Loaerth and How Game System Does Matters

Although Nevermet Press has “officially closed” – that doesn’t mean I’ve shut off my own creative brain. ;) Quite the contrary.

About three years ago I started working on my own RPG campaign setting. It was originally called “Loaerth & Feywyrd” – but has since privately become simply “Loaerth”. I had some early input from many of the contributors at Nevermet Press too. In 2009, in our private development forum it was pretty exciting to have a group of two dozen writers and artists  kicking around ideas and brainstorming on Loaerth.  I felt sure it would be developed, and it was going to be awesome.

I was wrong. Nevermet Press was side tracked by a ton of other projects—too many to be honest—and then Stories in the Ether came along. In short, I was overwhelmed. My own creative projects were overrun. And, as you know, eventually I closed my doors. I needed a hard reset.

So, after a brief break in blogging, editing, and writing—I revisited my notes and other materials on Loaerth. I found the old posts from our forums, my notebooks, and my half-baked google docs to be a mismash of ideas that didn’t work well together. Their were ideas that did work well, on their own, but when you brought them all together it just didn’t work. I didn’t (I don’t) want Loaerth to be a “kitchen sink” campaign setting.

After all, The Story is the Thing. And a good story is usually built on a setting that doesn’t get in the way or break your suspension of disbelief. There has to be a good “pseudo history” and a good “pseudo science” behind how the world developed, why it works the way it does. Questions like “why is there an Underdark in every fantasy RPG campaign?” or “why is every stock fantasy campaign setting a mishmash of a circus of gods and clerics, Vanacian magic, and big fantasy?” I’m exaggerating a bit here, but I hope you get my point. I want a setting where the reasons Things Are The Way They Are makes sense. It’s believable, even if fantastical. Just like our own world.

For me to translate the “The Story is the Thing” concept into a paradigm for RPG campaign setting design and world building, I have come think that System Matters. More specifically – when the focus is on world building, the game system you choose can influence how easily you can model the world in game terms.  Moreover, the amount of “homebrewing” or rules-mod’ing you need to do is a function of how well the game system of choice is for the setting you are designing. So, if you are world building and finding there’s an endless list things that need to be modified, maybe the game you are using is the wrong tool for the job.

This is why I’ve gone from Savage Worlds to Pathfinder RPG and now, likely, back to Savage Worlds for Loaerth. The setting was originally designed for Savage Worlds, but I switched (privately – nothing publicly published on this blog) to Pathfinder a while ago. And then I noticed that, giving the rich story I’m developing, the Pathfinder RPG is requiring far too many game design retcons to be acceptable.  Several (more insightful) people I on Twitter alluded to this early on, and I wrote about switching Loaerth development to Pathfinder last year (read: Game Design and Risk vs. Reward, or Why Game Balance Matters). Some small part of me now wishes I had taken their advice, but the setting has been mostly developed with a focus on the backstory, history, etc. thus far. It’s only been becuase I’ve dived into some crunchy parts more recently that I’ve really started running into design issues using Pathfinder.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the PFRPG system, but I now expect that Savage Worlds is going to be the system I’ll use as a base—with some additions—once again. Two things I hope to mod for Savage Worlds (aside from a miriade of setting specific details, new edges, creatures, etc) will be :

  1. A Rich(er) Character Advancement System. One thing the d20 system does well is provide the players with the opportunity for long campaigns with really deep (read:crunchy) character development. I’ll likely expand the standard SW experience system and model something a bit closer to the d20 system. More mid- to high-level edges will definitely be an important component.
  2. A Challenge Rating System. One thing that has always frustrated me about the SW system is the lack of clear “challenge ratings”. For experienced SW GM’s, designing challenging (but not overpowering) encounters and situations is usually not a problem. For new GM’s though, my (purely anecdotal) impression is that it can be hard. This may be simply grouping enemies monsters, and traps into the existing SW parlance of Novice, Seasoned, Veteran, etc.. I’m not sure at this point – but I’ll definitely give it a whirl.

So – I guess  Sean PrestonMichael Wolf,Tracy Barnett, and Marshall Smith were right: Pathfinder is not really the best tool for the job of modeling a post-apocalyptic fantasy steampunk setting.

Now… back to the design cave. See you next time…

Nevermet Press is Closed

Closed

Today we announce that Nevermet Press is closed until further notice.

After over three years of running the blog and publishing a few select RPG and fiction products, I simply do not have the time to continue to working on new projects, the blog, or maintaining our existing catalog. It’s been great fun and I have learned a great deal about the gaming industry and “indie” publishing along the way – but sadly I must close Nevermet Press. My professional career and familial responsibilities simply no longer leave enough bandwidth in my daily life to maintain Nevermet Press in a reasonable way. Perhaps in the future time and energy will find me again, but until then I bid you farewell.

Effective immediately all products in the Nevermet Press catalog will no longer be sold to through any distributors. Termination of sales orders have been issued to Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords, DTRPG, etc – so it may take a couple weeks for those orders to be processed. I have a pretty hefty collection of print books still in my “in-house” inventory, so I may sell those on eBay individually – but that remains to be seen. Truth be told – sales have been abysmal across the board for over a year, so there’s not much motivation to even try to sell the print books I do have on hand.

Nevermet Press is also no longer able to actively maintain the RPG Blog Carnival Archive, and I want to encourage another, established member of the RPG Blogging Community to take the RPG Blog Carnival Archive and maintain it themselves.

Our website, nevermetpress.com, will remain online but be slowly edited/trimmed down as I have time to do so. I’ll also still be tweeting occasionally on Twitter – so chat me up over there as well. As far as the site is concerned, I will be removing all advertising, catalog information, and other “peripheral” aspects of the site first. My goal is to leave the blogging content and short stories up for as long as I can, and to keep the domain name for the foreseeable future. This also leaves me the option to kickstart things again in the future if ever I find the time.

I want to thank everyone who has contributed to Nevermet Press over the years. It’s been an amazing journey and I’ve made some real friends and worked with some great people. A huge thank you goes out to our readers and fans who have supported us as well. Without you –  nothing would have been possible.

Best regards and best wishes to everyone — Jonathan.

Clockwork Reviews: Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley

Queen of Kings, by Maria Dahvana Headley

Maria Dahvana Headley

Queen of Kings, the debut novel by Maria Dahvana Headley (Dutton Adult, 2011), tells the story of Cleopatra after her infamous suicide. The premise of the novel is that Cleopatra did not actually kill herself, but rather performed a ritual that linked her with the goddess Sekhmet. Though the world believes her to be dead, Cleopatra lives on and sets about getting revenge on those who caused her husband and children to suffer. Blending real historical events with elements of the supernatural, this book is a wonderful piece of historical fiction.

The book features nearly a dozen different point of view characters: including Cleopatra, the shade of Mark Antony, the Roman Emperor Augustus, and the Roman general Marcus Agrippa. Despite the frequent changes between the different points of view, the narrative hums along briskly.  Plus it never feels overwhelming to deal with so many characters. Each character is written with a distinct and clear voice, and Headley juggles them all masterfully.  All of the characters are also exceptionally complex, with their varied motives intertwining throughout the story.

As a former student of history, I really enjoyed the mix of history with the supernatural. While Cleopatra’s Egypt is not a topic I had studied extensively, I have always been interested in its culture and history, as well as having a bit of background in the history of the Roman Empire. I frequently found myself wanting to stop reading to look up more information in an attempt to determine what was historical and what was the author’s imagination.  But the flow of the narrative was too compelling to allow me to put the book down long enough to do more research. Instead, I waited until the end of the book.  Headley includes a brief afterword that details some of the interesting historical facts that she came across while writing the book, and a little bit of reading online cleared up some of the remaining questions I had about the history behind the story.

My only real complaint about the book was that when you have a large cast of point of view characters, some of these perspectives will come from the ostensible villains. Although Headley did an excellent job of not vilifying any of the characters, there are bound to be some characters that a reader simply doesn’t like. I found myself less interested in the chapters when Augustus was the narrator, simply because I did not find him to be a very sympathetic character. This improved as the book went on, but I felt as though I may have missed a bit by disliking him so strongly. (I also fully acknowledge that at least a portion of my dislike of this character comes from having watched the HBO series Rome several years ago.)

Overall, I very much enjoyed reading Queen of Kings. Most chapters are short, making this a great book to read if you can only fit in a brief period of reading each day. There is quite a bit of violence in the story, but the descriptions generally keep this from being too alarmingly graphic.  This is a book for adults to read, and I would hesitate to recommend it to teens or younger readers.

You can visit Maria Dahvana Headley’s website here.

Branching Out: When Your PCs Refuse To Follow the Leader…

Image Courtesy The U.S. National Archives

Last night I came dangerously close to forcing my will onto my group of players. Every DM comes face-to-face with this quandary at some point or another, whether they are running their own homebrew adventure or a canned, pre-made one.

In my case, it’s a homebrew adventure that was percolating in my mind even before I came back to D&D after a long absence. In fact, it was the reason I came back. I’ve been leading my group towards this very point in the adventure ever since we began last summer. We played through an altered Keep on the Shadowfell in order to learn 4th Edition and to shake the rust off, but other than that this is the adventure I concocted, inspired by Jack White’s Dream of Eagles series of novels.

The plan was for the characters to develop a sense of post-apocalyptic dysfunction regarding Faerûn, and to inspire them to want to build a society from scratch, based on the principles of people-power and the desire to do good. As I mentioned earlier, this vision was inspired by the Dream of Eagles series, where post-Rome Britain is in chaos and a group of former legionnaires take it upon themselves to establish order, starting with a small colony in Western Britain which they call Camulod.

And so for the past year I’ve been working on instilling this sense of chaos, of evil winning everywhere, of material gain being the sole motivation of every organized group. I used a set of devices to convey these conditions.

  • In Darromar, successful businesses were being acquired in relative secret by a shadowy group called WritMarque Holdings. In most cases, the people were tricked into selling these properties, only to be rehired at poverty level wages to “manage” the holdings.
  • In Winterhaven, a group of children were kidnapped to be sacrificed to Orcus (the altered Keep on the Shadowfell), where the children DID die before our PCs could rescue them, but the group managed to destroy the evil cult. It left a whole generation of future Winterhaven residents dead, a death sentence for the town.
  • In Mistham, the town’s water supply was being poisoned by unknown sources, and the village had been thrown into abject poverty out of having to sell everything of value to purchase clean water. Our adventuring group uncovered the plot for what it was: the water was being brought in to be sold by the same group poisoning the water supply.

All of these events were linked, and that’s a storyline slowly coming to fruition as the group uncovers more clues.

I gifted the group with a trojan horse of sorts. One of the characters in the party is an eccentric wizard who is a follower of Erathis (Goddess of Society). After one of their many good deeds in helping the village of Mistham, Erathis gifted the group with a large magical ballista. The ballista, after inspection, was extremely powerful. The implication was clear: perform good deeds for society, and be rewarded. Such a weapon would not be accepted by a small village like Mistham due to the unwanted attention it would garner, nor could it just be dumped off to anyone. I was leading my group to the idea of The Colony.

Last night after the Mistham storyline was wrapping up, I decided to explicitly reveal the idea of establishing the colony. I did this by using the Reeve of Mistham, Jethro Gallant, a character the PCs had grown very familiar with and who was a friend to their cause (and very grateful to them for saving his village). Gallant waxed poetic of his former existence as an adventurer, and how he had botched his attempt of establishing a safe community. He rued the choice in location for Mistham, arguing that by settling next to a major road, too many shady characters wandered through his village. No, if he were to start over, and gosh was he ever jealous of the group’s youth and opportunity, he would pick a better spot away from prying eyes and start small. He would recruit talented tradespeople with the right disposition, and build a town truly built around principles of common interest, generosity and fending off evil. All of this took place in a discussion around the table, as in a fireside chat.

If you’re still reading this post, it’s probably because the theme interests you or you simply want to know how it turned out. Remember, I started out by stating that I almost forced my will on the party. There were four PCs around the table, and two of them were enthusiastic about the idea of establishing their own town, which was subsidized by their adventuring. One was apathetic, and one was downright scornful of the idea.

I was gutted; I had expected them to love the idea as much as I did.

Here I was, months down a road that led to this reveal, and I was meeting stern resistance. The main opposition to the idea was how much work was involved, and why would they even want to do that? Why not give the magical ballista to the people of Mistham or Winterhaven to help them rebuild in safety? No, came the answer from my other players, an item of such power would attract all kind of undesirables intent on securing it for themselves. No, the ballista had been god-given to them for a purpose, and here their purpose was revealed!

The discussion ran a long time. At least 45 minutes. It was a good debate, in which I was careful to steer away from frustration or confrontation between the players.

All I could think of was that in wanting to give the group a sense of meaning, togetherness, and a capital “C” Cause, all I had done was create a rift! I’d inadvertently discovered this group’s wedge issue! Here was a group that had always agreed on the next course of action, arguing now because of my interjection.

Plus, I’ll admit I was a little pissed. This was SUCH a good storyline for them, those in opposition just didn’t realize it! And that’s when it clicked. It’s not about me. I was reminded of Michael Shay’s excellent Sly Flourish’s DM Tips, where they urge you to “Build your stories from the actions of your players.” The players need to be the masters of their destiny, so I now had to take what they were telling me and incorporating it into the storyline.

My DM ego took a small hit, but if I can weave their desires into mine and make all the members of the party happy with the solution, it will be a grand achievement in my DM career. I think I know how to do it, as well. Stay tuned…

How about you? How have you reacted to PCs who take your story into unexpected places?

Clockwork Reviews: Thrusts of Justice by Matt Youngmark

Thrusts of Justice, by Matt Youngmark

Thrusts of Justice, by Matt Youngmark

Thrusts of Justice by Matt Youngmark plugs deep into childhood nostalgia with this choose-your-own-adventure book written for adults. Set in a unique (and slightly tongue-in-cheek) superhero universe, this book gives a laid-off journalist from Cleveland the chance to step into the role of superhero just in time to save the world from certain doom. The journalist, of course, is “you.”


The book opens with you and your fellow unemployed journalists drowning your sorrows while discussing the possibility of launching your own news website. Your drunken plans to form a startup are thrown off course when a disembodied voice warns of impending doom just before an explosion draws your attention outside. There you see a smoking crater in the middle of the street where three figures are visible. The supervillain known as the Ox has just broken through the wall of a bank with unmarked bags of cash. The dark and ominous hero known as the Nightwatchman slinks off from the scene. And at the bottom of the crater is the legendary Cosmic Guardian who had disappeared in the 90s. You know any one of these three could be a great news lead, but where could it lead?

If you like strange powers from radioactive meteorites, continue on to the next paragraph. If you like brooding antiheroes like Batman, skip to the paragraph after that. If you like interstellar police forces, like the Green Lantern Corps or the Nova Corps, continue on to the third paragraph after this.

Trying to find out what Ox is doing in Cleveland, you sneak closer to the scene of the crime. But rather than finding clues, you fall into the crater and black out. When you wake up, you have strange goo-like powers that allow you to change shape, walk on walls and hurl goo. Does great power come with great responsibility? Or a great opportunity for profit?

Trying to follow Nightwatchman leads you to one of his secret lairs. There you find Nightwatchman’s suit abandoned. Donning it, you find yourself able to pose as the dark hero. Though you lack his martial skill, you have access to his wonderful toys and can use them to figure out what happened to the real Nightwatchman.

Trying to follow the Cosmic Guardian, you find him dying. He passes on his armored superhero suit to you, Can you figure out what the Cosmic Guardian was doing? Can you figure out how to operate the suit? Can you do this before the other Cosmic Guardians catch up with you?

I went through the effort to read every branching path in the book I could. I think I got all 90 of them, but I might have missed some. The timeline and cosmology of the book remains the same throughout, it is simply the course you chart through the narrative that changes how things unfold. The story is told with a dose of snarky humor and regular nods to comic book tropes.

As said before, this is a choose-your-own-adventure book for adults. This mostly means that it uses some strong language, though nothing that you couldn’t hear on prime time television. It also has no qualms about giving the reader a hard time about some of their choices. My favorite was when you avoid being a superhero and the section opens with, “You’re reading a choose-your-own-ending book about superheroes, and immediately decide not to become one?”

All told, the book is just plain fun. I read the book through the Kindle app on my phone, which added hyperlinks and a “back” button to make navigating the different branches much easier. And, in fact, the author encourages you to do so. The primary risk I could see for readers is that they just don’t find the author that funny. I laughed pretty hard through the book, but humor is subjective and this might not appeal to everyone. The Chooseomatic website offers a free 70-page sample of Youngmark’s previous book, Zombocalypse Now, so you can decide for yourself if you enjoy the style. 

The Trivium Proportion, Part 12 (A Cyberpunk Tale), by David Phillips

Previous

From the beginning

Apple Packin'

Apple Packin' (by CE Zacherl, see more at: veyer.deviantart.com )

Apple Eddelman squeezed the hand of her childhood friend, Zodi.

Zodi would never again come out of this coma.

Kayla’s actions to initially splice into the Technocrat intranet had unleashed a prototype of the virus.  That prototype virus is just what dematerialized Gimli (Zodi’s avatar), and trapped his consciousness in virtual space.

In only recent days, Apple sealed Zodi’s fate forever.  Apple did not know the full consequences of her actions at the time.  She forced her hand to stop the computer virus from becoming widespread and helped Kayla destroy the mainframe server.  That same mainframe server stored Zodi’s conscious mind, and now it was gone, forever.

Apple clenched one of Zodi’s fingers and tears welled up in her heavily made-up eyes.  She never would have agreed to destroy the mainframe had she known at the time just what personal cost it would have had for her.  She’d let a thousand, hell, tens of thousands suffer Zodi’s fate if it meant that Apple could have a chance to rescue him.

To make matters worse, the resistance did not have sufficient records about the Oathed Technocratic virus and the only physical evidence now lay useless across the floors of Walls Tower.  The news stations went haywire.  Representative Arthur Bachman had asked the President for emergency NDAA intervention in the Mega-City district of Harrisonburg.

The President granted the request from Congress and the resistance had learned that the General in charge of the occupation force had strong connections to Representative Bachman.  It seemed, to the resistance, that Bachman ruled his district like a dictator.

The weeks to come would prove bloody for the people of Harrisonburg.  The same could be said for Kayla, Apple, and Jarred.

Confined to a wheelchair, Jarred pivoted around and made his way across his room to the window: the window that Kayla, the love of his life had shattered.  The window shattering seemed so long ago now.  In truth only months passed.

Kayla sat in a brand new recliner, leaning back in comfortable weariness, watching events unveil on the news.

Apple had just arrived moments before.  She leaned against the table and surfed the virtual world nervously.  The back pack at her side brimmed with several abnormal possessions for Apple..

Apple let out a long sigh as she shut down her connection to cyberspace.  She normally at least listened to streams, but this moment needed her full attention.  She reached into her back pack and the possession at the top slipped into her left hand.

Apple stood erect and leveled the pistol at Kayla, “Ahem.”

Kayla opened her right eye and saw the hand gun out of the corner of her eye.  “What the hell are you doing, Apple?  Point that thing somewhere else, not funny!”

Apple focused on the here and now only, “I’m pointing this thing exactly where I want it to be pointed.”

Jarred spun the wheel chair around, “Dude!  Apple!  Stop this!”

Apple gulped, but she did not hesitate, “My friend, Zodi, the whole reason I went on this crusade.  He’s dead and gone forever now!  You put him in a coma!  You!  That splicing you did… then… then when… we destroyed the main frame.  He was in there!  Now he’s gone… FOREVER!”  Apple grasped the gun with both hands now and aimed at Kayla.  Her hands shook, but her aim was still fairly steady.

“How the fuck was I supposed to know?  Do you know how many fucking people we saved?  I’m sorry!  Just put the damn gun down!  There is no reason that we have to do this!”  Kayla waved her hands in front of her face and leaned forward in the recliner.

Jarred wheeled forward into the girl’s peripheral vision.  “Woah!  Apple.  Let’s talk about this.  We’ve been through so much together.  Don’t let it end this way.  Virtual space is not absolute.  We could still find him!”

“I can feel it.  I know he’s gone… FOREVER!”  Apple depressed the trigger.

BANG!  Kayla clutched near her heart and toppled over.  Apple stood silent and straight.  Jarred cried out in disbelief.  He held his right hand up from its concealed position by the wheelchair handle.  There was a gun in his hand.  It had been there the whole time.

He leveled the gun at Apple.  He just watched the girl who he had fallen in love with gunned down before his eyes in his home!  Now he could take revenge!

Jarred leveled the gun at Apple and pulled the trigger.

BANG!  Apple flinched and cried.  Jarred squealed in frustration.

“Get the hell out of here! GO!”  Jarred yelled at the stunned girl.

The bullet hole in the far wall formed a tunnel to which Jarred focused all his pain and suffering.

Apple tried to stutter out a statement and Jarred screamed at her again.  She dropped the gun there and left all of her possessions.  She ran like she did not think it was possible to run in the real world.  She didn’t stop running until she got to her car.

***

After the cops were done going over his place… and removing the body, Jarred finally found a moment to reflect.  He let out a long mournful sigh as he found himself alone again, with just his virtual interface to keep him company.  Jarred logged in to escape the troubled real world.

After some searching, loading, and travelling, Jarred stood upon a rocky ledge, overlooking a beautiful beach with water so clear and so blue that he could have been viewing an old vacation advertisement.  The reconstruction struck him with awe.  He was old enough to remember these kinds of scenic views.

Jarred’s eyes fell upon a strange looking woman with bright, golden blonde hair and a salt saturated dress that clung to her skin.  “Hello?”

The woman regarded Jarred with a warm smile and approached him with a saunter that couldn’t be replicated in reality.  “I’m Goldie.”

“Hi.  Your avatar is rather unique.  Is it from a game that isn’t out yet?”  Jarred put out a hand to shake Goldie’s.

Goldie held her hand out, “It’s not an avatar, really.  In a way, this is me.  The only way you could perceive me in virtual space.”

“Huh?”

“I’m a VI, you know, Virtual Interface.  Though, I think I’ve evolved into something more.”

“Just from that statement, I’d say you’re right.”

“I’m sorry about Kayla… and Apple.”

“How’d you know…”

“I’ve been following you for some time now, practically could have reached out and touched you.  Don’t be surprised.  I gave you all those leads from the inside.”

Jarred turned away from Goldie as a flash of anger burned through his being.  “You know, that information got my girlfriend…” Jarred trailed off as he thought about the lack of control VI’s tended to have over their own actions.

“I’m afraid it had to be done,” Goldie approached Jarred and put a hand on his shoulder.  “There is much work to be done.  Come with me.”

The real world held very little for Jarred now.  He climbed down the rock face, following Goldie’s lead.  He never woke up again.

The Trivium Proportion, Part 11 (A Cyberpunk Tale), by David Phillips

I'm Ready to Fight

I'm Ready to Fight (by C.E. Zacherl and see more at veyer.deviantart.com)

Previous

Next

From the beginning

 

Goldie reached up and got a strong hand hold on a rock outcropping, nudging the rock to test its strength.  It was hard to pull herself up over the jagged ledge wearing a flowing dress, but she managed all the same.

***

Detective Tyrone Higgins frowned as he planted his face into the palms of his overworked hands.  Here he stood, in another FDA office, arresting another traitor in federal employ.  Something connected these criminals other than their affiliation in the same agency.  If he did not find that connection before too long, this resistance movement would gain enough momentum that standard law enforcement would not be enough to stop it.

Tyrone had grown concerned since transferring to Harrisonburg that the mega-city would soon be headed for military jurisdiction.  He would do everything in his power to prevent that from happening.

Tyrone keyed his gauntlet display and his Virtual Intelligence, Theresa appeared on the screen.  Tyrone spoke after a long pause, “Theresa, I need you to run some numbers on the situation in Harrisonburg.  The Query: How many public incidents and law enforcement failures before the President enacts NDAA enforcement powers over the city?”

The image of Theresa on the screen winked at Tyrone, “My processor is already working to compute your answer.  Status will update periodically.  You should also know, the VI you asked me to monitor…”

Tyrone’s eye slanted queerly at the image of the Theresa VI, “What is it?”

“She exhibited some erratic behavior again, sending messages outside of the agency.”

Tyrone shook his head as he reviewed the contents of the message.  This VI had a non-standard agenda.  Technically, VI’s followed a very strict set of programmed rules.  That would mean that the programmer went out of his or her way to change the operating goals of this particular VI.  Reviewing the VI proved another fact, the Goldie VI’s creator modeled the VI after a real human.  Tyrone could possibly use that to track him down.

Theresa pinged Tyrone with the answer to another query.  After reviewing the VI transmissions, Tyrone felt it was obvious where the resistance would hit next.  He downloaded the specs from the message. Now, the time had come to head this potential catastrophe off at the pass, at Walls Tower.  The resistance was playing with fire, and only Tyrone could stop them from burning down the house.

***

Jarred worried about Kayla and Apple, how they would communicate without him, as he lay in the hospital bed.  He supposed that everyone probably worried a good deal about his survival, being that the artificial components on his heart had been stopped by the EMP.  At least that freak of an assassin wouldn’t bother anyone anymore.

***

Relief and comfort coursed through Kayla after viewing the plan of action Barry had prepared.  Kayla would work alone in the real world, while Apple handled some more virtual assignments.  If the resistance exposed what the Oathed Technocrats were up to now, the authorities would not be able to ignore them any longer.  All those wealthy and powerful men’s doors would receive knocks from the FBI with warrants for their arrests in hand.

The resistance would finally prove itself as a valuable asset to the public good, and, perhaps, the corruption in the government would be rooted and leave a gutted shell of only those who cared.

Kayla crept through the service hatch into the tunnel that led to the secured server facility of the largest, most impressive building in all of Harrisonburg, Virginia.  The reason for Harrisonburg becoming a mega-city was Walls Corporation, which ruled much of virtual space from the upper floors of this building.  The building’s architecture defied the laws of physics similar to buildings in the virtual world.  Walls Towers, built before Kayla’s birth, was known the world over.  The eccentric CEO went through a dozen groups of engineers that said what he wanted couldn’t be done.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the CEO, Fred Walls, hired a boy, just out of highschool.  That high school boy was the only creative genius that could think outside the box enough to create this unconventional design.

If Kayla got caught in here, her mission would be a failure. She would be thrown in a dark, deep prison, but, in three days, the virus program would come online and many of the people in cyberspace would effectively die in the real world.  During the last couple of days, Kayla wondered if she really wanted the Technocrats to fail.  This virus would be a wakeup call to all of the people that survived, to hopefully focus on the real world again.  Kayla imagined all of the masses protesting outside government buildings to find a solution to the “super” weed.  She longed to walk the countryside and enjoy the natural wonders of Earth.

Kayla slipped into the server room, which should have been empty according to Apple’s hacking of the security system of Walls Towers.  It was not empty, however, as there was another investigator hard at work trying to crack several mysteries of his own.

Kayla knew that she needed to act before the unknown man, who was not a security guard or maintenance man of Walls Corporation, drew his gun and ended her.  The other person must have been alerted by something; Kayla could see the gun in his hand.  She skulked down the next set of servers, each their own mountain island in a sea of office doldrums.  She waited for a moment behind the next set of those server mountains.

Kayla rushed into Tyrone unexpectedly from the side and knocked the gun from his hand.  He reacted quickly and stayed on his feet.  Tyrone tried to swing his heavy gauntleted arm around to throttle Kayla, but he did not get the gauntlet around in time to quickly end the close combat.  Kayla grasped Tyrone’s gauntleted forearm and their other hands each grasped each other, fingers locked around each other’s.

“Look.  You can’t do this!  You do and the consequences will be worse than you believe.  I’m not talkin’ bout for you either.  I mean all those people out there you are doin’ this for.  The hammer is about to smack.”  Tyrone said under the strain of trying to win the grapple.

Kayla ended the grapple with a combination knee to the groin and head butt to Tyrone’s nose.  He sailed back into another server stack and slid down.  Kayla knew that it probably would not be enough to knock him out; it wasn’t that easy.  She descended upon him and planted blow after blow on his face and chest.  Finally, Kayla convinced herself that the bloody pulp of a man would stay out of action.  Kayla returned to finding and destroying the target mainframe.

The man, Tyrone, with the bloody face could not even will himself to move a muscle.  His face looked like an unrecognizable mess like a Halloween horror mask.

***

Apple loaded her usual avatar, pink spikey haired post-apocalyptic punk girl with a shot gun in hand.

Apple imagined a totally different future.  If cyberspace was alive and could care for itself, none of these problems would be more than hiccups until the antibodies destroyed them.  Her world, the virtual world, needed to be saved from the Oathed Technocrats’ plan so that human evolution could continue in the direction she believed human evolution was destined for.  Apple felt that she was an alien on the planet Earth; she saw herself as part of the destiny, part of the evolution, beyond the physical world of Earth and into the new dimension of virtual space.

Apple finished her hack pack installations on the Walls Tower security feeds.  Kayla was now safe from discovery.  Now, only one task remained for Apple.  To stop the Technocrats from spreading this insane entrapment virus, Apple had to prevent the download of the virus to back-up servers.

She walked toward the tunnel that led from the server containing the virus to the outside virtual world.  If the data stopped here, in the tunnel at her position, the resistance would be successful.

Packets of data dropped out of the storage devices and formed into bullet shape cars. Apple watched from the tunnel vantage point as the cars started hovering down the long pathway that led to the backup servers.  Apple knew she could not let a single one of those packets out or the mission might be a failure.

Apple stepped into the middle of the data tunnel and charged at the front most bullet car in the convoy.  The car slammed into her and any normal avatar would have been shredded from the impact.  However, Apple’s tough assed avatar survived the impact with only minimal injuries.  She clung to the front of the car through no fault of her own, the momentum pushing against her keeping her attached like a victim in a spider’s web.  She pushed the muzzle of the shot gun directly against the front of the bullet car and unloaded every round she had.

The car exploded in a brilliant flash, again the Tough as Nails avatar pulled through, but not without mental strain upon Apple and physical damage to the avatar.  The remaining cars smashed into the back of each other after being dislodged by the explosion and subsequent shrapnel.

***

Finally, Goldie reached the top of the cliff.  The long, thin dress clung to her skin from the salty misty sea water that saturated the air.  She stood defiant and satisfied on a small outcropping covered in tufts of beach grasses.  Goldie looked out across the turbulent sea.  A storm brewed the water and clouds on the horizon, that familiar feeling and smell of a storm front filled the air.

Apple watched through the eyes of her avatar as it finally returned to functionality from the blast of the bullet cars.  She grew confused as she looked around and found herself on a rock ledge overlooking a beach that probably came out of one of the adult pleasure programs.

“Hello, child.”  Goldie spoke as she used a caressing hand to be sure that Apple and her avatar were alright.

“Huh? WTF?”  After the scene fully loaded, Apple’s confusion only grew.

“You have done me a great favor.  It is only right that I am honest with you,” Goldie’s soft voice enchanted Apple.

“Uuhhh…” words fell flat and Apple could not find her voice.

“Your friend, Zodi, wasn’t dead, or in a normal coma.  You see, an errant version of that virus was released when the resistance dug into the Oathed Technocrat intranet.  Zodi was trapped in that mainframe back there.”

Apple grew furious and wished to strike out at Goldie.  Apple’s avatar flailed violently at Goldie, but did not make a good attempt to land a killing blow.

Goldie’s arms reached out swiftly and grasped Apple’s wrists, “It had to be destroyed.  It was vital.”

“Who?  Kayla?  The release…” Apple always spoke in abbreviated tones, and now she had rage preventing her words from being effective as well.

Goldie only nodded an affirmative.