This unlocks the next poem in the Berettaflies thread, "The Inner Transition," which can be posted as soon as it gets sponsored. That will feature Stylet approaching Valor's Widow.
WARNING: This poem contains intense material that many readers may find disturbing. It also contains a hefty serving of poetic justice. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. There is mad science, Carl Bernhardt is always a warning, graphic description of medical torture and experimentation on sapient people, centaurs produced by mad science, a distorted response that could be learned helplessness or Stockholm syndrome, references to sapient trafficking and sexual exploitation, graphic description of injuries, messy medical details, unethical employees, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read. It does advance the plot a bit, but a lot of the general trajectory is already established, so it's only a minor gap if you choose to skip this one.
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"The ship should be shaking."
The comment wasn't supposed to be overheard, Aman Singh realized. It had come in one of those rare moments on the Vajra's bridge where everyone had paused for breath at the same moment. Smiling, turned his command couch to face his very junior aide.
"Shaking as the guns roar out bolts of lightning to pummel the fierce space pirates? As the heroic captain -- that would be me I suppose -- rallies his crew with a stirring speech while waving his laser cutlass around?" Aman chuckled. "Sorry, Lieutenant Metz. I read those same books when I was younger. The reality is that if the Vajra is shaking, we have some very serious problems."
Aman glanced down at the repeater mounted on the left arm of his couch. Their target, an ancient freighter refitted as a target drone was on it's last legs after getting pounded by the big grasers for more than two hours. Time to finish this exercise. With a little change in plans he thought as he stroked his beard.
Aman touched the all-hands button on his display. "Attention. For the remainder of the exercise, Sublieutenant Metz has command. Captain Singh out." Unbuckling his restraints, Aman stood and offered the command position to the shocked young officer. Aman noted that whereas the lad had been pink with embarrassment a few seconds ago, he was now an alarming shade of white.
"There's nothing to it, Brendan," Aman said quietly as he helped with the straps, "pick one turret to finish the target off, listen to the targeting crews, and give the order to fire. You did this in the Academy simulators, you can do it now."
Even though Metz was taller than his captain by a double handful of centimeters, he seemed to shrink in the couch. Then, swallowing hard, he spoke up. "Turrets one and three, cease fire. Turret two, continuous fire until further notice." Confirmations quickly showed up on the command screens. "Helm, please keep turret two in optimal firing position. Guns, range to target?"
Commander Kapur, obviously amused by being addressed in such a familiar way by a man twenty years his junior, replied in a perfectly professional tone. "Captain, range is just over six light seconds. Targeting in the main tank." The holographic display in the center of the bridge went from showing the general tactical situation to a detailed look at the target, still driving to reach the hyper limit. Ahead of the target drone was a multi-hued teardrop showing where the ship was likely to be when the graser bursts reached the vicinity. At the center, stretching from the rear tip to near the middle was the cool green of highest probability. Around that as yellow fading to red as the targeting computer and the human operators evaluated what their opponent was capable of in terms of maneuver and acceleration.
Evidently pleased with what he had seen, Metz tried to nod knowingly before fumbling briefly with the communication panel. "Turret two, you may fire when ready." Aman shared a grin with his executive officer at the gunnery station. At least the boy's voice hadn't cracked.
"Well, did'ya hear that? Sounds like your brother has seized control of the ship!" Crown Warrant Officer Nigel Linnet cackled evilly. He always sounded evil, Midshipman Morgan Metz though gloomily. His Middie cruise was not nearly as fun as he hoped it would be. He continued staring at the Secondary Turret Control panel like it contained the secrets of the universe.
"Well now, since Captain Metz" another chuckle from the depths of hell "has given us the honor of blasting that junk pile into very small pieces, it seems only fair that I continue your education by giving you command." Linnet was now the model of formality. "Mr. Metz, what are your orders?"
Morgan sat speechless for a very long second. Before Linnet could begin one of his training speeches, Morgan remembered what to do. As he began to work, he remembered that he was supposed to explain what he was doing at every step.
"OK, targeting display is up. Based on previous data and range, I'm placing the shots here," he said, using a stylus to mark the desired target point, "and locking the guns on that." What next? Right! "Both chambers show good cans loaded, system primed, all boards green." He picked up the old fashioned hand microphone. "Clear the bay for firing." Down below, the gun crews moved to their shelters, signalling the control booth when everyone was clear.
Morgan reached up for the pistol-grip trigger above his head, pausing to look at the CWO. Linnett gave the bare hint of a nod. "Firing," Morgan said, and pulled the trigger hard.
Inside the turret, there was the slightest hint of a rumble as fusion explosions took place in both firing chambers. Inside each of the canisters, the tremendous energy released by the explosions was channeled and focused by precisely formed rods until most of the energy was in the form of gamma rays flying down the barrels, where the energy was compressed and focused even more by gravitic generators. An outside observer would have noticed a brief purple flash from the muzzles as the guns fired.
Six seconds later, the twin bolts reached the target hulk. Two blasts of 200 gigajoules each turned to heat when they impacted, ripping the already weakened ship apart even further. High temperature ceramics shattered, steel vaporized, and more of the ship's infrastructure was melted to slag.
"Good hit!" Linnett chortled. "Now we do it again, yes?" The gun crews were already making sure the next two cans were in place and safely sealed. Morgan ran through the procedure two more times, only needing to be reminded once to make sure the crews were clear, before getting the ceasefire from the bridge.
"You did good, Mr. Metz. We killed an enemy of the Coalition. Or at least pretended to do so." Morgan allowed himself a smile. "But next time," Linnett said thoughtfully, "next time I think I disable the targeting repeaters. Make you figure it by hand. That will be fun, yes?" Morgan groaned and buried his face in his hands. The man is evil. Pure evil. Over Linnett's laughter he could hear his brother standing the ship down from battle stations. Of course Brendan got to sit on the bridge and give orders. He was so lucky!
"Captain, we are secure from battle stations and have resumed Condition 3 cruising. No damage or injuries to report. Is there anything else, sir?" Brendan tried to keep from sounding like he was pleading. Thankfully, Captain Singh was in a merciful mood.
"That will be fine, Lieutenant. I have command. Good job, your first command and it was the Vajra! Now, if you will be so kind, I'm having a small dinner for senior staff, please make the arrangements and layout my undress uniform, Dismissed." Brendan acknowledged the orders and moved to the lift station as fast as he could without running. All he could think off as he pushed his way down the zero-g tube was his annoying little brother running Turret 2. Loading cans, pulling the trigger, and not having the entire command team plus the Captain staring at you while you worked. He was so lucky!
by Lyn Thorne-Alder
Friday, September 15, 2000
Arnbjörg wasn’t sure how she’d ended up walking back to her room with Jaya. She’d managed to evade four of the creeps and two too-friendly sorts, but then there was the cute horned girl walking along next to her, tail bobbing along under that schoolgirl skirt.
“I was bummed when you didn’t show up to the dance Saturday.” She grinned, a shy thing with a little head tilt. “I was gonna ask you for a dance or two.”
Dr. Alaroq took one look at Nilian and responded with a head-shake and a long-suffering sigh. “Don’t tell me. The woods?”
“Yes?” Nilien ducked her head, suddenly feeling guilty.
“I would say we should put up a wall, but then nobody would ever learn anything from falling over. Thank you, Vaudelle.” The doctor nodded politely at Professor Vaudelle. “I won’t let her go running over any more wild terrain for the next few minutes, at least.”
But I think it’ll happen in any timeline eventually, once Luke realizes how many assumptions he’s been working on.
“I want you to tell me about being Kept.” Luke had, although he’d deny it if ever asked, practiced that line until it no longer sounded stupid. “What you remember the most, what you hated, anything you liked.”
The student — Denny, a boy born for cy’Linden if there ever had been one, never mind that his mother was cy’Valerian and his father sy’Ginger — raised his eyebrows at LUke. “Do I have to?”
“Your Mentor asked you to cooperate,” Luke reminded him. He would notlet himself get baited. The cy’Linden kids knew how easy it was, and it was practically a sport for them.
Denny had to be thinking the same thing. “Is this punishment for… that thing with the water balloons?”
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There was a moment where Ctirad thought that he’d given the wrong answer, that Sir was going to be irritated with him or, worse, dismissive. Then the arms around him shifted until a hand was patting his shoulder. “You know, Ermenrich sold you far too cheaply. You’re a treasure.”
The praise filled him with warmth, the way it always did. Ctirad let himself stay as he was, leaned against Sir’s chest. It was nice, while it lasted. And it was a drug, but it wasn’t a drug he had any control over, so there was no point in worrying about it. “I’m glad you approve, Sir.”
“All right. Keep your eyes closed, and I’m going to lead you out to my car. It’s not that far from here. Tell - no. Can you tell me something about yourself, while we walk?”
Sir moved until his arm was around Ctirad’s waist, and, feeling daring, Ctirad moved his own arm lightly around Sir’s waist. “Well.” He coughed, a little amused despite the situation. “I’m not straight. And I knew that before I got collared. But there’s uh. Something different about it when you’re not pretending for anyone but your Owner, you know?”
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The Emperor had called for a great crusade to throw back the monsters pouring out of the east. Half the empire was now under darkness, as orcs roamed freely while other, more dire creatures lurked in the shadows. Leo III declared that he himself would lead the army, and what an army it was!
Every noble landholder pledged his due to the war, legions of leather clad spearmen, some on horseback, some afoot, marching alongside their lords in their fine armor and gleaming ancestral blades. Those unable to fight, or needed at home for vital business, paid for mercenaries to take their place. Fierce barbarians from the west and north, corsairs off the Middle Sea, even bands of elvish warriors fighting for their own inscrutable reasons.
The center was given to the legion of dwarfs seeking to regain their homes in the eastern mountains. They marched with grim purpose, never singing or making merry at camp. Near the Emperor were the representatives of the Gods, clerics and holy warriors bearing relics of great power. Their prayers and blessings were a constant source of strength for the ever-growing mass of troops heading east.
Even the mystics of the magical guilds agreed to participate, although everyone agreed they hadn't done it without exacting a price. Their wagons rolled along with apprentice and journeyman mages keeping anyone from annoying their masters with trivialities.
Behind this horde came the usual camp followers. Tradesmen, entertainers (or all sorts), baggage trains and engineers; all drive east with one goal in mind: liberation of the empire's rightful lands!
Leo III was a wise man, and had planned carefully. All along the route great depots had been stocked with grain and fresh water. Huge bakeries were just waiting for the word. There was no scouring of the countryside to feed the army. There was a little looting, but that was expected.
Finally, the great force reached Caesarea, the last fort held by loyal forces. Now the work began in earnest. For the next few weeks, victory would follow victory as the Army of Vengeance (as the troops had taken to calling themselves) sent the foe flying in each encounter. Leo declared that the army would take Samosata, a once great city, and winter there.
That is when disaster struck. The army was advancing on the enemy drawn up in front of the city in a howling mob of orcs and goblins. The center was led by Durgar the Ironcrown, leading his division of dwarfs with their axes gleaming. The left, mostly heavy cavlary, was lead by Constans Logios, Leo's uncle and trusted adviser. One the right flank, the honor went to Mithander the Red, an outlander mercenary general who had proven himself in many fights.
Battle was joined, and it seemed at first that the disciplined ranks of the imperial forces would once again shatter their foes. Arrows rained down on the enemy center, weakening it greatly. On the right a great melee was taking place, with the enemy being pushed back step-by-step. The Emperor Leo, observing from a captured sentry tower, saw an opening and called for the Lord Constans to charge the weakened enemy center.
Instead, betrayal! Lord Constans' horse troops wheeled from the fight and fled at a full gallop. The enemy fell on the now undefended flank with howls or murderous joy. Two dragons, before this concealed in the city ruins, flew out to add to the devastation. The imperial army dissolved in a full rout, with many thousands killed as they ran for the dubious safety of the distant mountains. What became of Leo, no one knows.
So that's the start of the campaign. The characters will be survivors of the disastrous Battle of Samosata. They'll have to work together to survive and find their way back to civilization. Or perhaps become a guerrilla force of their own against the foul evils. In case you don't know the place names I used, this battle takes place in what is now Southeast Turkey (the city ruins were flooded by a dam built in 1982.)
If you ever played Twilight:2000, you might recognize this start. I like the idea of dropping characters into a situation with no real choice but to move and stick together to survive. I'll be working on all sorts of fun distractions and side quests, but this is going to be campaign where gold is far down the list of priorities. Friendly cities and temples with be rare. Every hand against you, nowhere to hide.
I like the idea. How about the rest of you?
This ninth one is from medicmsh3141: What’s your favorite part of mapmaking?
Oh, no, favorites!
…All of it?
Okay, so when I was working on my first-ever Nanowrimo novel, The Deep Inks, one of the flaws in that book is that I spent like… 3 chapters describing an entirely-useless-to-plot town that the antagonists had built… I don’t even remember why.
But I LOVED that town.
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“Let me take you down to the school doctor. You shouldn’t be walking too much on that ankle, even with a little repair work, and your familiar isn’t big enough to be much help, any more than mine is.” She flapped her hand at Ember. “Don’t glare at me like that, you. You’re a perfectly good familiar, I’m sure, and if you got her away from that tree, well, good for you. That’s being a very good familiar. Still doesn’t mean you can carry her.”
Ember looked away, muttering incoherently in Nilien’s mind. Nilien, in turn, stifled a giggle.
What good news have you had recently? Are you anticipating any more?
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Galactic Drifter - Love and Divorce - (2008) Ivan Henley's web comic Galactic Drifter first appeared online March 1, 2006. This special black & white edition book collects every strip posted in 2006 and 2007, complete with a grand helping of extras: 20 pages of Hyper-Level Nova Revengers material; Complete lyrics to eight of the band's songs; Notes on Ferglinism; Blown-up panels and more! This is the Galactic Drifter book you have to have!
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“It is an amulet of good.” The woman behind the counter smiled with not nearly enough teeth.
“Good… luck? Good… looks? Good wealth?” Opal raised her eyebrows in question.
“Good.” The woman nodded. “It is of good.” Her accent was thick and seemed to wander around the globe. Her skin was more wrinkle than smooth, more age spot than whatever her original tone had been, and her hair was thin and curly.
And the amulet was $4. Opal paid it out of her pocket and left the remaining $1 in the jar for Children with… something. The label had long since faded. “Have a good day,” she told the woman.
“Good.” The woman nodded firmly at her. “Have good.”
A man on the street smiled at her, so Opal smiled back. She strolled down the street whistling, the amulet tucked neatly under her shirt, and so she did not see how it was glowing - or how the man she smiled at seemed to float a little; how the woman she held the door for seemed to brighten up, how the clerk in the candy store was whistling, too, after she left.
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See, traditionally wishes are the worst thing you can get in traditional folk tales and more modern fiction. Because magical creatures of such power tend to be either overly literal or annoyed at having to serve such inferior creatures as mankind. There's plenty of warnings in Irish folk stories about the insanity of dealing with the Gentle Folk in way other than backing away as fast as possible.
Let's take a great example from fairly recent (compared to the source material) story, Disney's 1992 "Aladdin". Once he realizes what is being offered, and being head over heels for a princess, his wish is "make me a prince."
This is where the movie goes wrong. See, there were so many ways to twist this wish. Aladdin becomes a prince of Agrabah, Jasmine's older brother. Since he's now the heir, Jasmine can be married off to some random noble in another city. It's not like Aladdin could marry his own sister! Oh, and since he's the heir, Jaffar is now going to be trying to get him out of the way as well.
Or Aladdin becomes the prince of a city that has warred endlessly with Agrabah for decades. Now not only is Aladdin more than likely going to be charged with killing his lady love, she's going to hate him on sight. Good times.
So many ways to twist these things. I'll admit that my experience with phrasing wishes comes from playing role-playing games with sadistic game masters who twist every word. I recall the player in our Fort Benning game who got a wish for his fighter. Unknown to us, during the week he went to the Army's legal aid office and got several Army lawyers to draft his wish for him. It was ironclad, they had fun, and the game master allowed it.
But that's the thing. A wish changes the nature of reality completely. There are plenty of stories about the unintended consequences of this sort of wish. You need to be very, very precise in your intent and wording. One slip and you face the aftereffects of an overwhelming power giving you exactly what you asked for.
There is a way to get a mostly risk free wish. That's to perform some service for an entity capable of granting one. But then you have to ask, if you are dealing with a being that can twist reality on a whim, what does he need you for? Beware the Sidhe that asks for help!
I've often wondered what I'd wish for if I was given the traditional three wishes. I haven't consulted any lawyers, but these are my rough drafts:
1. "I wish that the next lottery ticket I buy for the California State Lottery or the multi-state Power Ball be the sole winning ticket for the draw it is part of." Just wishing for money is bad, because the wish can be twisted. Wish for a million dollars and your spouse dies, and she had a million dollar life insurance policy. Or it turns out that the money was part of an embezzlement scheme. Wish for a sure-fire way to get the money in an accepted way.
2. "I wish that all the damage done to my body by illnesses, injuries, genetic disorders, and any and all treatments be repaired; bringing my body to normal health while not adding any new conditions." Wishing for perfect health and immortality is a fool's game. So many ways to screw with that. What if perfect health burns out your immune system? Immortality? Next day you're hit by a cement truck and paralyzed from the neck down. Stick with fixing what's wrong with you.
3. "I wish that I was a highly talented juggler." Always go for something simple. Juggling is cool.
That's it. Money, health, and a skill I can use on Playa at Burning Man. No Trump bursting into flame, no dirigibles coming back into style, just a couple of life changes. I could have wished for a more successful military career, or to have been a Hall of Fame ballplayer, but those would have eliminated parts of my life that I like. Like being married to Kiri.
If wishes were horses, dreamers would ride, so goes the old saying. But those dreamers would be screaming in horror as their wish-horses turned out to be dragons.
Put the lamp down. It's not worth it.
Apricots and plum are blooming. So are some crocus along the driveway.
There are still two white eggs in the mourning dove nest.