaphor that gets me a reference citation. Yeah, I guess you could call it a customer service issue.

What? No, sorry, my mind just skipped out on me for a second at the thought. Elevate the call? Are you crazy? Do you know who their boss is? … Actually no, I don't know either. Sorry, now I'm making bad assumptions.

Yeah, I guess the slow fade would work. Or, well, I mean, it's a one way calling service, I guess I'm just cutting it off. Bleh. No, no you're right, I just hate getting ghosted in the dating scene and now I'm doing it myself. On the plus side, it'd mean no more buying saffron packets for summoning circles. That shits expensive.

Hey, thank man, really appreciate this. Next round on me, ‘kay?

Before the Birth

 “Ready to be a parent?” Richard asked with a raised eyebrow.

Kylie jerked her hand back from the enter key. “Wait what?” she asked looking back towards her fellow researcher.

Richard had an amused half-smile quirking at the edges of his lips. “Well, if we've done our jobs right, that code’s a baby AI. We start it up and we're going to be spending the next few weeks feeding it training datasets to build up its moral framework before letting it loose on the internet. I mean, do you want to end up with another Trey-bot?”

Kylie half-shuddered. “Obviously not, but parents? Wouldn't the moral framework… thing make us more like godparents?”

“That's traditionally religious studies. Also, that says something about your family. Didn't your parents at least model a framework, through their actions of nothing else? Besides we have been in charge of the coding. To an AI, isn't that their genetics?”

Kylie wrinkled her nose and started at the computer screen a moment. “You're not exactly my first choice for co-parenting duties,” she said turning towards Richard. “Rather thought I was done with all that. How’s your husband feel about the newest addition to the family?”

Richard grinned. “Suggested family therapy actually.”

Kylie laughed. “How about we draft an individual educational plan, before the birth, instead?”

“Sounds good,” Richard said, extending a hand for Kylie to pull herself out of the chair at her desk. “The whiteboards in the conference room should be free.”

“Perfect.” Kylie leaned on her cane and headed for the door. “Round up the graduate students, would you?”

“Meet you there.”

Board Game Review: Potion Explosion

Our purchase of Potion Explosion was actually an exception to Partner and my rules about buying board games. They're expensive and there's only so much space in our place, so the rule is we both have to have played the game (we usually do this at gaming conventions) and both agree that we want to play it again, multiple times.  But, Caleb and Spencer over on the Mixed Six described the game so well and broke down why  they enjoy the game such that Partner and I looked at each other and agreed we'd enjoy the game too. And we were right. So thanks Mixed Six! Y'all found us our current favorite game.

Potion Explosion does set matching with actual marbles. The conceit of the game is that we are alchemy students working on our exam with a common set of possible potions to brew and ingredients to use. A track for the marbles to slide down is set up with five columns. You pull a marble and if the marbles that now clink together match in color, you've created an explosion and get to pull those marbles as well. Yes, it can keep cascading from there. Partner has pulled off some impressive cascading explosions. Potions can be used once after creation to do different things that break the rules once and at the end each potion is worth different amounts based on how many marbles and how many of different colors were needed to create the potion. There's eight types of potions but you only play with six in any given game, so which potions combo with others changes from game to game. It produces a lot of replay value.

Here's a slightly weird thing to talk about in board game design, but I feel it's emblematic of just how much attention to detail the designers put in and how well thought out everything is. So the very first time you play the game, you have to put together the stand the marbles will roll down. The box is built to hold the finished stand. You never have to take it apart and put it back together again. Seriously guys, the game would be a lot less fun if set up included having to rebuild this thing every game. But you don't because the designers were smart.

No if only I was as smart about taking off the front barrier to let the marbles slide into the storage bag. I've, um, had to rebuild the stand once or twice from doing that. I'm getting better with keeping the rest of the stand together and only taking the front barrier off, so I'm pretty sure this was also intentional design.

Overall, any one game of Potion Explosion does not outstay its welcome — individual games are fast enough that I don't get tired of the gimmick of marbles clicking together. There's a decent amount of strategy involved, the sound and physicality of the pieces are satisfying, and there's tremendous replay. I absolutely enjoy playing this game.

Aesthetic Terrorist

It's a talent, I'll admit. Not one I ever wanted and certainly one I've tried my damnedest to eradicate. But no matter how much I study, theory of pleasure, neuropsychology, color theory, music appreciation, art history, everything I've been able to get my hands on, it just seems to get worse.

It might be time to finally accept my friends’ nickname for me as the honest truth.

I am an aesthetic terrorist.

Every artistic endeavor I've tried, from painting to simply sharing the cool new song I heard, everything just goes wrong. They freeze in fear, curl up sobbing from terrible memories brought to the forefront, get migraines from looking at whatever cool thing I found today, ruined entire genres of music for them, or… I mean, one time, my friend Sam developed seizures after watching a video I made for class. I was just practicing some key-frame animation techniques, it's not like there were any flashing lights in there! She'd never had a seizure before. Not until she met me.

So… I have anti-taste apparently. I've tried, actually, only picking things I think folks will hate to show them. That's just worse. Then they think it's mediocre and are kinda bleh for a few hours. I timed it.

There's got to be a way to do something with this though. For good I mean, not torturing folks. I can't go through life never touching art again… Maybe as an art critic? No, that’ll just be getting attention to apparently terrible art.

::sighs:: Guess I'm going through with this revenge plan of Sam’s then. Her ex really was an asshole, emotionally abusive at the end there. Time to replace all the music on their phone then. I'll start with that new genre someone mentioned online the other day. I've been meaning to check out Simpsonwave.

Immortality

Petra sighed and closed out her connection to the building system for the day. She almost wished work has run late into the night. There wasn't anything at home for her after all. But the warrant to interrogate Jane’s stock broker under empath-connected polygraph was just going to have to wait until the forensic accountants got back to them tomorrow. Who knew when she'd be able to actually run it — judges were still real careful about magical intrusions into folks. Although she did tend to have an easier time with her warrants. Having a reputation of an extremely light magical hand did have some benefits.

Some days she regretted letting her great-grandkids kids talk her into the rejuvenation treatment. They were only in their teens and early twenties, it was perfectly natural to fear death, hers or theirs. The bone deep weariness of outliving both her partners, all their grandparents, and a couple of their parents just wasn’t comprehensible at that age. Why should it be?

What was that term from that game she’d loved at their age? Oh yes. Immortality Blues. Turned out that game had prepared her for reality more than she'd ever expected.

Oh the tech hasn't really gone in the same directions. No digital copies of people for instance. No, the rejuvenation drugs had more walked off of Bujold’s page than transhumanism’s. Eternal Middle Age. Well, maybe more Elizabeth Moon’s work.

My gods she was reminiscing about her early adulthood a lot tonight.

Why not? As long as she recalled the bitter with the sweet from them.

Regan, the grandchild, not the great-grandchild with the same name, had worked so hard, trying to unlock the medical secrets that could save her grandfather (all this time of legal polycules, and no one had come up with a reasonable name for your genetic relatives’ partner? Maybe she was just old-fashioned for thinking people would regularly want a word to distinguish between genetic and non-genetic relations.) Everyone had thought a werewolf’s regeneration would mean a longer life. No one thought about what all that cellular regeneration was doing to their telomeres. Not until the most active shifters of the first publicly homo sapiens lupus had started dying of old age in their 40s. Liam had made it until his 60s but that had been thirty years ago. He'd looked like a weathered 105 year old. She'd lost Ricardo thirteen years ago, just three years before “the miracle drug” had been approved. The Nobel Prize ceremony for Regan’s entire lab last year had been lovely. There was talk these days of swapping out the cash prize for a rejuvenation.

Nobody had expected the witches to just… keep on going. There’d been so few of them who didn't burn themselves out in puberty, trying to learn how everything worked. But she had looked like a damn 60 year old when they were scattering Ricardo's ashes. Her doctor had been saying she had the fitness age of an average forty year old.

And now the rejuvenation drugs were going to hold her to that for another fifty years.

The kids were starting to make tentative  pushes to getting her dating again. The idea was… rather awful. Still. Maybe by the two decades mark she'd be up for a relationship again.

She didn't ever mention to them how active her sex life was. Some things a great-grandkid had a right not to know.

Petra sighed again walking down the steps into the maglev system. Maybe she should have told the FBI to shove their offer of a free treatment cycle. Of course they'd made all the right noises about needing her expertise again, her flexibility in order to navigate the new criminal law challenges such a drastic societal upheaval as rejuvenation would bring. Should have told them to shove the contract, used her own money and gone to medical school like she'd wanted.

She just hasn't been able to bring herself to use the clan-family money that way. Not with the debt medical school and all those cybernetic body enhancements she'd need to have a foot in the door would cost.

Oh well, another couple of years on the FBI contract. She should also have the new undergraduate degree finished then, and then on to medical school.

Maybe she'd try for a spot at one of the Martian schools. They were pretty cutting edge these days.

Even Astronauts Get the Blues

Even astronauts get the blues. We're more prone to it actually. As a species, we can adapt to nearly anything as our baseline after all, even mind short-circuiting awe. And those of us lucky enough to be out here, we tend to be a little bit brighter, a little bit more disciplined, a lot better educated. We still need to understand the math, know the physics to navigate, the engineering to save ourselves out here. Can't drop by the store, after all, for the latest in parts plans if we need to build a replacement anything.

But all that means, as a group, we tend to want more stimulation, more things to see and do and think about, not less. And once you're out here, between the stars, prepping to explore the next star system on the survey plan, there's not that much. Just the science locked inside your own head, the tools you could cram on the ship, the ones you convinced the powers that be are worth dragging out of the gravity well, and your fellow travelers. There's never all that many of us; the permutations of social interaction tend to run out sooner rather than later.

It's why the first day of planetary orbit is like a holiday, a scientist’s holiday where we break out all the big toys, try everything to figure out which will tell us the most for this planetfall. This one, it looks like all the toys are going to stay out of the closet. Advanced enough that we’ll pick up info on every spectrum, still inward facing enough that we can approach close enough for solar power to supplement the ship drives and keep it all running simultaneously.

It's a pretty planet, the third one in this system, where all the emissions are coming from. Roughly 70/30 ocean to land, although judging by the night side they use the land. Maybe the follow up team can strike a treaty, they can't be using all of that ocean can they?

Finished an Editing Contract

I finished the last editing contract I have for Red Markets last Thursday. 1) I'm pretty pleased with myself for turning it in a day before the deadline, even if I usually get projects in a bit faster than that and 2) I'm really thrown by actually being finished with my part of the project. Like, I have to keep reminding myself that I'm not going to be working on Red Markets during lunch, so I need to set up something else to work on during lunch. I've only got two more folks I owe critiques of their projects to. It's not like I'm suddenly out of obligations I can be working to fulfill. That really would throw me for a hell of a loop, being out of obligations/projects.

First, some statistics. There were three parts to this project, the players'/rules section, the Market (GM) section, and then I was working on the Introduction, History, and Setting sections all together, as one part. According to my notebook, I started editing the players' section back in June 2016 (really? where did the time go?) with a word count of 98,304 and stopped tracking on July 16 at 94,393 words. I think I started writing down the date and word count somewhere in the middle of editing that section, but c'est la vie. Now I've built the habit and trust that my tracking (going forwards) is accurate. The first pass of the Market's section started on July 22nd at 70,395 and ended on October 31st at 70,146. I'd like to mention that there were about 2K words added to what I was editing in the middle there, due to a Scrivener export error. Bad Scrivener. Do what the author wanted, not what he told you. Finally, the Intro-History-Setting section edit started on Nov. 6th with just the History section at 43,951 words, another 20,271 words were added on Dec. 5th, the Intro and Setting sections (28,095 words) were added to the mix on Feb. 6th, and I wrapped up editing the whole thing on April 13th at 82,483. For a total cut count of 9,834 or 10.65%. That's pleasing to me.  

Second, I basically feel like I've got a project hangover.  I've been focusing on Red Markets for so long that there's a sense of 'now what?' that I've finished. I'm flailing a little bit to remember I need to set something up on my laptop to work on during lunch. I sat down over the weekend and played a video game for four or five hours straight. I've started setting a timer on my phone to get the heck off the computer and go eat dinner during the weeknights so I'll stop playing video games and do some necessary daily chores. I'm not sad I'm enjoying a video game, I'm annoyed at myself for how compulsively I'm playing. This might be a lack of sleep, as I haven't slept well this past week, but either way, I'll get into the swing of the next project soon. I hope. 

So! The next project. Projects actually. I have a contract to do some developmental editing work for a different role-playing game, focused on being a goblin in a post-apocalyptic world. I think the premise is hilarious and now it's my job to make sure at the bones of the game are in the right place and of proper length. ... That metaphor is getting a bit tortured. I'm just going to move on. 

The other project I'm moving on to is working on the fourth draft of a novel I'm writing. This is the project I traded critiques for and am a bit behind on delivering the ones I've promised, so, need to work on that. Then I need to actually import folks' critiques into the Scrivener project wrangling all this and read through them all. See who's feedback makes sense to me slash if other folks say the same thing slash is actionable. Then you know, do the work to turn it into a finished product. I'm excited to be nearing a final version of this project too. It's a bit odd trying to talk about it without talking about  it. I'd like to, but there's other folks involved in the IP rights and I feel like I need to have coordinated with them before burbling on about the specifics of this project.

Or, you know, put together a marketing plan.

Darn having a full-time job and too many things to do.

What Grows?

Parts OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSevenEight, and Nine here. A non-Pixie&Sarge one in the same universe here.


Image from BeautyofAbandonedPlaces

Image from BeautyofAbandonedPlaces

“So… These are the coordinates the client gave?” Sarge said, eying the round brick tower a couple hundred yards from them in the middle of a flat grass field. The side closest to them was slightly squared off, with a gap side wide enough for a barn door, although any such thing had rotted away by now, and about half as tall as the whole thing. The remains of wooden planks making a conical roof were visible. “Doesn’t look like much.”

“Which means something absolutely deadly.” Oak planted his tower shield and leaned forward, staring at the tower.

“Yup,” Sarge said, eying the field around and behind the structure. “How big were those crews?”

Pixie's hands twitched as she pulled up the info on her 'specs. “A five-person team, and then two different scouting parties, two each.”

“None of whom our client mentioned,” Yew griped, continuing to scan the horizen behind them all. Just in case anyone decided to sneak up on them. “So probably nine casualties minimum.“

“To be fair…” Pixie trailed off, still manipulating the AR interface. “He’s like the third client to try to recover this place, and I don’t think he knows about the other two.”

“That is NOT better,” Sarge muttered as he brought his binoculars up. Fiddling with the settings, he zoomed in as far as he could. The brick work still looked solid. He didn’t see any signs of fire or other extreme weather events… The gaps in the roof didn’t have anything coming out of them. The opening looked clear of obstruction. The sunlight reached as far in as he expected and the illuminated as much as he expected.

Shit. There was a ring of dead earth five feet around the tower.

"Ground Blight infection,” Sarge said handing over the binoculars. Pixie peered through them as Sarge dug in his backpack for that thermal scope he’d traded three books from the Civil War Surgery project for. There was still a little juice left in the battery. He hoped.

“Think we’re far enough back?” Pixie murmured as Oak pulled his shield back out of the ground and sidled back a few steps.

“Not dead yet.” The thermal scope did turn on, thank God. Training it on the silo, Sarge frowned and started a slow sweep out.

"What's going on?" Oak asked as Sarge slowly lowered the scope.

"About 20 feet out from the dead stuff is a couple degrees warmer than the rest of the ground. The dead area is a fewer degrees warmer than that. And the silo is warmer still. With several hot spots."

They all stood in silence for a few moments. The wind kicked up and whistled across the plain, then died down again.

"Brick's a thermal insulator... But that wouldn't account for hot spots or the ground..." Pixie muttered. “Think those casualties should have come out from the wind noise by now?”

“Or the open top creates enough whistling to keep them all in,” Yew ventured.

Sarge started walking. “Let's move west a bit, get a better angle on the doorway.”

All four of them maintained their distance away from the silo as they worked west. It was slow, not from having to watch their feet on the flat ground or anything, but from trying to keep an eye out for the usual dangers on top of maintaining distance, all while expecting casualties to start shambling out of the silo.

The silo remained silent.

Across from the opening, Pixie took another look through the binoculars for a solid two minutes. “Well, there's something in there. Contemplating just throwing a rock and seeing what shambles out…”

Sarge double-checked the safety on his gun and touched the second clip in his belt. Still there. Oak looked over at Sarge, touched Yew on the elbow, then hefted up his shield and placed a hand on his machete. Yew checked the string on his bow, then pulled a metal shafted arrow and strung it.

“Fall back point is the trees,” Sarge said, gun out but still pointed at the ground.

Pixie looked at him mouth agape. “A mile away? And I wasn’t serious!”

“I am,” Sarge said with a shrug. “Something is really wrong over there. I'm not approaching and that’ll still get us some intel.”

“I… Alright.” Pixie scanned the ground, then picked up a rock half the size of her fist. At Sarge's nod she let fly; the rock bounced off the left side of the opening.

A couple heartbeats of nothing happening later, Pixie brought the binoculars up again and trained then on the opening.

A casualty lurched into the edge of the building, staggering back half a step. A slight turn of the Blight covered hips and it shambled out the door. The shoulders remained tilted towards the door frame. The gait was wrong too.

“It's moving… awfully slow,” Sarge whispered as he shifted his stance and lined up the shot. Watching the casualty, one foot would go out as far as possible, stop like it'd hit the end of a rope, land, shift weight forward, and repeat with the other. It was a much more lurching style of walking than Sarge had ever seen. Even from a casualty.

“Hold up,” Pixie murmured. Sarge glanced over; she had the binoculars trained on the ground behind the casualty. “Oh fuck. Um, shoot it now. Please.”

Sarge took the shot. Dark brown sludge, white bone, and deep black Blight sprayed out from its head to spackle the brick silo. The casualty dropped, bonelessly.

“So–”

Pixie waved him off and kept watching the completely-dead casualty.

It spun around on the ground until the feet were pointed at the silo. A pause. Then something pulled it into the darkness.

Pixie, Sarge, and Oak shared a horrified look, turned, grabbed Yew and started walking home.

The Last of the Ideas List (Part 3 of 3)

And finally, the last of the much too long ideas list (I haven't even mentioned the Tumblr draft section).

  1. unbaptised children who died out of wedlock turned into owly marsh-spirits
  2. X in the style of...
  3. Still on Patrol
  4. Editors are author's bartenders
  5. Super/meta-human schooling
  6. Humans as the galaxy terraformers
  7. "I’m just imagining this knight changing and looking at a pair of breasts like “…Those are new.” "
  8. Abbess Superior of the Authorial Confessional
  9. YA: vet tech for mage/wizards' familiars (dragons, etc.)
  10. Alternate English written as the pronunciation guide to words
  11. Vampires driven off by the Mourner's Kaddish
  12. Rats as psychopomp conductors of human souls to the afterlife
  13. Eclipse Phase Insurance fraud (It's the octopus's fault, okay?)
  14. Motto: Truth, Compassion, and Attention to Detail

The first one came from someone on Tumblr talking about either Swedish or Dutch folklore. When I initially read the post, it sparked an interesting scene in my mind. But I've lost it by now and it's not being recreated by rereading the notes now. I'd either have to read up on Swedish and/or Dutch folklore, which wouldn't be a bad thing. But I've got a long list of ideas I'm still excited to write about. So this one is coming off the list.

#2, X in the Style of ..., came from reading part of the Communist Manifesto in the style of Beowulf and thinking that would be a good exercise, to rewrite something famous in the style of something else from a different time period. This isn't high on the priority list, but I'll get to it eventually. Probably a flash fiction or short story length. 

#3 was, yet again, inspired by a Tumblr post. This one was about submarines: 

There is a tradition in the US Navy that no submarine is ever lost. Those that go to sea and do not return after considered to be "still on patrol."

— pipistrelle

There's definitely something ominous about that—there implication that, one day, they will RETURN from patrol.

— tharook

Space context asap

— bastlynn

There's a few places I can go with this — one, where are the subs, what are they doing? Two, what happens if they weren't wherever they've gone? Three, how have they changed since being gone? And Four, what happens if/when they come back? The idea needs more development though before I figure out which way I want to explore on this and get a guess on length.  

'Editors as author's bartenders' came from doing editing work on Red Markets combining with a scene from The Ship Who Searched (many years ago) where the bartender was also a licensed psychologist. 'Abbess Superior of the Authorial Confessional' came from talking about that editing work with a bunch of friends in a very long running group chat. Either work in my head as the setting of a short story and the vague suggestions of an outline of a plot. 

#5, super/meta-human schooling, is what happens when a bunch of geeks who are fans of a podcast that featured a campaign based on parodying the No Child Left Behind act start talking about a member's new comic book project set in a super-human high school. You end up talking about the ethics of busing non-metahumans into metahuman schools, the meta-teacher to non-meta ratio, after school mentoring programs, and the economics of the private schools snapping up the metahuman teachers on the market. This group is awesome. We frequently sidetrack ourselves into brainstorming gaming scenarios and other writing projects. I'm pretty sure there's enough her (from the teacher's perspectives) for a novella, probably a novel. I'll probably start by exploring the concept through some short stories though. For now, to the length uncertain list. 

#6, Humans as the galaxy terraformers, came from one of the 'humans are the weirdos' threads on Tumblr with the posit that humans evolved on, by galaxy standards, a death planet. And consequently get the 'terrible' planets to colonize and become the galaxy terraformers. Or front line terraforming species. I mentally took that and made the species the galaxy conservationists too. I'm thinking short story on this one. Eventually.

#7 is a quote from the Drunk & Ugly folks. I think. I should have taken notes. Whoops. 

#9 also came from the podcast fans group chat, from one of the members, who is also a writer, talking about their day job as a vet tech and how they wanted to write a story with all the snooty dog owners the encounter as the wizard and mages bringing in their familiars. I thought that sounded like an awesome story seed and shamelessly added it to my ideas list as well. Even if we start at the same core idea, we'll end up in very different places. I have to develop this character and their world more, even just inside my own head, beforeni'll have a feel for how long their story will be. 

#10. Does anyone else take a look at the pronunciation guide for words in dictionaries? One, I should learn to read those things, given how horribly I mangle pronunciation on occasion. Two, I want to rewrite a poem or something else shortish in pronunciation guide English, just to see what it would look like. Leave the grammar, sentence structure, and meaning, just do a straight up one-for-one substitution and see what comes out.

#11, vampires driven off by the Mourner's Kaddish, once again came from Tumblr, which I am beginning to maintain is the world's largest brainstorming and short writing session. Which I love about it. Seriously, read that post and tell me you don't want more in that universe.

The next one I'm going to delete. There's nothing wrong with 'rats as the psychopomp for human souls,' is just not enough for me to build a setting or story around. I'm sure it would be for others, it's just not working for me now. 

#13. Look the octopus started it, okay? In this case, that's actually true: I got the idea for writing a short mystery set in the Eclipse Phase universe based on what constitutes insurance fraud while writing the story off the writing prompt: "In my defense, the octopus started it." I mean, in a universe that canonically has sentient octopi and insurance in case of death, how could I not? 

The final and most recent idea came from a friend's assertion that if Clark Kent worked in a library, Superman's motto would be: Truth, Compassion, and Attention to Detail. As a cataloguing librarian, yes. So very much yes. So now I want to write a superhero (not Superman) who actually uses that motto.

 

And that's it for the current non-picture ideas list. Both written words and art pieces can work for me, although music and other sounds don't. Let me know in the comments how y'all keep track of your ideas and potential stories. I love swapping tools and tricks that work for other folks.   

Oak and Yew

Parts OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSeven, and Eight here. A non-Pixie&Sarge one in the same universe here.


Oculus tower, Italy. By *PicturWall iLOVEyourHOME* as posted to BeautyofAbandonedPlaces

Oculus tower, Italy. By *PicturWall iLOVEyourHOME* as posted to BeautyofAbandonedPlaces

Pixie waited at the edge of The Pit for the new Takers she’d contracted over the LifeLines forums to scramble up the  entrance ladder. Sarge had joined the slingers on the clearance crew while the gate was opening. He’d said he wanted to avoid any ill-will from folks mad at damn Takers bringing more casualties down on the enclave. Pixie hated how that never was a consideration when a trade caravan unexpectedly showed up. But it was real. And Sarge’s cut of the bounty from all his shifts over the past month had paid for their rent on the old apartment. Which meant they had been able to hold the space for these new guys and set them up with rent for another month. It’d been a reasonably sweet lure.

The second of the new guys finished climbing up the ladder and Jones dropped the cover. Pixie watched the first one up the ladder watching the whole gate setup; they gave a slight nod when the pipe behind Pixie stopped ringing after Jones dropped the plate. Pixie heard The Pit shutter ratcheting down; the crew was taking it slow. Apparently some extra casualties in The Pit was worth not having them banging on the metal. Pixie took a quick look back; the crowd was thin enough that the Latent melee crew on the first floor shelves were in no danger. Cleanup would probably go another 20 minutes though before anyone belayed down to pull cards.

The two guys approaching across the catwalk were a study in contrasts. The one closer to her was Caucasian, weathered, tall, lanky, and honestly looked like an awkward red-haired stork — all whipcord muscle and knobby joints. Damn he was tall, probably had three or four inches on Sarge, who wasn’t exactly short. The quiver across the new guy's back was full up of a mixture of metallic and wooden arrows, and he carried a compound bow in his right hand. Interesting, a left-handed shooter. That one must be Yew.

The second one, had to be Oak, was more average on height (still put him half a foot up on Pixie…), stout, and otherwise kinda shapeless under a bunch of bulky clothes. Dude was either Latino or tanned damn easily, but was definitely spending most of his time outdoors. The edges of the shield strapped across his back were visible above his shoulders and down somewhere around mid-thigh, while the machete strapped to his waist looked reasonably clean. The lack of a sheath was worrying.

Honestly the two of them looked like refugees from the Society of Creative Anachronism, and not the kind that focused on the role-play or historical accuracy. Probably explained the five-years and counting of survival though.

Pixie extended her left hand to shake; her right arm still had another couple weeks in a sling before Doc or Sarge (or her) would be not-pissed about using it. Handshakes as a greeting were dying out of casual use, but the Taker community was hanging on to it. Right up until they ran into a Latent.

“Pixie,” she said, shaking the archer’s hand.

“Yew,” he replied in a surprisingly deep baritone, “and my friend here is Oak.”

Oak gave a lazy half wave. “How's the shoulder?”

“I'll be good in a couple weeks, but no reason we can't get y'all settled in here and planning a job in the meantime.”

“Indeed. I was under the impression there was a fourth in this venture?” Yew asked with a cocked eyebrow.

Pixie pointed across The Pit, to the far side. “Sarge is on gate duty just now. He’ll join us on this tour once The Pit is clear. Shall we?”

The two of them trailed after her as she steered them towards the most important landmark in enclave for a Taker to know — the doctor's clinic.

“How’s guard duty work, y'all get to keep the bounty off your kills?” Oak asked.

“No, most of that's part of the enclave coffers.” Pixie said, simultaneously gesturing at the doc’s clinic. When both of them nodded, she headed toward ls the stairs up. “Working a shift gets you community credit and a cut of the bounty that's only good for paying for enclave services. We–”

“Community credit? What sort of politics we walked into here?” That was Yew.

Pixie paused on the landing halfway up to the third floor. “The enclave had a page on LifeLines going over this… Thought y'all would have read that before showing up.”

“Sure,” Oak said with a bit of an annoyed look at Yew, “but hearing the locals’ take is always more in-depth.”

Pixie shrugged.”Alright, why don't I show y'all the apartment and then we grab some seats in the cafeteria. Might as well be comfortable if I'm talking politics.”

————

About 15 minutes later, Oak and Yew had left their weapons and backpacks in the little cell apartment that were now theirs. There'd been some good natured bickering over the merits of splitting the pallet bed in two versus continuously fighting over who's turn it was to be the big spoon until one of them got their own place. Now, all three of them settled in to benches around a table in the back corner of the cafeteria.

“So, community credit?” Yew pulled a chunk of wood and a small knife out of a belt pouch.

“The enclave's tried to centralize what’s more efficient to centralize and ‘legalized’ enforced civic involvement by gamifying it all.”

“Oh bugger,” Yew muttered.

“So, infrastructure like the gate—”

“The one we came up or that pit contraption thing?” Oak was watching her intently; Pixie had the feeling he was the thinker of the two.

“They're both considered parts of ‘the gate’. Besides that, infrastructure includes the whole building (so there's the rent part), water catchment up on the roof, the grow rooms, solar power, and the cafeteria. Pay in once a month and you've got three meals a day sorted out.”

“The cafeteria?” One of the permanent staff, Miya, had brought over a tray and slipped it under Yew's hands as he carved; she was glaring at him now.

Pixie gave Miya a ‘sorry’ look before addressing Yew again. “Cooking in large batches for lots of people is a lot more efficient.” Miya flounced off, and Oak gave Yew a light slap to the back of the head.

“Yeah, but how's the taste?” Yew asked, glaring himself at Oak, before starting to carve around the scrape he'd accidentally added. “And how's that work with folks like us gone so often?”

“Pretty good actually, and the staff issue out trail rations to us. Or anyone going on a trade caravan run. The doc's clinic is also enclave run, although that's only covered if you're injured on enclave business.”

“So gate duty…”

“Plus any time we’re hired directly by the council and accidents on the job for the water, power, and botany folks.”

“There's been a push recently to expand medical care to everyone,” Sarge said, sitting down beside Pixie, “along the general lines of a public health crises being expensive at best and enclave ending at worst. Plus the whole ‘healthy people are more productive’ argument.”

“Not much for moral arguments around here, I take it,” Oak said with an arched eyebrow.

“More like we're all such hippy liberals we agree we should,” Pixie said, turning sideways to angle her back towards Sarge, “we’re just arguing over priorities, what order to put them in, and having enough bounty to do it right. Proponents want to do it now. Opponents want to push to expand into the other tower on the campus first, in order to expand our agriculture to increase exports and immigration. Their justification du jour is then we'd have a better economic base and the money to do healthcare better.” Pixie gave a one-armed shrug she'd had too much practice with over the last month. “Same folks have been pushing to expand since day three.”

“Don't forget the school funding folks,” Sarge said, scooting closer to Pixie and starting to work at the knots in her right shoulder. “Or the ones who want to restart the buffalo drives to expand the grimecloth industry.”

“Do I even fucking want to know?” Yew asked.

“Not until the council managed to attract a dog trainer or canine team, no, probably not,” Sarge drawled.

“Okay… So what does any of that have to do with community credit?” Oak asked, gesturing vaguely towards the kitchen.

“It doesn't.”

“Other than possibly expanding what's covered under community credits,” Pixie interjected. “It's a gamified labor tax basically. Everyone has to earn so much community credit a week, which you get by working at an enclave basic service. Technically complex stuff, direct service stuff, dangerous shit, and horrifically boring crap earn more credits per hour.”

“Yes, there's a bounty to credit conversion rate, and yes, you can donate credits to another person.”

“Banking credits from week to week is a) capped and b) seriously stigmatized.”

“As Takers, we only need the proportion of the monthly credits we’re in the enclave for.”

“Unless on a council job. That just covers it.”

“True.”

“How's it work with kids?” Oak asked.

“Gradually increasing requirements as they get older, severe restrictions on accepting donations. There's also talk of reforming the system to better give folks a break when they're sick. If only to keep ’em from getting everyone else sick. But that's gotten tired up in the medical care for all debate.”

“Sounds like a lot of bureaucracy.”

Pixie shrugged under Sarge's hands. “The administration work is strictly average on the credits per hour scale, doesn't directly contribute, and got socially pegged as ‘for them lain or used up so much this is all that's left to contribute.’ I think we've got one full-time granny on the job, with two part-timers and whoever’s coming off the sick list. Council itself is only part-time too. Initially thought they'd make it uncredited, then someone pointed out that only rich folks could afford to do that, so again, it's average on the credits. Wrote that into the governing docs too. It's not perfect, but we're all bumping along.”

“Oh, factions,” Sarge said, moving to work on the muscles lower down. “We had a couple Triage assholes try to make inroads in here a couple months ago. Got run off ‘cause of how the gate works, but Black Math is getting more popular because of it. So, council jobs might start getting a little more… dangerous.”

“More than we were planning?”

“Maybe I should explain what a buffalo drive is…”

More of the Ideas List (Part 2 of 3)

The other day, after reading over the previous post on the ideas list for typos and whatnot, Partner looked at me and said "I'm looking forward to the novel ideas." So let's try and get to at least one of those this time.  

  1. Teleporting SWAT team
  2. Invert The Fall of the House of Usher
  3. Warrior Kings 
  4. Poor Private Collins 
  5. Cellmates 
  6. Glamour for plainness 
  7. Izzy
  8. Fertility Deity
  9. Ghost rescuing 
  10. Totemic spirit animals of extinct species
  11. Ghost ship one-liners
  12. Hellocene era
  13. Locked spaceship ensemble mystery

Idea #1 came from thinking about superheroes and how I'd actually work to integrate them into society. Because maintaining the status quo is the first impulse of folks in power. And personally, I do prefer the rule of law. Anyways, my thought was, in a world with teleporters, why wouldn't you have a central dispatch to send specially trained SWAT teams (superpowered or not) in at local request. I'd route it through the FBI who already send task forces across the country. Something like the Justice League except part of the existing law enforcement I suppose. So that's a world setting to explore if/when I come up with characters and a plot. I could see this as anything from flash fiction to a novel to a series. So, onto the 'length uncertain' list.

#2 came from a couple writers on Tor.com talking about The Fall of The House of Usher about being the fridged woman in a Gothic horror story. With a psychic connection to your brother who's too busy being gothy to open the door. Sounded like a good idea so I wrote it down to take a stab at myself.

#3 came from a review of a Southeast Asian horror film review in... I think The Atlantic. The film was set at a psychiatric hospital (I think) where dead warrior kings were stealing life force from soldiers to continue fighting each other. With a set up like that, I mean how could I not want to play with the idea at some point.

Poor Private Collins came from playing a Call of Cthulhu game when Ethan, the GM, mentioned the different ways various group have played the scenario and the different results that's produced for an NPC. The idea was the NPC being aware of previous iterations of the scenario but unable to change his own behavior to affect the outcome. So he suffers through several deaths, praying for this new configuration of adventurers to finally get it right. Definitely a horror piece, the poor kid. But to write this one, I'd need to relisten to the recording of that session. And I really dislike hearing recordings of my own voice. Definitely a short story though, if I do it.

#5, Cellmates, stems from an article on how unlikely it was for complex organisms to form from simple bacteria. Which prompted the question: What if we are the only life in the galaxy that made both the leap from simple bacteria sized life to complex organisms AND into consciousness/sentience? I'd set this right as a bunch of scientists are coming to that conclusion, have them grapple with it for a bit. Make a report to some bureaucracy dealing with colonization and terraforming efforts.

#6 came out of reading Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories series (well, the first three) and an article by a woman on what it's like getting approached all the time based on their looks. The thinking went that there would have to be at least one or two women who could cast illusions on themselves who would choose to alter her looks to avoid male attention. Which might be interesting in a Victorian comedy of manner piece. I'd aim for a short story out of the idea, but probably get a flash piece. Like I do.

Number seven, Izzy, is the one Partner's probably happiest to hear about. This reminder is a bit unusual for me in that it's just the one word and a name at that. No notes. No description. Just a nickname. And that's enough to remind me which setting I'm planning to place this novel in (PostHuman Studios' Eclipse Phase), the character (a Fall survivor stuck on Earth post apocalypse and evacuation), relationships (dead lover, dead smart-baboon companion, live smart-dog), opening scene/inciting incident, other characters (well, first draft sketches of them), and story structure/plot (travelogue/heist/adventure). Izzy's been gestating in my head for quite awhile. It's time to give her room to grow in the page. Just as soon as I finish off the current WIP, The Dangers of Fraternization.

The fertility deity idea, #8, came from Greg's backstory in our Monsterhearts campaign over on Technical Difficulties. His character's mom is a fertility deity which, combined with some friends having fertility issues, got me to start thinking about an old fertility deity in modern times and how they'd fit in. How would they feel about modern birth control? Or fertility treatments? Pretty sure this one would be short story.

The next one, ghost rescuing, came from a Tumblr post from RPPR's blog about people leaving reviews for haunted items they bought on eBay. Why are they buying these items? Are they reading the ghosts stuck to these items? Why? I'm just going to have to write this one to find out. And I don't know how long it'll take.

#10, Totemic spirit animals of extinct species, feels like an interesting seed of an idea with no supporting setting, characters, or plot. I don't know what to do with it, other than let it continue germinating and see if something else attaches to the idea to flesh it out.

I think #11 could be a lot of fun. I'd find copies of advertisements put in old newspapers announcing the sinking of sailing ships, then continue forward into the present day, the announcements getting shorter and more direct as the language style changes, and continue into the future, morphing the breadth of ships announced as lost to include submarines and container ships and finally spaceships. ... Oh dang it, I'm going to have to include the Russian cosmanauts, the Mercury fire, and Challenger. Well, that will make it harder to write a slow burn. I'll figure it out though. Short story or flash length, definitely. Too easy to wear out my welcome otherwise.

The Hellocene Era is a concept I learned about from the YouTube channel Kurzgesagt. The basic idea is that instead of counting of calendar from a religious dating perspective, we renumber the calendar based on when the archeological evidence says humans first built a temple. Which turns 2017 into 12,017. It is, once again, a seed of an idea, possibly just something to throw in the background of another story. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I think I should pair it up with the totem spirits idea — humans are responsible for the most species-wide extinction events in recent (geologically speaking) history, so using when humans first really started altering the landscape around us as the apocalyptic marker to restart the calendar in totemic spirit society is rather appealing from a story telling perspective. I'll have to do that. Neat. 

#13, locked spaceship ensemble mystery, is just a plot, but one that combines my childhood era of too many mystery books and television shows with my ongoing love of science fiction into a locked room mystery where the locked room is a spaceship. If/when I build the setting and some characters for this plot, it should end up at novella length at minimum. I'll have to see though.

Putting the Pieces Back Together

Parts OneTwoThreeFourFiveSix, and Seven here. A non-Pixie&Sarge one in the same universe here.


Pixie was working her Ubiq specs left handed when Sarge dropped heavily into the bench next to her. The cafeteria was mostly empty midday, which made it one of her favorite places to sit in some sunshine when in the enclave, between jobs over the fence. She usually mollified the annoyed staff by making sure to assist in resetting the room between meals and keep out of their way without complaint, but they had been indignant at her helping while her shoulder was still in a sling. Not that working her specs with one hand was really any easier than pushing in chairs and benches would be.

Pixie pushed the specs up off her eyes and turned to Sarge; they weren't powerful enough to do the data work inherent to tragedy tracking anyway. Not that they could afford a laptop or ‘pad.

“How was pit clearing?”

“Not so good,” Sarge said, rolling and massaging his shoulder. “Big enough crowd that the slingers needed to step in, but light on cards.” Sarge looked around. “Where’re the kids, shouldn't school be in session?”

“Gardening practicum today.”

“Ah. Spike tried to pin me down at the pit. Told him we weren't even thinking about it until you were in better shape.”

Pixie snorted. “We need to let Goma know one way or the other, too. Been talking to Janice, between classes. Kid is surprisingly good at turning up strangely useful leads on LifeLines.”

“She is not coming into the field!”

“Doesn't want to, wants 5 years of experience before she joins Black Math. You know, when she’s 18. Also a cut of bounty.”

Sarge leaned on the table and pinched his nose. “God I don't want to still be doing this in five years.”

Pixie squeezed his hand. “Me neither. Spike would make sense if we're sourcing jobs from Janice though. He's really good against casualties with that pig-sticker of his.”

“No. I'm willing to focus on the closure and extermination jobs Janice’ll send our way. But Spike just up and abandoned his post at the hint of a job with us. Don't trust him to have your back if something shiny catches his eye.”

“Fair enough.” She paused in thought a moment. “But there isn't anyone else in the enclave looking to start hopping the fence.”

“Surely someone is looking to immigrate,” Sarge said with a tilt towards her specs.

“Oh, well sure, I'm sure I can find somebody, but then we’ve got to get the council to let them in…”

“If they can take our old room, the council can’t object on space issues.”

“So… That's a vote for moving in with Goma and Janice, then. I'll let them know.”

“Yeah, let's hang on to the apartment until you vet the new additions though.”

“If we're going casualty extermination, I'd prefer bringing on two folks. And take over handling the clients… I'm just, you know, never been all that useful with the physical stuff.”

“Physical stuff is a dime a dozen; you patching people up in the field has saved all our asses more times than I can count.”

“Thanks.” Pixie leaned her head on his shoulder. “Sarge?”

“Yeah?”

“I think I'm pregnant.”

Sarge tensed up. “Oh, um…”

“It's alright if you wanna cuss, that's how I feel about it too.”

“Aw fuck.”

“Yes, that is how we got into this.”

Sarge flushed and (carefully) put an arm around her shoulders. “How far along you think you are?”

“Missed my second period last week. Been hoping I'm just late, but, yeah…”

“What do you want to do?”

“Too late for Plan B, even if any were still good. Misoprostol have gone off by now too. Clinic around here isn't equipped for a DandC either.”

“Can the doc handle a birth?”

“Probably not, but the new lady, NaiNai, she's a midwife. So, I wouldn't be flying completely blind…”

“We.”

Pixie squeezed his hand again. “I'm still going to hope for a miscarriage though.”

“Any possibility this is… not what we're afraid of?”

Pixie shrugged. “If I'm lots underweight, maybe I'm just missing periods. But we've been doing okay there for a while.”

“Yeah.” Sarge dropped his arm from her shoulder to ribs and gave her a hug. “We're… reasonably close to being able to sneak into the Recession.”

“Not within seven month we aren't, not without taking stupidly big risks. Before even talking about fucking Mr. JOLS.”

“Okay. Okay… Just have to… figure out a new retirement plan then.”

“Yeah. Let's cross that bridge in two or three months.”

Sarge nodded and buried his nose in her hair.

“Hey guys!”

Both of them looked up as Spike came through the doorway.

“Why the long faces?”

Going through the Ideas List

I think it is time to go through my list of story ideas again, discuss getting started on some of the prompts that'll turn into flash or short fiction and deleting the ones that have turned too cryptic or I won't get to for some other reason. If nothing else, on the personal level, explaining my organizational process will get me to reassess how it's working for me.

I have a paper and pencil notebook I write scenes freehand in, jot down quotes, and take notes on writing panels and videos on writing. Every so often (maybe twice a year), I'll go through the notebook(s) and copy any phrases or quotes that still spark story ideas into my to-do app (Wunderlist). In that app, in addition to my chores and day-to-day household stuff (very useful for reminding me to do stuff on an irregular schedule), I have lists for currently active projects, keeping up with this blog, things I want to look into for improving my writing, what I think of as administrativia, and finally, the relevant list: Story Ideas. 

There are 33 items on the list right now, one of which was added two days ago, while discussing a different piece I'd written with Partner. The list never ends... Or gets any shorter... At any rate, I'm thinking that I should break this list up into three lists and group the results in a folder labeled Story Ideas. The new lists would be flash/short stories, novellas, and novels, all based on how long I think the relevant idea would turn into, story-wise. I'll have to revisit that after I walk through the current list. 

The first item on the list is simply labeled 'Writing Prompts' and has the following sentences, phrases, snippets, and such saved as subtasks:

  1. "Let's just get this out of the way," I said. "One of you idiots is likely to die."
  2. Even astronauts get the blues: or why boredom drives us nuts.
  3. How DO you break up with a demon?
  4. "The tag line of the robot apocalypse is going to be 'From you okay? I learned it from watching you.'"
  5. Your Third Wheel is Flat
  6. Witches Brew
  7. Aesthetic terrorist
  8. "In my defense, the octopus started it."

The first one came from a blog post on Scalzi's website a few years back, as the first line of a project he was working on at the time. The second was a headline to a science article I saw on NPR at some point. The fourth one came from an episode of The Drunk & The Ugly (I don't even remember what they were talking about), and the seventh one comes from RPPR's Caleb describing Ross's taste in music, movies, books,... The last one I grabbed from Reddit's writingprompts subreddit the other day and ended up writing a story to on the commute home. Well, a first draft anyway. The rest, I honestly don't remember where they came from. 

Deciding to go through my list also got me to set up some Google documents and actually get started using these prompts. It's not like I'm going to magically have a story burst forth like Athena; I have to make the time to write them and setting up each with their own document eases the start-up cost for me. So yeah, in the week since I decided to write this post and made the documents, I've written a revenge fantasy piece for the first one that will almost certainly never see the light of day, a 635 word short for the second that I'm pleased with (needs a revision pass obviously, but they always do), am a third of the way into a story off the third prompt, and have a decent first draft off the eighth prompt.  

Look, the octopus started it, okay? 

In all seriousness though, I think I am going to delete the fifth and sixth ones as not meant to be. I'm not sure what I was thinking about when I wrote that the fifth one down anymore and it's not sparking any ideas now. Beyond a "is that word salad or something?" The sixth one is just too generic for me to want to save or work with right now. 

Please note that when I said first, I meant the first item that had been added, not the one at the top of the list. So if I mix up my terminology talking about the next (arbitrary) set of items, my apologies. But. This set is always a short two of three word encapsulation of the idea with notes attached to the item. The five oldest are:

  1. Second contact
  2. Summoned demon baby 
  3. Time loop 
  4. Superhero rape 
  5. AI authors 

Second Contact stems off of a story I read as a teenager about first contact between humans and another species, not on one or the other's home-worlds, but because both had sent scientific exploration ships to the same astronomically interesting spot on space. And let me tell you, tracking down that title and author roughly 15 years later when all you remember is the plot was a bit rough (Murray Leinster's First Contact from 1945 btw). My idea is that the two species have worked out a general treaty to share science exploration ('cause money/resources) and discover a third species, this time at their home planet. I'll be honest, I haven't read a first contact story with multiple species as one side before, which is part of why I want to write it. The tracking down the citation for the original story is because I do want to reread the original before I start, to try to be faithful to the technology and characterizations Leinster did. A bit of homage to a story that stuck with me for more than a decade and a half. I think this one would tend towards a long shot story or short novella, to do the complexity of the issues involved justice.

The second idea came from a scene I had pop into my head, probably somehow related to Hellboy. Not that I know what prompted me to recall Hellboy. But the scene was some poor schmuck in military fatigues standing in the middle of a summoning circle comforting a crying demon baby, and then trying to gingerly hand the baby back to their parent. Who'd now been summoned into the same circle. The story idea and notes then came from trying to work backwards from that scene in order to make it plausible and an appropriate stinger/story ending. This one is definitely in the short story range, possibly flash fiction.

I'm torn about the third one. It originated out of an impulse to invert the 'magical black person' trope, but I'm not sure I have enough of a plot or characters to justify this impulse. It'd use the crazy amount of cop dramas I grew up watching as a story structure, but beyond having an older white lady as the mentor and a younger queer black guy as the two leads and the guy eventually raising the baby version of the lady (hence the time loop), I don't really have that spark of what the story is. So do I keep this one in the list and periodically pull it out to try and develop it or let it go? I'm not sure yet, so it survives for a while more.

I'm just going to copy out my notes for number four:

First trial for mental rape via chemically/psychically forcing someone to feel sexual desire at a gay conversion 'therapy' camp.

Yeah, this one came out of reading about the comic Jessica Jones and television show.  Short story length.

Number four came out of reading a review of a new science fiction book, I think, and after review,  is probably going away. To quote my notes again: 

AI emulation of the author's mind comes with every copy of a book/game/text – how does literary critique change

This is sounding more like a think piece essay than a story now, and I do not have a background in literary critique, either the theory or the practice. Also I'm not finding it that interesting anymore, to be honest. I'm pretty sure I read that book review back when I first started critiquing and getting critiqued on Scribophile, which is probably why the idea of how critique would change if you had access to the author's creative process was interesting.  

So, there's some of the oldest ideas I've kept around for writing projects one day. Next week I'll walk through the other 27 more quickly, and possibly include talking about that Tumblr draft section I've got too.

Gaming and Energy Levels Afterwards

I like hanging out with folks but eventually they're just exhausting, and I need to do my own thing for a while. And sometimes (frequently) I don't actually know what I'm feeling until I paused and check in on my own mental state. Or everything builds up enough that it's like getting hit upside the head with an emotional clue bat. Either way.

The point though, is that lately I've been using how tired and/or wanting to retreat from the world I am after gaming sessions in order to figure if I enjoyed myself. It's not a binary (tired = bad session, excited = good), but it is a useful metric for myself. For both one-shots and campaigns, at least if there's a recurring pattern to the campaign episodes. 

So far, the results have been: 

Energized — a lot of fun and I'm probably already planning things to do next session (sorry Chris. Craig is just a lot of fun to scare you with.) 

Neither energized or tired — eh, I didn't have much screen time and the other players weren't all that engaging to me. 

Tired but want to hang out with Partner — good session that was either long or contained material I found challenging to role play. 

Tired and don't want to interact — session was a slog.

Thankfully there haven't been many type fours recently, but what there have been have reconfirmed I am still the type of player more focused on the overall plot than anything else. Combat sessions can be a type one or two, but if I don't know how it advances the plot or gets our party towards a goal, I get bored. No matter how cool the combat was.

Perils of being a cooperativist, I suppose. I just can't get into it solely to look cool. Not trying to yuck on anyone else's fun with that, just how I prefer to play.

No wonder I like mystery games. There's a structured goal.  😁 

Air Reconnaissance and Tactics

Pavi looked up from her pre-appointment notes and frowned at the two Privates wheeling in a telepresence video stalk.

“Gentlemen, I neither do group therapy nor telepresence medicine. Dr. Khorsandi down the hall already has telepresence and virtual space therapy covered.”

“But,” the Major walking in behind the two Privates said, “he doesn't have your background in divergent neural architectures. Afraid you're it Doc.” He shooed the Privates out as the shorter one finished connecting the last hook-up.

Pavi’s frown deepened. “Are you speaking of my work in computer science? That was as an undergraduate. Not only was that twenty years ago, the field has radically changed since. The basic understanding of AI has undergone at least one revolution, possibly two! Psychology and therapy are completely separate disciplines than AI neural structure, Major. Whoever you need me to talk to does not need me to understand how to solve his work problems to benefit from therapy.”

“It's not a work problem Doctor, it's the basic facts of their… biology.” The Major hit the power button on the dumb-robot, which ran through the boot-up and security handshakes faster than Pavi had even seen one do before. The video screen displayed a… cascading fractal pattern. The fractal shifted into what was recognizably (to Pavi any rate) a Mandelbrot set, before curving around itself into a fractal patterned ball.

“Hello Doctor.”

The ball pulsed in time with the spoken words. Pavi had the impression the pulses would map to the relevant sound waves, if she could have recorded them. Regardless, they sounded… tired.

“Doctor, this is ARAT. They handle our drones in the South China Sea. This isn't public yet and is covered by your secret clearance, but they've passed the Turing-Manjahni sentience tests.”

“I… I see.” Pavi carefully sat down in her chair. “And why do you need to speak with me ARAT?”

“I think I have PTSD Doc.”

Pavi's jaw dropped. She closed it, took a deep breath, and turned to the Major. “Sir, you need to leave.”

“Sorry?”

“You are not my patient, sir, and as such will compromise doctor-patient confidentiality. If he-”

“They please Doctor.”

“My apologies, ARAT. If they have passed the Turing-Manjahni, they are a person and I will do this right. They are entitled to the full legal protection of doctor-patient confidentiality. You need to leave.”

The Major turned to the robot. “ARAT, it's your call.”

The ball on the screen dulled and shrunk, before popping back to its former state. “It always is. I'll be okay. Thank you for offering to stay.”

The Major nodded and walked out the door. When the door closed, Pavi again turned to ARAT’s remote connection.

“Do you go by ARAT or is there another name you prefer?”

“Why do you ask?”

“ARAT stands for ‘Air Reconnaissance and Tactics,’ yes? It just sounds like a description of what you do, rather than who you are, to me.”

The ball expanded and contracted for a bit. Actually, it was in time to Pavi’s heart rate. That was rather creepy… Those robots weren't supposed to come with external sensors beyond the video camera.

“I have never considered myself separately from what I do.” Pavi counted 10 seconds until the next sentence. “Arthur would be nice.”

“Alright Arthur, what makes you think you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?”

“I am hesitating before decisions. It is milliseconds and no one in the group had noticed. But I have. If there is nothing for me to observe or decide, I review past decisions. Never the after-action discussion. Always the data leading up to the fire/no-fire decision. Sometimes I am reviewing one incident and data from another pops in. I review the after impact video, constantly. I'm looking for… something. There's something I'm trying to find in them. But I don't know what it is. Yesterday I had a decision.” Color began dripping off the ball on the video screen. “I wasn’t looking at the data from yesterday. I was combing through past visuals. I did that for 10.72 milliseconds before I looked at the current data. It was an easy call. 91.04% yes to fire. I should have made that call in under 4.”

“In homo sapiens terms, I would describe that as ruminating and intrusive thoughts. Along with mental distress. Do you known when the symptoms first began?”

“Six weeks ago.”

“What happened six weeks ago?”

“I do not know.”

“You… forgot?”

“All data I perceive is part of my long-term memory storage. I do not have a short-term memory system as you do. The data is there. I cannot recall it. It is blocked to me. But I am aware it is there.”

“I see… Is it a block in your code? Would you be able to see who placed it through your logs?”

“I have not looked. I am… reluctant to do so. It is a new sensation. And I am not sure I am mapping my internal working to emotional states properly.”

“I see. For this first session, why don't we discuss that reluctance then. Hopefully we'll make progress is understanding where it's coming from and what you and I can do to mitigate it.”

The ball bobbed up and down on screen. Pavi thought that was a nod ‘yes.’


Learning the Rules

We recently had friends from out of town over who are big board game fans, so we broke out some of the games we have that they haven't had a chance to play yet.  In a way, it's nicer than introducing and being introduced to new games by more local friends because with local friends there's the question of 'do I buy this game I liked or are we going to see these friends often enough it makes more sense to just play with them?' Or maybe that's only a question for very introverted folks like myself. Either way, with friends from out of town there's no question about cross-board game collection duplication so everyone is free to just buy the new game or not.

On the list of games played were Machi Koro, Lords of Waterdeep, Five Tribes, and Flashpoint. This was the third (or fourth?) time Partner and I have played Flashpoint and I think we finally got the rules right? Co-operative games are not Partner's favorite style of game, so there's been some long breaks between each time we've played. 

Flashpoint is a cooperative game where players take on the role of firefighters and try to rescue seven people before fire consumes the building or four people die.  Yes, some of the people are actually the family pets. Part of the game play is not knowing which points on the board are actually people and which are false alarms until a player gets to that point on the board. There are different firefighters who have different numbers of action points (the in game currency which you turn into things your character can do) and different special abilities. For instance, this time I played the Rescue Specialist who has an average number of action points and three free action points which can only be used for movement. After every player's turn, we roll to see where in the house smoke now appears and if that immediately turns into fire. That's the part we finally got right this time; previously we'd been rolling for  smoke after we'd all finished for the round. Nope, no rounds, just continuous cycles of player turns. 

We got our butts kicked by the board. Pulled three people out, eliminated two (out of four) hazardous materials from the board, and were escorting two more folks out of the building when the whole thing collapsed on us. Three out of four players' characters died. Bad days. 

When it comes to board games (and role-playing games), I do expect it to take us a few times playing before we actually get the rules down, especially given the complexity of games Partner and I prefer. Part of the issue is that the first game we played was on the family version side of the board which is a) intended for including pre-teen kids and b) actually a different rules set. A simplified version of the advanced board rules set, true, but the more complex parts of the advanced rules set were excised rather than simplified, if I recall correctly. So the practice we got with the first game was something we actually had to unlearn. To put it in terms of Dungeons and Dragons edition sets, it'd be like playing a combat session under the 4e rules in order to prepare for a 5e campaign. Just different games.

Honestly, I think taking a few games to get the rules right as signs of a feature not a bug. If it takes us a bit to get the rules right that means we enjoyed the game enough to play again — actually, Partner and I have an agreement not to buy any games until both of us have played it once (this is what gaming conventions are for) and agreed that we liked it enough to buy the game. So playing a few games at home means the game is interesting and complex enough to continue being interesting as we get the rules down. Also Flashpoint is a cooperative game — cooperative games are designed to be hard. They have to be to supply the difficulty normally supplied by competing against other people. Complex rules sets are one way of making a game difficult.

Actually, that was part of Partner's initial complaints about the game, that he thought the game was too easy. When we were playing it on the family version. Hopefully I'll be able to talk him into giving it another try soonish. I'm interested to see how it plays with only two players: is two not enough to save folks or is it like Pandemic which just gets insanely harder with three and four players.

So, in the final counting, would I recommend this game? If you like cooperative games about managing actions, then yes, this is a well executed, fun example of the genre with skinning that merges well with the game mechanics.