Category Archives: Short Fiction
“Bad Motivator,” An Interview With R5-D4 About Returning to Star Wars
This parody interview contains minor spoilers for Episode 3, Season 2 of “The Mandalorian.”
written by The Most Interesting Fan in the World
“The SAO (“Sentient Artifical Organism”) actor knows as “Red” famously portrayed the role of heroic droid “R5-D4” in Star Wars: A New Hope. Now with their return to the role in the most recent episode of the Disney/Lucasfilm series “The Mandalorian,” Red’s agreed to join us for a short interview.
“First, Red, thanks so much for joining us. We’re a huge fan of your work, and thrilled to have you with us.”
Beep-toot whiiiiir boop.
“Ha! I bet it is. So, let’s start with some background. You’re best known for your role as R5-D4 in the original Star Wars movie. Was that your start in acting?”
Boop-whoooooooo. Tweetoot beeple pop-whir wheeee. Tootle-doot boop beedple beep.
“That’s fascinating. So after those roles in college and community theater, what took you to Hollywood?”
Weeeee-do dappa deep whuuuuuu dot dep dop doot.
“Really? I’ve gone over your online credits a lot, and neither Dark Star nor Death Race 2000 are ever mentioned. Was the work uncredited?”
Boop-whoo. Deet doot rooooo boople.
“Sure, that makes sense. Have you done a lot of that kind of foley and sound effect work?”
Dwooo-woot woop boop woot.
“Of course, we all have to pay the bills. So, it’s the mid 1970s, you’re doing sound effects for scifi films, and…”
“Sorry, of course. So, to be accurate, sound effects for a range of films and television. And then you get the call to audition for Star Wars. What was that process like?”
Whooop-dooo. Dweeboot deeple whot-whir dweeee. Dootle-doot beep boodple deed. Twooo-dwoot woop roop woot. Deedweee-do boppa dweep dhuuu whot peep duup woot.
“And have you and Mark Hamill kept in touch since then?”
“That’s always great to hear. Do in A New Hope, you’re in one scene, where you are about to be bought by the Lars family, and then you shoot out sparks and stop moving, and Luke says you have a bad motivator, so R2D2 is taken instead. What was your thought process when preparing for that scene?”
Whirr-hum, beep boop beep boop, whuzz-whirrlpop chirp-doop, beep. Hum squawk pops. Whee-whoo whoosh, oop, fweep-fwop-fwop-fwop.
“Oh, that’s really interesting, So, to you, the Bad Motivator wasn’t about being able to roll around, but entirely about R5 being not being motivated to leave its Jawa home and work?”
Dwee-dwoo dwoosh, fwop-fwop.
“That’s great, and it really shows you got deep into that character, even though you only had the one scene. Do you feel that lack of motivation has been a key part of R5’s personality in the years since.”
“Well, sure, the Expanded Universe got pretty weird.”
Plip-plop-plip, chugga chugga woop.
“Oh, I had no idea you were consulted for those comics!”
Whooop-doo. Dwip-dee-doo. Doot-deet beep bop. Throop.
“Wow, nice. It’s a shame that never got past the storyboard stage. So, let’s talk about playing the character again, after so long, You had a few scenes in the first and seasons of the Mandalorian, as well as the Book of Boba Fett. How did that come about?”
Deedle-dop-deep bop bleep duup wop. Zing.
“Yes, it’s clear Jon Favreau is a fan of deep continuity.”
Whizz-whoop-bop. Zwoop… beedle-bop-deet.
“What was it like, being on a Star Wars set again?”
Woop-dwoop-beep-bop. Shwip boop. Dwee-dwee-dwee. Whoop.
“Yes, I imagine is IS a great deal more comfortable than Tunisia, especially for an SAO.
“So you had your cameos, got a few lines, but not much more than that. Did those three seasons of acting do anything to reinvigorate your career?”
Dwoot toot bleed-beep Dalek.
“Oh, wow! I’ve seen all the recent Doctor Who episodes, and I didn’t recognize you in any of them.
“Whooooooooooooo. Bleep deep skeeeeee-tot.
“And was that your first time wearing that much make-up?”
Wee-dleep boppa beep. Twoot zeeple pop-whir beboop.
“It absolutely is nice to be able to expand your range and experience like that. Okay, so you’re seeing some more interest, going to more conventions…who called you to talk about doing a bigger role in The Mines of Mandalore episode for this season?
Wooo-wheeeee. Bleep-boop, whirtle dweep dep booo.
“Oh, I had no idea she’d gone into producing after Return of the Jedi. Did she have any acting roles after 9D9?”
Beep boop dwee tweet toot.
“Yes, I can absolutely see how the skill translates over into producing. So, she gives you the call, and asks if you’ll do another episode. Did she let you know it’d be a much bigger part, larger even than your original scene from A New Hope?”
Beep dweep who-hu-ooo.
“So ‘adventure droid’ got mentioned really early, huh? And what was it like, getting back into this iconic character for multiple scenes, including have some shots where you’re the only character on-screen?”
Dweep-bee-beep. Beedoot beeple zot-zhir dwoooooooo. Boole-boot bot.
“I did notice that. And was that all an expansion of your original interpretation of having a ‘bad motivator’? Or was that in the script when you got it?”
Wheet boop beep-bot-tweeee be-beep. De-do-da-deetle deet, dwoop beboo zoot whee.
‘It’s great to hear you got to be part of that creative process. Any final thoughts you’d like to share with us?”
De-deep wheeple wot beeee-whu huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu… beep.
“Sure. Everyone else seems to be getting a spin-off!”
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The Troll of Deep Ellum
Miles looked at the pile of boneless chicken wings on the tv tray, and sighed. He’d ordered 30, in 6 different sauce flavors, and had eaten 17 or 18 so far. The pile that was left was more than enough food for a normal person, and the pain in his gut told him it was going to be a slog to get through it all. Not to mention the few remaining fried pickles, a slice of carrot cake, and a slice of fudge cake, which he’d taken a few bites of before deciding the flavor didn’t go well with the garlic butter wings he’d begun with.
The remaining 2 cans of Cherry Bomm soda would help, of course. And, if he had to, he could get up and grab another 6-pack. Miles couldn’t remember if he’d already eaten the 5 teriyaki wings. If not, he’d definitely need more soda, the teriyaki sauce from this place was saltier than he liked, but he kept ordering it. Just like he’d keep eating the food, though he’d stopped enjoying it one full sauce flavor ago. But the taste let him feel something, and stuffing food into his gob until he was in pain was one of the few ways he could claim control over his life.
It was just a matter of timing. Hauling his 550 lb. mass out of the powered recliner he spent most of every day in wasn’t something he undertook at a whim. Just getting more Cherry Bomm wasn’t a good enough reason to undergo the effort. But, other errands beyond arm’s reach were beginning to pile up. He needed to pee, for one thing. He also hadn’t grabbed the game controlled before sitting down the last time he’d been up and around, two hours ago when the food delivery had arrived. And he was beginning to get worse-than-usual heartburn, so some antacids might be in order as well.
Plus Edward, his cat, was going to want to be fed soon as well. Edward’s dry kibble feeder was on a timer, but the massive, fluffy, red ragdoll got a single can of wet food every night, and that had to be done by hand. It was, honestly, a lot of work for Miles, given the food had to be put on the floor, and the old bowl picked up, and Edward insisted on being underfoot as soon as he realized it was gooshiefood time. But Edward was also one of the only creatures in the world whom Miles loved and who loved him in return, so he made the effort every night, without fail.
So, there really was enough to justify the effort to stand and stomp heavily about his tiny basement apartment, getting things done. Miles shrugged internally, and pushed the thought aside for now. He was watching one of his favorite shows, the one about people who forged swords, and it would be done in 10-15 minutes anyway. He could pause it at any time of course, like everything he watched it was streaming and on-demand, but it was a good enough excuse to procrastinate a little longer against the unpleasantness of having to bear his own weight.
A loud burp signaled he likely had enough room for another boneless wing, so Miles dutifully plucked a sticky, sauce-covered lump from the cardboard container they’d come in, and swirled it first in blue cheese dressing, then ranch. One reason he ordered from this restaurant so often was their boneless wings were really huge — two-to-three times the mass of a fast food nugget. So it was the work of more than a bite to chew up the fried breading and meat, even for someone with his vast experience eating. Normally, the second (and if needed) third bite came hot on the heels of swallowing the first one, but the heartburn grew worse as he swallowed. Miles decided to put down the remaining hunk of food–carefully balanced inside the big cup of blue cheese, so he’d know which one was partially eaten–and try to wash it down with a swig of over-caffeinated sickly sweet cherry-citrus soda.
As he held his sausagelike arm up to keep the can at his lips, a muscle spasm shot through it and made him tremor. His grip slipped, for just a second, and a splash of Cherry Bomm leaped onto his smooth double chin, dripping down to join a smear of fudge frosting and some atomic buffalo sauce on his t-shirt. Though a wave of revulsion shot through Miles as both the state of his hygiene, and the fact he was so weak he could pull an arm-muscle drinking soda, there was no sign of it on his face. His self-loathing was too common and familiar to be worth getting upset over.
Then the lights went out all over his apartment, and the television blinked to black silence.
Miles put down his soda, and closed his eyes. He was pretty sure he’d paid the electric bill — he’d had a nice run of art commissions from people who found AI-generated images couldn’t scratch their need to see customized anthropomorphic animal porn, a big part of his regular clientele — so while his credit cards were all still way too full, his bills should all be up-to-date. But if he’d forgotten, or if the bank had screwed him by suspending his payment for “unusual activity” again, it would likely mean going to a bill-paying service in person. Which was a horror that far outstripped mundane indignities like standing up.
Opening his eyes, he strained to look out one of the thin windows running along the very top of the wall in his main room, the only visual access his apartment had to the outside world. It was well past sundown, and raining, so it wasn’t that surprising no light was coming through, but it gave Miles some weak hope. If power was out on the whole block, that wasn’t something he was responsible for fixing. Given the rain, he could almost convince himself that, this time, he wasn’t the one who had fucked up.
His chair shuttered lightly, and a warm, comforting presence pressed up against his right calf. Miles fumbled for a moment to find his smartphone in the dark, then struggled to stab the tiny icons on its screen with his fat fingers, but in a moment he toggled its flashlight function, and spotlighted Edward in the cone of brightness.
Edward was a huge cat for the ragdoll breed, even ignoring how fluffy his red-and-cream fur was, or how chonky he was. Miles often suspected there were some Maine coons, or Norwegian forest cats, sitting proudly in the branches of Edward’s family tree. But the cat had adopted him when he’d first moved into the tiny back-ally apartment, and hadn’t come with any papers or family history. And, honestly, as a kitten Edward had been so cute Miles hadn’t asked any questions. Even taking the feline to the vet regularly, and paying to have a groomer make monthly house calls, were small prices to pay for Edward’s companionship.
Edward’s eyes were slit against the smartphone’s light, but he still hopped onto Miles’ belly and paced up it to gently head-butt Miles’ face. The pressure of the cat’s thirty-one pounds on his chest made Miles realize both his arm pain and heartburn had gone away, which was a welcome if surprising relief. Miles was in some kind of pain most of every day, and rarely did it retreat quickly or without a fight.
“Heya, Edward buddy. Wanting your can of gooshie?”
As always, Miles hated the sound of his own voice. He always thought it sounded like he was slowly being smothered in his own fat which, if he was being honest, was essentially true.
Edward sat back on Miles’ belly, and regarded him calmly, which was pretty typical behavior. Then the cat spoke, which very much was not.
“I do, my dearest, but to my annoyance, it’s going to have to wait.”
The voice was a pleasant and even tenor, with no specific accent Miles could identify, and exactly the way Miles had always thought Edward would sound if he spoke. Which, somehow, was even more surprising than the fact the cat just had spoken.”
“Ah,” began Miles, followed by “Um..” and an “Er…”
“Yes,” said Edward, calmly. “I can talk. Or, rather, you can hear. I’m not any different than I was this afternoon. You, on the other hand…”
Edward locked his gaze on Miles’ eyes.
“You’re dead, my sweet human.”
“Well, crap,” replied Miles. “So… not heartburn and a pulled arm muscle?”
“No, of course not.” Edward sounded just slightly annoyed. “You had a massive heart attack, which I am sure is a surprise to neither of us. Your heart was dead long before your brain, which is why you experienced it as much as you did. In fact, your brain isn’t truly ‘dead’ now, though it’s close enough for us to get started.”
“Uh-huh,” said Miles. “So, this is just the last, feeble sparks of dying neurons conjuring something comforting before I pass into oblivion?”
“No,” said Edward. “Well, not mostly. I mean, THAT is.”
Edward tilted his head toward the kitchenette, and Miles let his gaze follow despite the darkness his phone light wouldn’t normally penetrate. But, in the kitchen, it wasn’t dark. Instead, it was softly lit in pastel blues and yellows, and his mother was standing there. Not truly in his cramped kitchenette, but standing in front of the oven of his childhood home’s kitchen, smiling to herself as she pulled a tray of chocolate-and-caramel-chip cookies out of the oven. The smell hit Miles like a fist made of pure nostalgia, and the memory of how those cookies had tasted struck him immediately after.
Without giving any thought to how much work it would be, he began to stand…
Only to have Edward place one paw firmly on his chest and, somehow, keep him pinned in the recliner. Miles glanced at the cat, then back at his mother, but she was gone. Cruelly, the smell of fresh cookies lingered.
“Sorry,” said Edward gently. “I wish you could just go, maybe find your way to the Bright Lands, and I’d come with you. But you are called, she’ll be here soon, and I need to prepare you.”
–End Part One
Feedback and Support
As with most of the short fiction I present here, the chance this will be continued is based directly on how many people suggest they’d like to read more of it. And, feedback from my supporters on Patreon, which make this entire blog possible, will unsurprisingly have the greatest weight.
Nobody ever pays much attention to Slammer, Oklahoma. Sure, it’s weird that there’s one Big House where the mayor lives, and everyone else is in tiny cabins and do farm work. And yeah, now that you mention it it’s odd that so many of the residents are cyborgs, floating brains, talking wombats, and the floating brains of talking wombat cyborgs.
But, it’s not like the whole town is populated by nothing but paroled super-villains, living under the watchful eye of the God of Dungeons just so they can live some semblance of a normal life, right?
And when tornadoes tear and flooding through Slammer and all the surrounding counties, taking out the God of Dungeons and doing a ton of damage and putting lives at risk, how are the ex-villains going to react to the combination of sudden unmonitored freedom, and a massive natural disaster?
Rob a bank?
STEAL a bank?
All of the above? …
The Mighty Justiciar’s League
Jacob Blackmon and I will be doing more with this group in time (for Mutants & Masterminds and ICONS, is the current plan, with Mike Lafferty’s help), but I like sharing bits of this new supers world and it’s biggest and most powerful hero group, the Mighty Justiciar’s League, as it develops.
Here’s the current lineup.
From Left to Right, they are:
A heroine who has been fighting supernatural and fascist threats since the 1930s, Thrae is gifted with “Melissa’s Sting,” and nearly a century of experience and training. She is bulletproof, superhumanly strong, carries and indestructible spear, flies, and can shrink down to the size of a bee, gaining a ranged blast power when that size.
She also called forth the heroes who became the founding members of the Mighty Justiciar’s League in order to stop a great disaster she saw unfolding, and was the first member and chairperson of that organization.
An eoten orphan taken in, trained, and raised as his own son by the Giant Emperor Ægishjálmur, one of the greatest of Stormhammer’s nemeses. Ægishjálmur plotted to set him against Stormhammer once he was of age, but Stormlad eventually saw through to Ægishjálmur’s true nature and tried to prevent him from killed innocent mortals. Ægishjálmur sought to destroy Stormlad, but was stopped by Huntsman, Stormshield, and Stormhammer, the last embracing Stormlad as kin and placing to be raised with the same mortal parents who raised him.
Stormlad is not as strong or tough as Stormhammer or Stormshield, and has no divine powers, but has a beginning mastery of rune magic allowing him to do things they cannot. He is a senior member of the Young Justiciars, and thus a reserve member of the Mighty Justiciar’s League.
The Last Aisir, Stormhammer is powerful beyond the ken of mortals. He bears the rune Úr on his chest to mark his name, Vænn, meaning Hope. He is the strongest and most resilient of all known heroes, the storms obey his divine will, and his eyes and ears cannot be deceived. Only shards of shattered Mjolnir weaken him. He is among the heroes summoned by Thriae to stop a great disaster she saw unfolding, and became a founding member of the Mighty Justiciar’s League.
Eirwind, daughter of Queen Freya Valkyr, Stormshield is the Last Valkyrie. Raised by Helalok to ensure a valkyrie would remain to carry Stormhammer’s slain form to Valhalla, she is Queen of Valkyries, has the strength and might of a goddess, is commander and guardian of the Honored Dead, and inheritor to the hair and armor of Sif, and the artifact-shield Svalinn. She was unwilling to take Stormhammer’s life unjustly, turned from Helalok, and joined the Mighty Justiciar’s League.
Jessica Steele is the current Green Knight, an agent of the Spectrum Corps (who send sets of 7 Spectrum Weapons to each of the 667 Cosmic Anchors that stabilize the space-time continuum). Earth has had many waves of Spectrum Corps agents sent over the centuries, with each agent in each wave deciding for themselves how best to keep the Cosmic Anchor secure. Jessica Steele is a genius engineer who spent her career designing exosuits to protect first-responders and augment their ability to help in disaster situations, but had yet to find a functioning power sources for her most potent designs. While helping evacuate civilians in the disaster that caused Thriae to call upon those who would form the Mighty Justicier’s League, which occurred exactly as the Spectrum Corps was assigning a new set of Spectrum Weapons to Earth, Steele’s heroism caused her to be granted the Grün Zweihänder, making her Spectrum Agent Green. She realized the sword could power her most advanced armor, and immediately joined the fight, later becoming a founding member of the Mighty Justiciar’s League.
The adopted then orphan survivor of a wealth family who were killed by huntsman spiders guarding a secret land his parents hoped to raid for antiquities and exploit when he was a child, Huntsman was saved with an experimental antivenin that granted him spiderlike abilities, including the ability to process input from 8 different inputs (though he had to have a helmet designed to input such data, as he didn’t grow extra eyes), and superhuman strength, speed, and balance. He has given away the majority of his parents fortune, and become Huntsman to ensure the privileged and powerful don’t tread on justice and fairness the way his family did. In addition to his mutated enhancements, he has dedicated his life to being a trained criminologist and tracker. He is among the heroes summoned by Thriae to stop a great disaster she saw unfolding, and became a founding member of the Mighty Justiciar’s League.
Since it’s inception, the Mighty Justiciar’s League has been the target of multiple major foes and fiendish organizations, including the Lawbreaker Legion (formed of notable foes of all the Justiciar’s members), The Morlock King (a time-travelling cannibal monarch from 100,000 years in the future), the Crime Church (an ancient cult who literally worship lawbreaking), the Conquering Star (a sentient star that runs an evil empire of fusion entities that wish to turn all matter into plasma), the Jotunn Guard (super-powered giants and Ægishjálmur’s interdimensional strike force), Ultriac (the ultimate intelligence, an AI wishing to destroy all life, which was created by an ex-Justiciar when trying to prove biological heroes were too variable to be trusted), Penumbro (the Shadow God, who wishes to crush the light of hope), Doctor Future (a time travelling genius and android-maker who believes the Justiciars must be destroyed to humanity will toughen up enough to avoid being conquered by the Morlock King), Exergy (the cosmic embodiment of all the unused potential in the universe), Crimson Brigade (a now-rogue spacefaring peacekeeping force created by the Spectrum Corps before the Spectrum Weapons) , Korgath Vralk (an ancient reptilian sorcerer from a billion-year-old lost civilization from early earth), Genghis Kong (a super-genius gorilla psychic and conqueror), The Central Assassination Industry (superkillers-for-hire), Fimbulwinter (the personification of endless winter and night), the Slaugh (shapeshifting ancient sorcerous aliens), O.P.T.I.C. (Organization for Powerful Technologies, Intelligences, and Construction), the Madalief (crime cartel), the Kruthe (hostile and warlike colonizing alien species), Dark Justiciar (undead versions of the Justiciar’s from an alternate reality where the undead rule supreme), and the Demo Team (thug villains for hire).
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Short Fiction: “Plan Z”
Introduction: The Tao of Jim
If you’re readying this, there’s a good chance you already know more about how Plan Z worked out than I do now while writing it. I don’t know if it’s more likely that you’re a bored schoolkid reading a dog-earned third edition of a book made from my writing, or another survivor holding a blood-stained copy you pulled out from under my corpse while wondering what hubris lead to my demise, but either way you’re seeing the end result of our efforts, and I’m still uncomfortably near what still feels like the beginning.
But either way, you’re likely wondering how this manuscript, and the place I’m writing it in, came about. And that means you need to understand Plan Z. To understand how Plan Z came about, you have to understand our friend Jim. Which, I mean… it’s not like any of us really understand Jim…
Okay, let me try to explain.
So, first, Jim doesn’t process information like anyone else I know. He has a deep, subconscious need to connect any information he has to a potential explanation for it. It doesn’t matter if that explanation is silly, iffy, or obviously wrong–he has to have some rationale to link to anything he sees, hears, thinks of, or watches. If he can’t, if he runs into anything that doesn’t make sense to him, it eats him up inside until he finds a way to attach a rationale, any rationale, to the unexplained.
If a movie has a huge plot hole, Jim is bothered by it until he (or often someone else) can provide reasoning–no matter how far-fetched–on how it could have happened. If he hears about an unsolved mystery, he has to study and research it until he has a potential solution figured out. If someone does something stupid, he has to theorize about it until he can come up with a theoretical example of what the hell they were thinking that made them do it. It doesn’t matter if he’s learning about a crime of passion, a b-movie full of plot holes, or archeological artifacts found with no context. If he comes across something that doesn’t have a clear, well-laid-out history of how and why it happened, he needs to make one up for himself.
To be clear, Jim knows this isn’t rational, but it’s just part of who he is. It’s actually one reason he got into the University of West Colorado’s Tabletop Game League, where we all met him. Games make sense to Jim — you do things because there were rules, and if a rule is unclear or contradictory everyone agrees it has to be fixed. When he joined the League was mostly focused on wargames and roleplaying games (especially Atomic Age, Glaive 4000AD, NapoleonPunk, and Wyverns & Woodlands), and Jim prefers trading card games and boardgames (due to cleaner and tighter rules I suspect), but he played whatever was most popular… even if he didn’t enjoy it.
By the way, if I’m making Jim sound stupid, I have done him a disservice. Jim is among the smartest people I have ever met. He never forgets a fact, sees how things are interconnected and impact one another, can plan, iterate, theorize, and design at levels few can match. His mind tends more towards concrete systems — math, engineering, things where he can be sure that event x inevitably leads to result y — but in that arena he’s a genius.
Which, sadly, sometimes caused him problems.
Often, Jim will mentally envision complex patterns of events he blames for apparently random events. Someone didn’t just get hit by a car and killed because life sucks. No, if someone was hit by a car, then they weren’t wearing reflective enough clothing. Or they had to walk because they didn’t have a bike. Or the reason the driver didn’t see them was that the car didn’t have tinted directional fog lights. To stay sane, Jim has to blame everything bad on some failure to plan or prepare.
As a result, Jim has spent his entire life building up a mental list of things he needs to be ready for. Whether those things are likely enough that it’s rational to be prepared for them isn’t what matters to Jim. Instead, he preps for whatever he’s spent time agonizing to make sense of, and what steps he can take to prevent a similar “nonoptimal outcome.” Even when I first met him, Jim’s truck was practically a roving emergency shelter and mini-pharmacy for like, 12 people. Jim didn’t just want to keep himself safe from his long list of potential disasters, he needed to be able to protect his friends as well.
And that brings us to point two about him.
Jim is desperate for a close social circle, and doesn’t trust his own personality, choices, or preferences to build it for him. A gaming club was perfect for him, because we’d invite anyone who wanted to play to game days, and if he showed up he was part of the group. I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took us to realize Jim was willing to be unhappy in order to be included, but in our defense we were young, stupid, and often drunk. But as long as we didn’t actively tell Jim to go away, he was always happy to hang out. And, as a core group of us became fast friends, we befriended Jim–at least as best we could. Some of us left college to begin careers while Jim got a Master’s Degree… and a second Master’s Degree, and started on a third Master’s Degree. But most of the Monday Night Heroes stayed close enough to campus that we could get together for Monday Game Night most weeks.
And as we dated, married, had fights and falling outs and make-ups and parties, Jim was just always there. For the Monday Nighter’s, Jim became part of the background of our lives. He was invited to celebrations, movie nights, road trips, and he never said no. I suspect Jim was actually really lonely, since we weren’t smart enough to ever think about what he wanted to do. He invited us to do a few things that interested him: camping, hunting, canning, quilting, pressing flowers, Historical Martial Arts practice… but we almost never accepted. And, for whatever reason, he didn’t click with the communities that were interested in those things. So if we did anything, or needed anything, or wanted anything, Jim was there. In short, Jim was a good friend.
The rest of us, maybe not so much.
Finally, and this is crucial to how things panned out, while none of us realized it, Jim was rich. I’m not surprised we had no idea, since he wore the same clothes until they fell apart, drove a 30-year old suv, ate store-brand canned food, lived in a 450-square-foot apartment that was once a garage, and had no interest in expensive things. But his family had owned multiple ranches, and he’d inherited them all. Some had oil wells paying him royalties. Many were leased to other ranchers, or loggers, and one had ended up having a suburb develop around it, so Jim had houses built and rented out an entire small neighborhood. He had a personal banker, a personal lawyer… and I guess we all knew that, but we just chalked it up to his family having lots of professional friends.
But, no. Jim had money. Lots of money.
In a way, I’m glad no one seemed to realize that. I’m not convinced I could have kept myself from taking advantage of Jim wanting friends and being rich, and he doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. I’m only alive today because Jim decided I was a friend, and to be honest I haven’t really done anything to deserve that. But without Jim’s psychological quirks, interest in nerdy things, membership in our social circles, genius intellect, and surprisingly deep pockets, Plan Z never would have happened. And even with all that, it only happened because of a power outage.
It’s true. This all started on a cold, dark night. I’ll explain.
While Monday nights were always for gaming, we often had what we called the “Cheese and Cheese Gathering” on Saturdays. The event was specifically designed to watch a cheesy scifi or fantasy movie, and eat a cheese-based dinner and snacks. Yes, it’s stupid, but we had fun, and Jim loved it. He knew what to expect. He could bring anything with cheese flavor, and it was welcomed as appropriate to the event. Sliced cheese? Sure, gimme a slice. Cheeseburgers from the McClown drivethru? Classic. Novelty cheddar soda? What the heck, we need something to get us through watching Cyborg Cannibal Clowns 3 – the Clownening, pop me open a can.
The night Plan Z was born, we were watching Dusk of the Living Dead and enjoying pizza-topping-nachos and cheddar-crusted chicken nuggets, when the power went out. There was a snowstorm, which honestly was worse than we’d been prepared for, and when everything went dark in the whole neighborhood all at once, we realized no one was going home that night. We had enough candles, and Jim had 4 camping lanterns, a backup generator, weather radio, sleeping bags, and MREs in his truck, so we weren’t worried. But, as we set up a faux-camp in Dana and Dale’s living room and sat up through the night, we got bored.
I wouldn’t have remembered exactly who was there that night, but Jim wrote it down on page 1 of what became the Plan Z Survival Guide. There was Jim, me (I’m Casey), Dana and Dale (it was at their house), Jayden, Liam, Mia, and Sanjay. That was pretty much a full house in those days–Jordan had stopped coming around after Mia quite-rightly slapped him, Nevaeh hadn’t really joined the clique yet, and Roger never came to Cheese and Cheese because he and Dale never got along. So we managed to entertain ourselves for a bit by talking about what we’d each done that week, arguing about politics, religion, and pizza styles, and telling bad jokes. But, eventually, conversation lulled.
Then, Jim asked us why the characters in Dusk of the Living Dead had decided to take shelter in a Giganto-Mart when everyone started turning into zombies. While it had lots of useful stuff, he pointed out that it would be a target for any survivalist groups still around, the front of it was all breakable glass windows, and (as the movie was showing when the power cut out), once zombies got inside, there’d be no good way to keep them from roaming over the whole store.
And so, for lack of any better topic, we began figuring out the best plan for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.
It was a surprisingly Socratic event. Someone would postulate something, like claiming the best place to hole up would be in a cabin in the mountains, and the rest of us would ask questions to test that claim. Were the woods really the best place? Was a cabin the best option? What about an old-style prison, with stone walls and guard towers? But would the prisoners be a high risk factor? Well, not if it was a decommissioned prison. Would such a place be in good repair? It could be, if it was bought in advance and maintained and updated for survival. What kind of updates and supplies? Well, food, weapons, survival gear, maps, a library of how-to books, at least. Farm equipment? Maybe, how many people are going to shelter here? Well, 7-8 is supposed to be the ideal size for survivalist groups. What about repopulation? Okay, you’d need a bigger group for that, but if you start with 7-8 and they form the leadership of a community made up of survivors who find them…
We spent all night doing it, Our smartphones still had reception, so we could look up facts, locations, pricing, storage, shelf life of foods, the most common ammo type in the state, what crops would be best, what skills you’d want people to have, and how would you arrange in advance for people with those skills to join you? Of course we didn’t think there was any chance there’d be a zombie apocalypse, and we certainly couldn’t have predicted what actually killed the world. We were just goofing around.
Jim was taking notes.
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“Questioning,” A Pride Poem by Alexander Augunas
Pride Month is not for me. I’m an ally, and my job this month is to boost and support the voices of others that Pride *is* for.
So, here is a poem offered up by my dear friend, Alexander Augunas.
#MoviePitch: The Vampire (A Universal Monster Shared Universe Concept)
How do you get a Universal Pictures Monsters shared universe off the ground? By focusing on making one awesome story that stands on its own, but does so in a way that picks up threats from the most popular such movies in recent memory, is inclusive and modernized, and hints at a larger world without taking time away from the things important to your first film. Here’s my pitch:
It is 1950. In communist Romania, Alex O’Connell (early30s white, British, he/him), son of Lord Rick O’Connell and Lady Evelyn O’Connell, manages to gain permission for an archaeological team to catalog and record items being removed from an ancient abbey in the Carpathian Mountains prior to its demolition as part of a plan to build a massive road to access the Transylvanian Plain. The Romanian official warns Alex he is only doing this as a favor to Alex’s parents, who were allies during the War and in the troubled years afterward.
Alex brings the good news to Jonsey Johnson (early 30s, black, French/American dual citizen with links to Paris and Harlem), the head of expedition security, and Doctor Mary Jessica Van Helsing (early 30s, white, Dutch, she/her), the expedition’s leader. The three talk about the archaeological value of such a mission, as well as the political and regional dangers, and all three hint their parents raised them to be… cautious. Alex has a cat. Jonsey has a German shepherd. Mary has a fancy white rat. The three animals get along surprisingly well.
Meanwhile at the Abbey, looters are holding local workers at gunpoint, forcing them to use their digging tools to break through the back of the abbey’s basement wall. The looters have an old map that claims the “Eyes of the Dragon” have been locked away in a secret chamber. The looters think these are gems.
But the Eyes of the Dragon actually refers to Dracula, who leaks out of a tomb under the Abby in a mist form when the wall is cracked, and one by one turns the looters and workers into his ghoul minions. Only one manages to flee out of the abbey, into the sunlight.
Alex, Jonsey, and Mary (and their expedition) reach the base camp at one end of the Carpathian pass, but find the nearby Abbey abandoned. All three become very suspicious, and eventually find the survivor from the Abbey dig, who explains what he saw. Alex asks if there were hieroglyphics, or Chinese or Aztec symbols. Confused, the worker says no. Jonsey asks if there were vials, chemical agents, or signs of drug making. More confused, the worker says no. Mary asks if there were symbols of dragons and inverted crosses. The survivor says there were… maybe. He wasn’t paying much attention.
The expedition decides to send the laborer back to the big city with half the expedition’s Romanian guards, to report the attack to the government. Alex, Joney, and Mary all three slip him letters to send to their respective parents, each without the others knowing. They establish a base camp.
That night, the base camp is attacked by ghouls. The main character’s pets all send up warnings, allowing Alex, Jonsey, and Mary to gear up with their respective monster hunting equipment. (Alex’s are in the false bottom of a steamer trunk. Jonsey’s are stashed in musical instrument cases. Mary’s are secreted away in a hidden drawer of her traveling work desk.) During the fight, they run into each other, and realize they all have anti-monster experience.
Mary: “You’ve fought vampires before?”
Alex: “Vampires? Those are real?! No, mummies. Mostly. And one dragon.”
Jonsey: “Mummies are real? I’ve fought vampires and a dragons, yeah. Never a mummy.”
Mary: “Dragons? Like, fire-breathing flying lizards? Those are real?!”
Curious as to how his ghoul’s attack was repulsed, Dracula visits the camp the next day. He asks one of their team-members if he can enter the camp, and is told yes, causing Dracula to give a big smile. He goes up to Alex, Jonsey, and Mary, and asks if they were the ones to treat his pets so harshly the night before. Alex begins to draw down on Dracula, but Jonsey stops him, asking the vampire if he was invited into the camp. He affirms he was, and Jonsey rolls her eyes. Mary then tells Alex a vampire can’t attack them while he is their guest, and if he is attacked they’ll be cursed.
Alex notes he thought vampires couldn’t move about in daylight. Dracula asks where he got that idea, and Mary confirms it’s true for some vampires, but not Carpathians. Jonseynotes it doesn’t apply to a lot of Non-western bloodsuckers.
Dracula says he is unsurprised they were able to send his servants fleeing, because Alex reminds him of his most beloved servant and general. Almost as if the spirit of Dracula’s dear friend was reincarnated in Alex.
Mary asks Alex if he could be a reincarnation of Dracula’s beloved friend. Alex shrugs, and says it runs in the family. Jonsey, meanwhile, tells Mary that Jonsey quits, and walks away. Alex is flustered Jonsey would quit NOW, but Jonsey points out her name is on the papers the Romanian government signed too, so she can set up her own camp if she wants to. Mary tells him not to worry, she trusts Jonsey.
Dracula suggests Alex leave the expedition and join him. Jonsey is seen getting people to take down her tent, and draws a line in the dirt, loudly telling Alex and Mary that anything on her side of the line is now HER camp, and screw them. Dracula seems amused, and begins to talk about how hard help is to get these days, when Mary distracts him by noting Dracula still has some scars from where he was injured last century, and wonders how long it took him to heal from that near-death. He is angered and suspicious, and asks her how she knows about his last conflict. She tells him her family name, and he looses some of his cool and nearly attacks her.
In the background, Jonsey has gotten all the expedition members to set her tent BACK up. Alex asks if she is leaving, or not, and she tells him if he has a question for her, he can come over where she is and ask her. Alex has his father’s confused-and-annoyed expression, but Mary grabs his arm and hauls him across the line Jonsey drew in the dirt. All the remaining expedition workers are around Jonsey’s tent. Dracula goes to follow, but stops up short at the line, as if hitting a barrier.
Jonsey says she didn’t invite him into HER camp. Alex grins, and he and Jonsey and Mary unload at Dracula, who is taken by surprise and flees.
The plot can proceed from there along pretty typical adventure/horror lines — Alex, Jonsey, and Mary decide Dracula is growing stronger by the day, and they can’t wait to stop him, so they go after him in the tomb complex. The three have different and complimentary skills, and make a good team. They hunt down Dracula and seem to destroy him, but when he “dies,” a gem that looks like a snake eye falls to the ground. Mary realizes this is one of the two legendary Eyes of the Dragon, relic of the Order of Dracul, and it’s how Dracula survived her grandfather’s assault in the late 1800s. Alex smashes it, and asks how many such gems there are. Mary says two, and three agree they need to find and destroy the other one.
Searching through in notes found in the camp of the Looters who released Dracula, they find that there were two places the Looters thought the Eyes of the Dragon might be. One was here. The other was Castle Frankenstein, and there is a map to a Lost Lab of Frankenstein’s, which might hold the secret location of his original Castle.
Castle Frankenstein then becomes the next movie. In that story, Alex, Jonsey, and Mary seek to find Castle Frankenstein, but find they are competing with a man who can become invisible, who apparently is part of an evil occult organization…. and a little mad. During the source of that movie, it’s revealed some of Doctor Frankenstein’s reagents for creating life came from a lost Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein had sent Igor on an expedition there to gather more materials just days before the villagers stormed his castle, which is why Igor wasn’t around when that happened. There’s no note saying if Igor ever came back…
As the Shared Universe expands, I can get Wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera, and even the Hunchback into this if the first few are successful. The original characters from The Mummy (1999) as occasional support characters. Like, if the Invisible Man’s formula turns out to need blood of an ifrit of the djinn, who are naturally invisible, one of the movies can include a backup appearance by Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay. And, of course, we can bring in elements from Mary and (rightholders willing) Jonsey’s families as well.
Both heroes and villains expand their plans, form allies, and build toward the end of the first story arc, a final showdown with Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Woflman. But even that is only the FIRST story arc…
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The Diary of Ardra Maias
“Of course, Doctor Frankenstein did not begin his work with human corpses. Not for ethical reasons, you understand, but simply because they were difficult to acquire, and until his work progressed to a stage where human trials were needed, there was no point.
“His earliest experiments on revivification were on marmots, easily bought from trappers near his family’s Swiss home. There were far more failures than successes, of course, and were it my preview I would condemn the man to perdition on the basis of what he did to those alone.
“Even so, in time he brought a marmot to life, indeed my current companion Vivo is that first, fully-revived marmot, though in Vivo’s case no surgery had been needed. The Doctor had killed him under exacting conditions, and revivified him moments later.
“I have often marveled at Vivo, for while he has all the robustness and vitality of all we mortiborn, unlike the majority of us he is a peaceful, caring creature. Well capable of defeating a predator ten times his mass, Vivo would prefer affection to affrontation. Bless him.
“But from there, the hubristic doctor did decide he must move to primates, if not yet humans, to perfect his procedure. No large primates being common in Italy or Switzerland, he had to order them bespoke. But hunting expeditions to Borneo were common enough, and he was rich.
“Indeed, I am unsure how many evils would never have been visited upon this world had the Frankenstein family not been one of vast resource and reputation. In the century-and-on of my existence, I have found more evils traced to rich, well-respected men than any other beast.
“So, vile Frankenstein had no difficulty having Indonesian and Malaysian orangutans captured and brought to him. It was thought perhaps he wanted a menagerie, such as at London’s Exeter Exchange. Many were sick and died after arrival, but that too suited his needs.
“I am uncertain how many of my distant cousins, living or dead, he constructed me from. Close examination of my form and logic dictates no less than seven, but without taking my internal organs apart — an act I have always objected to — an exact accounting is impossible.
“I have been told, repeatedly, by anatomists that my brain, at least, must be human, rather than native to my orangutan skull. This is argued that because I can talk, and reason, I cannot be a mere ape. Of my speech, I will grant, the doctor most likely used some human parts.
“But my reason? No, I am not convinced my reason is any less orangutan than my limbs. For, did his homo sapiens subjects not show vast, cold intellect beyond that of their flesh-donors? Is it so hard to believe that the gap from apes’ reason to mans’ is at best a short distance?
“I would propose the question cannot be truly settled until men show the ability to see themselves as something other than the divinely-appointed lords of all matter in the world, animal, mineral, gas, fluid, and plant alike, to use and despoil as they see fit.
“I remember nothing of my time before mortibirth, though instincts still exist from my firstflesh lives, and some smells and sounds strike me as familiar in the extreme. But having gone to Borneo once, I can safely say I am no native of it. I am no native of any land.
“I remember my first weeks. I thought the doctor wise and kind, something between a father and a god. He taught me to walk, talk, eat–ensured that I was fine in form and function. Then he drowned me in an arsenic solution of his own devising, and took notes as I screamed.
“I do presume he believed my consciousness fully destroyed. I think this not out of some trust in his character, but from the fact when I stopped moving, he stopped taking notes and never consulted my glass sarcophagus again. I sat, silent and unmoving, and thought. For years.
“Should I not have been found in the investigation that ensued after the publication of an account of Doctor Frankenstein’s insensate experiments, I believe I would be trapped, paralyzed, and thinking still, looking through the arsenic water and glass at some stone wall.
“But found I was and, in time, released. As I could speak, and was witness to the foul knowledge and process the doctor had created, I was not destroyed. In time, decades, truly, I earned my freedom by turning the lie of a human origin for my brain back on the government.
“So, here exists I. Corpses pretending to be one flesh. Abyssal chemical reactions pretending to be life. An ape’s mind pretending to be human.
“But I am also cunning, robust, and potent in the way of all my kind, and though I carry no love for Monsieur Dupin, he taught me well.
“By the aegis of his brusque acceptance of me, I am established. I have legal papers that sometimes grant me rights, and monies that do so more often.
“How did I come to know Dupin? What is my vocation now? Those shall be future articles, for which I’ll receive a nickel a word.”
–From the Diary of Ardra Maias, the Empire Coast Journal, Jan 17th, 1934.
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Axes & Arcana, a Fiction Intro Snippet
I wrote this more than a decade ago. This is all there is of it– no outline, no list of names or plot points. Just the beginning of an introductory scene, likely to be incomplete forever, hanging as insecurely as the character in it.
The sound of rain splattering on the floor of the chamber was rudely interrupted by the loud clang of a three-tined metal hook bouncing through a hole in the ceiling. The hook swung on the end of a knotted rope, dancing mid-air as the rope jerked and swayed. Then the rope disappeared back up through the hole, the hook traveling with it. The hook rang like a bell as it popped back past the edge of the gap it had come through, and disappeared up into the rainy night beyond. For long moment, the chamber was again filled only with the sounds of rain falling down through the same rough opening in the stone roof, to patter against the worn tiled floor. The water pooled, then meandered like a snake in a thin, dirty stream that weaved past rusting helmets and yellowed bones strewn across the old tile floor, until it flowed with a quiet gurgle down a rock ramp corridor that exited the chamber. Even when lightning flashed its harsh brightness through the hole in the ceiling, followed seconds later by thunder, the light did nothing to illuminate the dark corridor, or show the stream’s final destination.
The metal hook banged across the rock at the top of the hole, without falling in, and was again dragged away. A muffled curse, invoking gods too dead or imaginary to be offended, echoed into the chamber and then the hook came flying into the old stone room once more. This time when the knotted rope was pulled back, a single tine of the hook caught on the lower edge of the ceiling’s hole, and the rope was tightened against it. And then, the chamber was again filled with only the gentle patter and gurgle of the rainwater.
Before long, cursing could again be distantly heard thought the ceiling’s opening. Though closer and louder than before it was no more imaginative, mostly focusing on improbably sexual positions and the dubious heritage of the architects who had chosen to build the chamber, and the complex it served as entrance to, so high in the mountains. Had the architects been around to hear such speculation they would have been filled with rage, and likely summoned demons and spectral horrors to strike down the blasphemers. But not only were they all long dead, the moldering remains of several of them actually lay in the damp room, their impotent bones scattered and once-rich garments turned to tattered rags. The architects had claimed that even in death they would defend the chamber, but their complete lack of action gave lie to the ancient pledge.
More than half an hour after the hook had first banged its way into the chamber, a second knotted rope was slowly lowered through the rain-filled air from the gap in the massive stone slab that served as the room’s ceiling, its lower end coiling neatly on the wet floor. A thin, nimble figure was silhouetted in the gap of the ceiling as lighting and thunder flashed across the sky above, and then his pale, exposed body slid down the second rope. He was breathing heavily and might have been sweating, though the rains lightly pelting him made it impossible to know for certain. He had a strip of cloth wrapped around his groin and another above his eyes, and leather straps protecting his palms and feet, but was otherwise unclad. He slipped easily down the rope, letting his feet and hands slide nimbly over the rope’s knots. While still a score of feet above the ground, he paused on the rope and spoke softly. The words were sibilant, soft, and yet seemed filled with great value, as if he was whispering something terrible and important.
As the sounds — never designed for human lips — slipped away in a hush, a blue mote of light formed in the air beside the thin man. The mote drifted down below him, to bounce gently off the pooling water on the floor – though it created no ripples. The man watched it roll for a few feet, then come to a stop. It was little more than a single candle’s worth of light, and he had to peer through the rainfall still all around him, but he rushed nothing. Every inch of the corridor he examined from his perch on the rope, taking note of the water trickling out the only exit, the bones and armor, the cracked altar against one wall, and the smashed statue against another.
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MoviePitch: “The Cabin at Camp Sorority Lake”
A group of very different women, who clearly have all survived horrifying and dangerous experiences, gather to deal with the evils they’re sure are lurking near the about-to-be-opened eponymous cabin.
And this time? They’re prepared.
Ideally this would be “The Expendables,” but with actresses who have survived horror and horror/action movies.
(For example, they all take out million-dollar life insurance policies, and name each other’s friends and families as beneficiaries. But not the group themselves — no one who is going to be at the Cabin is benefitting directly).
“Is that a chainsaw?”
“Yep. Top-handle 16-inch always-start Stihl, with custom grips and fuel gauge.”
“Did you get it from… yaknow?”
“Oh, heck no, he used a stupid-huge, heavy, rusty monstrosity. Bad for combat. I DID salvage some of the links from it’s chain, though.”
“So, you wear full body armor?”
“When hunting, with backup? Fuck yeah. NIJ-certified Level IV. You don’t?”
“No, I prefer stealth and mobility. I have a stab-resistant undersuit. Machete-resistant, too.”
“Tested it against power drills?”
“Haven’t had the opportunity.”
“All right, precheck. Defiled indigenous holy sites or burial grounds?”
“I mean, yes. But no more than anywhere else in this country. None of the surviving original local cultures have any specific warnings for us. I asked.”
“Not that the eco-groups I talked to are aware of.”
“Shipping and power records suggest no.”
“Three recorded massacres, roughly one per generation. Just rare enough for people to forget. Always on a solstice. Like the one coming up.”
“So, cult or supernatural evil.”
“Seems likely. I have silver, jade, white oak, mistletoe, holly, salt, and holy water — in Catholic, protestant, and Eastern Orthodox flavors. And some from a guy named Giles. Oh, and bullets. Lots of bullets.”
“Sounds good, let’s go.”
I specifically wanted a mashup title for this idea, but after expanding a bit I wondered if “Final Girls” would be a better choice. But, it turns out a movie by the title already exists and is just similar enough (it’s kind of Scream via Last Action Hero; an actress’s daughter and her friends get pulled into the actress’s horror movie, giving them a change to use their self-aware trope knowledge to defeat the killer) that I think it’s better not to risk confusion.
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