Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Salubrious Exchange (II of II)

(As this is one post in two parts, it seems appropriate to point you to the original, here...)

"What name do they call you by, stranger?" the village elder asked.

"People feeling kinda formal tend to call me Captain," the captain of the Salubrious Exchange explained. "People feeling very formal call me by my full name, the Admirably Lawful Expeditious Explorer. But mostly I just go by Alex, for short."

The elder accepted this without comment. "Where do you hail from, stranger?" he asked. "And what do you wish here?"

"I have come a great distance," Alex intoned in a deep voice, "from another earth, far above the dome of the sky. And my sole intent is to trade... with you."

"We are known, then, beyond the dome of the sky?" the village elder asked.

"Nah, not really," Alex admitted. "I just came to trade with whoever. You look like you'll do."

"And what will you offer us?" the village elder asked.

"Plenty," Alex said, gesturing to the bloated shape of the Salubrious Exchange looming over the village. "Off the top of my head... I've got soap, I've got disinfectants, I've got medicines - some quinine, some azlocilin, juust a bit of pethidine, for the laaa-dies. Any of those take your fancy?"

"I have concerns," the village elder said slowly.

"Hit me," Alex said invitingly.

"You are a stranger," the village elder began. "You come offering trade and friendship. I wish to believe in your goodwill. But I fear you may be like the city-folk, who come to us with smiles on their faces and knives held behind their backs. Do you seek to sell us junk and trash? Do you intend to gouge us for inferior goods? These are the concerns which I hold."

"Also, I can't quite figure out what gender you are," the village elder added.

"In the advanced civilizations that travel beyond the dome of the sky, we have evolved beyond gender," Alex said smugly.

"That in no way alleviates my suspicion," the village elder replied.

Alex sighed. "Look. You worry that I'll cheat you. Understandable! Especially since you've been cheated before. But I can prove to you - prove to you - that I only sell items of value. Matter of pride, that," Alex added as an aside.

"Well, prove it," the village elder suggested.

Alex examined the items brought down from the ship. "Maybe soap and medicine aren't the most impressive things. They're useful, sure, but not impressive. So let's pick out some other items. Here - " lifting up a box, opening it and pulling out one of the hafted items within " - monofilament cutter. Excellent for butchering deer, cattle, pigs, what have you - cuts through everything."

"The pigs will not be a concern," the village elder noted.

"I said I was sorry about the pigs!" Alex exclaimed. "Look. See this rock?"

"The one you just lifted from the ground?" the village elder asked. "My eyes are yet well enough to allow me that, yes."

"Here," Alex said. "I take the monofilament cutter, and -"

Two halves of rock clattered to the ground.

"Very impressive," the village elder said.

"Aw, you're just being polite," Alex said. "I've got something better. Ah! Here! How about this pocket-sized fusion-reactor? Guaranteed to last two hundred years, just dump a cup of water in to power it!"

The village elder looked blankly at Alex. "Reactor?"

"Oh, right, right, gotta hook something up," Alex mumbled. "Um... yeah, this should be good."

Alex adjusted a large, wheeled device. The village elder watched. Time passed.

"Sorry," Alex apologized.

Then, pointing at a large hill, Alex struck a dramatic pose. "You know that hill?"

"Certainly," the village elder said. "That is Muhall-Shali, where our younglings go to endure the Rites of Adulthood."

"Um," Alex said, losing the dramatic pose. The machine was readjusted.

"All right!" Alex said. "What about that hill, over there? The one with that weird purple tree on it?"

"That is Ocas-Ocas, where we have bury our dead, as we have done for uncounted generations," the village elder said. "The founder of our tribe is buried under the roots of the great purple tree."

"What do you think about... cremation?" Alex asked.

"We bury our dead," the village elder repeated.

"Oh," Alex said. "What about that hill, over there? The kinda rocky one?"

"What about it?" the village elder asked.

"Anything special about it? Sacred?" Alex asked.

"No," the village elder said. "It's just a hill."

"What's all this about?" he added.

"You'll see," Alex said. "Are you watching the hill?"

"Yes?" the village elder said.

The hill exploded.

"And that is what a fusion reactor can do for you!" Alex exclaimed triumphantly.

"...certainly it will drive our tribe to poverty and ruin to barter for such a device," the village elder said sadly.

"Ah!" Alex exclaimed. "Not so! I'll sell it to you for a song."

"Like, literally," Alex added.

"Why would you do that?" the village elder asked.

"Seems like a good idea!" Alex said cheerfully.

"So... if I sing to you, you will give our tribe these treasures?" the village elder asked hesitantly.

"Ehhh, kinda," Alex said, shrugging. "It's one song, one item; so all the stuff I've brought out here will cost you six or so. More if you want more, naturally. But I won't limit you to song; poems, stories, whatever works. Your culture, y'know, man?"

"Like the story of how Whistler tricked Badger and Goat into eating their own tails?" the village elder suggested.

"Yeah!" Alex said. "Exactly! That'll get you a great big box of nanopolymer cloth, no problem."

"But - why?" the village elder asked again. "Why would you trade us these treasures for mere songs and stories?"

Alex considered. "How best to answer? Um. Do you guys have the aphorism, 'One man's trash is another's treasure?'"

"So, you are trying to sell us trash?" the village elder asked.

"No, no, no," Alex replied quickly. "It's... um.... post-scarcity economics, you know? Look it up."

"That is probably not very useful advice for me," the village elder noted.

"That's because it's not for you," Alex said, looking directly at you. "Thaaat's all, folks!"


("Post-scarcity economics totally means we can break the fourth wall," Alex tells you as an aside.")

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Salubrious Exchange (I of II)

The sun rose.

Among the tribes of the Ipsan were numbered three primary opinions as to the significance of the sun's rising. The first was named Orthodox, and held that, as the sun had set uncounted generations ago and (according to prophecy) would not rise again until the coming of the Great Messiah, the sun they saw must be a fake thing, a trick, a deceit of demonic origin. Accordingly, the Orthodox shunned the sun, seeking to live so much of their lives as was possible without its false and misleading light; a practice mocked by the Redemptionists. Those latter worthies argued that the sun was obvious, palpable (in its light and heat), and clearly real; therefore the Great Messiah had come, or was about to come, or had come and gone, but in any case the sun's rising was wonderful and a thing to be celebrated so vigorously as seemed possible. Accordingly the Redemptionists centered their waking hours about dawn, rising in the dark hours and sleeping at noon. Both groups were considered rather peculiar by the Uncommitted, who suggested (quietly, without great vigour) that perhaps it was a bit of a silly question either way, and spent their waking hours in day-time, so they could, you know, see things. A neutral observer might expect the Uncommitted to come to dominate the tribes, owing to their energy being rather more focused on pragmatic matters than those of the other two beliefs; but the fierce zealotry of the Orthodox and the Redemptionists was sufficient to balance the scales and ensure a sort of stable balance between the three beliefs.

You may be somewhat confused by the preceding, or have forgotten the name of one of the beliefs, or be unsure as to how, exactly, the Orthodox believers manage to get anything done. That's entirely all right. If you comprehend it perfectly - good! Congratulate yourself! And otherwise - well, pretty much everything that was just mentioned is irrelevant. Don't worry about it too much.

So -

The sun rose, and below it fell the fat, metal ovoid that some (notably, its owner) named the Salubrious Exchange. Spitted atop a pillar of atomic fire, it drifted lazily earthward - down, down, down, until at last its fins met the surface (with such delicacy, such caution!), at the center of a steaming, black-glass coated crater.

The crater was new.

(If you hadn't guessed. I mean, there hadn't just been a crater there, waiting for the Salubrious Exchange to show up so that it could land there. Not to assign moral judgement, but, really, it was the Exchange's fault that the crater was there at all - )

(Whoops, back to the point.)

Time passed. The crater cooled.

"Hello?" the ship broadcast to the surrounding area. "Is anyone around?"

"I have soap!" the speaker added helpfully.

But no answer came; and after a few more minutes, the ship's innards rumbled once more*, and sent the ship soaring skyward and sunward once again.

The next two landings were similarly uneventful; the third found the Salubrious Exchange accosted by a swarm of howling, half-naked natives, who hurled spears and curses at the ship. (For some reason, they seemed to think it was a "sun-devil"!) The Exchange's captain burned skyward with haste, but not without forethought; as the ship began its ascent, a hatch on the side popped open, and a package rolled out. Inside were fifty individually-wrapped breath-mints, prepared for just such an occasion - even the most savage and fierce of warriors, the captain hoped, might well be soothed by such a gift! Suffused with powerful minty flavors, they would be more likely to greet the Exchange with warmth and kindness on a later visit, should it ever pass that way again. Such was the foresight of the Exchange's captain!

The natives burned the package unopened, then buried the ashes. Alas: the plans of mice and men!

On the fourth landing, with no sign of sapients present, the Salubrious Exchange's captain emerged to examine the hull. (More specifically, to clarify: the hull's ablative (and festively coloured!) ceramic coating.) Certain superficial scratches were examined and lamented; one rather deep dent, still holding the stone head of the spear that had caused it, was covered and repaired with an blast from an aerosol-can the captain carried. Then the captain re-entered the ship, and the Salubrious Exchange, still wreathed in the red-gold light of dawn, shot upward and westward once more.

(The Salubrious Exchange traveled in a state of perpetual daybreak. The captain considered this ideal; what better time to begin an endeavor than dawn, when the whole day will be available for its completion?)

The Salubrious Exchange's next landing was in the center of a small village.

"Hello!" the Exchange shouted to the small, motionless collection of mud huts and gardens. (The village, that is.) "Nice place you have here! I'm sure we have many mutual interests! Also, sorry about your pigs!"

Black glass, covered with by a thin soot layer of indeterminate origin, creaked and cracked beneath the weight of the Salubrious Exchange. Slowly, a blackened fence-post at the edge of the crater toppled and fell. Had this planet and climate been of the sort to support the formation of tumble-weeds, one most certainly would have appeared.

"Come on," the Salubrious Exchange's captain said, exasperated. "Come out! It's safe! I only want to sell you things!" And with this the captain emerged from the ship, black pseudoleather boots clicking on the ramp, a large, clam-shell box cradled under one arm. (A small side-arm hung discreetly at the hip.) The captain placed the box at the bottom of the ramp - opened it, revealing an array of brightly-coloured spheres - took two from the box, placing them into her mouth, chewing, and swallowing with exaggerated relish - and then turned to retreat back up the ramp. "Come on come on come on," the captain murmured as an aside.

Behind her, dark shapes emerged from the shadows.


(Wait, no, better:)

It turns out that children like candy!

*You came this close to a rather unpleasant gastrointestinal metaphor there. It was a close call! I nearly used it! Be lucky this story was written by an author of my obvious skill and taste, unlike certain authors I won't name -

- cough, cough -

If you think that was referring to you, you have self-esteem issues! Sorry! Try feeling better about yourself**. That usually works for me!

**"You are a pretty cool person! Also I have nothing against your writing! I've probably never read it! This is only one reason why I have nothing against it."

Monday, September 28, 2009

The tinkerer

One day Nikolas was walking along in his village when he saw a "pretty young thing". Being a Nikolas type of fellow, he set about immediately to try to get her "in bed". Now Nikolas was studying many things in the university, but the most important thing was the fluid thing. He used his knowledge of the fluid to build a giant water gun, so that he would shoot water at the girl from a long distance, so that her shirt would be come wet, and he could see through it. It was a very good idea except Nikolas forgot how to power his big water gun. He realised he did not know anything about the electricity, or the magnets, and he needed this to power his "big gun". So then the divel came in through the roof, and he said to Nikolas, hey man I can like, teach you that thing, you know, bro, but like you have to like, give me some cool stuff ok dog. And then Nikolas was like, what kind of cool stuff. And then the divel said I want your soul, o ho ho. What a clever divel he was. Then Nikolas said, ok, and he learned all of the electricity, and he took a large coil of wire, and he coiled it up, and he laid it down under a power pole, and he got some "high-voltage rock and roll". Then he hooked up the ends to his water gun, and he aimed and prepared to shoot. But Nikolas forgot one thing, water and electricity dont mix. How silly of him. And that was the end of that.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Isaac and the Whale


"Our whale is listing," the Mayor said to Isaac. "If nothing is done soon, our city will slide off and fall into the sea! Quickly - you must figure out what has gone wrong with our whale."

"Then, fix it," he added.


Isaac's bathysphere descended into the sea.


Isaac examined the whale's flank. "Hm," he said. "This is odd."

The whale rumbled, a subsonic noise that shook Isaac's bathysphere. It could have been a question: "What is odd?"

"It seems someone's cut a flap in your skin," Isaac said. "And they've mined all the fat stored beneath it."

"I'll be back," he added, as his bathysphere rose.


"So?" the Mayor asked. "Why is our whale listing? And why haven't you fixed it yet?"

"Someone's been mining our whale," Isaac told him.

"Ah," the Mayor said.

"I'll call a meeting."


"I say he should be prosecuted," the Scientist said.

"Yes!" the Mayor agreed emphatically. "Sued for the greatest damages the law can provide!"

"And then," the Priest said with relish, "he should be devoured by sharks!"

"Gentlemen, gentlemen," the Businessman said. "Gentlemen. Let's be rational now. In the first place, there is no way that you can prove that I am responsible for anything."

"The courts will decide that!" the Mayor shouted.

"Secondly, even if my company were, hypothetically, responsible for mining the fat from the whale upon which our city rests (and therefore dooming us all in the interests of short-sighted profit), it is the company that would be sued; all my actions act solely for the benefit of the company, and therefore I am shielded from direct prosecution," the Businessman continued.

"Sue the company, then!" the Priest demanded. "Take every last penny!"

"And thirdly - gentlemen, please," the Businessman continued, "We are presently in the grips of an emergency. Surely we can act to fix the problem, and give me time to destroy the evidence and move my assets overseas, before we stoop to base acts of retribution?"

The chamber listed noticably. A chair fell over.

"Well, maybe," the Scientist said reluctantly.


"Solutions," the Mayor said.

"Here's what I think," the Businessman said. "We shouldn't look at this as a problem. Look at it as an opportunity. Just suck out the excess fat from everyone in the city, and stuff it back in the whale. The whale will be fine once more - and we'll have a slimmer, fitter community as a bonus!"

"There are, perhaps, certain logistical problems with that," the Mayor said.

"And ethical - " the Priest said.

"- and, to be honest, I don't think that's biologically possible," the Scientist interrupted.

"Let's look for another option," the Mayor said.


"Perhaps we could build a set of enormous gyroscopic stabilizers," the Scientist speculated. "Just insert them into the whale, in the empty space left by the fat - we'd be right as rain!"

"Do we have any enormous gyroscopic stabilizers?" the Mayor asked.

"Well, no," the Scientist said.

"Do we have any idea how long it would take to develop or manufacture them?" the Mayor asked. "If, in fact, it is even possible to do so?"

The Scientist wiggled his hand back and forth in a gesture of uncertainty.

"Let's try a more practical solution," the Businessman suggested, "and come back to this later, when we're all doomed."


"Why don't we just find another whale?" the Priest asked. "Then we could move onto that - at least some of the city, enough to even the load."

"Could be expensive," the Businessman said. "But I'm certain that informed, local businesses could manage to make a profit out of it."

"Do you have any technical concerns?" the Mayor asked the Scientist, who, miffed at the rejection of his gyroscope proposal, remained silent.

"Very well, then," the Mayor said. "We'll send someone down to find a new whale at once. No time to waste!"


Isaac's bathysphere descended into the sea.


Isaac floated in the center of a large whale pod. One whale floated immediately beside him, gliding slowly through the deeps. Isaac matched its speed.

"Whale," Isaac said, "Our city is in great danger. The whale upon which it rests has become unstable, and threatens to tip all of us into the sea. Would you consent to taking some number of us on-board yourself, to lighten the load?"

A rumbling came through the walls of Isaac's bathysphere. Looking at the whale, Isaac could only interpret it as: "I am sorry, but as you can see, I am currently occupied with raising my own children. I cannot abandon them for your city."

"That is very fair," Isaac agreed, and turned his bathysphere away.


Isaac floated next to another whale, smaller and younger than the first. It moved with rather more vigour, making circles around slower whales; Isaac struggled to keep up. Following it, he asked: "Haste-filled whale, I have a request for you. My city is in danger, and we need your help -"

But the whale issued a deep sound, and turned away; Isaac thought that, perhaps, this might mean, "I am young, and would enjoy my youth. What reason do I have to burden myself with a great city upon my back? Would it not cover me in stench and trash, would it not slow me to the speed of an elder? I have no reason to consider your proposal further,"

"I cannot argue with you," Isaac said to the departing whale. "I would never deny any young creature the right to enjoy its youth -" and at this he sighed, remembering certain traumas now past. After a moment, he gathered himself and began looking for another whale.

XII. The third whale Isaac attempted to speak to was on the outside of the pod, barely visible against the gloom of the deep. Its skin was old and cracked, its stroke ponderous; Isaac suspected it to be a matriarch among whales. He spoke to it with great respect.

"O Whale," Isaac said, "I approach you with a humble request. I come from a city, on the surface far above, which has come upon troubled times. Short-sighted persons among us have injured the whale upon which our city rests; now it rocks and tilts, and we may all soon slide off it, and ot our deaths. All living things must regret such a tragedy. Would you find it, in your wisdom, to come to our aid - or send another in your stead, if your age prevents you?"

There was a long silence. Isaac wondered if he had even been heard. But then a very long, slow, pulse came from the elder-whale; another; another. And Isaac heard, "You seek aid because of the abuse you have inflicted on the whale that serves you now. Why would I, or any other, seek to suffer the same?"


Isaac's bathysphere ascended.


"So, we can't find another whale," the Mayor said. "What do we do now?"

The chamber was silent.

"Is it time to return to the fat-extraction plan?" the Businessman asked. "I'm ready as ever."

"We may have to," the Mayor said darkly.

Silence prevailed.

"Where's the Scientist, anyway?" the Priest asked suddenly.


"Behold!" the Scientist said, slamming the chamber doors open. Behind him, a pair of assistants wheeled a large, cylindrical device forward, stopping it in the center of the chamber.

"What is it?" the Mayor asked.

"Our salvation!" the Scientist said. "A gyroscope!"

"I'm unconvinced," the Priest said.

The Scientist gestured to his assistants. Switches were pulled; lights flashed. The gyroscope spun into complex motion.

"Oooooo!" the Businessman cooed. "Spinny!"

"I'm convinced," the Priest said.

"We'll begin deployment at once!" the Mayor decided.


Isaac gathered certain supplies; then his bathysphere sank once more beneath the waves.


Isaac's tools moved slowly across the whale's surface. It rumbled; Isaac heard, "What are you doing?"

"I'm sealing you up," Isaac said. "The gyroscopes are all in place; now I'm plating you with iron, so you can't be cut up again. I'll do it on the other side, too, just to be sure."


The whale rumbled again. Perhaps it was another question: "Would your employers approve?"

"Probably not," Isaac said. "The Businessman almost certainly wants another crack at you, now that he knows his stupid mistakes can be fixed without repercussion, and the Mayor's always good friends with the Businessman when he doesn't think his own neck is at risk. So, I'm doing this on my own accord."


The whale rumbled again. Isaac thought that were he the whale, this would be a third question: "Why?"

"Because I don't want my own life risked for the Businessman's profits," Isaac said. "Because I don't want the whole city to be endangered, again. Because I think you're a proud and noble creature, and I think it's wrong to hurt you so."


The whale issued another noise as Isaac put the last rivet into the whale's side. Isaac took a moment to interpret.

"Also, I'm pretty sick of this bathysphere," he admitted.

Apologies to Mieville, as appropriate.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Footage From a Recent Project


(The video-capture software seems to operate at a low framerate - hence the unfortunate appearance of the wheels. Apologies! It's much classier in action.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Tale in the Mode of that Infamous Zhang

It was to his surprise that Ser Knight Nathan - by nature somewhat of a recluse - found himself in conversation with a young lady he knew not at all.

She had begun the conversation, speaking to Ser Nathan without prefix. "Your vestment is most fine," she said, her words sounding entirely sincere.

"My gratitude for the thought," Ser Nathan said, giving a courteous half-bow. "I have seen some number in this style about, enscripted with the words of the Poet."

"I really ought have one similar commisioned," the young lady said with some regret in her tone, "but at present, my only garb based on the Poet's works are of a different focus; his thoughts on the triumphs of the natural sciences."

"Ah!" Ser Nathan said. "I encountered a young nobleman wearing just such a thing earlier today, greeting him, praised him for it vigorously."

"It seems there are few here who appreciate the works of the Poet," the Lady said with a tone of sadness."

Ser Nathan shook his head. "Certainly you may find some hereabouts who do," he said.

The conversation lapsed. Ser Nathan considered. The Lady's appearance was in no aspect displeasing; quite the opposite, as it happened. He wondered if he should ask for her name - was it too casual a contact to justify such a request? While he deliberated, the issue was settled for him. The Lady turned away, speaking to a friend of unrelated matters; the moment was lost.

Throughout the rest of the banquet, Ser Nathan cursed his slow reactions. Certainly, he decided in retrospect, it was the wrong choice, a failure to choose - 'Alas! Alas! What a spineless witless worm of a fool am I!'

But then, even as Ser Nathan continued to lambast himself, a young lady spoke to him once more. ('Is she the same?' Ser Nathan - possessed of no gift for the recollection faces - asked himself frantically. 'Is she another?') This lady asked Ser Nathan a minor request - the location of cutlery - a trivial favor he easily granted. ('If she is the same,' Nathan thought with desperate haste, 'then most certainly I should ask her name. And if not - then it is incorrect. Ah - ah - if only my memory did not betray me so! - ) But the moment, once more, was lost; another opportunity, had it indeed been she (and likely so!), squandered.

Ser Nathan, walking dejectedly into the night, described to himself the situation he had just experienced. 'A young lady approached me, admiring my garb - a young lady of uncommonly excellent form and a demonstrably excellent wit, as shown by her tastes in the arts. Ah! I should have asked for her hand at once, much less her name! But - the moment - it is gone!'

Such is the life of the indecisive man!

The oracle

"a nikolas-idea post"

Kelsey sat inside the high tower, peering out into the wilderness, with his telescope pressed against his eyes, surveying the land for signs of trouble. Then he saw in the midst of the forest clearing, that young girl that he had his eye on for so long. She must be lost, he thought. I should go and rescue her. Then she will have to stay the night with me. I can use that opportunity to have sex with her. He was preparing for his endeavour when just then, he saw a man come into the clearing. What is this, he wondered. Then the scoundrels took off their clothes and started to have sex. Kelsey was very distraught at this, for he wanted to have sex with her first. Then Kelsey became very excited because he realised that he got to watch her having sex. That is almost as good, he thought.

Just then the door opened and the summons from the royal palace were delivered, requesting his immediate arrival at the court of the King. Kelsey cursed foully and set down the telescope. When he arrived at the court there was much commotion. There is a terrible plague in the capital city, the King announced, and the researchers have not been able to concoct a cure, because we are missing the important aromatic compounds. Kelsey noted that he was very aromatic himself, and that perhaps he could soak himself in the elixir and spread it around the city. The court looked at him strangely. It could work, the King declared, and Kelsey was stripped of his clothes and soaked in the elixir. Then the King told him to go into town and rub himself up against all the citizens of the town. Kelsey became very excited at this because he knew that young girl lived in the city, and now he had royal orders to rub up against her naked. However, as soon as Kelsey entered the walled city, the elixir radiated out, and, combined with the power of the aromatic Kelsey, the disease immediately faded away. Kelsey was very disappointed, because now he would not have a chance to rub up against that young girl. Well, that is the end of that, he thought, and retuned home.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Leopards and Stranger Things

(Warning: slightly risque content follows. Slightly. After that, there are turtlenecks.)

Michael and Jeannie were engaged in sexual intercourse. Jeannie was rather pleased with this, a state which ended exactly when Michael turned into a leopard.

"Ahh!" Jeannie yelled, rather startled. "Ahh! What the hell? What the hell!" She pushed the leopard off herself and off the bed; it sprawled on the floor and turned back into a rather unhappy-looking Michael.

"Dammit!" Jeannie shouted, still quite upset. She pulled the covers up to her neck. "What the heck, dude? Why were you a leopard?"

Michael lied on the floor. His face contorted in thought.

"I know," Jeannie said with sudden decision, pointing a finger at Michael. "I know. You're a furry, aren't you? That was your true form? Sicko!"

This brought an immediate response. "I am not a furry!" Michael said. His expression was one of defiance, which might have been more impressive if he wasn't still sprawled on the floor, naked. Perhaps realizing this, he began making his way to his feet.

Jeannie was disbelieving. "Not a furry, eh?" she asked. "Then how do you explain that? I knew this was going too well for a second date," she mentioned as an aside.

Michael, now fully risen, attempted to explain. "It's - I'm - when I get really stressed or emotional, I - well - probably easier to show you than to tell. Punch me, would you?" he asked.

"With pleasure!" Jeannie said, and swung at Michael.

Michael's head rocked back with the impact of the emphatic blow. A bruise began to form. Also, he turned into a large, feline creature with white fur and black spots. (Briefly.)

"See?" Jeannie said, triumphant. "Leopard. Furry!"

"Look - no," Michael said, human again. "That was - unfortunate. Usually it doesn't do that. Try again?"

Perhaps under the impression that she had been insufficiently firm the previous time - or still upset about the leopard-intercourse thing - Jeannie swung even harder on her second attempt. Michael's nose made an unpleasant noise; blood began to trickle down his face, which had, remarkably, become the monitor of an Apple ][c.

Jeannie drew back her hand, surprised. She looked at it. She looked at the Apple. She wiped her hand off on the sheets, absentmindedly. She watched the Apple turn back into Michael.

"...what?" she asked.

"See, I'm of the Logos-kin," he explained. "We're kind-of - linked - with brands, ideas, in the popular consciousness. There are a few of us, here and there. We've got a community, online - "

"Just like the furries," Jeannie said darkly.

"One, don't be ridiculous," Michael said, regaining somewhat of his poise. (He'd gotten his pants back on by this point.) "Two, what's with you and furries, anyway? Did one kill your dog? Or - "

"My last date was a furry," Jeannie said. "He didn't tell me beforehand, either."

"Bad memories, huh?" Michael said apologetically. "Look, I didn't think it'd be a big deal, the Logos-kin thing. I mean, I didn't think we'd end up - here..."

"And when we did?" Jeannie asked. "You didn't think to tell me then?"

" judgement becomes very poor when I am around pretty ladies," Michael mumbled, looking at his feet.

Jeannie looked at him. Then she sighed and went to put her clothes on. "Look, it was a crummy decision," she said, "but there are worse, and at least you apologized. I'll get my clothes on, we can call it a night, and then we can just be friends - "

But she stopped, looking at Michael. He was stock still, except for his eyes, which were flashing around the room wildly. "Do you hear that?" he asked. "He's here."

"Who?" Jeannie asked, somewhat concerned. "You brought a friend?"

"Not - intentionally," Michael said, his breath beginning to come ragged. "I've heard about him. On the forums. They say he's one of us, gone wrong - absorbed by his inner nature. People just go missing, sometimes - we're never sure. But he's here - now - "

"Who?" Jeannie asked, her brow furrowing. "Some kind of stalker? I've got Mace in my purse - let me look - "

"The Hunter," Michael gasped, his form shimmering. "There's no time - goodbye - "

A hammering came upon the door.

"Michael - " Jeannie said, picking up her purse and turning towards him.

But Michael was gone - where he stood was another man, calm and strong, wearing jeans and a black turtleneck. He strode to the door, opened it, bowed; and was gone.

When Jeannie finally worked up the nerve to look outside, there was no-one there.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Apartment 4203

By popular demand - "popular", of course, being quite rightly defined as "Mr. Zhang's" - we send our finest investigative reporters to that cesspit of sin, that darkest den of inquity... Apartment 4203. Shield your eyes, gentle readers! For now our dark tale begins.

The Apartment's unassuming entrance, hidden behind mounds of greenery, belies its true nature.

Observe! So placid! So serene! So very nearly clean! One can hardly fathom that such fiends live here as, in the fact of the matter, do.

Entering the bathroom is a harrowing experience; unearthly apparations seem almost to haunt the place, mimicking one's actions in the mirrors. We move on quickly.

Here, one of the foul denizens of this place, his visage captured as we beat a quick retreat. His room is not the one we sought -

But here - here -

Agh! Oh, the horror, the horror!

We flee -

And out the back, barely sparing a glance for the method of our escape.

A warning to all who read this: never venture into that dread place, if you value your life and sanity! It is not a place where Men should walk.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The throngs pulse and seethe, filled with an alien energy. Coloured lights flare and ebb, flicking to and fro in meaningless, soothing rhythm; and an endless noise pours forth, shaking the earth, bringing a trembling unto the sky -

So, yes, a concert.

But of all the ancient god-kings, of the Sumerians and the Han and the Aztecs, which of them could summon forth spectacle such as this?

(And how, in the melding of the human with the inhuman - the voices amplified a thousandfold beyond what any human could muster, the minds seeing the world through a veil of drugs and alcohol - can anyone see this as ordinary?)

(Strange world, this one.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

The shadowman

Desmonde walked slowley unto the steppes of the grande halle of the churche upon the villege of isse-lunde, for he was wont to praye fur a goode harvest of the croppes, and as hee inspectid the cravesses and the frescoues and hee saide unto him selfe, who ist there ? In this sacrid playce ? Hee lookt to the alter and hee sawe a shadew figeure there, and he call'd out to himme, Who ist there ? Speak, man ! And the shadowe figure came out of the darkenesse, and he spoke unto desmonde. Hee saith unto himme : Willst thou lysten toe myn histoire , whych conteynes inni it muche parabels of woe and mysery , such that I may be in peece with my selfe ? And desmonde , whoe waes a goode christien , saith that hee wouldt lysten to the histoire of the mysterious manne.

The shadowmanne saith : It waes at leaste passed one year to this daye, that the events unfourled. For thou seest, it was that thyme that I was allso a manne of faythe , and suche that I goone unto the monestery, that I may bee pure and cleen, and be with the grace of god. And in the cours of thyngs, I joyned the brotherhoode, and I wore the robbes of puryty, and I became verry sprituall , and all waes goode.

Then the face of the shadowmanne beecometh twistid and soure, and he speketh in a bytter toune. Hee saith : And then as is the wont of many thyngs, who straye from the lycht of the lord, and beecome tempt'd by eviles, of the worlde, I was leade astraye, by the machinations of the towne and the poupoulasce. It was the daye which I was wont to go unto the towne to acquire bread and porridge for the ketcins of the monestery, for our soupper, that waes the day wyc curse inflickt mee. As I wead thorough the iles of the central market I was wont to go unto the stalle whereupon there waes freche venison meats to be solde, and also a partrige , which weth hounted wy the forests wyn the wylde. Houever, as soone as I reche the stalle I beecame quite bewhilder'd, for there was a younge girl at the countre, not the olde mann whomme I waes acoustom'd too.

The shadowmanne lay prostrate upon the grounde, and hee continueth : I became enamour'd of the young girle, and I said many strange thynges, as ist the customme for myc, and she was bemus'd, and also bewhilder'd. And then I endeavoured to proposition the young girle, and she refussed, and I became withdrawne , and summarily retrated. A year pass'd from then, by wych tyme I doth forget of that milkemaide. Houever, at that tyme I recieved unto my personage a news-lettre, in which conteyned the expliots of the townsfolke, and I detected the presence of that young girl that I once saw, at the meat-shoppe, and I read of itte hastily, and I became enamour'd of herr once againe, and I beecame more detremin'd to take her too my sellf.

Then the shadowmanne pulled out a daggar, which was hydden upon his greatcoat, and he saith : I have comme here to slaye the manne, who was wont to bee her hosband, and to claime herr unto my selfe, ande that manne ist thou, M. Desmonde.

Then Desmonde saith : Calm your sellf, and remember that you are a goode christien manne, and that thou shoudst not murder a manne ! Allso, are youe notte a monke as well, by such not alloued to take a wyfe any way ?

The shadowmanne saith : That is a goode pointe.

Then the shadowmanne retreateth into the darkenesse.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Divine Fire of Existence

Let there be some kingdom, somewhere in the far and distant lands of which we know so little. Let this kingdom be populated by a people of, on the whole, great personal strength, wit, and courage; and let them then be conquered by an alien force, posessed of superior might, numbers, and will to conquer. Let their heroes, and the heroes among their children, and the heroes among their children's children, rise up against the conquerors, bearing banners of defiance; and let their heroes fail. Let them die, or flee into exile, or simply give up and - disappear - and let the spirits of the country fall with them, such that, four generations from the invasion, they are a broken people, assimilated. Let the occupying forces leave, all but some token policing-force, and let many of the youth go with them, to conquer and oppress other countries as they were oppressed -

assimilated -

How, then, may this kingdom of ours be freed; how may it escape from the boot upon its neck? What hero could accomplish the task, when so many heroes have tried and died trying? Is there anything left to save?

Perhaps not -

So the first action to undertake would be to create something, the kingdom-that-was. History; the study which princes and tyrants neglect to their own downfall. Act subtly; create literary reviews for the upper classes, spread songs and tales for the lower classes. Reinforce a sense of national identity, or create it, if matters are too far gone. Do not spread agitation; do not foment revolution! Not directly, at least. Not yet.

Time must pass. The lessons must sink in. The people of this generation, we already know, are too far gone. Their spirits are shattered. But the people of the next - young, or yet unborn. They can be taught. Not all of them, not perfectly - but perhaps - they can become a tool, a medium, a place from which revolution can spring.


How beautiful a word.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Knife Quicksilver

(Title from this, which I neither understand nor truly wish to. Post is otherwise unrelated.

Well, except insofar that I have been making another attempt to re-read Hitherby, a thing which always inspires into me a mad and fervent desire to write.)

It occurred that the sun set, and did not rise; the night continued without end. Elsewhere, on the other side of the world, the sun rose, and thereafter remained stationary; a natural transition applied between these area. It became, nonetheless, a matter of some concern for all and sundry.

"What shall we do?" the people cried out. "In the regions of eternal day, it grows terribly warm, moreso by the moment; in the lands of night, the chill is ever-increasing. (Furthermore, it is difficult to see.) Shall we move to the lands of twilight, there to gain some modicum of respite?"

The scientists considered, and met, and studied the matter; and their spokesperson gave her judgement on the matter. "There must be constructed an instrument," she declared to the assembled journalists of Earth; "a long thing, a sharp thing, a knife to sever night from day. And there will be a terrible price - " but the price was paid, and the knife was made, and they named it Quicksilver. And the knife rose skyward, and descended, and in its passing there was a change; and once more the sun moved, and day turned to night turned to day again; though those who had lived through those times claimed that it was never again so steady, so reliable in its passing, as it had been before those events here described.

But -

- what then became of the knife?

Lord Wormsnake's Evil Plot (& assoc. miscellanea)

Lord Wormsnake rose, cackling. His black-gloved hands shaped them into claws; unearthly energies sheathed them. "I will destroy... THE WIGGLES!" he shouted, and a cry of woe followed.

Belshazzar, Lord Wormsnake's cat and evil minion, looked up. Slowly, he yawned, and licked his fur. Then he deigned to respond. "The Wiggles?" he asked.

"The Wiggles!" Lord Worsnake declaimed dramatically. "A children's musical group formed in Sydney, Australia in the distant past year of NINE-TEEN NINETY ONE. They're educating children to good moral virtues, making them less suitable for use in my invincible earth-conquering army. They must be stopped! Also, they've earned seventeen gold, twelve platinum, three double-platinum, and ten multi-platinum awards for sales of over 17 million DVDs and four million CDs," Lord Wormsnake noted as an aside. "A high-value target!"

"Are Wikipedia trawls really the proper method of selecting targets for your Evil Plots?" Belshazzar inquired.

"Irrelevant," Lord Wormsnake dismissed. "I am off - TO DESTROY THE WIGGLES!" He cackled. Further cries of woe rose from the speakers Lord Wormsnake had installed beneath the floorboards.

"Don't forget to get some milk while you're out," Belshazzar reminded Lord Wormsnake lazily.

But Lord Wormsnake had no chance to do any such thing - for it was barely five minutes later that he was confronted by PAN-OMNI-TEAM, universal purveyors of PURE JUSTICE! (By mechanism of giant robot.)

"HALT, EVILDOER!" their leader, STAR RANGER, shouted. "We, the PAN-OMNI-TEAM, will halt your vile schemes!"

"Ha!" Lord Wormsnake laughed, drawing up his hands. Glowing energy wrapped around them, pulsing and fluxing. "You pint-sized pile of miniature munchkins think you can stop me? It is I, Lord Wormsnake, Future Master of All the Cosmos! I have barely begun this plan, and the likes of you shall not - "

He paused.

"Wait," Lord Wormsnake said, a note of confusion entering his voice. "I never announced my evil plan. How did you guys find out about it?"

"Ubiquitious surveillance, durr," SUNSTRIDER (another PAN-OMNI-TEAM-member) taunted. "We're watching everyone, everywhere, at all times - even when they think they're alone. Especially then! That way, we stop crime before it even starts."

"Yeah!" LUNAR GUARDIAN agrees. "We're like those Future Police guys, from that one movie with the sweet holograms and the hover-cars! So rad."

Lord Wormsnake appeared unconvinced. "I think there might be something wrong here," he observed. "I mean, you're creating a police state in an attempt to stop crime? Rampant violation of privacy, without the consent of the public... I mean, obviously, I'm fine with police states, though ideally with me at their head, but I've had thought that you would - "

"Hey! Wormsnake!" SUNSTRIDER rather rudely interrupted. "You. Villain. Us. Heroes. Stopping you. Justified!" Then he fired a giant laser-beam at Lord Wormsnake!

"Gosh dang," Lord Wormsnake sighed, leaping aside. A giant warping energy-bubble flew overhead, crushing a small building. Later, it exploded.

"Okay, another question," Lord Wormsnake shouted, firing a wave of flying, wiggling energy-snakes in all directions. PAN-OMNI-TEAM retaliated. "So, you guys are fighting me. Splendid. Fine. But you're heroes, right? Dedicated to the established order? How do you justify all this rampant property damage?"

"Better a few smashed houses and exploded office buildings than that your evil plan is accomplished!" LUNAR GUARDIAN replied defiantly. "You were going to kill people! What's money, compared to that?"

"What?" Lord Wormsnake asked, surprised. He dodged a laser bullet. "I wasn't going to kill anyone! I was just going to destroy the Wiggles. You know, spread rumours, plant false evidence, tear them apart as a group, etc, etc. I'm not a murderer!"

LUNAR GUARDIAN wavered. "Gosh," he said. "That's actually pretty plausible. Now, well - I'm torn!"

"Don't be, LUNAR!" STAR RANGER shouted. "It's a trick on your mind! He's trying to use the same ruses with us as he just described - to divide us, and then conquer us!"

"You're right, STAR RANGER!" LUNAR GUARDIAN agreed. "Now - let's defeat Lord Wormsnake, once and for all!"

"Curses!" Lord Wormsnake shouted. "But I'm not defeated yet. Come - shatter my ULTIMATE DEFENSE, if you can!" And about him rose the likeness of a shield, and a wall, and a sword which pointed each way; and all about him was the numinance of the power of Lord Wormsnake, He That Consumeth the Earth.

PAN-OMNI-TEAM fired a giant laser at Lord Wormsnake. He vanished.

"Ha!" STAR RANGER laughed nervously, relieved. "Another victory for PAN-OMNI TEAM!"

"...did we just kill him?" LUNAR GUARDIAN asked. "Like, to death? We don't usually do that. It seems bad."

"Fools!" the voice of Lord Wormsnake laughed, seeming to come from every direction at once. "You have but empowered me - turning me invisible, so that I might escape your attacks! A ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaa!"

"Blast! Dang you, Lord Wormsnake!" STAR RANGER cried, giant-robot-fist upraised to the heavens. "We'll catch you! We'll catch you yet!"

Some months later, the Wiggles dissolved, claiming "irresolvable creative differences" between the members of the band. Small children all over the earth mourned. Lord Wormsnake's plans of world domination, to his exasperation, appeared largely unaffected.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Silvano Experience

Once, there was a Kelsey and a Zhang.

The Kelsey said, "Mr. Zhang, I know we have our differences. But must there be war between us? Can we not have peace?"

The Zhang said, "Graar!" Then he leapt.

The Zhang and the Kelsey grappled! They became quite bloody and tired. "I would like a break," the Kelsey said. "Bluuugh!" the Zhang agreed.

"NO RECOVERY!" Silvano declared.

And that was that!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fruits of PAX

This isn't a full thing, but I thought I should feature some of the better photos from the convention. Might have some kind of synopsis at some point, above and beyond what I blagged during the event; might not. A summary:

1) Tons of people.
2) Loads of fun, by and large.
3) So many TF2 cosplayers.

Gallery: start!

A photo I took with my iPhone, walking towards the convention center. Bit of a crowd, isn't it? There was a scalper, too, trying to buy passes for the sold-out show. He didn't seem to be having much luck.

This woman startled my father to no end. She is in a rather elaborate costume - quite impressive, even if none of us (truthfully) knew exactly what it was - and she is also on a cell phone.

Something about the combination, I suppose.

Two things to note here:

1) On the far left, there is a fellow with glowing red eyes. He's dressed as a headcrab zombie, though you can't really see very well in this photo. Nonetheless, this is wonderful.

(A theme in our photos: Looking around, in the background of photos taken to capture one particular cosplayer, and seeing others lurking to the sides. Most excellent.)

2) See that bag, barely visible on the bottom of the photo?

It is a ubiquibag, and it, too, will be common in this gallery.

Where's Waldo?

That's the question on everyone's lips, but it's safely answered, for the moment. Hooray!

In a better world, this would be composited into a crowd shot for optimum Where's Waldo action; perhaps one of our readers will do this for us? We can only hope.

Master Chief, or one of his fellow Spartans, stands nonchanalantly in queue. (PAX is a place of endless queues.) He is so very nonchalant. Observe his casual pose!

His neighbor, not so.

(Also, note his height. He seriously was that tall. It was impressive. And... realistic? If that's the word.)

Tanuki Suit Mario (if I'm identifying him correctly) makes his appearance, along with his companion, That One Girl* from Super Mario Galaxy. They wandered the show; we ran into them a number of times. Mario frequently sported a detachable moustache. At the time of this photo, it seems to be in its detached state, though it's hard to tell from this angle.

(Also: Ubiquibags! I told you they'd be showing up again. There's two of them here; one with the Nexon side facing us, and the other with the Dungeon Fighter Online side towards the camera. I'd never heard of the aformentioned game before the convention, but within its halls, it was inescapable. Not least because of the Ubiquibags, but not exclusively, either. Strangely, I still have no desire to play it.)

*May not be her actual name. She may not have had one. I'd have to go to Wiki to find out, and that's far too much effort for me to bother.

It's the Prince, demonstrating his new game! Well. His port of several old games,
with updated graphics and remixed music. But that's practically as good!

Also he seems to have acquired a Tekken 6 shirt (very peculiar, that), as well as the company of some random schmuck. Who is that guy standing next to him? Who knows? Probably best to ignore him and move on.

GLADOS makes her proud appearance in this photo, complete with Weighted Companion Cube handbag. You might think it would be difficult to cosplay as someone that looks like this. You'd be right! But with diligence, hard work, and just a little creativity, it can be done.

Other notes: bonus cosplayer on the right (I would assume - no idea what she's supposed to be), and the area in the background, "Bandland", where one could purchase merchandise and/or obtain autographs from various semi-celebrities present. Jonathan Coulton was there, and I saw him briefly; sadly, the line for him was (approximately) six miles long, so I entered into no interaction with him. Shame.

iPhone shot of a group of TF2 cosplayers. (Left to right: Spy, Medic, Sniper, and Scout.) There were, as mentioned, loads of these guys about; we saw at least three of both Scout and Medic. (Ethan claims larger numbers.) I saw examples at least eight different classes - every class except the Demoman - and people cosplaying as both red and blue members of some classes, though blue seemed significantly less common. What I am saying here is: for a $20, 2-year old game with no plot, TF2 gets a heck of a lot of love for its characters.

It's Valve, man. They're magic.

Bonus: See that in the center? Can you identify it? It is... the ubiquibag! Hooray! Taking center stage, as it was always meant to.

Ubiquibag story time: While immediately outside the convention center, waiting for our crepes to cook, we saw a man going past carrying a large package. We have no idea what it was, because it was shielded from the low-grade ambient dampness (this was Seattle, after all) by a pair of Ubiquibags, one on each end, covering it completely. As I observed to Ethan at the time: An item posessing extremely low scarcity will naturally have uses evolved to exhaust the supply. Loads of bandwidth? Stream video! Loads of bags? Use them as shielding!

My phrasing could be better, but I maintain that the principle is sound. High supply impels consumption.

We have no idea what the Butterfly dude was. Saw him a number of times, never figured him out. But two things to note here:

1) The numbers on the fellow's back, labeled "NV-[something]." One might reasonably ask, "What are those?" The answer is that they are numbers for buttons handed out by Nvidia for a sort of competition; the idea being that you should find the person with the number matching yours to win a prize.

This rapidly became an obsession for many people. People went around wandering the halls, calling out their number(s); putting their numbers on signs (like Butterfly-Man); even setting up websites for the purpose. I am informed that there was more than one of these, listing numbers and associated contact information, set up during the three-day run of the event.


2) Hooray, Blue Engineer! Another cosplayer bonus.

Red Scout says hello! Good costume. We saw, as noted, quite a few of these, including one with an arm in a splint. The splint was captioned "Critical Hit". It seemed appropriate.

Also note, in the background; not a ubiquibag, but a sign for "Dungeon Fighter Online". They really were everywhere.

To round this post off: Draenei woman, seen sitting by the wall for no particular reason, is so very happy. Don't know why! Perhaps no-one else liked her costume.

It is a very nice costume.

Some photos got lost in the warp during upload, and there's still plenty of event stories to tell, so this post may have a sequel. Or it may not. We'll see!

In the meantime: hooray for cosplayers, hooray for ubiquibags.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The story of the man in the moon

There was a man who lived on the moon. He was very lonely. But it was fine because there were other people living there too; there was a city in a big dome on the moon, and it was a colony of the earth peoples. But this is not very relevant to the story, so forget it. Like most solid citizens of his age he went to university often. It was at this point that he became interested in the plant species, and the potted plants, and the herbs, and sometimes he smoked the herbs too. So he decided to take a class in the plant biology. It was there that he met 2 important people who destiny would guide him against for months to come. The first was a very strange man, in his habits and his manner of appearance and dress, and he often spoke in strange and indecipherable ways, such that it was quite confusing to listen to him, and sometimes vexing, to the point that the first man did not wish to associate with this man too often. The second person was a young girl who was quite pleasant in her ways. Naturally, the first man wanted to have sex with her. But then she ended up having sex with the strange man described previously instead. In the course of things, the first man learned of this. "Damn" he said.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Peculiar Quest of Mr. Zhang

(Part Two of Two.)

In the high mountains, an ancient temple stood, carved of marble and adorned with aged bronze. The white-haired monks that tended that place each bore vestments adorned with the sign of an oval containing a circle, and a staff capped with that same symbol; the idols which they polished were great orbs, each with a pair of concentric circles - one coloured, one black - painted on their front. This was the nature of that place, that most peculiar temple: it was the Shrine of the Eye. And its ruler named himself the King Eye; none knew a time in which he had not ruled that place, even long before the birth of the oldest man yet alive.

To this sanctuary Mr. Zhang arrived, clad in thick clothing to ward off the cold weather. His teeth chattered as he approached the gates, slowly slogging through the snow.

"Halt!" shouted one of the guards, turning his pike level. The other matched him, blocking off the gate entirely. "What is your business here, traveller? There have been rumours of eye-stealing brigands about; we desire no such criminals troubling this holy place!"

"Fear not," Mr. Zhang said, his voice cultured as ever. "I am only a harmless traveler, here on a pilgrimage."

"Ah," the guard said, lowering his pike. "Very well. You may enter; but do not dare to trouble the monks that live here, or any other person herein, for most certainly such a betrayal would bring the wrath of King Eye upon you."

"That sounds most unpleasant," Mr. Zhang agreed. "I will avoid it."

As he walked past the guards, Mr. Zhang noticed - to his surprise - that they were quite without eyes.

"Peculiar," he mused to himself. "Perhaps this is how they came to know of eye-brigandry in the area? Do I have a competitor? Or perhaps it is some religious rite. No matter - I will continue onwards."

Inwards he went, past sconces filled with smoking incense and faded mosaics depicting fractal eyescapes. The glory days of this place had passed; the priests wandering the halls were few and far between, and grown old without hope of replacement. Mr. Zhang stopped briefly, once, to ask one for directions; and on this occasion that he noted the priest, too, was blind.

"Perhaps it's ironic," Mr. Zhang thought to himself.

Then he came to the entrance to the innermost sanctum - a pair of great iron-sheathed doors, together forming, shockingly, the shape of an eye - which, rather more surprisingly, was in this instance guarded by a dragon.

"Who comes?" the dragon rumbled. "King Eye has secluded himself; he expects no visitors, nor desires those which come unexpected."

"Most unfortunate," Mr. Zhang said. "I will come another time, then. Let him know that a gentleman by the name of Zhang seeks an audience with him, and will be by tomorrow, and the day after; it is to be hoped that at some time, my desire for a meeting will be reciprocated in kind."

"I know no Zhang; nor, I think, does King Eye," the dragon said slowly. "But there is something in your voice that is peculiar. Are you one of those I robbed, before King Eye so terribly betrayed me, and rendered me his servant entire? Have you come for revenge upon him, or to retrieve the eyes that I took? In this case I will most certainly let you pass; for there is nothing in King Eye's treatment of me that engenders loyalty."

Mr. Zhang peered upwards at the dragon. "Why, you are that bescaled creature that stole my first eyes from me, and set my feet on that path which I now tread!" he remarked with astonishment. "I had nearly forgot, those eyes with which I was born; certainly I had no notion that they might be found here, in the sanctum of King Eye. But - how peculiar. You claimed yourself, then, mightiest of all living creatures; now you are humbled, terming yourself a servant. What has happened to you in the time of our separation?"

"All has gone for the ill," the dragon sadly rumbled. "When I met you, I was in partnership with King Eye, trading him the eyes of my victims to gain baubles for my hoard; but he tricked me, claimed I had cheated him, and took my eyes in compensation. Now I am his chattel, sitting in front of his door like a guard-dog. My axiom, I think, has served me ill; I must rescind all advice I gave to you as to its adoption. For the world is like unto a great wheel fixed on the side of some celestial ox-cart; and that which is presently mounted astride it will presently be ground underneath."

"It is a sorry tale you tell indeed," Mr. Zhang said, "And I am certain there are many lessons to be learned from it. But still I seek an audience with King Eye, and so I will bid you adieu for the moment - "

A voice came from behind the doors. "With whom doth thou converse, wyrm?"

"A traveler who calls himself Zhang, and seeks audience with you, O King," the dragon said with bitter humility.

"...let him enter," the speaker announced.

The doors swung open; slowly, with a dignified step, Mr. Zhang entered.

The room immediately inside was darkened, especially in contrast to the bright-lit outside; Mr. Zhang had to blink repeatedly to clear his vision. Even after acclimating, the figure of his host, King Eye, was difficult to see clearly; he was wrapped in a long coat, and shrouded in darkness.

Also - Mr. Zhang squinted - the coat was covered in eyeballs, with two especially large, reptillian eyes on King Eye's shoulders.

"Fascinating," Mr. Zhang observed under his breath.

"Zhang," King Eye spoke. "What quest bringeth thee to mine door?"

"I came for something of yours, Your Highness," Mr. Zhang said with a gentlemanly bow. "The country-folk tell that in your possession is an eye that can see into all hearts and uncover all falsehoods; this is a thing which, for my own reasons, I much desire the use of. I therefore would propose this; that I, for some fee or service, might have the use of your eye. A mutually beneficial arrangement, to be objected to by none."

"Would to be thought that mine chattel outside might have informed thee as to the risks of entering into any arrangement with mineself," King Eye said, "but 'tis an obstacle more fundamental to your proposition: behold!"

With a violent gesture, King Eye opened its cloak wide. Mr. Zhang averted his gaze, wincing, and then slowly turned back; and started at what he saw. For, in addition to residing at the center of an eye-shaped temple to the eye, wearing a cloak covered with stolen eyes, and being named King Eye,

King Eye's body was, in its entirety, an exceptionally large, floating, eyeball.

(Mr. Zhang's fears of him being a flasher were simultaneously averted and confirmed.)

"This is the eye thou wert told of, Zhang," the Eye King said - despite not being posessed of a mouth, he had no difficulty in verbal communication, perhaps aided by those same arts that allowed him to levitate. "This is the eye thou sought, that can see into any heart. And now, uncovered, I look with it into thine own - and see the perfidity therein. Thou didst not seek equitable agreement when thou came here - thou came as the boldest thief, and only the example of that wyrm that lurketh outside didst deter thee!"

Mr. Zhang shrugged. "The truth of the matter is closer to that than any other," he admitted, "though I'd argue I have more need of thine - er, your - eye than you do. You lurk here atop a mountain, alone but for your monks, your guards, and your pet dragon. I am a man of the world, forced to deal with all the woes and troubles of modern life - such as, for example, a certain lady who refuses to answer her correspondence in a timely manner," Mr. Zhang said with some frustration in his voice. After a moment, he recovered his composure, asking: "What use do you put the eye to?"

"What use have I for it?" King Eye asked, outraged. "I am it, foolhardy wretch! Thou wouldst abscond with not only mine property, as thou planned at first, but mineself?"

"As't may be," Mr. Zhang said. "But I think - what sort of creature is a floating eye-ball? Perhaps that is you, yes. But perhaps you are no more than a clever marionette, held to the ceiling by cleverly concealed wire-work, hidden in the darkness..."

"A puppet to cow a dragon?" King Eye asked. "Thine propositions are insane, all the sooner to accelerate thy waiting doom!"

"Perhaps, perhaps," said Mr. Zhang, waving a dismissive hand and begin to walk. "I do not dismiss the possibility out of hand. But if I am correct - if you are a tool and nothing more, terrorizing that dragon by trickery and not strength - then there must be, somewhere..."

Mr. Zhang stopped in his tracks, holding his hand against the wall. "A man behind the curtain!" he cried triumphantly, and pulled at the wall, revealing another blind monk, wires hanging all about him, an orb displaying a smaller, distorted image of Mr. Zhang before him.

A sword was in his hand, and he was already lunging.

"Ah!" cried Mr. Zhang, rather distressed, and fell backwards, recieving nothing worse than a glancing slash. The monk pursued, harrying the fallen Mr. Zhang, but that worthy had already retrieved his own blade from its sheath, and now mounted a furious defense. The sound of steel on steel resounded throughout the sanctuary; the dragon poked its head inward. "Mr. Zhang," it said, "If you are presently about an assassination, please be careful of my eyes. I would like them back, when you are done!"

"I will attempt it!" Mr. Zhang said gamely, glancing towards the dragon's eyes, still mounted on the cloak "King Eye" wore. Then a thought struck him; gaining his feet with the time provided by a very clever riposite, Mr. Zhang backpedaled, then turned and ran towards "King Eye". The sword-wielding monk came close on his heels, crying, "Spite will avail thee naught, Zhang - touch not the Eye!" But nonesuch was Mr. Zhang's intent. Instead, reaching the Eye, he sidestepped once - watching it turn towards him - and then reached out and spun it -

"Augh!" cried the monk, disoriented and nauseated, staggering about the floor. Mr. Zhang, carefully and precisely, stepped up to the monk and clubbed him over the back of the head with the hilt of his sword. The monk fell.

Then Mr. Zhang stole his eyes, for good measure.

"Dragon!" Mr. Zhang cried, looking towards the doorway. "The monks will certainly have heard the sounds of fighting, and will be coming this way. I have no desire for them to catch me here, especially with the burden of carrying this rather large Eye. Therefore, I propose this bargain: carry me safely away, to a destination of my choice, and I will return your eyes to you when you are done. Are you agreed?"

"I will do this thing," the dragon rumbled, "for I greatly miss that sight which once was mine."

"Very well, then," Mr. Zhang said, tearing the wires from the Eye. He held it, wrapped in the eye-covered cloak, in his arms, and took it to the dragon, which he mounted even as the monks - and the guards - entered the courtyard. "What transpired here?" the guards challenged, levelling their pikes. "Where is that stranger which entered our gates this morning?" But the dragon beat its wings, once, twice - and was gone.

Epilog the First.

Mr. Zhang landed in a small clearing, not far from the city they named Boss Town. Carefully, he descended one of the dragon's legs, letting out a soft breath once he was safely upon the ground once more. (A blind dragon's flying abilities are remarkable, for that they do it at all - but, perhaps, are something most safely experienced from some distance.) The dragon's head curled around, pointing roughly in the direction of Mr. Zhang. "I have held my part of the bargain," the dragon rumbled. "Now, do the same. Return my eyes to me!"

"Very well," Mr. Zhang said, drawing forth his sword. "I will cut your eyes loose from the cloak on which they are fastened - " slice, slice went his sword - "and hand them to you. Here," he said, delivering the eyes into one of the dragon's very large claws. "And now - I must be off. Adieu!" he cried, and then began to run.

The dragon, tenderly, carefully, fit the eyes back into their sockets. "It has been so long... " it crooned - then the pitch of its voice changed. "Wait. What's this? I still can't see. There's something - my vision - it's red..."

"ZHAAAAAAAAAAANG!" the dragon roared, shaking every tree of the forest. "YOU HAVE BETRAYED ME, ZHANG! YOU HAVE DESTROYED MY EYES EVEN AS YOU GAVE THEM TO ME! YOU WIL PAAAAAAY!" It thrashed, bringing ruin to a large area of woodlands - but Mr. Zhang was already gone.

"It seemed unwise to restore such a creature to its full, deadly majesty," Mr. Zhang justified. "And besides - had I not the greater strength? Certainly the creature's own morality would justify me." He continued on, satisfied.

Truly, Mr. Zhang is the most honourable of all Gentlemen.

Epilog the Second.

Mr. Zhang lurked in a window, peering downwards through the Eye. He squinted.

"There she is!" he remarked, some significant excitement in his voice. "Now, at last, I will learn why she never replies to my communications - or so very tardily, at best! I will learn the truth that I have burned for..."

"Oh," he said, a moment later.

"She... thinks I'm weird?"

"And creepy."

"And obsessive."

"And she thinks I should probably get a haircut that isn't a mullet."

Mr. Zhang looked sadly at the Eye.

Then he threw it out the window.

"It was probably defective," Mr. Zhang concluded. "After all, it thought I was a liar. The gall! The truth must lie elsewhere. Perhaps a love elixir..." he pondered.


The Beady Eyes of Mr. Zhang

It occurred to Mr. Zhang, as the dragon collected his eyes, that the situation was somewhat less than ideal.

"Sir!" he remarked, staggering backwards. "I must protest! You, at present, already posess two perfectly good eyes, which should be enough for any creature not of an insectile nature. You are reptilian, or draconic, as you prefer; therefore you have no use for my eyes. Return the one you have taken, and desist from attempting to remove the other; then this unfortunate matter will be at an end, and we will have no further need to quarrel."

"Ow," Mr. Zhang continued, as the dragon took his other eye.

"Dragon!" Mr. Zhang cried, shouting in the direction of the departing dragon. "This is a most terrible injustice; to take the eyes from a man who needs them, while you need them not. How can you justify your actions?"

The dragon paused in its flight; turned, and flew back to Mr. Zhang, hovering in the air before him with great flaps of its scaled wings. Mr. Zhang was immersed in its sulfurous stink with every breath it expelled. "In truth, I live life by a simple axiom," the dragon rumbled. "Might makes right. It is a simple law, and it allows me to conduct my affairs as I like them, without undue trouble or bother. I am greatest of all the dragons, and therefore the mightiest creature alive: thus there is nothing which may contest my righteousness."

"Your axiom is flawed!" Mr. Zhang hastily retorted. "A philosophy of life must certainly be judged by how well it fares for its user if all other persons also employed it; and certainly, in the very short term, such a test would fare well for you. But consider - what if some other creature, some rival dragon, gained strength over you? Or if you sired a mighty son, even more powerful than yourself? They would cast you down; they would render you unto dust, and none would remember your name! By your own philosophy this would be just. Can you accept this?"

"These scenarios seem somewhat unlikely," the dragon mused. "Am I not the most magnificent of all dragons, of all living creatures? Certainly nothing can overset my supremacy. Instead of seeking refuge in philosophy, I would advise you thus: do unto others as was done unto you. Take eyes from those weaker than you; thereby may your loss be reversed." And with this the dragon beat its wings mightily, once, twice; powerful winds buffeted Mr. Zhang, and no more did he hear the voice of the dragon.

"This is most unfortunate," Mr. Zhang remarked.

He considered. After a moment, he had a plan; decision was writ upon his face.

"Ho!" Mr. Zhang called. "Is any living creature about? I would have conversation!"

Presently, a chittering came from the underbrush. "A squirrel!" Mr. Zhang remarked, surprised. "Well, it is not what I would have wished... but it will do. Mr. Squirrel! As you can see, I am presently blind. Would you mind lending me one of your eyes, so that we could be on equal terms for the duration of the conversation? I will certainly give it back afterwards."

The squirrel chittered. Mr. Zhang felt a small object being pressed into his hand; he pushed it into his right eye socket, and found his vision - partially, blurrily, missing a few colours - returned.

"Thank you, Mr. Squirrel!" Mr. Zhang remarked, impeccably polite, as befit a gentleman of his breeding. "Now we may come to the subject of our conversation."

"Squeak?" the squirrel chittered.

"Squeak!" the squirrel remarked in some agitation, now without both eyes.

"Much better!" Mr. Zhang said, looking about with some satisfaction. "Not as good as my old, human eyes - but certainly it is better than what that dragon left me with. I suppose I will have to make do..."

He thought about this.

Some time later, he entered a small town; made polite conversation with an old lady walking down the street.

"It's good to see a young man like you so respectful of your elders!" the old woman remarked, leaning on her walker. "I was suspicious of you at first, I admit, with those strange beady eyes of yours... but you're a perfectly courteous and trustworthy individual after all!"

"Aaiii!" she screamed, moments later. "My eyes! He stole my eyes!"

"Much better," Mr. Zhang said with satisfaction. "Now - what's next?"

"Hello, sir," said the clerk of the eye store, looking up upon hearing the door open. "What sort of eyes would you like to purchase today?"

"I think I would like... all of them!" Mr. Zhang said, cackling triumphantly. He swept all the eyes off their shelves into an enormous sack, which he'd painted an eye on. (To avoid confusion.) Then he stole the clerk's eyes!

"Whyyy?" the clerk wailed. "You just stole like five-hundred eyes! You don't need mine! You total jerk!"

"Ha ha!" Mr. Zhang laughed. "Go steal your own!" Then he ran off.

(Part One of Two.)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Had a lovely day; back on Californian soil, at the land of claimless bags, my own Ubiquibag in hand, heavy-laden with loot. Trip: success!

Will most likely do a photo-write-up of the trip to-morrow; then back to standard-grade blagocontent. A race of warlike sheep, terrorizing their peaceable lion neighbors, until they are interrupted by an outside force, is most certainly to be anticipated.

In general, that is. No relation to whatever I'll end up blagging.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

PAX has rather a lot of lines. Just as well, then, that they have developed the most advanced line-waiting technology in the world.

Seriously, it's high-caliber stuff. Can't say a word against it. Even if you wanted to - they have mind-control rays for that!

Ah - no - said too much

Also, no sign of known acquaintances at PAX, even those we know to be here. Slight vexation.

Reunited with family last night. Movement proves more difficult with three; as a plus, actual camera allows improved photography of costumed persons.

Waited in line half an hour this morning for, as it transpired, the line-waiting experience. Very odd.

Friday, September 04, 2009

V. tired. Dining at "Rock Bottom", which, surprisingly, appears to be a chain. Still an unfortunate name.

May help set a world record, later tonight. One hopes.

(Update: 8 TF2 classes spotted. No alcoholic, yet.)

Characters I've seen cosplay past me in the last 30 seconds:
1. Moogle; someone's toddler.
2. Professor Science. (Well, actually, it was just a T-shirt, but still.)
3. GODOT. With "Hold it!" sign in hand!

If I were only faster to react - ahh!

(I've been seeing the TF2 cast all day; at least 6 classes. Popular!)

Some confusion over transit, but I'm in and feeling great.

Scott Pilgrim is here!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Magnificent Beard Master

Does this count as content? Not sure.

Anyway, download this and run "curviform.exe". It's more or less an experiment in creating curviform shapes - things like roots, or hair. Turned out pretty well. The source code is in the zip, labeled 'curviform.txt'; it's Python code, and requires Pygame to run.

(Mr. Feinberg, or "sib-sib", opines that it should be transformed into a superior program, the Technicolour Dream Beard. Perhaps so.)

The Advent of the PAX

Real life alert (klaxon noise, klaxon noise): I'm heading off to the dreaded PAX tomorrow morning. It will almost certainly very busy; I may be able to do some micronanofemtoblogging, but almost certainly nothing more in-depth like that. Accordingly, barring the intervention of the dreaded Doctor McZhang, content will probably be fairly sparse about the blag for the next few days.

Unlike it has been for the last few, of course.

...I'll try to have something of interest up later to-day.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

There Are Two Space Stations

(This post was going to be somewhat less terse, but then I became tired and slothful. Apologies.)

Once there were two space stations.

"Whirl in orbit!" went Space Station One.

"Transmit vital solar power!" went Space Station Two.

Then there was a great big crash! (Though only the people in Space Station Two could hear it, because sound doesn't travel in a vacuum.

"Hey!" the people in Space Station Two complained. (Over the radio.) "Dang Space Station One people! Your trash is hitting us and wrecking all our solar panels!"

"Ha ha!" the Space Station One people laughed. Then they hung up! Over the radio! How rude!

"Dang gosh," the Space Station Two people said grumpily. "We totally have to do something about this before it gets worse!"

Then it got worse.

"We probably should have done something about this," the Space Station Two crew admitted, plummeting uncontrollably downwards towards a fiery death.

And that's why procrastination is a mortal sin! You can look it up.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Guide: New Readers

I. What is this strange place?

The Unterblag is a collection of fiction, written largely by this author, Nicholas 'Cavalcadeofcats', and by the infamous Mr. Zhang, known by many names but most often (as of this writing) 'Calvacadeofcats', a name chosen to confuse and befuddle according to Mr. Zhang's own puckish caprice. Others occasionally contribute It began some years ago as a sort of chronicle for the many deeds of that most noble of groups, the League of Desmond. (A group of like-minded high-school friends.) Years have passed, and the group has largely dispersed; therefore the blag has diverged somewhat from its initial purpose. Content on the blag, in whatever era, tends to fall loosely into three categories. These are:

First, the literal recounting of events that have occurred. These are fairly uncommon.
Second, a retelling of real-life occurances in a somewhat less literal vein. These were more common in the earlier years of the blag, but still occur at some frequency, most especially in the infamous Mr. Zhang's posts, which nearly all might be marked with this label.
Third, complete fabrications, intended to delight, educate, and/or set to contemplation. At present, these comprise the majority of my posts, and therefore the majority of posts on the blag.

You might argue, "I am not of this 'League of Desmond'" - if indeed this were the case - " and so I have no interest in literal recountings of your lives, which are rarely of such interest as to pique my tastes." This may be the case! I fairly confess that it may be so - much as I strive to imbue even my most factual writing with the character of entertainment, some dissapation of interest is to be expected from those entirely uninvolved. However, such posts are uncommon - as noted above - and you may readily move onwards from them to subjects which interest you.

But you might continue - "As I do not enjoy tales of your life in the most factual mode, it seems reasonable that I might not enjoy those in the more fictionalized form." This would wound me - for the fictionalization of events is something both myself and the infamous Mr. Zhang take no small delight in - but I would shrug, and raise my palms apologetically. Though I, as an author, feel that my fictionalisations are so obfuscated, and given such a character of narrative, as to stand on their own independent of knowledge of events therein described - certainly I am biased! I cannot be certain. To you I would say, "Very well, then; let you disregard such posts, too - if you can separate them from the broader crop - and move onwards. Even with all posts relating to reality removed from the blag, there is much to choose from."

But a third time you might object - decrying, "What is this? Fiction? Fantasy, science-fiction, other immature, puerile nonsense? What are you wasting my time with?" And at this I would cry out, "Arrant fool! Begone from this place - no more are you welcome here!" For though certainly many of the stories here are not of professional quality (being written, after all, by amateur hands), and fairly one might even describe some number of them as puerile - though your indiscretion in so doing would cause me to wince, at the very least - in your rejection of fiction entirely you would deny all that is the best here, and prove your heart black and empty in so doing.

But I rather hope you will not; and in that spirit, will carry on.

II. Do I need to read the older posts before reading the current ones?

As of the time of this writing: No! There have in the past been episodic series of posts, telling an ongoing story; there will likely be such again, and in those cases, you would probably be well advised to read the constituent posts of a series in order. But when there are such series, they are in general carefully marked, so as to avoid confusion; and most posts, in any case, are entirely stand-alone, and of no relation to each-other. Certainly I would not discourage you from reading older posts - there are significantly over 1000 posts in the archive as of the time of this writing, which, even if only one in ten is really worth reading, a not insignificant figure. So there is that possibility; but it is by no means required for the enjoyment of current posts.

III. Who on earth is Desmond, anyway? And why is he in Isselunde? (What's Isselunde?)

...all right, that's a bit of a long story, and nothing on the blog will explain it, even if you trawl the archives.

In short: 'Desmond' is Devin M., one of the original League of Desmond members. He's in Isselunde (Medieval Iceland) because the infamous Mr. Zhang wrote a series of very, very strange stories about the Hero Desmonde's adventures and battles against evil, all of which began with something not unlike the sentence at the top of the blag. Some few of them have survived to be posted on the blag, tagged as "chronicles"; most are long gone, essentially because he wrote them in class, on the TI-84 graphing calculator. (Of all things.)

He's not around so much these days, largely because Devin himself moved to another state some time back, but he remains forever beloved in our hearts.

IV. What content rating would you give your stories, if they were rated by the American movie-rating system?

Varies wildly. Most are somewhere in PG-13. A few wander around R. One is probably NC-17, but it's way way way back in the archives, and only has one paragraph of relevant material, hidden in white text. NOW YOU KNOW.

V. I have further questions, or perhaps I have praise, or criticism. I'm not entirely certain, largely because I'm an FAQ-question written to cover too wide a range of topics.

That's all right! I don't mind, too-generally-written FAQ. Email me at nick dot feinberg at google's email service dot com, replacing 'dot' with '.' and "google's email service" with the appropriate five-character name, and I will reply promptly and politely. You could also try to contact the infamous Mr. Zhang, who may post his contact information if he feels so inclined; this may be more appropriate if the question/feedback relates to one of his posts.

We (or I, at least) try to read all comments, but this is somewhat difficult; Blogger doesn't really provide any convenient way to tell which comments are new or unread. Email is probably more reliable. BUT - more dangerous. You could be infected by a rampant meme-worm, just by emailing me! Think of the risk!

(There is no such thing as a meme-worm.)


SUPER BONUS QUESTION VI: Are there any posts you'd particularly recommend to a new reader?

An older version of this guide has a number of links, none of which I'm particularly inclined to disown, at this moment. A potential project would be to compose a link of old posts that are probably worth reading; if and when I accomplish this, I'll update this question with a link. Until then: follow your heart!

(A good motto to close on.)