Monday, April 24, 2017

Toymaker : Adventure Gaming

There's a new initiative on Steam to bring back old school gaming. While it hits me right in my sorry nostalgic heart, I regret the fact that in America indie tends to mean you couldn't make it. For fans of Final Fantasy and Pokemon, Toymaker is a trip in the way back machine with a new and familycentric plot that focuses around the myths and fairy tales that we used to have before the throwaway era. Go Green, people, Go Green! Either way it's a fun fling if you want to try it out and buy it if you love the unfolding plot.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

SAS: Ch 6 Plugged In

The sudden silence was jarring. His ears were still ringing, but Yegor wasn’t certain that it was over yet. His ammo counter read 0/20, and a flashing amber text box in his HUD urgently declared “AMMUNITION DEPLETED”. Yegor wasn’t carrying any spare magazines. If they had any backup, he was in trouble.

Injun Joe moved more quickly now that all of the thugs were dead, racing to the fallen man and dragging him towards where Yegor stood. He noticed Lokk herding the man’s panicked wife and children that way as well, and – holy shit, was that Smith?

It sure was. Smith darted out of the intersection and moved to help Injun Joe drag the wounded man away from the carnage. He noticed Yegor as they moved, and mouthed a word in his direction. Sniper.

Shit. That was probably who dropped the Evo guy in the first place. <Aria, is communication back up?>

Aria appeared again on the edges of his vision. <No, Yegor.> She looked worried, and appeared as though she wanted to say more, but she did not.

Yegor acknowledged the VI with a grunt, and she vanished. He turned back to the motley group staggering in his direction. They had all moved as quickly as they could into the street a dozen or so meters north of the intersection, right near where he was standing. He realized that it had been sheer luck that had kept him out of the sniper’s field of fire – he must be down the street to the east, unable to see into the north or south side streets intersecting the main road.

Injun Joe went to work on the wounded man. The scientist was now lying face down in the street, blood pouring freely from the exit wound in his back. Joe ripped away the clothing surrounding the wound. The shot had gone straight through his left lung and blown a large, bloody hole out through his back. The guy sounded like he was drowning in his own blood. Yegor shook his head. He’s fucked.

Joe didn’t seem to think so. He rubbed his hands together calmly and began chanting again. It sounded almost like a tribal song this time. A faint golden glow surrounded his hands, and without hesitation, he placed them both over the gory wound in the man’s back. He made small movements with his hands as he chanted, as if he was folding invisible origami. Yegor couldn’t see any change in the man’s condition. He shook his head again.

The man’s wife was still sobbing hysterically, struggling to get to her husband. Lokk had one massive arm wrapped around the woman’s ribs like a boa constrictor, keeping her from interfering with the Amerindian. He was bleeding all over her, but if his wound caused him any pain, he didn’t show it. That wasn’t a pistol wound, either – the sniper must have hit him as well. Yegor couldn’t believe that he was still on his feet, much less restraining a one hundred-fifty pound woman with one arm.

Yegor turned his attention to Smith, and allowed himself a grim grin. “That was you, wasn’t it?” he asked, jerking his head in the direction of the van. He still didn’t know what happened to the guy in the back, and he didn’t really want to know.

Smith just nodded.

Aria appeared again in the corner of his vision. <Yegor, local communication has come back online.>

Yegor nodded brusquely. He still did that sometimes, responding physically or audibly to her, but she always seemed to be able to hear or see him when he did, so it was a habit that he was in no rush to break. He looked back over at Joe, still working on the critically injured man. He didn’t hear any sirens approaching, so the communication blackout had obviously worked. It looked like he had a minute.

He clambered back into his Mini Cooper, leaving the door open. “Do me a favor?” he said to Smith. “I’m gonna go in and see if I can find out who was jamming this spot. We get any heat, gimme a poke?”

Smith nodded, and turned back towards the carnage in the intersection. Moving with the grace of a panther, he darted from the buildings back to the shot-up van. Looked like he was planning on doing some cleanup, maybe a little looting. No shots rang out – hopefully the sniper had bailed.

Yegor took a deep breath. He hadn’t ever performed a real hack before, and the circumstances sucked, but fuck, he wanted to start shadowrunning, right? Looks like a shadowrun found me. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and let himself descend directly into hot-sim VR.

* * * * *

The world lurched around him. His consciousness spiraled through static and sensory code fragments for a hundred years, or maybe a micro-second. Time was funny like that in the Matrix.

When his consciousness seated itself, he was Monolith. He looked around at the confines of his Fairlight Caliban from within for the first time. He hadn’t spent any time worrying about the sculpting of the node before he bought the device, and for a moment, he was stunned by at how incredible it looked.

The sculpting of the Caliban was that of a modern penthouse, overlooking the local Matrix from an elevated height. The walls were completely transparent virtual glass. He recognized the thickness of the reinforced glass as part of the upgraded firewall that he had installed, providing an effective layer of additional security to his node. Plush virtual couches, an extensive wet bar, and a crackling virtual fireplace presented the feel of a Manhattan mega-corp exec’s bachelor pad. Gentle elven violin music played quietly, not originating from any particular place, ever-present and soothing.

“Welcome, Yegor,” a sensual voice said behind him.

Monolith whirled, and Yegor was nearly blinded. He would have closed his eyes, but his eye-less icon interpreted the gesture by raising a hand to shield the golem’s face from the brilliant light now before him. With effort, Yegor slowly lowered Monolith’s massive obsidian hand and tried to make sense of what he was seeing before him.

A swirl of jagged, erratic shapes surrounded a brilliant white light, forming a discordant cloud of chaos. The light at the cloud’s core was so bright that Yegor could hardly keep his virtual vision trained in that direction. Pulses of raw emotion burst outward from the cloud, impacting upon Monolith, washing over him, assailing his psyche, tugging his own emotions in ways he could never have conceived.

Apprehension. Affection. Excitement. Fear. Shyness. Lust. Confusion. Attraction. Tension. Tenderness. Insecurity. Possessiveness. Passion. Concern. Devotion.
Yegor grunted from the assault on his emotions. As if in response, the cloud suddenly coalesced, the light within dimming significantly. The assault on his psyche was similarly muted. The protrusions and spikes flattened and curved, twirling around the spectral illumination in the vague form of a humanoid.

As if watching the resolution of a picture improve one layer at a time, the shape began to take on clearer definition, developing feminine curves, flowing hair, and elegantly swept back ears. With another layer of resolution, a dark evening gown painted itself upon the figure, followed by a sparkling set of jewelry. Another pass, and her beautiful facial features were defined.

The turbulent cloud of data became Aria. But her definition and resolution continued to improve. More scans passed over her form, and her appearance became beautiful beyond a degree that could ever be achieved in the real world.  Yegor could now see her with an impossibly perfect level of clarity. He had never seen anyone, anything so beautiful in his life. She smiled at him, and Yegor felt as though his blood was going to catch fire.

“Whoa,” he said eloquently. Brilliant. Shakespearean effort there, jackplug.

Evidently, it wasn’t as bad as he had feared. He felt rather than saw a surge of energy within Aria, and she lowered her gaze bashfully. Apprehension was heavy in her voice as she spoke again. “I have been spending idle processing cycles sculpting this node in a manner that I had reasoned you might find appealing. If there are improvements that you wish, please, inform me of them at your convenience.”

Yegor was dumbfounded. He had assumed that the current sculpting of the node had been the default setting of the Caliban. But this penthouse had nothing in common with his garage, and was nothing like anything that he and Aria had ever discussed. And he definitely loved how it looked. How did she…?

Monolith shook his head heavily, as if clearing the cobwebs. Eye on the ball, you idiot. “It, uh, looks great. I, uh, can’t really think of anything that I would change right now. And you look even more amazing, you know, in person.” Monolith’s robotic baritone voice resonated through the node, his speech mirroring his uncertainty.

Another surge of energy and emotions from Aria washed over him, even stronger than the first.

Joy! Validation! Panic! Passion! Love! Nervousness! Anticipation! Elation!

This was insane. He had been in full VR in the Matrix a thousand times before, and not once had he ever experienced anything like this. Did all virtual intelligences project like this? A virtual intelligence was not a fully realized, sapient artificial intelligence. A VI was just a well coded simulacrum. But this…

With a sudden burst of clarity, he realized this had to have something to do with being connected into the Matrix via hot-sim. He had only ever done that twice before, and both of those times he had been locked into the perspective of his combat drones. Hot-sim! Addicting as fuck, remember? Fucking gunfight, jackass! Cops any minute! Stop fucking around with your sexy VI!

Monolith shook his head again, and then a third time. Yegor rarely had difficulty focusing, but at this moment, it was nearly impossible. With a thought, Monolith crossed the room and looked out through one of the  windows, viewing the local Matrix.

Even that was a dazzling sight. Every commlink, every television, every router, every device with an active Matrix connection appeared as a point of energy that he could reach out and connect with. There were hundreds, thousands, even more if he sought them out.  A dizzying quantity of sites, but he was looking for one in particular.

The local Meta-Comm radio tower was sculpted with remarkable similarity to its real-world counterpart, with one major exception. The tower’s firewall made it look like an imposing black obelisk. Something looked a bit off about it, but he would need to go to the node and run Analyze on it to really tell what.

“Sorry, Aria, I have to get to work,” he said, more brusquely than he had intended. With another thought, he had vanished from the penthouse and appeared at the base of the tower. Time to load up.

* * * * *






* * * * *

Monolith was as ready as he could be. The black shroud of his Stealth program obfuscated his icon, keeping it nearly invisible. Beneath the shroud, he could clearly see the glowing crimson plate mail of his Armor app covering his body, and the crimson war-hammer representing his Attack app. If it hits the fan, at least my pants aren’t down.

His digital vision swept over the firewall of the node. Something had seemed off about it before, and now that his Analyze app was running, he could see it clearly.

The sculpting appeared in his vision as bunny footprints, visible along the side of the tower. A calling card? They jumped erratically up the side of the tower, and abruptly ended around eighty feet up. Yegor chuckled, and Monolith made a quiet sound like the grinding of gravel. There was an exploit opening where the footprints ended – he was sure of it.

Monolith stuck his massive maul to his back. It adhered as though it had been super-glued there. With the ease and grace of an Olympian, the obsidian golem climbed the smooth surface of the tower to the point where the footprints had vanished. It didn’t matter that there were no handholds – a function of his Exploit app allowed him to stick to the tower easily. Holding onto the tower effortlessly with one hand, he manifested the glowing blue drill of his Exploit app in the other and pressed it to the tower. The app latched onto the firewall and began drilling.

There was definitely a flaw in the code – the glowing blue drill punched through the firewall in seconds, creating an admin account for his icon. It vanished from the Matrix as Yegor unloaded it, and after a moment of hesitation, Monolith climbed through, logging onto the node as an administrator.

Red lights. Klaxons ringing. Fucking shit.

* * * * *

There were really only four things that a compromised node with an active alarm could do to repel an intruder. The first was reboot, which would of course punt the intruder from the node. Of course, that has the unfortunate side effect of disconnecting anyone else connected to the node as well. This was a public communication node with thousands of active connections, so that wasn’t likely to happen.

Some systems were configured to automatically attempt to sever the intruder’s connection once the new account logs in for the first time. Yegor hadn’t detected any such attempt, and it would have happened the moment he crossed the threshold of the node, so that was out too.

The other two possibilities were the ones you really didn’t want to deal with if you were a hacker. The system would either contact a security rigger to counter-hack the intruder, or launch IC to fight the intruder directly.

This particular node was equipped with the latter.

* * * * *

The world lurched around Monolith as the node’s sculpting appeared before him. It was a huge, boring room. Bare walls, digital filing cabinets, large doors to other parts of the network… it looked like a typical wage-slave hellhole, with one exception. Above him, thousands of ephemeral glowing cords blinked in and out of existence, each with a terminus at the top of the tower, each reaching out in a different direction. It made Yegor think of a three-dimensional asterisk made up of a hundred thousand glowing lines. Each one represented a user of the Pittsburgh Matrix, as they were routed through the tower to the next link in the chain connecting them to their eventual destination.

And there was that blinking red light and blaring alarm. Shit.

A large black tank materialized in the center of the node. Shit, shit, shit, fucking shit. The color of the tank was not lost on Yegor. It was a polite warning to intruders that this Intrusion Countermeasure didn’t intend to attack your icon, it intended to attack your psyche.

Most Black IC attacked the hacker by assaulting the part of the brain that controlled consciousness. Commonly called Blackout, that sort of IC wasn’t the worst. You’d be unconscious for a few hours, and wake up with the worst hangover you ever had. Most corps considered that fair punishment for sticking your nose in where it didn’t belong.

Rarer and far, far nastier was Black Hammer IC. This deadly form of Black IC would unleash raw, unfiltered bio-feedback to the user, burning out the user’s motor function, cognitive reasoning, and subconscious functions. That sort of IC wasn’t trying to knock you out – it was trying to kill you.

Yegor didn’t know what type of Black IC this tank was armed with, and part of him didn’t really want to. For the span of a heartbeat, he weighed his options. There were really only two. He could log out and return to his body, none the worse for wear, but the access log of the node would log his presence there, the fake admin account that he had created, and his access ID. He hadn’t had time to spoof it, which meant there would be a perfect, incriminating trail leading directly to his brand-new commlink.

Fuck that.

Monolith sprang into motion. In an instant, his icon was adjacent to the tank, and he brought his glowing crimson hammer of his Attack app crashing down onto the side of the turret. He had no idea what to expect.

The hammer impacted with a sound like a ringing gong. A pulse of code bleed flashed through his vision. He might have done some superficial damage to it, but it would take more than that to crash the tank.

With swiftness that would have been impossible in the real world, the turret swung to bear on Monolith and fired. A glowing red shell hit him solidly in the chest. His real-world grounded brain felt an instant of sheer terror in which he was certain he was blown to pieces, but the rules of the Matrix were different. His crimson Armor app flashed brightly at the moment of impact, interlaced with a green overlay from his Bio-Feedback Filter. It felt like a hard punch in the ribs, but that was all.

He darted to the side and swung again, and again. Each strike of his Attack program caused more data fragmentation and memory loss. Visually the black tank was beginning to develop a lattice of visual damage, like a spider web overlaid on top of the tank’s typical texture.

The tank’s turret followed him relentlessly, firing one shell after another at him. A corner of Yegor’s mind was amused. The idea of a tank shooting a person at point blank range and not budging him an inch was the sort of thing that you might see in a cartoon. But he knew that just like in the street, it would only take one lucky shot and it would be all over.

Better make sure I’m the one that lands it, then. Yegor deliberately stood his ground through the next cannon blast. The metaphor of the cannon shell left a heavy ringing sound in his head, but his Armor and Bio-Feedback Filter absorbed the blast. With all the concentration he could muster, he raised his crimson hammer over his head. It grew in size as he focused harder on it, and with all his mental strength, he brought it smashing down on top of the tank as hard as he could.

With a sound like shattering glass, the IC crashed. The tank collapsed into a million tiny black cubes, scattering erratically outward across the floor of the node. The cubes lingered for a small moment, and then vanished as if they were never there.

Yegor barked a laugh, causing Monolith to growl triumphantly. He looked down at his icon. Not a mark on it. I’m gonna have to hit BitByte up again after all. Fucking blade-ear knows his warez.

Okay, back to business. He was in the node with a fresh new admin account. The alarm was still going off, but now that the IC was down, that was no big deal. Using his new credentials, he disabled the alarm with a thought, and moved instantly over to the filing cabinets. Since the node had been configured to launch IC rather than call a rigger, Yegor figured it would probably be some time before an admin came to check out the node.

He launched his Browse app. An amber magnifying glass swept rapidly over the filing cabinet icons until it settled on the one he was looking for – the access logs. All right you son of a bitch, time to find out who  you are. He set his Analyze app to show all users that had directly connected with this node as the terminus in the past ten minutes.

His Analyze window appeared before his vision with two access IDs. One of them was his own. The second simply read:

LuCkY ChArMz

Yegor grinned. Monolith uttered a gravelly chuckle.


* * * * *

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Let's Read : The Little Book of Zen (3)

Question 2
"The world is it's own magic."
Shunryu Suzuki

From a Western Philosophical standpoint this lands firmly in metaphysics- the study of what is. It's a declarative statement about the world. However if we move beyond the closed system of symbolic logic then it drifts toward Epistemology, under Semiotics (the study of signs, signifiers and symbolism).

This fits nicely with many traditional Eastern counterparts in Epistemology, like the Japanese tea ceremony, in which one sets a relatively spare room with one centerpiece for conversation. In this sort of reflexive understanding, suddenly the statement "The world is it's own magic" inverts and we understand that it is us who are magic and that we find this in the world through our understanding of magic. That our knowledge of the meaning of the word magic and what it signifies leads us to know wonder and that simply contemplating this very statement will lead us down a road to more understanding and therefor more magic in our world.

It's hard to properly represent the Eastern Epistemology in a soliloquy, since it is an interchange of personal understandings until a greater knowledge is attained, but that is - perhaps - the point of the koan. It's designed for individual study by a master.

Let's try another (been on a Bob Ross tear here, so most of this was mentally narrated with his tones, join in the fun here and find that there are no mistakes... only happy little accidents...)

Question 3 (at Random):
We gaze
  Even and the Horses
This Morn


What can you draw from this, very E. E. Cummings, statement?

Saturday, April 8, 2017

SAS - Ch 5 - Street Fighter

“Yakety Yaaak! Eets a great sonnng! I’ve been telling every-baady!” the orc bellowed in his heavy Austrian accent. “Yoo got to check it ouut!”

Yegor snorted as he tossed his ratchet back into his toolbox. Yakety Yak, eh? He didn’t know that one. “Yeah, I’ll look into it.” He grabbed the engine and gave it a rough shake with his bare hands, making sure it was firmly secured. The Harley rocked back and forth, but the engine didn’t budge.

“Haah!” the orc laughed. “Yoo doo that!”

Lokk was a trip. He was one of the few denizens of the Pittsburgh sprawl that Yegor didn’t feel a compulsion to punch on sight. Which was probably a good thing, because Lokk was a shadowrunner, and made no effort to hide it. Everyone knew that if you needed some wetwork done, didn’t mind a mess, and came with the right creds, Lokk would be on board. The orc’s heavy combat axes were probably responsible for more deaths in downtown Pittsburgh than lung cancer, but as long as you didn’t have a contract on your head and didn’t do anything to piss him off, you were probably safe.

Yegor topped off the bike’s fuel, set the gas can down, and screwed the cap back onto the jet-black gas tank. “You’re set,” he said. “Fire it up.”

The orc clambered onto the motorcycle, settling his massive frame onto the worn leather seat. With a kick, the cycle roared to life. Sounded good as new.

“Haah!” the orc barked again. He punched two buttons on his commlink, and Yegor’s account registered a deposit of three  hundred fifty credits. “See yoo arowwnd, Crow-baah!” he bellowed as he turned the bike around and rolled out of the garage.

* * * * *

The gangers couldn’t possibly miss the massive troll bearing down on them, and it was obvious that they weren’t expecting it. The two in the street hesitated for a moment, and the one in the back of the van that was starting to climb out thought better of it and instead pulled the sliding van door most of the way closed, crouching behind it. For a second, it looked like they might reconsider.

Then they opened fire.

9mm rounds ripped through the air towards Yegor. The gangers had obviously been watching too many Karl Kombatmage vids, because they weren’t aiming worth shit. Most of the shots went wide, but one of them glanced off his hip, and another hit him squarely in the shoulder, making a dull whump as it flattened against his armored jacket. Yegor barely even felt them. He hoped that was a good thing.

At least he wasn’t out-gunned.

With another thought, the text box in his HUD flipped from semi-automatic to full-automatic. Yegor wasn’t so worried about the two guys in the street – they had no cover to speak of and might as well have been shooting pop guns at him. He was more worried about the driver and the guy in the back. He took aim at the van. The yellow crosshairs in his field of vision neatly overlaid the red crosshairs on the chest of the driver. He pulled the trigger and held it in.


The Mossberg’s blasts rang out like thunder through the intersection, the shotgun shaking with each shot as Yegor opened fire. Visible puffs of gas vented from the sides of the barrel as the barrel coolers and recoil compensators kicked in. Plasteel shell casings ejected in a perfect rainbow arc from the right-hand side of the shotgun, clattering erratically across the cracked asphalt.

The front windshield of the van exploded in a burst of glass shrapnel, and the driver’s head and torso were blown to pieces under the hail of flechette fire. The red crosshairs overlaying the driver vanished. Without releasing the trigger, Yegor brought the yellow crosshairs to bear on the thug hiding in the back of the van.


The driver’s side window shattered, and four jagged holes ripped into the side door of the van. The guy in the back of the van screamed in pain – some of the serrated pellets had gotten through. But the red crosshairs overlaying him in Yegor’s HUD didn’t waver, which meant his vital signs were still strong. He wasn’t out of the fight.

Yegor’s smartgun flashed a message in his vision – “MAGAZINE EMPTY”. The ammo counter in the corner read 10/20. <Switch mags,> Yegor commanded the shotgun. One of the modifications that he had made to the Mossberg was the addition of a second full-sized magazine. There was a subtle vibration from the shotgun as the adapter switched the feeder to accept the second set of shells.

The punks were rattled. One of them was headed towards the guy in the street, or maybe his wife, while still shooting at Yegor. The other was shooting at Yegor as fast as he could pull the trigger. Yegor suddenly realized that both of them had strange, freaked-out looks on their faces, and their shots were even farther off than before. What the fuck?

Yegor saw motion out of the corner of his vision. An Amerindian was approaching the firefight, his hand extended towards the thugs. He was chanting something in his native tongue. Holy shit, that’s Injun Joe. Fuck yeah, hit ‘em with some of that fucking redskin hoodoo shit.

Yegor ducked as two more shots whistled past his head. Fuck.

* * * * *

“Smith! How you doing, you son of a bitch? What the fuck are you doing in Rust Town?” Yegor asked, surprise evident in his voice.

Smith gave a small half-smile. “Work,” he said simply.

That was Jon Smith in a nutshell, right there. As non-descript, vague and mysterious as could be. Brown hair, brown eyes, Caucasian, a slight hint of five-o’clock shadow, and… and that was about it. He didn’t have any distinguishing features, visible scars, birthmarks – not a damn thing. He was a detective’s worst nightmare – he was just “an ordinary looking guy.”

That’s not to say Smith was ordinary. He was packing too much hardware for that. There were two heavy holsters discreetly tucked away under his stylish black coat, and a long, slightly curved sword on his back rounded out his ensemble.

Smith was a guy that was impossible to get a read on, so Yegor didn’t try. All that he knew was that Smith was originally from Chicago, just as he was, and he was an adept, which meant it was a bad idea to fuck with him. They had met a few times before. Smith used to go to Yegor’s father Vladimir for repairs on his truck back in Chi-town. Yegor liked him. He was obviously connected, his creds were good, and he didn’t seem to have anything against trolls. “So why are you in standin’ in my garage, then?”

Smith gestured to the pickup in the driveway behind him. “Need a little work done,” he said.

Yegor looked over Smith’s shoulder at his truck. It was a GAZ P-179 pickup. They had a reputation for being real workhorse vehicles, and it looked to be in good shape. You didn’t see them much outside of the sticks. At least it’s not another Nomad, Yegor thought to himself. “You know, my dad still works as a mechanic up at Corben’s Toolshed, if you want him to take a look at it.”

“No, I think this work is more up your alley,” Smith said simply as he handed Yegor a slip of paper.

Yegor read the list. Morphing license plates, off-road suspension, Jackpoint 3 Pilot program, smart tires, storage recess, shielding, and spoof chip. Yegor snorted loudly. “Yeah, I guess it is.”

This was going to be fun.

* * * * *

Injun Joe was definitely doing something to fuck with the thugs. It looked like they were tripping on dopadrine, seeing things that weren’t really there. But they still had guns, and they were still shooting in Yegor’s general direction. All it takes is one shot, he reminded himself grimly.

One of the thugs was making a grab for the wife, but she was frantically fighting him off, still screaming bloody murder. The kids were cowering against the corner of a building, out of the immediate chaos. Good. Yegor took aim again at the thug in the back of the van.

A small flash of blue light within the van caught him by surprise, and the red crosshairs marking that thug in his HUD abruptly disappeared. What the fuck? Did Joe do that? He looked over quickly at the Amerindian. He was walking calmly in Yegor’s direction, arms outstretched towards the thugs, still chanting. Doesn’t look like it. He glanced back at the van. There was a figure on the other side of the van, but Yegor couldn’t make him out.

A sudden roar made Yegor jump. He swung his gun barrel in the direction of the sound, and his mouth fell open as he saw Lokk staggering through the intersection. Where the fuck did HE come from? His axe was raised above his head, blood was pouring from a gaping bullet wound in his ribs, and he was racing toward the fight with a manic expression on his face. Yegor had no idea how he could even stand with that wound, but not only was he standing, he was sprinting. In moments he had closed the gap to the spiky-haired punk that was all over the wife.

The poor jackplug turned just in time for Lokk’s axe to catch him full force in the face, burying itself two-thirds of the way through his skull. A blast of blood and flesh flew outward from his head, spraying the screaming woman in a fine red mist. The thug dropped like a marionette with its strings cut, and the woman collapsed into the fetal position, screaming even more hysterically than before.

With a wild scream, the last remaining thug set his feet wide apart and fired six more shots at Yegor. Four of them went wide, but two shots struck him squarely in the chest. A momentary look of comical relief and triumph crossed the thug’s face, but it faded as he realized that the plating on Yegor’s jacket and his naturally dense ribcage kept the shots from piercing through.

The punk kept pulling the trigger, but the pistol’s hammer just made a dull plink plink plink as it thumped home each time without a bullet in the barrel to receive it.  A look of stark terror crossed his face. He was living out his final moments, and he knew it.

With a grim smirk, Yegor leveled the yellow crosshairs on his HUD neatly atop the thug’s red one, and opened fire.

* * * * *

Thursday, April 6, 2017

King's Quest- what happens after Happily Ever After?

Maybe you're not familiar with Phoenix Online- if not (and you're a gamer), you should be. These are the guys who brought you the Last Door, the most mind bending horror adventure since Phantasmagoria, and the Erica Reed Chronicles - if Nikki Heat were an FBI agent (and a psychic). They had a side project that kept them going for years while they developed as a gaming company, one the led them through the legal ins and outs of fair use and retired gaming copyrights.

They were developing the next King's Quest. Finally, after years, they reached a deal - it's called Silver Lining (instead of King's Quest IX) and you can download the first four chapters free. Download it for a flash from the past and a step into the future. Graham is here again to fight to free his kids from a spell that keeps them frozen in time (For the world's most sarcastic sneak peak, click Here)

Whether you want to walk the King's Questing road or scoot over to the Last Door for horror (or Erica Reed's page for a psychic experience) check them out for fun in your free time. Two thumbs up.

Want to try out the best damn thing? Check out their games Here.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Shifting Shadows- Patricia Briggs

He was a Vampire, a thing in his culture, not even a person. She was the woman who had set him free. A century later something calls him back to their hometown and he finds a way to repay that favor in blood...

One of the best ways to get the most out of a favorite author is to keep an eye out for their anthologies. Popular fic gets a lot of press and you can pick up a mixed compilation to find authors with similar writing styles, or get a collection of short stories by your favorite. If you're into prequels, flashbacks and alternate viewpoints and haven't gotten a short story book, then you're missing out.

Patricia Briggs revisits some of our favorite characters from her Mercy Thompson series in Shifting Shadows, and introduces new ones. You find out more about the Marrok and his son Sam, and drift away for a taste of something different, before returning with Asil and Charles. If you're not familiar, werewolves have come out to the public - they were a thinly veiled secret anyways. Many of them had served in the military, their nature lead them in that direction, so they had a lot of popular support. Unfortunately, not everywolf agreed on the big reveal and not everyone was comfortable with magic.

The tightly knit families, the secret double lives and the pack magic weren't for normies and people went crazy imitating, hating and stalking these strange people. The Marrok ran North America from the mountains of Montana, and has used his centuries of experience to smooth things over and keep the packs strong. Through it all runs the thread of one story, the life of a Walker, a Coyote shapechanger who was raised by the wolves, and can never seem to stay out of trouble...

Excited? Buy it Here.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Richard Castle - Naked Heat

I don't normally review Normie Fiction, but this series is so meta that it's almost fantasy. From the TV Series Castle, the writer Richard Castle produced a series of books about his muse Kate Beckett. In a twist that *I've* certainly never witnessed, the producers released a series of books about his fictional character "Nikki Heat". Nathan Fillion was even kind enough to play along and go to book signings, where he signed books as Richard Castle.

As anyone who has watched the series knows, Beckett got saddled with Castle since he had major ties with NYC's mayor. He needed material for his books, she needed a citizen trailing her like she needed a hole in her head. Unfortunately, as America's most eligible Bachelor, he has it all - and all of the connections that go with it.

Beckett's record is already stellar, but she's unbeatable now, and Castle gets his best selling series, the Heat chronicles. Nikki Heat and her tag-a-long the sexy Rook are at it again in Naked Heat - a gossip columnist is brutally murdered and there are too many suspects to count. Nikki's contact, the journalist Jameson Rook, have to patch things up to work together, she needs his expertise in the underground scene, and he might need another fling.

Thankfully his feelings run deeper for her than he knows... when she's kidnapped he puts his cards on the table and things actually get dangerous...

Curious? You'll love it. Pick it up Here.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Shadowrun - Getting the Pieces (4)

Yegor nodded his head to the techno beat of The Psyons as he waited at the red light. Arclight Plasteel had the replacement gas tank that he needed for Jonesy’s bike, but they were way the fuck on the other side of the sprawl, and in a nicer area than Yegor was used to. He was already getting the occasional dirty look from some of the humans walking the streets, which he was more than happy to give right back. Fuck ‘em, he thought. He had dealt with far worse in his life.

He stretched his arms out as far as the cramped confines of his Cooper would allow. He hated the car, but it was all he had. He had priced out some better rides, but had ultimately decided that if he was going to run the shadows, he would need to put his money in other places first. Besides, he had always wanted to build his own ride. Maybe shadowrunning would give him the funds he needed to do that.

His eyes wandered as he waited. He was used to always having to keep half an eye on the people around him. Never knew when some Humanis Policlub lunatic was gonna try to separate you from your brains. That’s why he noticed the guy.

Crossing the street was a human man in his mid-forties, with his wife and kids. Yegor had seen the guy’s face before. Holy shit that’s the guy from Evo! The guy working on the genome mapping… the guy trying to help with goblinization! How about that!

The guy noticed his stare, and gave him a friendly smile and nod as they crossed the street. That was definitely NOT something that Yegor was used to. Most humans would look away or quicken their step if a troll in a black leather-and-plasteel jacket was staring at them, even if the troll was comically wedged into a subcompact. This guy was alright.

And a moment later, he was staggering and collapsing in pool of his own blood.

* * * * *

The raven-haired elf walked around to the side of the Spiral 115Ti and bent down low, looking at the nano-tech neon striping that Yegor had just installed along the undercarriage. Yegor just stared. Her hip-hugging denim shorts showcased her fit, round ass and perfectly toned legs as she examined his work. “Hmph. It’s alright, I guess.”

Yegor gritted his teeth. “You’re such a sweetheart, Melisandre.” No, she wasn’t. She was gorgeous, but she was a fucking cunt. At least, she was to him. Nothing new there.

She stood and walked around to the trunk, looking closely at the new, raked out bodywork and spoiler. This time as she bent, she gave him a perfect view straight down the neck of her cut-off t-shirt. Her perky tits stretched the shirt just snugly enough to keep Yegor from seeing the best parts.

He knew the work was perfect – he had spent an extra hour making sure of it – but she was looking for something to bitch about. When she couldn’t find anything, she just made a decidedly un-ladylike grunt.

“Whatever,” she said, with a toss of her wavy black hair. The gesture revealed a tattoo along her neck. It was one of the new ones, subtly animated, a vine with thorns and roses running down the length of her cream-skinned neck and over the front of her left shoulder, and probably beyond. Yegor would kill to see more of it, and knew that he never would. That was exactly why she was showing every possible angle of herself to the troll, and he knew it. See this? You’re never gonna get this.
She pulled a credstick from the pocket of her shorts, tossed it to him from a deliberate distance, and climbed into the car. Without another word, she started it up and rolled out of the garage.

Fuck! Why do I put up with that shit? He knew exactly why, though. Two reasons. The Pittsburgh sprawl wasn’t exactly teeming with choice ass. Melisandre was hotter than the tenth level of hell, and she knew it. And her father was connected, big time, and everyone else knew that. Which was why she was driving a Spiral while the rest of the sprawl was riding bikes and beaters, and why she could flaunt herself wherever she pleased without any fear of getting fucked with.

<Your work was impeccable, Yegor.> Aria materialized along the left-hand side of his field of vision.

Yegor looked over at her. Her appearance was different somehow. He couldn’t put his finger on it at first, but after a moment, he realized that rather than just her face appearing, her entire simulated form had appeared. She hadn’t appeared like that since he first loaded the OS. A heartbeat after that realization, he realized that her hairstyle had subtly changed. It was slightly wavier and slightly longer than it had been – more similar to Melisandre’s. She looked even hotter than she had before.

<Yeah, I know,> he answered, still disgruntled.

<Then why did Melisandre exhibit such displeasure?> Aria asked.

Aria didn’t ask Yegor questions often. Maybe once a day. But they never failed to throw the troll for a loop. They were never questions for which there was an easy answer. What was he supposed to tell her? That Melisandre was a racist, and that he had dealt with that sort of shit his whole life? That he desperately wanted to grab her with both hands and fuck her raw, and she knew it? That she was a spoiled bitch daughter of a monumentally powerful crime boss? That the Sixth World was fucked, and this was just one facet of it?

He sighed. <It’s complicated,> he replied.

That was the only answer he gave her.

* * * * *

The brown-skinned man carefully removed the slender diagnostic tool from Yegor’s skull. It created a bit of a tingling feeling, but no pain. The Amerindian was good.

“Done,” Injun Joe calmly declared.

Yegor’s head felt a bit weird. He had known that it would, from his past experiences having his commlink port and datajack installed. It didn’t hurt and he felt like his brain was still working normally, and those were the only two things that he gave a fuck about. Having a control rig installed had been the real point of no return in Yegor’s mind, and that line was finally behind him.

Yegor moved his neck tentatively, looking around the simple shop. There were a few tribal totems, knick-knacks and cybernetics on the shelves, but Joe was best known in the sprawl for his skill with patching bullet holes and tweaking implants. Yegor had expected the implants to be heavy, to unbalance his head in some way, but the distribution of weight in his skull felt no different. He was impressed.
“Thanks,” he said gruffly. He wasn’t usually so friendly.

Injun Joe nodded, his expression neutral. Amerindians weren’t normally a very expressive bunch, unless they were blowing the tops off of volcanoes or summoning tornados to tear down skyscrapers. This one seemed a decent sort, for a mage. His shop was even called Injun Joe’s Mojo, so he had to have a sense of humor. It was good to know one that was using his powers for good.

Or at least not doing all that other shit.

* * * * *

Yegor stared. What the fuck just happened? The blood was slowly beginning to spread from the man’s body, but he was still moving, trying to crawl out of the road. He wasn’t dead yet. His wife was screaming. His kids looked terrified and confused.

<Aria, call Lone Star.> THAT was a command Yegor never expected to give her.

There was a pause, and Aria appeared in the corner of Yegor’s vision, a concerned expression on her face. <Yegor, local communications are being actively scrambled.> Fuck.

Time seemed to slow for a moment. A battered brown GMC Bulldog pulled away from the curb nearby and squealed into the middle of the intersection. It stopped diagonally across it, blocking the flow of traffic in all directions. The two side doors of the van slid open. Two thugs with spiked hair and worn leather jackets jumped out, each with a pistol in hand. They were heading for the fallen man. Or maybe his wife and kids, Yegor couldn’t tell. Something was going down.

I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let this guy or his family get ganked. Yegor grabbed his Mossberg from the passenger seat of the Cooper, looped the lanyard over his shoulder, threw the driver’s side door open, and clambered out. <Smartgun, activate.>

The stock of the Mossberg sprang into place, the gas-vent barrel extended, the safety switched off, and the gun’s combat diagnostics appeared on the periphery of his vision. Glowing amber numbers indicated an ammo count of 20/20 and barrel temp of 22 degrees Celsius. A small text box indicated that the safety was off and the firing mode was set to semi-automatic. Red crosshairs overlaid the two thugs in the street, identifying them as armed, then a third, still behind the wheel. Then a fourth, moving in the back of the van. Shit.

Yegor screwed his face up into the most menacing scowl that he could muster. He grabbed hold of the Mossberg’s custom foregrip, seated the shock pad against his shoulder, and brought the heavy shotgun to bear. A yellow crosshair appeared in his field of view, as if projected from the shotgun like a laser sight. He had never fired the Mossberg anywhere but at the range before, but if he was lucky, the sight of a pissed-off, eight-foot-tall troll with a big-ass, heavily-modified shotgun would scare them off.

He wasn’t that lucky.

* * * * *

Friday, March 24, 2017

SAS - Shadowrun- Putting the Pieces in Place

Everything was different, and yet everything was the same.

Yegor couldn’t describe it any other way. He had never hot-dropped into a drone before. He was seeing his garage with a hundred times the clarity of his reclining troll body. That was surreal, too – looking across the garage and seeing himself stretched out in the shop chair, looking for all the world like he was sound asleep. He could hear sounds outside if he focused his sensors toward the garage’s closed doors. He could read the fine print on his Foursquare poster from the other side of the room.

Fucking wild. And he hadn’t even done more than turn this thing’s head yet.

Time to see what it could really do.

In an instant, the Doberman sprang to its feet and raced towards the closed garage doors. It stopped and pirouetted on a dime, and then raced back towards the stairs leading to the loft above the garage. In less than three seconds, it had sprinted up the stairs, raced across the upper walkway, and sprang over the railing back down to the shop floor below.

Holy shit. What a rush. He could see his meat body breathing more heavily, as his brain interpreted the exertions of the drone. He knew that would improve with practice, but for now, he figured he should take it a bit easier.

With a thought, the Mossberg shotgun on the back of the drone swiftly rotated three hundred and sixty degrees, spinning easily in a circle. With another, he locked onto targets throughout the garage – a gas can, a toolbox, the lift controls, the upstairs bedroom doorknob. Damn, this thing was blindingly quick while he was jacked into it. He could do all these things through AR as well, but it would probably take him three times as long.

He really wanted to open up with the shotgun, but he wasn’t about to shoot up his own shop. Besides, he could see all of the smartgun diagnostics along the left-hand side of his vision. It had recognized both clips properly, was showing an accurate ammo count, and he was able to toggle the safety on and off with a thought. He was a good mechanic and a good armorer – he was sure it was functional.

With a shudder, he disconnected from the drone and dropped back into his meat body. The relocation of his psyche was jarring, as he was now looking back from the chair at the drone. Whoa. He also abruptly realized that his body was firing on all cylinders. He had heard that hot-sim was literally addicting, and now he understood why. His heart was pounding, he felt the beginning of a sweat, and he had half a hard-on.

Time to take a break! he thought. <Aria! Fire up Red Girl #4, let’s say, eleven minutes in, if you please!>

<Of course, Yegor,> Aria responded with a twinkle in her eye, as one of Yegor’s favorite porn vids popped into an AR window, queued up to a sexy redheaded human woman starting a sensual striptease.

* * * * *

Yegor had saved the best for last. He turned to the largest crate in the garage and went to work at it with his crowbar, breaking the planks off far more easily than any human could have. In moments, the crate was apart and his last toy was revealed.
The Steel Lynx looked menacing, even in its dormant state. It didn’t really look much like a cat, although there was subtle styling of the articulated wheel-arms that gave it a slightly feline appearance. But anyone looking at it would be more inclined to call it a tank than a cat. Each of the four articulated arms ended in a heavy wheel. Matte black armor plating covered every inch of the drone, and a weapon mount peeked out of the top, surrounded by another ring of armor plating. You could make the case that the Doberman was a “personal use” drone, but there was no mistaking this drone’s purpose.

Without prompting, Aria appeared off to the right of his vision and spoke. <The Ares Steel Lynx. Colloquially known as the “big cat” among rigging enthusiasts. The Steel Lynx comes pre-installed with the Small Arms Targeting, Automatics Targeting, and Longarms Targeting software suites. As a quadripedal wheeled combat drone, the Lynx is also pre-installed with Defense and Ares 2072 Combat Pilot software. A standard weapons mount is integrated into the top of the Steel Lynx. This drone has a four star rating for assault, defense, and all-purpose tactical combat use according to the 2071 UCAS Marines Tactical Force and Recon Guidebook.>

Aria paused, and with a twinkle in her eye, added, <Of course, when you’re done with it, the UCAS Marines would rate it a lot higher than that.> With a wink, she disappeared.

Yegor blinked, and then blinked again. Was she listening in when I thought that about the Doberman? Can she even do that? I thought that she was just a VI? Ah, whatever. If she did, that’s kinda cool. Yegor rolled the drone out of the remains of the crate and opened up his toolbox. Time to get to work.

* * * * *

Yegor grunted, yanking hard on the ratchet. With a loud crack, the nut freed itself from the rusty bolt. Fucking Nomads, he thought to himself. God damn rust buckets. He cranked the ratchet a few dozen times, then slowed as it neared the end of the thread. That was the eighth and final bolt, and the junction between the engine block and the transmission was growing wider. Yegor braced an arm under the transmission, and held its hundred-plus-pound weight easily as the bolt popped off. He tossed the rusted bolt off to the side and slowly lowered that end of the transmission until it touched the ground.

The Gaz-Willies Nomad was an old line of truck, and this one was owned by a cantankerous old Irishman named Miles. Fortunately for Miles, his creds were good even if his truck was a piece of shit. Yegor had worked on it four times in the past four months. He needed to keep the creds coming in if he was going to keep spending them the way he was, and rusted-on nuts were part of the gig.

As he pawed through his junk drawer of bolts looking for replacement bolts, Aria’s voice crooned the news of the day. He had set his Browse filters to push stories with certain keywords to the front.

<The Evo Corporation announced today that one of their top research scientists, one William McCain, has made a major breakthrough in mapping the genome mutations caused by goblinization. He is confident that this will eventually lead to treatments that might lessen the pain of those undergoing the process of goblinization, and perhaps one day reverse the process entirely. The Evo Corporation went on to stress that this in no way should be viewed as an anti-orc nor anti-troll research program. At the press conference announcing the breakthrough, CEO John Stonecastle stated, “We only wish for this line of research to offer relief to our orc and troll brothers and sisters. For those that hope to return to their original human form, we may one day be able to offer that possibility. But we continue to encourage all humans and meta-humans to find comfort and confidence in their race.”>
An image of the scientist was displayed next to the scrolling text of the story. Yegor paused to take a look at the man as he picked out another bolt from the drawer. He remembered a time when he wanted nothing more than for the pain of goblinization to stop. It was a wonder that more orcs and trolls didn’t go mad from the process, both from the physical pain of the transition and from the mockery, derision, and beatings suffered from the many racists of the world.

Yegor sighed. His adolescence had felt like death by a thousand cuts. He was so grateful for his parents and his brother – if it hadn’t been for them, he was certain he wouldn’t be alive today. His father was a rock of stability, his mother was the most gentle soul he knew, and his brother had such a great sense of humor that he was the only person that could get Yegor to laugh through the pain. Even so, he would have killed to have had some sort of relief from that agony. And his brother had just gone through the same a few years ago.

Shaking his head, he sighed and plucked another bolt from the drawer that looked like it would fit. He blinked as he realized that Aria had stopped reciting the news. He looked over at her AR image. She was watching him.

As soon as he looked her way, she spoke. <Does this news trouble you, Yegor?>

Yegor blinked. He honestly didn’t know what to say, for more reasons than one. First of all, his “virtual personality assistant” was now observing his reactions to the news and asking him personal questions. Secondly, he honestly wasn’t sure how he felt about this sort of research. <Not really>, he answered uncertainly. He didn’t really know what else to say.

<Perhaps you might prefer some music while you work?> Aria asked.

She sounded concerned. She was either an amazingly well-written virtual personality, or… or what? An AI? He had no idea. Yegor looked at her image for a long moment. She waited patiently for his response, a benign expression on her beautiful holographic face.

<Yeah… yeah, good idea, let’s get some music going.>

Aria gave a dazzling smile and nodded. The heavy double bass drums of Thump, his favorite dwarven drum band, began to resonate through the garage. Yegor grinned and looked back down at the drawer. An AR overlay appeared, helpfully identifying four other bolts on top of the pile that would fit the Nomad. His smile widened as he plucked them out.

<Thanks, Aria.>

* * * * *

“These are shit. You gotta have better than this,” Yegor growled.

The dwarf made a fist, as though to punch the troll in the mouth, then grinned and relaxed it. Two-Tone was one of the more mellow dwarves that Yegor knew, and a pretty good forger. “Yeah, of course I do. Thought you were just looking for something to wave in a Star’s face if he’s giving you shit. You looking to go more hardcore?”

Yegor snorted. “I ain’t a dwarf, Tone. If I wave a license in a Star’s face, he’s gonna run it.”

The dwarf nodded at Yegor’s logic. “Yeah, suppose that’s true. You guys do have it a bit rougher than we do.” Yegor snorted again at the understatement. “Alright, how about these then?”

Two-Tone pulled another small binder out of his bag, opened it up, and handed it to Yegor for his perusal. Within were another array of forged licenses. He had obviously put a fair amount of effort into these. They wouldn’t hold up against a military-grade scanner, but if Yegor got stopped by some beat cops, they would pass.

“You can sync these to my SIN?” Yegor asked.

“You got a SIN?” Two-Tone asked, surprised. When he saw the droll grimace on the troll’s face, he said, “Oh, you mean the fake one you bought before. C’mon chummer, what the hell do you take me for? Of course. All part of the service.”

Yegor nodded. “I need eight.” He began plucking licenses from the binder.

“Eight!” Two-Tone looked surprised again. “That’s gonna run you over three grand, you know. Since when are you packing so much restricted shit?”

“Since none-of-your-fucking-business, jackplug.”

“All right, Crowbar, ice it down. One for the Moss, obviously, one more for the ammo, and I’m assuming one for those bad mother drones you’ve got crouched over there. What else?”

“Grenades, radio scanner, smartlink, grey apps, and vehicles.”

The dwarf whistled through his teeth. “Damn, brother. Decided to do some running, eh?”

Yegor supposed there was no point in denying it. “I’ve been giving it some thought, yeah. I’m not gonna fuck with it if I can’t do it right.”

“Good philosophy. Get sloppy and you’ll get dead quick.”

Yegor handed the small stack of chips back to Two-Tone. “These will work. Sync ‘em up.”

Two-Tone took the stack of chips and plugged the first of them into the sim port in the side of his skull. After a few seconds, he ejected it and inserted the next. It took barely more than a minute for him to sync each of the licenses to Yegor’s fake SIM. “You’re all set, chummer.” He handed a slip of paper with an account number scrawled on it to Yegor. “Thirty-two hundred,” he said.

<Send it over,> Yegor thought to Aria.

<Transferring funds now,> Aria replied.

* * * * *