Fiction – Sausage Fingers

Fiction – Sausage Fingers

In late 2015, The Guardian and Hodder & Stoughton held a horror fiction competition judged by Stephen King. I didn’t win, but here’s my entry, Sausage Fingers.

 


 

 

‘Hey, don’t hang up on me, bitch.’

‘John?’ she says, staring at the cellphone and wondering how he’d managed to get her new number so quickly.

‘Uh…’

‘Detective Cole, is that you?’ She’s not sure now. John Cole doesn’t normally sound so… agitated. It’s one of the things she respects about him. That calm, unflappable manner.

‘I’m sorry, I think I mistyped the number,’ the stranger says. She relaxes. ‘Look, I’m really sorry. I thought I was ringing, well, it doesn’t matter who I was ringing, but, yeah, I just, sort of…’

‘Got a digit wrong?’ she suggests.

He laughs. ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s it. I’m really, really sorry. I hope I didn’t come across as, you know, a bit of a, well…’

‘Jerk?’

‘I was going to say something harsher, but thanks for being charitable. Look, I’m really sorry.’

‘So you’ve said.’ She smiles and wanders back over to the hob to check how the saucepan is doing. Not bad. ‘It was a woman you were arguing with, am I right?’

‘How… yeah, yeah it was. My ex-wife. You won’t believe the stuff she’s been doing with child access, you know?’

‘Oh, that’s awful,’ she says, stirring the broth. ‘You aren’t getting on then?’

‘Ha, no. She’s had her lawyer pull it back to just one afternoon a month. And she’s the one citing unreasonable behaviour. Can you believe that?’

She laughs, not unsympathetically. She has her own issues with the legal system.

‘Uh, while I’m on,’ he adds, ‘sorry about calling you a bitch earlier.’

She’d forgotten about it, actually. ‘No, that’s fine.’

He laughs nervously. ‘Well, this is awkward.’

It is, somewhat. She doesn’t talk to people much. Particularly not men. Not for long anyway. Conversation never seems to last as long as she’d like it to. She blames her shyness. ‘No, it’s not awkward,’ she says, mentally apologising to the memory of her parents for lying. ‘It’s funny,’ she insists. ‘It’s like something out of a sitcom.’

‘Yeah, yeah, I guess it is. I’m not catching you in the middle of anything, am I?’

‘No, nothing major,’ she says. ‘I’m just boiling up some stock.’

‘Oh, so you’re a whizz in the kitchen?’

She blushes. ‘Well, I try.’

‘Good enough to feed the family, right?’

She catches the expression of the man sat at the kitchen table. He seems to be glaring at her. She turns away. ‘I actually live alone,’ she says.

‘Oh, I’m sorry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, I’ve been by myself for nearly a year now.’

‘She got all the kids then?’

‘Both of them, yeah. Jack and Albie.’ He says the names mournfully, as if that’s all he feels he has left of them.

‘Jack and Albie,’ she repeats. ‘Boys, then?’

‘Oh yes, and…’ He pauses and laughs again. ‘Here’s me, rattling off my life story to some complete stranger I dialled with my sausage fingers. Hell, it’s not like I’m even likely to meet you in the flesh, is it? You’re a cellphone. You could be anywhere in the States.’

She grins. ‘Actually, you’re ringing from an Ellington County number, am I right? I’m just over the river in Burton.’

‘No kidding? Burton, Massachussetts?’

‘Yes.’

‘Oh my god! Talk about a coincidence! I’m in Bradford, and I ring a cellphone and I get talking to a gal just down the street.’

‘Bradford’s a nice little town. I’ve visited a few times. I was there last Christmas, in fact.’

‘Yeah? You go on that ice rink they set up in the square?’

‘That’s the place.’

‘Me too. I was with the boys. And her.’ There’s a pause. ‘Oh god, you weren’t there Christmas Eve were you? You know, when they found that guy…’ He coughs and tails off.

‘In the tree? No,’ she says. ‘I was there the night before, on a date.’

‘Ah,’ the man at the other end of the line says. ‘Good date?’

‘To begin with, but it didn’t last.’

‘I’m sorry.’

She giggles. ‘I’ve been chatting with you for, like, ages, and I still don’t know your name.’

‘No. No, you don’t. It’s Calvin.’

‘Kelvin? Like the temperature?’

‘No, Calvin, with a ‘c’.’

‘Ah,’ she says. ‘Like the church.’

‘Hmm? Oh, yes. I get you. Most people say ‘like the pants’.’

She giggles again.

‘What’s your name?’ Calvin asks.

She purses her lips. Should she tell him the truth? She does. ‘Abigail.’ No need to apologise to her parents this time.

‘Abigail,’ he repeats, as if trying it on his tongue. ‘I like it.’

‘Thank you,’ she says. ‘We should…’ She can’t say it.

‘Meet up?’ he guesses.

She can feel her face turning pink and fans herself. She tries to say ‘yes’, but has to settle for a positive-sounding murmur.

‘I’d like that,’ he says. ‘You sound really nice, Abigail.’

‘So do you, Calvin.’ She can’t stop herself smiling. She puts a palm to her cheek and is amazed at how warm it is.

‘When are you free?’ he asks. ‘I know a great restaurant in Burton. Enrique’s, just off Harmon Street, under the colonial museum. Latin place. Fantastic food, but somehow you can always get a table.’

‘Sounds good.’ She looks at the man in her kitchen. He’s still glaring at her. ‘How about tonight?’ she says, defiantly holding his gaze. The man’s expression seems to convey his disgust in her.

‘Tonight? Wow. Uh, yeah. I’ll give them a call, just to be sure, but yes, I can meet you there. Is seven good for you?’

She glances at the kitchen clock, and then at the hob. She could leave those bones simmering while she’s out. ‘That would be marvellous.’

‘Okay, right, well… how will I recognise you?’

‘I’m the petite blonde with the red jacket.’ The man at the table seems to scowl. She covers the phone mouthpiece and hisses at him: ‘I am petite!’

‘Fantastic,’ Calvin says. ‘I mean… Yes, well, I’ll see you this evening.’

‘And I’ll see you.’

‘So, uh, bye then, Abigail.’

‘Bye, Calvin.’

There’s a pause, and then his handset clicks down.

She sits down at the kitchen table and breathes out. Her hands are shaking, she’s that excited. ‘I know it’s soon,’ she says to the man opposite.

He doesn’t say anything. That’s typical of him though. It was the lack of conversation that made it not work out between them.

‘Calvin sounds nice. I think this might be The One.’ She’s still grinning and feels embarrassed at such a display of emotion in front of the man from last night. He stares back at her. ‘Well,’ she adds, ‘there is the whole divorce, I guess. But, you know, it can happen a second time, right? You know, L-O-V-E?’ She scowls at his surliness. ‘I believe in love, even if you don’t.’

After a few minutes of crazed silence, she decides she has to talk to someone about all of this. Someone who will actually listen and engage with her. She goes through to the utility room and removes another pre-paid cellphone from the bag behind the dryer.

She knows the number by heart. No chance of misdialling.

‘Hello, Detective Cole, it’s me again. You won’t believe what just happened.’

Poem – The Privilege of Fools

Poem – The Privilege of Fools

I don’t often write poetry; I just don’t have a poetic mind. This, however, is basically a story with regular rhyme and meter. Like most of my shorter-than-novel-length work, it’s from a prompt. A friend gave me ‘Winter is coming’, expecting a rude joke about Game of Thrones. Instead, this (somewhat foul-mouthed) cautionary tale emerged.

If I wanted to make this poem meaningful, I could say it’s about the importance of a free press in a functioning society.

This poem is about the importance of a free press in a functioning society. Ahem.

—–

“Winter is coming,” so the proud lord spoke,

Upon the frost-bitten heath of his realm.

Around him, pyres and columns of smoke,

A field of rent shields and cleft helms.

 

“Winter is coming,” he announced once more.

Upon his lips clung the taste of blood red;

His throat still ached from his victory roar,

Most of the men he had battled were dead.

 

“Of course winter’s coming, you utter twat,”

Muttered the fool, ever stood at his flank.

“It’s December. I’m certain you know that,”

He said, “So why do you spurt out such wank?”

 

“I’m being portentous,” the king did say,

“Tis a necessary part of my role.”

The jester scoffed in an obnoxious way,

“More like pretentious, you pompous arsehole.”

 

“Hang on,” cried the king, “you speak to the crown,

“Curb thy foul tongue or I’ll have it cut out!”

“My lord,” laughed the fool, “Are my trousers brown?”

“No. You ignore what a jester’s about.”

 

“The gods have decreed that you be the king,

“But that I am also blessed with this gob.

“For when my lord says ridiculous things,

“So will this jester’s lips brand thee a knob.”

 

The boil of the king’s pomposity lanced,

The jester took his leave of the field.

Returned to the camp, the little man danced:

His master’s humility was healed.

 

The king considered the dark clouds above,

It was time to leave another clown dead.

Though the fool had acted only from love,

Much too far: “Winter is coming,” he said.

—–

 

The header image is Knight and Jester, by Charles M. Russell, 1896.

Wargaming -Retirement and the Imperium

Wargaming -Retirement and the Imperium

Yes, it’s another semi-speculative article about the Warhammer 40,000 setting. Skip it if that makes your brain bleed.

A commonly-cited Imperial axiom is: ‘Only in death does duty end.’

This is often taken to mean that Imperial service is like the Mafia: once you’re in, you’re in for life. I feel it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Someone on the 40k For Grown Ups Facebook group asked if anyone retired in the Imperium and I started typing:

Commissar Yarrick retired once. It didn’t stick.

But yes, some parts of the Imperium almost certainly do allow retirement, if you live long enough to enter it.

After all, it’s a waste of valuable materiel to put a lasgun into the hands of a half-blind, arthritic, Dad’s Army soldier, when there are a new generation of Imperial Guardsmen just waiting to replace him. The Munitorum knows better than that. According to the Rogue Trader RPG, when discussing the immense level of redundancy amongst the crew of Imperial Navy ships, people are the biggest resource advantage that the Imperium has over pretty much every xenos species out there. As such, it is possible to discharge soldiers who are no longer combat-effective.

Also, the promise of retirement is a great incentive to do an awful job for awful pay. The Imperium’s had ten millennia to realise that faith in the Emperor might be fine and dandy for the fanatics, but the average Guardsman’s going to need something more tangible to look forward to.

Even when circumstances, casualty rates or poor resource management prevent the rank and file from ever retiring, officers almost certainly have that to look forward to. They’re often Imperial nobility, so they’ve got a place in society to go back to, as well as access to the funds to pay for their own passage there.

The same probably applies to officers in the Navy. The lower naval ranks probably informally retire into less strenuous roles than the labour-intensive duties most common on human voidships, or possibly even actual retirement within the bowels of the ship they call home, after training up their sons and daughters, and maybe later grandchildren, into the position in which they spent their life.

From a civilian angle, retirement almost certainly exists, although what sort of pension scheme awaits the unproductive elderly is more questionable. It should be noted though that workplace health and safety is horrifically poor in the Imperium: one of the Abnett novels makes mention of Administratum scribes having all sorts of face and neck tumours due to spending too long staring at unsafe cogitator screens. Life expectancy in the Imperium probably varies massively, and on some worlds or in some employment sectors, retirement might be nothing more than a dream.

There’s often mention in background (particularly in hive world societies) of semi-tribal work-crews where they’re as much family as they are colleagues. If that’s the case, they’d look after their elderly and infirm (unless the elderly go full-Eskimo Days and wander off into the ash wastes to avoid becoming a burden), and in return the elderly and infirm will look after the young and helpless, thus strengthening their society.

‘Only in death does duty end’ probably shouldn’t be taken too literally. A retired Guardsman can serve by growing crops to feed the next generation of Guardsmen, or by looking after the children of those who work in factories supporting the Imperium’s eternal war effort. A retired Inquisitor can serve by writing his or her memoirs, for the information and education of future Inquisitors and other Imperial servants (for example, Ravenor’s works are renowned by the characters in any stories written by Dan Abnett in the past decade).

That said, there are probably societies that execute those that can no longer serve, because the Imperium sucks as a society.

Finally, no, Space Marines don’t retire. Astartes don’t age at anything like the rate that humans do. Usually, Space Marines die in battle. Those that avoid dying are either still in tip-top working order and thus continue to serve on the front lines, or are so belaboured by old battle wounds that they become instructors for future generations of aspirants.

Board Game Review – Gorechosen

Board Game Review – Gorechosen

In early January, I broke my New Year’s Resolution to refrain from buying any new models for the first six months of 2017. I picked up Games Workshop’s Gorechosen board game on a whim.

Gorechosen is an arena combat game, where each player controls a single Chaos Champion of Khorne (think psychopathic killer with more muscles than self-control) in a last man standing melee.

The box contains everything you need for the game, chiefly four gorgeous plastic Chaos Champion models from GW’s Age of Sigmar wargame range. These things normally retail for a terrifying £18 each, or £72 in total. It says something about GW’s profit margins that they can put four of them, plus numerous high-quality bits of card, in a box and sell the lot for £35. (Also, it says something about me that I bought the game solely for the models.) Each champion gets their own character card containing all the rules unique to that fighter, and a Wrath Track to monitor exactly how angry each of the mad bastards is. In a nice touch, the board is double-sided, with a slightly different arena on each side. One arena has four pillars blocking movement, while the other has a pillar and three lava pits (if a fighter gets pushed into one of the latter hexes, there’s a 50% chance of falling in to instant death). And then there are lots of counters and cards.

This game uses a lot of counters and cards.

The rulebook is a floppy 14 page pamphlet. The first two pages set the scene – in short, the most powerful warriors in a tribe that worships the Blood God, Khorne, climb into a pit and kill each other for their patron’s favour. Pretty straightforward. The next couple of pages give biographies of the four champions included in the box, and the page afterwards describing each champion’s unique attacks from the point of view of the poor sucker on the receiving end. There is a lot of purple prose here, as well as some medically dubious and extremely graphic descriptions of murder. Six pages of rules follow, and then, as a bonus and to add replay value, reference cards for four more champions not included in the box. I’d scan these in and print them out, rather than either cutting up your rules or trying to run them from the book (reference cards get covered in counters during the game).

The rules are simple, with certain key concepts being described in box-out diagrams in the margins. I found them a little unclear when reading the rulebook in isolation. Gorechosen‘s strength is in the interplay between different rules, most of which are presented on action cards or the individual fighters’ reference cards. Because of this, you don’t get a full view of the game simply by reading it; you need to play it to ‘get’ the rules.

The Wrath Track consists of four columns of eight squares, upon which each player places a token bearing their character’s sigil. (These sigils aren’t particularly linked to the champions presented in the box, allowing for use of other characters, but is reflected on their reference card and Initiative cards.) Actions and events in the game will reduce or increase a fighter’s position on the Wrath Track. This matters because how enraged your fighter is will determine how many actions he gets during a turn.

(As a sidenote, all the fighters in the box are male. I’ve been critical in the past about GW’s failure to incorporate a more gender-balanced society in with its modern Age of Sigmar game. It’s not like they’re adhering to a loosely historical setting since the Old World went pop. A female champion or two would have been more than welcome – although Valkia the Bloody did get a reference card in an issue of White Dwarf, along with other tabletop characters.)

At the start of each turn, each player adds a number of cards, based on their fighter’s current Wrath, to the Initiative deck. The order of play is determined by drawing an Initiative card; the fighter whose sigil has been drawn takes an action before the next Initiative card is drawn.

In a turn, fighters plays one of a hand of Action cards, each of which contains a Move, Attack or Special action. Some actions increase or lower your Wrath; cautious movement or particularly tiring or, er, cathartic attacks reduce it, while the frustration of a Desperate Swing or the piety of praising Khorne increases it.

Move is straightforward, with fighters moving between one and three hexes on the board, although many cards will place restrictions on your fighter’s facing at the end of the move. For example, a Disengage move allows you to withdraw two hexes, but you must face the last hex you left. (In other words, you’re backing away from the enemy – incidentally, you lose Wrath for that act of cowardice.)

Attack options mostly dictate the number of dice you roll to attack, along with a special effect, where appropriate. (Backstab, for example, normally grants you two dice, but this increases to four if you’re in your opponent’s rear arc when the card is played.)

Special actions vary from allowing your fighter to activate their unique action, through combat manoeuvres like ducking past an opponent, to various forms of block or parry. The Most of these are activated like any other action, but the latter category are a reaction to being hit, with various forms of effectiveness, either reducing or negating damage entirely.

Getting hit by your opponent’s axe, mace or whatever is rather neat in implementation. Each dice that hits causes a number of points of damage (and the chance of hitting and amount of damage are both affected by certain Critical Injury effects). You begin with eight boxes on your fighter’s reference card, down which you move a counter as you take damage. When you hit the bottom of a track, an Injury marker is placed over the topmost space, preventing it from being used again. Each time an Injury marker is placed, you draw a Critical Injury card and apply that result. (Incidentally, many of those Critical Injuries make you, and possibly your opponent, angrier, increasing Wrath. Very characterful.) Barring the misfortune of a decapitating Head Shot Critical Injury or being punted into a lava pit, death occurs when you finally run out of damage boxes. In effect, this gives each fighter 36 hit points, but the placement of Injury markers creates a vicious death spiral, where you draw a Critical Injury card after seven points of damage, then six, then five, and so on.

At the end of a turn (i.e. when no Initiative cards are left to be drawn), the Initiative deck is rebuilt and a new turn begins.

Last man standing wins, although the rulebook does provide some variants.

 

Playtest

I ran through a solo four-fighter game of Gorechosen to see if the rules actually work. It turns out that each fighter has a distinct fighting style, strengths and weaknesses.

Vexnar the Reaper: Armed with an axe and hammer, he’s got a small kill zone, limited to the three hexes in front of him, and each of his hits cause very little damage, but he hits on dice rolls of 2+ and gets bonus dice if his opponent’s in the hex directly ahead. In other words, he attacks with flurries of hits from each of his dual-wielded weapons.

Redarg Bloodfane (yes, the names are all that Khorney and cliched): Redarg has a large axe that only hits on 4+ and has an even more restricted kill zone than Vexnar, but causes lots of damage. He also has a hooked buckler-type thing strapped to one arm, allowing him to retaliate when hit.

Heldrax Goretouched: He has a massive two-handed axe, not quite as vicious as Redarg’s, but which allows him to attack opponents two hexes in front of him in a nasty overarm strike and has the chance of causing an automatic Injury marker (and associated Critical Injury) on a particularly good roll of the dice.

Kore Hammerskull: Apparently, this guy’s a blacksmith, but since his primary attack is to swing his anvil around his head on a long piece of chain, his actual unique selling point is that he’s better at attacking people two hexes away than he is those adjacent to him. This, for Khornate champions, is what passes for subtlety.

The playtest went pretty swiftly, with several standout moments.

Firstly, poor positioning by Heldrax led to him being mobbed by all three of his opponents and hacked and bludgeoned to death by early in turn two. Fortunately, death isn’t quite the end in Gorechosen; a dead fighter still puts Initiative cards in, but instead of taking an action on their go, they roll a dice on a Fate of the Slain chart on the reverse of their reference card. This has various effects, most of which cause harm to the surviving fighters. Sadly, each fighter has an identical Fate of the Slain chart; personalised charts would have been a great opportunity to emphasise the different styles of the characters.

It was Vexnar that got the killing flurry of blows in on Heldrax. Vexnar was then softened up and distracted by his surviving two opponents, only for Heldrax’s post-death chart resulted in him staggering back to his feet for a single angry attack before collapsing again. Still bearing a grudge, the mortally wounded axeman smacked Vexnar for a Head Shot Critical Injury and decapitated him.

Kore and Redarg duelled for a while, with Kore backing away to optimise the distance of his swinging anvil, while Kore closed in to make the most of his shorter-ranged attack. Then Heldrax again rolled to stand up for another last swing of his axe and killed Redarg.

The winner of the match was Kore Hammerskull, but only because he was the last man standing. Kore was probably more annoyed that Heldrax had stolen two kills from him, despite being the first of the three dead combatants to fall.

Overall, Gorechosen‘s a fun little game that I’ll be taking along to my weekly wargaming sessions for when there’s time after my usual Dragon Rampant game concludes. Quite how much replay value a game as simple as this has is perhaps questionable, but ultimately, once the game’s gathering dust on the shelf, you’ve got four lovely champions to paint and use in other games…

Fiction – Live Reactions

Fiction – Live Reactions

Here’s a quick story that I threw together in an hour or so the other day. It was my entry into an informal Valentine’s Day-themed prompt night held by Lancaster University Writers’ Society. It’s a little first drafty, but here goes:

 

Live Reactions

   I saw it on the news. In the age of smartphones, dashboard cams and 24-hour rolling news channels, it was inevitable. It was a fireball that caught my attention. Something exploded and the flash of orange drew my eyes up from my monitor screen to the TV on the wall of the office.

We all gathered around the screen, horribly aware that this was all happening just a short subway journey across the city. It wasn’t so close though that we could hear anything through the windows. That felt wrong. We were in the same city, but we couldn’t hear the terrible things happening to our neighbours.

   The ticker scrolled across the bottom of the screen: ‘on standby for launch – Pentagon chiefs meeting with president – Eyewitness reports of mass casualties – Sightings of parahuman intervention unconfirmed – NYC Mayor says’ but our eyes were just fixed on the jerky, blurred, repeatedly looped images. That explosion kept happening. Third time around, I realised that it was a bus.

‘Which way is it going?’ Mitchell from Sales kept asking. ‘Is it coming this way?’ Again and again, he said it, just in case someone, somehow had any new information other than what he was watching with the rest of us.

‘It’s superscience,’ Jeff explained with false authority, when Mina muttered something about the end of the world. ‘It’s some embittered, unhinged professor who’s just lashing out because the government cancelled his defence contract or something.’

‘Where are the Protectors?’ asked Vicky as we watched a terrified cop waving people into the safety of a subway station. The gun in his hand seemed pointless.

‘It says they’re intervening,’ the new girl said.

‘No,’ Jeff said. ‘It said that’s unconfirmed. That means it’s just rumour. Anyway, the president has to officially request the Protectors from the UN. More likely it’d be the Patriots, but I think they’re still cleaning up in Atlanta.’

‘Could be someone else,’ the new girl muttered, and I gave her a supportive nod. I need to learn her name at some point.

‘There’ll be someone out there somewhere,’ I said. ‘This city’s full of independents. There’ll be at least one of them involved.’

Jeff just snorted.

I couldn’t let on to my colleagues that I could feel ice creeping towards my heart. I had to pretend that I was afraid for the same reason they were.

Brian, my team leader, probably understood my true feelings the best. He broke down in tears when the newscaster said something about ‘extensive damage to the Alpha Insurance building’, where his wife works. Vicky and Joanne led him out to the corridor, away from the TV.

A spokeswoman for St Stan’s Hospital was up next, talking over a crackly phone line to the studio about how their ER was overwhelmed, and warning citizens not to come into hospital unless it was for something that absolutely could not wait. She was talking about crush injuries, broken bones, traumatic amputations. When asked about fatalities, she paused. She said she couldn’t confirm numbers, but at St Stan’s alone, it was into double digits.

The newscaster licked his dry lips before continuing, commentating on new camera-phone footage of fighter jets – the air force, he suggested unnecessarily – sweeping across the Hudson River, firing rockets at something unseen off-camera before sweeping away.  The unnamed citizen-journalist refocused his camera just in time to see one of the planes torn apart by something black and tentacular.

I whimpered. I couldn’t help it. The new girl put an arm around my shoulder. She was trembling.

‘Did he eject? Did he eject?’ Mitchell was almost weeping.

He hadn’t ejected. The cockpit had been crushed and the plane sheared in two. That had been obvious on screen.

‘They eject. They’ve got ejector seats,’ Mitchell said, his voice hollow. He rubbed his eyes with thumb and forefinger.

‘There!’ exclaimed the newscaster. ‘Is that…? It is!’

A few of us cheered. In the background of another new sequence, apparently from a documentary-maker who’d been shadowing the New York Fire Department, was the distinct shape of a human silhouette in the sky.

I burst into tears.

‘What are they waiting for?’ someone asked.

‘Who is it?’ someone else said.

‘It’s just a bird,’ Jeff said. ‘Or a plane.’

‘No, it’s not,’ I said, struggling to get the words out.

‘Oh my god,’ the new girl said. ‘Oh my god! It’s Lightning!’

There was a distinctive flash of light and a sonic boom as the flying figure suddenly accelerated from stationary, zipping as a blur into the smoking city.

‘It’s alright,’ the new girl whispered to me, hugging me closer. ‘It’s all going to be alright now. Lightning’s here.’

I forced a smile, tried to look relieved. She was laughing through her own tears.

‘I’m just being informed we’ve got some live… uh, some live images from the ground, from our reporter Amy Callaghan, if we can run those images? We can? Okay. Obviously, this footage may be… may be very upsetting to some viewers. Amy, tell us what you can see…’

There was Lightning, swooping back and forth across Times Square, using electromagnetic repulsion to hurl abandoned vehicles at the rampaging creature. Terrified, dust-plastered civilians ran shrieking from the creature’s flailing tentacles, protected by a wall of EM force projected by the parahuman.

People were cheering around the office. I was silent. I couldn’t even sob any more. I just stood, staring helplessly at the screen as Lightning shot towards the creature.

‘I think we can get closer,’ Amy Callaghan was saying, ‘and get a better view, a close-up, of the climax of this incredible battle.’

She and her cameraman moved quickly, the image bouncing as they dashed from the cover of a burned out taxi cab to an overturned hot dog stand. We all just watched, aghast. Ramon left the room. Shortly afterwards, so did Yvette. I wished I had as well, but I couldn’t.

‘There! There they are. Lightning is going in for the kill on the beast that’s attacked Manhattan today. Zoom in! Zoom in!’

There was a fault with the broadcast. The digital image became pixelated, jerky.

It froze on a shot of Lightning, surrounded by shredded tentacles. There was no mistaking though that the bright white energy crackling around Lightning’s head was enough to destroy anything.

You knew it as well. You loomed over the parahuman. Above your fanged maw, I recognised your all-too-human eyes. You were afraid, I think. I don’t believe you wanted to do what you were doing. It was your curse.

The broadcast cut, obliterated by the electromagnetic blast, just as you were.

I’ll always love you.

 


And the prompt? It was E.L. Hubbard’s quote: “A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”

Featured image by Vanessa Mannee.

Wargaming – Why do all renegade Space Marines turn to Chaos?

Wargaming – Why do all renegade Space Marines turn to Chaos?

Here’s another bit of nerdiness for you. Skip it if the psychology of little plastic posthumans isn’t your thing. (Originally posted on my semi-defunct Tumblr some time ago.)

One of the assumptions that occurs in the Warhammer 40,000 Imperium is that everyone who turns away from the Emperor’s Light automatically falls to Chaos. This is at least partially because the wargame tends to divide human factions down the middle: Imperial and Chaos. If you want little human soldiers on your tabletop, they’re waving banners with the double-headed eagle or the eight-pointed star.

As ever, the setting’s deeper than that. There are many places that an Imperial citizen can go if they don’t want to be a part of Imperial society: Canonically, you’ve got mentions of your xenos-loving Tau sympathisers, you’ve got the various rebel enclaves that exist (even if just until the Imperium gets around to stamping on them) and you’ve got human empires that exist outside the Imperium’s borders, either due to a collapse of Imperial rule in a given area, or because the Imperium’s expansion since the Age of Strife has never actually reached them.

And then there’s Imperial society itself. You don’t have to be a loyal Imperial citizen to live in the Imperium. You don’t have to believe in the divinity of the God-Emperor of Mankind. You’ve just got to look like you do. So long as no one twigs that you don’t give a damn about a dead guy on Terra, and you go to chapel just enough that the preacher doesn’t get suspicious, you can exist as a quiet atheist for your entire life. (c.f. Christianity, heresy, and the casual nature of belief in many areas of medieval Europe, which is, of course, the analogue upon which the Imperium is built.)

Ever wondered where the mercenaries hired by the bad guys to kill an Inquisitor or an Abitrator or other representative of the Emperor come from in a theocratic setting? These are examples of Imperial citizens who don’t actually believe in the God-Emperor, or at least don’t associate it with the Imperial regime in the way that any ‘true’ Imperial citizen would do.

In short, humans are capable of not worshiping the Emperor without automatically embracing the Dark Gods.

Space Marines, though, they’re a different kettle of fish entirely. I think it’s supported in canon, although I can’t remember where it was written, if it is, but they have an inherent vulnerability to Chaos.

But the Adeptus Astartes are the paragons of humanity, the strongest in body and mind, right?

Not really.

Religious conversion tends to come along when everything in your life is falling apart. It’s a way of coping with trauma without going completely insane. This applies to Space Marines as well as it does you or I.

Humans can lose everything, but pick up the pieces and carry on. As already described, they can lose their faith in the Emperor quietly, without it ever affecting the rest of their lifestyle or sense of identity, and without feeling the need to turn to the Dark Gods. Astartes, though, are as inhuman in their minds as they are in their bodies.

They’re programmed from childhood through indoctrination and hypnosis to be obedient, to think of their Chapter, their primarch, their commanders and the Emperor above all other concerns. These are the anchors that hold Space Marines in loyalty to the Imperium.

When a Marine leaves his Chapter, for whatever reason, three of those four anchors are cut free. Only his love for the Emperor is left.

So long as that remains intact, I’d suggest that the renegade Space Marine will stay loyal to Imperial ideals, even if not to the Imperium itself. He will set himself up as a guardian for a remote colony, or set off on a combat-pilgrimage through a wartorn area, or hook up with the Inquisition or another Imperial body, or set himself a specific quest to fulfill his need to serve the Emperor without the usual chain of command to command him and support his emotional needs. (Yes, Marines have emotional needs, just like normal humans. They just tend to be a bit more combat-oriented than the average homo sapiens.) Potentially, entire Space Marine formations could go down this route without ever succumbing to the lure of Chaos. This is supported in canon in at least a couple of Black Library novels.

Most Space Marines don’t worship the Emperor as a god, possibly because their doctrines date back to the time of the atheistic Legions. If a Marine becomes disillusioned with the Imperium, he can blame the petty mortals that have corrupted it from the Emperor’s vision of the Great Crusade, and his loyalty to the Emperor remains intact and all is well and good.

Alternatively, he can blame the Emperor himself and decide that the Man In The Shiny Chair isn’t worthy of his loyalty. Similarly, if the Space Marine is from one of those Chapters that worships the Emperor with a religious devotion, there’s always the chance that, in the face of losing everything else in his life, he will also lose his faith.

Either way, that’s the fourth anchor gone. The Space Marine’s psychology drifts out of its safe harbour and into a storm.

However it happens, with that fourth anchor cut loose, the renegade Space Marine has nothing holding him to his old life within his Chapter. All of a sudden, there’s an emptiness within him that has never been there before. This is an emotional and psychological crisis that a Space Marine should never have to experience, and has no training or experience in how to cope; this is way beyond the scope of any doubts he may have expressed to his chaplains before his exile.

He needs a new anchor, something to keep his sanity in check. Something powerful, something that commands loyalty. Chaos is the most obvious one of those. He’s been trained from recruitment to hate Chaos, to revile the traitor and the heretic as being unworthy of life, and to fear the power that Chaos has over the weak-minded. However, the context of all this hatred is the binary opposition between the goodness of the Emperor and the evil of Chaos. The Emperor’s purity has already been violated in the renegade’s eyes, so how, in that case, can the renegade Marine continue to hate Chaos to quite the same degree as he once did?

It probably won’t happen overnight, it may take a hundred years or more, but that emptiness in the Space Marine’s soul needs filling somehow, and the Dark Gods are always out there, ready to accept his allegiance. His hatred fades to the point where Chaos simply doesn’t seem like the worst option.

And, the joy of this (from the point of view of a Chaos follower) is that it’s not the inherent weakness of humanity that turns Space Marines to Chaos. It’s the Imperium. The Imperium put this need for service and obedience into the Space Marine, and it’s that factor that leads to renegades falling to the dark side.

As is so often the case in Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium is a tragedy. It is its own obsessive need to keep the Astartes under control that spawns new enemies.

Twilight – a live-ish-sort-of blogging (part 2/2)

Twilight – a live-ish-sort-of blogging (part 2/2)

One of my earliest posts on this blog was a repost of a 2014 live-ish-blogging I put up on Facebook as I attempted to read Twilight at work. This was three months ago. Facebook Memories has just reminded me that, three months after the original live-ish-blogging, I finished it off.

Suffer.

———-

The other night, I finally remembered to recharge my Kindle. I had thought I’d finished Twilight and just forgotten the ending, but it turned out that that was just wishful thinking.

I recall now that I got so fed up with its stupidity that, at 60% complete, I went and read the Moomins instead.

However, I was feeling masochistic, so I thought I’d be a sadist as well and share the rest of the awful with you. Does not contain spoilers, because it’s not possible to spoil a turd:

(Sadly, because of Kindle’s inability to understand the centuries-old concept of pages, and it appears I forgot to divide it up by chapters, this might be even more stream-of-consciousness than it actually was.)

  • “It is partially your fault.” [Edward’s] voice was wry. “If you didn’t smell so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered.” If you get eaten by a vampire, it’s your own fault for being delicious. Ladies, remember this lesson in life.
  • Bella hurls abuse at her dad, Charlie, deliberately picking the same phrasing that her mother used when she walked out on him, and when she suggests that it may have been a little below the belt, everyone says, “No, it’s fine, he’ll forgive you.” How about slapping her around the head and saying, “You awful, terrible, horrible person, Bella Swann. How could you be so cruel, so callous and such a Mary Sue?”
  • They’re racing down a freeway at double the speed limit and the car’s almost silent? Vampires are so awesome, even their cars are awesome. However, and yes, I checked this via Google, the freeway speed limit in Washington State is 70mph. Vampiremobiles are so awesome that they can travel at 140mph in near silence.
  • None of these vampires have personalities. They don’t even have one-note hooks, and even Dan Brown manages that. (Author’s Note: When I wrote this, I hadn’t attempted to read The Lost Symbol, so I was blind to the true depths of awfulness of which Brown was capable.)
  • James the evil vampire speaks to Bella on the phone, telling her what to say so that the McAwesome family assume it’s her mum on the other end of the line. Considering that Bella has spent the last two chapters going into pointless hysterics every time she’s become worried someone she loves it at risk, it’s somewhat inconsistent that now she’s capable of maintaining a perfect poker face. Also, not one of these vampires has good enough super-hearing to listen in on the conversation enough to realise that it’s a bloke talking to her, not a woman. And even if they’re not listening to the voice on the other end of the line, they’re ignoring the fact that Bella’s conversation consists of repeatedly saying ‘yes’, over and over again, in response to James’s evil questions. We’ve already established that they can hear her speaking in a different room; she left to avoid her body language giving her away. “Tell them that you talked your mother out of coming home for the time being.” What, by saying, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, like a monotonic Meg Ryan?
  • “I have your mother, come alone.” Teenage girl who, it has been established, is rubbish at everything physical, is going to essentially let herself be eaten by a three hundred year old vampire with absolutely no guarantee that her mother is going to be released. Why would she be? After all, blood-crazy vampire. It’s a shame she didn’t have any alternative plans like, you know, telling the entire family of vampires that are already trying to hunt down and kill said villain. Stupid Bella.
  • Oh, right, Bella failed to notice that her mother’s voice was actually on a video tape. Because any five-year-old home video ever has sounded similar to how the same person sounds in real life.
  • The villain is giving the most boring, least revelatory villainous gloat ever. “Ah, you see how I did it? I did all these obvious things that a reader with an IQ higher than 85 has already worked out. Oh no, wait, there is a revelation: “You’re simply a human, who unfortunately was in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” Finally, a character for whom Bella isn’t the centre of creation! What’s his name again? *checks further up the page* Oh yeah, James-something. I can’t remember if he even has a surname. All I know about him is that he’s EVUL. Bad vampire, naughty vampire. Why can’t you be like Edward?
  • “His pleasant smile slowly widened, grew, till it wasn’t a smile at all but a contortion of teeth, exposed and glistening.” How do teeth contort? Lips can, but teeth are immobile aside from the hinge at the back. The jaw opens and shuts. That’s the full range of movement for teeth. I’m going to ignore the use of ‘till’ rather than ‘until’, as it’s possibly US dialect and is a pretty common usage in English anyway (although even there, it’s only got one ‘l’, and ideally an apostrophe at the start).
  • ‘His toe nudged my broken leg and I heard a piercing scream. With a shock, I realised it was mine.’ That was the shock: that it was you screaming after he nudges your broken leg?
  • Barely two chapters after we’ve had it explained to us that being bitten by a vampire is exceptionally painful due to their venom, Bella gets bitten by a vampire and Edward has to suck the venom out. Convenient foreshadowing. (For us. Not so much for Bella.)
  • Edward on his venom-sucking: “It was impossible… to stop. Impossible. But I did. I must love you.” After sucking out Bella’s venom, he immediately starts blowing his own trumpet.
  • Bella apologises for tasting so good and Edward rolls his eyes (yet again). “What should I apologise for?” she asks. “For nearly taking yourself away from me forever,” he replies. Oh, right. Yeah, that. He’s right, of course, that she’s an idiot, but framing it like that? Possessive, much?
  • “They love you, too, you know.” Does anyone else actually put a comma between ‘you’ and ‘too’?
  • In the epilogue, Bella spends an entire day being dressed up, having her hair done, and Edward turns up in a tuxedo. She has completely failed to notice that it’s prom night and it comes as a surprise to her to discover what the date Edward has set up for her this evening is. I… I don’t… words fail me as to how cataclysmically stupid this character is.

That’s how incredibly stupid this book is.

The entire thing reads like Twilight fan-fic, it’s that bad.

So… I was wondering about doing something similar to this with 50 Shades of Grey, but then I skimmed half a page of 50 Shades Darker that was very briefly on the ‘recycled free stuff’ table at work. No, no. No, definitely not. It’s worse. Somehow, it’s actually worse.