Friday, December 27, 2013

Administration: End of 2013 and Annoucements for 2014

This year is about over. Time to take stock of things.

A review of my statistics shows that most readers prefer the stories I wrote since 2010 over anything earlier, that most readers are Americans, and that my current traffic flow is--alas--periodically dominated by bots and other less-than-reputable sources. The weekly update schedule remains the best way for me to go, so that continues into 2014. So does the quarterly story schedule; this too will remain the case in 2014.

However, there will be one big change. Until May of this year, I was in graduate school pursuing my Master's Degree. I've enjoyed a nice break, and the whole finding-a-job thing is a pain in the ass, but nonetheless I've been meaning to get back into something big like writing my thesis paper. However, I did that entirely in Microsoft Word and that experience was enough to put me off of using it for any long-form writing projects. I am fortunate to have some tabletop game designers and published novelists as friends and acquaintances, and when they told me about Scrivener--and showed me a few videos about how to use it--I had to get myself a copy. Thanks to my folks, and some Amazon gift cards, that's now happening.

So, in addition to writing serialized short stories for the Chronicles, I will spend 2014 (in part) writing my third novel. (Yes, third; the first one I wrote for National Novel Writing Month some years ago and it got eaten by a hard drive failure, and the second is on my current hard drive because it is a dire first draft in need of revision before I so much as pass it off to a Beta Reader so I'm not inclined to revisit it, so this would be my third novel.) This novel is in addition to my serialized short stories for this 'blog, so I'm making myself quite busy.

No, I have no previews for you. I'm doing preliminary planning for the novel, so nothing solid there to say for now, and the stories will be a surprise for you folks. The first 2014 series starts next week, so you won't be waiting for long. Thanks for sticking with me so far, and I hope that you find next year's stories as enjoyable as the past ones.

Friday, December 20, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-12

(From an entry labelled April 5th, 2013)

I’m still on the boat. It’s currently tied to a dock at a place somewhere that used to be Canada, and the endless winter weather not only abated, but Spring hit like a lion. Sure, it’s still cold here on the lake but the snow’s gone and with it the winter chill. The days are notably longer and Ken’s told me of survivor communities setting up crops. As for myself, I’ve been thinking of what to do now, and I’ve bugged Ken with questions as part of making sense of what happened.

Ken did me a solid and cleaned out the Lighthouse. If I want to go back, I can and Ken said he’d be okay with me doing that, but he would rather that I start over somewhere else. I’m inclined to take his advice and do that. Fake borders, lines on maps and such, don’t matter anymore so I think I’ll stay up here in Canada for now. This place where I’m docked has a small survivor group here, mostly made up of border folk so it’s mixed American and Canadian people- and, quite frankly, those things don’t matter anymore either. We’re just people now.

While Yuki’s truly dead and gone now—Ken made sure of that—the zombies are not. Out here they’re few and far between, but the thing is that everyone that was alive when the disaster hit—with some exceptions, such as Ken—is cursed (for lack of a better term) to turn and rise once they die. I’m not sure if that’s going to be true for babies conceived, but not yet born, and if it’s true of children we make now then shit is going to be bad for generations yet. However, Ken told me about something that makes this worse: the zombies has a leader, a dominant will that runs the dead as a hive-mind entity. Ken calls it “The Necromancer” and says that he’s fought this thing once already, escaping what used to be the Twin Cities—where this Necromancer rules from—and is now an increasingly alien necropolis.

Ken’s also taken me aside and given me some praise for keeping it together through all of this crazy stuff. He thinks that I’d be an asset to this group of survivors, and says I should stay here for a while at the very least to finish recovering from it. There’s a couple of head-doctors here, so at the least I can talk it out. Keeping this journal is also something he said was a smart thing to do, as it let me shed a lot of stress that would otherwise have crushed my mind and driven me nuts. I haven’t flipped out, drunk myself to death or otherwise killed myself, managed to adapt in very adverse conditions and so on and Ken respects that. At this time, I really needed to hear that I’m not a useless fleshbag marking time until I switch teams.

Time to take on the future.

Friday, December 13, 2013

To Split Rock Light house-11

(From an entry dated March 26th, 2013)

I have to write something. I can’t not write something. I have other way to make sense of what happened. What happened is impossible, yet I saw it and I know damn well that Derren Brown and Chris Angel are just flesh-eating walking corpses now so this was not a trick. It was real, it happened, and I have to write something to make sense of it or I will go mad.

The plan was a very simple plan. Ken would hide. Yuki would find me and do whatever she wanted. I would buy time by playing dumb-but-scared and make her talk. Then Ken would jump out of hiding and kill her. All I had to do was keep talking, and keep her talking, any way I could that didn’t put me into a hostage scenario. Simple plan, easy to make work, right? Ken even said “Don’t worry about the plan. I’ll handle the contingencies.”

Well, I’m glad that Ken didn’t put much effort into the plan because it went South, and I’m now certain Ken expected it to go bad. Sure enough, she showed up, and she showed up looking like she’s a sweet little girl in kindergarten or something about that age. Nonetheless, she showed up cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West as she glided across the water towards this boat, her long hair flowing in the winter winds keeping her aloft. Yeah, I remember it that vividly; you would too if you thought she was keen on killing you, hoping to escape certain death somehow.

No subtlety here; she flew to me, to the boat, and landed on the deck with a snowy flourish. I don’t think that this is how the old Japanese tales depicted her, but Hollywood happens to everything- even after the end of the world- I guess. Sanity is not on good terms with reality as I write this entry. Yuki saw me and moved to seize me, and I screamed like a teen-aged Jamie Lee Curtis just as Ken asked me to, which somehow flipped Yuki’s brain over to her exuberant girlfriend mode. She asked why I freaked out, and I pointed out the obvious to her, which somehow did not register.

You know that scene in the domestic violence made-for-TV movies where the abuser lays on the lovey-dovey guilt trip, the “Baby why you make me so crazy?” routine? Yeah, that. She told me that she loved me, wanted have all the babies—yes, “all the babies”, verbatim; I’d focus on being bred like a bull by an inhuman thing—and never wanted to hurt me. She just wants to be with me, that all this is just making her crazy, and we can work out- you know the routine by now.

All this, by the way, coming out of the mouth of a kindergarten-aged girl. Creepy is an understatement.

Then Ken jumps her, impales a jade shard into her head and smiles. Apparently he did loot the museum.

Friday, December 6, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-10

(From an entry dated March 7th, 2013)

This world is insane.

Ken—that zombie-eating guy—used me to finish what remained of Yuki. It’s as if this whole disaster changed the laws of physics and he got the “crazy genre savvy” superpower, and being turned into a monster-eating white-like-snow mutant is just being Blessed With Suck. He knows that this is a horror movie turned to life, so he’s using the genre rules to his advantage. No wonder he’s hated, feared and—grudgingly—respected. He’s told me, in no uncertain terms, that he doesn’t expect me to get out of this in one piece; he said that my body language and attitude gives off “hapless chump” vibes, and he promised to put me down if it came to that. Cold comfort indeed.

The plan relies on the ties I had to Yuki. Specifically, that I slept with her and produced a child. Snow maidens don’t need to obey the rules of human gestation, so it’s quite likely that Yuki survived by birthing herself—that makes my head hurt—and starting over. Because demons, apparently. I still think he’s fine with letting me die so he has more monsters to eat, but it’s not like I have anywhere to run as I’m still stuck on a boat just off shore of Lake Superior. If I make it out alive, I’m going to run as far as I can from everything and everyone and be a hermit deep in the wilderness for the rest of my life- I think.

I had a survival plan. It should have worked. Why did it have to be supernatural causes?

So, Ken sits me down and gives me the information he says I need if I’m going to stay alive. He tells me that my shotgun is useless, both as a gun and as a club. The knife is useless. The hatchet is just as useless. Yuki’s got powers that make anything but very specific things—which he has I don’t—totally pointless; I might as well hit her with my fluffiest pillow for all the good it would do. So, all I have to do is keep Yuki talking long enough for Ken to get into position and take her down. Then I just need to get the hell out of Dodge and let him do the job.

I figure I got nothing left to lose, so I ask Ken what I’d need to take her down. He tells me that I would need some naturally-occuring jade, the purest of green jade, which means that if you didn’t loot the Minneapolis Museam of Arts then you don’t have any. That’s not good enough, because you’d have to know—in Japanese—the right spells that this jade requires. Double-screwed, right? Well, because mutations Ken’s got hard-counters for all of that stuff and can deal with her like any other predator in this crazy world of zombies and demons and monster-eaters (OH MY!). Then Ken put a bottle in my hand; he gets me.

Friday, November 29, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-09

(From an entry dated March 4th, 2013)

The problem with being the only man on a boat is that you have to sleep some time, and I’m not that good at doing this boat stuff. I didn’t want someone climbing aboard and eating me, so I stayed way offshore and used the anchor to keep the boat in place, after I found the owner’s manual—I did not expect to find it, but there it was so I read it—and carefully read up on how to do it right. I ate, I drank, I slept and woke up not eaten by a grue so I figured that I did something right.

I also woke up to see Ken waiting for me in the galley. This didn’t set right with me, so I walked in warily. He put down a bowl full of corn flakes, and that was enough for me to stick around. He told me of his encounter with Yuki.

She’s dead. Let’s get that out of the way. All of the endless winter stuff will soon abate and the natural cycle will reassert itself, I assume. Ken told me that he surprised Yuki, making her think that he was me just long enough to get the deciding blow: a knife in the throat. That didn’t stop Yuki from a long fight in an attempt to take him with her. Even with a blade stuck in her neck, and her powers over weather nullified, the full physical prowess she displayed—which I already saw glimpses of before I fled—made her out to be truly monstrous. Ken walked away bleeding and injured, but Yuki died.

Ken said nothing about the child, other than Yuki didn’t have it when he made his move, so I don’t live with any concern over the slaughter of a pregnant woman, however inhuman she was. No, what hurt was what he said next. “Yuki Onna? Yuki no Onna, the Snow Maiden? You had a bona-fide Japanese monster in your bed and you couldn’t figure it out?” He didn’t let up. “No wonder she flipped out over the zombies and me running around out there. She planned on setting herself up here, Queen of an Eternal Winter Wonderland, with you as her captive man-candy and eventually extort survivors for relief from the ice and cold- just enough to stay alive and pay her tribute.”

Sucker. He called me a sucker, and he was right. Played on my sympathy, timed things to make her move most effective, quickly turned on me and pulled classic abusive girlfriend maneuvers on me to mess with my head. Sneaking out, quite frankly, was the smartest move I did in this whole affair. But I’m not sure that it’s quite over yet. Ken’s sticking around me, and he’s not the idle type; I have every reason to believe that something yet unfinished is coming for me as a loose end, and Ken is using me as bait to get at it- and both of us know it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-08

(From an entry dated March 31st, 2013)

I might as well not exist. Yuki’s gone all super-villainess on me. She Witch-Queen Yuki, flying out there regularly—despite being obviously pregnant now—and freezing zombie herds solid before shattering them with hail storms. Spring doesn’t exist anymore either; Yuki, I swear, single-handedly fixed the weather to be in a permanent Winter and whether it’s idyllic or horrific depends entirely on her mood. It’s late March, and the snow is as thick now as it was in January. I just hide in the house or in the tower now, listening to the radio, and stay out of Yuki’s way; nothing I can say or do can sway her now and I want to stay alive.

In part the radio chatter, such as it is, is what keeps me going. I hear more and more chatter about the zombie-eating man. Writing this journal is the other thing, documenting just how everything is completely upside down now after the disaster. Either way, this is utterly insane; I’m keeping it together entirely through these tenuous ties to the outside world, such as they are. The plan remains the same, however, and that plan is to bug out as soon as I can; overland routes are not an option now, unfortunately, so I’ve been making a rope long enough to scale the cliff face and strong enough to hold me, my gear and maybe a canoe. It’s gotta work.

(From an entry dated April 3rd, 2013)

I’m out. It took a lot of hiding, facilitated by Yuki being obsessed with keeping the undead away, but I did manage to get out. I did not get out without help, however. As I sneaked out I found him, the zombie-eating man, sneaking in. I got to say that he’s as scary-looking as the reports say: skin white as snow, eyes a sickly yellow in blackened sockets, totally hairless and a lean and athletic build showing him to be an experienced and skilled tracker and killer. He came for Yuki. He found me, and—much to my amazement—he decided to hold off on Yuki and help me escape instead.

He said that his name was Ken, that the whole world is overrun by the undead, and that Yuki is not the first supernatural thing other than a zombie that he’s come across. He climbed up the cliff face from below, having stolen an abandoned boat to get here, and he helped me back down and into the boat. Then we talked a bit as he warmed me up, and I told him everything about Yuki. He told me to go after he began climbing back up to the lighthouse, to leave Yuki to him, and not to go to Duluth or Two Harbors, but instead head for the old Canadian border.

I don’t know why, but I trusted him and I did as he asked. Once out of sight, I kept along the coast and wondered “What now?”

Friday, November 15, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-07

(From an entry dated March 15th)

Yuki’s got to have some weather control powers. This winter weather just won’t quit. The snows have yet to melt, the blizzards around us have been even worse than would expect out of the end-of-season storms, and it’s like all those stories of an endless winter after a nuclear war I heard about as a kid. Her behavior is increasingly manic, switching from being a pixie dream girl to a mad goddess. I’ve not been able to do much at all in terms of scouting out an exit route, nevermind any other preparations, and I think she’s using her powers to confine me to the grounds. I get out during the day to do work around the grounds or listen to the radio, but it’s always as if severe weather goes all around us. I have doubts now that Spring will come here.

Over the radio, someone broke in over the FEMA band. They’re claiming that the world’s overrun by zombies, ones run by a hive mind, ones with clear leadership and all the stuff that Dave told us before Yuki killed him. That’s not the most worrisome part. The guy making this broadcast said he’s alive only because someone killed the zombies about to get to him, someone completely hairless and with skill white like snow, someone that started to eat those dead (again?) zombies while he gathered up his stuff to bug out. Yuki, for the first time, stopped what she did when she heard this; she froze in place, her eyes went wide and she gasped- she clearly showed fear.

Since then I’ve listened for more reports. This man—this snow-white, hairless man that ate zombies—increased in appearances by individuals breaking into the FEMA band to report movements and other news. Yuki’s fear grew with each one. I don’t bother talking to her about these things any more, but just knowing that there’s something out there—close enough to scare her—gives me hope that I can get out from under this thing’s thumb.

(From an entry dated March 30th)

They’ve come. The zombies are here. Yuki let up—I think—enough for me to range well outside the compound, hoping for some late-season game. While out scouting and ranging, I found the first of them—hunters dead of exposure—who’ve wandered our way. I quickly took them out with well-placed shots, but soon more came. Yuki noticed when I came back without meat and out of ammo; I had to tell her what happened, and she flew into a rage- fortunately not at me.

I’ve seen Yuki do her thing now, and she’s terrifying. She flies, using winds as both weapons and locomotion. She’s flash-frozen and shattered groups, then hordes, of them all at once. I stopped with the kill count—as it were—after the first few hundred shambled our way. I don’t go with her anymore; I’m just a liability compared to her way of fighting. Instead, I stay locked in and on the radio; FEMA said they’re coming, but they keep running into freakish winter weather.

Zombie-eater man, I need you now.

Friday, November 8, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-06

(From an entry dated February 24th)

Someone broke in from Two Harbors today. The man called himself “Dave”, and he was not at all calm or collected. Yuki and I listened to him for the whole of the morning. The man rambled on for much of this time about zombies, straight out of Romero moves or that TV show I never watched. (Yuki mentioned the many videogames, but I didn’t play them either.) According to Yuki, Dave described the bog-standard zombie initially until the last hour or so when he started talking about mutant zombies of a sort that mimic the living. They talked, ran, and were superhuman in ability; Yuki speculated that this is due to their lack of a need to pace themselves.

Someone broke in from Two Harbors today. The man called himself “Dave”, and he was not at all calm or collected. Yuki and I listened to him for the whole of the morning. The man rambled on for much of this time about zombies, straight out of Romero moves or that TV show I never watched. (Yuki mentioned the many videogames, but I didn’t play them either.) According to Yuki, Dave described the bog-standard zombie initially until the last hour or so when he started talking about mutant zombies of a sort that mimic the living. They talked, ran, and were superhuman in ability; Yuki speculated that this is due to their lack of a need to pace themselves.

Yuki took him to get him clean and fed. This meant going outside again, and that was when I saw Yuki freeze Dave solid and shatter his frozen form. She came back inside, and she snapped me out of my shock. She said that Dave was himself a zombie, one of those mutants, and a degenerating one at that. She claimed that he would have degenerated into your usual shambling flesh-eater within hours, and then come for us once he turned, so she killed him to protect us- all three of us.

I am no longer certain that I am sane. I witnessed the impossible, the literally impossible, and yet this woman who calls herself Yuki Onna tells me that she did it to protect me and our child. She said this as if freezing people to death was no different than shooting them in the head. Did she freeze that group of college kids in the car? This must be how Odysseus felt while with Circe, because I’m certainly afraid of this superwoman now, and yet the world beyond this lighthouse is probably no better overall- and likely to be much worse.

As for that child, if Yuki is real—and this is real—then her being with child is also real and that child is not human even if I am its—yes, “it”—father. I cannot delude myself into thinking that staying here is an option, not if she’s at all capable of turning that power on me. Now all of the oddities make sense, and once more I can hear the geeks and nerds back on campus laughing at me; I’ve become one big punch line to them, but for me this is becoming the protagonist of a horror story.

I just need to hold out until the season changes. Once the snow melts and the ice fades, I can make a run for it. If I can keep Yuki happy until then, I can escape from this place. As much I don’t like abandoning this lighthouse, I don’t think I have a choice anymore. In the meantime, I need to do what I can to keep others away; I can use that time to scout my way out of here when the time comes for me.

Friday, November 1, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-05

(From an entry dated February 21st.)

I’ve taken to doing my radio contact from the top of the lighthouse during the day, looking out over Lake Superior towards Duluth. Yuki joins me, keeping a vigil for the promised FEMA rescue group. I’m told by the FEMA man on the radio that the disaster somehow the use of a heretofore unknown, but often theorized, bio-weapon and because of its effects FEMA has to shift away from its known disaster plans for the population to an entirely different plan- one that, fortunately, they were prepared to execute. Because of this need to shift plans, their response to holdouts like us is much delayed.

Yuki listens in utter silence when the FEMA man is on the air. She’s still not in favor of us going with them, but this is something else. When he pauses, she whispers into my ear, and she says that this man sounds like he’s affected by something. So, to nip this in the bud, I recorded the radio broadcasts and ran them through the editing suite on my laptop to show Yuki that she’s hearing things. Once I show her that he, at worst, is letting his fatigue interfere with his speaking then I thought that Yuki would back down and then I’d have the chance to convince her to go my way on this.

Well, that was the plan. It turns out that the voice patterns betray the man, albeit in ways that are subtle to ears not accustomed to searching for this difference. Long story short, Yuki’s right to be concerned. I don’t agree that he sounds like a dead man faking at being alive, but Yuki insists that we’re listening to a dead man and I’m just not familiar with the difference. “Not all of us didn’t listen to the old stories,” eh?

The world has suffered a global disaster, there’s a bio-weapon running around, and I’m trapped in a lighthouse with a Japanese girl who’s pregnant with my child and dancing around claiming that she can see spirits and dead people. The geeks in the anime club, if they could see this, would swear that I am now living out some hack comic writer’s fantasies in a multi-genre mashup that would only get on the stands or on the air in Japan. (No one in Hollywood would ever catch this pitch. That’s for sure.) I’m not sure which is worse: the possibility of this being a zombie apocalypse, or the possibility that my “wife” is insane.

At least Winter is on its way out. Soon February will be done, and the transition out of this and into Spring will begin. I think that getting Yuki to focus on this seasonal transition will be good enough to keep her mind in the real world and not off in Crazytown. Whatever’s holding up FEMA will certainly clear up once the snow and ice melt away. I have no reason to believe that rescue will be later than the end of next month.

Friday, October 25, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-04

(From an entry written on February 15th, 2013)

Yuki’s knocked up. It’s been long enough to be as certain as it gets, and that happened to be on Valentine’s Day. I knew that there were some cultural oddities about body functions, but this took the cake; she’s been actively tracking her cycles for years, with notes and annotations. I’m a little squicked out about that.

Been talking with the FEMA operator lately, about once a day or so, and he’s filled me in as best he can about what’s going on. The disaster was world-wide, and apparently an act of terrorism unlike any before it. The ten cities, world-wide, with the largest population centers got nuked off the face of the Earth simultaneously. Then came a global tidal wave of blue-white fire, something no one ever saw before—not even in the most ancient of texts—and ruined much of what remained. Everyone that was topside is believed dead, or will be soon enough.

This squares with what I heard out of Duluth, down to the instant rise of marauding gangs that already resorted to cannibalism, until that guy either fled or got eaten. FEMA’s response has been tied down due to serious logistical issues and unexpected pushback from survivors, but they’re progressing steadily and should be able to get to us by the turn of Spring at the latest. This I welcome, as I wonder if this disaster might affect weather patterns and extend this Winter long past its ordinary duration.

(From an entry written on February 17th)

Yuki’s calling me her husband now, and she’s told me that she thinks that the baby will be a girl. She wanted to know what my mother’s name was, and what it meant in English. I humored her, as it’s kept her focused on the here and now and not on things outside her control. I asked her what her folks were like, and she told me that she was an Onna and thus had a great family that spanned all of Japan. I hadn’t filled her in on the true scope of the disaster, but she’s more or less decided on making a go at family life with me. She’s settled down emotionally, for which I am grateful, but damn if this all did not escalate quickly. I now understand why my uncles were such unrepentant deadbeat dads.

Yuki’s calling me her husband now, and she’s told me that she thinks that the baby will be a girl. She wanted to know what my mother’s name was, and what it meant in English. I humored her, as it’s kept her focused on the here and now and not on things outside her control. I asked her what her folks were like, and she told me that she was an Onna and thus had a great family that spanned all of Japan. I hadn’t filled her in on the true scope of the disaster, but she’s more or less decided on making a go at family life with me. She’s settled down emotionally, for which I am grateful, but damn if this all did not escalate quickly. I now understand why my uncles were such unrepentant deadbeat dads.

I’ve kept Yuki informed on FEMA’s activities, as much as I know of them, but she’s not that excited about it. She’s satisfied with staying here. I get it, but her stern tone has me thinking that she’ll resist removal, and she’s telling me that I ought to stick to my guns about making this a settlement and grow our own community here instead of going back with FEMA. I’m unsure about a lot of stuff about this now that FEMA’s involved, but there is one thing I am sure about: I never said one word about any of this to Yuki, so how did she learn what my plan was- is? She’s messing with my head.

Friday, October 18, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-03

(From an entry dated February 1st)

Yuki’s my girlfriend. She hasn’t said so. I haven’t said so. There’s been no one to say it to, so we don’t need to say a damned word. Actions are enough, and her crawling into bed with me after she got done crying was enough talk for both of us. She and I shared that bed thereafter, and she’s become quite insistent on my affection. I tell myself that it’s just a freak-out reaction to everything going to Hell, something stressful enough for me who’s born and bred here, combined with her being a foreigner that expected to go home come the end of the academic year. Now she’s stuck here for the rest of her life, with no friends or family, so I’m not surprised that something had to give.

That said, I’m still uneasy about it; I’m just a bit concerned that if I don’t she’ll hurt herself, or me, instead. I keep the guns locked away when I’m not using them, and I lock up the axes and other tools I use outside when I’m not using them, but the knives in the kitchen are still good enough to cut someone to death. As I told her, no one is out there coming to our rescue, so I’m on my own here and I don’t need someone of questionable stability near lethal weapons.

She’s become clingy, needy and pushy. None of this is a good sign. Neither is her seeming ability to handle the cold while under-dressed.

(From an entry dated February 7th)

Yuki’s mental state still worries me. She’ll flip from warm and personable to clingy and near-violent at the slightest provocation, so I’m on egg-shells around her all the time. It doesn’t help that she’s convinced that she’s pregnant. While probable, the stress of being a survivor of a collapse of civilization likely has a lot to do with her period being wacky. At least I’ve got Yuki to commit to doing some of the chores around the place that she can take as being “domestic”, including reading up on the way that wiring and plumbing works around here so she can handle some of this stuff.

I stopped trying to keep her from going outside without proper gear when she told me that the weather’s been so very pleasant since she arrived, with storms coming only at night and never being too much for them to deal with, and no negative effects to her at all (other than being a little cool to the touch until I warm her up). She’s fighting me less about this now that she thinks that she’s pregnant, but Yuki’s still happy about being outside at least during daylight hours.

At least one major development happened recently. The other day I checked the radio. The Duluth FM radio warning about the city is gone, and AM is still silent. Instead, there’s someone else claiming to be from FEMA on short wave seeking contact with others within broadcast range. I broke in, and FEMA’s coming here.

Friday, October 11, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-02

(From a mid-January 2013 entry)

Keeping track of time is difficult now. I’m glad to have my watch, but tracking the days is quite difficult now. If I didn’t have the calendar, I’d be totally lost as to when in the season it is. Instead, I’m aware that it’s mid-January and Spring is just over six weeks away. Supplies are enough to make it, but it means eating a lot of soups and stews. Fishing is not an option right now, so hunting is all I have for getting fresh meat and there’s been just one deer close enough for me to take. Dressing that was a bit of a chore, but it’s done and the venison tastes great.

The light works, and I run it regularly just to keep it in working order. The machinery will work, for now, and keeping up maintenance is what I do to keep busy most of the time. The rest of the time I either check on the traps while hunting or I plan on what needs to be done once Spring arrives. There’s been no sign of life on the radio, and there is no Internet access, so I presume that the disaster’s effects are truly catastrophic. At this time, I presume that there is no help coming; anyone that comes here is a survivor, not a rescuer, if they are not a marauder.

If this is so, then I must commit to making the lighthouse my base of operations hereafter. The old world is gone forever.

(From a late January entry)

It’s been somewhat lonely here. I haven’t so much as a dog for company, and I’m so far north that anyone that could get here is likely fleeing a collapsed shelter from nearby—relatively speaking—and now seeks someplace more solid, as I did, in coming here. That changed today.

A co-ed from the Cities arrived, a foreign exchange student from Japan, who came here for a year abroad. Her name is Yuki, and she arrived during a snowstorm, by herself. Once I took her in, I saw that she’d gotten Frostbite and Hypothermia, but she seemed unaffected by either condition. I insisted on treating her, and she (wisely) relented when I explained the gravity of her situation. When she finally warmed up and recovered, I got her some stew and bread, and that got her talking.

Yuki explained that she had some friends with family in Duluth, and she was with them when the disaster struck. She tried fleeing south back to the Cities, but I-35 got cut off early on and then they couldn’t stay in or near Duluth so they fled north. They stayed ahead of things, fleeing Two Harbors just a week ago, but ran out of gas some miles south of here; she was in the best condition, so they told her how to get to the lighthouse.

When Yuki felt up to it, we got into the Land Rover and went after them. We found them dead of exposure and returned immediately. Yuki wept.

Friday, October 4, 2013

To Split Rock Lighthouse-01

(From the journals of Daniel Hosterman)

It’s been two weeks after the disaster hit. The Internet is down. No sense checking the TV then, since it’s down too, and the landline is dead also. No cell service, so no wi-fi either. Satellite radio is off the air. Terrestrial radio had nothing but a recording by one of the DJs in Duluth saying that it’s gone and no one should approach. There’s no government presence. None of the folks or made it. I’m on my own.

I’ve got to move. This bug-out spot wasn’t for anything long-term, so the couple of weeks of supplies that we cached here are about gone. No sense trying to make this spot a long-term either. The networks are gone, so there’s no reason to protect this spot; what I’m leaving behind is now very pricy and fragile paperweights. I’m packing up what’s left, throwing it all in the Land Rover and making for a spot I’m certain is still all in one piece: the Split Rock Lighthouse.

I’m going there because it’s a known landmark and it’s close to here. Some others will go there, and I hope that we can build a long-term survival settlement out of it, using the lighthouse as a citadel. The place uses older tech, so if we can keep it running we’ll be able to handle ourselves well enough for long enough to stabilize the area and build up anew. But first, I need to clear the path to the road.

(next entry)

I’m now at the Lighthouse. Digging out the path took a while. The weather cooperated, as far as winter does that up here, but I had to pace myself to make the most of my supplies. Getting out to the road took longer than I expected, but fortunately the Land Rover didn’t get stuck. My caution seems excessive now, but it likely was why I got out as fast as I did. The roads weren’t plowed because no one was left to do it, so going was slow there too.

No one came out when I arrived. At least one ranger should be here. This bugs me. One of the residences for the keepers wasn’t locked, so I parked the Land Rover and unloaded. I grabbed the shotgun and checked the rest of the site. I found the rangers—both of them—dead, along with a couple of other corpses, outside another residence. All of them had head wounds, and the rangers had bite marks. I think that the rangers shot the others, and then killed themselves. I took the corpses outside and burned them, just in case. The stench was awful.

I secured the site as best I could, but that doesn’t mean much. If I can get the light working, then I’m sure that I can make it through the rest of the winter just fine. I’m already more worried about other survivors than I am about my own chances, and I don’t need weird shit happening.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Administration 2013 Post for Q3

As of this post, the Chronicles' third quarter is done and so is its story: The Treasure of the Iron Range. The fourth and final quarter begins a week from now and will run through the rest of 2013, ending on December 27th--the day after Boxing Day--and I will include an year-end Administration post around that time. The compilation of past serials remains a thing, but it's one thing to ensure that I have all of the files in one place and in usable condition, and another altogether to transform that into a volume of professional-grade prose that's actually worth someone's money. This requires skills and tools that I don't have, and that means bringing others into the project. Bringing others in means paying them, and that's something I don't have at this time- and no, I don't have the stroke to hit up Kickstarter or Indiegogo because there is no way in Hell I'm going that route without an ironclad business plan ready to go. I've seen what happens to those that don't, and I refuse to be That Guy.

The final serial for 2013 will be something that, for me, is experimental. You may not notice it at first, but I'm going to do something different with this story that I haven't done to date and if it works then I'm going to make it a standard practice. I'll spell it out in either the Q4 or the year-end Administration post. I'm going to switch away from zombies and the like for this story, but it's still a story of adventure and action; more details are spoilers, so you'll just have to wait to see what I'm up to.

The other things that I'm now considering is bringing other writers into the Chronicles, posting on days other than Friday, but otherwise serializing their stories on a weekly basis. The reason for this move is because I want to write another novel, and I would like more than just my own content on this blog for you folks to read and enjoy while I do that. I will have more to say at the end of the year.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-12

“You expected otherwise?” Ken said as Gabriel walked into view from nowhere.

Gabriel approached, but Ken felt no fear. He tore off an ear and chewed on it.

“Oh no.” Gabriel said, “But you did surprise me with your earnest attitude. No whining, no moping, no ‘But I’ve got to do this boring old shit that I hate’ crap that I’m so used to sweeping away to get a monkey to do what I want.”

“Just needed a second opinion is all.” Ken said, cracking open the skull and getting at the brain, “Some super-powerful guy shows up out of nowhere, talks like something out of an old movie and has me wanting to screw over his buddy- and I’m supposed to just go with it? You’ll forgive me if I’m a wee bit skeptical.”

Gabriel clapped his hands and smiled. “It’s been a very, very long time since I found myself a monkey that finally got what’s going on.”

Ken finished chewing some brains. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

Gabriel now got close to Ken. “Maybe the old man was right about your kind after all.”

“I figured that there was something you weren’t telling me about this.” Ken said, “That’s why I got that second opinion. Deeds don’t exist in vacuums, especially something that crosses streams like some dude using a European name and talking angels and demons wanting little old me to take on some ancient monster of a First Nations’ mythology. Once I got up to speed about this hunt you wanted me to do, I figured out that context.”

Gabriel took a seat across from Ken. “Go on. This should be amusing.”

Ken swallowed the eyes whole, one after the other. “I found it quite interesting that you’d send me against an ancient entity whose legendary prowess, and hunger, was so similar to my own. That’s when I recalled your words, that you still served loyally despite what you thought of Mankind, and put that together with something else I recalled from many years ago.”

“Which was?”

“The enemy can’t create, only imitate—only repurpose, rectify, remix—and therefore imitations can’t be better than the original.”

Gabriel nodded. “True, true. Go on.”

Ken finished the last of the soft bits, and now broke down the stripped skull into chip-sized bits. “I also recalled that you lot don’t reckon time as we do. ‘Wibbley-wobbley, timey-whimy’ as some of us call it, so I figured that the imitation and the original need not appear in the same place in linear time.”

“Go on. This is good.”

“This was a set-up alright, but not about me and the Necromancer. This is about the big picture, about long after I’m done here. I needed something that he had to complete myself, from your point of view.” Ken said, mixing the bone bits with some water and drinking it down, “And now, that’s done. By consuming Wendigo, I take on the curse and—because I’m the original—I fix it into a strong trait that makes myself into a subrrace that breeds true. I’m now, potentially, the father of a race of Men.”

Gabriel smiled, and took back his sword.

“Correct. Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

“You’re still a dick, Gabby.”

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-11

Ken smelled Wendigo’s foul essence as the cracks in the sarcophagus worsened, and soon became so palpable that he could taste it. He did not hesitate to attack, rushing it and thrusting Gabriel’s sword through one of the cracks. Within came a primal howl of pain, sending Wendigo into a frenzy that fueled his efforts to burst free of his prison. Knowing that his advantage soon would be gone Ken thrust the sword through more cracks, wounding his prey again and again before he had to fall back. As he got clear, the last blows from within shattered the sarcophagus- Wendigo was free.

The old demon, his long-dessicated corpse burning in places, locked eyes with Ken and saw that Ken wielded Gabriel’s sword. Words in a tongue long lost to time flew from Wendigo’s mouth as if they were hurled stones, but still both could not escape the similarity between them: both white as snow, both apex predators, both with inescapable drives and the means to satisfy them. Had Wendigo been fully in his power, as he was in life, only being a hirsute giant would meaningfully differentiate the two.

Ken and Wendigo now circled each other, like rival predators fighting over territory often do when they challenge each other, and both knew that this would not be a fight over status. This was for life itself, to true and eternal death, as neither would allow the other to survive. Despite similarities, Ken and Wendigo noticed fundamental and irreconcilable differences. All this they both knew without a doubt within a moment’s consideration, and that is why both of them pounced to attack.

Wendigo, still quite weak and already wounded, nonetheless struck hard against Ken and bloodied him bare-handed. Ken, once more filled with strength beyond previous expression, cut deep into Wendigo and flame licked at the wound. Wendigo picked up a club and used it against Ken, forcing him to block; Wendigo kept Ken on the back foot, slamming that club at him relentlessly, backing him up until Ken dodged an overhead blow while backed against the ruined sarcophagus and took off that hand.

Wendigo punched Ken and sent him reeling, giving the fiend time enough to pick up his severed hand and reattach it as it nothing happened, and then turning to cave in Ken’s skull with the club. Again Ken got out of the way, and this time Ken took off a leg at the knee. Wendigo fell over face-first, and this time Ken torched the severed limb, burning it to ash. Wendigo got up on his one remaining leg, but already Ken was upon him. First his arms, and then his other leg, got cut away and burned to ash in turn at Ken’s hands.

Wendigo howled, knowing what this meant for him. Desperation and defiance, mixed together into a horrific scream of pathetic tones, nearly deafened Ken as he stalked towards Wendigo’s limbless form. Off came Wendigo’s head, and Ken consumed its bits.

“Well done, monkey.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-10

The next step, as Ken saw it, was to make his way into the mine. Down there were certain to be more of The Necromancer’s undead thralls, including the last of the more intelligent leader thralls. Ken knew that he was expected, and this would not be nearly so easy to execute as his antics on the surface. He expected that he would find a more dangerous opposition down there, one that needed no light or fresh air, and the constricted corridors of the old mine made his mobility moot. This time it was a fight of might, not maneuver.

Ken’s expectations got met on the way down. A far more aggressive response met him early, and Ken in turn demonstrated that he knew how to handle a longsword in confined quarters. Once he saw that the sword’s flames didn’t burn him, or that the blade didn’t cut him, Ken laughed long at the enemies before him. As their severed limbs and torsos caught fire and burnt to ash—some falling down the shaft, reduced to ash before impact—Ken heard the dull roar of more of them awaiting him below, and the laughter grew louder. He felt no fear.

Ken came out of the shaft swinging, cleaving through the undead and rotting flesh and burning them to ash before they could get a withered claw on him. Fury uncommonly expressed energized his form, and he continued to laugh at the absurdity as he hewed through the undead horde as if they were so many bales of hay. When the horde attempted to flank him, he quickly hewed his way out and then resumed the assault. They tried and failed multiple times, so at last the leader compelled their retreat and Ken eagerly pursued them- cutting them down without mercy.

As he reached the very bottom of the mine, where the thralls worked anew at long-dead veins to create underground a ritual space around which they unearthed a massive sarcophagus of silver that shown as if it were reflecting a full moon on a cloudless night. Before him now stood a great and large abomination that once was an ordinary man, now distorted into a caricature formerly seen only in the fiction of the Old World. On its face Ken felt the great presence of The Necromancer pushing down upon him like a giant bearing down on his very soul.

Ken drew the sword, blue-white flame flaring in The Necromancer’s presence, high over his head as he readied to strike. The Necromancer, directly possessing his amalgamated thrall-gestalt, did not waste words and charged Ken. Ken severed an arm, but still got spun about and tumbled off his line. As the severed flame burned to ash, a new one grew in its place. Ken, seeing how this would go, drew deep into his inner strength; with uncanny speed, Ken dodged the monster and severed limb after limb until he sliced the thrall down to no flesh at all.

The sarcophagus cracked.

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-09

Ken figured that The Necromancer would have a presence on the surface waiting for him, and he was right. As he approached the old mine, he saw many patrolling undead marching in close order. These pickets patrolled in concentric circles, starting a mile out, and alternating in direction. The sheer size of the undead presence told Ken that his taunt made its mark, and the more life-like behavior told him that one of those more dangerous minions likely monitored this presence so the big man didn’t need to do it all himself.

Ken sat in a tree, downwind, and watched. Stealth seemed the obvious approach; sneak in, get the leader, the cohesion collapses and then create plenty of chaos to inhibit recovery before moving on to the next phase. However, Ken didn’t want to seek out his target; instead, he wanted the target to come to him. That’s why Ken drew the sword and dropped down on the patrol passing beneath him, reducing it to blue-flamed ash piles within seconds. He ambushed patrol after patrol, destroying each in turn, and soon knowing that there was a gaping hole in the outer defenses that could not be ignored.

As Ken expected, the remaining security patrols flooded down his way, but they did not arrive in any manner that could contain him. He went from one to the next, his laughter getting louder as more of then burned to ash before him, and none of The Necromancer’s undead thralls could so much as get a touch on Ken. He kept on cutting them down and burning them to ash, knowing that soon his target had to appear to salvage the situation. By the time that one could see ash piles all about for a few hundred yards, Ken’s expectation got fulfilled.

The leader, arriving with a bodyguard of a score of corpse-men, was indeed life-like as Ken expected. So was his bodyguard, and all of them armed with crude clubs—likely debris picked up from around the mine’s entrance—that showed them as being a more significant threat. Yet, once they saw Ken and the sword in his hands, they showed fear. That fear meant hesitation, and hesitation gave Ken an opening so Ken attacked.

This was not Ken’s first time fighting the life-like legionnaires of The Necromancer, as he’d been part of a raid upon the Necropolis itself some years before and encountered such minions then, so he had a firm idea of what to expect from them. Before they could regain composure, Ken already struck down a quarter of their number. Even then, and with supernatural will imposing itself upon them to attack, they still could not wholly commit. This sliver of a difference was all that Ken needed to put them all down.

Ken soon had the leader at his mercy. Armless, legless, backed up against a tree- helpless now against a foe stronger than expected. Ken took off the leader’s head and said “You can’t stop me, Necromancer.”

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-08

When the sun rose, and Ken awoke, he saw the “gift” still lay cradled in his arms: a sword, firm in its scabbard, just like out of the stained-glass windows of Old World temples. He got to his feet, and after he stretched himself out of his lingering slumber he took up that scabbard and drew that sword. In a tongue dead millennia before the Old World’s destruction, a tongue that Ken knew from studies done in his life before now, he read the inscription put into the sword’s cross-guard: “Cast in the Name of God, Ye Not Guilty.”

“An executioner’s sword.” Ken said, and it became clear now what Gabriel thought of him: a slayer, sanctioned by powers beyond mortal comprehension, of those deemed beyond redemption. As he examined the sword, he noticed another inscription—in an even more obscure tongue—on the blade itself. Ken eyed that inscription with great care, and then held the blade as far away from himself as he could before speaking that word. The blade erupted in flames, blue-white flames just like those that he saw destroy the Old World, and now Ken comprehended the matter fully: to destroy Wendigo utterly, he be consumed by the uttermost fire of Creation itself.

Ken extinguished the flames by a repeated utterance, and then put away the sword. Ken broke camp, such as it was, and then made his way back to the open pit mine. Unlike last time, Ken ambushed the patrols instead of evading them. He destroyed them faster than the leaders could react, and then he moved inward and cleaved his way through the corpse-laborers mindlessly hacking away with rusted pics. Then, when the leaders finally reacted he cleaved his way through the ad-hoc militia of dead men and made his way to those leaders- or, rather, leader. The other two he previously saw were not there.

Without effort he hacked apart that leader—first arms, then legs—and then beheaded the now-limbless corpse-man. He picked up the severed dead head and stared into its lifeless eyes.

“I’m in your digs, gankin’ your mans, and I’m gonna get your treasure. You think you can stop me? Come at me, bro.”

Then he tossed the head aloft and carved it in half before it hit the ground. If that didn’t get The Necromancer’s attention, then Ken had no idea what would. To be certain, Ken scoured that open site and destroyed every last undead thing that he found. He burned what he destroyed, incinerating them and reducing them to ash. Once satisfied that he utterly destroyed The Necromancer’s presence at this old open-pit mine, he walked away from the scourged site and let his senses guide him to the next site- and the one that he knows will be more dangerous to handle: the old underground mine that formerly was a historical preservation site during the waning days of the Old World.

Ken felt a malevolent presence. This was the place; now’s the time.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-07

“The Creator—God, if you prefer—intended for what you call ‘The Azure Flames’ (how poetic!) to be much less destructive than what it was. However, there are plenty of those who defy him-“

“Like you?”

“Oh no, monkey-boy, not at all.” Gabriel said, “While I don’t know why your kind has his favor, and I still think that you’re not worthy of that favor, I am still loyal and do as I am told.”

“This ought to be good.” Ken said, and he bit into another piece.

“As I said, God has his enemies. Your kind has words for them, and those monkeys that they swayed to their cause. These enemies are of my kind, and so work differently from what your minds can comprehend.”

“Fallen angels and demons,” Ken said, “and their human cultists, right?”

“You’ve been paying attention! Good monkey.” Gabriel said, and patted Ken on the head, “The other entities—the spirits that some of your kind deal with—are lesser than my kind, to put this into a context that monkey-brains can comprehend, so we are talking about the primal powers of Creation.”

Ken didn’t hear, smell or taste any lies from Gabriel, yet.

“The enemy had two groups of cultists, spread across a great many subsets. One was a rather ordinary group of power-obsessed individuals who loved like monkeys often love this world, the sort you so often slaughtered in great numbers in your old life. The other group, the older one, trafficked with—and congressed with—the enemy regularly for the sort of power that monkeys can otherwise only steal by guile or raw will.”

Ken nodded, watching Gabriel pace around him as he often stalked prey.

“The monkeys got out of hand, and when their big attempt to steal the power unleashed at God’s hands when—against my expectations—a critical mass of you monkeys actually proved to be as good as expected and thus proved yourselves ready for the next step that cascaded into ‘The Azure Flames’. What you’re seeing now is the cleaning of that great mess.”

“Interesting.” Ken said, “Let me guess: The Necromancer is meant to clean out the humans not sufficiently up to standards, and then I’m here to clean him out when he’s done?”

Gabriel clapped, slowly. “Very good! You’re one clever monkey, but that’s not quite all of it. Far beyond this place, and this time, there are others who have vital roles to play. Some of them will be villains, as your kind sees things, and some will be heroes. All I can say for you, specifically, is that you’ll never do your job by yourself; it’s too big and will take too long.”

Ken mulled over those words. “I thought so. Now, about Wendigo in particular.”

“Ah, yes.” Gabriel said, “The moment at hand. You reflect him. This is no accident, monkey. Yet he is beyond your might, and outside the plan.”

Gabriel dropped a blanket before Ken.

“Use this. Do your job.”

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-06

Ken culled another zombie from The Necromancer’s uncounted horde of undead thralls, sneaking in under cover of darkness and ambushing a sentry lurching about its patrol of a dig site. After he dragged the lifeless corpse away, and then began consuming it, Ken also mulled over a plan. Ken knew that The Necromancer, whatever else that villain was, was not a fool; it was wise to presume that The Necromancer would be wary of Ken intervening.

Ken chewed on the flesh of his meal. Even now, The Necromancer’s presence—through his horde—felt palpable to him. That presence, if it focused itself upon Wendigo, would be more than he could handle. Somehow, Ken must separate his target from his enemy and keep them apart long enough to put Wendigo down for good. Then there was that ally of his enemy, the one whose very presence radiated power beyond mortal means, and yet did not seem so dissonant as his enemy.

What of this thing that allied itself to The Necromancer? Would he—it—intervene? If it did, what would it do and how would it do that? Why did it look like a young Christopher Walken from some Old World horror film? Ken tossed the now-meatless bone aside, and heard it hit something other than a tree, rock or dirt- and then felt that same eerie presence.

“You’re a curious monkey.”

Ken leapt to his feet. Out from the darkness he saw a man-like figure appear—approach—him.

“Would you prefer a more familiar form?”

The figure changed its shape, appearing as that now-dead actor, and now Ken remembered.

“Gabriel.” Ken said, “That is your name, isn’t it?”

“In your tongue, so that’s good enough.” Gabriel said.

Ken took in a deep breath, drawing in through his nose and exhaling through his mouth, flexing himself without thinking as if he prepared for a fight. He smelled stale incense barely masking a rot off of Gabriel.

“Your kind calls mine ‘angels’.” Gabriel said, “Yes, the monkey I look like mimicked me well, and I must say that inspiring your kind can be quite entertaining. The story, however, I made up.”

“You’re not here to chat over dinner.” Ken said.

“True.” Gabriel said, “I’m here because I caught your little trick the other day. The ‘see-through-another’s-eyes’ trick that you did I found very interesting. I had to know what new monkey came up with this stuff. I’ve been following you now for weeks.”

Ken gave Gabriel a disbelieving look.

“Time doesn’t work the same way for us as it does for you.”

“So,” Ken said as he assessed Gabriel’s body language, “if you’re watching me, then why talk to me now?”

“Because you’re about to do something rash and stupid, and—as much as I’d love to watch you do your monkey-thing and fail spectacularly—I have my orders.”

“Which are?”

“There’s more to what’s going on than you’ve figured out—that you could ever figure out—on your own.”

"Tell me."

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-05

Ken’s mind returned from the past. Still before him stood the water spirit, still shaped as a man, and still holding Ken’s head in its hands.

“I’ve known stories of other giants, from other places, in days like those.” Ken said, “This is one of that race?”

The spirit nodded. “Wendigo slumbers fitfully. Unable to exact its revenge as it wished, only now and again does it remind the world that it exists when a shade possesses a man.”

Nephilim.” Ken said, “The spawn of angels and women, forbidden by God.”

“Yes. That is the word from across the seas for that race.”

“And thus Wendigo is an old and powerful demon.”

Again, the spirit nodded. “We also know that word.”

Ken looked at the spirit before him with a discerning eye and a disdainful scowl.

“I find it interesting that this demon and I share so many salient qualities.” Ken said.

“Predators are more alike than different.” The spirit turned away and faded into the lake.

“I see.” Ken said, “Farewell.”

Ken walked away from the edge of the water and sat against a tree. Ken calmed his body, and then his mind. He slowed his breathing, making it steady in its pace and deep in its action—breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out—and once more banished the noisome distractions of the world. As his mind calmed, Ken reviewed what he knew: The Necromancer sought to unearth a long-dead ancient demon, one originally of a race spawned in a time before the Old World’s reckoning of Man’s past, slain before Civilization reached these shores, and banished shortly thereafter into a prison made of its own grave. It was an insatiable monster, craving manflesh without thought or sentiment, a beast with naught by animal cunning in its life. It was no less a monster in death, and being dead it fell into the reach of The Necromancer.

Ken recalled that he knew of many survivors, holding out as far as they can from what both Ken and his fellow survivors now called The Necropolis—the seat of The Necromancer’s power, where the dead are legion—and that these survivors now formed the core around which new communities now formed, communities that opposed The Necromancer. He recalled thwarting undead hunting squads, seeking survivors to slay and assimilate into the undead horde. Having a powerful demon, once more clad in flesh, dedicated to this task would be a risk that The Necromancer would be willing to take even if its hunger proved to turn against that villain should undead flesh serve well enough as food.

Ken remembered the powerful presence by The Necromancer when he examined the memories of the zombie thrall, and then saw that The Necromancer relied on this ally to be the safeguard against any threat of Wendigo turning against The Necromancer. If Wendigo could be brought to heel using this ally’s power, then it could be effectively used by The Necromancer. Wendigo must be destroyed.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-04

The young hero sat before the fire, deep into a drug-induced trance. The elder danced about both man and fire, beseeching the spirits to aid the young man in overcoming the curse. Soon the wind turned harsh and cold, and with that biting chill came an oppressive presence. The elder splashed water into the young man’s face, breaking the trance.

“It is here.” The elder thrust the young man’s spear into his hands. “Go forth.”

The young man, spear in hand, took to his feat. The fire no longer warmed him, as the flames flickered from the chilling, cutting wind coming from the oppressive presence before them both. His eyes showed, faintly outlined, a great and monstrous giant-sized man-like figure.

“You are a shade!” The young man shook his spear at the foul spirit. “A shadow of a dead monster, unwanted and unneeded amongst the people- be gone!”

The great shade of Wendigo roared at them, blasting the warmth from their flesh with the force of a gust of cold winter wind. Unable to speak, and still mad with hunger, Wendigo’s shade leaped over the fire and bowled the young man over. Both men saw that the shade, for all intents and purposes, was no different than if it were still wreathed in flesh and thus lost their fear of it.

The elder drew a long ember from the fire and jabbed the shade in the flank, searing it and causing it to howl in pain and roll off the young man. The young man followed that example and thrust his spear into the fire, skewering an ember upon the point. When he turned to face the shade, it again stood ready to pounce, but hesitated.

“Now!” the elder said, throwing a ragged leather pouch at the shade, which it rent asunder with its clawed hands. The sands, powders and fetish cords fell upon the shade’s form as if it were flour upon an invisible form, making itself apparent even to the most dim of eyes. It flailed about, screaming as if it were burned by it, and then other unseen forces grappled its limbs and held it in place.

“Strike now!” the elder said, and the young man attacked. His spear pierced the revealed shade, driving the ember into its spectral form. The man then took another ember and did it again. Wendigo’s shade fell to the ground, as if dragged down by the forces holding it fast. The young man impaled one ember after another into it, and soon the shade’s form caught fire. The fire soon consumed it utterly, as each burning ember flared and burnt the shade’s form from within. The young man’s final strike was to its heart, but through its mouth, force-feeding his now-charred spear shaft as well as the ember on its tip down its throat and impaling it to the earth.

As the burning subsided, a rain storm began that washed clean the man, the elder and the ground. The curse lifted.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-03

“I know the name,” Ken said, “but not the significance. Tell me.”

The figure approached and placed its hands on Ken head.


Ken’s vision blurred as his mind flooded with memories of years long past. Thrown far beyond the records of the Old World, the spirit showed Ken the world that once was when men first arrived in this land. In the time after a great flood that washed over the world, nations of men once more arose and with them came the reasons for that flood: the half-men, the giants, the great men of renown that were not truly men- monsters, really, great and small alike.

Wendigo was one of these things. He was a great, furred giant of a half-man with a taste for man-flesh that, in time, could not be sated. First his subjects fed him sacrifices of animals, and then of enemies captured, and in time their own dissidents and criminals. Finally he consumed the live flesh of all that displeased him before he lost his reason and became a ravenous monster wholly and utterly, and those who once worshipped him as a god either fled from him, died trying to kill him or kill themselves instead of being rent asunder by Wendigo.

Hunger unceasing transformed the monster into a cunning, feral beast-man that tracked those that fled and stalked them solely to consume them. Some succumbed, and some escaped, but only to delay the inevitable when they found other tribes. The horror spread throughout the land, and soon a desperate nation felt no option but to throw itself into a fight against it. Heroes arose and assembled, armies massed, and a catastrophic war against Wendigo began. Many men died. Many heroes died. Yet, at the last, they struck down Wendigo and slew him.

But Wendigo was undying. Though his corpse be burnt and his bones scattered, his spirit did not leave. Those that slew him he cursed, and those he cursed became like him, and the nation fell into another panic, with wounded heroes succumbing and transforming into monsters that terrorized their tribes before being struck down in turn and passing the curse to their slayers. Once this became known some of those known to be cursed took their own lives, but this did not end the curse.

At last, a strong young hero known to take up the burden despite the dangers sought out a wise old elder who had once been a hero and now was alone in the wild. He found the old man, living by a lake, alone and with naught but what he needed to feed, clothe and shelter himself. The old man saw the young hero approach, and welcomed him.

“Words carry far on the wind, young man.” The old man offered the young man some fish. “I know why you seek my counsel.”

“Elder,” the young man said, “if you know my purpose, then I will ask you simply: is there any way to break this curse?”

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-02

Ken looked through the eyes of the thrall he’d slain and consumed, sifting through memories of life and undeath, and saw The Necromancer standing before him. He didn’t see his enemy address the thrall directly, but rather the thrall’s superior—some man named “Bell”—and Ken concentrated to mark what was said.

“Bell,” The Necromancer said, “you know the lands and native peoples of North America well?”

On bended knee, the rotting man said “Yes, master. In life I was one of the few experts on the First Nations, and I specialized on the peoples of the Great Plains and the Midwest.”

Ken noticed another living force, easily as powerful as The Necromancer, besides that villain. He appeared to be Christopher Walken, as that actor appeared in the first Prophecy film many years before the fall of the Old World. This figure scanned the assembling group, and then whispered into the ear of The Necromancer, who then nodded.

“Bell, you are to go north to the Iron Range. There are old mines there, iron mines. With this work detail I assign to you, you shall join with two others I’ve already sent ahead. You shall reopen the mines. The iron you shall send back, but that is not your objective.”

The Necromancer waited for Bell, or anyone, to question him but they did not.

“There is something underneath the Iron Range, Bell. Something ancient, beyond the reach of the rebels’ memories or archives, that is rightfully mine- and I want it restored to me. You will find it, and you will recover it in my name, Bell.”

Again, The Necromancer paused. This time, Bell spoke.

“Master, what I am to seek?” Bell said.

“You need not worry, Bell. I will know when you find it, and thereafter I shall instruct you as to how to deal with it. Now go.”

Ken saw his meal follow Bell out of the Great Necropolis, marching without fatigue north to the very open pit now nearby. There he saw Bell talk with two others, whom Ken figured by their actions to be similar expert thralls. Some of the undead host went south and west, and some went north and east, but the bulk of the host stayed here at the Mesabi Range. The rest is a blur of days and nights, hot and cold, digging and shoveling dirt and ore.

“Hmmm,” Ken thought, “that makes this a treasure hunt. I need to know more.”

Knowing that the Necromancer’s thralls won’t be done anytime soon, Ken slipped away from the open pit mine and made for a lake nearby. There, he took forth a small bag from around his neck and shook it over the water as it lapped the shore of the lake.

“Spirits of old, kin to the First People, I ask your aide.” Ken said, “There is a thing that the Great Death desires, and I know only that it is ancient and desired.”

A watery humanoid figured appeared. “Death seeks Wendigo.”

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-01

Ken reached the greatest of the old mines of the Iron Range—the Mesabi Range—ruined by the Coming of the Azure Flames that destroyed the Old World, well north of the Great Necropolis of the Necromancer. Ken looked down at the open pit before him, where once great machines sifted through earth rent asunder by means now lost to those yet living- but not to the dead. An army of the dead, working without rest or reason, now to the work of those now-destroyed machines and their lifeless flesh produces the same results in the same time.

“This is it.” Ken thought, “But why? What need does the Necromancer have with these old mines?”

The stench of rotting flesh came over him with a shift of the wind. Ken grinned. He knew that being downwind of them would make it difficult for the Necromancer to detect him. From the smells, Ken deduced that some of these zombies weren’t recent. Even for the Necromancer, one can arrest the decay of dead flesh only so long.

“So,” Ken thought, “those old trappers weren’t wrong. The dead dig for iron.”

Ken’s eyes, no less keen than his nose, picked out an oddity amongst the undead horde of diggers below. He focused upon a trio of man-like figures, working around a tripod-mounted device of some sort, one out-of-place for a mining operation. Even for his eyes, this was too great a distance to be certain of what he saw, so he produced a pair of binoculars and again looked at the odd things and their apparatus.

“This is no hunt for iron.” Ken thought, now seeing in detail who they are and what they’re doing.

Below, though clearly long-dead and half-rotted, he recognized that these three minions were not overseers of a mine. The map, the tripod and their discussions—which Ken, too distant, could not hear—made Ken think of another intensive pursuit that often involved massive digging and careful map consultation: archaeology.

“They’re looking for something. The iron is a bonus, something to make this dig seem reasonable to onlookers. What they’re looking for is something else, something that no one but those long dead could know.”

Ken felt a shiver.

“Something is down there. The Necromancer is after something precious, something valuable, something older than known history- something from before the last Ice Age. I need to know more.”

Ken took off, circling around the pit until he spied a hapless zombie digger all by his lonesome. He rigged up a rappel line, pounced down upon the corpse-thing, cracked its skull open with a hatchet and severed it from the body with a machete. With severed head in hand, Ken quickly climbed back up and out of the pit. He ran out of sight, and then he devoured the brain of the slain zombie, satisfying his hunger for all things unnatural as he sought useful information.

“There!” Ken thought, “I knew it! You bastard.”

Friday, June 28, 2013

Administration 2013 Post for Q2

The conclusion of The Vault Incident and this post today marks the end of the second quarter of 2013 for the Chronicles, and the transition from Spring to Summer here. As I mentioned in the last Administration post, I had a few things going on. The biggest of them--graduate school--ended about a month ago when I defended my Master's Thesis and completed the Master of Liberal Studies program. I've done a few other, not-writing, things of importance (including revising work-related profiles and beginning to look for work) since then.

I did make the submissions deadline for the Sword & Laser anthology as well as the MISFITS Writing Contest. I haven't heard back from either yet, and with regards to the latter I expect that I did not get into the final group of winners yet again since they are announced at CONvergence (which I will attend next weekend). As for the former, I know that they're just swamped and so it's well within the period of time for a start-up like this to sift through them and accept or reject. I know enough about this process to be thrilled to get any response whatsoever, so I will proceed apace with other projects in the meantime.

As for HitRECord, it's attractive but far more friendly to video and audio than written contribution due to the nature of the medium commonly used (streaming a/v). Still under consideration at this time, but I'm wondering if that outlet would be a worthwhile use of my time.

The other thing I mentioned, about finally compiling these stories and putting in the work needed to make them into something that a critical mass of people would actually spend real money to purchase, is--to be honest--a daunting task that has me a little scared to take on. That's also what keeps me from fleeing from it screaming like a young Jamie Lee Curtis into the night.

So, what's left for 2013? Well, next week I will have a new post-Flames story about Ken. That will run through July, August and September. I'll let you folks know what's left for 2013 when I get to the Q3 Administration post. If you have any requests, post them below.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Vault Incident-12

“Here we go!”

Gale Wolf launched her drone fighters, and as they took wing she pitched over and dived upon the enemy airfield. Coming out of the sun, the enemy forces below couldn’t see their attackers clearly, making it impossible to hit them with ground fire. The drones targeted and destroyed the enemy’s aircraft on the ground, taking out any possibility of losing air supremacy, and Gale Wolf herself outright obliterated the airfield’s command-and-control infrastructure with a combination of missiles and well-aimed cannon fire. Within minutes, all resistance remaining consisted of enemy personnel using small arms and inherent powers- uselessly.

Roger, Alex and Alan 1 dropped from Gale Wolf as it made another pass to support her drones. The three of them glided down to the ground with the aid of backpack-mounted light-wings. As they neared the ground, Roger signaled to Alan 1, and on cue they threw down some hand grenades. That cleared the landing zone, and the three of them hit the ground running for the building wherein their quarry awaited them.

The trio breeched the building from the side, bypassing the enemy detail awaiting them at the door and catching them from behind. One grenade took them out, and a limpet mine used on the ceiling in a second-story room brought their target to them as she fell from the room above. Alex and Alan 1 dealt with the enemy handler and his henchmen, quickly overwhelming them with unexpected violence of action, while Roger bound their target and signaled for pick-up.

The three of them, quarry in hand, made for the rooftop where Gale Wolf met them. Once aboard, Gale Wolf made for home and recalled her drones. The enemy, completely unable to pursue, soon faded into irrelevance as it disappeared in the distance. Roger contacted the Council, and they made use of their executive privilege to recall Gale Wolf directly to the Inner City and the Council Tower. Once there, Roger took the prisoner to a top-security cell and locked her under Engineer’s Seal.

Roger waited until the Council was present before he began interrogation.

“Name.” Roger said, “Your real name.”

She didn’t answer.

“Fine. Have it your way.” Roger said, and he turned to Alex.

“Emile Tory, Imperial Intelligence.” Alex said, “You hold the rank of Major in the Imperial military, but your file is sealed due to your presence in the Imperial Cult- and, officially, due to being female.”

“We are well acquainted with Imperial hypocrisy.” Alan 1 said, as he entered the chamber.

“We know that you deal with the inhuman presence based out of the mid-Atlantic continent.” Roger said, “We also know that you are the one responsible for the entity that breached the Inner City, ostensibly in the Cult’s name.”

Emile looked up at Roger.

“One question, and your answer, determines how this ends: are you for the Cult or the Usurpers?”

Emile smiled and nodded submissively.

“That’s all I need to know. Council members, I recommend rectification.”

They agreed, unanimously. Within a year, Usurper agents got wiped out.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Vault Incident-11

“Engineer,” Gale Wolf said, “I detect Imperial units ahead. They do not seem to have detected me yet.”

Roger looked at the sensors. “Gain altitude. Get us into the sun.”

Gale Wolf climbed high into the sky, attaining that superior position.

“Deploy drones.” Roger said, “I want eyes on that scene.”

Gale Wolf resolved and deployed a dozen drones, each one under its own cloak, and sent them forward. Their sensors reported back to Gale Wolf, and their streams fed directly to the bridge.

“Engineer,” Alex said, “there are too many Imperial units here to be just a cult operation.”

“I concur.” Alan 1 said, “That’s a forward base for staging prior to operations.”

Roger looked at the realtime streams. He saw an airbase, crude-but-functional, with Imperial army personnel and air assets—dropships, gunships, fighters, etc.—moving about. Then he input an application from his personal device into the datastream, and ran that data again; the Imperial assets and personnel appeared translucent and other figures appeared underneath.

“Look again.” Roger said, and he pushed the filtered stream to the other stations.

“That is not good.” Alan 1 said.

“Wait.” Alex said, “I’ve spotted our target.”

Alex locked on to her and pushed that to Roger and Alan 1. The three now watched as she met with an older man, apparently an Imperial Intelligence officer, but really an alien humanoid in disguise.

“Doesn’t she think to check?” Alex said.

“Cult tradecraft is weak in the face of its object of veneration.” Alan 1 said, “So long as cursory scans come up clean, she’d never think to question that her contact is what he claims to be. Remember that they have to avoid Stalkers just like we do.”

“But I don’t see any of the usual Imperial countermeasures.” Alex said.

Roger quickly confirmed that with a scan of the scene.

Gale Wolf, time to target.” Roger said. “10 minutes, Engineer.”

“Battle stations. We’re going in hot. Send report to the Council.”

Klaxons went off, and weapons consoles heretofore powered down lit up.

“What?” Alex said.

“There is no way that a real Imperial base would lack countermeasures, and there is no way that a loyal cultist would fail to notice that fact when it’s before their eyes. This woman is not a cultist- she’s the Usurper agent.”

Alan 1 nodded, agreeing. “Objectives?”

“Tag and bag that agent. Get her handler if you can. Destroy everything else.”

“Acknowledged.” Alex, Alan 1 and Gale Wolf said.

“Combat preparations procedures underway.” Gale Wolf said, “Drone fighters will be ready.”

“Standard engagement procedures, Gale Wolf.” Roger said, “The others and I will deploy when ready.”

Alex looked at Roger, curious.

“Suppress air defenses to establish air supremacy.” Roger said, “Then channel resistance into a line of retreat that we want. We deploy as soon as supremacy is established.”

“By air drop.” Alan 1 said, “They’re expecting something bigger, so they won’t notice us until it’s too late.”

“Hit hard, hit fast, and then we get out.”

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Vault Incident-10

“Security constructs report that the suspect is not present.” Alex said.

“She wasn’t there for some time.” Roger said, “The cult’s leaders and top members are not stupid, and they too are often as perceptive as we are. She likely noticed that the neighbors’ behavior changed, and then saw signs of our presence affecting them, and slipped away before the constructs got in place.”

“You say that-“

“Yes, I have, on the receiving end. Slipped out of the Imperial Capital like that.”

“What now?”

“The constructs will follow procedure. Have their report forward to me immediately.”

“Is this why you sent Alan 1 to the yard? You know that we’re going to have to chase her down?”

“Not quite.” Roger said, “I know where she’s going, and I know that she’s not going to be alone if we don’t seize the initiative now.”

“Engineer,” Alan 1 said, “we are cleared to proceed.”

“Acknowledged.” Roger said, and both he and Alex beamed aboard a waiting airship directly to the bridge, where Alan 1 awaited them.

“Welcome aboard, Engineer.” Alan 1 said, “Course?”

Roger entered some figures into a wrist-mounted device. “Set course for this location, on that bearing, and under cloak as soon as we’re about to go beyond the Outer City.”

“Acknowledged, Engineer.” Alan 1 said.

“I don’t recognize this ship.” Alex said, “It’s not in the database.”

“Not at your level of clearance.” Roger said, “This is my own design, and it’s under Engineer Seal.”

“Aside from the Engineer, only the Council and myself know of it.” Alan 1 said, “Its visual similarity to Republic standard designs, combined with camouflage protocols, ensures secrecy while its deployed and not cloaked.”

“The Seal does the job while in its berth.” Roger said, quickly following.

“Does this ship have a name?” Alex said.

Roger smiled. “I am Gale Wolf,” the ship said, displaying a feminine persona, “and I am pleased to meet you, Alex.”

Roger and Alan 1 looked over at Alex. “Sorry.”

The Gale Wolf slowly weaved through the air traffic of the Outer City, heading east-southeast as it passed through the outer screens marking the City-State’s outer limits, and under cloak it quickly sped up to a cruising speed that made their personal lightjets feel slow.

“I get it now.” Alex said, her eyes wide with delight, “How else does she vary?”

“You’ll find out soon enough.” Roger said.

“Engineer,” Gale Wolf said, “incoming transmission from the Outer City.”

“To me.” Roger said, and he read it on his personal device.

“Well?” Alex said.

Roger frowned. “They weren’t fast enough. We’re going to have company.”

Alex looked to Alan 1, seeking a clue, but Alan 1 smiled at her.

“General Quarters.” Roger said, and Gale Wolf’s pleasant environment instantly shifted to one of a harsher, combat-ready warship. Unnecessary displays vanished, leaving utilitarian bare walls. The bridge condensed into the minimum space necessary for the three of them—two stations and Roger in a command chair—which they assumed.

“Ready, Engineer.”

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Vault Incident-09

Roger, with Alex and Alan 1 behind him, stood before the full Council of Masters at the heart of the Inner City. As holographic images of things and places appeared about them, Roger began his briefing.

“Masters, I have reason to believe that this incident originates from the occupied homeland of the Atlan people.” The hologram depicting the occupied island continent, far east of the Sky-Blue Republic, and others depicted the monstrous god-like being reigning over it as well as the many inhuman minions ruling in its name, administering it as a key hub in a multi-dimensional empire focused upon the slave trade.

“Due to the verified intelligence produced by Operation Buy Back, we are well aware of the occupiers’ capabilities and willingness to use those capabilities. We also know that they are as aware of the Empire as we are, and therefore are likely to see the Empire as a useful tool to employ against any target.”

The Council nodded in agreement. “Continue, Engineer.”

“Due to the Empire’s dogma, we believe that the Imperial cult that is officially denied by the Empire became sufficiently isolated to become vulnerable to infiltration by the occupiers. We are aware that the slavers have the means to fool conventional as well as unconventional detection of their true forms, especially since the Imperial cult lacks the Hounds otherwise commonplace in Imperial forces as well as friendly relations with the Sons of Ken. We hypothesize that the individual handling this operation is actually a minion of the occupiers of the Atlan homeland.”

“To what end?” a Councilmen said.

“To test our defenses, Master.” Roger said, “This signifies one thing for certain: the occupation is not only aware of us, but regards us as a viable threat and is now turning its attention towards destroying us. This operation is the first sign.”

“What of Operation Buy Back?” another said.

“I recommend a thorough audit to eliminate the possibility of corruption.”

“Is this incident concluded?” another said.

“No.” Roger said, and the holograms shifted to The Vault, “Cosmo 3 completed reorigination as I directed. Since completion, several attempts to pierce our barriers occurred at The Vault. Not only did they fail, but trace-back protocols automatically activated to seek out the origination of the attempts.”

Alex stepped forward. Another hologram shifted to a location in the Outer City.

“We traced the attempts to a well-concealed location in the Outer City. Records, verified in the last four hours, indicate that the location is the dwelling place of a woman originally encountered on the frontier where the Empire seeks to expand. She has no record of subversion, and otherwise is known to live quietly and aloof from everyday affairs.”

“Is this woman suspected of being an Imperial cultist?” a Councilman said.

“At the least, a cultist.” Alan 1 said, now stepping forward, “Possibly a minion in disguise. I’ve ordered a review of the woman’s interactions since settling in the Outer City.”

Roger took over. “We request sanction to proceed.”


Friday, May 24, 2013

The Vault Incident-08

Cosmo 3 hovered well above The Vault, projecting a vast cone below that encompassed the whole of The Vault’s mass. It scanned The Vault, and then began systematic deresolution of its mass, layer by layer, bit by bit, while its satellites maintained combat patrols around the exterior maintaining a perimeter. Inside, Roger monitored progress from the bridge alongside Alan 1 and Alex.

“Engineer,” Alex said, “the Council is online.”

A trio of miniaturized heads, wearing cowls, appeared before them.

“Roger,” said one of them, “Alex briefed us on the situation.”

“Cosmo 3 is reorganizing The Vault as per instructions.” Roger said, “It just began the procedure, so anything anomalous has yet to manifest. What does the Council make of my assessment?”

“The Council, after conferring, agrees with the general assessment. We do not concur with the specific accusation towards the Empire, but we do concur that someone uses these entities as a cat’s paw against us.”

Alan 1 kept his attention on Cosmo 3’s progression. The first third of The Vault now derezzed, and the old system monitor nudged Roger. The Engineer shifted his attention accordingly.

“Hold, Council.” Roger said, “Something’s up.”

Out from the deresolving Vault raised a translucent entity, roaring and writhing. Cosmo 3’s satellites engaged it from maximum distance, quickly adapting their weapons systems to match frequencies with it, and once achieving resonant frequency they quickly ripped it apart and destroyed it in a most violent and brutal manner. Cosmo 3 continued its reorgination procedure while its satellites did their job, further deresolving The Vault and exposing the enemy’s hidden implantation of rooting protocols, creating a backdoor into The Vault.

“Suspicion confirmed, Council.” Roger said, “The enemy hacked The Vault and implemented a backdoor. It also had a guardian. Both have been destroyed.”

“This is not good.” The Councilman shook his head. “We still think that the Empire can’t be the party behind this operation, as this command of fundamental principles is known to be beyond Imperial capability.”

“We have no hostilities with any other body capable of executing this operation.” Alex said.

“Not entirely correct.” Alan 1 said, “There is one body, albeit one where our conflict is not openly hostile.”

“Who?” Alex said.

“Hold that question.” Roger said, “Council, I request an emergency closed session.”

The three Councilmen conferred amongst themselves briefly, and then nodded.

“Engineer,” Cosmo 3 said, “reorigination is past the point of effective enemy action. Resistance is now a non-factor.”

“Execute the new paradigm as I directed in the code.” Roger said, “Then report upon completion.” Then Roger turned to the Councilmen, “We three are on our way back. Cosmo 3 can take it from here.”

“Acknowledged. End of line.” The Councilmen’s holograms winked out of existence.

Alex turned to Roger. “Who?”

Roger beckoned Alex to follow. Alan 1 did likewise. As they reached the flight deck, and then took off in their personal lightjets, Alex pulled alongside Roger.

“You asked.” Roger said, “What do you know about Operation Buy-Back?”



Friday, May 17, 2013

The Vault Incident-07

Alex came Robert’s quarters aboard the mobile fortress.

“Constructs need no rest. Users do.” Robert said as she entered his quarters.

“Indulge my curiosity.” Alex said, ignoring him, “Do you think that we’re being played with by a hostile force?”

Robert lay in repose on a lounge. “Indeed.”

Alex began to follow-up, but Robert cut her off. “The hostiles are not dupes as such. They are as they appear, insofar as their aim and objective is as it appears to be.”

A faceless servant construct delivers food and drink to Robert, and then leaves.

“Then they are assisted by the true enemy?”

“You’re learning.” Robert said, sipping his drink, “Good. Why would a hostile actor want to use a third party?”

“To distract our attention, blaming their actions on another likely target while they move against us unopposed until it’s too late- that is why they would use a third party.”

Robert sat up. “Correct. Now, if the Vault is not the true threat then what is it?”

“If this is really an elaborate ruse to test our defenses, then the enemy actor must possess the means to act effectively against us in ways similar to our own.”

Robert smiled. “Go on.”

“Similar entities are akin to frequencies. They can easily fall into discord because they are too similar to easily harmonize, and in discord cause interference that we interpret as conflict.”

Robert’s smiled widened. “Good analysis.”

Just then Alan 1 entered. “I concur.”

“Imperial Intelligence?” Robert said, looking at the elder system monitor, “They have people with the means and the knowledge.”

“Are they not disavowed?” Alex said, curious.

“Yes, they are officially disavowed. However, they started their studies from the same base that we did and never got past the fact that the Old World’s understanding of the arts derives from old cults and religious practices. That atmosphere promotes a fanatical perspective, which the Empire exploits to this day to keep them within the fold despite being officially disavowed.”

“Personal experience?” Alex said.

“Alan 1 and I encountered this cult—and that is what it is—performing operations for the Empire more than a few times over the years. Their methods, by comparison, are primitive and they are far more reliant on rote learning without the fundamental mastery of the concepts. They are, for all of their power, not that much better than the Imperial Army’s grunts.”

“Men that use tools without knowing the how or the why behind their function.” Alan 1 said, “They might as well be guard constructs.”

“Are all of them lacking like that?” Alex said.

“No.” Robert said, standing up, “Their leaders and top operatives are far more dangerous because they do understand what they’re doing, to a significant—if lesser—degree.”

Just them, Cosmo 3 appeared in hologram form.

“Engineer,” Cosmo 3 said, “we are in position.”

“Engineer Robert Prime, authorization Gold Omega Diamond. Execute Reorigination Protocol on Quaratine Facility previously designated.”

“Acknowledged, Engineer. Please wait while performing operations.”

“The game’s afoot.”

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Vault Incident-06

Robert, Alex and Alan 1 arrived at the mobile fortress Purifier. The trio immediately went to the bridge, where the three of them met with the construct in command: Cosmo 3. Not a captain in the way that Outer World ships do, but rather an installed artificial persona and expert system, Cosmo 3—for all intents and purposes—is the ship. The other constructs that appear as crew are actually its many subroutines, all of which are utterly expendable; the same is true for its boats. Its passenger capacity is solely for the purpose of moving external populations, a capacity that it can reconfigure in and out of existence with dizzying speed, and right now that capacity is being moved out in favor of firepower.

In the bridge, Cosmo 3 appeared as a hologram to facilitate cooperation, taking the form of an imposing older man.

“Engineer,” Cosmo 3 said, “sensors report that the cocoon’s integrity is holding, but if the current pattern continues that will fail within one day.”

“Fortunately all useful subsystems in the vault are disabled.” Alan 1 said, “That is likely why the cocoon hasn’t broken yet.”

“Agreed.” Alex said, “So, what do we do?”

“The breech cannot be wholly sealed as it is. Even with the prisoner’s corpus destroyed, some portion of its essence remained. It was enough to activate the hidden circle. The situation is itself now at a near-catastrophic level.” Alan 1 said.

“I am authorizing a total, deep-level reformatting of the vault.” Robert said, “Nothing less will do, and nothing more is possible given what we have on hand. The Council monitors this situation, yes?”

“Correct.” Cosmo 3 said, “I feed the Council data in real time.”

“Is there anything we need to do before we’re close enough to begin the process?” Alex said.

“Standard procedure is to establish and maintain quarantine.” Cosmo 3 said, “Assets are on station doing just that. Nothing gets out, and nothing will suborn my assets.”

“Then we must be prepared for a non-standard response.” Robert said.

“What do you mean?” Alex said.

“To become effective in destroying an enemy, one first studies the target. Executing operations meant to test responses, tease out procedures and others compel the target to expose how he thinks and acts given this or that stimulus is how Engineers tailor our techniques to the flaws of our foes.”

“I concur.” Alan 1 said, after a long pause.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Vault Incident-05

“My scans confirm that the prisoner left nothing corruptible behind.” Alan 1 said, “According to procedure, we should be able to lift the quarantine on the chamber as soon as the deep-level scans come up clear.”

“Good.” Robert said, “But that’s not why you called me into this office.”

“No.” Alan 1 continued to watch the scan progress, “I am curious as to your decision.”

“An entity of great power, but nonetheless subdued and imprisoned here, is one that’s been out of action for a very long time. I don’t believe that it was what it claimed to be.”

Alex entered the room. “Then what was it, Engineer?”

Robert glanced over his shoulder. “I’ll be better able to answer that question when the scans are complete.”

“Until then,” Alan 1 said, “I would like you to elaborate on your decisions previous.”

Robert sighed. “Entities that are powerful, arrogant, but still subdued and imprisoned mean that there is a serious disparity between the self-image and the reality of the entity’s actual capabilities. If the entity is as lacking as the pattern indicates then there is nothing gained by continued captivity, so elimination is the wisest response. If it isn’t, then its captivity is part of a larger plan, and that makes it wise to eliminate it. I could not be wrong either way.”

“Are you certain?” Alex said.

“The scan will prove it.” Robert said, “Just a few cycles more.”

The automated deep scan protocol completed, and a report appeared on a virtual screen before the three of them.

“It seems that your assessment is correct, Engineer.” Alan 1 said.

“I concur.” Alex said.

Robert looked at the the report data, and his eyes narrowed. Alex moved over by Alan 1, and she whispered into the older construct’s ears. “What is it with him?”

“Let him run his process.” Alan 1 said, whispering, “Engineers, like all users, are constructs of the Outer World originally.”

“I’ve been in the Outer City.” Alex said, still whispering.

“Yes.” Robert said, raising his voice, “You have. Both of you have. Therefore you should know enough to respect non-linear cognitive processes, especially from my brotherhood and I.”

Alan 1 looked over to Alex. Alex just shook her head.

Robert ran his hand over the virtual screen, rearranging the data from a stream of numerical data output into a symbolic form and converting the output into a visual mapping output of energy flows in and out of the prisoner cell-block. The data report flowed until it settled into place, forming a pattern that—at a glance—seemed like a clean map of the prison. A closer examination revealed a hint of dim points of superficial corruption, but arrayed in the pattern of a pentacle.

“DAMN!” Robert said, “Alan 1, everyone out- NOW!”

Alan 1 didn’t hesitate. The klaxon sounded, and all constructs immediately evacuated. Then they followed, sealing things off as they fled. When they arrived at the landing platform, Alan 1 handed Robert and Alex each a forearm-length rod. Then they ran, jumped off and as they fell they activated the rods. Personal lightjets resolved around them, and the trio launched high into the sky. As they flew away, the prison sealed itself in a solid cocoon.

“What’s wrong?” Alex said, pulling alongside Robert.

“It planted a summoning circle.” Robert said, “It used itself as the anchor for others to breech the barrier. Killing weakened the link, and the lockdown will buy us time.”

“For what?” Alex said.

“For a total reformat and re-installation.”

“That bad?” Alan 1 said, “Sending word then.”