Trigger jerkin’

Went to Bulgaria over the Easter period with friends to meet a friend studying there. We flew into Sofia and then got a ride to Plovidiv – roads were a bit scary with craters and gravestones every 10KM or so after recent crashes.

Plovidiv was way nicer than I was expecting –  good weather, no sketchy areas  in the main town, lots of Czech beer, prices about 30% of Ireland. As it’s builtThe settlement was a one point capital of the Roman empire, and the ruins beneath the city are only being excavated now. At the same time, the city will be European Capital of Culture in 2019, and you can see the EU money coming in fixing roads. The city seems to be run by the mafia, but there was no street crime, no public disorder

I arranged a basic AR-15 competency course for my friends while we were there – it covered safe operation of a firearm, fieldstripping and reassembly of the AR-15 and then drilling in loading, aiming, shooting and then ensure the weapon is safe. We shot about 100 rounds each standing, kneeling and prone. Everyone had a great time, no  unexpected BANGS or muzzle sweeping, and people who were initially nervous shot well. Only downside was it was very windy on the day – this pushed the muzzle around a bit when standing and kneeling.

Some thoughts on the AR-15 or at least the Sig M400:

Direct impingement is much more complex than a bolt action rifle! It sounds obvious, but a semi-automatic rifle is a different beast altogether. There are much more buttons to operate, and checking the breach, changing magazines and charging the rifle made it more like driving a car than shooting. I am glad I started shooting a .22 to begin with to work on sight picture, breathing and trigger pull. I imagine the AR-15 was a lot to take in for new shooters. Changing magazines was really fun compared to working a bolt and loading every shot.

The trigger pull was a good bit heavier than the Anchutz 54s I used to shoot: probably 4lb v 1lb. I don’t think this caused any issues shooting, but the light trigger is very easy to shoot with.

The AR-15 itself is much lighter than then Anchutz 54 and comfortable to hold. The pistol stock is more stable to shoot standing and kneeling. The rifle we shot was ambidextrous. I would even say that .223 Remington has less felt recoil because of the buffer tube compared to .22 rifles.

.223 out of a 16″ barrel is hella loud and sharp sounding. I used earplugs and muffs on the day. I would love to shoot it at longer ranges than 50m-100m. Less drop than a .22LR.

I was definitely the best shot standing and kneeling, but I should have shot prone more.

The instructor said afterwards we had basic competency and had shot safely. He reminded us that in a tactical situation, our groups would be three times as wide and to choose your stance so you can maintain a tight group according to your distance and stress. He briefly took us through the AK-74 for a comparison with the AR-15, and recommended we shoot both to be familiar with the most common platforms.

 

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STALKER: Mists of Mosney session 1

5 room Dungeon for Stalker Game – Session 01. Lab beneath St Pauls’ School. Time will progress at about an hour per scene, and you’ll roll on the weather table every hour:

Weather tables – roll 1d6

Mist for -10 to awareness
Fog -20 to awareness. Max range 50m.
Chemical fog. As above, but take 1d3 damage per hour your exposed.
Rain – test toughness if you get wet.
Rain – test toughness if you get wet.
Clear and Calm.

 

Game should take about 4 hours.

 

Threshold – Scene 1

 

See a dead body, partially eaten. In a Stalker Suit. Get a PDA if they search – his name is DRIP. Dead dogs. And a trail of blood. Bullet casings, tracks… and an overgrown shipping containter. Looks like this was once a football field. The footprints lead to a small cluster of buildings.

As the party is walking along, they come across a wounded stalker, near death. This is NIMBLE. He was attacked by wild dogs on the way back from a raid, and the rest of his team had to leave him there while they went for aid. He’s on a raised platform, like one of those storage containers, or on the second floor of the house. He will call for aid.  The wild dogs return while the party decide what to do with him. If they are good stalkers, they’ll heal him. They may kill him, or ignore him altogether otherwise. The dogs attack at the next junction, or if a lot of noise is made. After 5 rounds, or a suitable junction, AVALANCHE and his 2 stalkers arrive back.

12 blind dogs. 6 hit points. Their bite does 1d6 damage. They move fast. They will flee if you kill or injure 50% of them, as they are beasts. Play up their strange senses. Should be lead by a bigger, scarier looking one.

 

Learning points

  • Wildlife is dangerous.
  • Code of the Free Stalker – help your brothers, get rich.
  • Friendly stalkers will give you advice and trade.

Leader of NIMBLE’s group is an experienced stalker with an assault rifle and modified Stalker suit called AVALANCHE.

He warns about the cordon ahead, the bandits in Clontarf. Leader of the bandits is a guy called MONK.  He will lead the party some of the way, and demonstrate some of the effects of anomalies and artefacts. But only if they aid NIMBLE.

RP, or puzzle – scene 2

Corrupt military have set up a roadblock beneath a collapsed railway bridge. The party must talk their way through, pay them off, fight their way through or go around. They want about €200 a head. At a tense moment, a helicopter will pass overhead, heading deeper into the Zone.

About 5-6, in cover. Pissing them off will trigger the SAFE raid on the players.

They have 10 hitpoints each, do 1d10+2 damage, and their stats are same as a Fighter’s profile. They will be hard to shift, as there is nowhere to retreat to for them.  They may surrender if outmanuevered.

Learning points

  • The military are not friends of free stalkers, and won’t hesitate to shoot if you try funny stuff.
  • There is always a way around.
  • There is a special forces unit by the name of SAFE – Synchronised Armed Forces Europe. They are ambushing and killing stalkers.

Going above exposes the party to a high level of radiation and an encounter with an anomaly. They must trace out its active range. This introduces bolts, artefacts and anomalies if they did not encounter AVALANCE.

 

Setback or Twist – scene 3

They reach their location, the School, but the poltergeist in the building makes it almost impossible to get in. There are some free stalkers camped out. There are some artefacts in the nearby buildings: Pellicle can be harvested if they can find a way to get it off the chemical anomalies.

The other stalkers will leave after a 3 hour rest – they are trying to rescue their friend from the Garbage in St. Anne’s Park, who is being kept as a slave by MONK’s bandits. They give clues about the monster – active only in the building, it screams “BRING IT BACK TOGETHER” and attacks by hurling items and with psychic phenomena.

Once they enter the building, a ghostly wind sweeps through the building and their Geiger counters spike. Small objects at first rise from the ground, hover for a round, then hurl themselves at the players. Especially heads of stalkers and monsters. The monster is only active within school itself. Looking in the window, the players will see lots of effigies of headless creatures. And scattered heads. Lots of spook value, play up the horror element. The poltergeist can be pacified by finding the art room and putting heads on the decapitated statutes.

They should test their willpower or be stunned for several rounds in fear if they fail badly.

Poltergeist: 15 HP. Throw small item like a head or bottle 1d6, large item like a or chair table 2d6, enormous item like a locker 2d10. 1 turn to levitate the item, thrown next turn. Can be parried with fighting skill if you have a close combat weapon drawn. Can be shot,  knocking the floating item to the ground. Incorporeal, so can’t be directly targeted. Can see through walls.

 

When the players approach the art room, a Snork should appear from the basement. 12HP. It can leap several meters and attack at +20 Fighting. After that, it can attack for 2d6, twice per round. It will attempt to dodge using agility, but cannot parry. When heavily wounded, it will retreat to the lab. Killing it and looting the body will give the players a dog tag of a missing Irish soldier from the initial evacuation.

The poltergiest will continue to pelt the party with stuff throughout. If they are clever, they might try dodging the items and letting the snork take the blows.

 

Climax.

If the players can solve the mystery, they will get access to the basement below. They discover a prototype psi-protection helmet and lots of research. All of this is very valuable. If players wear the helmet, they can see the poltergeist.

  • Poltergeist itself is about 15 wounds, incorporeal. Will throw 2 items for 1d6. Or throw a large item for 2d6, or a giant for 2d6! The items can be shot to knock them down.

If they did not pacify the monster, they will need to face it as they emerge from the dungeon. Killing the monster reveals it to be a legless, mutated man.

Note that if the heads are knocked off the statues, the poltergeist will be enraged! My players used this to delay the military strike team

 

 

Reward, revelation.

As the party leaves the basement lab, they hear the helicopters again. A military raid by SAFE special forces on their position has begun! If they helped the stalkers earlier, the other Free stalkers will assist them to escape the area.

If they did not annoy the military, the bandits will ambush the party as they head back through the village. The Free stalkers will aid them if they assisted them earlier.

  • The party will not be able to kill the military, but they should be able to run.
  • The bandits are lead by a man named Sultan, they can talk, but will be entirely hostile. You can walk away if you are able to convince them.

 

Standard stats:

 

  Survivor Fighter Criminal Technician
Fighting 40 45 40 35
Awareness 45 40 35 45
Fitness 35 45 40 40
Agility 45 40 45 40
Charisma 45 35 45 40
Intellect 35 35 35 45
Willpower 40 45 35 40
Zone * * * *

 

 

 

Anomalies and Artefacts:

Mosquito: a 3m wide graviconcentrate that flings items thrown into it in a random direction at high speed, but rarely back in the direction of the thrower. Almost definitely lethal. Occasionally captures debris, flesh of victims and crushes them into an artefact.  Generates Wrenched, which looks like a lump of coal, flecked with gold. Gives off high radiation, but makes bullets more likely to miss the user.

Hints: a mosquito buzzing sound, a divot in the ground, fluttering grass and trees that bend towards the anomaly.

 

Electrostatic: A lightning storm that strikes whatever enters for lethal damage. Can be triggered with thrown bolts. Unknown what artefacts it generates.

Hints: your hair stands on end.

 

Chemical Fog: Much of Dublin Bay is now a giant chemical anomaly, and the breeze blows a corrosive fog over the city. A warning siren will sound – you should seek cover if you hear it.

 

Fruit Cordial: a liquid chemical anomaly that dissolves whatever it touches. Not detected by most detectors – but usually confined to flooded areas. Generates Pellicle, a rubbery skin artefact that seems to protect from chemical burns.

Hints: sounds of hissing and popping.

 

Pins and Thorns: two radiation-sapping artefacts that are pressed into the skin. Makes you bleed from your ears, and doubles the bleeding damage you take. But will take you down a level on the radiation scale within an hour. Stalkers usually find them amidst old needles. If they are dropped on their sharp point, they bounce back to the exact same height, seemingly violating physics.

 

Black Sprays: a black glassy substance in demand for jewellery. Light is delayed when passing through, making them sparkle with a red light. Very valuable, and safe to handle.

 

STALKER: Mists of Mosney setting

1519120254698[These are some of the places, people and adventures we have come up with so far]

A nuclear disaster in post-Brexit Britain made the eastern part of Ireland unlivable, but what survived in the Exclusion Zone was changed forever. From the epicenter in Mosney came waves of mutated creatures, deadly radiation, and a strange, anomalous energy. The Zone was cordoned off by the military, who would shoot on sight anyone foolish enough to brave the horrors within.

It is now 2029 – man has ventured further and further into the heart of the Zone driven by reports of strange ‘artifacts’ imbued with anomalous energy. Mercenaries and bounty hunters compete to recover these artifacts, which command extortionate prices on the black market. Others seek to find the truth behind the Zone, while some merely revel in the desolate lawlessness of the place. Whatever their motivation, over time these individuals – Scavengers, Trespassers, Adventurers, Loners, Killer, Explorers and Robbers – have become known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s.

You play stalkers raiding the Exclusion Zone of Dublin, including the Red Forest of St. Anne’s Park, the Dead City of Killester, the M50 Cordon and the dreadful, mistshrouded Mosney Holiday camp.

GM Note: each player will contribute 4 rumors to the setting. As it’s based in Leinster, you should have plenty of ideas for your local area. These could be NPCs, a location, an encounter with an anomaly, or a monster. You can also expand on any of the ideas below or propose a revision.  Your rumors are mandatory! They form the world for you and your friends.

The Setting

A strange, radioactive mist has spread over the neoPale, stripping the colour from the world. The city of Dublin is lost to the Exclusion Zone, but you remember what it was like before the accident. Plus, you hear rumours from other stalkers back at the bars – tales of the deep Zone, betrayals and alliances, wonders and horrors, and of artefacts that sell for a fortune.

 

About You

You are not rookies, but you are not experienced enough to join a faction or lead a gang yourself. You escaped the Zone after the accident, or you’ve been on brief trips inside. You are all motivated by different things: some of you are here for money, some for adventure and some because the Zone is the only place you feel alive.

About the Zone

The Zone is constantly changing. The old maps aren’t necessarily right any more: they don’t show the invisible anomalies that can rip a man apart, the high radiation that will kill you in minutes, or the turf of the factions that control the Zone. But you’ve heard some things…

Cordon: M50 and parts of the M1: these form a 5m high neo-Pale around Dublin. But this time, the walls are to keep the inhabitants in. The EU military holds the line, but the frontier is increasingly porous. It takes a bribe or a skilled guide to get you in, but you’re on your own getting out.

Eastpoint Business Park: a Duty base here protects the Port Tunnel exit. A grounded warship provides cover from periodic Emissions. Mutants and monsters emerge from the tunnel, and only Duty say they can keep them back and preserve the world from the Zone’s terrors. They are actively recruiting stalkers to join them, and they are mostly ex-EU military who have gone rogue. They are at war with the Freedom faction and Bandits.

Clontarf: <Player> knows it was once the jewel of the Northside, and thanks to Clontarf Castle it is an oasis of stability from mutants and the Duty/Freedom faction war. However, this peace comes at a price: Bandits control the area and extract a toll for safe passage from any stalker who passes through. They want money, drugs and artifacts. These Bandits are led by a gangland boss by the name of Monk. Monk’s criminal family live like feudal lords in the castle. They are known to keep slaves and eat lavish meals brought in from the outside world every day. Monk’s slaves are used to search for artifacts in the wastes of St. Anne’s Park and haul goods from Bull Island. These Bandit faction is at war with Duty, and preys on free stalkers.

There is a small trading post at Nolan’s Supermarket, and a stronghouse just opposite. Some of the wealthy families have sent mercenary teams in to secure their properties against raiders, or to recover valuables and sentimental items.

Marino Park is a former residential area, but the green areas are now infested with packs of wild pseudodogs. A group of free Stalkers lead by Red O’Neill are retaking the area and trying to exterminate the pseudodogs so free Stalkers have free passage to Mosney. They have built elevated platforms from house to house. There is a rumoured secret entrance to the Port Tunnel below. Red O’Neil has big plans…

Marino Casino: a Freedom encampment here uses the hill to overwatch the Zone. Their medics are top notch, and they are the best in the Zone at using the strange artefacts for human benefit. They think the fruits of the Zone should be shared with the world, and feel the Zone is the only place a man can be truly free. This brings them into conflict with the Duty and military faction, who want to contain it.

Killester: a warren of tunnels and lanes. Several temporal anomalies make it a maze where you can get in, but not always out

St. Anne’s Park: The trees here were killed quickly by fallout, but the red forest still stands. Lots of heavy machinery was dumped here in the initial attempt at a cleanup of Dublin, either buried or left in the open. Very high radioactivity. The mutated wildlife of the zone has reclaimed the park. Also goes by the name “the Dump”. <Player> heard there’s dead men walking in the park, for the given value of “dead” and if the term “man” can still be applied.St. Paul’s College: <Player> heard rumors of a good spot in Raheny. Overlooking St. Anne’s Park/Garbage is St. Paul’s College. The sports field out back is an ideal spot to safely scout St. Anne’s Park and the bike compound is defensible camp site. It’s possible that the dilapidated building still houses some lab equipment and supplies, perhaps a few boxes of Chikatees remain, maybe one of its many computers still work, hell there might even be a few bikes left in the compound. But all stalkers avoid the Annex of the main building due to violent poltergeist activity. There is rumor of an amazing stash inside, but no one can get past the flying objects. From the camp outside, a soft sobbing can sometimes be heard, rumoured to be an art teacher long driven mad by one of his students. Long before the Zone, it’s said that the student stole the teacher’s clay heads and he won’t be whole again until he replaces them, whether with heads of clay or flesh. His cry of rage sounds almost like a name..

Bull Island: the nature reserve has dozens of rotting cruisers beached on it. In the rush to clear Dublin port, no one even bothered to unload their millions of Euros of goods. Now warred over by Bandits and free Stalkers. An excellent place to get weapons and barter for goods

Howth: the EU-sponsored Ecologist faction is encamped on top of the hill and uses the helipad to fly out the mutant samples they collect. These eggheads pay the best price for artefacts and mutant parts, and have the most advanced protective equipment in the Zone. Rumour is they are under siege from the foot of the hill. Some say their attackers are mercenaries.

To the North: it’s only passable via the railway bridge. Bandits blockaded it with crashed DART trains, and extract a toll for each passage. The railway is otherwise passable with a handcart and is anomaly free apart from the mist.

<Player> heard a rumor of a new smuggling group of hardened smugglers, from the former northern Irish border who are trying to break into the exclusion zone for more loot. Initial reports state they’re using gear that was supposedly deactivated after the Good Friday agreement. They have been trying to reach Mosney from the North.

Swords and Airport: don’t go to Swords. Host to an unending tide of zombified stalkers, turned mad by emissions from further North.Gormanstown Camp: the former airfield was used to host refugees from the fighting in the North in the 2022 Reunification. Though some were rescued by determined family members, many were lost forever to the strange emissions of the Zone.

Murphy’s Concrete Quarry west of Mosney: rumoured location of a strange artefact that grants wishes. Heavily guarded by a mysterious, fanatical faction. Constant rain and mist blocks any aerial surveillance

Mosney: the fading holiday camp was long since shutdown, and the chalets were used to house refugees from the conflict in Europe and the North. Even before the accident, there were dark rumors about missing people. Now the camp is once again empty, yet haunted by creatures that walk through the mists. The epicenter of the strange energies since the accident. No one has returned after setting out to

Maynooth: <Player> knows the university town was used by the Ecologist faction for the research of Zone phenomena. Anything bought in the neoPale first made its way here for the scientists to classify and study. It was a world-leading institution… up until about 6 months ago. There were rumors of strange lights hovering over the campus, beasts spilling out of containment and weird obelisks appearing on the rooftops. Since then the flow of scientific papers to the outside world from the former seminary has halted altogether. And a military cordon has blockaded any routes in or out. Some stalkers say there’s men in black robes coming from the city preaching the end of the world. One thing is for certain – the Zone may be expanding.

National Botanical Gardens: <Player> has heard it’s overgrown into a dense and dark jungle, spreading along the Tolka valley. Few stalkers who enter emerge again. Those who have traveled with their Northside guides talk of man-eating plants lumbering around. But these may just be tall tales. In any case, the Ecologists are trading food and medicine with survivors in Broombridge for samples of the changed plants. If you have a guide, the Dark Gardens are a useful route into the center of Dublin City.

Dublin City: <Player> heard there’s a group basing themselves out of the former National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks who’ve been raiding places of historical interest. They’ve been seen wearing retro uniforms and using extreme violence on those who attempt to stop them. Rumour has it they’re being led by the mysterious “Director” clad in a white lab coat and officer’s cap.

The Doctor bases herself out of a tattoo studio on Ormond Quay, she offers service for a minimal fee, but not everyone returns from her clinic…

 

 

New Stalker RPG

ballymun

 

I’ve been planning a STALKER RPG for a few months, and I ran the first session on Saturday. The ruleset is a simple d100 system (roll under your stat to pass the test, get bonuses based on your actions, skills and equipment). It plays similarly to Dark Heresy, but with more of a focus on adventure, combat and loot.

As it is set in our home city after a terrible accident, I asked the players to submit 4 ideas for places, factions, encounters or monsters. This built the setting and gave them a stake in the story. The players must enter the Zone of Alienation and face dangerous anomalies, mutants and bandits. Only your quick wits, fast talk and sharp eyes can bring back the swag, and make you rich.

Health, Radiation and Sanity.
You start with 10 hitpoints. Every character has a sanity meter as in Dark Heresy: psi attacks will reduce your sanity, along with seeing horrific things. You will also need to manage radiation:
Your dosimeter which will tell you how much radiation you have absorbed. You have 3 levels: singed, cooked and fried. At “Singed”, you take a -5 to your stats and test against vomiting. At “Cooked”, you take a -10 to your stats and test against bleeding and diarrhea. You will also take 1 damage per hour. At “Fried”, you will die within 24 hours unless you get treatment. You fall into unconsciousness.
You can drink a bottle of vodka to cool off from being Singed but will be drunk for the next 30 minutes (-10 to fine motor skills and awareness, +10 to willpower and charisma).
You will need 3 bottles of vodka, or 1 dose of anti-radiation drugs to cool off from Cooked.
Only anti-radiation artifacts or anti-radiation drugs can take you from Fried to Cooked.
Character Generation
Your character will need a high-concept description and a trouble. These will become your skills and talents in game. For example:
  • A former inhabitant of Mosney who seeks revenge against a monster that killed other refugees. His trouble is trauma from his powerlessness at that time.
  • A civil servant turned stalker who uses his infrastructure knowledge to move unmolested through the Zone. His trouble is naivety – he is trusting and overshares info when he should not.
Once you have a character concept, pick a stat block. Then roll a ten-sided dice and add it to one stat. ZONE is a special stat, assigned by the GM.

Add 1d10 to one stat once you’ve picked your background.
Pick your primary weapon:
  • Over-under shotgun and 10 shells. (1d10 damage, 30m range, minimum 5 damage. 2 shells in barrel.)
  • Hunting rifle and 2 reloads of 5 (.303) rounds (1d10 damage, 100m range, minimum 2 damage, Aimed Shot, armour pen 2, 5 rounds in magazine)
  • SMG and 2 reloads of 30 rounds. (1d10 damage, 50m range, autofire for 3 shots, using 10 rounds. 30 shots in magazine.)
  • large hand weapon  2d10 damage in close combat
Pick your backup:
· Pistol and 1 reload (1d6 damage, 30m, 7 shots)
· knife (1d5 damage)
· prototype anomaly/artifact detector and Geiger counter. These beep in the presence of hazards and treasure.
Starting Armour: A leather jacket which gives 1 Armour point against melee damage. No protection from firearms or anomalies.
Your gear in a backpack:
  • Bag of bolts for detecting anomalies. You have a bunch of small screws and nuts, and 3 large nuts wrapped in a cloth. You can throw these to check an area for lethal anomalies – this takes time and skill.
  • Your PDA – it tracks any info you get, and lets you know if any stalkers with PDAs are in the area. Can send and receive messages.
  • Medkit (heal 5 wounds and stop bleeding), 3 bandages (heal 1 wound and stop bleeding), bottle of vodka for radiation sickness.
  • Gas mask against radioactive particles and chemical anomalies.
  • Swiss army knife. Binoculars. Maps. Canned food for 1 day.
Choose your extra gear. If you want to have an alternate package, let me know:
  • A smoke grenade, fuel and 2 pipebombs filled with nails – can be set as traps
  • Stalker Suit (2 armour against melee and bullets, 1 armour against anomalies)
  • Guitar with drugs of your choice hidden in the body.
  • Radiation-hardened laptop, access keys, hacking kit.

This is filled into the character sheet, which is modified from the Roadside Picnic RPG:

https://scontent-lhr3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-0/28869969_1987190397962644_9074139253511815168_o.jpg?_nc_eui2=v1%3AAeFEmWEU8LG43-Cu0MgcXnhAaZxWJ3v64q8v9qoEGlQTVm-rzoYv25Smz6gkj9lEdgLCekM4jjtjngnlsDs4Fys_SX4w3V3S1z5GoaiJWxgZZQ&oh=e246b7fbb9525f0b4d9eb289bacbe13d&oe=5B463EFF

  • Fighting – a combination of shooting, melee and tactics.
  • Awareness – passive and active perception.
  • Fitness – your strength and toughness.
  • Agility – fine motor skills and balance.
  • Charisma – your charm and ability to lead, negotiate and lie.
  • Intellect – your ability to think on your feet or perform complex technical tasks.
  • Willpower – resist pain, fear and psychic attack.
  • ZONE – allows you to re-roll that many dice per session, and also governs your luck and intuition in the Zone.

 

The next post will cover some specifics of the game world we have created.

Pale Riders

[A short intro piece for an upcoming 40k game. I play a group of techno-mystics in a desert who have retreated from civilization to better ponder the mysteries of faith.]

 

asusruins.jpg

“…And I heard the voice in the midst of the thunder saying ‘Come and See,’ and I saw,
And I beheld the Children of the Green bearing terrible weapons while the eight-toothed cog was trampled at their feet,
And the sixth seal was shattered and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth and a great beast encircled the world.
The ancient ones bore silent witness, their hands dipped in blood, and the lamentations were mighty as the serpent moved through the firmament dripping poison, And the Voice in the Abyss spoke again saying ‘It is done’…”
-Liber Arcadia
“Santuary! Sanctuary!!” cried the technosatyr as the monk’s arm tightened around his neck.
“Doubleshaped bastard! Half-and-half beast!” said the monk, slamming the monster into the dusty monastery wall and cracking his mask with the force of the blow. The monster let go of the horn it held, stunned. The stink of ozone filled the air as the monk charged a blast of lightning to incinerate the interloper. In the distance, the afternoon thunderstorm rolled through the dunes and craters surrounding the mountain.
“Peace, Brother Physter, peace,“ Archimandrite Quine said, laying a hand on the monk’s shoulder. The technosatyr squirmed against the wall.
“I know this one. I recognise his call,” Quine said, taking in the beast’s creaking bionics and boiled-dry coolant. The half-and-half man had travelled far, and at great danger. He too had made that journey through the desert once, and remembered the sting of rusting joints and parched logic circuits. But Quine had chosen his exile, and did not mourn civilisation. Why had this creature come so far? Surely not just for the wyrdstone the monastery collected for its keep?
“He snuck in, Father Quine, crept until he was 10 paces from the door and then blew that dreadful horn. It’s technosorcery to get that close and not be spotted. A bolt of lightning put an end to his cavorting,” Brother Physter said, releasing the technosatyr, who slumped against the wall. Quine was now confronted with a choice – reject this estranged brother of the Machine Cult or offer him the succour afforded to visitors. Before he could speak, the technosatyr gurgled his damaged voicebox:
“I bring a message, my lord… a warning… “ he began as the thunderstorm began to roll over them, letting lose a flinty rain. The technosatyr’s voice rose between the thunderclaps:
“We that held fast against the Green have been defeated. What we feared most… what we protected against… has been unleashed…” At that, there was a green flash on the horizon that split the clouds, followed by silence as the light scorched the rocks. Quine was sure he could see the few bones that remained in Brother Physter through the green glow. The technosatyr’s voice reached an unearthly screech and the light itself seems to break into a thousand pieces.
“The Seal… is broken.”

NYC Midnight short story competition

I entered into a short story competition where you get 7 days to write a story with random genre, setting and character. First round, I got “sci-fi”, “audition” and “man with long fingernails”. At the very least, it was nice to finish something with the Falcon and our dedicated /lit/ shitposting group. 2500 words.

 

Handshake

In the wake of a terrible interplanetary war, Manus is tasked with finding the worthiest pair of hands in the Earth Sphere. His Empress needs them for a statue that will secure peace in the Solar System.

_

 

Manus was not a vain man, but each supplicant that came to him was imperfect. His gilded office held three worthy citizens shortlisted by his assistant for their outstanding contributions to society. Manus steeled himself for the task ahead, hoping they did not smell too strongly of their labours. He beckoned them forward and took out his ruler and electrocallipers and began to inspect their hands, careful to mind the long fingernails expected of his position. He smiled blandly and began his assessment.  He hovered the electrocallipers over each wrinkle, scar and hangnail, measuring and testing. The algae farmer’s hands were too coarse for his vision – the statue was not supposed to be rustic. The helium miner’s hands were missing a finger – the statue was not meant to be ugly. The broodmother’s hands were withered – the statue was not about the past, but of the bright new future for the planet. The people had sacrificed much in recent years to ensure peace in the wake of terrible military defeats to the Jupiter Sphere.

“Your names, citizens?” Manus said, his fingers poised over the dataslate’s touchscreen. Each recited their given names, their tithe grade and their sad little story of toil and trouble since the war began. The algae farmers’ hands were still stained green, and calloused from stirring the giant vats night and day. The miner disfigured himself in a tunnel collapse, but still turned in his share of the tithe. And the broodmother had raised a battalion of war orphans in her single human lifespan, without ever once seeking rejuvenation treatment reserved for elite workers. The dataslate had finished downloading the scans of their hands from the electrocallipers, and Manus matched them to their owners with a swipe of his long fingers.

Manus knew the pressure they were under: as Chief Technocrat he made the policy for the millions like them, planned the allocation of their production and returned to them the rewards of their toil… once he had taken his share. Yet he couldn’t help but sneer. This was a new age supposedly, so he held his anger for now. The Empress called all of Earth’s High Council together to for a very special announcement. She had seen a vision of mankind united once more on Earth, free of petty politicking and unfettered by the old ways. After the customary feast for the dozen or so members, she produced a sketch of a human standing proud and pointing to both the heavens and the earth. She tasked them to find suitable models for each element of the statue – Manus was to find the hands – and the Empress’s finest artisans would assemble them into a radiant whole. The only restriction was they had to come from the worthiest citizens, pure of form and purpose. So, Manus had suffered the intrusions of dozens of so called worthies over the last week, and all of them had been found wanting by him. But Manus could not fail the Empress’s vision.

The statue would be marble, or silver, or pure gold. The three in front of him were not fit to be immortalised with such reverence.  He shooed them out of his office and shut the door. He walked to the curved window overlooking the capital, and saw the hubbub in the city he had worked in for twenty decades.  It gladdened his heart to watch the serfs loading the algae biscuits into the space elevator.  It would feed the helium miners on the Moon, who would in turn fuel the fusion reactors of Earth. And that would power the factories to launch the next expeditions to the Jupiter Sphere… and there would be new prizes to win for Manus. He tapped again on his dataslate, running the calculations: it would be a mere 5 years before Earth was on war footing again, if he kept pressure up on the serfs to produce. And that meant new holdings, new colonies and new wealth flowing into his pocket. Which meant another century of life from the finest of medical technology. He held his hands to the sunlight and thought: surely hands that shape history are worthy of being immortalised forever? He clawed his long fingernails around the sun and made as if to hold it. His hands were longer, stronger, smoother, sharper than anyone’s. If anyone was worthy, it was him. A plan began to form in his head. He took up the electrocallipers again and began to scan himself from wrist to the tip of his long fingernails.

 

When his shortlist was completed and submitted the Empress, Manus was not surprised to be called to the palace. In the gilded halls, he saw the throngs of ordinary people beaming to be in the presence of greatness, to taste unrationed food and breath unrecycled air. Here and there he caught glimpse of his fellow High Council members in the crowd, either waiting in the wings with their retainers and acolytes for the audition or sauntering through the milling serfs. There was the Labour Overseer decked out in the finest jewels and tailored robes found in the Earth Sphere, with a pair of dark glasses over her eyes.  Manus knew she took a sample of everything that passed beneath her inspection. A bubble of fear surrounded the Grand Inquisitor, who was famous for sniffing out treachery and sedition. He noted with amusement the Grand Inquisitor had gilded around his nose – had be perhaps submitted himself as a model as Manus had? No matter, Manus thought, each organ of the state had a part to play, from the lowliest to the highest. Manus stretched his hands in front of him discretely – he had gone for the natural look and had his hands and nailed massaged, oiled and buffed for the audition. To further plump his chances, he selected the algae farmer, the helium miner and the broodmother as his shortlist, and they would be called together in front of the Empress, who would select the best. Manus sipped the wine delicately as he approached the three serfs, who knelt to kiss his ring of office.

“You are pleased to be here?” Manus said.

“Yes milord, oh yes. Such fancy things, and the chance to be before our Empress. They say she is a wise ruler and a woman of the people,” the algae farmer said.

“And such plans for change – I wonder what this statue will be for,” said the miner.

“I just hope she brings peace at last. I have raised too many orphans already, and I fear I am close to my end,” the broodmother said.

Before Manus could reply, a trumpet call went up in the grand hall to announce the Empress’s arrival. The room stood to attention and a hush came over the crowd. The Empress came through the double doors, flanked by two guards in golden armour.  She lifted a hand in salute and the room applauded.

“Long live Earth, and her people!” the Empress hailed them.

“Long live Earth, and her Empress!” the people roared.

“We all know the body of man is greater than the sum of its parts. And so too is it with our Empire of the Earth Sphere. Each of us plays a part in the greater whole. That is why I have commissioned a statue composed of only the worthiest of our Empire,” the Empress said. A throne rose silently from the floor below her, and she elegantly parted her robes and sat down.

“Only one of you in each group will be chosen to continue to into my inner sanctum, where you shall be immortalised forever by the finest artisans in the worthiest materials. I call first the eyes,” the Empress concluded.

A stir in the crowd as the first group moved to the grand staircase – Manus saw a fighter pilot in his spacesuit, a watchmaker in his guild overalls, a painter, and the Labour Overseer swishing her robes as she walked. She flicker her eyes at Manus –  she must have submitted herself as he had. Perhaps all the High Council had? Each bent in turn before the Empress as she made the final call, before picking the Labour Overseer. Her shout of delight went out over the crowd, and the Guards ushered her into the next room. The Grand Inquisitor was next to head up, along with a perfumer, a hunter and a baker. After a moment of deliberation, the Grand Inquisitor too was chosen from his group. Manus and the three serfs were next to be called, and he strode manfully forward. The throne filled his vision as he rose up the stairs, and he placed himself at the top of the queue. The three serfs filed behind him. The Empress waved him forward and Manus kneeled, presenting his hands. The Empress grasped them by the wrist and delicately traced them to the tips of Manus’ long fingernails.

“Such smooth and spotless hands. Unblemished by their long service, their many labours, and the blood spilled in Mother Earth’s name. Those behind you I know – they wear their suffering and triumphs. What do you do citizen? Why should I take your hands over anyone else’s?” the Empress said. Manus coughed, as if embarrassed. Surely the Empress knew what he had done for Earth – the extraction policies passed to wring those last few percentages from the serfs, the efficiencies gained in pensions and sick care by simply letting workers die on the job, and the ingenious plan of pushing excess population to the Jupiter front, before unrest consumed the factories. But this was a dance like any other – one had to put on one’s best face for the record.

“Your Highness, I am but a simple man who wishes to serve Earth in any way I can. Through my long life I have represented the worthy, guided them along the path of production and built your empire in the Solar System,” Manus said

“If I told you this statue would bring peace with the Jupiter Sphere and happiness to every man, woman and child on Earth, would you submit to my will?” the Empress said.

“Yes, I would your Highness. I remain your humble servant,” Manus replied, bowing, the tips of the long fingernails bobbing like the wingtips of a bird. What was a few days of posing in a lifetime of centuries? Anything was worth it to secure his fortune, and the next hundred years of medically-extended life.

“Then proceed to the next room – you have passed –  join your fellow worthies,” the Empress said. The golden doors behind him opened, and the guards ushered him through.

In the next room was the Ambassador for the Jupiter Sphere accompanied by the Palace Guard. Off in the corner, two medical orderlies looked to be preparing for surgery. There was a human shaped cask in the centre of the floor. The inscription on the base read ‘Never Again: Jupiter-Earth War’. A terrible fear gripped Manus when he saw the scene. He tried to leave, but the guards seized him and threw him in chains. They dragged him behind a screen, where the Grand Inquisitor and Labour Overseer were already held. Manus was still unclear exactly what was happening, but he had a bad feeling that he betrayed himself utterly. And when the other High Council members arrived one by one, he realised they had indeed nominated themselves in their categories. And they had all won, picked by the Empress herself. With another fanfare, the Empress arrived into her chambers, and shook hands with the Jupiter Sphere ambassador. Then she turned to the assembled members of her High Council.

“I knew you would not be able to resist something like this. I knew you would continue to take, you who have already taken too much. For too long, you have profited without suffering the consequences of your failures. You thought yourselves untouchable, apart from the jockeying of power between you. But today I change that. Today I will break you and forge you into something worthy. Then we will have peace,” the Empress said. The cask began to raise itself upright, filling with a pinkish liquid. Manus recognised it as the amnion used in full-body reconstruction as he had once a century to extend his lifespan. It would sustain life and provide a scaffold for flesh almost indefinitely. The surgeons began swabbing the civil servants with disinfectants, dotting lines where the cuts would be made. The Labour Overseer was first to be strapped to the table, and the surgeons deftly removed her eyes, ignoring the screams. The Jupiter ambassador politely applauded as a sculptor took up the eye balls and pressed them into the mould. The Grand Inquisitor was next, and he steeled himself against the torture of the knife and saw, no doubt having wielded it himself if similar circumstances. But when the orderlies grabbed Manus, he cried out suddenly as if burned.

“Your Highness, why?! Was it because my work was not enough? Because I failed you?” Manus screeched. The orderlies clamped his wrists into a vice so the buzzsaw could make a clean cut without damaging Manus’ fingernails. The ambassador leaned forward with interest when Manus was brought forward. The Empress smiled.

“No Manus, you were most worthy of your position. As are the rest of your fellows. The only problem was you took too much. From Earth. From the Jupiter Sphere. And now they all want something back,” the Empress said.

“I can give them back the money! The mining interests! The summer house orbiting Mercury! Even the little dog!” Manus pleaded.

“Those things aren’t enough. We need a monument to ensure the High Council does not repeat its mistakes,” the Empress said as the buzzsaw whirred into life.

Just before the surgeon plunged it through Manus’ wrists, the Empress had the final word:

“Because together… we are better.”

 

Backbone network

Since I have been back in the gym two weeks, I’ve been getting a lot of neck pain again. Went to a decent physio I trust, he did some good stuff to crack me open.

Lats and rotator cuff dynamic stretches.

Facepulls 3×12 at the end of workout

Double dumbell OHP

Incline/Decline Dumbell benchpress

DB Row 3*12

Machine rows 10-12*3

Recommends more psoas and hip flexor stretches, in addition to the glute work I’m doing. Hopefully I can keep working out without getting injured again.