Category Archives: Fiction
Stories I’ve posted here.
Author’s Note: This is another bit of intro fluff text for a Shadowrun: Hong Kong mission I’ll be running soon. Hope you enjoy it!
It is one of those rare, sunny days during the rainy season. The sun and the humidity combine to make the world a steam-bath. The smell of humanity and dead fish is so thick you can feel it hit the back of your throat when you breathe. It is days like this you miss the desert.
You have escaped the oppressive heat and stifling dead air of your apartment in Yau Ma Tei and taken a road trip to Stanley on the south coast of Hong Kong Island. It was a long trip on the MTR, but going underground was a relief for a while, and now you’re here sitting outside at a sea-side café, watching the fishing boats unload and listening the patter of tourists as they wander in and out of charming seaside markets and sunny pubs. You have a beer – a real, honest-to-god beer – that costs as much as the rest of your meals for the day combined, but for a breath of the occasional sea breeze, it’s worth it.
You have to keep reminding yourself, however, to keep your Third Eye closed. Stanley looks nice, but beneath the happy storefronts and pleasantly maintained restaurants lie the echoes of the metahuman race riots of the 2020s that scarred much of the town and left a blighted feeling to the Astral Plane here. It serves as a potent reminder of what Hong Kong really is, underneath – bloody, dark, and rotten. Today, though, you want to live in a fantasy for a while.
That’s when the little girl in the school uniform slides into the seat across from you. Her blouse has the embroidered characters of a local Wuxing-run school; she’s maybe eight years old, with pigtails and saddle shoes. Cute as a button. Her eyes, though, are a blazing shade of orange. They aren’t implants, either, or contacts.
It’s Emmanuel. You don’t need to perceive him astrally to know. “Whatever you do, don’t hurt the girl.”
The girl smiles broadly. “I was thinking I’d get her drunk before I took her back home. Whaddya say you buy me a beer?”
You shrug. “I could just banish you from her. Would you like that?”
Emmanuel makes the girl’s face contort into a vicious scowl the girl herself has probably never used. “No need to be rude. I’ve a job for you, you know.”
“Maybe I’m busy.”
“And taking the train all the way out here to sit on your ass? Please.”
You haven’t seen Emmanuel in a few weeks. That time he possessed the rabbi at your synagogue and that time you did banish him. You were wondering if the creature would return again, and were secretly expecting some kind of significant number of days or years – 1001 hours, 66 days, something like that – before he showed himself. Instead, he just shows to screw up a perfectly good lunch. Typical.
“What’s the job?” The sooner you indulge the spirit, the sooner you figure you can go back to your beer and that sandwich they’re supposed to be making you.
“You hear about the botched hit on Lantau Island?”
You nod. A team of amateurs tried to take out some VIP – Korean guy – and botched it. Wound up as a running gun battle that had the dimwits chasing the VIP and his bodyguards all the way into Kowloon City somewhere. HKPD was all over it, still is. “What about it?”
“Well, I’m the fellow who hired that team in the first place.” Emmanuel straightened his skirt, evidently proud of himself. “Should have known better – should have come to you directly. I was still angry at you, though.” A girlish shrug and a toss of the pigtails, “Oh well – live and learn. Should have remembered my training.”
The ‘training’ Emmanuel is referring to was his time as a bound spirit for a mage in the GDSE–the French Foreign Intelligence Service. It wasn’t so much training as it was eavesdropping, but Emmanuel has never been terribly clear on the difference. When he was freed of service (by accident), he stayed on as a GDSE ‘agent’ until they couldn’t stand his more erratic behaviors anymore. Given that both of you were kicked out of foreign intelligence services, he sees you two as kindred souls. You see him as a kind of cosmic punishment.
“You want me to go after them now?”
“If you take over the original team’s contract, I’ll let you keep the original fee the first team was due plus 20%.”
You frown – spirits are notoriously bad at math. “What do you mean by that – give me a number.”
“36,000 even. All you need to do is kill the guy and bring the contact his head. Accept and I’ll have the Mr. Johnson forward you the guy’s dossier.” The little girl Emmanuel is possessing smiles sweetly and bats her eyes. “Pleeease?”
You sigh. Your instincts say pass on this one – too messy already – but you’re hurting for work. If you ever want to take another trip like this one, you’re going to have to earn some money. “One condition.”
Emmanuel giggles. “Yes?”
“You return the girl home immediately after this conversation and don’t harm her in any way. Clear?”
Emmanuel pouts. “Be sure to get this guy before the cops get to him – that was really explicit in the original job. The cops have him cordoned off somewhere in Kowloon Walled City, but that’s Chysanthemum territory, and…”
“Just go. I’ll get the details from an actual human.”
Emmanuel sighs elaborately. “You’re no fun.”
“This may come as a surprise to you, Emmanuel, but neither are you.”
Dusk born and dawn dead,
Crown of Stars about their head.
Young as dewdrops, old as Stone.
Clad in Whispers, Speak in Silk,
Seek them not, nor all their ilk.
Wand’ring Kyklos, where no man tread,
With the shades and restless dead.
Dancing they on darkest moon
to ancient words and madman’s tune,
Carry silver, holly, purest lye
and Skie revels shall pass you by.
I’ve begun developing a new fantasy world, inspired by a story I wrote called “Dreamflight of the Katatha”, which will be published in Deepwood Publishing’s Ways of Magic Anthology. The place is called Nyxos, and it is inspired by a mixture of Ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Celtic cultures. Unlike Alandar, which is more gritty and realistic (and more ‘modern’), the idea of Nyxos is to be mythic, ancient, and dreamlike. It’s in the very early planning stages, but the above is a verse description of one of the ‘creatures’ roaming the lands beyond the ‘civilizing’ influence of the Oneirarch. Of note, most of what people know in Nyxos is based off verse and song – almost no one can read or write. Anyway, thought I’d share it, and I hope you like it.
Author’s Note: What follows is a bit of introductory text for a Shadowrun campaign I just started running. I’m placing it here because (1) I’m pretty proud of it and (2) I’m pressed for time and can’t post anything else just now. I hope you enjoy it!
Hong Kong has two seasons: dry and wet. During the dry season, it’s really hot and very humid; during the wet, it is somewhat less hot and, incredibly, even more humid. Monsoons batter the coastal city with driving rains, rains that seem to fall in not just one direction but all directions at once. The water is like human sweat, warm and a bit salty, and there is no escaping it, no dividing your own body from it. The rain covers everything in this town, merging it together in one slimy, sticky, foul-smelling slick.
Walking down the Golden Mile in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood, you can tell the locals from the expat from the tourists by how hard they fight the rain. Tourists wear polymer fiber raincoats and brightly colored umbrellas, sweating and bumping along uncomfortably with the crowds. Expats wear simple ponchos of lightweight plastic and don’t bother to button them, which is still a step above the simple sampan hats of the locals, who take the rain as a gift from the spirit world, even if they don’t particularly like it.
As an ork, you’ve got a good half-meter in height on most people on the street. Ordinarily this gives you a good view of your surroundings, even in a crowd, but it’s night on the Golden Mile in the rainy season, and all you can see is Chinese characters in jarring neon beneath the non-stop spam in your AR displays – tourist shops, noodle stands, sex clubs, and even traditional Chinese apothecaries bombard your senses with ads, some even linked up with your hot sim. If you didn’t have it cut out as a safety measure, you’d smell the noodles and taste the tea while feeling the massages, both chaste and pornographic. Ordinarily you’d be running in private mode in this area, allowing you to see, but Chun Fa has his ways of contacting you, and it often involves enduring the spam for a while. So, you wash down the street with the river of humanity, bathed in the rain, the world nothing but a riot of neon color with the roar of the rain all around and a sea of sampan hats beneath.
It’s only about ten minutes of this before you spot the ad. It’s a picture of a pig on a spit being braised over hot coals with the words “Hot Times!” advertised beneath – no animation, no flair, it’s an ad that nobody would notice or even remember in the neverending sea of Golden Mile spam. You’re looking for it, though, and you know what it means. You duck into the next little cafe and sit at an open table in the back. The place is well lit Japanese sushi place with buzzing fluorescent light and decorated with cheap vinyl faux-wood veneers and imitation paper screens. You recognize the name – some chain called Magic Fish that’s been trying to get a foothold in Hong Kong for the past decade, with moderate success. You’re not really here to eat, anyway, but you order some tea to avoid arousing the suspicion of the dull-eyed teenagers behind the counter. They’ll bring it, but they aren’t rushing. Suits you.
Chun Fa shows up a couple minutes later. He’s a heavyset Chinese man with a face like a dumpling – round, flabby, and glistening as though coated in oil. His hair is a tight little copse of curly black positioned on the very top of his head with the sides shaved away, like he’s maintaining some kind of game preserve up there for whatever could survive in his heavy oiled do. He smiles, making his face undulate into a kind of cheap knock-off of the laughing Buddha. “You look sick. Eat something, my treat.”
“I don’t eat this crap.” You mean to be sullen, but it’s hard not to smile at Chun Fa, so you do. “How you been?”
“Better than you.” He grabs his belly with both hands and shakes it so it jiggles. “I eat. Hey, got something for you.”
“About time. You’ve been too busy eating and not busy enough getting me work.”
Chun Fa shrugs. “You have no face, my friend. No guanxi. Hard to get you work when most of your work is somewhere else.” You’re about to protest, but he cuts you off. “Please, I mean no offense. Besides, I have something – no small job, either. Big work – pull it off, and you gain a lot of face, make the right connections for even bigger work later. Okay?”
The rest is small talk. After a sensible period, Chun Fa leaves. You stay and wait for Mr. Johnson, who shows up just about the same time as you get your tea. He is thin where Chun Fa is fat, his face is pointed and narrow, like a knife. He is older than you and probably older than Chun Fa, but beyond that it’s hard to place his age. He’s wearing a western suit, which itself means nothing – this guy screams ‘Triad’, but you have no idea which one.
He slides a memory chip across the table to you beneath a napkin and starts talking. “There is a ship that will be docking in Victoria Harbor in three days, called the Aleutian Sunrise. This ship is not to reach the dock.”
A quick shake of the head and a cruel grin is the answer. “You will sink it. In Victoria Harbor, where everyone will see.”
You do your best not to whistle – a tough job, very dangerous, very complicated. “Pay?”
“Ten thousand for a retainer, fifteen upon completion. Plus, we will pay market rate for any cargo you recover from the ship prior to its destruction.”
Cargo – that meant illicit goods, obviously. This wasn’t a ship full of car parts and women’s underwear. These guys – whoever they are – are pretty pissed off at some smugglers and want to make a public example of them. You and your team are the implement of that example, and you’re getting paid peanuts for the privilege. “Okay, Mr. Johnson – let’s talk turkey…”
As it happens, that quarterfinalist is me. From what I can gather from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest rules (and they do their best in avoiding lucidity there, let me tell you), the internet, by which I mean all of you people, may visit Amazon and download excerpts of the novels (for free, of course) and review them. If I get lots of good reviews, the likelihood of me making the next round increases.
Here is the link. Go there. LIKE it, damn you all. LIE if you must (well, no–don’t do that), but review. REVIEW AS YOU HAVE NEVER REVIEWED BEFORE!
In the meantime, I will keep writing like a good glacier and spending the rest of my time cooing over my brand new baby daughter, born this past Sunday.
And maybe, just maybe I’ll grade a student paper or two.
Vrokthar the Skullfeaster, Scourge of the Northern Wastes, is greatly angered this holiday season. So angered that he has subdued the soft wetlander that commands this magical, glowing word-slate and has taken the time to tap out his complaints, letter by letter, so that the gods of Inter-net may hear them and tremble.
So, hear me, feeble word-gods of this future world! Vrokthar commands tribute from you, for you hath offended him deeply. Listen well:
Bring me the head of the man who created modern packaging, and you and your lands may exist un-pillaged and un-razed.
Surely this is among the most reasonable of requests, as Vrokthar cannot imagine that you would protect such a miserable and aggravating weakling as he who decided to encase all of Vrokthar’s new memory cards in plastic so impenetrable that Mook’ta, the God of Mindless Hatred, would have difficulty opening them. Vrokthar had need to smite these thin, clear plastic boxes with his greatest axe to free them, and this has damaged the treasures within. It has also, Vrokthar is informed, voided his ‘Warranty’, which sounds bad. If the purposeless meddling of this fat, mewling inventor has exposed Vrokthar to evil curses, long shall his screams echo across the tundra.
Vrokthar, however, is as generous as he is mighty. Though he cursed the heavens with many bloody oaths after smashing his memory card, it occurred to him, in calmer moments, that perhaps this impenetrable force-field of plastic was needed to protect valuable objects from raiders. This is a weakling thing – Vrokthar fears no thieves, and keeps his things in sacks, preferably carried by his harem of female slaves – but Vrokthar must remember that you wetlanders are entirely populated by puffy weaklings. Very well then, reed-thin un-men, protect your valuable electronics with your womanish technological arts. This makes sense for you, sons of lambs that you are.
But packages of Macaroni and Cheese? What the flying fuck?!
Why must Vrokthar track down a pair of scissors to open up his cheesy powder-flavoring to enjoy a box of pillaged food products? Such sustenance is less than worthless – there is no market to sell such objects and one must travel about with a great pallet of such sub-foods in order to be traded for a simple slave-wench. Yet, here am I, Vrokthar, Mighty of the Mighty, straining his cable-like muscles to open a simple plastic bag full of noodles. Then, when the foolish bag is sundered by my great power, the fucking noodles fly everywhere! ARRRGHHHH!
Vrokthar demands satisfaction. Bring me the foolish engineer’s head. BRING HIM TO ME! Let me feast on his blood! Let him be dipped in a boiling cauldron of his own fiendish plastic and have his screams be encased forever, so that his seared corpse may be left standing as a monument on the Wastes to all who would annoy the Skullfeaster.
So it shall be!
You ain’t been there ’til you’ve clocked a knife-fight in zero-G, affirm?
Sphere-jockeys will cast you that boarding action is a lot of bullets and grenades, like in the vids, but that’s not to spec. Scan’s well in the vids, affirm – all them explosions and pops and bangs and circuits frying – but they’re not reading the regs on a board top down. Sure, you can pump slugs up and down the insides of a can and make slop outta the poor chumps that tagged their sign to belay that action, but you gotta recall this: You make slop outta the can, too.
Priority A number one in the Big Empty is to dock your aft in a working can – air, water, food, heat, gas, propulsion – the whole she-bang. You fuck that up on your board, you haven’t got a working can, you’ve got tow payload. Yeah, you can work that action – done it plenty – but you’d rather not, affirm? So, unless you’re hupping waveguns or sonics (and that last one only works if they haven’t vacced your asses) and you’ve set a course for some Big Empty piracy, you scan the specs on how you stick a chump with a blade while floating.
Ran this action about six tours back: big can, some kinda cargo transport. Skipper was a shit-top dickhead, gave us the bitch-chat something mean on the comms. The course laid out by our skipper said no fucking up the ship, so’s we EMP-ed her and then boarded. This is no smooth action, affirm? If our stick-jockey wasn’t shit-top fine, we’d've choked out something fierce, but as it was we were running green and feeling mean when we cut the bulkheads. Crew’d gone hull-down, ship had no accel, only back-up lights were coming online. There I am, flying solo, as I drift up the spinal corridor, pinging the length of the ship.
Don’t know how the chump got behind me – my sensor rig’s a piece of scow-trash, most like. Big guy, probably security, comes coasting outta some vent and spears me. My head smacks the bulkhead, rattles my HUD and makes me bite my lip. This has me runnin’ red, affirm, since I’m gonna have blood gooping up my visor in a few minutes. I give the chump a good push and pull my knife – a carbonfiber deal fifteen cm long, more pointy than cutty.
The chump is shit-top pissed as he sails away from me. Dumbass sphere-jockey chumps are used to weight; fig if they’re seventy-five kilo, for some damned reason, they’re supposed to be harder to manhandle in micro. This fig is a sorta-kinda; knocked the wind outta me, sure, but I ain’t no micro-mass and can push as well as can be pushed, affirm?
If there’s one thing you don’t want in a zero-G fight, it’s to be flying around. Keep a hand planted on the bulkhead, affirm? Keep your velo under control, don’t spin, keep your peepers targeted. This chump hits the opposite wall about as hard as I hit mine and then bounces, like a real chump. He’s got a knife out, yeah – a mean-looking utility number, used for sawing and slicing and a little stabby, too. Looks meaner than it is, affirm? Blade ain’t triangular, which means he’s just as like to get his sticker wedged in my suit as not. While he’s sweating that action, I can poke him in five places with mine.
Anywho, chump is in a clockwise spin with a twenty-degree tumble to boot. He’s trying to get himself running green, but I can see from how he’s jerking that he’s about fried his chips. I fig I’ll get one pass at him; I don’t lay in a course that has me grappling for long – his arms are longer than mine and he’s probably studied some way to break my bones that might transfer to zero-G action, affirm? I track his course and launch so’s I land on the spot where he’s about to crash but doesn’t know it. A nice easy glide, my blade ready – smooth action. Spots of blood are filling my visor from my busted lip, but I’ve been sucking down as much of the red stuff as I can to keep my view clear. I hit my X and am ready.
Chump sees me, takes a swing at me with the knife. I can’t really duck, so I gotta block it, and this fucks up my course. We go spinning, me and him, floating out into the center of the corridor, a tangle of knees and elbows and foul language. I orbit him, he orbits me, a pair’a ugly-ass moons doing the cosmic do-si-do. Between the two of us, I know my course, affirm. He flails and I let him, but I clip my harness to his, so we can’t fly apart. Yeah, yeah, I know you scan me for crazy, affirm, but I’ve got him tethered and he can’t get away. More he spins, the more tangled he gets. I pick my moment and I stab–abdomen, affirm? Mostly heating elements, plates a bit less dense to give you mobility, not too thick. My knife slides through like a needle. Give it a twist and pull out. The blood comes blooping out in big red bubbles.
Guy pushes me, I fly back and let the tether out. When I hit bulkhead, I catch myself and watch him twist on my tether like a big catch on them fishing vids. He’s losing a lot of blood; area around him starts to look like a rosy raincloud. When he’s blown his tanks a bit and stops flailing, I reel him in. After that, putting him out is smooth action. Like poppin’ a balloon.
Dear Captain Destructo,
Thank you for ordering your Financial and Operational Underwriting Limited (FOUL) spring catalog. As of this moment, you should note the red LED display at the top center of the masthead on page ix. Failure to complete your perusal of this catalog before the counter reads zero will result in a deadly neurotoxin being released from the binding, killing any living thing within three meters and causing the paper itself to decay rapidly. Please make no attempt to disarm the device, as that will render any orders you submit through the catalog null and void and your money will not be returned. Please understand that this is for the safety of our organization and, by extension, your own interests. Thank you.
Table of Contents
Lounging around the death arena? Plan on catching some rays on the sun-deck of your moonbase? Have a few hours set aside for stroking a Persian cat and sipping champagne?
The Casual Wear section outfits all evil villains with the latest in unitards, collarless suits, chain-mail tunics, and leather bracers. All products are guaranteed never to bloodstain and are completely machine washable.
NOTE: FOUL does not insure its products against misuse by non-FOUL accredited henchmen.
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All of our products are guaranteed to function without fail except in instances of intervention by SHIELD, Time Lords, or secret agents with a double-0 or equivalent rating, in which instance we are forced to cite precedent that shows the laws of physics often cease to apply, anyway. In these instances, we recommend purchasing more FOUL-accredited Goons ™, which are available for a discount with any purchase of two full outfits.
Have a beautiful rebel leader that you’re just dying to seduce? Need an ace in the hole to help determine if Bond has an ace in the hole? Wish your tie strangled people or your hat lopped off extremities? Look no further than our vast array of personal accessories! Everything from bone-crushing jaws to man-rending talon-gloves as well as a spiffy array of customizable watches with and without garotte wires can be had for fair prices and most are available for overnight delivery, provided your base is located on Earth or in near-Earth orbit (minimum two days delivery to the Moon; please inquire for shipping times to further locales).
Please note that our offers of cosmetic surgeries and cybernetic enhancements are NO LONGER offered in this catalog. Too many of our customers, it seems, have taken to kidnapping our surgeons and putting them to work building armies of genetically engineered warriors (I know, right?). We, also, are disappointed in this turn of affairs, but the Brotherhood of Evil Surgeons is a surprisingly convincing union.
Note: There is 1:47 remaining before the nerve gas is released. Please be decisive.
(for further information about our services, please see our introductory material. Thank you, and may your enemies wade knee-deep in the blood of their children!)
I have always been a vivid dreamer. My dreams are almost never mundane; wild stuff happens. I remember once, while I was in high school, I had a dream I was travelling to a foreign city with my father where we were going to investigate these old ruins. There I and our lovely guide wound up fighting robotic tin soldiers through the ruins of a subterranean carnival. This kind of dream is pretty much par for the course for me.
The last few years I realized I hadn’t been remembering my dreams as often. I still had them, but they never stuck in my head the way they used to. I should have probably kept a dream journal, but I was never so organized as that. Anyway, just last week my wife and I got a new bed.
I and my wife are nestled in the belly of some kind of flying vessel that seems formless and asymmetrical, like a storm cloud. It is a moonless night and we are coasting silently down a canyon edged by jagged peaks of black, dead rock. We are both quiet, like submarine crews waiting for their torpedoes to hit. Over us, through the hazy, film-like windows, we watch an even larger stormcloud vessel pass. It is so close to us I can peer through its portholes. Inside is a great room lit by blazing iron braziers. It has a single door – broad, circular, and fashioned from dull, dented steel. I get the sense that it, the ship, is looking for us. We evade it.
Then, surprise! We’ve forgotten something. I peer through the forward porthole to see we are careening towards a wall of midnight stone and iron spears. The gate is closed – pull up! Pull up! We pilot by instinct, just clearing the battlements. There, arrayed beneath us, are a forest of ballistae, loaded and ready. Barbed bolts two yards long sail into the air after us, fired by crews we can scarcely make out. We dive, we roll, we weave as the shots shower around us, piloting our stormcloud ship gracefully to safety. Then I wake up.
This has set my mind rolling. A story is being hashed out of it, even now. I’ve also got a pair of novels to submit, agents to query, a short story to edit and re-submit somewhere, and loads of grading and reading and all the stuff that has to do with being alive, married, and having a child and a dog. You will forgive me, readers, if this is my only post this week. The hard work of building dreams into something hard and dark calls to me. I must answer.
See you next Monday.