Friday, July 31, 2015

In Transit Monsters 9 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Nasr (H minus One Month 26 Days)

"They already possess training of that kind."  Dr. Putnam informed me.  Although the two Putnam
sisters were informal with each other, I made a point of keeping us to some sort of formality.  Not that I liked formal military manners and all that.

But the good doctor had coddled her monsters for too long.

"They don't have experience.  Daemons and pre-loaded katas mean nothing.  Prescient heuristics and all that is helpful, but experience still has some value."  I tried not to show my irritation.

"Experience is overrated human emotional BS."  Dr. Putnam scowl deepened.  "Everything you've done so far, is pure intimidation and social reprogramming.  It isn't necessary.  They already possess the means to act in the field as trained as possible-"

"No they don't.  They lack confidence.  They have rarely, or never have dealt with equipment designed for them.  And they have not developed enough of a team ethic."  I shook my head.  "Yes, they have field training and know the basics from all the preloaded data.  But I can't teach confidence.  Its developed, not trained."

"Confidence."  Director Putnam flicked on a screen of Charlie.  "You know about that, don't you?"

"Although Charlie had been the first figure out my first training exercise, she still lacks confidence.  That lack of confidence in her actions, her lack of trust in her compatriots, that isn't acceptable."  I pointed to the repeated visuals of Charlie and the others never working together.

"You keep referring to them as being fodder."  Dr. Putnam looked at me warily.  "You said you were here to train them to die."

"Miri, we've been over this.  He's one of the few people to have survived Haven.  He knows how the Enemy works.  That's why the major was asked to help train them."  Director Putnam gave her sister a tired look.  "He doesn't have to explain himself."

Dr. Putnam didn't respond.  She continued her withering look.

I stood up.  "Doctor, you haven't been helpful to them.  Whatever you've done to them- your compassion is dangerous at this point."

Director Putnam sighed.  "Major, Miri and I still want to know.  What happened on Haven?"

"It isn't relevant to their training."  I replied.  "And it isn't something we need to discuss."

"On Haven you were the last to Transit back."  Dr. Putnam flicked on a screen of me.  Years ago.  A dirty face that had transited in from Haven, collapsing on the ground.  "There were no microtransits or feeds from Haven after Zeus Protocol had been invoked.  You were the one that survived to say what happened at the very end."

"I'm not going into this."  I moved to the door out of the conference room.  "My dreamspace session should be ready to begin with the Monsters.  You two can go over your own history."

The two of them exchanged stares.  Neither liked being around one another for too long.  Clearly moments like this where the two of them could agree and work on something must've been meaningful.

I wasn't going to share what had happened to them.  No one got to have that one.  My last few hours with Dom weren't going to be out in the open.  It was mine.

Time to continue doing the only thing that justified my continued existence.  Some little bit of honor to redeem before humanity finally took the final bullet.


"The planet of Haven."  My avatar floated above a recreation of Haven along with the monsters.  I wish I had a better name for them than that.  Names were never my thing.  At least the designation seemed clear.  "You've interacted with a very basic version of the Enemy.  But you need to understand more than just what the enemy is capable of."

Their avatar forms matched their realbodies.  After that first training session, they all had always come in their realbody avatars, eschewing the dream forms that Dr. Putnam had accustomed them to.  They wouldn't need them this time.  But preparation had been something I'd hoped to see.

"What happened at the Battle of Haven?"  I asked openly.  Instant texts bombarded me from the monsters.  Of course they knew, none of them were brave enough to say it out loud.  "Humanity was routed.  We failed to anticipate the tactics of the enemy on Haven, because we failed to obtain one of the central tenets of warfare."

"You failed to understand the enemy?"  Foxtrot asked, noticing that I had enabled them to speak verbally.  I nodded assent.

"Exactly.  Human warfare is fundamentally incapable of handling the Enemy.  You encountered only a very basic virtual facsimile of one.  Even then, you noticed how fast they were.  What you did not notice is all the ways in which human conventions fail against them."

I waved a hand.  My avatar still towered over their forms, a purposeful decision on my part.  As long as I appeared bigger, I thought it would antagonize them.  To give them something collectively they didn't like.

The dreamspace responded.  Dozens of drones and unmanned missiles appeared before us, in a blue sky.  I pointed to them.

"Humans created the means to conduct war without endangering human lives decades ago.  Soldiers were removed, and most tactics we had developed prior to the enemy had been directed toward asymmetric warfare.  Small-scale conflicts where large coordinated forces were never necessary."

The image morphed into recordings of the first human attacks on the Enemy.  All of the drones and missiles fell out of the sky or exploded.  They never reached the enemy.  The monsters looked at this with knowing certainty.

"We evolved our warfare, our militaries to handle small-scale, fast conflicts with minimal lives directly involved.  Transit only reinforced that kind of tactic.  The Enemy's tech and methods rendered them useless."

"How?"  Whiskey spoke up.  The youngest of the monsters stared at the exploding drones.  "What could stop you from being able to fight them?"

"These."  I flicked a hand.  The dreamspace presented a Jammer.  Like the soldier members of a Cyst, the massive multi-legged creature looked wrong.  Unlike the soldiers, a Jammer's head was abnormally huge.  Electricity crackled from a series of tiny horns covering it.  "These are Jammers.  They are part of an array of soldiers that prevented us from being able to rely on our accustomed forms of warfare.

"The enemy is slow, however.  It took us the better part of a year to learn that Jammers and other members of a cyst can emit electromagnetic pulses.  They can interfere directly with EM fields, frying out tech that isn't shielded in some way."

I flicked another hand.  "So you need to understand what happened Haven as well.  These all tie together.  We do not understand the Enemy, we don't know what they what, and we don't know what their goals are.  On Haven things changed in a way no one anticipated."

The dreamspace changed to old memory of my own.  Solace, the capital of Haven.  One of its biggest malls was below us.  The crowd of refugees rushed through barricades.  They were human, but something looked wrong.  Each of them were covered in orange-pink slime, from the top of their foreheads, down their backs to the top of their legs.  At the edges of the slime were cilia, which twitched and moved.

The horde of slime-covered people rushed the barricades.  Soldiers behind the barricades panicked.  No one maintained order.  Smoke filled the air.

"On Haven, the Enemy started to convert humans into them."  I pointed at the people rushing the barricades.  "They weren't forced.  Humans on Haven joined the Enemy.  Those who embraced them joined their Cysts.  We don't know what happened to them afterward.  You understand the significance of this?"

"Humans are part of the Enemy too."  Foxtrot supplied.

I shook my head.

"We could be converted."  Whiskey said, her face frightened.

I shook my head.  Still not the answer I was looking for.

"The Enemy knows us.  They have the superiority in information.  We don't know them.  They know us."  Charlie spoke up.  Her eyes were focused elsewhere.  She didn't make eye contact with anyone as she spoke.  "Humans lacked the technology to beat them.  And on Haven, the Enemy learned all it needed to beat us."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

City of Curses: On the Creation of Androids...

On The Forging and Origin of Androids: Processes And Genesis

By Nikolai Ripley, Adamantine Gear of the Esoterium Machina

The basis of Androids comes from a extrapolation on the aethgoyles and the aetherfire that drove them.  The Aetheric Empire constructed elaborate living fires.  Aethgoyles feed off of ambient magical energies, but are animalistic.  They seem to lack higher functions.

Golems operate on similar principles.  The closest to human in shape are wax golems.  The process of creating a golem is to imbue its vessel through arcane enhancements.  Programming is added after the fact, and these programs form the basis of how golems function.  Golems rely on subtle mental magics to understand how to move and act based on their creator's orders.  

Thus, programming can change.  It can be altered.

What makes Androids differ from either Aethgoyles or Golems is that they have no programming nexus.  They do not rely on a enchantment nexus in order to absorb and take in orders.  Instead, they possess a self-identity.  Is this a soul?  That remains open to debate.  

This self-identity affects how their faces and bodies form.  Sometimes Androids can be altered, changed to be bigger or smaller than others.  But truly strong Androids have emerged when their own identities can properly alter their forms to match them.  This is a side-effect of Aetherfire.  Their heart-chamber enables them to change to suit their own self-identities and auras, something others never can experience.

To truly explore and find their true selves, this purpose makes Androids unique and beneficial.  They lack the difficulties of other species, and can truly try things no others can.  To restrict them is to deny them the opportunity to grow beyond our own perceptions.

Androids can use Aetherfire to alter their own senses as well as their own bodies.  They are born able to see magic in its myriad of forms.  Some can even learn to see  into others, to see their future and past paths.  These are a very few of the applications Androids on their own have been able to discover.  How many forced to work in factories could discover things about themselves that could advance science?  How many diseases might they cure?  How many wonders do we imprison by denying them even the right to own themselves?

First's Heart (Nikolai Ripley, circa 1762 AO)


The pool of hot, boiling aetherfire would've blinded me, if I hadn't been wearing my goggles.  The dark lenses turned the purple plasma into a cooler blue color.  The trick would be to get the mixture into the heart chamber without destroying the wax mold.  I'd spent the better of three weeks enchanting layer upon layer of wax to help channel the aetherfire, to power my creation.

Sorry.  I don't feel that way.  The words echoed in my mind again.  They pinged through the calculations and magic power equations.  Like a church bell, I could hear it over my other thoughts.  Her voice, again.  Nikolai- please.  Don't-

The same old conversation I'd run through my head over and over the last ten years.  Maybe I should've let it go.  Instead it had driven me.  I glanced up into one of the focusing mirrors, my face looked dirty.  Long dark brown hair flowed from my head in a ragged ponytail.  The sight of me in my artificing gear always made me pause.  I imagine what my mother would've thought; father had taught me how to make watches when I was a little girl.  Mother probably would've preferred me to have been married by now.

My frown jarred me back to work.

The process of adding aetherfire into the heart chamber had to be the most nerve wracking part of the process.  I didn't know what would happen.  I had used a variety of substances for the molded shell around the heart chamber.  Wax covered gears, argentum undercarriages that followed human bone, a number of empty storage pockets and samples of human blood as a reagent.  In theory, it should provide the basis of something new.

Sorry, Nicolai.  She'd said.  It had been a long night of gazing up at the stars.  Those words.  That failure.  I couldn't win her heart.  Nicolai, sometimes you can't make something from nothing, no matter how hard you try.

I sealed the brass and argentum covers to the heart chamber.  Electrum gears whirled to life.  I pressed the wax chest closed around it.  Now for the last ingredient.  An act to trigger its heart.

I remembered that last night with her.  A thousand brilliant stars above us.  I spilled out my heart to her.  I told her how I had fallen in love with her.  We had been friends for four years at the University by that point.  I'd imagine it going differently.

But it didn't go as I had dreamed.  We stayed friends, but part of me always ached.  Embarrassed for trespassing that line.

I blinked the memory away and whispered the same words I'd tried to use as magic back then, a decade ago before I'd started this project.  Three words.  Simple.  Quiet.  Powerful.

"I love you."  I whispered to the featureless wax covered form.

Its legs and arms convulsed in response.  In a instant it rose from how it had been lying on my work table prone.  Wax flesh shifted as its mouth opened and tried to breath.  Eyes formed.  A mouth and teeth took shape.  Blue runes covered its body.  Lines appeared.  Features emerged from what once had been vague wax.

I marveled as it took form in front of me.  No, not it.  He.  He became alive before me.

"Who..."  He stared at me, confused.  "Who am I?"

I pondered that.  Then I told him his name.  "You are First."

Monday, July 27, 2015

In Transit Monsters 8 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Davyd Samuel Whyte (H minus One Month, 28 Days)

"And Nasr has been making solid progress, despite the oddities introduced by Dr. Putnam?"  I asked.

The ten members of the United Nations Security Council looked gruffly up from their folders.  Each furrowed brows.  Someone coughed.  In the center of the room, the liver spotted Co-Director Martin glanced up at me.

A irritated look.  I resisted one of my own.  With a quarter of the Earth under EpicVentures control, in the last few years I had bypassed the archaic and byzantine system, wherein I'd use representatives from nations EpicVentures controlled completely to voice our say, by simply appearing myself.  EpicVentures had purchased many of those nations long after they'd destabilized and been depopulated.

Rick didn't understand why I insisted on it.  It was simpler.  The rest of the UN Sec had resisted it, but eventually I made them all consent to it.  It had been a show of power.  EpicVentures, a corporation, had become a sovereign nation.  Some of those who remembered things before the war with the Enemy always were disturbed by that.

"Director Putnam reports that they are making progress.  Given that no one has ever trained genetically redesigned humans like this..."  Martin shrugged.  "Who knows.  We are going off projections and predictions at this point."

"Akashic predictions fail when trying to calculate the Enemy, if at all."  Ami Davisen, the UN ambassador for the United States pointed out.  The woman's grey and red hair looked hassled.  The recent losses on Mars had hit the US hard.  Like the other major contributors for the war effort, the battles on Mars had cost them their last, best defenders.   "So what predictions can you use for this?"

Martin gave a weak grin.  "Honestly, we all know we are operating in the dark here.  This is our blind, last fumble before we fall."

No one disagreed with that.

"Nasr has maintained a strong regimen and determination."  Martin added.  "There are others who this might have been cause for... well, a final break I suppose."

I nodded respectfully.

@RahmConrad: Nasr.  This is the one they sent to train the Project that stalling the Enemy for Orpheus?

I gave a trademark smirk that I was certain the floating camera drones would deliver.  That would confuse the commentators on YouTube and Vine.

@DavydWhyte: Nasr Al-Muntaqim.  He was the hero of Haven.

Oh bored Rahm.  I suppose it wasn't her fault.  Stuck at Orpheus, she only had me and my Daemon to keep her from going insane from boredom.  Moments like these made these dark last days seem worth living.

@RahmConrad: Haven?  He survived that disaster?  Hmm.  I'll bring him up,  I'm curious now.

@DavydWhyte: It being the hub for the colony worlds, he'd been assigned there as adjunct and liason between the Egyptian forces and the general UN defense forces.

After a second, she'd responded back.  Her keen mind would unravel all of it.  Brilliant, clever, cunning.  My heart ached at having her at Orpheus and not here with me.  But it was necessary, if we were to survive Earth's end.

@RahmConrad: Oh.  Wow.  He did that?  The video on YouTube is pretty... wow.  I didn't know anyone had survived Haven's destruction like that.

@DavydWhyte: Yes.  He has been Earthside ever since.  After Mars, he has the most experience with the Enemy.

@RahmConrad: Ugh, that's horrible.

"And the major wanted to request some sort of area he could perform field training with them as well.  We thought we'd ask you if a member-state would grant permission for something like that."  Martin folded his hands as he finished talking.

"There are risks to allowing them outside of the facility.  If the public knew about Project Hecate, the riots around the world would grow."  The Ambassador from China, countered.  She frowned at Martin.

I raised a hand in a gesture of offering.  "EpicVentures had territory with no residents in North Africa.  We'd be glad to host them."

Chatter filled the chamber for a moment.

@RahmConrad: Are you ok?  Your Daemon has... 

@DavydWhyte: Its alright.  Just agreed to host some of the Hecate Monsters for one of Nasr's training sessions.  Most of the UN Sec seems to be in a uproar about it.

"Of course.  I'm certain the Major will be pleased."  Martin didn't look at me.  I ignored it.

The Pygmalion Program only existed as a distraction after all.  Martin could entertain whatever he wanted about me.  Just so long as Project Orpheus succeeded, it didn't matter.

@RahmConrad: Oh Davyd.  Things are continuing forward, then?  We have our window open?

@DavydWhyte: Yes.  H-Day is going to happen in two months as planned.  Orpheus will be done by then?

@RahmConrad: You have more confidence than me.  But the last pieces will be in place by then, yes.

@DavydWhyte: I know it'll be done on time.  Our most brilliant mind is helming the project.

@RahmConrad: You aren't too dumb yourself.

@DavydWhyte: I can't wait to see you again. 

@RahmConrad: Two months to go until Orpheus launches, at the very end of humanity. ;)

Charlie (H minus One Month, 27 Days)

"That..."  Whiskey's head laid on my belly.  "I can't believe you figured that out so fast, C."

I didn't say anything.  I just looked up at the sky of the Dreamspace we occupied.  Stars glowed far above us.  The two of us were still in our human avatars.  We didn't want to go back to our realbodies.

But the dream felt like it had been violated.  Nasr had made it feel not as safe as before.  The realspace still was too ugly though.  This felt better.  Something about it had gone hollow.

"C."  Whiskey looked up at me, her dishwater blond hair and olive skin face concerned.  "Hey.  You ok?"

I mumbled incoherently for a moment about nosy friends.  Whiskey smirked.

"You did sort of save the day, though, C."  Whiskey adjusted her head on my belly.  "You can be proud about it at least."

"I don't know what to think about it."  I stammered.  The words were hard to get out.  "No one else was doing anything.  I just... acted."

"You figured it out though."  Whiskey gazed up at the starry sky I'd created for us in the Dreamspace.  "Nasr never said we couldn't change our Avatars.  And you did the whole dream thing with the blobsters and-"

"Blobsters?"  I crinkled my nose at the word.  "What?"

"Blobby lobster aliens."  Whiskey supplied.  "Blobsters."

I rolled my eyes.  Whiskey had never liked using the same words others came up for things.  She liked to rename them.  "You weren't too bad either."

"Probably."  Whiskey picked up a nearby rock.  Her hand glowed with rainbow glitters, almost like her Goetia tech in realspace.  The rock warped and changed.  It turned into a tiny, orange replica of one of the Blobsters.  "You were chatting at them, but I wish I could've thought up a better way than just making walls to fend them off."

I gave a grunt of agreement.  "It'll be different when face them in the field, I guess."

"You ever wonder, C?  I mean, how did they fight them for so long?  The Blobsters are so much... bigger and there are so many more of them than humans.  How did they survive this long?"  Whiskey played with her tiny Blobster figurine.

"IDK."  I replied.  "I saw vids, but..."

"Yeah."  Whiskey agreed.  We both had seen them.  They weren't something one wanted to experience firsthand.

"They are so much smaller... and..."  I paused trying to grasp the idea in my head.  "I think maybe the Enemy has been moving slow."

"Hmm."  Whiskey held up the tiny statue of the enemy.  Her face frowned.  "I think this is going to get worse before it gets better, C."

"Aunt Miri always said they made us to fight a war."  For a moment, I let virtual tears fall down my cheeks.  In Realspace, we had no tear ducts.  We couldn't cry like this.

Whiskey hugged me and we watched virtual stars fall in the dreamscape sky.  We shared some more tears.  This couldn't last.  But part of me wanted to cling to the fake dreams for a bit longer.

I thought about the woman Nasr had argued with.  The one Aunt Miri had talked with in such angry terms.  The one who sounded so worried about Aunt Miri.  Ghale, Aunt Miri had called her.  Ghale Putnam.

My Oneiros tech could create dreamspaces.  It could also let me see things, hear things.  Places and things touched by other minds.  I could just let my Oneiros crawl into their BrainSys, into their minds and tap into their dreaming minds.

That was how Whiskey and I were able to share dreams like this.  I shared them with her.  Ghale Putnam.  I wondered what her dreams were like.  My Oneiros responded.  It created a parellel dream, touching Ghale Putnam's mind.

I saw a her on a bed.  Sobbing.  A man stood next to a window.  Both didn't respond to my presence.

I gazed down at the floor of the bedroom.  I'd dreamed many bedrooms, using images Aunt Miri had given me.  But this one was wrong.  Twisted.  Hideous.  Frightening.

Blood covered the floor.  A baby's cold corpse floated on the blood.  It pulsed and thrashed.  Ghale Putnam's hand were soaked with blood.  Her crying face gazed down at the infant, her hands clutching the fleshy umbilical cord that strangled it.  Ghale Putnam kept repeating the same words over and over in the dream.

"I'm sorry.  I'm sorry.  I'm sorry."

I didn't dare wake her to lucidity.  I just moved away from the nightmare I'd violated.  Private.  I shouldn't have seen this.  She didn't know me and I had just casually ripped into her mind.

I backed away from the nightmare.  My Oneiros closed the shared dreamspace between us.

Whiskey looked at me.  "C, are you ok?"

I nodded.  "Sorry.  Just..."

I couldn't say the words.  Whiskey hugged me tighter.  I tried to let the horrible nightmare of Ghale Putnam drift away.  But it stained my mind.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In Transit Monsters 7 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Charlie (H minus One Month 28 Days)

My head hurt.  My body ached.  This was a dreamspace.  That is my domain.  My heart is in the dream.

I looked longingly over at Whiskey.  On the second attempt we all had tried to not go near the huge morass of alien things.  But our tiny human avatars couldn't outrun them.  We couldn't outrun the gas either.

That gas.  It only made my brain hurt worse.  Whatever the program did, my thoughts in it grew sluggish.  I almost went to sleep on my feet.

The enemy, as the strange new man who I, and only me, had learned was called Nasr, killed us in the dreamspace on the second attempt too.  In less than a half hour.

When we woke up on our third time, we cried.  We couldn't talk.  Some, like Foxtrot, just started to kick and wail on the dirt around us.  Whiskey and I just sat there, clutching each other.

The enemy took us out that time because we just let our frustrations out.

That's when I figured out what I had to do.

On the start of the fourth repeat of Nasr's test, I connected my oneiros to my Avatar.  I'd noticed the option earlier.  Nasr had kept us from logging out, and he kept us from being able to talk or text to one another.  We still could access our avatar settings.

I didn't want to be the ugly thing I really was.  I loved being a person.  Having a body that didn't give me nightmares.  Being normal sized.  Long hair.

I reset my avatar to match my living body.

Nasr had asked us why he was taller than us in avatar form.  It was because we'd chosen to be that way.  We were scared of what we were.

Everyone else stared up at me.  My body felt lighter than it did back in the facility.  I looked at the Enemy.  The dreamspace mirrored how my real eyes worked, not the fake human ones I'd been used to in the dreamspace.  I could see beyond the normal spectrum of human vision.  Into the infrared and ultraviolet.  Almost into the radio end.

What looked like orange bubbles before turned into a dazzling light show of signals.  It looked beautiful, like a garden of flowers in colors that only I could perceive.  It blinked and thrummed in a pattern that looked almost like a heartbeat, but just too fast.

Oneiros Online.  Consciousness Signal Detected.  Upload Dreamspace?

I blinked.  I could link my own Dreamspace into the aliens?  Is that how they communicated?

I gave my Oneiros the confirmation.  My dreamspace linked into the mind of the enemy.  Surprise flowed over me.  Then my head started to pound.

The entire thing opposed me.  I entered a deeper dreamspace within the dreamspace Nasr was training us in.  In that dreamspace, my avatar faced down waves of abstract shapes and flows of energy.  I had trouble keeping track of everything in it.

I maintained that dreamspace while my avatar in Nasr's dreamspace tried to dodge the onward press of soldiers.  Something grabbed my avatar.  The dreamspace linked to the enemy dissolved.  Soldiers clustered all over me.

I screamed.  The gases enveloped my head, then there was a sound of something cracking.

The test started over again.  A fifth iteration.

I opened my eyes.  My avatar had retained its form as matching my realbody.  Whiskey and others shifted their avatars as well.  We turned to the purple fire in the distance.


Ghale Putnam (H minus One Month 28 Days)
Coffee is a miracle.

Stepping into the main office space of the Hecate Project with it kept me from going completely haywire.  When I'd left the day before, Nasr had started the training dreamspace for Miri's monsters.  A brief flicker of sympathy for black-haired Charlie flowed over me.

I silenced it.  I brought up on my BrainSys the latest update of the Count. 1,689,267,392.  It had gone down in the last few days.  Riots across the world had ended in mass suicides.  In Tokyo 1300 people immolated themselves on fire when they'd been denied access to a Transit point so they could 'join' with the Enemy.

That reminder sober me up.


"Hmm?"  He looked up from a series of holos and screens on the desk.  Each seemed project different videos, each with a different number.  "Decided to come back, eh?"

I looked the major up and down.  "You didn't leave, did you?  How long did the training go?"

"They are on iteration forty-three."  He thumbed through a screen or two.

I blinked.  "Forty-three?"

"Dr. Putnam's favorite got it by iteration four."  Nasr held up a video image of a young black-haired girl.  Her hair was long and black.  A teenager.  If it weren't for the sand and dust around her, I could've sworn it had been someone I'd seen before.  Familiar.  The face, however, had been the same as the one I'd seen on the giant Charlie.  Her dream avatar looked tiny and shy.

"How long have they've been at it?"  I looked over the images.  My stomach churned at the nightmare Nasr had been running them through.

Nasr shrugged.  "They can handle it."

"Handle it?  Does Miri know how long you've been doing this to them?"  I don't know why I felt enraged by that thought.  But a gut instinct wanted to make sure her wishes were met.

Nasr cocked an eyebrow.  "They need to train.  Their bodies are already in peak condition.  They lack knowledge of all the other things they need to know in order to fight the enemy.  They have no discipline, no teamwork.  I'm resocializing them."

I closed my eyes.  "Does Miri know you've been doing this to them this long?"

He shrugged.  "I waited until the good doctor had gone to sleep for the night.  If they can prove themselves, then-"

"I see."  I paused for a moment.  "You'll stop now.  Before Miri gets here.  Understood?"

"Director, you brought me to train them, not coddle."  Nasr folded his arms.

"And you'll do as I say.  Miri will make things worse if she finds out."  I glanced down at one of the screens.  "You accomplished teaching them some form of teamwork.  Call it a victory."

Nasr paused.  Then he yawned.  He stood up and gave me a nod.  "Fine.  I suspect you're right about your sister."

"Good."  I took in another sip of coffee.

"BTW, did she tell you about Charlie then?"

"What?"  I blinked at him in confusion.

Major Nasr rolled his eyes.  "Charlie clearly is modeled on her or you or something.  The facial structure.  I haven't had it analyzed, but it seems obvious to me."

I shook my head.  "All of the genetic material used was from volunteers or the dead, Major.  Just a flunk of genetics."

He shrugged.

"I will continue to run these monsters of hers through, Director.  You two going to interfere each time it looks painful for them?"

"I don't understand you Major.  For someone so convinced they are going to die, you seem dedicated to making sure they are such well-trained corpses."  I glanced down at the image of Charlie screaming in a vid screen marked Three.

"I've witnessed our Enemy, Director."  The Major stood up, his face grown cold and dark.  A part of him seemed to close up, as if memories too harsh wouldn't allow him the courtesy.  "We have three kinds of people in humanity, Director.  Gods, Heroes and Monsters.  Gods, they make the rules and the laws.  They can do whatever they want, and we'll obey them.  Not literal gods, although with tech it sure seems that way.  Roosevelt.  Lincoln.  Ali.

"Heroes defy gods and slay the monsters.  They remake the order of things, always for the better.  Washington or Zachariah.

"Monsters, they do things we don't think humans were capable of.  They violate all our morals and obligations."  Nasr closed his eyes.  He then opened them, the glowing cybernetic green of them startling with the fear in them.  "We fought and died in wars for millennia because of Gods, Heroes and Monsters.  They'd start them, and the rest of us would follow in.  But the Enemy, Director, isn't one of those three.

"We don't have a word for what they are.  We can't.  They are on some other level than we can comprehend.  We call pieces of them workers or soldiers or jammers or what-have-you.  But in all my years out there in battlefields, we knew the real numbers.  A single cyst is just one member of their species.  We barely can fend off one cyst.  A second or a third?  We lost every time.  It can't be done."

Nasr walked to the door, his gait tired.  "Realize, please, Director, that I know these monsters your sister made are going to die.  No god or hero or monster we humans can throw at them can beat them.  It isn't possible.  But I volunteered to come here to make sure these monsters at least died with the honor of knowing how to fight.  Now, if you excuse me, I... I have to go to my morning prayer."

Nasr walked out.  I heard the tears in his voice at the end.  I didn't say anything.  I knew the context of what he'd been talking about, under the words.  The voice of someone who has lost someone he loved to a disaster he could do nothing about.

I glanced down at the image of Charlie's human looking avatar.

"Aunt Miri, she said." I repeated, my voice barely above a whisper.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

In Transit Monsters 6 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Nasr Al-Muntaqim (H minus One Month, 29 Days)
I walked with certainty through the Dreamspace. Hecate had given me Admin access over it. Each of the twenty monsters looked up at me. Curious looks.

It made me remember Haven. Memories of young faces watching. Ones that died in nuclear fire. I put memories of those horrors aside in my mind.

Each monster had avatars that looked human. Most looked like young teenage girls. A handful looked like teen boys, or some androgynous mixture. Young faces with bodies shorter than my own avatar. They'd modeled them on what data they must've found on human body measurements.

I'd designed my avatar to tower over them. Even if I was certain each of them were going to die, I'd do my job. I saw Dom's face on each of them. Some ghosts never rest I suppose.

"You are here to train. I'm here to teach you. And if you try, maybe, just maybe, you will learn enough to keep from dying on Mars." I waved a hand. The landscape around us twisted and changed. Then like a lens zooming in, the red and rocky dunes of Mars took over the Dreamspace.

"You have found by now that none of you have access to your voice systems. Nor can you text.  There are only two ways you can communicate in my Dreamspace."  I held up two fingers.  "Two.  I'm going to only tell you the first way: if I ask a question, you will get a chance to answer."

They all just looked up at me.  They'd chosen their own avatars.  These were the bare identities they'd forged in dreamspaces over the years.  Dr Putnam's monsters had lived in VR all their lives, detached from their own bodies.

"Why am I taller than you here?"

My voice echoed.  None of them answered.  I looked over to one of the shorter of them.  She'd chosen the form of a fifteen year old girl, her black hair very long and curly.  Dark-skinned, her eyes avoided me and stayed transfixed on her feet.  She looked like the spitting image of Ghale Putnam.  My BrainSys told me her designation.

"Charlie.  Why am I taller than you here?"  I repeated my question.  All of the others stared at her.  She receded even further into herself at the attention.

"Um..."  Charlie's eyes darted back and forth.  "Because you made it that way?"

"Yes."  I gestured out in the distance.  "You are used to being able to make that choice, in this space.  But you need to understand something.  This form will only die against the enemy.  There's a reason why your bodies are the way they are.  Do any of you know why?"

They remained silent.  Then a redheaded teenage boy spoke up.

"We were born to fight a war."

"Yes."  I snapped my fingers.  A thing appeared in the distance.  Something thundered.  "The Enemy never has Transited inside an atmosphere.  Almost always they do so from outside the atmosphere, impacting the surface."

Fire crackled at the edge of the horizon.  Something like a meteor struck.  But it was no meteor.  The fire that lit up the martian horizon was purple.  Purple fire.  Potassium Chlorates burning upon landing.

Putnam's monsters all shifted uncomfortably.  Because the fire didn't die down when it crashed down.  It kept burning in the distance.

"They land in a biofilm, which stores tons of fertilizer.  The main cyst opens and releases the first waves of workers and soldiers.  Of each of those, there are dozens of different varieties, each adapted to different roles."  I waved a hand.  We hurled toward the purple flames.  Flames covered a massive, wet object in the Martian dirt.

It towered over us, covered in a pinkish orange slime.  It looked like a bubble the size of a city.  Then the bubble splattered into thousands of smaller bubbles.  Each of those were as big as elephant.

Putnam's monsters watched transfixed as the humongous morass of bubbles popped.  Eight-tentacled, orange-slimed covered things, that looked like crustaceans.  They crawled and slid out of the cyst.

"Those are workers.  Given even a few hours, they can alter the ecosystem."  I shifted the time scale so that a single hour passed for each minute.  Putnam's monsters took a step back, except for one.  Charlie moved forward.  She approached the nearest of the blurring fast workers.  She seemed unafraid of them.

Strange, geometric structures erupted from the workers efforts.  Like a fungal growth, they spread out from where the cyst had landed.  I slowed time back to normal.

"Then the soldiers emerge."  Then I waited to see how they'd react to it.  I doubted they could pass this test.

Gases erupted from the structures.  They covered everything in a slimy biofilm.  Charlie clutched at her throat once the gases reached her nostrils.  The coral structures shattered as the soldiers broke out of the cyst.  Massive shapes struck at Putnam's monsters.

Each hard-shelled arthropod stood on six thick legs.  There were some variation even at this stage in their development.  But it didn't matter.  Each soldier even while juveniles were five meters tall and over fifteen meters long.  A hundred swarmed out of the cyst.

Their tiny human avatars couldn't withstand them.  They panicked, trying to run away.  Most had fallen like Charlie had, the gases have disabled them.  The dreamspace mirrored the brain-eating enzymes those gases carried in the realspace.  A handful of the tiny human avatars banded together, to try to work together to get away.

The soldiers of the Enemy caught them easily.  Each soldier covered them in the orange slime I had seen countless times.

A moment later I stopped the simulation.  Everything went dark.  Twenty human avatar eyes stared at me in fear and anger.  I smiled.

"Your first test.  You failed.  We will continue.  Over and over.  Until you are prepared to fight them."  I could see they had questions.  That they wanted to be able to speak again.  But I didn't.

Instead we started it over.  With repetition comes discipline.

Monday, July 20, 2015

In Transit Monsters 5 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Ghale Putnam (H minus One Month, 29 Days)

"They both blacked out?" I tried not to wince remember how fast the two giant monsters had been moving before one had headbutted the other.  "I thought these things were supposed to be designed for combat."

"Charlie and Foxtrot have never gotten along with one another."  Nicky supplied.  "At their size, they can cause one another serious harm."

I tried not to let out a annoyed sigh.  "How?  I mean, I'd understand if they were... smaller I guess."

"Ever go horse riding?"  Nicky asked, her dark skinned face looking up at me with bit of a grin.

"No, can't say that I have."  I remembered childhood memories outdoors with Miri, the two of us trying to outdo the other.  The two of us five seconds from trying to kill one another.

"Well," Nicky opened a nearby door, leading me down to the chamber where they'd moved the two monsters who hit one another. "Even after the advent of modern medical tech, horses can't sustain broken bones very well.  Used to be that a horse with a broken leg would die.  It wasn't a matter of lacking understanding; it was the size of the horse involved."

"And horses are closer to our size than their size.  So there is a fragility to them."  I shook my head.  "Yet we think they can go out into combat?"

"Their heads are sensitive areas."  Nicky paused to open a door to the chamber.  "We've designed helms to mitigate it."

"That's supposed to comfort the thought?"  I turned to her.  "We made these... these things and we expect them to do what exactly?  Why did Miri make them look human?"

Nicky crinkled her nose at me.  "Director, pardon me, but the monsters are human.  I'm sorry if you want to pretend they are something wrong, but they aren't.  Get to know them.  They might make you rethink you're opinion of them."

I shook my head in frustration.  That sounded more like Miri.  What had I allowed her to make by herself?  Nasr started to sound right.  Maybe we created something meant to fail.

We walked onto a carbon fiber catwalk into the chamber the two monsters had been brought into.  Both had been laid against the floor below.  It felt like a airplane hanger, with how open and how big it was.  It also felt so black.

"I expected better of you, Charlie."  I heard Miri say from below us.  Her voice echoed as Nicky and I looked down.

Miri stood next to the black-haired monster that had been grabbed by the redhead.  Charlie.  That was the name Miri used for it.  I made a note for my BrainSys about that.  Charlie.

The giant dark-haired hecate-designed monster opened her eyes slowly.  She- I guess she- winced at Miri's appearance.  She spoke softly, more softly than I thought one of the ten-meter things could.

"I know..."  Charlie tried to avoid looking directly at my sister.  She looked like a guilty child almost.  Almost.

"Miri what have you been doing?"  I thought aloud.

"You-"  Miri paused.  "We don't have time for this.  You have to get along with the others, even Foxtrot.  You understand what is going to happen, don't you?"

Charlie kept her mouth closed.  The dark-haired giant monster looked ashamed.  She opened her mouth to say something, then stopped herself.

Miri put a hand on Charlie.  Charlie probably couldn't even feel the touch.  Her body looked like it was layered in neosteel.  But I felt sorry for her.  I recognized the look of someone in trouble.  The kind that comes from a parent or adult one respects and loves.  And I knew what it felt like to be too shy, too uncertain to be able to explain what one really felt inside.

"I'm sorry, Aunt Miri."  Charlie said, her gaze still avoiding Miri.  "But we want to know who are... the new people."

"Of course you do, dear.  Its one of the Directors, and someone sent to start training you for..."  Miri's voice trailed off.

"I was born for war."  Charlie repeated.

I looked over at the redheaded giant.  Miri had called her Foxtrot.  She remained unconscious where she'd been placed.  Her nose looked ragged and demolished.  Charlie had hit her hard.

"You'll get to them in due time."  Miri told her.  "Foxtrot will make it.  You just... just try to help me prove to them you and the rest of you monsters were worth it?  Can you try to do that for me?"

Charlie obediently nodded.  "I can, Aunt Miri."

Miri nodded.  I kept a note of that.  Aunt.

"Miri?"  I called out from the catwalk.  Miri looked startled and looked up at us.

@MiriPutnam: @GhalePutnam I'll be up in a second.  Mind giving me a bit of privacy?

@GhalePutnam: @MiriPutnam They aren't your kids Miri.  We're sending them out to die.

@MiriPutnam: @GhalePutnam I'll be up there.  Just wait, ok?

"Alright, we'll see."  I waited for my younger sister to climb up to the catwalk.  After a five minutes, she climbed up the dark carbon fiber ladder.

"Ghale, you don't need to come down here.  I can handle things without needing someone to micromanage me."  Miri crossed her arms, her chin up at me.

"That one called you Aunt."  I sighed in frustration.  "Miri, these things are monsters we made for a war we are losing.  You can't get too attached like this!"

"And you avoided having anything to do with Project Hecate for the past decade."  Miri's dark brown face reddened with anger at me.  "You think you still get to boss me around and act like you know everything?  You know nothing about this project, about my charges, what I've gone through to get things to this point."

"Maybe if you listened to me for once, instead of acting like everything is... is..."  I wanted to scream in rage.
"Like what Ghale?"  Miri strode up closer to me.  "I shouldn't have said anything.  You never listen to me-"

"You still think you know everything."  Miri spat.  "How about you shut up and look at what I've created here for more than day before you start judging me, ok?"

"Miri..."  I closed my eyes.  "You know what?  I'm going to go take a walk.  We can talk about Nasr's schedule later."

I got out of my younger sister's sight before she could continue.  I slammed the steel door behind me.  She hadn't changed in ten years.  I'd been an idiot to think she'd even try to listen to me.  No, we had to do things her way or...

I tried to let my mind cool off.  I had to learn to work with Miri.  I had to.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

City of Curses: Character Sheet, Design 2 (Fate Core)

Well, here is a new character sheet for my #Crux Fate Core game, The Keepers of Crux.

I think it improves on the prior one.

Open to any suggestions or critiques.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: The Vampyres

Alright.  #Crux, City of Curses post tonight, all about Vampyres, their nature in the world Crux is set in, and their variety.  I've previous written up a bit of history on the five clans/families that dominate the Blood Quarter in Crux: The Walridr, the Inculti, the Visconti, the Medama, and the Patrizo.

This isn't as extensive as the post on Ursyklon was.  I plan to eventually write up a bit on the Blood Quarter and the Blood Barons, but this is starting point for explaining how the vampyres in Crux work in a broad sense.

Again, thanks for reading.  Comments and the rest are always welcome.  I think I'm going to try to get a post for In Transit Monsters up this weekend, if I can manage it.


Aristocrats, the Vampyres once hide themselves away underground throughout Orphos.  Most lived in or near Crux, as the City of Curses has long had a reputation for tolerating most kinds of monsters, excepting lycanthropes.  Only the werebeasts does the Prince ban from his city.

Vampyres are a kind Cursefolk.  They also are undead.  And yet most show signs of various kinds of different sorts of life.

In the Age of Bloodfire, Vampyres took over several cities throughout Ith.  With the Tomasi Empire's fall, they easily found ways to elevate themselves to rule various domains.  The Darkness came, the year-long night that the Blacksun brings once every few centuries, and it was then that the Vampyres throughout the region first installed themselves.

Ever since, they can be found from Ainesia to Maliph.  Vampyre families always differ in their traits.  But all possess some Curse that drives their instincts, and all possess magic that makes them powerful in certain ways.

There are some traits that carry over.  Most vampyres are vulnerable to certain banes, like sunlight, garlic, fire or running water.  But not always.  These banes don't kill them.  Which complicates things even more for vampyre slayers.  Banes will constrict, pain or even contain a vampyre.  But it can't kill them.

A vampyre must be decapitated, then it's body consecrated and buried with the proper ritual.  If any of those steps get bungled, the vampyre will return.

Vampyres have no pupils in their eyes.  Almost always they are pitch black, but some like the Inculti instead have a gold glow instead of the black of the others.  Dhampyr retain living eyes.  This is perhaps the worse trap for being lured by a vampyre; one can find out they are one by getting close enough to see their eyes.  But once there, one can't simply walk away from them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

In Transit Monsters 4 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Davyd Samuels Whyte (H minus Two Months)

@RahmConrayd: @Whyte It's being implemented.  The UN Sec confirmed it about an hour ago.

@DSWhyte: @RahmConrayd Then things move as they should.  Senator, we will have a seat for you on Orpheus.

I opened my eyes.  My Daemon would handle the details.  Superior to any meager BrainSys, it's personality could access accounts on its own.  It could conduct things as though it were myself.

"Davyd."  My uncle's voice reminded me.  There were other matters, not just the advancement of the Pygmalion Program.  "Davyd, you've seen the recent Count I presume?"

The stomach roiled.  The Count the sheer number of people dead.  I looked over at the man who had outlived my own parents.  Who, like myself, was one of the few left who had any real stake in the company.

In the last day, humanity had lost its last colony.  Mars had been taken by the Enemy.  In force.  We'd retreated again.  Each time our species shrunk in numbers.  Suicides climbed.  Numbers rolled in tabulating how many had been left to be counted.

"Yes.  I saw it."  I tried not to grimace.  My uncle Rick.  The humanitarian.  He didn't care at all about the meaning of the Count.  Not the lives tied to it.

Rick smirked.  The antigeriatrics made him look like he was in his mid-thirties.  "Yes, another win.  Doubled my gains from the last drop."

"Mars, Rick."  I growled.  "The Enemy took Mars.  And you still are counting the coins gained from the dead?"

Rick laughed.  "Davyd, you still don't understand business.  You can't let something like death keep you from exploiting the opportunities!"

I sighed.  I didn't want to do it, but I had to have this meeting with him.  My closest blood relative with any controlling stake in EpicVentures.  The ten years of the war had destroyed most of the rest of the board members.  With an eye outward, it became easier and easier for us to find easy ways to one up one another.

One needed allies to survive.

Rick had been mine.

This meeting was key to that alliance.  I had to put up with him.  Even if I thought he feasted on the dead.  Even though he bet investments on there being more and more dead.  Even though he rejoiced as we grew as others collapsed.  EpicVentures had been able to feed off the carrion of the remaining corporations on Earth.  The rest had lost too much in the off-world colonies to stop us from taking them over.

"You delayed the firmware for Orpheus."  Quiet, my voice didn't seem to get Rick's attention.  He just continued to smile.

Then he paused.

"It'll be finished by the deadline."  Rick smirked.  "We have two months left on this rock, right?  Then we ride away, the last best part of humanity.  Davyd, please, relax a bit.  We'll get to watch the takers tear themselves to pieces over the next two months."

I didn't respond.  I just accessed my Daemon.  It could anticipate my needs.  My wants.  A computer so fast and intelligent, it would look like a flagrant break of the international bans on artificial intelligences.  It was.  I didn't answer, I just let Rick continue.

My rage fumed inside me.  My Daemon started to load what I had been thinking about.  We didn't even share a direct connection, but it could sense my mind through algorithms.

 It read: Twelve percent Loaded.

"We can set up a few reality shows, too I think."  Rick tapped his fingers.  Kinetic sensors turned on various screens with mock-up logos and ideas.  "Think of it, the last days of humanity.  Some people will believe anything, do anything to get off this rock."

I remained silent.  Thirty-six percent Loaded.

Rick laughed at the images on the screens in front of him.  "Rules of law can be suspended in the coming months.  People will get desperate.  I've already talked to a few senators, they are on board with the idea.  Televised-"

Seventy-Four percent Loaded.

"Rick.  We won't do that."

Rick snapped his head back at me.  Dismissive.  He didn't agree with that.  "Davyd.  You don't get a veto.  Now, let me show you the first mock-up I had made-"

"Rick.  I said no."

Ninety-Nine percent Loaded.  Program ready.  Executing.

Rick stood up.  "Don't be a child-"

He clutched at his throat.  My uncle's face turned beet red.  He flopped to the ground.  I turned away from it.

"Orpheus is the last song of our species, Uncle.  And I'm not going to let some jester ruin it."  I didn't hear any gasps.  My Daemon had reprogrammed my uncle's BrainSys.  It now prevented his brain from telling his lungs to breath.  "Project Hecate launches in two months.  We have that long to make sure the song is perfect."

I stood up to watch moonrise over the forest.  My Daemon would take care of Rick's corpse.

Charlie (H minus One Month 29 Days)

@Whiskey: Who is it?  What are they saying?  Never seen anyone like that!

@Whiskey: Charlie?  you reading me at all?

I broke my concentration for a moment to look over at Whiskey.  I frowned at her.  Realspace is ugly.  All of us were so... wrong.  Something in my mind just felt disgusted at the proportion of our heads to our bodies.  They were wrong.  Too small.  Legs too long.  And our skin looked too metallic.

Not to mention we were so big.

Whiskey and I both floated under the fluids of the cave.  Underwater always felt easier for us to move through.  Above it, everything was so heavy.

@Charlie: @Whiskey I can read you.  Just trying to concentrate, ok?

@Whiskey: Oh, right.  Sorry.  

The two of us had been watching the new people in the windows.  The day before two new people had shown up in the cave.  A woman and a man.  Aunt Miri hadn't been answering any of our questions about them.

For us, this change rocked our world.  Whiskey and I usually just practiced our respective Techs and watched hours of old vids from the Net.  We'd never had anyone new come down to the Cave before.  They were fascinating, and each clique had started to chat and speculate on them.


Whiskey and I floated some hundred yards away from the nearest window.  The two visitors looked even tinier at that distance.  But neither of us wanted to get in the way of Foxtrot, Uniform and Kilo.  They'd taken over getting the attention of the vistors, constantly watching or tapping on the windows.  Aunt Miri had already warned them once, but I knew Foxtrot.  She didn't care so long as she got noticed.

My Oneiros turned on.

Each of us Sisters have Techs.  Some of us share the same Techs, but most of us differ.  Aunt Miri once described it as something Hecate knew would appear randomly among us.  Whiskey had her Goetia and could alter things around her by summoning them.  Foxtrot had Aeons, and could use Transit to move over small distances at will.  I had something that didn't affect ugly realspace.  But at least it let me use dreams.

My Oneiros created a waking dream.  Little pieces of dream algorithms entered the local Net.  The waking dream would let me see and sense anything happening around me.  I could dream-listen what the two visitors were talking about.  I could do more, but I worried about being caught.

Best to be subtle.

"Then let me transit to Australia at least."  The man with strange, cybernetic eyes said.  He didn't look at the woman, his face in a eternal frown.  He looked so unhappy in my dreamsight.

"I can see what I can do.  But until then... Miri's right, you do have access to their Dreamspace.  You can at least start the process."  The woman didn't sound to happy either, but she seemed to be placating the man.  "I know, she's strange, but my sister... well, she..."

The woman's voice wandered off for a bit.

"You two were arguing when I arrived here yesterday."  The frowny man observed.

"I..."  The woman paused.  "Major Nasr, you wouldn't care about the details.  You've got a war to win."

"Director Putnam, we ain't got a war going on."  Nasr thumbed out at us.  "You've got a bunch of child-monsters.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm party to some sort of massacre."

"That's reassuring."  Director Putnam retorted.  "You were the most qualified person for this job?"

"I'm the only one willing to come at all."

"Oh."  Director Putnam winced.

"Where I come from..."  Nasr started to walk around the room.  "You learn to be observant.  The Enemy teaches you that the smallest details, the ones about your companions, the kind of supplies you're getting, even when the next transit is- any of this are failures.  They will betray you.  They will get you killed."

"And knowing me and my sister's problems is one of these... details?"  Director Putnam replied.

@Foxtrot: @Charlie @Whiskey what r u two doing?!

I snapped out of my waking dream.  Foxtrot had appeared, floating above us.  Her short red hair and freckles made her angry glare more intimidating.

@Charlie: Uh...

@Whiskey: Go get a buzz, Foxtrot.  we weren't bugging you.

Foxtrot rolled her eyes.  Uniform and Kilo had been swimming toward us.  Great.

@Foxtrot: c'mon.  charlie has the dream tech.  we all know about it.

@Uniform: YES!  Tell us what you heard them say!

@Kilo: 4real tells!!!! they saw us, rite?

I started to swim back, my body hitting the smooth floor of the flooded tunnel.  Embarrassment suddenly whacked through me.  I could've told them everything.  I could've taken the step right there, to try and get Foxtrot and her friends to like me for once.  But I didn't want to.

I couldn't even form the words to text.  I just wanted to be left alone.

@Whiskey: @Foxtrot @Uniform @Kilo Back OFF!  Give her space!

They didn't.

Foxtrot floated down to me and grabbed me by the arm.  Both were covered in black, bluish-green scales of armor.  We couldn't feel each other's touch through them.

 But she grabbed me and tugged me up.  Aeons flared around her as she transited air bubbles around us, accelerating us upward.

@Foxtrot: c'mon.  blubberlips, talk.  share something for once.

Share something for once.  Those words stung.  Then my rage flared up.  Why did I have to put up with this from her?  I hated this ugly realspace.  The ugly meat we had to blunder around in.  The heavy weight always pressing down on my body.

I wanted to go back to dreaming.

@Charlie: let me go!

I rammed my head into hers as hard as I could.  Hard enough that I didn't remember how I got out of the water.  I did remember the frustrated voice of Aunt Miri from somewhere above me.

"What a fine day to do this!  Of all the days!  I expected some restraint from you."

I truly didn't want to get up after that.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Center Cannot Hold: The Ursyklon, Children of the Wolf Mother (Fate Core)

Ok.  So I went did this.  Here is a re-write and a as-comprehensive-as-I-can-make-it post on the Ursyklon in #Crux.  This still needs some matter for it (I think, I can't ever truly finish a thing).  The Ursyklon are Crux-specific unique retooling of Halflings.

The Ursyklon: Children of the Wolf-Mother
Quote: Call a proud Ursyklon a Halfling, if you undervalue your life.

It is a mistake to think the Ursyklon (UR-sike-LON) weak because they are smaller than most others.  The Ursyklon once roamed the stars, conquerors of many worlds.  Those who remain on Orphos remember that legacy.

Ursyklon are half the size of a human.  They share some physical similarities in appearance.  But they aren't half-sized versions of humans.  Ursyklon are born with claws, and are marsupial, being born in pouches.  Ursyklon can shift their gender, a process they call "Mother-Walking."

As they mature, their claws fall out.  Their ears are pointed, and their eyes are able to handle the dark light in forests with no problem.  Ursyklon grow up tough; even while pups in the pouch, they can call and scar one another severely.  They embrace nature, and can take punches that can fell some humans.

Ursyklon have a cultural tie to nature.  They brought the Barbarian, Druid, Hunter, and Ranger Classes to Orphos.  All Ursyklon possess the ability to communicate with animals, an innate magical ability they gain at adolescence.   They walk in the wild places.  Once they walked amongst the stars.  They survive, no matter what others might think or say.


Ten thousand years ago the Ursyklon came to the world of Orphos in their living starships.  These ships, used technologies and magic that haven't survived into the current age.  Some of these starships can still be found, crawling and moving around.  But how to activate them, pilot or even command them has been lost to the aeons.

The Ursyklon and their Archdruids had been waging a war at that point, for what had been generations.  They and the Aboleth had battled one another across the stars.  The two brought their war to Orphos.

Their struggle ended with the Aboleth imprisoned at the bottom of the Deep Sea, west of Ainesia and Ith.  The Ursyklon used archdruidic magic, forbidden technology and other secrets to contain the Aboleth down at that the bottom of the sea.  To this day, Ursyklon still fear that they might escape.  That the Aboleth might come back to restart that ancient war.

With the Aboleth defeated, the Ursyklon clans conquered Orphos.  They brought Classes unknown to Orphos: Barbarian, Druid, Ranger and more.  The Ursyklon Clans conquered continents.  But not all of them.  The Jade Lands never fell to them, the Ursyklon unable to win any battles against the mystic Tengu.  The Ursyklon also avoided the the lands south of the Rruk.  Where later the Immortal Khanates of Maliph would rise, no Ursyklon had ever taken.

Ursyklon ruled their princedoms and kingdoms for less than a thousand years, though.  In time, clans clashed and petty differences caused their empires to crumble.  Today, only the nations of Kainen and Kirgan remain from those ancient days.  

In the Maru Sea, Ursyklon assimilated into local cultures.  When the Tomasi Empire rose, the Ursyklon suffered.  The Tomasi Empire regarded the Ursyklon in the worst terms.  From the Tomasi do we get the word 'Halfling' as well as 'half-man', 'half-woman', and more.  The Tomasi Empire often treated the Ursyklon as curious pets or animals, often penning them in ghettos or worse.

After the Tomasi Empire fell, the Maru Sea had been plunged into centuries of chaos.  When Othebea decided to engage its Crusades to stop the arcane monsters in Ith, Ursyklon helped them.  The Archdruid became a symbol and leader to the Ursyklon, her guidance helping to guide them in the future.


The Ursyklon have five nations, far-flung throughout the world.  Each of them have long survived since the invasion.  These nations have many different member clans.  But all five share some similar traditions, even while being far-flung across Orphos.  First is Stormwood in Ainesia- converts to the faith of the Twins, they stifle under the rule of the Revolutionary government.  Stormwood Ursyklon have a unique, chivalric society.

Second are the Ursyklon of Ith and Othebea- the Sradyklon, or Firstlanders.  They've assimilated into those two nations.  Ursyklon never ventured south of Rruk, so no Ursyklon can be found in Maliph at all.  Gnolls claim to have been a servant race the Ursyklon granted Maliph, but there are no Ursyklon sources that can confirm that.  These Ursyklon identify with the Archdruid of Crux, following her lead in how they act throughout the Maru Sea.

Third are the Kirgan, who keep their own independent nation in Soram.  The Kirgan made dark choices during the war against the Aboleth.  They embraced black magic and other forbidden arts to gain an edge against the Aboleth.  The Kirgan today keep to themselves, their dead too foul and wrong to be eaten by Sacred Wolves.  These corpses remain, still moving, cursed to still lead their people from beyond the grave.

Fourth are the Gazers.  The Gazers are a tiny community of Ursyklon who live on the Island of Gazes, on the very edge of the Jade Lands.  Little is known of them, other than they are all that are left of the Ursyklon who attempted to conquer the Jade Lands during the invasion.  They are peaceful, and often speak of the fae.

Last are the Kainen.  The Kainen landed on the continent of Ocrid, far across the Deep Sea, Sleeping Sea and Azure Sea from most other continents.  The Kainen keep watch over the prison of the Aboleth.  They fear outside interference from what they see as the child nations of the Maru Sea.  They preserve an ancient strain of Ursyklon culture.  The Kainen still have some of the great and ancient technologies and magics other Ursyklon have lost since the landing.  The Kainen strive to keep Ocrid under their influence, despite their few numbers and the constant threat of outside contamination.


Ursyklo, as a language, is something that binds Ursyklon in its uniqueness.  In the Maru Sea, it distinguishes them apart from others.  Ursyklo lacks gendered pronouns, with four distinct inflections used.  Because Ursyklon give birth to litters of three to four, their language's inflections are specific to birth order.  To not use a inflection is to render an insult.  Apa, is such a word- it is a Ursyklon word for human.  It means "Ape or Monkey."

Each Ursyklon undergoes a ritual once they reach puberty.  This is the Uzhadi.  It is a harrowing journey, and for many Ursyklon, a memorable one.

A Urzahadi, or a Ursyklon Druid, administers it.  The adolescent drinks a decanter of sacred substance.  After a night's slumber at the Menhir or some other holy wild place, the young teenage Ursyklon's body shifts.  They change into an animal.

This change of forms lasts only for a week, but the Ursyklon is expected to live as that animal for that week.  To embrace it.  Ursyklon believe that this animal is the creature that the young Ursyklon's soul is matched with.  The Uzhadi is a frightening experience, but the ties built during it grant the magical qualities most Ursyklon share.  The kind of creature they turn into also defines what beasts and animals they can speak with.

All Ursyklon remember what happened during their Uzhadi.  It always seems to decide how they will live the rest of their lives.

Ursyklon families clump together in Clans.  Each clan has its own clan totem.  But it isn't unusual for particular Ursyklon to see out their own personal totems.  Totems are saints or children of the Wolf-Mother.

Clans have, and continue to have complicate internal rivalries.  They have reputations, conflicts that guide and alter those around them.  Clans often have names like Animal, followed by a trait.  Here are some well known Ursyklon Clans:

Horsestrong, Ratsneak, Crowtongue, Wolfsong, Boarrage, Tigerglare, Eaglesoar, Frogeater, Sharkrider, Batscream


Not all Ursyklon are worshippers of the Wolf-Mother.  But even then, it remains the major faith among them.  Almost all priestesses, druids and clerics of the Wolf-Mother are Ursyklon.

All Ursyklon however, share in the birth and death ceremonies of the Wolf-Mother, regardless of faith.  Dead Ursyklon are fed to Sacred Wolves.  Once placed to feed them, the corpse is ignored.  It has returned back to the Wolf-Mother, no more thought need be given to it.

As for birth, it is traditional for a priest of the Wolf-Mother to witness the new litter of Ursyklon pups.  A minor ritual, but often the Priest is said to be able to tell which pup will be the dominant child and what totems they might be attracted to later in life.


Ursyklon brought the more wilder classes, but it is mistake to think they limit themselves to only those.  They embrace a wide variety of classes, although their people do have their own specialties.

The Dafthrog, or Greenknives, are known as the personal guard of the Archdruid.  They are also known for a specialized assassination technique, wherein they can strike a foe, and force that victim into the form of a tree for the rest of their days.

The Wolf-Riders are Paladins of the Wolf-Mother.  They, of course, are known for riding wolves.  But they protect the wilds first.  And they sometimes are known to walk in unseen places.

Ursyklon Naming Convention

Ursyklon can have up to six or seven names; this is due to their long history, and a variety of noble traditions they've maintained for centuries.  Most often, Ursyklon have the following naming Structure: First Name, Nickname, Ancestor Name, Family Name, Clan Name, Honor Name, Secret Name.

Often Ursyklon are named in honor of their closest elder relative of that gender identity: sons are named after their grandfather, whereas daughters are named after their grandmother, and so forth.

All Ursyklon are given an Ancestor Name, honoring an ancient hero.  Ursyklon have family and clan names.  If the Ursyklon is recognized in the community for their past actions or deeds, they often are given a Honor name, recognizing their deeds.

Lastly, all Ursyklon have a private secret name, one that they only share with their closest family.  Its seen as rude to share this name outside of the most intimate relations.

First Names: These names often are also used as ancestor names as well.

Male: Alistair, Callum, Murchadh, Ycott, Fertus, Neillian, Finlay, Dunkan, Maltolm, Kuart
Female: Aila, Elspeth, Iona, Qhona, Sheena, Zorcha, Kean, Worven, Xilias, Rileen

Family Names: Degan, Hogan, McCann, Kordon, Srady, Zastings, Ormond, Materson, Megaton, Towan
Clan Names: Horsestrong, Ratsneak, Crowtongue, Wolfsong, Boarrage, Tigerglare, Eaglesoar, Frogeater, Sharkrider, Batscream
Secret Names: There isn't a list of these.  Secret names are something that generally don't get known.  They tend to be monosyllabic.

Racial Aspects.

Ursyklon characters select one of the following Aspects for their Cultural Aspect.

Small Yet Fierce.
Invoke when size or ferocity would be of advantage.  Compel when size could hinder or ferocity could cause a ruckus.
Natural Born Survivor.
Invoke when one will survive something, no matter the cost.  Compel when survival might push one into doing something irrational or impulsive.
Child of the Wolf Mother.
Invoke when faith in the nature or the Wolf-Mother could help.  Compel to engage in ceremonies and act in accordance with the tenets of the Wolf-Mother.
"I'm Not A Halfling, Understand?"
Invoke when ferocity or self-identity could be of advantage.  Compel when racial slurs or tensions might push one off the edge.
A Wild And Feral Nobility.
Invoke when in nature or trying to be nobler than one's foes.  Compel to be condescending to those not as "noble or wild as I."

Ursyklon Stunts

Wild Tongue: All Ursyklon must take this Stunt.  Select a kind of animal, such as Ferret or Canine.  You now can speak with those animals like others could speak with one another.

Animal Companion: You have companion animal.  This NPC has its own stats.  Most often it'll be some variation of these approaches: 1 Fair Approach, 3 Average Approaches, and 2 Mediocre Approaches.  Animals often have three points for skills, and can take points in their own skill.

Feywalk: You were born with the innate ability to open doorways to the plane of Faerie.  This doesn't help you with dealing with its denizens.  You can spend a Fate point to open such doorways.

Wolf Mother's Ferocity: Tough and feral as the best Ursyklon, you have a bonus Mild Consequence for Physical Stress.

Skill: Ursyklon.
All Ursyklon can buy ranks in the Skill Ursyklon.  Ursyklon is about Ursyklon knowledge, abilities and their capacity to deal with nature.

Discover: Use Ursyklon to sense for animals or faeries.  Ursyklon also applies to Ursyklon-specific knowledge, as well as Clans or specific totems.

Overcome: Ursyklon allows you to calm feral animals, navigate fey illusion, or move through tangles of wilderness.

Create an Advantage: Use Ursyklon to affect animals (Tame), or interact with druidic magic (Druidic).  Creating Ursyklon advantages take the form of natural or animalistic effects.

Attack: Ursyklon is indirect and tends not be very useful for damaging others.

Defend: Ursyklon can be used to defend against faerie magic, or to block animals through wild empathy.

Friday, July 10, 2015

In Transit Monsters 3 (A Story of the Hecate Project)

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Nasr Al-Muntaqim (H minus Two Months)


"Haraam transit."  Every time it made me want to throw up.  Every time.  Fifty drops through transit and I still got sick from it.  I opened my eyes as the cackle-boom ended.

"Hello?"  Someone asked, but I didn't answer right away.  Instead I put a hand to my throat.

I kept it there.  After five minutes, after I was certain that I wasn't going to puke, I looked at the woman trying to greet me.  She looked pale.

"Um... Hello, sir?"  She looked no older than twenty.  She wore a white lab coat that contrasted with her dark skin.  Her hair hung over her shoulder in a long ponytail.  "Can I help you?"

"This is the Hut, isn't it?"  I waved a hand at the statue grotesque trio of monsters I had transited in front of.  "I'm here to train monsters.  I imagine not these, but..."

"I'm Nicky... Dr. Putnam and Miss Putnam are waiting for you downstairs.  In the Cave."  Nicky didn't look into my eyes.  She looked away.

Its always awkward, because my eyes aren't human anymore.  They look wrong.  They don't have pupils, not ones that look human enough.

"Major Nasr Al-Muntaqim.  The Cave?"  I paused, referencing the files I'd received on the project in my BrainSys.  They were very vague.  A map indicated most of the facility to be underground, a good part of it being massive tunnel structures.

"Yes... If you don't mind, this way..."  Nicky took through a series of doors and white dry-walled hallways.  Then she opened a steel door.

Past that door we stepped onto a carbon-fiber catwalk.  Glass sealed it off from everything around us.  Her shoes clicked as she walked.  I had to keep pace with her, she seemed to be speeding through.  As always the carbon-fiber mesh sounded wrong to my ears, looking like metal but lacking the right sort of clang.

"Here."  Nicky waved at the massive tunnels the catwalk hung over.  "Welcome to the Cave."

I glanced downward as we walked along the catwalk.  A hundred foot drop to what looked like water below.  It felt chilly to me.  The walls looked organic.  Dug out by nanotech.  I'd seen such in the colonies.  It made the tunnels look like a shiny cavern.  They were a dark grey.  The tunnel must've been as wide as it looked tall to me.

"Looks like a cave."  I nodded.  "I've gotten a map of those tunnels.  We going down there?"

Nicky shook her head.  "No, we don't go down there.  That's for the Monsters."

The way she said monsters had a bit of a giggle to it.  I recognized that sort of use of the word.  Endearment.  Monsters.  Whatever these things Project Hecate had created, their feelings for them were strong enough to give them a term of endearment.

"Monsters."  I repeated the word.  "My BrainSys has files on them, but they are all incomplete.  Whatever these things are, you sure avoided giving me technical details."

"I'm sure there are reasons."  Nicky smiled as we continued to walk.  "The oldest group, we've long called monsters.  They were so cute."

"Cute?"  I stopped.

Nicky paused and looked back at me.  Her cheeks flushed.  "Sorry, I know that sounds weird, but... they are... IDK.  We know them, Major.  They are magnificent."

"Cute."  I repeated.  "I don't care if they are magnificent or cute.  We're facing extinction.  This is just another last scream of our species."

Nicky led the two of us up to another steel door.  "Major, I think our Monsters will change your mind."

I didn't respond to that.  As we climbed down a set of stairs, I remembered back to the horrors I'd seen.  A dozen different colonies, each falling in the end.  Nothing we did could stop them.  Nothing.  Each time I'd transited away just as the last desperate attempt to stall the Enemy hit.

Zeus Protocol.  Transiting away to see the feed from a world you left, turned into glass and ash.  Those who couldn't get to a Transit site in time were stuck behind.  Trapped, forced to be incinerated by the massive nuclear blast sent as a last desperate measure.

Another steel door.  Nicky led me to a pair of women.  Both looked related, their dark skin and black hair made them look like sister.  We walked in what looked like some sort of heated discussion.

"It was ten years ago."  My BrainSys read the QR tag identified her as Dr. Miri Putnam.  A bit more heavier set than the other woman, she seemed frustrated.

"I don't want to talk about it.  You haven't changed, and clearly can't listen to a word I'm saying Miri."  The other woman's voice sounded like it was on the verge of a scream.  "Look, this can wait, ok?"

My BrainSys read her QR tag as Ghale Putnam, one of the co-directors of the Pygmalion Program.  I knew about her.  She'd been recommended by my commander, and I'd been told that she'd brief me when I would get here.  She and her sister had some sort of drama going on.

That only added to the uncomfort I felt.

"Miri?"  Nicky asked.  I took note of that.  Dr. Putnam maintained some sort of informality.  "This is Major Al-Muntaqim."

The two women stopped glaring at one another and looked at me.  Even their eyes looked alike.  How both looked at me was different, though.  Director Putnam looked away like most people did, that trademark avoidance of my cybereyes.  Dr. Putnam on the other hand, studied my eyes and seemed to be fascinated by them.

"Doctor, Director."  I gave a salute.  Might as well try to make the best first impression I could.  "Nicky here was just telling me about your Monsters.  I'm here to train them."

Dr. Putnam beamed.  "Nice to meet you Major.  Your eyes are fascinating."

"Thanks for coming."  The Director ignored her sister.  "I imagine you want some more context.  The files we'd sent were a little unclear."

I nodded.  I kept my hands behind my back.

"Oh yes."  Dr. Putnam waved a hand.  A nearby wall started to raise up, uncovering a large glass window like the ones on the catwalk before.  "These are our Monsters."

She said that with the same endearment that Nicky had.  I tried not to let out a sigh.  It felt like being witness to some play.  I remembered seeing the same hopeful look on general after general.  The ones who lead in the field, thinking it would change things.  The others who thought we could change tactics just the right way, and then we wouldn't lose drones to the Enemy.

That didn't matter.  We always lost.

"Go ahead Major."  Dr. Putnam pointed at the window.  "Take a look.  We can explain all the details you want to know."

I looked out the window.  The same kind of tunnel like Nicky and I had walked over in the catwalk before.  Huge and smooth-walled.  Unlike the catwalk, we weren't suspended from up on high.  We looked out from much lower.  Bodies moved in the water below us.

Massive bodies.  Huge.  It took me a moment to register how big they were.  Human shapes that were big.

"What?"  I said aloud.  I tried to close my mouth, but the word came out anyway.  "How... how big are they?"

"Ten meters."  Dr. Putnam answered.

There were twenty-five of them.  Human-shaped.  Their hair had been cropped short.  Their bodies looked like skin, but looked like it flowed into scales.  Metal plates.  Their faces had lines.  Lights that glow blue-green.  Their eyes glowed that same blue-green.

Their bodies looked wider than I was used to.  Different.  Not by much, but enough to throw me off.  All of these... monsters seemed a bizarre term to use now, but it seemed apt.  All of these monsters looked young.  Like teenager young.  That reminded me of boot camp.

It also conjured up old memories of watching crowds of young boys transiting to alien worlds to die against the Enemy.  Young, happy faces doomed to die.

"Each of them is part of a genome created here.  These are about half of the members of the first generation of Homo Sapiens Hecate."  Dr. Putnam expounded.  Pride made her voice sound louder.

"They are artificial humans, not robots then?"  I felt strange asking this sort of question.  The Pygmalion Program had been created to abandon all of the big bans against certain technologies.

"A techno-organic species."  Dr. Putnam supplied.  "First of their kind.  Humans with technology coded into their very DNA.  Each able to carry on their particular technological traits on to their daughters, should they need to."

"Daughters?"  Director Putnam inquired.  She sounded like that was the first time she was hearing of that tidbit too.  "They can breed.  Miri?"

Dr. Putnam smiled.  "Each of our girls down there can self-reproduce.  They are... asexual.  Given the right conditions they could induce self-pregnancy and give birth within a year or so.  None have yet, but we were hoping to test for that before the project went live."

"They are large, but what training have they had?"  I asked.  I'd seen creatures that large before.  Enemy soldier units.  Each could be huge.  Size meant anatomical vulnerabilities.  More mass carried risks, and Enemy soldier units could be taken down with them.

It still didn't help us fight them.  That mass still had advantages in the battlefield.  But I needed to know what these... these monsters were capable of.

"Their bodies were designed to handle their weight easily."  Dr. Putnam gestured to a nearby screen.  The image of one of the Hecate monsters was shown.  A almost female looking person, whose body looked too wide to be real.  Bones and muscles were highlighted on the screen.  "Each is born with a organic nanofactory.  It supplies their bones with dense carbon fibers, and adds neo-alloys to parts of their skin and bodies.  But they can still cause themselves trauma outside the prepared chambers in the Cave.

"Each part of the cave is supplied with water so they can use fewer calories in the water.  In the field, they'll be fine.  But during development we didn't want any of them accidentally trapping themselves or causing harm to their bodies in mid-development."

"And you think they can somehow reproduce in the field?"  Director Putnam sounded aghast.

"They can handle their masses now."  Dr. Putnam gestured at them below.  "They spend most of their time these days in Dreamspaces.  We've been working on the development of the younger generations.  By the time they reach nine years, they are fully mature."

"Nine years."  I sighed.  "Nine-year-old giants."

I steeled myself.  Time to start figuring out how to teach these nine-year-old giant cyborgs how to die.