EPU - What's New

UF/FI: OOTR: The Federation Lives Forever! Chapter 17

EPU - What's New
The Federation Lives Forever! continues: at the senior band's invitation, the Sato Academy Light Music Club's junior band is heading for Mount Weitang, and each team has a surprise or two for the other. Chapter Seventeen: "Welcome to the Pleasure Dome" 2018/08/18
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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 8

In My Daydreams

In seconds, Agent 957’s armor fell to the ground, expelling a cloud. Some of the grey particles floated in the air, others fell out of the bottom of his helmet, creating a small pile. It made me grateful that the Rocket suit filtered the air. It wouldn’t do me harm, but I didn’t like the idea of breathing him in.

The four-handers ran away, deeper into the tunnels, unwilling to take the chance that we wouldn’t kill them. Given that there were more than 20 bodies on the ground, most of them killed by me, I couldn’t blame them.

I turned to check on Marcus. He looked worse than I’d realized.

He lay with his back to the wall, enclosed in the time bubble. I hadn’t noticed, but the shot had burnt through his costume. The grey, rocky skin, tough as it was, must have done some good, but not enough. He wasn’t moving at all.

I became aware of my breathing and the movement of my heart in my chest as the thought struck me that he might be dead.

Except then I noticed one more thing. Lines distorted the shape of Tikki’s time bubble, pulsing outward with her at the center. Around him, lines pulsed outward with him at the center. She had a second time bubble inside the first. She might be keeping him in stasis, something that was well within her abilities as I understood them, but I’d never seen a second bubble inside the larger one.

I turned to look at Tikki, but as I did, I felt something. It reminded me of the feeling I’d had when we’d passed the remains of the battle that Lee had fought while leading the Destroy faction. In memory, that one had felt full of menace.

This felt hopeful, but also afraid at the same time. I’d wondered even as the fight began if she might somehow be one of Lee’s people. We’d met Kee Oataki, and Kee, just like Tikki, had given me new ideas to consider about technology. In Kee’s case, that had been FTL equipment. In Tikki’s, she’d given me new ideas about the bots.

It fit. Kee had disappeared after we walked out the door of her shop. When we walked back in, she wasn’t there. The shop contained people we’d never seen and they didn’t know where she was. It was exactly like one of those disappearing magic shops you read about in stories. After that, we’d been told about Tikki. If Kee’s abilities were anything like Lee’s, she’d had plenty of time to get a new identity.

My grandfather’s theory was that Lee manipulated reality every time he took a new form, altering history so that it was as if that new form has always existed from the moment he took form for as long as it lasted.

It didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but it fit my experience. Somehow Kee had changed reality such that Tikki had always been, including a history that left her parents conveniently dead, and no ties strong enough among the resistance to prevent her from joining up with us.

That would have been exactly what she wanted. Kee said that I glowed. I denied any knowledge of why, but following us would have given her every opportunity to find out who we were connected with.

The only thing that didn’t fit was that Lee had said that I’d probably sense the presence of another one of his people, but Tikki hadn’t ever tripped my ability to sense beings of blasphemous, eldritch horror (or whatever she was).

On the other hand, neither had Kee. I only become aware of what she must be after she’d brought the topic up herself and then completely disappeared.

If Kee was, as she appeared to be, the Live faction’s tech genius, it didn’t seem impossible that she might be able to hide her nature better than any of the others.

We met each other’s eyes and she said, “I know you know. Please don’t tell Marcus.”

I felt my jaw drop. “How can I not tell Marcus? Friends tell their friends when they’re dating uh… whatever you guys are.”

She shook her head. “I need to tell him. She… I… Tikki… She really did, really does love him.”

I said the first thing that came into my head. “What?”

She took two breaths. “I went too deep. I created Tikki and I forgot myself. She’s so like I was when I was young. I’d forgotten how deeply you feel emotions, how much everything hurts whether inside or outside. She wouldn’t let me do anything halfway.”

“So, Marcus is definitely alive, right?”

“Yes!” She shouted back at me, her upper lip quivering. “I’m going to save him, and then after that, when it’s over, I’m going to tell him what I really am.”

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Tieshaunn

B14.3 Breaking Point

Tieshaunn

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Basil stepped away from the tesseract, pleasantly surprised to notice that however this means of transportation worked, it didn’t leave him the least bit disoriented or otherwise impaired.

He’d arrived at a supermarket’s parking lot, in a circle of several dozen civilians who seemed to have been hastily getting food and other supplies out of the supermarket – a quick look showed that the place had been opened, electronic screens on the outside announcing that it was giving away its inventory freely, so it wasn’t looting – who seemed to have frozen in fear when the tesseract appeared, only to relax when they saw him.

A middle-aged man with a beard shadow on the very verge of turning into a short beard approached Basil after putting a stack of packages down on the ground, looking nervously at him, his eyes roving as he seemed to have trouble deciding what to focus on while looking at his mostly featureless mask.

“You… you’re Brennus, right? The superhero?” he asked, his voice nearly cracking with nervousness.

“Yes,” Basil replied, looking around. “You should all get to the shelters as quickly as possible. Do not take more than you can easily carry,” he continued, looking at a group of teenagers so ladden down with sweets and snacks they probably wouldn’t have made it home without an accident even on a good day.

And this wasn’t a good day, by any possible measure.

“We’ll… yeah, we’ll do that,” the man replied. “But… I mean, how’s…” He looked towards the distant battle, which even now was rather easy to make out, as beams of light lanced up again and ag-

He flinched, his fists clenching so tightly he thought he’d damage his gloves as another lance of pure agony shot through his head, overtaking the steady thrum of background pain.

At least no one noticed, as the onlookers got distracted by the sudden growth of… something… where the beams had just been.

Basil touched the button on the communicator the Dark had given him, creating a ping to notify them… not that he thought it was necessary, right now, but it was a good habit to get into in case they lost track of her.

“Go,” he spoke, voice hard, making people flinch. “Don’t waste time and get to safety, now!”

They got.

Basil turned away from the supermarket and left the lot, running at as fast a pace as he could maintain – he still had a way to go. The node he’d taken had been the one closest to his house, but it was still quite a ways away from it.

Nevertheless, there was nothing at all he could do to help in this fight if he was limited to his emergency equipment.

Frankly, there wasn’t much, if anything, he was likely to contribute at all, even with his best gadgets, b-

He stumbled, nearly falling over as he was hit by another spike of pain, barely a minute after the previous one.

Barely managing to turn the stumble into the start of a run, he sent another signal, just in c-

Another spike of pain, still just as painful and impossible to get used to as the first one.

This time, he fell actually fell over, his mask hitting the pavement hard enough he actually felt it.

He pushed the button, almost reflexively, before he pushed himself up again.

So fast… she usually keeps the same powerset for a minute or two at least, even when she’s under heavy attack, he thought as he scrambled forward, breaking into as fast a run as he could. Did Memento really manage to upgrade enough to pressure her so much more, or…

Another spike of pain, causing him to stumble, but this time he managed to stay on his feet and keep running.

Passing by a gap in the buildings to his right, he looked towards where the fight was going on and saw the reason for the rapid change.

Gloom Glimmer had engaged DiL. Even at this distance, he could make her black-clothed, white-cloaked form, thanks to his telescopic vision enhancements, unleashing a truly staggering display of power.

Pain flashed through his mind as Gloom Glimmer kept meeting every new set DiL expressed with another power, countering her at every step.

When she wasn’t able to react quickly enough, one of the Mementos would intercede instead, unleashing a different super-weapon.

DiL, meanwhile, showed no sign of concern. She simply floated left and right, sometimes twisting in the air, but rarely even bothering to face her opponents as she kept switching through powers. Her arms remained limply at her sides, while her hair twisted with her motions and the wind, the glowing strands destroying anything they came into contact with – including the occasional metahuman who ventured too close, or was unable to get away in time when she closed in.

Then he was past the gap, moving slower now that he was being attacked by those horrid headaches every half minute or so.

He just couldn’t get used to them.

Damn it… Damn it… I need to… to get home, he thought as he almost fell over, stumbling before he leaned against the wall of a bakery he often went to to get fresh bread, on better days. Get your act together, Basil. You can’t afford to be weak right now.

Another flash of pain cut off his attempt to psych himself up.

And another.

And another, again.

God damn it, it’s great that Gloom Glimmer can hold her sister off so well, bu-

He doubled over, dropping to his knees as yet another flash of pain lit up his brain.

Fuck.

The pain and disorientation were so bad, he almost missed the brief distortion which travelled over the ground of him, as if someone had dropped a pebble into a pond, waves radiating across the concrete… and the walls, coming all from a single point somewhere towards the centre of the city.

From the battle.

“Be advised that the Adversary has broken off contact,” Memento’s voice announced through his comms. “Due to the changed nature of her desolation field, pinpointing her location is no longer possible. Announce any sighting through your comms immediately.”

“Damn it,” Basil grunted, forcing himself up onto his feet – and then he jumped, leaping away from the bakery as a hand formed out of its brick wall and glass front, slashing at his throat with broken-glass-claws.

The creature emerged so quickly and seamlessly, it almost looked like a stopmotion effect – one moment, normal bakery, the next, a twisted gargoyle of brick, metal and glass stood there, the bakery’s front wrecked and scavenged for materials.

It stood as tall as Basil was, even hunched over and slumped, its posture more appropriate to a cartoon character than a living being. Its body was primarily made out of bricks, with metal at the joints and glass shards providing details, as well as claws and eyes.

When it opened its misshapen maw, it revealed a mouth full of countless metal and glass fangs, reflecting the light of the desolation field and the irregularly penetrating sun to create an almost rainbow-like glow.

Dozens of similar creatures rose out of the street and buildings around Basil, all roughly resembling gargoyles – humanoid, misshapen heads, claws, wings – but no two were similar beyond their basic frame, each made out of whichever materials were nearby when it was formed.

They all looked at Basil and opened their maws, hissing as they showed off their rainbow teeth.

Great. Now that I’d like another flash of pain, I’m not getting one.

Guess even DiL can’t help but kick you while you’re down, mate.

He couldn’t even dispute that.

The nearest creature, the one whose lazy swipe he’d just dodged, attacked first by throwing itself towards him, its maw opening so wide it very nearly reached a hundred and eighty degrees.

Basil shot it right down the throat before it could even come close, his snapping his rifle up for a one-handed shot which blew its head and a good chunk of its upper torso apart, throwing the remains back into the wrecked bakery, wrecking it further.

“The Adversary has produced a vast number of lesser agents,” Memento informed him, superfluously. “They appear to have only been formed out of material at ground level or above, so the civilians in shelters should be safe. Past instances suggest that destroying at least sixty percent of their number will cause her to switch up powers, which ought to reveal her location again, as well. Spread out and destroy as many as you can. If your comms order you to change location, do so immediately, you will be guided towards the biggest concentration of agents you are predicted to be capable of taking on.”

He dodged another gargoyle and placed another round in the back of its head, pulverizing it and the head of the gargoyle that’d been charging him from the other direction. The metal slugs his railgun were more than powerful enough at such close range to tear through these creatures.

Of course, there was the decidedly non-trivial problem that there were already more gargoyles visible on just this one street than he carried shots with him. And even though he could load nearly any object of approximate shape and size into his railgun and turn it into a lethal projectile, doing so limited him to one shot at a time before having to reload.

Not a sustainable long-term solution.

I wish I had my drone here right now.

Still, there was nothing else to do but fight. The creatures came towards him, not quite swarming him – only the nearest few were attacking, yet, with others seemingly content to tear down nearby walls, lampposts and other bits of construction – but there were far too many for him to stay in one spot and shoot them down one after the other.

Basil took a running leap, taking off the ground to place his boot on the foremost charging gargoyle.

Jumping off its shoulder, he brought his rifle around and shot its head apart even as he flipped over the row of charging gargoyles, landing just in time to whirl around and watch them slam into the opposite line of attackers with a cacophony of shattered glass and screaming metal.

One of the gargoyles had avoided slamming into another of its kind and came charging straight at him, its jaw opened as wide as it could go.

He raised his rifle, aiming at its throat, and pulled the trigger-

Thin arcs of blue-white electricity danced across the muzzle and down the rails, but nothing happened as several alerts appeared on Basil’s heads-up display.

The creature reached him, diving past the rifle as it apparently aimed to clamp its jaws closed around his head – only for his foot to instead slam into it, his armored boot easily withstanding the cutting power of mostly-dull metal and simple window glass, smashing the creature back before it could clamp its jaws closed.

Instead of following up on the attack, Basil retreated, one eye on the situation around himself, one on the readouts his mask was giving him.

He’d feared this would happen – DiL’s desolation field was infamous for screwing with electronics. It was one reason why most gadgeteers steered away from fighting her, as they would all too often end up as sitting ducks, rather than contribute meaningfully to the fight.

Basil had anticipated such a situation. He’d studied reports of the desolation field’s effects online – Toybox in particular had several threads revolving around just this one ability of DiL’s – and done his best to harden his inventions where possible against the electromagnetic interference it caused.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t done so for his emergency kit, as it had been built on a very tight budget and been meant as, well, an emergency solution only.

Which was why his mask’s display was starting to glitch so much, he was forced to deactivate it and flip a hidden switch on its jawline which caused the upper half to collapse into and over the lower half, revealing his eyes and forehead, with the mask now covering only his nose, jaw and mouth.

At the same time, he grabbed his rifle by its handle with one hand and by the barrel with another, as he whirled around like a dervish, cloak flying, dodging a pounce by another gargoyle.

With a twist, he folded the grip away from the trigger, nearly flat against the barrel, and pulled.

The railgun came apart as he drew a single-edged blade made out of gleaming metal from it – one of the rails meant to guide the shots, sharpened on the opposite side to provide a proper cutting edge. It was long enough to serve as a proper sabre, or perhaps a katana, though one with a straight blade.

He used the razor-sharp blade to cut the head off of another gargoyle, and pulled a second sword out of the upper half of his rifle, plunging it straight down the throat of yet another pouncing gargoyle.

That turned out to be a mistake.

The creature clamped its jaws shut, apparently unbothered by having a metre and a quarter of razorsharp steel piercing intos its chest, trapping it in there as it pressed on, easily overbearing Basil.

He was forced to let go of his sword and dive into a roll, barely avoiding being bear-hugged by the gargoyle and crushed against its shard- and spike-studded chest.

They’re not very tough.

His blade cut through the gargoyle’s legs in a single swipe, and once it hit the ground, he leaped over it and twisted around, reaching down to pull his other sword out of its throat before it could damage it.

Another slash took off its head, and that caused it to collapse into its constituent pieces.

So, you gotta destroy the head to stop them? How droll, the Man in the Moon commented.

More gargoyles turned towards Basil, and others got up on their feet again after having fallen over in that mass crash.

Others still were still busy tearing apart their surroundings, gathering parts to…

With a start, he realised they were making new gargoyles. Taking debris and assembling it into vaguely humanoid, winged shapes.

They’ll likely animate them if we give these buggers too much time.

Yes, thank you, I do notice the obvious, Basil thought back at him, though he didn’t have much time to be irritated, being busy dodging a dozen gargoyles made primarily out of very hard and very sharp bits.

Unless it’s Vas’ humongous crush on you.

Not. The. Time. Basil grimaced, finding himself forced to retreat – there were just too many of them bearing down on him, he didn’t have enough space to swing his swords wide and hard enough to take off heads, except for the occasional opening their uncoordinated attacks gave him.

When is it ever? Notice how I only talk to ya now and then? Ever wonder why that is?

One of the newly constructed gargoyles rose up, its movements jerky, uneven. It looked at him and hissed, then came stumbling towards him. Less than the originals, but still dangerous.

I noticed. No idea as to why.

Another slash took a particularly large gargoyle’s head off; Basil followed that up by rushing forward, using its collapsing body to give himself a boost, leaping over the small horde of gargoyles that’d tried to corner him against a wall.

Well, I’m not sure either, but I can only reach you sometimes. And some other times you’re just… deaf to me.

Landing on the street, Basil rolled into a sprint. He was going to get overwhelmed if he stayed where he was – he needed the gadgets he’d left at home, it was the only way he was going to make a meaningful dent in these gargoyles’ numbers.

You’re saying you’re not sure, but that implies you do have some idea as to why.

I cannot say.

So we’re back to that, Basil replied with a mental sigh.

Holding a sword in each hand, he ran down the street, trying to get closer to his house, slashing at gargoyles whenever the opportunity presented itself, hoping that at least the other defenders would manage to pick off enough of them that DiL would switch her powers before they built up too much.

That brings up another point – if one of her powers is the ability to animate these things, and another one is, presumably, whichever power allows her to hide from everyone, then what’s the third one?

No clue, but it can’t be anything good. Especially since we don’t know whether her hiding ability is her defensive or utility slot, and whether the animation ability is her offensive or utility slot. The last one could be any of the three.

He dodged around two particularly misshapen gargoyles made mostly out of shopping trolleys and broken beer bottles, beheaded another that tried to cut him off and used its body as a spring board again, to leap over another line of advancing gargoyles.

Only to have another one slam into him, swooping down from above with its wings extended wide.

They can fly after all.

The gargoyle slammed him into the ground, its hands closing around his swords’ grips over his own hands, preventing him from beheading it in return.

The shards covering the insides of its hands failed to penetrate his gloves, but they still managed to hurt, and the creature was far stronger than its spindly build would suggest – and much heavier, as well.

Basil grit his teeth and pushed back, while the creature opened up its maw, trying to literally bite off his face – but it had him at a serious disadvantage and even though he could stall it, that didn’t change the fact that even more were closing in on them.

Suddenly, he heard a gun being cocked, followed by the gargoyle’s head exploding as it was blown apart by a shot coming from Basil’s left.

The lifeless form collapsed atop him, showering him in debris and briefly blinding him as he closed his eyes to avoid getting anything in them.

When he looked up, he saw a man in a costume dive in between the gargoyles that’d surrounded him, landing over Basil in a broad stance, ready to defend him.

Though, costume was perhaps a bit much. He was wearing polished black shoes and a pair of black pants held up by white suspenders worn over a horizontally striped black-and-white shirt with long sleeves. He was standing there as if he was holding a shotgun, aimed at the advancing gargoyles, but his hands were empty.

Basil couldn’t see the man’s face, only the back of his head and short brown hair that’d been cropped down to the scalp on the sides and back, leaving only a messy mass of shiny locks at the top.

Then the man cocked his invisible shotgun and let loose another shot, blowing apart another gargoyle’s head.

He cocked it again, and another one went down, then he reloaded it, and shot down another two.

Half the gargoyles around them were gone by then, but the others were too close, so he instead switched into a melee pose and swung his arms as if he was holding a sword, slicing the heads off of three gargoyles at once.

The hell?

His saviour finished his spin, coming to face Basil, and extended his left hand towards him, showing his face for the first time.

It was covered in white make-up, from his scalp down to his jawline. His lips were coloured black, and thickly so, with thin lines extending slightly out of the corners. His right eyebrow had been traced with a similarly thick black colour, while the left one was all but imperceptible under the white make-up. Black eyeliner made the right eye stand out, as did several triangles drawn atop and beneath it, like eyelashes, while the right eye merely had a black ‘scar’ running from the forehead above down over it and onto the left cheek.

He was completely silent as he looked at Basil with an urgent expression, his blue-grey eyes as sharp as they were intense.

Le Mime. He came all the way from France?

Basil took the offered arm, hand closing around the man’s wrist as he was hauled up, then he activated the – fortunately still functional – magnets in his gloves to pull his swords back into his grip.

Le Mime whirled around and mimed drawing and firing a gun like an old west gunslinger. A shot sounded, blasting a hole through the head of a charging gargoyle.

“We need to go down the street that way!” Basil told him, gesturing towards his house when he had the french hero’s attention.

The older man – Basil thought he might be in his late twenties, or his early thirties – nodded to him and turned to face the other way, raising his arms and patting the air, before he leaned against an invisible wall, as if to brace it with both hands.

The charging gargoyles – both on the ground and flying – all slammed into said invisible wall, a few of the new ones doing so hard enough that they destroyed themselves.

Both Basil and Le Mime turned away from them and ran down the street – but there were yet more gargoyles in their way.

Le Mime ran ahead and reached into the air, grabbing a hold of something which allowed him to swing himself up and onto… a bike?

With a twist of his hand and a kick of his leg, he revved the invisible motorcycle, waving his other hand towards Basil in a beckoning gesture.

Basil didn’t stop to think, he just lept onto the unseen machine, using Le Mime’s own position to judge where he’d have to land, while he crossed his swords behind his back, making them stick to the flat, flexible magnets worked into his cloak’s emblem.

Landing behind the silent hero, he grunted at the impact – it wasn’t exactly a well-cushioned motorcycle – and wrapped his arms around his waist, while seeking and finding a pair of footholds.

And then Le Mime drove off, shooting through a gap in the crowd of gargoyles before them.

They shot down the street as the hero drove like a madman, dodging their enemies by margins so small Basil was sure they’d be caught a few times.

Nevertheless, they got through another crowd, but there were still more gargoyles ahead of them.

“I need to get to my house and get several gadgets!” Basil shouted to be heard over the cacophony of their bike’s motor. “It is roughly five more kilometres down this road, followed by a turn left and another kilometre of road!”

The silent hero looked at him over his shoulder, his gaze determined, and nodded. Then he briefly took one hand off the grip and tapped Basil’s hands around his waist.

Taking the cue, Basil let go of him as the wind pushed hard against him, and Le Mime thrust his torso back, shoving Basil at the same time as he changed his own position.

And Basil landed in a hard, uncushioned seat in a very different vehicle, as they drove over the street, higher up than before on the bike.

The motorbike’s sound had been replaced by a strangely familiar one… a rotor?

A rotor-propelled plane.

Le Mime mimed pulling a pair of aviator glasses down over his eyes, and then he pulled on a long stick in front of him, leaning back as their biplane rose up, shredding several gargoyles’ heads with its rotor before it was too high up to do so anymore.

Holy shit, I didn’t know he could do constructs this elaborate!

The biplane rose up, soaring over the sky, but Le Mime didn’t angle it directly in the direction of Basil’s house.

Instead, once he’d flown up high enough, he dove down again, one hand closed tightly around the control stick of the plane, while another held something else in front of him.

Before Basil could even wonder what it was – he was mostly focused on the sensation of his stomach rising up into his throat as they dove almost straight down towards the ground and the masses of gargoyles, the deafening combination of the biplanes ancient motor and the rush of air managing to daze even him for a moment – he clenched his fingers around it and the sound of a machine gun firing rose over that of the motor.

Le Mime simultaneously pulled them out of the dead dive, strafing over the hordes of gargoyles, dust and debris rising as their machine gun tore through dozens of them.

He repeated the process three more times before they approached Basil’s neighborhood.

“Fly by the building with the purple roof!” he shouted, hoping he’d be heard over the noise as he pointed at the out-of-place paintjob Amy had insisted on a few years ago. “I will jump onto its roof! You can keep going, I will be alright from here on out!”

He couldn’t be sure he’d be, but this guy was seriously too effective at taking down the gargoyles to be tied down babysitting Basil.

Le Mime looked over his shoulder, briefly, nodding again, and adjusted their flight towards the house.

Twisting the plane until it was nearly on its side, he flew a tight circle over it, just a metre away from having its wings hit the rooftiles.

“Thank you!” Basil shouted, and jumped, landing hard enough on the rooftop to crack some tiles and dislodge others, though he found his footing quite easily.

Waving at Le Mime, he briefly watched him fly away again, shooting up several gargoyles rushing towards the house, before he moved on.

Time to pull my own weight, he thought, walking to the edge of the roof and jumping down, only to hold onto the drain and swing himself feet-first through his own bedroom window.

The electronics were all down, as was his home’s security system, so he just broke through without much of an issue, landing on the soft carpet and standing up straight.

His room was as he’d left it – save for the broken window and glass shards strewn about – and his equipment was also exactly where he’d left it behind.

He could hear the hissing of approaching gargoyles, and the sound of their misshapen limbs upon pavement, so he didn’t waste any time, stepping towards where he’d embedded his force-field gauntlet into the wall…

And staggered as he walked throug the spot where he’d last held Prisca, a flash of green eyes and red hair conjured by his memory briefly occluding his vision.

Moments passed during which he just stood there, his arms limp down his sides and his eyes stinging.

He could almost feel her lips on his.

Almost.

It seemed so long ago, and yet like it had just happened.

Prisca, I-

Behind him, a gargoyle reached his window, fingers crushing glass as they wrapped around the broken frame, pulling it up.

Basil acted more on instinct than conscious thought, jumping onto his bed and grabbing the gauntlet.

The gargoyle pulled itself up and shrieked.

He pulled the gauntlet over his gloved hand, onto his left forearm, whirling around and raising it.

Please work.

The gargoyle lept, just as the gauntlet fired, unleashing a burst of what was essentially pure force, smashing into the creature’s wide open maw – still the easiest target to aim at – and blasting it out the window in pieces.

Basil couldn’t bring himself to even feel proud of the quality of his work. Instead, he quickly exchanged his emergency equipment for his hardened gear, attaching the drone to his left thigh for later – it only had a rather limited battery life – and blasted two more gargoyles apart as soon as they raised their heads over the bottom of the window frame.

The heads-up display of his helmet booted up with only a few minor visual glitches before stabilising, and he was finally properly equipped for this.

Or as much as he could be, facing an opponent whom he couldn’t possibly harm or even truly inconvenience.

Despair later. Fight now.

And as if on cue, there was another flash of pain, and the sound of countless gargoyles collapsing into harmless debris outside, causing him to briefly flinch and nearly fall over.

He pressed the button on the communicator the Dark had given him, and then leapt onto the window sill, looking out over the city until he could see DiL’s figure in the distance, surrounded by a nimbus of blue light. Just four or five blocks away from his home.

“The Adversary has reappeared, W8. All forces, prepare for new powerset,” Memento announced in his mechanical monotone.

Guess it’s time to find out whether we can actually contribute anything here, ain’t it, mate?

Basil lept out of the window.

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Semicoop

Owlcat

Semicoop

And… we’re back from our two-week break! I’d like to once again, thank JJ Sandee and Jonathan Ying for their amazing guest comics. 😀 I actually had time to play some board games the last two weeks! That was refreshing. 😉

Not some board games, quite a lot actually. From the top of my head: Arkham Horror the Card Game, Bargain Quest, Sheriff of Nottingham, Illimat, Hive Pocket, Santorini, Agricola: All Animals Big and Small, London, Eldritch Horror, Escape the Dark Castle, Race for the Galaxy, Century Golem, Small World, Odin’s Ravens and Jaipur!

This week’s comic is about A Fake Artist Goes to New York, a fun little party game by Oink Games. One player is the Question Master and thinks up a theme and the exact subject of the drawing that players have to draw. The Question Master hands out cards to all the players with the subject written on the back, except to the player that will be… the fake artist! He or she gets a card with an X written on the back but has to pretend like they know precisely what they’re contributing to the drawing. The Fake Artist only knows the given theme, like animals, food, etc. All players get to draw to two lines on the picture and then, everybody has to point out who they think was the fake artist that round.

Something completely different: We’ve been seeing a lot of pictures of Root all over social media and we can’t wait to receive our copy! We’ll probably receive it within two or three weeks. Exciting! Even Heinze’s brother in Australia already got his copy and was teasing us with pictures. 😉 … soon!

What’s your favorite party game?

The post Owlcat appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 7

In My Daydreams

The beam hit Marcus’ chest, but it didn’t get through his new costume. While I hadn’t been planning to go to war, I knew that he and Jaclyn were more vulnerable to heat and lasers than they were to anything physical.

I designed their costumes to disperse heat and reflect lasers.

In Marcus’ case, I designed his to adjust to shapeshifting to the degree that it could—which sometimes worked against protecting him.

In this case, he’d gone with a smaller, denser form instead of a larger or thinner form which would have made the armor thinner as well.

On the other hand, it wasn’t a form that helped a person dodge.

The costume glowed with heat and he dove to the side.

Tikki screamed and I activated the lasers, aiming them at Agent 957. I’d been trying to avoid killing anyone else, but I didn’t have much of a choice here.

I’d never been all that interested in finding out what lasers with the power to burn through a battleship’s armor would do to human flesh, but I didn’t have a lot of choices.

Fortunately for my stomach and unfortunately for Marcus, Agent 957 had an Abominator style shield. Instead of burning and cooking Agent 957’s flesh, the beams hit the shield, each of them creating a spot on the shield that burned with a bright light (that my helmet dimmed).

White with hints of red and blue, the light lit the tunnel.

I didn’t love what it was doing to the suit’s power reserves. While it wasn’t emptying them, I could see that it could given enough time.

At the same time, I could see hints of Agent 957’s face through his helmet with my HUD.

His eyes were wide and he seemed to be looking at something that no one could see. I guessed it might be suit-related information from his implant because defending against the lasers would cost battery life.

I didn’t have information on whether running a shield would cost less or more energy than pointing lasers into that same shield. I would have bet on more, but I would also bet that he probably had better batteries to work with.

Whether or not that was true, he didn’t try to stand there and just take the blasts. He shouted a few quick words and ran at me, firing his pistol.

Kals had mentioned that the Ascendancy prepared people with words that could be used to take them out. I assumed that Agent 957 was trying the common ones out on us except that none of us had grown up in the right time or place to have an agent prepare us to be disabled except for Tikki.

The words didn’t affect her in any noticeable way. She took a step forward, pulling her entire time bubble closer to the rest of us.

Meanwhile, Marcus had slumped against the cave wall near Tikki’s time bubble even before the agent said anything and Tikki’s movement had pulled him into the bubble.

I turned off the left arm’s laser and turned on the sonics, setting the weapon to find the shield’s resonant frequency on the theory that enough vibrations might take down the shield.

At the same time, I kept up the right arm’s laser attacks.

Agent 957 let out a breath, leading me to think that if he was relaxing, turning off the left-hand laser might have been a mistake. Except then, as sonics found the shield’s resonant frequency, the glowing bubble around him began to “wobble” in the air. Worse for him, light from the laser began to get through the shield—not all the time, but stray bits of light were beginning to burn his armor. At the same time, the sizzling noise that the laser hitting the shield made became louder.

His eyes widened, darting around, trying to decide what to do next, I guessed.

Making a decision, he pulled a hand-sized cylinder from his belt and shouted, “Stop or they die!”

Then he ran toward Tikki and Marcus. I didn’t know what the cylinder was, but the smart money seemed to be on a grenade or a bomb. Even as I continued to point the laser at his wobbling shield, I realized that a bomb was the perfect attack against Tikki in that an explosion would fill the space.

She might be able to slow it down, but if it ever reached her, she’d still die and Marcus with her.

All I could think at the moment was to turn off the right arm’s laser, but then, on impulse, I turned on the right arm’s sonic, setting it to match the left arm’s sonic frequency.

As I did, Agent 957 slumped in relief and smiled. He’d won. Except then his shield popped into glowing sparks and Tikki accelerated herself, moving forward in a burst, grabbing the hand with the bomb and pulling it out of his hand as her time bubble surrounded him.

When she stepped back from him, the bubble still surrounding him, he began to age, his skin turning grey and then crumbling to dust.

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In My Daydreams

Updating as Normal

In My Daydreams

Bearing in mind that Monday updates have been late for the last couple weeks, I thought I’d make sure people knew that tomorrow’s update will appear on time.

On another note, some of you are probably aware that I play tabletop role-playing games (the kind with people and dice). You might wonder what that’s like.

Well, here’s an excerpt from a description of a Traveller game I ran today. All you  really need to know is that they’ve just teleported aboard a starship and that the campaign’s big bad is on the bridge:

As the game ended, Ishugi was blocking the hallway from a group of Nak-tik-tik soldiers who were entering on one end as Lazard, Jo, and Reg ran toward the bridge.

So, the games’ ends at least are pretty much the same as what you’re getting here.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 6

In My Daydreams

That turned out to be a fool’s dream. Agent 957 barked out a command that my implant translated as, “Target him!”

“Him” in this case meant me and the four remaining soldiers ran at me, the front two firing their weapons, hitting my armor. I felt the warmth. Even as I began to aim the sonics directly at the nearest soldiers, one of them fell over, taken out because Tikki recycled one of their own shots.

Another of their energy blasts missed, flying above everyone’s heads and hitting the ceiling.

The soldier nearest me dropped his gun and jumped for me, claws out. While he moved faster than I could, he didn’t move faster than Travis or Haley, and I’d been training with both of them—Haley more than Travis. One thing I’d learned was that I could make up for less agility with timing. I might not be able to turn as quickly as they could when they were on the ground, but the moment they left the ground, they were traveling in one direction at a more predictable speed.

I stepped to the right, punching him in the chest as hard as I could in the suit, hard enough to kill a normal person several times over. These guys were covered in alien-made armor that had to be at least as advanced as mine.

Advanced as it was, I still hit with around ten tons of force on a good day. The punch threw the soldier into the wall on the left side of the tunnel with a crash that cracked the wall. The armor didn’t break, but after the soldier fell to the floor, he didn’t move.

In the meantime though, the remaining two soldiers had reached me. Before I could do anything about it, one hit me in the stomach with its shoulder, reaching around me to grab my arms. The other stood out of my reach, aiming its gun at me, hoping, I guessed, that close range and holding me in place would open me up.

It wasn’t impossible that they were right about that.

I bent forward and activated the rockets, shooting myself down the tunnel or at least it would have been that way if there were more space near the ceiling. I shot upward, trying to level out while an Ascendancy soldier hung onto me. We hit the ceiling at about the time we would have leveled out if I hadn’t been trying to compensate for the soldier’s weight, bouncing off of it and heading toward the ground.

The soldier on the ground careened sideways, trying to avoid the other soldier’s legs. Agent 957 and the four-handers dropped to the floor or leaned against the wall.

I’d gotten out of a bad spot, but it didn’t make me feel competent as much as a potential member of the cast for “The Three Stooges go to War.”

I didn’t feel more competent when we hit the ground, but on the bright side, I did land on the guy who’d been hanging on to me—for a little while. We flipped over a couple times. I wish I could say that I used that momentum to get back to my feet, but ended up on the floor next to the Ascendancy soldier and behind Agent 957 and the four-handers.

Thanks to the suit’s strength, I pushed myself up about as quickly as the soldier, charging him, and punching him in the face.

He went down and didn’t get up.

Back where I’d taken to the air, the sole standing Ascendancy soldier pointed his rifle at me and would have fired except that the wall developed hands and started battering the soldier against the floor until his gun bounced across the floor and he stopped moving.

Marcus reformed into a rocky version of himself, maybe five feet tall, but with big fists. Still obscured by her time field, Tikki stood behind him.

I’d say that we were down to a battle between the three of us on one side and Agent 957 plus the three four-handers except we weren’t.

The four-handers huddled against the wall together saying, “Mercy, we surrender!”

Agent 957 glanced over at them with no expression. That was probably standard procedure for them.

He held a wide-barreled gun in his hand but didn’t point it at anybody. Looking over at Marcus, he pointed at Tikki and said, “Kill her.”

Against the background of a quiet buzz, Marcus shook his head, “Sorry, but no. That’s not going to work.”

Looking at Tikki, he said, “You, kill him.”

Tikki looked at him and I tried to remember if I’d given Tikki an anti-voice countermeasure. I felt sure I hadn’t and hoped that her time distortion field might prevent that though I couldn’t think of a good reason that it would.

She smiled. “Your whole civilization is built on slavery. I’ll never help you.”

I thought it interesting that she talked as if she wasn’t part of that civilization.

In the same moment, Agent 957 pointed his gun at Marcus and fired.

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EPU - What's New

UF/FI: OOTR: Romance of Combined Fleet Record, Volume 1

EPU - What's New
Continuing on from Cantata for Warships in D, we present the first volume of a new subseries, Romance of Combined Fleet Record. Newly-minted Admiral Corwin Ravenhair is getting to know his fleet, now that they aren't being shot at. Meanwhile, back on Earth, others are investigating what they've left behind in Volume 1, "The Human Experience". 2018/08/08
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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 5

In My Daydreams

By shots, I mean burning blasts of energy and technically they didn’t ring out so much as sizzle through the air. Of course, a technicality of description wouldn’t make their weapons less lethal.

Marcus flattened out against the wall—though not before Tikki stood in front of him with her bubble of time distortion filling the tunnel. I was on the wrong side—the unprotected side. That wasn’t bad. I wanted to be able to do things, but it was inconvenient for Marcus.

That said, head on fights with people using energy weapons weren’t his strong point. Like Jaclyn, he’d inherited some level of toughness from their grandfather, but it worked better against physical hits.

All the same, the implant noticed that the area of Tikki’s field had increased by fifty percent. I would have loved to speculate why—had she been hiding it? Did risk to Marcus prompt a growth spurt? I didn’t have time for that.

More than one blast hit my armor, causing damage, but nothing major. I wasn’t immune to it, but I could take it for a little while. After nearly losing my arm to a fire-breathing dragon, I’d improved the heat resistance.

First, I had to slow down or stop their charge. I went with an idea I didn’t love, but thought might work. I fired off a killbot, turning off the bot’s default programming—which was to aim for a vital spot and explode on arrival. Reminding myself that innocent people would die if I didn’t do this (and maybe us too), I aimed for the heart and set it to hit the same spot on as many soldiers as it could.

I’d thought about trying it earlier, but now conditions seemed more favorable and maybe I was a little more desperate.

They weren’t quite in a straight line—it was more like two staggered columns, but it was close enough.

I felt a small push as the bot fired outward from my arm, hitting the first soldier in the heart, cutting through his armor like it wasn’t there, and then zigging to the right to hit the next soldier.

Like Haley and Travis, these soldiers had better than human agility, so the second soldier tried to dodge, jumping sideways toward the middle of the tunnel.

It didn’t work. The killbot swerved, hitting him in the chest and shooting out the back and zagging to the left toward the third soldier before the first soldier even hit the ground.

The bot killed four more in exactly the same way before it hit the eighth, going through the front, but worn down enough that it couldn’t cut through the back. As per its programming, it then exploded.

Up until the explosion, it had reminded me of the bits in “Guardians of the Galaxy” where Yondu’s arrow flew through people, killing them the same way my bot had killed the first seven.

We didn’t have the Disney corporation or the Motion Picture Association of America available to minimize the gore. The eighth soldier’s chest exploded, throwing bits of the soldier’s body, armor, and fire on to the stone below.

Bloody chunks hit the ground, some of them charred and glowing like the dying embers of a campfire. The smell reminded me of barbaqued pork.

Using the sonics, I used the implant’s command of the Ascendancy’s language to shout, “Surrender!”

Maybe they might have, but Agent 957 shouted, “Kill him!” in a way that activated my suit’s anti-voice system (now improved thanks to Kals).

Blasts of energy flew toward me, the first two hitting me in the chest. The third missed, absorbed by Tikki’s time bubble, but not destroyed.

She twisted, rotating the bolt around her, and aiming it back at the soldiers, hitting one of them and taking him down.

I didn’t think it was the one who’d fired the bolt, but it was impressive anyway, showing more control than I’d thought she had.

When you’re a fanatic soldier and you’re being urged to kill by mind control, that’s not enough to shake your morale, but it should be.

I fired off another killbot, knowing that after this I had only two left, but also knowing that it was the only bot that worked well enough to be useful. Maybe Tikki could help me convert the rest into something effective later.

The killbot took out six and then exploded on the seventh. They’d moved more when dodging than the first group. I could only guess that it had less force to work with or that the bot hit tougher sections of their armor.

Either way, we’d taken out 16 out of the 20 Ascendancy soldiers (including Tikki’s redirect), leaving four soldiers, three four-handers and Agent 957.

I decided not to use another killbot, partly because I only had two killbots left, partly because I didn’t want to see another body explode, and partly for a reason that both Lee and Hal would have approved of. Knowing that the bot wouldn’t work on Agent 957, that I wouldn’t need it to kill the four-handers, and that the killbots were a limited resource, using them on only four soldiers was inefficient.

It wasn’t a thought that made me feel good about myself, but it was true.

I decided not to dwell on it, turned on the sonics in the hope that they’d disable something, and ran toward the soldiers, hoping Agent 957 would let them surrender.

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Semicoop

Guest comic by Jonathan Ying

Semicoop

Hi, dear readers! We’re taking a break and thus, like last week, we have a guest comic for you! It’s made by Jonathan Ying, the designer of Bargain Quest! We love Bargain Quest and so do all the people we have played it so far. Bargain Quest second kickstarter has launched today, so if you’re interested in the game, you can get yourself a copy of the game… and the new expansion! Click here to see the Kickstarter project. We’d also like to thank Jonathan for the amazing guest comic. <3 We want our characters to always be dressed like this in the future. 

Having guest comics has been really cool, it has given us time to catch our breath and to see the creativity of others. Next week, we’re back with the ‘normal’ Semi Co-op comics. For now, a few words from Jonathan Ying:

—-

Hi everyone! This is Jonathan Ying! I’m a game designer and sometimes illustrator. I’m a big fan of Semi Co-op and was super excited to get the chance to do a guest comic! This particular one was a blast to draw and it covers a discussion I often consider regarding immersion and roleplaying in gaming! You can see more of what I do by going to my website jonathanying.com! Happy gaming!

What game do you find the most immersive?

The post Guest comic by Jonathan Ying appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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Tieshaunn

B14.2 Breaking Point

Tieshaunn

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“Commencing fifty-ninth attempt at completing the prime directive,” the Memento in front of them said, its brassy, electronical voice carrying easily across the plaza. “Assuming command of local operations as per pre-existing protocols established with the relevant Metahuman Combat Organisations.”

Irene watched the machine – could it even really be said to be a machine? – reach out and touch the pillar of tesseracts. Golden light spread from the point of impact, circuit patterns spreading over and through the tesseracts as they folded into themselves and disappeared, until only one was left, floating at about chest height above the ground.

Her power twitched, a sensory ability falling into place which traced the spatial distortions, locating the tesseracts across the entire area covered by the Desolation Field. They’d been spread out, though not uniformly, clustering closer at key areas while neglecting ones at the fringes.

“These constructs serve as nodes for a teleportation network,” Memento explained calmly. “Touching one will project a map of the nodes’ locations and the area in general into your mind, allowing you to choose a node as the destination.”

He raised a hand, which split open and retracted the fingers, forming a cannon of sorts, as Irene felt the sensory ability recede in favour of a form of defense… desolidification of some kind, but she didn’t get a chance to figure it out before it was gone, her power realising that she didn’t need to defend herself against Memento.

A silvery beam was projected out of the arm cannon, like the wave patterns on liquid mercury you dropped something into, only it was just the waves without the mercury. Where the beam concentrated, a huge metal crate… faded into view, becoming fully solid within a few seconds.

Once the beam cut off, the crate folded open, revealing hundreds of small, about palm-sized objects, looking like watches without hands or bands.

“Every combatant is strongly advised to take on of these communicators and affix them to their body by touching the flat side to whichever spot upon them that they want it to adhere to,” he explained, as people began to appear out of the node, seemingly blinking into existence out of nowhere, up to four at a time each touching a different side of the tesseract.

Irene paid them no mind and stepped forward, feeling the cobblestone beneath her feet, thanks to the sock-like bottoms of her suit that she wore in lieu of actual shoes; a choice she’d made for a variety of reasons, from having no need to walk where it would be impractical footwear, to just wanting something cute and unusual…

And she was deflecting, letting her mind drift rather than deal with the hear and now. She had to focus, to get herself ready to dive back into the fight; so she took one of the watches, turning it about in her hand as she walked away from the crate – it was more of a container really, when looked at from close range, it’d only seemed like a mere crate due to Memento’s present body being so huge – and came to a stop a little apart from anyone else.

She didn’t feel up to interacting, right then and there. The last few minutes still weighed heavily on her, as she touched the contrivance to her left collarbone, just below where the cape she’d inherited from her mother was connected to her bodysuit, and it stuck to it under its own power, booting up with a barely audible hum.

Mother’s cape, Irene thought morosely, remembering the occasion when her mother had given it to her – just minutes before she’d fought the Rabid Eight in that stupid stunt the director and Patrick had cooked up to show New Lennston that the UH still had teeth, even with nearly the entire adult membership being away for several months (it had worked, of course – barring the two bizarre S-Class events which followed upon one another, and the Red Goblins’ idiocy, the crime rate in New Lennston had risen only slightly, way below the projections made by Argus Panopticos), the moment when her mother had pulled the cape off her shoulders and put it around Irene’s, followed by a kiss to the forehead, standing out far more in her recollection than the entire battle which had followed, than the entire rest of the day, even though it’d been the day she’d first met Melody.

“You will surpass us, my love,” her mother said, her words as clear as if she was saying them right now. “You are the best of me, and the best of your father, and one day you will be more than we could ever be.”

And she’d said that with such conviction, like it was an absolute truth, and yet so calmly and casually, like it was self-evident.

Her father had been there also, as he was now, when her mother was not. Just like then, now, he moved closer, wrapping his arms around her from behind, lifting her off her feet to give her a light hug; though his wraith had been more solid then, his power more present, not expended as it was now.

“What are you thinking about, zeiskeit?” he asked now.

“What your mother is trying to say is that, one day, she and I will be but footnotes in history books, our only notable achievement being that we gave birth to and raised you,” he’d said then. “Now go and show the world a glimpse of that.”

“I’m thinking about Bree,” she said softly, feeling his body stiffen briefly, a flinch she could only notice because she was pressed so tightly against him, half engulfed in the whispy mist of his wraith. “I tried to… to reach her.” Her eyes watered, though she managed to blink the tears away, moments before her power offered and then withdrew a power that’d deaden her emotions. “She didn’t even notice me.”

She’d been so proud, back then. To finally be stepping up to the task. To finally have enough control over herself and her power that her parents trusted her to put on a costume and go out and do good.

To finally be able to start working on the one thing she knew would delight her parents more than anything, perhaps even more than answering that question – to recover their firstborn, so their family could finally be whole, without Bree’s spectre always looming over them.

To prove to the world that no one was beyond redemption.

To save her big sister.

And on a more selfish note, to prove that she herself didn’t have to follow down Bree’s path and even if she did, that she could still be saved even then.

She used to have nightmares about becoming like Bree, about killing those near and dear to herself – first her parents, then those like Gruncle Jake or Uncle Neil or Journeyman. Later, others had joined them in her nightmares, Thomas, Harry, Aimihime, even Goudo and Jared. Even Basil and his teammates, though she knew them so little. Prisca.

Melody.

“She is beyond saving, Irene,” he spoke softly, as he put her down and gently turned her around to face him, lowering himself down on one knee to look her in the eyes as he put a hand on each shoulder. “Please, please, if you must fight here – and believe me, if I thought I could enforce it right now, I wouldn’t let you take part in this – then you must not try to save her. You must not try to reach her. The only way you can go if you want to stay here is to see her as the enemy she is and work to mitigate the damage she does… and protect yourself.”

He pulled her into a hug again, the mist-like shadows wrapping around her, engulfing her face as she was pullsed tightly against his hard chest, his arms warm and strong around her.

Even as she felt her body relax a bit, even as she focused on him to center her thoughts a bit, to keep them from continuing to fly apart, she couldn’t help but remember and consider…

You’re her father. Shouldn’t you, above all, believe that she can be saved? Do everything possible to save her? If not you, then who?

“How can I be more than both of you, if I can’t even do this?” she asked instead, her voice barely audible even to herself, catching hold of a different line of thought.

“Maybe one day you will be able to do what we couldn’t,” he replied, his voice soft in spite of the manifold distortions worked into it. “But that day is not now. Please, Irene, promise me. Promise me that you won’t try to save her, not today. Promise me that you’ll prioritise keeping yourself safe.” His grip on her tightened, as if he was trying to pull her deeper into his shadows, restrain her so she wouldn’t be able to join in the fight. “If not for your sake, then for mine. I could not bear to lose you.”

Unbidden, powers rose to prevent even that. High-speed teleportation, gaseous desolidification, a crude yet immensily powerful form of telekinesis…

No, she didn’t need those. She pushed the powers back, preventing them… herself… her steward… whomever from lashing out at her father or escaping his embrace.

Still, it served to illustrate his point well. Perhaps, if he hadn’t spent himself fighting Marchosias, then the Gefährten, he might have been able to restrain her, but the way he was now…

All he could do was plead with her and she would be lying if she denied that his heartfelt plea – for it truly was such, there was no doubt as to the sincerity of his emotions – didn’t make a part of her want to just curl up in his arms and leave, abandon the fight and just shut out the world for a while, regardless of the consequences…

But that part of her wasn’t the part that was in charge.

“I’ve got to fight, daddy,” she said softly, as she pushed her hands against his chest.

He resisted, briefly, but then he let her go, his six-eyed ‘face’ completely expressionless as he remained on one knee, briefly, before standing up again. He remained quiet.

Looking up at him, she felt her heart break a bit as she admitted to herself that he was right… to a point. “I… I promise you… I won’t try to save Bree, today,” she said, knowing that if she tried, she would fail and most likely die… “Today, I will fight to protect others from her, and I’ll do my best to keep myself safe as well, as far as that’s possible.”

And if Irene died, then who would save Bree? Who would save everyone else?

Who would answer the question she’d been born to answer?

He looked her in the eyes, six red ones to two blue ones, and nodded. “Thank you, zeiskeit.”

She nodded to him, lowering her eyes again. “What about mom?” she finally asked, after a few quiet seconds passed, while around them the capes and cowls were moving out. Most of the junior heroes had left her alone to talk to her father, but Melody was still there, waiting, watching her with those big, soulfull eyes of hers.

Probably hearing everything they said, too, not that Irene minded that.

“I’ve sent a messenger to recall her as quickly as possible,” he replied calmly, back to a more business-like demeanor. “Unfortunately, she had to move beyond the reach of most forms of quick communication… it may take a while for the message to reach her, and even more to make her way here. For the time being, we will have to deal with out her.”

She nodded. “What about you?”

He shook his head. “I spent too much. The way things stand, I can’t even provide communications with my wraiths,” he admitted, his anger over his own impotence evident even through the distortions of his darkwraith. “I’ll stay in the back, use Memento’s network to help coordinate and guide our forces.”

“Alright.” Deep breaths. “I’ll… be getting ready, then.” Her power was roiling, as active as she’d ever known it, like a pond or a small lake over-filled with fish fighting and striving to rise to the surface. She turned around to move away, but he took her by the shoulder.

“Irene, I am all but powerless right now,” he said, his voice soft. “But you know there’s a way for me to recharge rapidly.”

“A monstrous way,” she replied without turning around or even looking over her shoulder, her voice less than a whisper.

“Nonetheless, if I deem it necessary to protect you, I will walk that way, no matter the price to me… or others. Do you understand?” he countered, his voice as hard as it had been soft before.

A shiver ran down her spine as she contemplated what he was talking about… and the real meaning of his words.

To openly use, perhaps even publically reveal the true nature of his powers, kept secret for almost a century, just for the sake of protecting her.

You’re my daddy, after all, she thought, not without some wistfulness. I just wish you’d feel the same way about Bree.

Then again, perhaps you did try, and that failed, too.

She reached up with one hand and squeezed his hand where it lay on her shoulder. “I understand. I’ll make sure it won’t be necessary, I promise.” She squeezed his hand again, then she moved away, letting it slide off her shoulder as she walked over to Melody, quietly taking her friend’s hand.

Her father looked after her for a few more moments, then he turned away and moved over to Memento’s instance.

“I’m sorry,” Melody spoke softly, using her vocoder. Irene’s power wasn’t volunteering any telepathy right now… rather, it seemed to be building up to something big, by the feel of it.

“It’s alright,” Irene replied, squeezing her friend’s fingers tightly enough to be felt through her thick, rigid gloves. “Everything will be well, you’ll see.” She tried to give Melody a reassuring smile, but it clearly didn’t work well, judging by her expression.

Melody didn’t press the point, however, and Irene averted her eyes, looking out over the plaza again just in time to see Basil… calling him ‘Brennus’ just felt wrong to her, somehow, like it was missing something… approach the node, looking over his shoulders at the two of them – they were the last ones of his fellow teenagers still on the plaza, everyone else having moved on.

Another lost one, she thought, feeling a wave of sympathy wash over her. She knew about Prisca’s death, of course. She had cried when she heard, and she would likely cry more and grieve properly, once she had the time, but right now, others needed her more.

Others, like Basil. Something about him… he’d always felt different to her. Not in any way related to powers, but in a far more primal way.

It was like she’d thought moments ago.

He’s lost, like I am, she thought quietly, watching him touch the node and disappear, then she looked up and into the distance, seeing lights flash and dustclouds rise in the distance where the fight was even now going on.

We all are, really. Capes and cowls, the lot of us. Basil and Prisca, Vasiliki and Amanda, Dalia and Bree, all the others and foolish little Irene, all of us, here in the city where it all began, all the lost ones.

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In My Daydreams

Late Update (Wedding Anniversary)

In My Daydreams

Tonight is the 24th anniversary of my wife’s and my wedding. So, while I am writing an update at the moment, I’m betting that I’ll finish it tomorrow.

For those of you who aren’t married (and maybe a few of you who are) I have some advice–ignoring your wife on your anniversary is a bad idea.

I will update tomorrow, though. My apologies for doing this two Monday’s in a row.

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Tieshaunn

Of Seven, I only fear one…

Tieshaunn

Hello everyone,

this one has been a long time coming. I said I would try to explain my long absence and silence, so here it is.

Just to be clear, this is an explanation. Not an excuse. I’m not trying to excuse it because there is no excuse I could bring. I had every chance to at the very least make a short post and tell everyone what was going on, or write some short updates (or longer ones). I am not and will never try to excuse my failure to do so, only explain it.

Something happens when I’m starting to write, drawing my attention away. By the time it’s resolved I’m too tired to continue. The next day something else happens and I decide to put it off for another day. Then on the day after that some pleasant stuff happens which, nonetheless, takes up too much time for me to get to writing.

Then come exams. Some personal tragedies (five people dead and buried over the last six months, six if we count my grandmother about a year ago), including some really… baffling ones (two of those dead were suicides we didn’t see coming). More exams. Working on the side to pay the bills and support my family a bit.

Stuff keeps happening and at first I put writing – and responding on the blog – off for perfectly good reasons, but it quickly becomes a habit. I look at the comment count going up and I just think “I don’t have the energy to reply to all that today and I don’t want to reply to just some and ignore others”. That happens again the day after. The more often I put it off, the easier it gets to keep putting it off.

That pattern continues until I don’t respond to the blog, nor write anything but some random snippets, for half a year. It’s stupid, it’s laziness in its worst form, the kind of laziness a religious person knows as Sloth, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, perhaps the worst one of the lost – or at least the most ubiquitous one.

So in the end it was just… me being lazy, getting myself used to putting it off over and over until I had to get a reality check and realise just how long I’d ignored what may be my greatest passion and a bunch of loyal fans who’ve stuck with me for way longer than I deserve.

Thus, here I am. I fucked up. Mea culpa. There’s nothing profound to justify it with, but I hope this at least explains it.

Sincerely,

Tieshaunn Tanner

 

PS: Obviously I will not continue my Patreon as is. I will make a separate post in regards to it and how I intend to continue the blog from here on out once I figure out the details, so I can present a complete – and, I hope, reasonable – plan.

PPS: Rest assured, the serial will continue and will be finished. Only thing that could stop me from that would be death itself.

PPPS: The next chapter is about half-finished and should be up sometime over the weekend.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 4

In My Daydreams

I considered if we had any alternatives to making a last stand in the tunnel. We could run to the next intersection and take another tunnel, but if they were managing to track us anyway, that wouldn’t help.

I could try to bring down the tunnel behind us. The Rocket suit could do it, but I’d have to punch the wall or ceiling. It might land on me.

My laser was powerful enough to punch holes in the ceiling, but I’d still have to be close to cut any appreciable amount of rock.

Plus, with the artificial earthquake we’d just experienced, I wasn’t sure I wanted to risk messing with the tunnel’s structural integrity.

That left bots and hand to hand combat. Remembering how well that went in the Landing fight, it didn’t make me feel confident. I only had ten EMPbots left and 28 goobots. I had a bunch of standard bots, but they hadn’t been effective.

Raising my arm and pointing it down the tunnel, I told them, “I’m going to send off a spybot to find out how many we’re facing.”

“Good idea,” Marcus stared into the tunnel’s darkness. “I’m not sure how we do this except that I’m going to have to be careful. Back home, guns aren’t much of a problem for me. Here, their guns cut through me in a second. I can put myself back together, but it takes more out of me.”

Tikki bit her lip. “Are you sure you should be part of it? I might be able to hold them by myself. I’ve been using my powers more lately and I think I might be able to freeze them in time and keep them here.”

Marcus frowned. “But what about you? Wouldn’t you have to stay for that to work?”

Tikki looked up at him, eyes wide. “Yes, but I think maybe that I can keep the field here and run away. It would be my first time, but I’ve almost worked out how.”

Shaking his head, Marcus said, “But you’ve never tried it before. Don’t. If you’re going into a fight, you’re going to want to know what you can do. We can’t depend on something you’re trying for the first time.”

In my HUD, the feed from the spybot showed the dark, gray stone of the tunnel for a while, but then a human-shaped figure appeared. An Ascendancy soldier stood waiting as more approached, all of them in combat gear.

I counted twenty soldiers, three four-handers and one more guy—Agent 957. I recognized him from the broadcast he’d made telling us to surrender.

That seemed like ages ago and while he looked the same—the same square jaw, light brown skin, and red and black armored uniform—he also looked worse.

The uniform had scrapes across its armored plates. Dirt stained the fabric. He had taken off his helmet and a look at his face revealed a man with bags under his eyes with the expression of a man whose favorite football team was losing.

Landing on the ceiling ahead of the group, the spybot picked up enough sound that my implant could translate, “—they’re less than five minutes ahead of us.”

Agent 957 replied, “Then this is it. Move ahead as quickly and as quietly as possible. We’ll attack as soon as we’ve got a clear shot.”

Then he tapped a device on his belt and his suit glowed. My implant identified it as a shield modified from an Abominator design. That wasn’t good news. On the other hand, a killbot went partially through Kamia’s. Maybe his wasn’t as good.

Then he pulled his helmet back on. “Let’s go.”

Unwilling to find out if the four-handers could detect the spybot if they got closer to it, I recalled it. It dropped from the ceiling and flew a few inches from the floor until it was out of their sight.

As it flew back, I told them what I’d seen. “There are around 25 of them, all in armor. There are three four-handers and they probably won’t fight directly, but Agent 957 is with them. I don’t know what he fights like, but it sounds like he’s not open to negotiation. They’re going to shoot us the moment they see us.”

Marcus sighed. “That’s the worst case scenario for me. All I’ve got with that is to spread myself thin around the top of the tunnel and drop on them from above or reform and fire at them from behind when they pass.”

“I think that could work,” I told him. “I’ll be the obvious target. You can hide and do whichever of those fits the situation. I think I can reuse the killbots if I do it right. Maybe I’ll use the EMPbots. Otherwise nothing else affects them—except maybe the laser and I have a limited number of shots with that. Well, the goobots do too, but I don’t have very many now.”

“No!” Tikki turned to me. “You can do more than that. You could—“

And from there she described a way I might be able to modify the EMPbots phase out and through armor. It was an amazing idea, requiring some subtle adjustments, tools I didn’t have on me, and a part I didn’t have either.

I told her so and she said, “Oh, but what about—“ and she described a way I could tweak the killbots to get them past the force field. That was brilliant too, but it required me to take apart the bots which would take longer than five minutes.

And then we had one minute left. My HUD gave me hints of the sound of their footfalls before they appeared, giving us time to get into position and giving me enough time to think about Tikki and how weird it was that a life support engineer with an interest in AI suddenly had insight into my tech.

I had an idea, but no time to pursue it because in seconds, shots rang out and they were upon us.

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Crying Grumpies

Day of Heroes, jugando a las películas

Crying Grumpies

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El día 3 de Octubre de 1993 en Mogadiscio, Somalia, se lió un cifostio de los guapos. Hace unos meses en casa por la noche Ana propuso de ver La Noche más Oscura. Por desgracia la película de la muerte de Bin Laden no esta en ninguno de los servicios de streeming en los que estamos dados de alta. Pero todos ellos nos proponían ver Black Hawk Derribado que como ya habréis deducido nos narra lo acontecido en la Batalla de Mogadiscio. Me pase la peli pensando que daba para un buen wargame táctico. Al hablarlo con Arqueo me dijo que Lock’n’Load dentro de sus sistema táctico tenía un modulo con dicha batalla. Para mi cumpleaños me regalaron Day of Heroes y con cinco partidas a las espaldas ya puedo daros mis impresiones.

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Day of Heroes como os he comentado forma parte de la serie táctica de Lock & Load con lo que primero hablaré un poco del sistema y luego me centraré en el modulo en sí. LNL es un sistema que tiene dos ambientaciones diferenciadas pero que comparten reglas, WWII y Modern. Entre uno y otro las diferencias son escasas más allá que en el segundo entran en juego los helicópteros y algunas armas tienen diferentes capacidades.

El cuerpo de reglas como todos los juegos de esta índole no es sencillo, dentro de la misma escala de batallas y mucho más sencillo podemos buscar Heroes of Normandie.  El juego se desarrolla de forma muy fluida con los jugadores alternándose para realizar activaciones donde se activan todos los tokens de una casilla. Como en otros juegos  del estilo el activar lideres nos permite actuar con unidades circundantes. Los ataques y defensas sin armas de apoyo son relativamente sencillos, Potencia de ataque más d6 contra d6 más modificadores de terreno, en ambos casos existen más modificadores. 

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A partir de aquí se complica la cosa, lineas de visión y capacidad para ver las unidades, tanques, aviones, helicópteros, equipos de armas pesada, humo, agujeros de tirador y podría seguir un buen rato. Obviamente no todos los escenarios aplican todas las reglas pero la cantidad de cosas a recordar hay veces que se vuelve una puta locura. Eso sí como en otros juegos con sistema de reglas compartido ese esfuerzo solo se hace una vez y luego puedes disfrutar de muchas opciones.

Y ahora a por el escenario en sí. Day of Heroes tiene una particularidad respecto al resto de juegos del sistema y es que no utiliza tableros hexagonales isomórifcos sino que hay un único tablero y en vez de hexágonos utiliza cuadriculas. La otra particularidad es que no enfrenta dos ejércitos sino un ejercito contra una milicia y los habitantes de la ciudad enfurecidos. Esto queda representado por las unidades que dispone cada bando. El americano dispone de unidades de elite muy capaces por si mismas. Mientras que el somalí tiene dos tipos principales de unidades las milicias, débiles y fáciles de eliminar y las turbas que se merecen el siguiente párrafo por entero para ellas.

Day_of_Heroes-Black_Hawk_Down-Black_Hawk_Derrivado-2

Las turbas son unas tropas anormales. Para empezar cada turno se chequea si de los cortes en la carretera se spawnea una nueva, algunas veces en vez de turba puede aparecer un miliciano con arma especial. Cada vez que activamos una de estas unidades tambien hay que chequear si sale una nueva unidad, que jugador la mueve, si se niega mover o si aparece un miliciano. Otra de sus características es la imposibilidad de atacar, tan solo se devolverán si una unidad americana entra en su casilla. Así a simple vista no parecen unidades demasiado buenas, pero cada vez que una turba es eliminada del juego el jugador somalí gana un punto de victoria, y se eliminan simplemente por disparar a la casilla en la que se encuentran. O sea que su principal función en el campo de batalla es la escudos humanos para nuestros milicianos y dificultar el avance de las tropas americanas. Esta aleatoriedad y caos le dan al juego una sensación de opresión al jugador americano que recuerda un montón a la película mencionada.

En todas las partidas que hemos jugado el jugador americano ha acabado ganando la partida, cosa que no es sorprendente. Pero eso no ha significado que no lo hayamos pasado en grande jugando y refleja lo ocurrido. El sistema de juego como es fluido a pesar de los parones para consultar para consultar reglas puntuales. Es más ya estamos mirando un nuevo escenario para embarcarnos en más guerras modernas. Los componentes del juego son un plus de calidad aunque alguna copia más de las hojas de ayuda no iría mal. Para acabar os dejo con el enlace al canal de Lock’n’Load y su lista de reproducción con todo el reglamento explicado.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 3

In My Daydreams

I called the bot back and started running faster. It didn’t take long to catch up. Their group was only walking at a normal human rate.

I slowed as I caught sight of them. Marcus’ suit had to be registering my presence, but caution meant lowering the chance of accidentally fighting each other.

Marcus’ voice filled my helmet. “Nick! I was wondering if you died. That earthquake was massive.”

As I came to a stop next to them, he said, “Where’s Jaclyn?”

“Alive, so far as I know. She said she made it into the tunnels, but then we lost radio contact. I’m assuming we left by different tunnels—which was the plan. The colonists were going to divide into different groups. We were supposed to each be with a different one, I thought.”

Marcus nodded. “That was the plan. Cassie’s with her group. I’m with this one. Katuk’s out there too. I saw him following a group into one of the exits as we left. With all the ways these tunnels cross each other, I wouldn’t be surprised to run into them again.”

I shrugged. “We aren’t supposed to, but yeah, from what I’m seeing in the implant map, we could, or depending on how people do it, we might not see anyone.”

Marcus turned to look behind me. “All that matters is that we get out of here. However it is that we make it, I’m fine with it, but I’m getting worried. Have you been seeing anyone behind you?”

I checked my helmet. I didn’t see anyone and hadn’t since I left the caves. “No.”

Tikki glanced past me before saying, “Marcus thinks he’s been seeing people behind us.”

Noting the intensity of her stare into the darkness, I said, “I’m guessing you think he’s right.”

“I don’t know.” She swallowed and took a breath. “I thought I heard something before you appeared, but it might have been you. It might have been them. I don’t know. I’m not trained for this—not the way you two are.”

I wanted to say that I hadn’t been trained for this either, but you could argue that I had. I hadn’t trained specifically to be hunted in tunnels by humans that were genetically modified by aliens, but I had been trained to protect people. In the end, that’s what we were doing.

We started walking together behind the main group, a group that could have been any refugees anywhere, I supposed. Men, women and children walked through the tunnels with backpacks or bags that held what they needed (food, water, clothes), and what they couldn’t bear to leave.

You might have expected them to be grim, or so terrified they couldn’t go on, and maybe there was some of that before I arrived, but most of them walked and talked. The parents talked their children into continuing to walk. The children sometimes cried, but sometimes ran after each other shouting—before being shushed by their parents.

It wasn’t bad. In one sense it was terrible, but it wasn’t constant death and misery. We had to make it to the surface, handle whatever we found there, and if we were lucky, we might be able to move them back into their homes only slightly worse for wear.

That’s what we could hope for anyhow.

I watched my HUD. I’d sent a couple observation bots down the tunnel ahead of us and didn’t see anyone waiting for us. I sent them behind without seeing anything either. It would have been nice to then conclude that we were safe except that it wasn’t that simple. Every now and then our tunnel would intersect with another which meant that we then had another possible attack origin and also my bots didn’t have infinite fuel. I could bring spybots (small, easy to hide) and observation bots (bigger with a wider range) back to refuel, but every refuel meant I had less fuel to work with.

As I checked through footage from my cameras, Marcus said, “The colonists have been releasing something that kills everybody’s smell. Apparently, the Ascendancy’s soldiers are as good as my cousins at that kind of thing.”

“That’s good,” I said, flipping to the next picture. We were about three-quarters of the way up by then. If they were going to catch us, it would be from behind. The bots didn’t show anyone waiting outside our exit.

Ten pictures in, I found a dark shape that had the silhouette of a soldier in the Ascendancy’s armor. None of the other pictures showed it. It hadn’t been close to the camera. At the same time, given the speed they could run at, they were only ten or fifteen minutes behind us.

I sent it to Marcus with the comment that, “We’ve got fifteen minutes at max.”

He touched Tikki’s shoulder. “Nick got a picture of one about ten or fifteen minutes behind us. I’m going to tell the main group to get ahead of us so they don’t get caught in the fight. You can go with them.”

She shook her head. “I’m staying with you. The Ascendancy killed my parents and too many friends. I’m not going to let them kill more.”

She turned to stare down the tunnel, face tightening.

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Semicoop

Guest Comic by JJ Sandee

Semicoop

Hi, dear readers! This and next week we’re taking a break but luckily we’ve got the empty slots filled with guest comics for you! The first one is from a local comic creator and board gamer from our town. Thanks again JJ, we love it! And now for a few words from JJ himself:


I’m JJ Sandee, and I spend most of my days as a teacher at a university of applied science in Software Engineering and my many hobbies (guitars, reading, drawing, martial arts, gaming). In a past life I wanted to be a cartoonist, and produced many wonderful comics that you can still read and find links to on my website. With http://cultofbob.com being the latest creation. My favorite boardgames include the featured Small World, Union Pacific, Chronicle, Cosmic Encounter, Netrunner, Chinatown and many others. Regarding the comic. My girlfriend holds grudges and will on occasion disregard winning if it means preventing me from winning. Other players sometimes get worried what this means for us. But it’s all in jest, I’ll just get her next time. The only confession is that we have yet to play a game with Rachel and Heinze, but based on how I know them, this is my assumption of how they play. I’m sure we’ll get to playing an actual game with them sometime.

Have you come across any other board game relationship types?

The post Guest Comic by JJ Sandee appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Camping

In My Daydreams

Hey folks,

I‘m camping this weekend, but will be home by Monday. If I don’t update by Monday morning, I’ll update on Monday evening.

Jim

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EPU - What's New

UF/FI: OOTR: The Federation Lives Forever! Chapter 16

EPU - What's New
Meanwhile, in The Federation Lives Forever!, the Light Music Club junior varsity's new band is coming togethera process that may get a bit of a boost from the new friends the gang is about to make. Chapter Sixteen: "Discovery" 2018/07/27
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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 2

In My Daydreams

Nick, Hideaway, The Caverns

Far behind me, the cavern fell into itself. I felt the rumble as I ran, followed by cracking noises, a lot of them. It seemed like they stretched out for minutes, but doubted that was true. I wasn’t checking the time.

However long the quake went, it was too long. The floor shook along with each rumble and crack, finishing in a loud but muffled thump that may have been the end of the cavern, but wasn’t the end of the noise. Smaller crashes continued behind me, blowing fine dust upward into the tunnel.

That wasn’t the worst of it.

The worst came when the tunnel I was in collapsed—not all of it, but the part above me and chunks of the tunnel ahead of and behind me.

The Rocket suit registered damage to the suit’s shoulder and notified me that repairs were in progress. That was great, but it couldn’t repair me. The chunk of rock that damaged the suit was longer than four feet, jagged, and at least a foot thick.

It hit my shoulder and my head at about the same time, but it must have hit my shoulder harder because that’s what hurt afterward.

It wasn’t as if I couldn’t use my right arm, but it hurt when I moved it. I had no choice about moving it either. Chunks of stone ceiling fell along with it, burying me—not completely, but enough that I had little choice in the first horrible seconds to wonder if this was it.

I centered myself on my breathing, concentrating on letting one breath in and another out. Then I pushed myself to see the pieces of the problem, in this case the literal pieces of the ceiling and the walls. They had fallen on each other and on me.

It was a matter of pulling out the right pieces, one at a time until I could move. The big piece that had damaged the suit and maybe my shoulder wasn’t the worst. I twisted and pushed it off my shoulder. Then, one by one, I removed the others, using the suit’s strength more than I had in any single event than I had since making it.

It felt a little like playing Jenga—the game where you pull logs out of a tower until it falls—with the key difference that you yourself were integrated with the tower and when you pull out a piece, any pieces resting on top of it fall on you.

Where I could, I pushed rocks off me starting from the top, but after removing the largest, I pushed the ones in front of me forward all at once. They landed with a crash, one of the largest breaking into several more pieces.

I froze for a second, wondering if I’d start another collapse and then deciding that the best thing I could do would be to move forward and not think about it. Maybe that wasn’t the best thing I could do, but it seemed better than overthinking whether or not I should move rocks and which one.

Once I was past my personal cave in, I had to deal with the next one, a pile of rock shards that reached halfway up my chest. This one I pushed, noticing that the space behind it was clear except for small pieces of rock.

Putting my hands on a chunk about halfway up, I pushed the top part of the pile into the clear area and then walked over both.

Once past that pile, I began to run again. It wasn’t bad. Aside from small rocks and dust, it appeared that I’d gotten past the worst of the cave in.

I hoped I’d been the only one caught. I’d have been dead without my armor and for all that the colonists were genetically modified, most couldn’t use their abilities in any way. Thinking about our group, I felt confident that any of us could survive what I’d been through—Marcus better than anyone but Jaclyn.

Cassie had the most to worry about. While strong, she wasn’t as strong as I was in the suit. If enough rock fell on her, her ability to heal would only keep her alive longer. That was good if anyone else was in a position to help, but it might be worse than dying if she were alone.

Deciding not to think too hard about that either, I concentrated on the implant’s map and what I could see in my suit’s HUD. After about a minute, the composite view began to include hints of footprints, dimly glowing fragments of feet that the thermal view picked up.

I slowed a little, sending a spybot ahead. From the number and variation of footprint sizes, it had to be the colonists, but they could have been captured by the Ascendancy. Sending a scout seemed wise.

They weren’t far ahead. The bot’s view showed a crowd of people carrying bags. Marcus stood at the back, his costume in silver imitation Xiniti mode. Tikki stood next to him, her eyes following the bot.

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Tieshaunn

B14.1 Breaking Point

Tieshaunn

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Pain lanced through Basil’s head, again, only to remain there, like a nail that had gotten stuck in his brain, a steady throbbing sensation, making him feel like his head was about to burst, or perhaps collapse, or perhaps simply burn to ash.

Pain was an old friend, one he didn’t really remember, yet familiar none the less. It had made it easy to ignore the many wounds he’d suffered throughout his short career as a hero so far, helped him compartmentalise the experiences, focus on taking the necessary steps to survive, rather than be preoccupied with the pain.

It helped here, again, even though this was a purer pain than ever he’d known before, a pain that was not in his body, but his mind, yet without any emotion to cause it. Still, he looked away from it, focused on what lay beyond his inner thoughts.

Frankly, focusing on the pain seemed like a more pleasant option. Desolation-in-Light still floated above the street, seemingly blind and deaf to the world around her, not that there was much to hear as everyone near her was deathly silent save for the occasional sobs.

He’d heard rumors, read stories of eye witnesses, many put off as mere attentionseekers, liars or crazies, of DiL appearing in places, isolated ones usually, only to do nothing at all but stay a while, floating in the air, and leave again, causing harm to none. Usually it was only witnessed by one or two people, in those stories, but they remained remarkably consistent and most of the reports had had the ring of truth about them.

A small part of him, a very small one, dared hope that she would disappear here, too, leave them be – leave it at a mere scare, rather than the sheer namesake desolation that was sure to follow if she struck now.

The pain in his head redoubled as a shower of light, like liquid, glimmered around her, starting above her head from a single point, spreading into a glowing halo, before it ran down, tracing a sphere around her as it expanded until the halfway point, then collapsed again, until it gathered into a single spot beneath her feet again and disappeared, as the pain in Basil’s head returned to its earlier, more managable throbb.

Tiny spots appeared all around her, as if stuck to the surface of the invisible sphere the light had just traced, the spots growing as they spun in place, tiny rocks that grew, starting to make grinding sounds as they cracked into many smaller pieces that ground against each other even as they continued to grow and spin and dance about her.

Basil was still unbalanced by the sudden surge of pain, but Vasiliki, fortunately, was not and she didn’t wait to see what this power, or whichever others she had picked, could do. Rather, she threw something at the ground in front of them, and a cloud of greenish smoke rose up and encircled them, forming a slightly glowing dome around the bench they’d sat on.

Rising up, she reached into her purse and withdrew an elongated package wrapped in white fabric several times the size of the tiny purse, throwing it at him.

He caught it, more out of instinct than conscious thought, recognising the emergency package he’d entrusted to her a while ago, for occasions such as these.

Unwrapping it, the white fabric was revealed to be a replica of his cloak with the corvid uroboros upon the back, having been wrapped around a pair of boots and gloves, as well as a sleek, yet boxy rifle made of silver and black metal, as long as one of his legs from toe to hip and, finally, a slender mask.

Vasiliki, meanwhile, had stripped out of her clothes right next to him, revealing that she’d worn her bodysuit underneath her clothes, just with the sleeves rolled up – what he’d thought to be stockings had been her costume’s pants. She finished tugging it into place, putting her clothes into the purse before pulling the outside cover off said purse, revealing it to be her bag of holding.

They dressed up, both of them, with Basil’s shoes and jacket disappearing into her bag as well, while she pulled out her belt, her cloak, her staff, boots, gloves and various other odds and ends she’d crafted over the months, lesser contrivances compared to the power she’d concentrated into her staff, belt and bag, but formidable nonetheless. She didn’t wear a mask, rather, her hood was enchanted to always stay on and shroud her face in shadows, only showing her jaw and lips, and only if she wanted it to at that.

Basil was done before she was, finally just holding the mask in his hands, looking down at it. It was a simple thing, not a helmet but a mask, yet without straps. Rather, its insides showed a lot of moving parts, as it was designed to shift and clip onto his face, molding itself to its contours, hiding it from his hairline down to his chin. Designed to look smooth, almost glassy on the outside, its lines barely implying the shape of a face, it was of the same jet-black ceramic as his armour was, except he had left that back home.

He held it to his face and felt it shift, attaching itself to it so finely he barely felt its weight once it was done and his interface booted up, the mask becoming seemingly transparent to his eyes as the all but invisible channels worked into its surface captured light (as well as other things), serving essentially as a big camera that covered the entire front of his mask. Two small extensions had folded out the sides and covered his ears, though they quickly picked up the sounds around him and channeled them through, allowing him to hear as clearly as if there were no obstructions at all. The mask did not nearly have his full suite of sensors and communication technologies, even he could only fit so much into such a small space, but it had enough to give him half a dozen vision modes and an uplink to his own personal network, the one he shared with Eudocia, his sole remaining raven and the equipment back at his base.

The gloves and boots were simple things, too. Both were meant to let him stick to objects by manipulating the forces that allowed molecules to stick together, creating temporary bonds between their surfaces and whatever he was touching. Both could also serve as contact-tasers.

Picking up his rifle – a small railgun which could also fire a grappling hook – he looked at Hecate.

”Sound test,” he said, a flick of his eyes making it so he could only be heard through their communications network.

“Hearing you loud and clear,” Hecate responded. “Oneiros’ Shroud will be down in sixteen seconds. What should we do?”

They, of course, hadn’t just thrown up a smokescreen while within such close range to DiL, blinding themselves to any attack that may come. The spell which Hecate had named Oneiros’ Shroud was an expensive one – it had taken her nearly a whole week to prepare this one, and they’d determined to only use it in an emergency. According to her, the smoke it generated transposed whatever it enshrouded into the world of dreams… well, he definitely needed to brush up his knowledge of Greek mythology, some day.

Either way, they ought to be safe until it went down. The fact that they hadn’t horribly died yet spoke to that fact.

Still, they’d need to act, and they’d need to act in concert in order to survive and save as many people as they could.

Feeling bone-wearingly tired, Basil took a deep breath and focused on his friend. “We make a move for the civilians. Try to get as many of them as far away from DiL as possible. Try to get in contact with other capes and cowls, coordinate as much as possible.”

No point in making too elaborate a plan when there was no way to tell how the situation was going to be. For all of her appearances, DiL rarely created the same kind of chaos twice and was all but impossible to plan ahead for.

Hecate looked at him, her face unreadable beneath her hood’s shadow. “Alright. Don’t die, Basil.” She reached out and took his free hand, squeezing it tightly. “There’s still… a lot we need to talk about,” she finished, her voice thick with emotion.

He looked down at their joined hands, nodding, though he didn’t get a chance to reply properly as the shroud dissolved around them and they found themselves amidst a wasteland of jagged rocks and shattered trees.

Looking about, letting go of each other’s hand, they saw huge growths of jagged grey and black rocks which seemingly sprouted from the ground all around, utterly savaging the park and the street DiL had appeared above, as well as the buildings there. The rocks had smashed trees and cars and buildings and impaled no small number of people, and crushed others.

DiL was not in sight, but where she had been was in evidence as the rocks all seemed to have spawned from around her, and lead back and up to it, twisted rock formations forming almost hand-like shapes as they reached up into the air, wrapping around what was now just empty air.

The area that Oneiros’ Shroud had protected was unblemished, untouched by rock, the outgrowths forming a perfect circle around them, sheered off where they had reached into the mist.

“I did not know it could do that,” Basil whispered.

”Neither did I…” Hecate replied. “I guess… we got switched back… and the rocks jutting into the shroud were pulled along as it returned to its rightful place.”

Basil nodded, and looked out over the devastation, switching through various modes of vision. “Over there. Survivors!”

He took off, running towards a particularly dense concentration of body-shaped… mostly body-shaped… heat signatures, behind a wall of jagged rocks, but without his grappling hooks, Hecate easily overtook him, shooting past him as a mass of green-black smoke, surging across the wrecked park, the broken street and into the ruins of what used to be a toy shop.

By the time he got there, she was already triaging the survivors, applying her healing salve to only the most immediately dangerous wounds – she didn’t have much of it and it was by far one of her most expensive contrivances in terms of materials required to make it.

Basil joined in as she pulled a first aid kit out of her bag, throwing it at him. He cought it and went to work.

There were eight survivors in the toy shop, half of them children and more corpses than he cared to count.

Of the eight, two were in critical condition – one six-year-old boy had had one of his legs shorn off by a razor-sharp blade of stone and had nearly bled out before Hecate had gotten to him, and a woman had been impaled through the abdomen by a thin spear of the same material.

The children weren’t even crying yet, still not having processed what was going on it seemed.

Basil tied off the boy’s leg stump after Hecate applied her salve to it, and tightened the kn-

He gasped, bending over, as the pain spiked again, his vision briefly going white as his whole world was nothing but agony for a moment.

“Brennus, what’s wrong?” Hecate asked in worry as she reached over and finished tying the knot.

“I do not… some kind of headache… since she appeared… momentary spikes of white-hot pain,” he gasped, the agony dying back down to the steady throb of background pain he could actually deal with.

She spat some kind of curse in Greek and slid over on her knees, finishing his work on the boy’s stump. “Can you help her?” she asked with a nod towards the woman who’d been impaled.

Getting up and walking over, he took a closer look, as the woman looked up at him with eyes that were nearly delirious with pain, as she held onto the hand of a toddler in a stroller, the little girl staring at her mother in confusion – unable to understand what was wrong, but still grasping that something was off, he guessed.

He couldn’t help with that, but he could help the woman, and told her so, his voice calmer than he felt as he knelt down next to her.

She was young, just a little older than Amy if he had to guess and had the kind of thinness he usually associated with out-of-practice athletes – she no longer worked out to maintain the muscle tone, but hadn’t really put on much weight either. She was healthy though, clearly, and that might make all the difference.

A sharp spear – more of a rough blade, really – had thrust up out of the ground, impaling her through her green pullover. She was half bent over, on her knees and trembling from head to toe; fortunately, the blade had pierced her at an angle and had missed her spine, at the very least. It was, however, in position to have pierced through her intestines, her stomach and perhaps even a kidney.

”I can not remove the spike in these conditions,” he told her calmly. “I will cut it off beneath you, so we can move you someplace you can get the surgery needed.” Right then, the spike was likely the only thing keeping her from bleeding out, and he didn’t have the equipment on hand to operate.

She looked at him, blood running from her mouth over her lips and down her chin, nodding when she couldn’t find the strength to speak.

Basil switched places with Hecate again, telling her what needed to be done. He checked over her work on the boy – he’d passed out – and then went on to apply first aid where needed, while Hecate used one of her charms to simply disintegrate the spike beneath the woman as a store clerk helped hold her steady, then lowered her gently to the ground.

It was good, but it wasn’t enough. The woman, the boy, at least three more, they weren’t going to make it unless they got them somewhere sa-

He flinched, briefly stunned by another spike of white-hot pain, before it receeded again.

They had to get them somewhere for proper treatment, else they’d die. But they were in no state to be transported and survive it.

As cruel a catch twenty-two as any-

White-hot pain.

He shook his head, trying to centre himself again. A shorter interval, this time. Is it just going to get more frequent, until there’s nothing but the pain?

He’d counted the seconds between episodes, in the back of his mind, and he could not yet see any regularity to them. No pattern.

Not that he had the time to really analyse what was going on…

He looked up, moments before the air before the shattered storefront window twisted, condensing into a whirl of shadows, then snapped apart again, a familiar figure appearing out of it and landing nimbly on her bodysuit-covered feet.

The people in the shop, especially the children, looked at her in awe, some cheering weakly as Gloom Glimmer smiled at them, trying to look reassuringly friendly, even as Basil could see a pain that put his headache to shame behind those brilliant blue eyes.

She looked at him and Hecate. “We’re gathering up at the Memorial Plaza. Make your way there while I take these people to the medical camp.”

Basil and Hecate exchanged looks, then nodded to Gloom Glimmer, briefly telling her the most crucial details on the people there before they made their way out of the former toy shop, not even taking the time to look back as they heard the twisting snap of Gloom Glimmer’s teleportation.

***

The Memorial Plaza stood where the centre of Old Lennston had once been, making up one of the three central points of New Lennston, the others being the Town Hall and the United Heroes’ headquarters, the three of whom were connected via a ring road encircling a big, circular park with several small lakes and ponds within.

While the plaza had originally been designed for the sake of remembering Old Lennston, it had evolved past that singular purpose – there was now also a memorial to Lennston’s fallen superheroes, as well as those of its scions which had gone off to war and never returned alive. There was also one for the casualties of the police force… the place had in general become a place for remembering all that had been lost to Lennston, both Old and New.

Nineteen capes and cowls stood in front of the obelisk which made up its centrer, at the steps of which stood the unmistakable figure of the Dark, who was addressing the others.

Basil and Hecate landed near the group, just in time for another surge of pain to nearly knock him off his feet.

If this goes on I may well grow used to it…

The Dark looked at them, his expression as unreadable in its absence as ever – but his form was unlike anything they’d ever seen before – rather than the thick, almost liquid darkness of his customary wraith, his form now was smoky, billowing around his form; just as hidden as before, but somehow less… substantial, both in appearance and presence.

Exhaustion? From the fight against the Gefährten?, Basil asked himself, and immediately felt guilty – they needed the Dark in this, he was one of the most effective and efficient counters for DiL, and if it was his utterly failed excursion which drained him just in time for his deranged daughter’s attack…

Hecate punched his shoulder, staggering him out of his contemplation.

When he looked at her, he couldn’t see her face but he could tell she was glaring at him. “You can’t go around blaming yourself for everything. We each made our own choices,” she said firmly.

Basil looked away from her and down, taking a moment to absorb her words. Then he nodded, quietly, which seemed to please her as she grunted in a rather unladylike fashion and turned away to focus on the other gathered capes and cowls.

He only looked around briefly, but he didn’t see Amy… he hoped she was alright. He hoped she’d gotten out of that hellscape. He hoped she hadn’t gotten hurt.

How did I not worry about her? he asked himself as he followed Hecate quietly, staying behind her as they joined the Junior Heroes. All this time, I was just thinking about myself, while she was out there fighting, risking her life because I dragged her into that madness. I…

There was a hard impact on the ground nearby, causing Hecate and the Juniors to stagger, while Basil just adjusted his stance slightly, turning towards the source – only to get a face-full of Amy’s spandex-clad breasts as she drew him into an almost literally bone-crushing hug.

I heard. I’m sorry, she whispered softly into his head, even as she squeezed the life out of him. Deliberately, surely – she was still angry with him.

Basil raised his arms, giving her a light hug back – he really didn’t care whether more people found out about their relationship now; anyone who mattered already knew or would know regardless.

He saw Amazon glare daggers at the two of them through his raven, but most people were focused on the Dark.

Another spike of pain caused him to flinch, his legs buckling briefly at the sudden interruption to the soothing embrace.

”Brennus! What’s wrong?” Amy asked worriedly, looking at him with wide eyes as he let go of her and staggered back. Our connection was interrupted for a moment!

”Pain… ever since she showed up, there’s been this constant pain in my head,” he replied, holding his head with one hand. “And sometimes there’s a spike of even worse pain, but I don’t know why.”

”When did you first feel the increased pain?” the Dark interjected suddenly, having moved closer. At the same time, Rounds and the other adult heroes – save for Bismuth, who stood apart from the rest for some reason – came closer as well, their leader looking worried and more than a little suspicious.

Basil looked up at him, too numbed by… by everything, to really feel anything at his presence. Cycling through his raven’s memory, he found the moment. “When she first assumed a power-set,” he replied, his mind already leaping apart to a possible explanation…

The Dark nodded, as if a thought was confirmed. “You’re reacting to her power changes,” he replied with the tone of absolute certainty. “It might be useful to know if we lose sight of her to be able to tell whether and how often she changes powers.” He reached into the shadows enveloping his body, causing strands of jet-black mist to drift off, then held his hand out. “Wear or connect to this communicator.”

Basil reached out and took the flat, disc-like gadget – he wasn’t sure whether it was actually made by a gadgeteer, but it looked so compact and well-crafted, he strongly suspected that it had been – and turned it over. The palm-sized disk was smooth and silver on one side, but had several exposed circuits on the other.

Touching the circuit-covered side to his mask’s forehead, he found that it activated and synchronised with his mask’s systems easily – too easily. Wyrm’s, I suppose, he thought to himself as he pulled the disc away and attached it to his belt, where it stuck by itself.

”You’re now connected to our local network. Send a single ping whenever you sense a power change and we’ll route it through to everyone with a communicator,” the Dark instructed him.

Before Basil could reply in any fashion, even to agree, the wispy figure turned away and walked up the steps towards the monument, turning around to talk to the gathered capes.

“If I may have your attention, please,” he spoke, his voice deep and powerful enough it easily covered the plaza without any obvious amplification. Once everyone had turned to look at him, he went on. “We don’t have much time, so I’ll be brief. Most of you have never fought a battle like this before. You all think you know what to expect, from television, reports, books and whatever else told you about these fights. Most of them don’t know much. Here’s the facts as we know them: DiL is utterly invulnerable to damn near any effect ever used against her. Her personal, permanent defense makes it impossible to affect her with anything, including moving her in any way she does not wish to be moved. Sensory and mental attacks are just as useless as spatial and temporal ones. Her hair, teeth, finger- and toe-nails glow with a bright white light which acts as disintegrating contact poison that can eat through most defenses and constitutes a certain death unless you sever the affected portion of your body. She can fly and she has no known top speed – it ranges from walking speed to what is effectively short-range teleportation, especially since her invulnerability means that anything in her path will be obliterated rather than stop or even slow her. She does not rely on mundane senses whatsoever and appears completely unresponsive to such stimuli. It is theorized that she senses powers in some fashion, though she has demonstrated the ability to perceive baseline humans in the past, as well. However her sense or senses may work, they appear to pierce any kind of shroud. She is an impenetrable blindspot to Espers of all kinds, particularly Pretercognitives. Do not rely on danger senses or their like.”

“Your goal must not be to attack her but to interfere with and, if possible, counter whichever other abilities she assumes,” he clarified, looking around at the gathered capes and cowls. “She always assumes three distinct powers which can broadly be classified as offensive, defensive and utilitarian, respectively. Her powers start out world-class and grow from there. Whenever at least one of her abilities is interfered with to any meaningful degree, she changes her entire loadout and the new abilities she assumes start out at base level again. Why she acts in this fashion, we don’t know. If she’s allowed to build up for too long, the consequences tend to look like Mexico, Old Lennston, Portland or Okinawa. Do not let her build up.”

He stopped, giving them a moment to digest that. “Furthermore, the Desolation Field. Normally it extends to a radius of roughly two miles around her person. This time, she appears to have simply extended it over the whole of New Lennston and left it stationary, though fortunately she has not ‘hardened’ it as she did during her last appearance. The field blocks any kind of signal from crossing its boundary. This includes powers – Espers can’t perceive into or out of the field, even precognition is blocked. Power effects can travel across, but powers can’t reach through it – so if your power lets you, say, create a fireball you lob somewhere, it will travel across, but you won’t be able to, say, target someone for teleportation across the boundary, or affect them with any kind of mental power. Any such power will work properly within the field itself. Also, though it’s likely not useful to know, but maybe it’ll spark an idea somewhere, no one has ever manifested while within range of her Desolation field. People have manifested during her attacks, but only while outside the range of her sphere of influence, never while within it. Heterodyning also appears to be impossible while within range of her desolation field.” He paused again, looking out over the gathered crowd, as if searching for something, his gaze briefly stopping on his daughter as she stood together with most of the other teens – Outstep was missing – before moving on.

Basil looked around, once it seemed that the Dark was taking a break, and what he saw was a mixture of determination, resignation and sheer hopelessness spread liberally and to varying degrees over any face and body he could see. They all knew that this was a fight which could at best end in a phyrric victory which could only delay the destruction, not eliminate its source.

He would likely have felt some such emotions himself, but he was still blissfully numb.

“In spite of all this, our situation is not hopeless,” the Dark drew everyone’s attention back to himself. “Our biggest advantage is that DiL is not intelligent. She has no sense for tactics, forethought or subterfuge. Any such instances perceived in the past were ultimately just coincidences, never to be repeated – and they are incredibly rare to begin with. Furthermore, we-“

There was a shout, followed by another, as people pointed upwards at the sky, interrupting the Dark.

Basil looked up just in time to see a huge figure drop through the Desolation field, its decent slowed by blue-hot jets of flame shooting out of its feet.

And then another.

And another.

And more besides.

Dozens of hulking, glimmering figures dropped out of the sky, some of them accompanied by strange objects and weaponry – the closest one, which dropped down and lended with a pavement-cracking thud a dozen metre away from the gathered capes and cowls was reaching out, its hand laying flat on the side of a pillar as thick as two people and twice as tall as a schoolbus was long, made apparently from hundreds of chest-sized, silver-and-gold tesseracts shifting and moving into and through each other in a dizzying display of reality-defying engineering.

The figure next to it was no less impressive, though more familiar. A hulking humanoid made of steel, brass and gold, crafted as much for aesthetic appeal as raw functionality, was twice as tall as the Dark himself, easily four times as wide if not more and moved with mechanical perfection as it looked around them, its head encased in a dome of what read as see-through diamond to Basil’s sensors, holding a human-sized mechanical head within, its inner workings exposed, showing wires, chips and lots of clock-work-like bits which moved to give it the illusion of facial expressions, a pair of glowing red lenses making up its ‘eyes’. It looked out over the gathered capes and cowls, its expression neutral, as dozens more of its kind landed all across the city, each accompanied by a different device, some of them immediately joining in the battle against DiL in the distance.

“Huh,” the Dark looked at him in what appeared to be surprise, while a ripple of pure relief went through the other gathered metahumans. “Good to see you’re not sitting this one out again, Memento.”

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Semicoop

Crocodile-Cyborg illusion

Semicoop

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Jul 16, 2018 at 1:57pm PDT

Whenever I play Clank! in Space! I can’t help myself and I see a crocodile in the pawn for the boss, Eradikus. Personally, I think cyborgs are slightly boring, so I just keep referring to it as a space crocodile. I’m wondering if anybody else has this silhouette-of-a-crocodile issue or is it just me? 😀

Last week we’ve finished Pandemic Legacy Season 2! In our first game of December. Everything went very very smoothly because we accidentally had perfectly prepared the board for this finale. We didn’t know what was going to happen in December, but nonetheless, we made all the right choices! We had a ton of fun with Season 2, we did find it slightly easier than Season 1, but that could have been because we just had an amazing team of player characters and all of them lived to see the end game. We also played at least five practice games before starting the first game of January to get used to the new gameplay. We’ll definitely be playing Season 3 when it comes out, we can’t wait how the story continues or what gameplay they come up with. Anyhow, we really recommend any of the Pandemic Legacy games. If you like Pandemic, this experience is worth your money.

For now, we’re happy that the coming months we finally have more time to just play other games! We have so many games on our shelves that we’d love to play more and try with four players. And after summer is over, we’ll give Charterstone a go.

And before I forget, a fun announcement! The coming two weeks I’ll be taking a break from making comics! Now I understand that’s mostly a nice thing just for me, but there’s also a fun part for you! We take our ‘A new comic on Mondays’ very seriously and are proud of ‘never-missed-a-single-week’ streak in the past three years. We’ve asked around if anybody was interested in doing a guest comic for us and we got responses. And thus the coming two weeks we will present you with two awesome guest comics! One made by a fellow local artist and Netrunner player, Jan Jaap Sandee and one made by Jonathan Ying, the designer of Bargain Quest. We’re really excited and thankful for their support.

Lord Eradikus’ silhouette… space crocodile or cyborg?

The post Crocodile-Cyborg illusion appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Unhidden: Part 1

In My Daydreams

Agent 957, Hideaway, The Caverns

He didn’t know where he was in the endless caves around him, but his implant had kept track of his every step, so he had a limited map. The soldiers within range fed their information into his implant as per instruction, giving him an overall picture of everything within range.

He open up a communication channel with the soldier at the front of the line. “Are we close to them yet?”

“No, sir. We’re gaining, but they started before we expected it and they planned for us. They’ve been releasing something that obscures their smell. Our best trackers are following them and the four-handers are doing what they can.”

Agent 957 grunted and cut off contact, creating a connection with the nearest four-hander. “How are you assisting us in catching the colonists?”

The four-hander made a series of quick chirping noises that the implant didn’t translate. Then it said, “Your Excellency, our equipment senses for them using multiple methods, but we are unsatisfied with our progress. The resistance has technicians that, while inferior to us intellectually, have a remarkable grasp of detail. They appear armed with tactics that defeat all our standard tracking methods. We would have lost them by now were it not for knowing that they entered this tunnel.”

He cut the connection, knowing that there was nothing he could say that would make them work better. Besides, the rare sign that had kept them on track showed that catching the colonists was still a possibility. It wasn’t as if they had anywhere to go up top. While the colonists had killed the majority of the crew and the marines with their attack, there were still some capable of pointing a weapon. He’d left them ready.

Once they got to the surface, he’d be able to call for help and this whole humiliating experience would be over. The Guard would back him up and he’d back them up—he hoped.

A tremor shook the cavern. It wasn’t a powerful as the last one.

While that was a relief (he’d never liked the idea of destroying caverns while he was inside one), the fact that one more thing wasn’t going according to plan worried him.

With a sigh, he reopened the connection he’d just closed. “What’s going on with the earthquake device?”

The four-hander made an untranslatable buzzing noise. Whatever the Abominators had done to their minds had left most of them with uncontrollable tics. 957 couldn’t blame the four-handers for it, but he couldn’t pretend it wasn’t irritating.

When the four-hander finished making the noise, he said, “I haven’t received any word on the device, but since the shocks aren’t following the expected pattern, I had to assume that it was destroyed before it could finish.”

Agent 957 exhaled, thinking back to the plan. Kamia was supposed to have made enough noise to distract the Xiniti and the humans with it. For someone to have destroyed the machine meant that Kamia and the people with her might have been killed, an unnerving possibility given Kamia’s near legendary status as a killer of Xiniti.

He hoped that she’d survived. As terrifying as he found her, anything that could take her down could end his chance at redemption or even survival.

He opened up his connection to the four-handers and soldiers under him, “Hurry, we need to catch them before they reach the surface!”

Four Hands, Hideaway, The Caverns

He couldn’t help but stare back into the darkness when he realized that the bunker breaker had been destroyed. It wasn’t a good sign, but the overall picture was still good. Neves, Kamia, and their people were headed to the surface. Maybe they’d kill some colonists on the way. Maybe they wouldn’t.

Agent 957 was acting as their attack dog, leading a team that was chasing the main group of colonists to the surface. Whether he or his people survived or succeeded wasn’t important. All that was important was that he was relentless, giving the colonists no time to think before they hit the surface.

Once they arrived there, they’d face an ambush that would end them if Four Hands was lucky. If he wasn’t, well, the colonists would have to fight the leftover crew members for control of the villages. The villages might be booby-trapped, but they were behind force fields. The colonists would never survive this hellhole of a planet without them.

On one level, he had to admit that it bothered him to place Agent 957 and his people in the way of the Xiniti force. Between the Xiniti’s reputation and what the small force here had achieved so far, he felt sure the man would die. Four Hands felt that the Ascendancy sacrificed too many of its troops and the people with Agent 957 were good soldiers.

On the other hand, Four Hands knew that Agent 957 had left the four-handed to be destroyed many times with no effort to avoid it. The two-hander deserved whatever came to him even if his troops didn’t.

Four Hands remembered daydreaming that he’d joined the resistance when he was younger. He’d returned to that thought many times over the years, only realizing what a joke it was when he’d joined the Guard and been given access to their collected intelligence.

There were no records of any four-hander in the resistance or any evidence they’d ever been asked to join. In that sense, the resistance was no better than the Ascendancy.

They deserved whatever came to them too.

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In My Daydreams

Warriors: Part 13

In My Daydreams

“No,” I said, straightening my hand and then thrusting it like a spear through the top of the device, smashing its internal computer and separating the power from the main mechanism.

Lines of electricity surrounded my arm, but I didn’t feel it. The suit’s systems for handling massive amounts of electricity had been in advance of anyone else as far back as the 1950s and had only improved in the versions created since then.

In this case, it wasn’t a booby trap or even targeting me. The device needed a lot of energy to start an earthquake and while severing the connection between that energy and the rest of it, my suit briefly became the connection.

As I pulled my hand out and the glare went away, Jaclyn asked, “Are you okay?”

Even the four-hander straightened and stared at me before hanging limp as Jaclyn held him in the air.

“I think so. I didn’t feel anything and suit isn’t throwing any errors.” I rechecked my HUD as I said to make sure that was still true, noticing the amount of power that had passed across the suit’s skin—a lot. It was enough to kill me hundreds of times over.

The suit wasn’t throwing errors, which was a relief. I’d managed to keep that aspect of the suit despite filling it with nanotech.

I didn’t get to wallow in the glow of technical accomplishment for long. The cavern shook again and this time something big fell over inside the cavern. It reminded me somehow of the sound of cereal—the kind that snaps, crackles, and pops—except deeper in tone and much louder. If the destruction of the cavern were a cereal, the slogan would be “cracks, smashes, and thuds.”

I’m not sure who would buy it either as the market for cereal made of shattered rocks has to be small.

Jaclyn and I stared at each other. She said, “The cavern’s coming down. Go. We should catch up to the colonists.”

She put down the four-hander. It ran away as soon as its lower set of hands touched the ground. She let out a breath, “Unless you think you can stop it, he’s got the right idea.”

“I don’t.”

“Then go.” She kicked the Ascendancy soldier she’d taken out and he groaned. “The cavern’s falling in. Run or die.”

It began to pull itself to its feet and she turned away from it, jogging out the door. I followed her out. She began to gather speed once she hit the street. I activated the rockets and took the air, noticing the source of the noise.

A building along the edge of the cavern had fallen in on itself and into the street in front of it. It hadn’t reached all the way to the top of the cavern, giving it less support to weather the earthquakes. I wondered what had been in it. There had to be a reason that they’d choose to make it one of the few exceptions to the rule with regards to its design.

I didn’t have time to think it all through then. The cavern was large, but not that large. It only took me a few seconds to reach Tunnel Nine. Since I didn’t see Jaclyn, I checked my HUD, saw that she was the only person in our group online and opened a connection.

“Are you alright?”

Her voice came over my helmet’s speakers. “I’m in the tunnels. Where are you?”

I replied, “At the entrance to Tunnel Nine,” but before I reached the end of the sentence, her status button winked out.

It didn’t surprise me. The HUD didn’t show anyone but me online anymore. Stone caverns and tunnels weren’t ideal spots for radio contact. Still, I felt alone and a little worried about her even though I knew that the person I should be worried about was me—I was alone at the edge of a cavern that was in the process of collapsing.

I took one last look at the cavern’s glowing streets and blocky skyline, hoping that no one I cared about was still out there somehow. It didn’t seem likely, but with the implants shut off to prevent Kamia from hacking them, it was possible we’d lost track of somebody.

Ignoring the worry, I stepped inside the tunnel and began to run. According to the implant’s map, there were too many turns in the near future for it to be worth it for me to fly.

I ran all out, heart pumping, legs taking ten feet or more with each step, reaching forty, fifty, sixty miles per hour. Even with the suit’s assistance, I could feel that it wasn’t just the suit doing the work. That wasn’t the first thing on my mind though. The first thing on my mind was that I planned to start flying as soon as I had a tunnel straight enough to make it worth the bother.

At the very least, I didn’t want to get caught alone in a collapsing cavern. Jaclyn might survive that. I doubted that I would.

As if on cue a rumble came from behind me and the earth shook again—not as much as when I was inside the main cavern, but the noise was louder. And besides, it wasn’t just noise and tremors. This time, a cloud of dust blew forward behind me, dispersing before it caught me.

I didn’t know if that meant that that cavern had fallen or only part of it, but I didn’t plan to go back and check.

I kept on running and checking my HUD, failing to see signs of anyone. I was still alone in the dark.

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Semicoop

Table May Die

Semicoop

What is this comic about? Watch this video:

So, Cool Mini Or Not’s new Kickstarter project Cthulhu: Death May Die has gone fully overboard. It has a ‘miniature’ that’s 57 cm/22″ high. Looking at the number of backers, a lot of people seem to be interested though. I do understand the appeal, the figure looks amazingly detailed, but we’re not that big on miniature games and this is simply too much (for us). We could provide at least 24 people of the game The Mind for the price of getting that Cthulhu here. 😉 And since CMON is taking it a little step further with each new game, what will be next?! How much paint do you need to paint this big boy? So many questions!

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Jul 15, 2018 at 9:03am PDT

This weekend Heinze played another game of Gaslands and we finally played Odin’s Ravens and Bargain Quest! Odin’s Ravens was gifted to me for my birthday by a friend and it is a simple but clever two-player racing game. As ravens, players try to race around the world, each in the opposite direction to see who returns to Odin first.

Moving is done by playing cards from your hand that matches the image of the next card you need to go to. Players can use their Loki cards to change the route, go forward or force the other player to take a step backward.

It’s a very nice and short game for two players that I think will get even better after playing it a couple of times.

We also got gifted Bargain Quest by the designer Jonathan Ying (thank you so much!). We already loved the art of this game done by Victoria Ying and were even more enthusiastic after the review of Shut Up and Sit Down. We’ve played the ‘simple’ 2-player version yesterday and as far as first impressions go: this is a really fun card drafting game that we would love to try with four players! The next time we’ll play it with just the two of us, we’ll give the advanced rules a go to make it a little bit more challenging.

Tonight’s a big night for us in gaming terms. We’re going to play our maybe final game of Pandemic Legacy Season 2, December! Exciting times! We’ve been doing crazy good the last couple of months and haven’t lost any game since May or June (in-game). It has been a combination of (probably) good luck and an incredible combination of characters. Nonetheless, it has been a blast and we’re ready for the finale. And we’re also looking forward to playing other games after this before we will dedicate to the next campaign game, which will be Charterstone.

What is most ridiculous mini you can think of for CMON’s next project?

The post Table May Die appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Warriors: Part 12

In My Daydreams

Tunnel Four wasn’t far away—just two buildings down the same street. We ran at a comfortable pace, thirty miles per hour or so. We didn’t have enough space to go faster. Kals didn’t have any problems keeping up.

Tunnel Four sat between two buildings that weren’t much different than the buildings at Tunnel Three—except that we didn’t see anyone here. Wherever the plant had gone, I hoped he was safe. My bet was that he’d gotten the last people out over here and gone with them when he realized that he’d missed Kamia and the others.

We came to a stop in front of the tunnel.

Jaclyn glanced over at me and then Katuk. “Do either of you sense anyone in there?”

Before I could reply or send out bots, Katuk said, “There are no lifeforms within the buildings.”

Turning to me, Jaclyn said, “Nick?”

“I’m betting he’s got the better sensors, but I don’t see anything so far. To be confident, I’d have to send in bots.”

Katuk looked the buildings up and down. “I’m confident that there are no lifeforms within. I had to recalibrate my sensors after the last building, but I’ve adjusted now. Incidentally, I do not sense any lifeforms in the buildings within my sensors’ effective range.”

Frowning, Jaclyn gave the area around us a look, turning around in a blur. You could argue she’d wasted our time, but not much. Her sensor equipment was the same as mine, but for all I knew, she might have been more thorough in her brief glance than I would be if I’d sent out bots.

In her low, alto voice, she said, “We should join the evacuees. There’s nothing we—“

The whole cavern shook. It was harder this time—much harder. Unprepared for it, I fell over, catching myself on a wall that, to my relief, didn’t fall in.

Crashing noises came from all over the cavern, but from what I could see so far, no buildings had fallen in. Giving a silent thanks to the engineers or architects who designed the place, I checked my HUD, finding that as intended, my suit had been recording the quake.

I added in the new dataset and ran the calculations again, this time with more useful results. The blast came from the other side of the cavern, as I’d known before, but from within Tunnel Eight. I didn’t wait until I felt comfortable. I told everyone even before the last trembles faded.

“I know where the origin point of the last quake is. It’s Tunnel Eight—the one that’s not quite directly across from us.”

Jaclyn’s eyes darted in my direction. “Then here’s what we do. Katuk and Kals go help the colonists. Nick and I take out the earthquake machine. Kals, am I right in assuming they’re taking the same routes our implants downloaded when we got down here minus anything that went through tunnels three or four?”

Kals looked up at Jaclyn. “Yes, but are you sure that the two of you will be enough?”

“Yes,” Jaclyn said, turning, “but we don’t have time to talk about it. Nick?”

She jumped, landing halfway across the cavern. I said, “Good luck,” to Kals and Katuk, fired off the rockets and followed her.

Jaclyn arrived first, but I landed just behind her. Tunnel Eight came out between two more buildings like the ones we’d seen less than ten seconds before—wide stone buildings that reached from the bottom to the top of the cavern with open windows that the people can use to look out onto the underground city.

The tunnel itself was little more than a doorway into the rock that stood between the two buildings on their lowest level.

My HUD showed two figures within the room, a larger humanoid, a smaller one and a waist high rectangle of what I assumed was, for the lack of a better name, the earthquake machine.

Jaclyn didn’t wait. She said, “Going in,” and blurred, running into the tunnel. I followed, but much slower. By the time I’d reached the inside, she’d already taken out the large humanoid (one of the Ascendancy’s clawed and fanged soldiers). All his weapons had been smashed and he lay on the ground.

She’d grabbed the other figure in the room, one of the armored, four-handed humanoid that the Ascendancy used for technical work.

She held him pointed away from the device, upper arms held behind his back and high enough in the air that it couldn’t touch the ground.

I would have been worried that he might try to grab something with his lower arms, but he hung limp in the air.

Still watching him, Jaclyn asked, “Do you need him to turn off the machine?”

I pointed my HUD at the machine, getting a limited view of the insides. My Xiniti implant completed the view, giving an overall picture of how it worked. While machines that caused earthquakes weren’t standard equipment for warfare, they were standard methods for handling underground bunkers—though best practices didn’t include sticking around with the machine after turning it on.

They were either still configuring it or they’d been left to die—not uncommon in the Ascendancy.

Did I need the guy? While it might be dramatic to include a complicated disarming sequence, the Xiniti indicated where the standard device could be punched to safely destroy it.

Unfortunately, from what I was beginning to understand, it was already too late. The quakes it had already started showed that destroying it would only slow the inevitable.

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Crying Grumpies

Usagi Yojimbo Saga 1, Costumbrismo Samurái

Crying Grumpies

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Por si hasta ahora no os habías dado cuenta he de admitir que una de mis ambientaciones favoritas es el Japón feudal, ya sea fantástico o realista. No es la primera vez que os hablo de cómics de esta ambientación. Okko y Samurai se han pasado por estos lares, pero hoy voy  nos ponemos nuestro disfraz de conejo para adentrarnos en Usagi Yojimbo de Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo es posiblemente junto a Lobo Solitario y su cachorro una de las obras que mejor reflejan el periodo.

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Usagi Yojimbo es un cómic del que Stan Sakai, el rotulista de Groo el errante, es propietario y se publica bajo el sello Dark Horse. En la obra acompañaremos a Miyamoto Usagi, un samurái sin señor que deambula por la Isla del Sol Naciente teniendo aventuras y arreglando entuertos. Una de las particularidades de la historia es que todos los personajes son animales antropomórficos aunque al poco de arrancar te das cuenta de que este hecho es completamente irrelevante para la historia que nos narra.

Treinta años de historia y casi ciento setenta números a sus espaldas dan para mucho, pero hoy tan solo nos centraremos en el volumen Usagi Yojimbo Saga 1 que recopila el volumen dos de la edición americana por entero y algunos números del tercer volumen. He empezado a comprar por este tomo porque los dos anteriores tomos recopilatorios, Fantagraphics Integral 1 y 2, me los leí en digital no hace mucho.

Este volumen arranca poniéndonos en situación, quien es Usagi, como es el mundo que le rodea, etc. A partir de ahí viviremos un carrusel de aventuras, algunas cortas, otras largas y en un caso concreto historias cortas que estoy seguro preparan una gran aventura en un próximo tomo. Cuando hablo de historias cortas me refiero a historias de tres o cuatro páginas mientras que en las más largas pueden abarcar diversos capítulos. Con esto el autor demuestra su gran habilidad para narrar utilizando para cada historia la longitud que necesita; sin que nunca digas que faltan o sobran páginas. La mayoría de historias arrancan con situaciones cotidianas del Japón feudal y donde aprendemos cosas como la forja de katanas , la importancia de las mismas en la vida de los samuráis o como se pescaban y trataban las algas para hacer hojas de nori. A mi parecer las mejores historias del tomo son las que tienen que ver con estos dos hechos.

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El dibujo en blanco y negro es eléctrico, sencillo, dinámico, perfecto para la obra. Pero en mi opinión a la que Usagi abandona su pose dócil y lo dibuja con músculos y tensión queda algo feote. Aunque el cómic es en blanco y negro al final del tomo aparecen todas las portadas a color y hay dos motivos para sacarse el sombrero. El primero son las coloreadas por Tom Luth que utiliza un estilo de color plano similar al de las pinturas Ukyo-E que son maravillosas y el segundo y para quitarselo dos veces son las portadas a acuarela coloreadas por el propio Sakai.

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No puedo obviar el gran cameo de este primer tomo, las siempre Fabulosas Tortugas Ninja. Tanto Usagi como las TNMT compartieron editorial, Mirage, durante unos años. Esto hizo que tanto Usagi se incorporara al elenco de secundarios de los quelonios llegando a aparecer en una de las películas de imagen real, como al revés. Como el resto del tomo la forma en que se traen estos personajes a la historia es fantástica y no desentona en la serie. Un gran ejemplo de como hacer un crossover.

Usagi Yojimbo Saga vol.1, es un tomo brutal. No nos presenta nada que no hayamos leído o visto en mil series, películas o libros de samuráis pero lo hace con una maestría digna de admiración. Aunque no es el principio de las aventuras del conejo samurái es un gran punto de partida para iniciarse. Y si os apasiona el mundillo  es un Must Have. Aprovecho también para dar un par de no recomendaciones como el tomo Usagi Yojimbo y las Tortugas Ninjas o Usagi Yojimbo Yokai pues no están a la altura de lo visto en este tomo, solo apto para completistas. El primero por malo y reciclaje de conceptos y el segundo si bien es precioso está falto de la profundidad que demuestra la serie regular.

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Y una última postdata, y es que antes de publicar este articulo ya me he leído Usagi Yojimbo Saga 2. Si el primer volumen es una maravilla, el segundo es un regalo de los dioses. Un tercio del tomo está dedicado a Segadora, un arco argumental ganador del premio Eisner, que nos tendrá con la nariz entre páginas durante un rato largo.

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In My Daydreams

Warriors: Part 11

In My Daydreams

Katuk turned toward Kals. “Do you know how the colonists are escaping? If we can’t find her, it seems that our first duty would be to attend to their welfare.”

He had a point. I didn’t think that we should leave without telling Jaclyn, and was just about to try to use the comm, but I didn’t have to. Jaclyn jumped out the second floor window and landed next to us.

She glanced at the tunnel and back at us. “Where’s Kamia?”

“No idea,” I said. “I hit her shield with a killbot. It went partially through, exploded, and after that she ducked back into the cave. We haven’t seen her since. What about you?”

Jaclyn pursed her lips. “I didn’t kill anybody, but none of them can walk right now.”

I was about to describe our conversation to her and ask her what she thought about joining the escaping colonists when the cavern shook. It wasn’t the kind of big quake that I imagined happening in California, but it was a short, sharp movement that was strong enough that I felt like I’d been pushed.

I didn’t fall over, but I did have to spread my legs to avoid falling over.

Out in the darkness came creaking noises and the pitter-pat of small objects falling, combined with a few thumps that I thought might be larger objects falling from a height.

Like the rest of us, Jaclyn looked in the direction of the noise once she had herself under control. “What was that?”

“I don’t know.” I used the sonics to try to figure out where where the sound likely originated, but as the suit’s computer crunched numbers, I added, “But if Alanna ever mentioned that the colony had an underground escape plan, maybe the Ascendancy might be prepared with a tool that would allow them to collapse the caverns.”

Jaclyn turned to look into the main area of the cavern with it’s floor to ceiling buildings, dim lights and open streets. “That makes sense, but why come in here? Why not do it from outside?”

I shrugged. “Maybe they could have except that we destroyed the ship, so they had to put together a less powerful version from spare parts or a piece of the machine? Four Hands had a bunch of their genetically engineered engineers in tow for some reason.”

Katuk turned away from the tunnel. “That sounds possible, but it seems like a great deal to assume based on one movement of the earth. Earthquakes are a natural phenomena as well.”

He did have a point. “It might be natural, but it is an awfully strange coincidence.”

At the same time and after considering the data it had, my HUD threw up a picture of the area, showing the potential location of the earthquake’s source. It hadn’t narrowed it down much, indicating a quarter of the cavern opposite this spot. Superimposing the tunnel map in my implant over the HUD’s map in my helmet showed that two tunnels came out opposite this spot and that they came  close enough to the tunnels on this side at one point that a powerful enough person would be able to blast through from one to the other. On the other hand, the same could be said of the other four tunnels on that side.

Tapping her helmet, Jaclyn said, “Quiet everyone, I’m telling Cassie, Marcus, and Tikki to follow the colonists out. They’re closer. We should leave too. I wish I knew where Crawls-Through-Desert went. He needs to leave too.”

I looked down the road, but didn’t see him. “The last I saw him, he was heading toward Tunnel Four. He was out of sight by the time I got here.”

Katuk followed my gaze. “I don’t detect him, but we should try to warn him if he’s still there.”

Kals’ frowned. “Wouldn’t he notice if he’s completely alone and the Guard isn’t there either? I mean, he’s a spy. They’re supposed to notice that sort of thing.”

She had a point too. We could probably count on him to take care of himself—unless the Guard had taken him out.

Another quake hit. This one felt a little stronger than the other one, though it was hard to say for sure. I hadn’t made earthquake measurement a priority for any version of the Rocket suit and so far as I knew, Grandpa hadn’t either.

We heard a few shouts, more thumps and a short rain of unknown small objects hitting the ground from above.

I reran the calculations and included the newest data. It didn’t change much. I needed to move more to get a better sense of where they might be.

“Nick,” Jaclyn said, “Do you have any idea where a device might be if it exists?”

I shook my head. “I’ve narrowed it down to about five tunnels—which isn’t very narrow. I need to get data from another spot in order for it to maybe work.”

Jaclyn sighed. “Then let’s run past where the plant’s supposed to be and then follow the colonists out. If we’re around for another quake, maybe we can track it down. Otherwise, we’d be better off not being here.”

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Semicoop

Things board gamers search for

Semicoop

Weird Things Humans Search For was kindly provided by Big Potato Games for free. We thank them for giving us this game which led to this comic! For more information on how we deal with gifted games, please see our FAQ!

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Jun 24, 2018 at 2:58pm PDT

At the UK Games Expo, we were given a copy of Weird Things Humans Search For. We don’t play many party games, but playing the demo was really fun. Since then we’ve played it with four players, which was nice but next time we want to play it with a large group of people in teams and play it pub-quiz like. We believe it could be even more fun if people can discuss possible answers.

The idea of the game is very simple. Players are given the first half of the most (weird) popular searches on the internet and have to guess what people actually search for, the higher their guess is on the list, the more points you score. One thing we learned from playing the game: Humans are indeed very weird.

We still have a bunch of unplayed games we need to play (soon!). Seals of Chtulhu, Odin’s Ravens, Spoils of War, Zombology and the Telly Times expansion for The Networks. I can’t wait for our holiday to begin so we have time to play all of the amazing games.

What other searches would start with ‘What board game…’?

The post Things board gamers search for appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Warriors: Part 10

In My Daydreams

Superheroes don’t kill (most of the time). There are reasons for that, ranging from moral to legal to practical. Legally, most of us aren’t empowered to do it (even if we can get away with it). Morally, killing isn’t something you want to do unless you have to. Practically, society would come to regard us as a menace if we did it a lot even if it was justified.

Here almost none of that applied. We weren’t vigilantes. We were the law, empowered by the Alliance as part of the Xiniti Nation to do whatever was required to protect the colony.

All the same, it didn’t come easy for me. While you could argue that was a good thing, you could argue that the colony might be better served by a conscienceless killer.

I say this because I hesitated. It wasn’t the kind of hesitation that was too long and turns the fight into a tragedy. It was long enough to remind myself that if there was any time that it was right to kill, it was now. She was directing people to kill civilians and she was doing it to distract us from what the rest of the group was doing somewhere else.

I pulled the trigger, releasing a killbot, targeting her via the observation bots. It shot out from under my arm, flying low to the ground, picking up speed as it grew closer to her.

In that moment, she must have noticed something or maybe the Abominator devices did. She raised her right arm, firing yellow beams and taking out all three observation bots, but missing the killbot which dodged and weaved in what my design document called an “evasive wobble.”

It only made it halfway through the shield, which meant it didn’t hit her at all—except that killbots exploded. This one exploded partially inside and partially outside the shield, creating a blast of fire on each side.

That meant a lot of different things. First of all, it meant that my killbots almost went through Abominator shields and the Ascendancy shields that imitated them. All they needed was a little more push or maybe more monofilament wires on the head of the bullet or on the body. That was the good news. Secondly, it meant that I was screwed because I didn’t have the equipment here to make the changes, but also because the implant indicated that all Ascendant Guards had those force fields as well as their better solo agents.

The more practical and immediate result? The half-blast still blew Kamia backward in her force bubble. She ducked back into the tunnel.

I ran up to the side of the tunnel but didn’t run in. With an inexperienced fighter, I might have considered it. With someone carrying Abominator devices who had defeated Xiniti, it seemed wiser to assume that dropping back was part of a plan on her part even if it was her emergency backup plan.

I sent out a spybot. In an effort to avoid hinting where I was, I took the minimal precaution of having it enter the tunnel from the top rather than from the same direction I was standing in.

Watching the spybot’s feed as it flew down the tunnel, I didn’t see anyone.

Pulling up the implant’s map of the caverns, I saw openings into the buildings on either side. A little farther back, Tunnel Three passed other tunnels. Bearing in mind that they could create connections between tunnels, that meant that she could be anywhere.

When I took into account how quickly I’d lose a connection to the bot underground, I realized I’d be better off helping Jaclyn and watching for the others to attack in whatever way they were planning to.

That’s the point at which Kals and Katuk joined me.

Katuk stopped next to me. “Where did Kamia go?”

I moved to stand in front of the tunnel and looked in. “I don’t know.”

Even as I said it, I used the suit’s sonic and thermal sensors, hoping that I might get footprints out of the thermal or that the suit’s echolocation or passive sensors might catch something. They didn’t.

“I saw her go down into the tunnels, but she got out of range before I could get a good sense of where she was going.”

Katuk peered down the tunnels next to me, possibly using his own suit’s sensors. “I don’t see her either.”

Without turning away from the tunnel, he added, “This is not good. She’s an extremely effective soldier.”

“I’m more worried about where the others are,” I said.

Off to the side of the tunnel, Kals glanced upward to the buildings. By that point, there were no more flashes coming from above. Jaclyn must have handled that.

“That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” Kals said. “If they managed to catch up to my mom and the colony while we were doing this, they could already be slaughtering them.”

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In My Daydreams

Warriors, Part 9

In My Daydreams

I formed the suit’s helmet and set the suit to triangulate the source of the sound. Then I pulled the cavern’s map out of the implant’s memory. Though it took longer than it would have with the implant’s network connection, I knew where the voice came from and how it happened.

I tapped my palm, going live on the League’s communication system, “They’re coming out of Tunnel Three.”

Only Jaclyn, Marcus, and Cassie could hear me. They’d have to tell Katuk and Tikki.

Tunnel Three crossed under Four. If they had some way to detect it or if Alanna had given them a map, it wouldn’t be hard to break through.

Waving to get Kals’ attention, I pointed toward the source of the noise. “Tunnel Three!”

At the same time, I loosed a few spybots, giving me a better views of the situation.

Tunnel Three came out between two buildings, both of them tall blocks of rock that went from the bottom to the top of the cavern. I couldn’t know how many people they held, but from the size, but they weren’t small and this cavern had to hide a few thousand people.

My guess was hundreds. Each one was at least as large as my dorm at college and I’d heard it held three hundred.

That mattered because as I watched, streaks of red light became visible through the windows of different floors in each building. The light went from one side of the buildings to another.

I didn’t need the suit’s enhanced senses to hear the sound of screams or the crackle of the beams.

I shared the visuals with Marcus, Jaclyn, and Cassie.

As I did, one of the Ascendancy soldiers leaned out of a third-floor window and aimed a thick muzzled gun down at the people on the street, leaving five bodies unmoving on the ground and more screaming and running.

Cassie’s voice echoed in my helmet. “Holy fuck.”

Next to me, Kals asked, “Do you know what’s going on?”

“They’re clearing whole floors of buildings with really big guns.”

She froze. “They’re using burners?”

And that pulled up a multitude of flashing implant memories, giving me visions of the same gun on world after world. The Ascendancy used burners to commit mass murder. They weren’t effective against soldiers. Standard military armor prevented them from doing much damage.

The guns fired off a flammable foam that expanded in a high-speed stream and separated, blending into the air. Then, when the gun heated up the main mass, it triggered all the foam in range, including any that had been breathed into the human body unless the people were lucky enough to become inaccessible.

Still wearing the armor she’s worn to go to the fight, Kals pulled a mask out of the jacket. It spread to cover her face. When she spoke through it, her voice sounded no different, something I wanted to investigate if I ever had time. “It figures that they’d pull those out only after only after I told everyone to turn off their implants. We’d better get over there and try to stop this or at least minimize the damage.”

I ran with her, telling Jaclyn, Marcus and Cassie to check their implants for information on burners. The distance wasn’t far enough to take flight and besides, I didn’t want them to know I was coming until I appeared.

We ran down the street against the flow of people, many running all out. Kals slowed to tell people to be careful, to watch for anyone who had been hurt, and to be as orderly as possible.

I got ahead of her—which was probably for the best. I didn’t know how good her armor was or wasn’t. Also, something bugged me about what was happening. It came into focus as I noticed a picture from the opening of Tunnel Three.

Kamia stood alone in the mouth of the stone doorway, helping me put words to the problem. It felt flashy and distracting, but not real. They didn’t need to do something that drew our attention that well unless they were trying to distract us from something else—like for example, where the other people in the group were?

I stopped one building away from Kamia, able to see her with my own eyes as she shouted and sometimes shot down the street with her weapons.

Someone stopped next to me and I turned to find Jaclyn instead of Kals. “The rest are on their way. I decided to come first because we might be able to stop this between the two of us.”

I thought about it. Jaclyn might be able to stop it by herself. “There’s something you should think about. I think this might be a distraction. I mean, where’s everyone else? We know there are more of them.”

Jaclyn looked Kamia and said, “That makes sense, but I can’t let them keep this up, can you?”

Another reddish blast flashed in the direction of the crowd. “No.”

She nodded. “See if you can think of any way to take out Kamia. I’m going to stop the soldiers.”

She took two steps. The first gave her some speed. She used the second to leap, hitting the fifth floor of the nearest building and going through the wall.

I looked at Kamia and the glowing force field around her. Much as I disliked the idea, I knew what I had to try.

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In My Daydreams

Updating A Day Late

In My Daydreams

Today is July 4, a national holiday in the US. As such I’m spending the day with family and may well go to see fireworks tonight. That puts a wrench in my writing schedule.

Tomorrow night, I will be in a hotel which is more convenient for writing.

Expect it then.

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Semicoop

Keeping the Romance Alive

Semicoop

Fog of Love was kindly provided by Hush Hush Projects for free. We thank them for giving us this game which led to this comic! For more information on how we deal with gifted games, please see our FAQ!

Fog of Love, a game people either seem to love or hate and many people discourage playing it with your spouse. We really enjoy playing this game together and we really don’t mind making our character’s lives a little miserable or face them with some sensitive subjects and situations.

A post shared by Semi Co-op (@semicoop) on Jun 30, 2018 at 2:12pm PDT

Because players can play three ‘levels’ of scenes from the sweet, serious and drama deck, there can be quite a contrast between what happens. Like in the comic above, one moment you can be having a dramatic scene at an airport and the next… a silly conversation about whom to have a dinner date with. It’s necessary to keep everything light, it is a game after all, but it can feel slightly silly sometimes. 🙂

In contrast to this pastel colored romantic comedy game, Heinze played Gaslands this weekend with a group of friends. Gaslands is a tabletop war-game with cars in a post-apocalyptic wasteland! They started the day by modding their matchbox cars for three hours and then started a game with 12 cars in total… which is not a particularly brilliant idea if you’re playing the game for the first time. I believe the game took them about four hours. But they were raving about it and already discussing tactics and car-modifications for next time, so there’s definitely going to be a next time. 😉

For the modding of the matchbox cars, they used a lot of parts of the tabletop game Mechwarrior. We still had a lot of miniatures laying around here which we haven’t touched in over ten years, so this seemed like a pretty nice use for them.

Do romance and board games go together?

The post Keeping the Romance Alive appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Warriors: Part 8

In My Daydreams

“Crap,” I said, “implants? We’re going to have to turn them off or at least the communication part.”

I queried my implant to find out if we could turn them off. We couldn’t, but we could turn off outside communications. While I was at it, I checked what the Xiniti experience of fighting Kamia had been.

It hadn’t been good.

While they were well aware of her device’s ability to attack implants, they weren’t always in a situation where they could drop communications—flying spaceships, for example—and she made her presence a surprise. Plus, and they didn’t know how, she had some way to get around disabled connections. They suspected it required touch, but they only had implants from dead Xiniti to go on.

Whatever the Abominator device was, it didn’t leave much evidence behind and the damaged implants had been boobytrapped more often than not.

We were so screwed.

I heard Kals telling everyone (maybe including me), “We’re evacuating right now.”

Then she turned to the blue haired tech. “Blow every bomb in the tunnel between them and us. Don’t wait for them to get close. Got it?”

“I get it,” the guy said and turned back to the picture.

As that conversation went on, I used my implant to tell our group what I knew about Kamia, including Kals and Tikki. It’s possible that the Xiniti might not want everyone to know how effective Kamia was against them and how, but Katuk had told us. As far as I was concerned, the colony had entered “need-to-know” status, a point I highlighted in Kals’ message.

As I sent it off, Kals turned to me, dropping her jaw. She didn’t wait to discuss it with me or Jadzen, making a general announcement on the channel the colonists used for emergency messages.

Crawls-Through-Desert, meanwhile, had floated back into the corner. I had no idea what he was doing as he floated there, but I supposed he was more dependent on computer systems than any of us. He was probably trying to figure out what he could afford to shut down.

Then Kals voice filled my head.

“Everyone must shut off the network in any implant they may have installed. This is also true of any AI you may be harboring among your possessions. The Ascendancy troops have an Abominator device capable of connecting to your devices and taking control. Turn them off if you can, but if you can’t you have to disable communications if you want to survive.

“Before you shut them off, remember that we’re using the standard evacuation plan and rendezvous point, but code red evacuation. That means now! They’re coming down tunnel four. Good luck.”

From outside came the click of doors shutting, voices talking and shouting, and footsteps. Amid all of that, my Rocket suit’s comm beeped. Since I wasn’t wearing the helmet, I checked my glasses’ mini-HUD. Jaclyn was calling.

I took the call.

“Just when I get used to using the implant, it signs up with the bad guys… Anyway, we’re setting up near tunnel four. We might send people with the evacuees. It depends on how badly this goes.”

Keeping my voice low, I said, “Got it. We’ll be there as soon as possible.”

We ended the call and Kals said, “Now what?”

“We’re meeting near the opening of tunnel four.”

“I’ll go with you.” She stepped away from the techs and walked over to me.

The techs, meanwhile, were grabbing bags that they kept next to their desks and running down to the next level, following Sian and Asan. The standard evacuation plan didn’t leave the techs here to defend the place—not that you’d expect the techs to do it, but someone would have to stay and slow the invaders down in most evacuation plans. I wondered whose lives we were saving.

It wasn’t as if I’d complain. Saving lives, directly or indirectly was pretty much the entire point of what putting on a costume was all about.

I looked at her. “Are you sure? You’re the second in command. It seems like they’ll need you.”

She shook her head. “In the standard evacuation plan, the second stays. It was written assuming the second would be Maru, but I’m the second.”

“Okay,” I didn’t think it was likely that her mother would approve, but we could use her help. So, I didn’t argue and looked toward the stairs. “We’d better get out then.”

Crawls-Through-Desert floated near the stairway in his pot. “I’m going to have to go with the colonists. If I’m in range of whatever Kamia’s got, I’m a danger to the rest of you.”

He floated away at a faster speed than I’d seen him go so far.

We weren’t the only ones in the room or the building, but it was getting that way. There were only two people left on our floor by then, but a few more were crowding the stairs from the floor above us. They stared at my suit as we walked toward the stairway.

It took a minute to get out of the building.

People were running to exits across the cavern as we stepped out the door and tried to get our bearings or as I tried to at least. Kals pointed down the street. “That way.”

Even as we began to move, we heard a voice echo in the cavern. “I’m Kamia of the Human Ascendancy’s Ascendant Guard. Surrender or die!”

I didn’t know, but if I had to guess, Kamia had found some way of crossing into a different tunnel than tunnel four before entering the cavern.

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Announcement Time!

Require Cookie

First Things First – Stormy

On March 24, 2003, I published a Matrix fanfic. It had a hacker character. Now, I’d written this fanfic out of a kind of desperation, something to distract myself from how obsessed I was with Lord of the Rings.

Heh. Wow. That kind of backfired spectacularly, and in the weirdest way.

Fifteen years later, I’m still going. Stef’s a consistent part of my life, as much as a family member, and through her various forms, I’ve known her for longer than any friend I’ve ever had.

I have made a lot of dumb decisions with Cookie, from how I’ve handled releases, to side projects that fizzled and gone nowhere. I’ve lost inspiration, I’ve broken promises, and I’ve retraced my own steps so many times I’ve  dug a trench.

I’ve so often wanted to let go, because I thought I wasn’t good enough, or that the world didn’t need Cookie, and a hundred similar thoughts. And my own mental illness – which is of a different flavour to what Stef deals with, but has as significant impact on my life – tells me I’m right to doubt myself.

But…

But there are a few things that tell me that maybe, just maybe that Cookie is worth keeping and continuing.

Aside from my spouse (Matthew) and my sister (Miranda), every other friend I have is someone who started off as a fan.

Wraith, someone I think of as a brother, someone who crossed the world to come live with me for two months, was a fan.

Frogge, whose bride I just walked down the aisle, was a fan.

Leaky, whose kids I send Christmas presents to, was a fan.

Shade, who came to Wraith with a self-insert fanfic, is now my closest collaborator, and I dread/can’t wait for the day we unleash Vincent on you all.

Cookie has changed my life, giving me friends, family and lols.

And I know it’s not just me.

A number of years ago (I love that phrase, sounds writerly), someone sent me a message, telling me that they were going to go on meds, because they saw Stef trying to improve. That if Stef could take steps, so could they.

I made a change in someone’s life.

Something I wrote helped someone.

And it makes me think of all the media that has impacted me – from the Animorphs I read as a kid, books that were what I had instead of friends; to TV where I looked for the familial relationships and influences that I didn’t have – it’s easy to recognise that part of us is the stories we consume.

And in that miasma, I think Cookie might just have a spot, for all the lost nerds, the people who want to find family, and everyone else who can see a reflection of themselves in someone we put into words.

None of us gets to be who we wanted to be. No one gets that perfect story. But..it might be okay anyway. You might get adopted by an angel. You might have a friend willing to make a dictionary to understand your nerd speak. You might realise you have worth.

The Agency always has space for anyone who wants to be there, and so does family, and if you’re reading this, you’re part of ours.

So the above is my love letter to everyone, to let you know we’re back, and if I can keep my brain awfuls at bay, that we’re continuing on.

First Things First – Shade

Six years ago, I spent a week in Colorado, on vacation, and it changed my life forever.  I met many wonderful people whom I had previously only interacted with online. I stayed with Wraith, who, at the time, was re-reading the entirety of Stormy’s writing.

I got home from my vacation and spent a day and a half doing that myself.  I wasn’t even finished with the first book (are we still calling them books?  Are they arcs now? Seasons? Man, whatever.) and an idea popped into my brain.  I asked Wraith about some of the details about the world Stormy created, and he eventually just said “Okay, there are limits to what I know, here’s Stormy, bug her now.”

And Stormy’s regretted it ever since.

So, I submitted this utterly awful thing about a recruit annoying an Agent, based very, very, very loosely on my short vacation.  And I wrote some more. And even more.

Then I had a stupid idea about “what if this idiot character I wrote interacted with the main cast?”

I wrote a few small interactions with the established cast.  It worked. It worked too well. This idiot I wrote fell into place absolutely too perfectly, and actually filled a number of potential plot holes.

I talked more with Stormy.  I talked more with Wraith. I talked a few of my friends into reading it.  I wrote. Stormy wrote. We collaborated. The first few arcs about Stef are still wholly Stormy’s brainchild, but if you look closely, you can see tiny tweaks here and there where I’ve had a hand in (hopefully) improving.

Here it is, six and a half years later.  We’ve got a plot spanning at least 9 different storylines, and can’t wait to actually have them out for people to see.

I’ve plotted so much for Vincent, and nobody but us has really seen what he’s all about.  I hope to one day see Vincent in some form or other done right by someone who isn’t me.


Ash & Blue

(Stormy Again)

We’re re-launching – and for about six months, I’ve been thinking that that meant a full reboot (and I have about 15,000 words to show for that effort), including such measures even as drastic as writing out the mirror concept altogether.

But as I’ve made peace with various things, I’ve decided against something that drastic. Instead, it’s something much softer, like a final draft of a script before a movie gets filmed.

A couple of plot threads that went nowhere are getting pruned, and I’m adjusting some of the tone (think MS/FAS; limit tests/Russia), I’d like to back away a bit from the darkness, not remove it altogether, just to make it less of miserable slog.

Today, July 2nd, is my birthday (I accept cash, books and Overwatch merch if you want to spoil me). Today is Announcement Day; Launch Day is Stef’s birthday, September 13th.

And as I’m sitting here writing the draft, I realise I’ve buried the lede.

We’re relaunching as a podcast.

We’re hoping this accessible format will draw in a larger audience, as it’s something you can consume on a commute, a run, or even on the loo.

I know for myself, over the last two years pretty much every book I’ve consumed (I honestly think graphic novels are the only exception) has been in the audio format. (Read a book? No time! Consume the entirety of The Adventure Zone? No problem!).

The text chapters will be there for the people who prefer that format (if this is you, would an additional step, such as ePub/Kindle files for each chapter be helpful?).

Chapters/Episodes will be released fortnightly – at least to start with, we don’t want to over-extend as we move into a new format – and see how that goes for six months or so.

[New episodes will be available via the site, Spotify, iTunes, and RSS.]

We’re rebranding as Ash & Blue, for the sake of acknowledging, all the changes, and the new format.

Short list of things that are and aren’t changing due to the rebrand.

Website: New! http://ashandblue.com/
Facebook: New! https://www.facebook.com/AshandBlue/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/AshBluePodcast
Contact Email: stormystohelit@gmail.com
Patreon: New! https://www.patreon.com/AshandBlue
Discord: New! https://discord.gg/hz3wKfB
Mailing List: Unchanged

We’ll have patchy updates until Launch Day, but for the optimal experience, do this:

  1. Check out the new site
  2. Join the Discord
  3. Make sure you’re on the mailing list

 

Come to the new site, there’s something special waiting there.

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In My Daydreams

Warriors: Part 7

In My Daydreams

The plant’s fronds waved. Through my implant, I heard, “Drop the tunnel on them. You can do that, can’t you?”

The techs concentrated. Some of them closed their eyes. The screens in the air changed from black screens to new sections of the tunnel and not all of them the same section. Each screen was numbered, starting from 927 through to 978, but with a seven screen gap in the middle—the screens that had gone blank.

Screens below 942 through to 933 and above 949 through to 956 showed chunks of rock fall. Some screens went dead. Others showed closeups of rocks and pebbles.

“There,” the first tech said. “We brought a couple tons of rock down on them. We can’t bring down the entire tunnel, but that should be enough to kill them.”

I sighed. This guy, whoever he was, didn’t spend enough time watching whatever their equivalent of action movies was. I didn’t have time to tell him so before screen 962 showed the rockfall begin to move. At first, rocks  were all we saw. They moved up the tunnel, pushed forward by something. From experience, I doubted that it was telekinesis. I couldn’t quite say how it looked wrong for that, but it did.

Then a yellowish-white glow broke through the stones, first in small beams of light and then thickening until the top of a yellowish-white globe broke through the top of the of the pile. Within seconds, we could see Neves’ bulk, followed by the four handed Ascendant Guardsman. For lack of a better idea, I decided to call him Four Hands in my head. What I’d do if his relatives had also survived was a problem for another day.

I wondered what his actual name was. Four Hands sounded like the Ascendancy equivalent of a racist nickname, a thought that didn’t make me feel good about coming up with it on my own. I supposed that I could ask him for his name if we both survived.

For all the technical skill that I assumed Four Hands had, it wasn’t his force field. Kamia stood behind Four Hands, her armor glowing with the same color as the force field. Behind Kamia walked Agent 957, the Ascendancy soldiers, and more of the “handsies” as one of the techs had called them.

It didn’t seem like there were as many as there had been before and the troops’ armor had long scrapes and sometimes blood. I wasn’t sure that the blood was theirs.

“Again! Drop the ceiling on them again and keep it up,” Crawls-Through-Desert told them.

The techs looked over at Asan and Sian. They agreed.

The techs did what they could. The first two times rocks covered them the force shield shed “sparks.” I wasn’t sure what else to call the fragments that fell away from the shield. I knew how my ship’s shields worked, but these personal shields were a different kind of technology and outside of my experience.

My implant identified Kamia’s armor and the shields as Abominator tech. It figured. They’d created the empowered portion of humanity, so they might as well have built us tools.

“As soon as you find that they’re in a section where you can blow up the tunnel, do it. That shield can’t have infinite energy. One of the times that it gets hit, it will fail.” The plant floated closer to the screens, its pot blowing air out of the holes in the back.

The blue haired tech said, “I think I’ve figured out the speed at which they push through the rubble. They should be at the next explosives site in five minutes.”

“Five minutes? You guys didn’t line the whole thing with explosives?” I didn’t really expect that they had, but it seemed worth a question.

The blue haired tech said, “No, we didn’t want to risk damaging the stability of the caverns. There are tunnels all over and some of them are close to other or close to spots in the rock that could have side effects if we blow them up. Besides, we might need the tunnel later even if we want to blow it up now.”

That made sense.

Ignoring me, the tech continued, “We’re going to blow sections 970 to 977 in three minutes. Everyone quiet, please. No distractions.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Kals touching her bracelet. In the next moment, her voice was in my head. “I’m alerting my mom. We’re going to have to evacuate or fight, probably both.”

“You’re right,” I told her. “I don’t think we’re going to stop them before they reach our cavern. We need to prepare an ambush.”

I wished I had a direct line to HAL just now. He’d probably have some useful observations. Unfortunately, tons of rock made an effective communications barrier. On the other hand, if anywhere in the cavern had a connection outside, it was here.

I considered whether or not I could ask anyone about it and decided I couldn’t. At the same time, the screens corresponding to the next sections of the tunnel appeared in the air.

The blue haired guy said. “We’re going to blow the next section. One…”

Then all the screens went blank. After a second, words appeared and the implant translated. It said, “We’re coming.”

Then it went blank again.

The blue haired tech turned to Asan and Sian, “The bombs won’t respond.”

As I considered how the Guard might have done that, my implant vomited the Xiniti’s experiences with these Guard members into my brain. Among the more memorable lines was, “Four Hands and Kamia have a remarkable synergy between his technical expertise and her Abominator device that allows her to attack computer, AIs, and implants.”

While it didn’t explain this, that’s something I would have wanted to know long ago.

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Semicoop

Judging a gift by its cover

Semicoop

It actually was my birthday last Friday! I’ve now joined the cool 30’s gang. 😉

Whenever we go to birthday parties of our (gaming group) friends, there is often something a lot of the gifts have in common: the wrapping paper! Our comic and gaming store Comicasa has had this wrapping paper for as long as I can remember now. At one point we even gift-wrapped an already gift wrapped gift with a different wrapping paper just to make a friend think we didn’t get him a board game or comic-related gift. This wrapping paper deserved to get its own comic. I’m not sure if it is common in other countries that something you buy can be gift wrapped, but here in the Netherlands, it’s a service provided by most stores.

In other really cool news, the amazing Musical Live Show of No Pun Included we were part of is now online! Elaine and Efka did an amazing job and you should totally check out the wonderful performance of Elaine, singing these funny songs about board games:

Does your local game store have a ‘signature’ wrapping paper?

The post Judging a gift by its cover appeared first on Semi Co-op.

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In My Daydreams

Warriors: Part 6

In My Daydreams

Sian and Asan looked at each other. Asan said, “We need to go downstairs. It sounds like the Guard just showed up.”

“Showed up?” I kept on talking as they turned toward the stairs and motioned us to follow. “I wasn’t aware they’d gone missing.”

Sian turned to look at me. “We’ve been watching them since they left or we’ve been trying to. The Guard have chameleon tech. It doesn’t make them invisible to the eye if you know what to look for, but they’re invisible to sensors. After they left the tunnels, they disappeared. We’ve got visual sensors on the outside, but the better they are, the bigger they are, and the easier they are to detect. So we’ve got other sensors for longer distances, but chameleon tech can fool those.”

We all walked down the stairs.

Kals talked over my shoulder at them. “Wait, when I called you guys for a report earlier, you didn’t say anything about chameleon tech. You said that you’d seen them heading toward the shuttles.”

“Exactly,” Asan shouted back, “We watched them until they disappeared from visuals.”

Sian added, “Maru knew about the chameleon tech.”

Keeping her voice close to level, Kals told them, “Maru’s dead and he didn’t pass that on. You can’t assume I know everything he did.”

Maybe there would have been more to that conversation if we hadn’t made it to the second floor by then. In the second floor lab, techs crowded in one corner where pictures from different cameras showed Neves (big, dark-skinned man in black armor), and Kamia (a pale woman in red armor with at least three guns). It also showed one of four handed techies, but this one was bigger than any of the others and wore armor.

None of them wore the Human Ascendancy military’s logo—a human outline, head upraised to the sky. All three wore what my implant identified as the Ascendant Guard’s symbol—a human outline with a rifle held across its chest.

Along with them in the tunnel were more of the Ascendancy soldiers with claws and teeth that resembled Haley and Travis. A smaller number of the four-handed techs stood in the hall near them, aiming devices up and down the walls. They were the size I expected them to be.

A fourth person stood near the clawed soldiers. Wearing blue armor that doubled as a space suit, he paced up and down the cavern next to the troops, stood behind the techs as they analyzed their surroundings, and turned his helmet toward the Guard members and watched them, turning away before they looked in his direction.

The symbol on his armor was the Human Ascendancy’s man with his head upraised to the sky, but in this case, a DNA strand had been shaped to fill the human figure’s body. My implant identified it as the symbol of the Human Ascendancy’s Genetic Management Office.

This was Agent 957, the guy who had followed us across space and used Alanna to find the colony.

It was almost disappointing. When someone does something like that, you expect them to be bigger than life and this guy, well, he wasn’t.

From what little I’d seen of him, I got the impression that he was nervous and maybe afraid of the Guard members.

That all passed through my mind in a moment. In the next moment, I knew that we needed to know more.

“Where are they? Is that a tunnel that might lead them here?”

The techs turned around to look at me. One guy shrugged. “Uh… Yeah. That one’s a real way in. It’s defended, but I suppose someone might be capable of getting past it, but we watched these guys try this morning. They didn’t get anywhere. Can’t say I see any reason to believe they’ll do better tonight.”

Another tech, one with blue-tinged hair, shook his head. “I don’t know. This time they’ve got a bunch of handsies to help.”

The first tech said, “I’ve never believed those guys were much better than any other techie. It’s not like hands make you smarter.”

“They don’t,” blue hair said, “but I worked with those guys back when I was on a ship and some of them were far past normal—“

All the screens went black, or at least all the screens that showed Ascendancy troops.

Crawls-Through-Desert spoke, “We need an estimate of the best time they could realistically make it here from the point that they were at. We’ll need to know both the speed if they knew how to disable all the traps and if they don’t.”

The blue haired tech said, “With traps disarmed is easy. It’s about 30 minutes. Assuming that they can disarm the traps and break through the force field, but don’t know how? My guess is about an hour or two. If they’re lucky, 45 minutes.”

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In My Daydreams

Warriors: Part 5

In My Daydreams

I couldn’t know that, of course, but if I thought in terms of the Ascendency’s situation and resources, it seemed reasonable. Our main protection was the caverns’ size in combination with the decoys and traps the colony’s techs created.

If the Ascendancy had genetically modified technical geniuses, they’d be throwing them up against that. That’s what I’d be doing anyway.

I hoped the colony’s techs were as good.

Not long after that I found myself walking across the cavern city to the technical building we’d captured Alanna in before she’d committed suicide. When we walked inside it looked the same as before. Black cylinders as tall as I was while wearing the Rocket suit filled the room. As I remembered from the last time we were there, the cylinders collected ambient energy and stored it.

They’d been collecting energy for years despite being inside a giant rock formation. I hadn’t had the chance to ask for details when we’d been there last time. I might get to this time, but I doubted it. The implant had a selection of technologies that it might be and I suspected I’d have to content myself with going through them later when I had time.

Kals, Crawls-Through-Desert and I followed one of the techs up to the second floor of the building. There weren’t any cylinders there. It looked like a lab. Desks and long tables with dismantled machines and parts of machines filled the room. Tanks with cloudy liquid were scattered throughout the room—next to walls and on top of desks and tables. Though they weren’t easy to see through, the tanks contained hard objects. If I watched, I thought I could see new objects grow.

Neither Kals or the plant showed much interest as we met Asan and Sian at the back of the room and took another flight of stairs up to another floor. This one was a mixture of desks, storage closets, and parts—lots of parts. The implant labeled the ones I gave any thought to and sometimes I recognized parts from my experience with the ship’s alien tech.

Asan and Sian stopped at a desk and pulled out chairs from it’s nearest neighbor for Kals and I. The plant floated next to the desk. Since I was wearing the Rocket suit, I half expected to crush the chair when I sat down, but the most recent version of the suit was lighter than the last. The chair held.

Asan grinned at us. “Jadzen wanted us to talk about what we could do to detect the Ascendancy’s people before they made it down here.”

Sian sat in his own chair. “We’ve been thinking about this for years and we’ve got a system already. It’s not perfect, but it should work. The core problem is that while there are methods we could use to send information through the rock without physical material, they make it easy to triangulate our location.”

In his own chair, Asan tapped on the desk with a stylus. “Not only that, it’s practically an invitation to start decrypting everything we say. So, we went old school. We put in cable—a nearly mono-molecular cable that we used bots to pull through the rock.”

“So,” Sian said, “we have cameras on the other end of the cable that are smaller than pimples. We watched them this morning as they searched the caves. They had no idea.”

Asan grinned. “We’re several steps ahead of where you all think we are. We’ve got people and computers watching the feeds whenever there’s movement.”

Keeping my movements minimal, I asked, “Did Alanna know about the cables?”

“Yes,” Sian frowned, “but she didn’t know where each one of them was. Everybody uses cables like this. They’re practically impossible to find.”

It sounded good. I thought about how I’d counter something like that. If I could detect it with some work, I’d send people in to remove the cameras and then bring in the rest behind them. If I couldn’t detect it, I’d either accept that I’d be making an attack with no chance of surprising anyone, or maybe I’d figure out a way to obscure how many people were going down any given tunnel. Dust, maybe?

My implant called up lists of known ways that Xiniti had defeated similar systems. Depending on the type of camera, it included the use of chameleon suits, sending dust down the tunnel or exploiting the limits of a known type of camera.

“Do we use different types of cameras or all the same kind?”

“The same kind,” Asan nodded. “A good point. They’d have to know the type of camera, but they might be able to get past all of them. It’s not likely.”

“Did Alanna know?”

Sian frowned again. “Yes. I think we could swap out a few cameras, but they didn’t think like that yesterday. Why would they change their approach?”

I thought about it. “I don’t know that they will, but I’m thinking that if they’ve got any techs left, they’ll be assigned to this now.”

From the stairwell came the sound of voices. I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but they’d become louder.

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