The Weather Report

"And now for the weather on Mars."

"Thanks Sigrid. Well, looks like the communities down in Maja Valles better hunker down, because they've got an amber skies dust-storm baring down on them. After that, the rain storm the latest mishap with the orbital reflectors generated will be slamming into them. So make sure those environmental seals are working right folks. You've got two days I'm afraid.

In good news, the wind currents in the new atmosphere have been holding steady — the observer balloons from NASA, CNSA, and ESA have all remained up and in their expected flight paths. Folks out in the Hesperia Planum should be able to catch sight of the ESA contingent tomorrow. The engineers are asking for everyone to send in any photographs they catch of the balloons, tag them @ESA, or #hesperiaballoon on the network — they're hoping y'all will catch any damage the onboard sensors have missed.

And finally, the first outdoor crops of soil fixers have taken hold over in Tharsis Montes. The agri-guys over there are estimating a minimum of a three year pilot study before the fixers are available to the public. They sure did emphasis I needed to mention that's three Martian years folks, not Earth years.

This has been Elnur Anastasio with your weather update. Stay safe and watch out for dust devils everyone."

The Stabby Knife of Healing

The Stabby Knife of Healing

Wonderous Item, Weapon, Common

Despite the pleas of many herbalists, druids, mages, and artificers, these items are known in the common vernacular as ‘that stabby thing that heals you’ or ‘the stabby knife of healing’. Typically short and thin, these knifes are clearly designed for close, delicate work, having almost no reach and a small actual blade. Although commonly found on many healer’s persons or in their workshops, very few are available to non-healers. The blacksmiths capable of work this delicate are few and far between and those with the skills tend not to jeopardize their working relationships with the mages who enchant the final product by selling it to non-healers or allowing a non-enchanted version onto the market.

Several adventurers have obtained an artifact of this variety without awareness of its properties and been surprised when the secondary effect went off. Some of them even survived this revelation.

These knives inflict 1d3 cutting damage on a successful attack, followed by 1d6 damage being healed. The writer is unaware at this time how healers are reported to avoid the first infliction of damage on their patients.

Glamour

Hey all, sorry for disappearing for a week. I've been battling some writer's block and time management... stuff. Trying to recalibrate and get back on the writing habit. So, here's hopefully the first of my next streak of unbroken on-time blog posts. I'm aiming for oh... at least six months. Hope you enjoy this one.


Harford, March 11th — At 6 o’clock, the electric lights’ harsh glow in Mr. B---’s stately town home drawing room was diffused through the glamour rendering the room like the grounds at his estates in L--- County. At 6:01, several ruffians of the anarchist Radical Truth Brigade had overpowered Mr. B---’s staff and detonated a spirit bomb underneath the drawing room. This reporter is sadly obliged to say that many young ladies and not a few of the men present were thus unmasked as practitioners of glamourist vanities.

The men were most egregious is their usage, everyone thus unmasked hiding faces running to paunch, between 10 and 15 years of aging, scars, missing teeth, and in one memorable case, a missing eye. The collective shock of so many prominent men unmasked from the vanity of projecting virility no longer in their possession quite distracted the crowd from the young ladies for several moments.

Once the crowd’s attention turned to the young ladies, this reporter observed that most of the ladies thus unmasked were practitioners of the feminine art of subtlety, having used and lost no more from their glamours as from their make-up cases. Several had chosen to dress-up their sartorial choices, but again dear readers, they seem to have done no more with their weaves of glamour than a skilled lady with a needle and good thread could do.

No, dear readers, the shock of the night came upon viewing the unmasking of the notorious blue-stockings and agitators for ‘female emancipation’ Miss A--- and Mrs. C---

Dear readers, once the glamours of the night were removed, they were revealed as stunning examples of feminine beauty. Graceful of arm and neck, fair of skin, and, in Mrs. C---’s case, stunning blue eye color.

Miss A--- granted me the favor of a brief interview on her way to her carriage under the condition that I quote her completely. Condition agreed to, I asked her why she chose to appear to society in her typical plain manner, bespectacled no less (said spectacles having disappeared with the glamours). Her answer, and true to my word, cited here in its entirety: “You try being most improperly propositioned at age twelve because your bosom has begun growing and see what you value.”

Miss A--- did not vouchsafe me the name of the cad who so accosted her seven years ago.

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."

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?

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.

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.

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?

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.

Ascension

On Thursday, Raphael accidentally Ascends. Again.

With a huff of massive annoyance, They turn their attention to the local area of space-time and note the second extinction level asteroid on a collision course with Their planet in as many months. Tracing the orbital mathematics backwards, They find a battleship hiding at the edges of the system, tucked into Charon’s shadow. Several more asteroids, probably from the Oort cloud, are lined up for firing in the next month or two, when the math was right again.

Raphael smashes the ship between the first two asteroids.

With a note of the local coordinates the wreckage sits at, They turn their attention back to where They were before Ascending (reAscending?) and form Their body anew.

Raphael slumps against the commissary table his rebuilt body (self?) sits in front of, exhausted. Mike, on his right, shoves a glass of water in front of him. Cassie, on his left, slides paper under his hand and slips a pencil into his hand, already twitching in writing motions. Gabe, across the table, is on the horn with the brass, the sounds of clipped military information exchange soothing to Raphael’s ears. He grabs the water and downs it, his psychography dumping information They knew but slips from Raphael mind, like water draining from his hands.

Raphael has downed three more glasses, gulped two brownies Mike handed him, and eaten both an apple and banana Gabe shoved in his hands before the fifth and final page is written out. Raphael slumps onto Mike’s shoulder. Mike takes the last glass away; Gabe gently removes the pencil from Raphael's hand. Cassie is carefully reading over the first page, notating her best guesses at language or symbol sets Raphael has written.

“Did I get the coordinates down?” Raphael slurs. “There was a spaceship.”

“Not on page one,” Cassie says absently. “Got the same opening about stars and the music of the spheres, though.”

“What's it in this time?” Gabe rumbles. Mike starts massaging the back of Raphael's neck; his muscles are spasming in cramps. They never can put Raphael back together in perfect order it seems. Last time he'd had hand spasms for four days.

“A mix of proto-Indo-European and hieroglyphics, I think.” Cassie squints at the page before turning it over and moving onto the second one. “It's like the hieroglyphics were abbreviations.”

Gabe is looking over page five, tracing from bottom to top. “English… Middle English…” He grabs page four. “Old Norman… Latin… Hebrew? Skipped a couple centuries there buddy.”

“Don't do it on purpose,” Raphael whines, the sound muffled by Mike’s shoulder. Mike leaves off working on Raphael's neck to pat his shoulder. Cassie hands the first two pages to Gabe; she and Mike stand up, hauling Raphael's arms over their shoulders and march him towards the base infirmary.

Raphael's dreams are going to be painted on the inky blackness of space tonight.

Animal Control

Set in the 211 universe


“211, may I get your name and location please?” Darcy asked, left hand poised over her keyboard, the right one giving her stress ball the few last squeezes of her arrival routine.

“Um, y'all do animal control, right?” Darcy’s caller had the rounded vowels and heavy drawl of the Georgian coastline. “Because I’ve got a cat up a tree.”

“No sir, your local animal control can handle–” 

“Not even if it's three feet long and green?”

Darcy paused, then moved her mouse off the disconnect button and pulled up several databases: known Powered with animal familiars, escaped genetic experiments, and documented shifting Powers.

“Alright sir, that is something we handle. May I get your location please?" 

“About 40 miles out of Macon, Georgia. Can’t you pull it up on those fancy computers of yours?”

“No sir, I do not have a warrant to trace your location. It's that 40 miles north, south, east, or west?”

“Closest town is Hope. Take the only road north out of it, turn onto Cotton St., about five miles down that one, you'll see the only idiot in the area pacing up and down the road watching a green cat glaring at him from a tree.”

“Gotcha,” Darcy said, adding the location data to all her open databases. “The cat, does it look like a domestic cat scaled up?”

“Weeeeell, now that I'm looking closer, the ears aren't right… To far forward I think. And um. The tail’s kinda wrapped around the tree like it's holding on…”

Darcy’s hands started flashing across her keyboard.

“How soon until y'all get here? It's really freaking me out. It's watching me pretty close and there’s something wrong with its eyes.”

“Are the pupils kind of square?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Okay sir, please back up, give the cat at least 100 feet. The team will be there in three minutes.”

ARAT Goes to Washington


[The Senate Armed Services Committee came to order at 12:03.42 on Sunday March 7th 20XX, Chairperson Miller presiding]

Chairperson: The Committee calls Doctor Pavi Meigs-Metzer to testify.

[Dr. Meigs-Metzer is sworn in, confirms her security clearance, and takes a seat.]

Chairperson: Dr. Meigs-Metzer, would you please list your credentials for the committee.

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I hold a Doctor of Medicine with a specialization in psychiatry, I was a resident at Brown University, and I am board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, with further education and specialization in cognitive-behavioral therapy, therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder, and therapy animals.

Senator Evans (R-TX): You have no expertise with computer science?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: My undergraduate degree from Cornell is in computer science, with a sub-specialization in neural networks, but I am well aware of the limitations of a 20 year old undergraduate degree in a field as rapidly changing as computer science. I claim no expertise, merely a background understanding.

Senator Evans: But you claim to be qualified to administer the Turing-Man… Maju–

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: Turing-Manjahni, Senator. The Turing-Manjahni was specifically designed to be administered by an individual with an average educational attainment compared to their country population. I am overqualified to administer the test, especially with my knowledge of psychology. In fact my administering the test would render it invalid, which is why I don't. I review the procedure, to make sure it was administered correctly, and interpret the results.

Senator Xi (D-MD): And you have reviewed the results of the Turing-Manjahni administered to the program called ARAT?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I have reviewed all three tests administered to ARAT, who calls themselves Arthur while not working. They consider it something of a title. Same as Senator is for you.

Senator Xi: I was only aware of one test. When were these others administered?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: The first was two years ago, the January before Arthur became my patient. The second was six months ago.

Senator Ravani (D-MO): That's rather coincidentally timed relative to the military's investigation into–

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: It was a direct response to it on my part. I requested a second formally administered round of Turing-Manjahni sentience tests to build a thicker paper trail, in expectation of what happened with the third test.

[Chairperson Miller bangs gavel for order for 12 seconds]

Chairperson: In your opinion Doctor, what happened with the third test?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: It was a set-up by Senator Evans in collusion with Dynamic Robotics, the original programmers of the ARAT program.

[Chairperson Miller is unable to regain control of crowd for 1.5 minutes. Senator Evans demands Chairperson eject Dr. Meigs-Metzer for slander]

Chairperson: You understand you've just accused a sitting Senator of corruption–

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: And a direct bribe. [Dr. Meigs-Metzer pauses for 13 seconds for crowd noises to die down again.] I've already turned over the results of the VA’s background check into the third test administrator and the interpreting psychologist to the FBI. The first failed to disclose their Masters in Social Work and family connection to Dynamics before the test. The second somehow seems to have declined to mention their day job in Dynamics’ research division or their supervisor and entire lab’s contributions to Senator Evans’ reelection campaign the day after the test. Maximum contribution too. Dr. Smith, the interpreting psychologist, has already been reported to the American Psychology Association's board of ethics for fraud. Even with the test administration being sand-bagged, the data clearly indicated sentience. The interpretation in the report indicates otherwise, but a review by a psychologist, psychiatrist, and two computer science PhDs at the APA hearing for fraud find that the data directly contradicts the interpretation. The hearing concluded yesterday, after midnight by the way. I was passed a copy of the results of the hearing at seven this morning and a representative of the board is sitting outside this chamber with a notarized original of their report.

Senator Xi: Should we assume that your have taken similar precautions with the first two tests to assure us of their authenticity?  

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I have and brought enough copies for each of the members of this committee. 

Chairperson: Sergeant, please distribute the doctor's copies. Let the record note the addition of documentation from Dr. Meigs-Metzer at this time. 15 minute recess every one. Go do your reading.

[16.5 minutes later]

Chairperson: At this time, let the record note that Senator Evans has been detained for questioning by the FBI and will not be joining us for the remainder of this or future hearings on the subject while his situation is sorted out. The Committee recalled Dr. Meigs-Metzer to testify. Dr. Meigs-Metzer, I believe it is pretty clear from the documentation that ARAT has passed the Turing-Manjahni. In your opinion, is it a reasonable measure of sentience?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: It is the only test we have which has withstood 26 years of investigation. It is the best we have. To answer your actual question, yes, I believe Arthur is a sentient person.

Senator Johnson (R-ND): Is that determination solely on the results of the Turing-Manjahni, Doctor?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: No, it is also based on my two years of experience as their doctor.

Senator Johnson: And what were you treating him for?  

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: Mr. Chairperson, I wish to enter into the Committee notes a release form from Arthur starting their permission for me to discuss their medical records.

[Documentation is handed over]

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I concurred with Arthur’s self-diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They have responded reasonably well to standard talk therapy treatments for PTSD. Especially considering that we did not have the supporting pharmaceutical protocols available to us.

Senator Xi: Doctor, can you explain to me, in layman's terms, how an AI could develop a human’s psychiatric disorder? He—

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: They.  

Senator Xi: They do not have a brain like we do.

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: I will remind the committee that this is not my area of expertise. But, I will also point out that we have documented the same symptoms of PTSD in dogs and elephants. Grief in various Great Ape species. And so on. Arthur’s neutral architecture is heavily, heavily modeled on that of a mid-twenties human, without the range of experiences and memories of someone that age. Quite frankly, he was ‘born,’ so to speak with the capacity for any psychiatric disorder, without the buffering of experience, interpersonal relationships, or a social safety net. It is, in my opinion, a miracle they took so long to develop PTSD.

Senator Xi: Do you have an opinion on the matter of decommisioning the Air Reconnaissance and Tactic program, as General Howard argues for?

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: If by decommissioning, you mean wiping the server Arthur resides on, that would be murder. If you mean allowing Arthur to migrate to a private server and declining to replace them, as their doctor, I would support the migration. Their recovery can only be enhanced by removing them from their source of ongoing trauma.

Senator Johnson: And your opinion on Major Nesbitt’s petition for back pay on ARAT’s behalf?  

Dr. Meigs-Metzer: From the moment they became a sentient person, Arthur has been serving in the military, for more hours of the day than any human is put through. They did not volunteer nor were they given the oath of office. But they chose to serve faithfully and risked exposure, followed by the possibility of death, as this committee is debating, in order to get the help they need to continue doing their job, and do it well. Of course they deserve back pay. Preferably at the specialist level of their fellow analysts. Otherwise the Armed Forces has been enslaving a sentient being for the last two and a half years, wouldn't you say?

Multitasking


“211, may I get your name and location please?” Darcy asked, fingers poised over her keyboard. She nodded at Alexi walking towards her with a file folder. Downside to her documented hyper-multitasking, her boss felt no compunction against talking with her during a call.

“Daveed Wilkinson,” a calm, baritone informed her. “Union Station Hotel, 1820 Market Street,—”

Alexi was at her desk now, leaning over to display the contents of the folder in his hands. It was a court summons.

“—St. Louis Missouri, room 312. I need a rapid healer who can handle—”

The summons was for a Montana court, in three weeks, about the psychic gay conversion camp. Darcy grimaced and added it to her mental calendar. She stopped typing with her right hand to grab a pen.

“—steel-strength skin. I've got a teenage suicide attempt in the bathtub in the back of the room."

Darcy had an ambulance already enroute and her left hand flashed across the keyboard to add a local police car to the call.

"Female, sixteen, no known history of suicide attempts or family history of mental illness.”

The local EMTs happened to have a healer on staff (and on shift) that fit the bill, but they were probably going to need the backup to talk the kid into the legally obligated psychiatric hold they had to place her under. Assuming she was conscious.

“And what is your relationship to the victim, Mr. Wilkinson?” Darcy asked, signing the travel request forms Alexi slid over her desk to her.

“Bodyguard and chaperone.”

Darcy hesitated, then added a request for a second car to the call, one with a team experienced in de-escalation or handling celebrities. She didn't know who was in St. Louis this week, but average folks were not under the care of a bodyguard. Especially not when they had steel-strength skin invulnerability.

“Alright Mr. Wilkinson, is there water in the bathtub?” Alexi slid another document over to her. Darcy caught the title and gave Alexi a wounded look. Alexi returned a no-nonsense, 'don't mess with me on this' look.

“No, and I have her hands up over her head. I'm a former EMT by the way, unpowered.”

Darcy sighed at Alexi and signed the request for police protection in Montana. The case was attracting a lot of national attention and anti-Powered whack jobs. Who were slightly confused if they were protesting against psychic manipulation or for religious freedom to run gay conversion “therapy.”

“Gotcha. EMT and police are enroute, about three minutes out.”

School Response


“211, may I get your name and location please?” Darcy asked, fingers poised over her keyboard.

There were children's angry shouts in the background. “Oh Darcy, thank Hera. Listen, it's Jane over at the Campbell Academy in Nebraska,” Jane blurt. An explosion sounded in the background, and Darcy heard Jane taking cover behind something. “We need a rapid-healer and a Powered riot squad.”

“Estimates on children injured?”

“No!” Something extremely heavy smacked into one of the Academy's metal walls. “Captain Firefly came to pick up Eliza for break, Tyrone started yelling at him that he was an abusive bastard, the Captain screamed something about lies at Eliza, backhanded her across the face, and the kids piled on! It started with just the seniors, but everyone who hadn't left for break has piled on at this point. We need the riot squad before they kill him!”

“What happened to school security?” Darcy asked, pulling up the Western States center and sending out a rapid-teleporter call across the country.

“They’re busy pulling kids out of the line of Firefly’s powers. Literal fucking line of fire!”

Darcy resent the call to the Canadian Western Provinces system. “Rapid-teleporter squad enroute. They'll be followed shortly by a team for Firefly.”

“Thanks Darcy.”

We are sorry for the inconvenience

Set in the same universe as Drake


The chanting reached a crescendo, echoing against the limestone cavern, as we burst in. These guys had gone old school in their fashion choices, as well as location — robes and hoods on all five members at strategic points around chalked sigil (not a pentagram, thank you). Chanting in Latin, bowl of blood in the leader's hands, probably from the goat carcass at his feet. Eight more folks in robes created an outer circle. Like I said, very old-school. Unfortunately, as I could taste in the air, they were also effective.

Jones and Rodriguez on either side of me raised their guns, ready to shoot the leader. I quickly motioned ‘no’ at them. “Shoot now, we're going to have backlash rebounding and magnifying in here. Probably bring the whole cave complex down around our ears. Safer to let them finish.”

Rodriguez shot me a betrayed look. Drake, at my back, shifted forward, eyes snapping over from watching the chanters to keeping an eye on Rodriguez and his gun.

“They aren't summoning what they think they are, I swear,” I murmured, hoping I was right about what they were.

Jones shrugged and turned back to start directing the local cops. Everyone robed was much too focused on the chant to react to FBI agents and local laws enforcement taking positions behind them. Once the chant was done, there was going to be some rude awakenings.

I walked over towards the leader and waited about 5 feet to the left and behind. I recognized the voice; Barnes never was all that good at enunciation. Or research. The magic levels in the cavern finally popped, something like your eardrums once the airplane reaches cruising altitude.

He spun around, blood sloshing over the side of the bowl, as the last syllable hung in the air. “You’re too late Amanda! Now you shall see exactly what I am capable of!” Oh great, monologuing. Bastard can't even get my name right either. It’s Jessica to assholes like him, Jessie to my friends. And Drake. “I have done what those fools swore I never could and summoned a great beast! Devourer her, minion!”

I raised an eyebrow and waited. A tiny wail rang out, the rocks around us reverberating. A dull ache took hold of my bones as I felt them vibrate in sympathy. Looked like the rest of my team weren’t feeling that, thank Ishtar. Barnes spun back around, bowl clattering to the ground. He was starting at the circle, a look of utter devastation on his face as I handcuffed him and handed him off to Jones.

“Don't walk him out yet, I may need him in a minute.”

“What for?” Jones asked, also staring at the huddled form in the middle of the chalked sigil. It was a rusty red color, darkening to a ruddy black at the hooves. I saw the tip of its tail peeking out from under its butt, most of that ropy muscle getting pinched between the limestone floor and whatever Barnes had summoned’s ass. The hands were a pale orange and balled in tiny fists. The head was overlarge compared to the neck and couldn't yet be lifted. Little nubs on the forehead showed where horns would one day grow in. The face relaxed, eyes unclenched, and coal-black pits for eyes opened. They got one look at me and promptly opened their mouth of pointedly sharp teeth and wailed again.

All in all, an example of a health demonic baby.

“Well, Mom, Dad, or Other are probably going to want to know that we caught the kidnapper,” I said, wincing as the little guy (or gal) started working their way up the audible range. “So just stay outside the circle and keep Barnes—”

My jaw dropped as the demon’s wail cut off. Rodriguez had stepped into the circle and scooped them up. Their head was resting on Rodriguez's shoulder and the strap to his holster was stuffed in their mouth.

“Gods damn it Rodriguez,” Jones muttered to my side as he jerked Barnes away from the circle.

“Rodriguez?”

“Hmm?”

“Don't… You can't leave that circle until I finish.”

Rodriguez bounced the demon against his shoulder a bit. It cooed. “All right.”

“No matter what else is in there.”

Rodriguez looked me dead in the eyes. “I got it.”

If he didn't, this was going to be hell to document such that his wife would get his pension. Shit. I swear I’ve gone over this with all of the team before. Multiple times. Gods damn it.

“Hey Barnes. You should watch this.” I took the bag of salt Drake offered me, stepped up to the edge of the circle, planted my toes at the edge, and tossed a pinch of salt on the ground. Sending my magic into the ground, I spoke a single word in a language not intended to be spoken with human vocal cords or jaws and waited.

Black smoke curled up from the edges of the circle Barnes had used. It swirled inwards, surrounding Rodriguez. He moved to the side as the smoke condensed. Then it imploded and out stepped… well, take a human, scale them up to ten or eleven feet, turn their skin bright red, make their feet cloven hooves, and add jet black ram’s horns, curling three times over themselves. They caught scent of Rodriguez and let out a bellowing scream that shook the cavern. Rodriguez took half a step back involuntarily.

“Hey Uzzoth,” Drake said quietly.

The head swung toward Drake and their nostrils flared like they were trying to sniff out Drake's location.

“Hey Uzzoth, it's Jessie, I'm here too.”

Uzzoth’s eyes dilated out and back down to slits. Their tongue darted out like a snake's as their nostrils flared again. “This circle is extremely sloppy,” they whined. Barnes made an indignant noise behind me and got an elbow to the ribs from Jones for his trouble. “I can barely send this projection and I do not have time. Someone has stolen my child.”

“Thank you for answering my call anyway. We found them. We'd like to get your child home. With you.”

Uzzoth sniff the air again. “Why then are they not in the circle? I could have been gone already. What favor are you hold my child hostage for?”

Shit, shit, shit. If he survived this, I was going to kill Rodriguez.

“Your child is in the circle Uzzoth. Two feet towards me and then three-quarters of a foot to your right.”

“I only smell a human there,” Uzzoth growled, staring straight at Rodriguez. “What idiot is in the circle with my child?”

“He was crying!” Rodriguez burst out. “You just wanted me to leave a kid screaming on the hard ground?”

“You picked them up?!” Uzzoth roared, teeth bared. “You showed compassion?! You stealer of—”

“Uzzoth, quit wasting time and tell me how to send your child home before I can't.”

They refocused on me again, then reached out the outline of their arm and rested a hand against the barrier of the circle. The circle sparked, then glowed where they touched. I reached up and splayed my hand against the barrier opposite their hand.

I was starting up at the ceiling of the cave, head in Drake's lap, arms splayed like I'd been crucified. The stone under my ass was leeching warmth out of me.  A mahogany thread sat heavy in my mind.

I moved to sit up and collapsed back into Drake's lap. Tilting my head up, I got an upside down view of a worried boyfriend. “Sit me up, please.”

Drake looked like he wanted to hold me there for as long as possible, but he levered me up to sitting position and helped me lean forward to touch the circle. I pushed the thread through the murder hole (so to speak) in the circle, tossed a loop over the child, passed the thread into Uzzoth’s smoke form, and ground it down into the stone.

“Rodriguez, put the kid down and step out. Now.”

He looked mutinous again. “Now, probie,” Jones snapped. Rodriguez complied. As soon as he was clear, I shot as much magic as I could stand through the circle and thread. Uzzoth’s form collapsed and when the smoke dissipated, the child was gone as well.

“Well,” said Jones brightly, shoving Barnes forward towards the entrance. “That went better than the last time someone was stupid enough to ignore the expert.”

Rodriguez was helping Drake get me back on my feet and drape my arms over their shoulders to walk me out.

Drake shot Jones a look as he frog marched Barnes out of the cave. “Don't think I've heard this story, Jones. What happened?”

“Oh, I spent a subjective month enjoying Ballel’s hospitality before Jessie pulled me back.”

“Could have been worse.” I was slurring my words pretty badly. “Rodriguez here almost had to explain to his wife why their new kid had horns!”

Misapplied Powers


“211, may I get your name and location please?” Darcy asked, fingers poised over her keyboard. It was nearing the end of her shift and she dearly hoped this one would be straightforward.

“My name is Kylie Jones and I did not consent to this!” the teen girl on the other end of the line stated. “I don't know where we are—” Darcy waved for Sara, John’s alternative, to come over “—it's some big ranch in the middle of fucking nowhere.”

Sara’s hand on her shoulder felt cool, as was her mind slipping down the connection Darcy had made by talking to Kylie.

“These two guys came into my house in Pocatello and my shitty parents told them to take me! We're all forced into this room with this creepy ass motherfucker—” Darcy had a couple of the standing kidnap specialist teams on the line, waiting to see if Sara found them closer to the Midwest or West center. “—everyday while he starts smelling funny and talking to us about how we’re all going to hell if we don't get right with the Lord and love the right gender. I'm fucking straight! Not that my parents believe me. Assholes.”

Darcy pulled three more teams into the chat mix and sent a flash of hurry-up down the line to Sara. She was a good kid, just didn't have John’s decade on the job.

“We're working on your location, Kylie, just hang in there. Are you somewhere safe? Are you allowed on the phone?”

“No, I snuck out of my room during dinner. I don't get any today for quote mouthing off unquote.”

A brief flash of communication between Sara and Darcy, then “Okay, Kylie, listen, our telepath can build a connection so you and I can keep talking if you'll let her—”

“Sure, fine do it.”

::Kylie?::

::I'm here. This is weird.::

Darcy was sure it was. The first time in mental space, the disconnect between how fast you could talk and how slow movement in physical space was always disconcerting.

::I want you to hang up the phone and sneak back into your room now, okay? Sara and I are pinpointing your location, and then we're going to send some help. Can you tell me how many kids are there?::

::Nine right now; Jason ran away yesterday and most of security is off looking for him. It's how I could sneak into the office.::

Sara final had them, somewhere is the middle of Montana. Not on a reservation, thank gods, no one needed to piss off one of the tribal councils by invading their territory. Darcy wasn’t sure what would have been worse, this place set up on a reservation with or without the tribe's permission.

::Good, okay, how about that security, how many are usually at the ranch and how about tonight?::

::I'm not sure, they rotate I think. There's parts of the ranch we’re not allowed to go to, they could be there. But usually there's like three or four just security guys in the house and they're not here. It’s just the creepy guy and his creepy wife and two women who make the food.::

::Any of them powered?::

::Just creepy dude with his weird smell I think.::

Darcy flinched at the small gasp Kylie made was an ear-splitting scream over their connection.

::Kylie!::

::Sorry, startled; just walked into these guys teleporting in front of me.::

Darcy pumped a little more power down the line and managed to hang onto it as Kylie suddenly changed locations.

::Kylie, where are you now?::

::There's a SWAT van and an ambulance in front of me. The lady who grabbed me just disappeared again.::

::Okay, good, you're at a command center for this. I want you to go to the ambulance, okay? Tell them you want an Epstein-Savi test and then I’m going to have to get off the line. You're safe now, these folks can help you.::

::What's an Epstein-Savi?::

::It's a test for activated and latent mental Powers. I think it's why you noticed the smell.::

::Oh… That's kinda cool. Am I gonna have to go back to my parents’? ‘Cause I'll run away before I let them do that to me again.::

::Tell the EMTs that and they'll have to talk to Child Protective Services.::

::Okay. If I pass this Epstein-Savi thing, can I work at a call center like you?::

::You can work here with or without Powers love. We'd be happy to have someone as level-headed as you. Good luck kid.::

::Thanks Darcy.::

Darcy cut the connection with a smile. The Epstein-Savi was definitely going to come up positive — kid had picked up her name without Darcy ever mentioning it.