[SLACK ROLEPLAYING LOG] Diverted #demaria #storytelling #otherspace

Razorback steps out of a hover-vehicle and onto the pavement near the hub of the Demarian government. He looks around, rubbing his tongue against the roof of his mouth in disgust. He steps aside to allow the others to exit the vehicle, his ears cautiously sweeping the city noises for signs of danger.

Moments later, Colclough emerges from the vehicle to stand next to the significantly taller Demarian. He seems relatively untroubled as he taps a glowing blue node under his right ear, activating a shaded holographic lens across the upper half of his face. The display serves a dual purpose: protecting against the glare of Demaria’s twin suns and presenting Colclough with a cascade of vital data.

“Down this street,” the agent says, “and then the third left. We’re looking for Brownfoot’s Saucer in the western market district.”

Whiptail looks around in a bit of awe at the capitol city. “This place shore has grown up a bit.” he says. “Use’ta know it like the back of my paw, probably couldn’t even find the spaceport now.”

The Cliffwalker looks about him with a twinge of memory. “I know the feeling,” he mutters to Whiptail before he sets off down the indicated street. For whatever reason, he might seem to Whiptail to be more on edge than he was out in the wilderness.

That edginess might be justified by the handful of small drones skimming the edge of the market district as the busy afternoon crowds move to and fro. Particularly when cylinders affixed to the bellies of those drones give a soft hiss, releasing their contents in a fine, pine-scented mist that begins a descent toward the unsuspecting citizens below.

Whiptail twitches an ear as he hears the hiss, and looks towards the drones. “What in tarnation? That some new fangled, fancy schmancy city folk deal, sprayin’ air freshener in the market?” he says, looking totally bewildered.

Razorback looks over at Colclough, jerking his muzzle towards the tiny aircraft. “Yours?” he asks tersely, sniffing gently at the air.

“My what?” Colclough’s hearing isn’t quite as highly attuned as the Demarians. He follows Razorback’s snout-pointing. He adjusts the HUD implant via a subvocalized command, zooming in on one of the drones. “No. No ops planned in this area today. Certainly none that involve airborne deployment of…” His voice trails off as something flashes red in his sensor display. “Biological agent. Possibly viral. Unknown origin and lethality.” He activates his commlink: “Colclough to Catnip. Scramble an extraction craft to my location. Fast.” He scans the HUD, checks the wind drift speed. “Wear your hazmats.” He then looks at Razorback and Whiptail, saying, “Bad things afoot. How long can you hold your breath?”

Whiptail widens his eyes. “Ok… so it ain’t air freshener…” he says. “I kin hold mah breath for a while, but I ain’t gonna be able to do it forever.”

“Not much longer than you,” Razorback mutters to Colclough. He glances rapidly around him until he spots an office building with a helipad stories above the street. “There’s your extraction point,” he says, pointing up to it, “And your people must notify the local authorities, start an evacuation immediately.”

Not soon enough, it seems. As Colclough follows his Demarian companions toward the indicated office building, the first victims fall prey to the strange mist. A Demarian female coughs, sneezes, and her bright eyes fill with blood as she becomes enraged. She turns and lunges toward her mate, a male Demarian who *also* has become crazed and bloody-eyed, his jaws frothing. They tear at each other with fangs and claws. Blood splatters sandstone walls.

The violence continues to spread outward, as combatants sneeze and send infected droplets in all directions.

The Consortium Intelligence dropship settles onto the helipad, awaiting the arrival of Colclough, Razorback, and Whiptail.

“Whatever that stuff is, it’s makin’ ’em act like they bin possessed!” Whiptail says, running as fast as he can with what breath he has managed to pull in towards the dropship.

“Lock that door!” Razorback roars to the building receptionist as he races past the desk. A quick glance at the building’s directory points him to the stairs. If the door to the stairwell is locked, he merely tries to blast his weight through it.

Colclough is through the main door as the receptionist and a pair of security guards move to secure it. He turns to watch through the tinted glass wall as homicidal mayhem erupts on the outskirts of the Market District and begins to spread inevitably outward. He sees more drones whirring overhead and decides to stop gawking. He runs after Razorback and Whiptail as they ascend the stairs.

“I hope that there ship is fast, or we’re in fer ah heap o’ trouble!” Whiptail says as he climbs the stairs as fast as possible.

The Cliffwalker keeps glancing back at Colclough to check his progress, perhaps concerned that without him, none of them will leave the rooftop helipad. “One thing at a time, friend,” he calls to Whiptail as he glances at the nearest sign to ascertain what floor he has reached.

About the time they push through the door to the roof, far below the Demarians in particular can hear the shattering of glass and roars of intruders tearing into the lobby of the building.

Colclough’s HUD gets a message that reads: “LOCATION BREACH.” He motions to the waiting craft on the helipad and says, with overstated calm: “We should go.”

“Ya don’t have to tell me twice.” Whiptail says, darting into the dropship as fast as possible. “We better git this thing movin’, or we’re about to have a lot of company and they ain’t gonna be lookin’ to chew the fat with us!”

Razorback slams the door shut behind them once everyone has reached the pad before turning to board the craft himself. “This seems an unlikely coincidence,” he says to Colclough as they climb into the ship.

“The timing does seem rather suspect,” the CIS agent agrees as the dropship lurches from the helipad and arcs away from the building, above the violent chaos in the streets below.

The pilot, a Castori, burbles: “Weapons lock!”

Colclough catches a similar warning in his HUD, turns his attention to a rooftop about a half mile distant. “Evasive!” The Castori tries, and effectively dodges the first rocket-propelled grenade as it roars past the dropship.

But neither the Castori nor Colclough notice a shooter on a different building – a tower not far from the Alhira spaceport, wielding a shoulder-mounted plasma skylancer.

The beam pierces the dropship on a perpendicular, directly into the cockpit, setting the pilot ablaze. Despite his agonized screams, the pilot is still trying to navigate the dropship (poorly) when he slumps over dead from shock. Safety klaxons wail inside the dropship.

The ship starts a gradual descent, passing the outskirts of the city and easing out toward the dunes of the Sandmother.

Whiptail shields his eyes from the blast, but then training from times past kicks in, and he dives for the controls, trying to avoid the burning pilot as much as possible as he tries to wrangle the controls. “It ain’t no bumbler but I’m gonna do what I can to wrangle this thang!”

The Cliffwalker’s ears fold back into his mane as he braces himself in his seat. He marks the land as they pass, trying to keep their position in mind. “You might want to turn off your trackers,” he shouts to Colclough over the wind and fire.

The CIS agent almost doesn’t hear Razorback, so distracted is he by the task of trying frantically – and to no avail – to subvocalize commands across every known agency channel in the hopes of raising assistance. No response is forthcoming, which sparks some alarm in Colclough. When he finally registers what Razorback is saying, his first instinct is to say: “But if we turn off the trackers, no one can find us!” But then that alarm in his head grows a little louder, competing with the one blaring in the cockpit.

He deactivates the trackers in his implants, the green pulsing dot in his HUD goes to a steady, pale blue.

Of course, it all might be moot if the ship crashes and burns in the desert. He gives a nod to Razorback, glances toward Whiptail, genuflects for the first time in about 30 years, and finds a porthole to gaze out of for what might be his final seconds of life.

Whiptail works the control panel frantically, throwing switches as he maintains a grip on the controls. “Damn shot knocked the bumbler shit out of the stabilizers..” he grunts, fighting against the yoke which wants to go in any way other than that which Whiptail is trying to move it. He switches the descent thrusters to manual, and attempts to fire them as needed to maintain course as an augment to the damaged controls.

The Cliffwalker has by now strapped himself in as well as possible, bracing his body against what surfaces he can find. He watches the Sand Mother rushing towards them with a defiant glare. “Take me if you will,” he mutters quietly, “It is long past time.”

Colclough tilts his head as the dropship continues its unsteady descent, then turns his head toward the rear of the passenger cabin. Another quick twitch of his head brings the HUD back up. “Maybe,” he mutters aloud. Subvocally, he transmits: “Activate.”

The vessel’s engines suddenly go silent as the power is rerouted to what appears to be a hexagonal vortex of swirling blue energy.

“Not sure where that goes,” he admits to his fellow passengers, sliding out of his seat and into the aisle. “But it has to be better than what’s waiting in the desert. Or anywhere else on Demaria right now.”

With that, he passes through the portal with a hiss and a pop. The vortex swirls as the shuttle deepens its descent, threatening to spiral out of control.

Whiptail is taken aback at this turn of events, but he knows a useless situation when he sees it. Letting the yoke fall back to neutral, he heads for the vortex. “Without them engines, this thang is gonna fall faster than a freakin’ brick.” he says, looking back to the vortex. “Best take m’ chances in thar..” with that, he dives through the vortex.

The Cliffwalker just stares at the vortex for an excruciatingly long few seconds, almost as if contemplating just going down in the crash. “Sands,” he spits finally, then looks out the porthole at the approaching desert, “Another time, then.” And he jumps through.

Telecommuter’s Lament #amwriting #storytelling #struggles

Working at home works great for work. Not so much for creativity.

About a year ago, my supervisor asked if I wouldn’t mind giving up my cubicle on the fourth floor of an office park building about 30 minutes from home.

I didn’t put up any kind of fight. I packed my laptop and an extra monitor, drove home, and converted a corner of our upstairs bonus room into my workspace.

So much to love about this arrangement:

  • No commute. Great gas savings and reduced wear and tear on my car.
  • Relative autonomy while remaining connected to co-workers via email and Slack.
  • Freedom to care for our infant daughter in the mornings during the week, saving us money on child care.

I don’t have trouble focusing on work. Never have. Back in 1994, I launched a regional edition of The St. Petersburg Times from a spare bedroom in my house in Land O’Lakes, Fla. It took a few years to win approval for planting the flag with an actual strip mall bureau, so I already had plenty of work-from-home experience.

It’s not perfect, though.

One really challenging aspect of this arrangement: work brain never seems to turn off.

In the year since I started working from home, my creative productivity has plummeted. My work computer and personal computer sit on an L-shaped desk, inches apart, and yet – no matter the hour – 9 times out of 10, if I sit at this desk, my attention is turned to the work laptop and whatever the next thing is on my to-do list.

This week, I *finally* finished a roleplaying scene on OtherSpace that had been lingering for months. It wasn’t a crazy combat sequence, just characters talking to each other as part of a denouement for a crazy combat sequence that took just a couple of weeks to play out. That conversation scene? Started about a year ago.

I *did* manage several #bookstorewindow stories soon after the 20th anniversary of OtherSpace in June and July, but with the resurging obligations at work for product releases in August and October, I totally lost my creative focus and went into workbot machine mode.

I’m not sure how I’ll find balance. All I know for certain is that I must find that balance. I’m not getting any younger and the stories in my mind won’t just magically put themselves on a page. Scenes won’t run themselves on the Slack platforms.

I don’t suffer from the traditional kind of writer’s block where I can’t think of anything to write – I have a lot that I want to write, but I keep finding excuses to work instead.

It’s time to figure out how to compartmentalize my work obligations at home the way I could always compartmentalize my creative interests during work hours when I was at the office.

[SLACK ROLEPLAYING LOG] Back to the Farm #storytelling #demaria #otherspace

As promised, a herd of bumblers comes rolling into the village of Fakalienstadt on the third day. Razorback dismounts as soon as he is in sight of Greenwater’s home, looking around carefully and scenting the air in search of a potential trap.

Whiptail follows along keeping the herd in check. As they reach the village, he brings his mount to a stop and surveys the village in a similar manner, his eyes looking for anything out of the ordinary.

Fluffpaw follows the herd from the rear, her namesaked fluffy paws looking a little droopy and dusty. Her ears flick back and forth anxiously, every now and then turning to look behind her but instead just urges the bumblers onward. Once they’re all milling around lazily, she slowly nudges her mount forward, toward the rest of the group.

Whitepelt tracks along a short time later, tossing one of his daggers skyward, catching it by the hilt, over and over. He has little to say.

Razorback approaches Greenwater’s home and gives the door a knock, his ears canted alertly forward.

The door opens just a crack. Greenwater peeks through. “Yes?”

“Mr. Greenwater…” Razorback says, gesturing behind him towards the bumblers, “Your herd…”

The farmer opens the door further, looking out at the bumblers munching on the dusty grass outside. He looks at Razorback, then at the other wranglers. His eyes return to the Cliffwalker. Tears glisten. “You saved my family. My village!” He looks at the ground. “I can never repay you.”

“Well, t’weren’t nothin'” Whiptail says. “Anythin’ to put that Coldstar in her place, I’m all fer it.”

Fluffpaw’s ears flick back and forth as she inches forward. “What’s gonna stop them from coming and taking the herd again as soon as we’re gone?” she wonders aloud.

Razorback still seems agitated and alert, his ears swiveling around. He nods in agreement with Whiptail. “Some of us could use a warm meal and a bath, most likely,” he says, “But nothing beyond that.” Glancing behind him, he turns towards Fluffpaw. “The original herd was sold to compensate for higher taxes from the Coldstars,” he says, “And if that continues and the underclassers do not push back, and the surrounding nobles do not aid them,” he glances over at Whitepelt, “this will all fail.” (edited)

Greenwater opens the door further to grant entrance to the group. “You are welcome in my home, of course.” He bobs his snout in the direction of a human male sitting on a hide-covered couch in the common room. The man wears a dark suit that seems untouched by so much as a grain of sand. “I think you know Mr. Colclough.”

The Consortium Intelligence agent nods at Razorback. “Indeed.”

Whiptail looks between the human and Razorback. “What in tarnation?” he says, his tail twitching a bit in anxiety. “Somethin’ goin’ on here I should be knowin’ about, young feller?” he says to Razorback.

Fluffpaw is last one in and so she’s trying to peer between the furry bodies of her comrades to see who is getting gestured to. And her gaze goes between Whiptail and Razorback, tail lashing anxiously based on the tones going around. “What’s wrong?” she queries of the older Demarian.

The Cliffwalker is taken aback by this, his eyes narrowing, somewhat. “So it would seem,” he says to Whiptail in Demarese, a faint hint of a growl in his voice. “Mr. Colclough,” he says, switching to his heavily accented Terran, “I feel now as though I should have expected you. What draws your attention to this small village.” He scents the air more carefully, searching the house for evidence of any further surprises.

Colclough gives the faintest of smiles to Razorback. “This small village may well be the epicenter of recent problems in this planet’s capital.” He looks toward Greenwater. “I have been associated with this fellow for some time. He has provided significant information about the activities of Lady Coldstar and her minions.”

Whiptail raises an eye ridge at this. “So… you sayin’ we’re all on the same side here?”

“Who are they?” Fluffpaw queries. “Are they going to hurt the herd?” She clearly has her priorities and they have very little to do with the people inside.

“Of course you have,” Razorback rumbles to Colclough, “Two of my comrades died fighting something you could have put a stop to at will.” He glances over at Whiptail with a nod. “Indeed. For the moment at least,” he says before turning back to Fluffpaw, “Mr. Colclough works for the Consortium Government. He likely has no interest in the herd.”

“True enough,” Colclough replies. “My interests are of the bigger-picture variety. Specifically, I have reason to believe that Lady Coldstar and her allies played some role in the recent plot against the Consortium president.”

“Say what now?” Whiptail says. “I thought we were jes gettin’ a herd, what’s this all about tha President?”

A low rumbling growl builds up in Fluffpaw’s chest. “Why would anyone care about your President here? All we cared about what finding the herd.” She pins her dark stare on the client. “Why would you get mixed up in things that don’t matter?”

“There is some sort of effort being made to destabilize relations between Demaria and the rest of the Consortium,” Razorback explains to the others, “Including a conspiracy to use a Demarian assassin to kill the President.”  He looks to Colclough, his ears tightening a bit. “Though what Coldstar has to do with that, I know not.”

“Her brother with the scar might’ve been able to tell us more,” Colclough replies. “He had some communication – encrypted, we’re still trying to break it – with the agent who assassinated our friend aboard Galactix. And funds from a Coldstar-owned offworld company may have been transferred to the agent’s family after her death. Hoping to confirm that soon.”

Whiptail listens to this, and his eyes narrow. “Sounds like Coldstar jes ain’t our problem…. that pile a’ bumbler shit is a bigger threat than even I figgered.”

“I do not believe the scarred one survived,” Razorback rumbles quietly, “Though I doubt this is new information to you.” He sighs, glancing out at the herd for a moment as his tail twitches faintly behind him. “I do not suppose you would be interested in helping me compensate my companions,” he says, gesturing towards the other Demarians in a way that includes the biker outside, “If what you aim to do will help rid these farmers of their oppressor, I will aid you. But I can ask no more of these folk than they have already given.”

The Consortium agent quietly studies the companions for a few moments before returning his attention to Razorback. “Up to them,” Colclough says. “If they’ve got an interest in working against Lady Coldstar, I can see that they’re paid.”

“Ye got my support, young’un.” Whiptail says. “It’s time ta clean house.”

“Indeed,” the Cliffwalker says in agreement with the wrangler before turning towards Colclough, “How can we be of service in this matter?”

“You won’t like it,” Colclough assures Razorback. A taut smile, then: “We need to return to Alhira. The inspector wants to follow up on that interview.” He regards the others, adding: “And, of course, Senator Sandwalker should meet you all.”

“Been quite a spell since I’ve been to tha big city.” Whiptail says. “Wonder how it all looks now.”

Razorback’s ears flatten at Colclough’s pronouncement, a faint growl of irritation escaping him. “You are correct,” he grumbles, “I do not like it.”

[BOOKSTORE WINDOW] The Boy in Brown #amwriting #storytelling

The result of my sixth #bookstorewindow fiction writing exercise, inspired by the late Harlan Ellison, based on writing prompts supplied by Enigmatic, Entropymanor, and comics creator David Napier. Wrote it live on our Slack site in about 20 minutes:

The discombobulated devil chicken staggered across the damp cobblestone street, and the boy in brown followed.

“Come back, chick-chick!” the child called after his clucking quarry, his reddish-blonde curls wet from the now-misting rain. He waved the iron skillet over his head. “Let me hit you some more!”

“Fenrin!” The shriek came from above and to the right, where two shutters clattered open and a broad-faced woman stared down, red-cheeked, at the child. “Drop that skillet at once and leave the poor rooster alone.”

The boy hesitated, watched in frustration as the ruffled bird disappeared around the corner toward the Mercantik Bloc. “Awww,” he grumbled.

“Whose skillet is that, anyway?” His mother asked, eyes narrowing.

“I found it,” he said, not looking up.

“There you are!” Old Jasper Boots, wiry silver hair puffing around his mostly bald head, limped onto the Trade Road from Sway Alley. He waved a knotted oak cane at Fenrin, demanding: “Give that skillet back to me right this very moment, you conniving sneak-thief!”

The woman in the window gawked and snapped: “You watch what you call my boy, you rotten drunk!”

Boots stopped to poke his cane in the direction of the window. “Get a good man to raise that silly-haired mutt of yours, Gillen Monstep, maybe I wouldn’t have to call him anything!”

Her eyes widened. She ducked out of view.

“Better run,” Fenrin advised. He knew that look well enough.

“Skillet, boy,” the old man urged.

“You’ll be sorry,” the child warned him. Again. He knew perfectly well why his mother had such a difficult time with relationships. She often ended them. Violently. Something he expected a wise old crack like Jasper Boots to know too.

But wisdom didn’t always amount to intelligence. The old man was still standing on the street, shaking his cane at the boy, when the kitchen knife slammed into his right shoulder.

He stumbled backward, a baffled look on his face as he gingerly tapped the hilt of the knife jutting out. His mouth fell open, then he looked up at the window to see Gillen Monstep holding two more knives just like it – one in each hand.

“Next one goes in the other shoulder,” she said calmly. “After that, I give your other leg a limp.”

“Lunatic woman,” Boots whined.

“I told you to run,” Fenrin said, raising the skillet over his head. “But now I want you to stay right where you are.” He took a step toward the old man.

Jasper Boots turned and limped away as quickly as he could. The boy ran after, shouting, “Come back, chick-chick!”

“My boy,” Gillen said with a smile, setting down the knives and closing the shutters.

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