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Campaign Elements: The Wolf’s Head

Sometimes a campaign really needs a mastermind criminal with a vast organization at his disposal. Preferably someone with extensive resources, but who also prefer to keep a low profile. Such crime bosses may serve as foils, contacts, patrons, nemesis, or just background elements the GM and players can work off of as stories develop.

Of course, it helps if such master criminals and crime groups are cool and enigmatic.

So this is an idea of one option to fill that element. It focuses on the master criminal, the Wolf’s Head, and touches lightly on the organization, the Crime Guild. These descriptions are kept intentionally broad. A GM should be able to easily adapt the Wolf’s Head and Crime Guild to any genre, any game system, and any world or time frame. They can be pastiches for Lex Luthor and LexCrop, Moriarty and his Network, the Godfather and the Five Families, or Jabba the Hutt and his scum and villainy. Alternatively, a GM can use this as a starting point to build a whole new kind of organized crime group.

The Wolf’s Head

The Wolf’s Head is a mastermind villain and organizer of all forms of outlawry. He or she holds the highest position in the Crime Guild, a combination of organized crime cartel and training-ground for talented individuals. Each Wolf’s Head carries the position’s official scepter of office, a long cane with a silver wolf’s head and the words caput gerat lupinum (“may his be a wolf’s head” in Latin) engraved around the base of the head of the cane.

The Wolf’s Head traces its origin back to writ’s of outlawry in early English common law (or any older nation in worlds lacking England). An outlaw was literally being “cast out of the law,” no longer subject to the protections a person received from the law and thus able to be treated as a wolf. The write included the words caput gerat lupinum, and in many cases was considered the most serious possible sentence.

According to Crime Guild history, one of the earliest people declared an outlaw under this system build a vast network of outlaws, and took the first Wolf’s Head title. Over the centuries that organization has come in contact with, and absorbed, the thousands of organized crime groups from every continent, nation, and ethnicity, forming the massive, worldwide Crime Guild. While the goals of the Crime Guild vary somewhat, they tend to remain institutional – focused on earning and protecting money, influence, and power and building a large cadre of loyal agents. Many guilders are important members of other groups, ranging from crime families to law enforcement agencies, but some few work directly for the Crime Guild. These generally answer directly to the Wolf’s Head, and through them the Wolf’s Head is free to pursue any goals he or she desires, as long as the Crime Guild on the whole continues to grow and prosper.

The holder of the Wolf’s Head title changes periodically, and apparently at random to outside observers. Each Wolf’s Head must nominate one Alder of Crime every 3 years (though killed alders need not be replaced). Each Alder is able to secretly vote to “retire” the current Wolf’s Head (though they can change this vote at any time). Such votes are kept with several ArchNumbers (Numbers being living cogitators who keep all the Crime Guild’s records, and ArchNumbers being senior examples). The Wolf’s Head also ranks the alders, from best to worst, and gives that information only to the ArchNumbers (and can change the rankings at any time).

If at any point 2/3 or more of the current Alders have voted to retire the current leader, the Numbers inform the entire Crime Guild. At that point all Alders try to kill the Wolf’s Head. If they succeed within 30 days (also known as the Hunter’s Moon, as the alders hunt the ultimate wolf), then whichever alder still alive that was highest ranked by the previous Wolf’s Head becomes the new Wolf’s Head. If not, the current Wolf’s Head retains the position, and the ArchNumbers ensure every alder that voted to retire him is killed (to cull those who mistakenly thought it was time to change leaders).

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Diesel Pulp: Fordlandia and the Argentinian Reich

Fordlandia and the Argentinian Reich

In my Diesel Pulp setting, Henry Ford is a full-on Nazi. Given his strongly antisemitic views, the damage he did spreading those views, and his company’s willingness to use slave labor in Germany, I don’t feel bad about this at all.

I also have Fordlandia being both hugely successful, and being in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in far-southern Brazil. With so much technological effort being put toward compression gears, Cavorite, and other Martian-inspired technology, synthetic rubber does not develop, and rubber trees remain crucial right through the end of the Global War. With the British controlling most European-owned rubber plantations, and Japan being too far away for its holdings to make a good supplier for Germany, Fordlandia in southern Brazil is a crucial supply for the Nazi.

So, my setting assumed a Nazi-backed military coup takes control of Argentina early in the Global War, likely 1939, and quickly pressures Chile and Paraguay to join the South American “Argentinian Reich.” German-backed forces then strike into Brazil to cut off Rio Grande do Sul, taking both Fordlandia and Porto Alegre (the state’s capital and a major port). I feel a little bad about having these nations become Nazi allies… but given how long Argentina stayed neutral and that I am creating a new government backed by Nazis, I don’t feel too bad. And, any real-world historical group or figure in Argentina at the time that doesn’t deserve to be tarred with the broad brush can be added to the South American Resistance that pops up to oppose the Nazi-supported government.

This results in Brazilian and Mexican forces (with the aid of the US, economically at first with Lend-Lease, and then military assistance after 1941) fighting in South America against Argentinian Reich through the Global War. All other South and Central American Nations support the Allies against the Axis, at the minimum sending aid and in many cases (especially Bolivia, Peru, and Uruguay) troops.

I suspect this means no Brazilian Expeditionary Force, but since those troops are literally defending, and ultimately taking back, their homeland I don’t think that’s selling short Brazil’s contribution to the war. Similarly the Mexican Aztec Eagles and Fuerza Aerea Mexicana operations are going to stay closer to the continent, but remain heroically involved. The Pan-American Highway remains a high priority for the US and the Allies, and also gets pushed much closer to completion, though the route changes to more greatly favor Brazil.

A lot of this is, of course, ridiculous. But I like my Global War having actual fighting on every continent (sorry Australia), and like the idea of turning Fordlandia into a corporate-fascist autocratic city-state, as a place and idea for stories and events. And in a setting that assumes the War of the Worlds inspired walkers to be the main Diesel Age military technology and masked “irregulars” becoming common as military assets, I don’t mind some ridiculous alterations.

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Diesel Pulp Australian Units

20170208_103755

Working on more minis for my Diesel Pulp setting. These are three “Kelly Heavies,” from Australia’s legendary Armored Rangers. While medium and heavy infantry doctrine varies from country to country, and many ended up simply slapping what heavy infantry they could scrounge into heavy weapon platoons, only Australia built custom-purpose advanced scouting units that combined light, medium, and heavy infantry (generally known as Bushrangers, Kellies, and Kelly Heavies, respectively).

The idea behind armor scout units was to operate far from the front lines, make detailed reports about conditions, and engage in targeted strikes where a small force could potentially make a large difference. Bridges, passes, pillboxes, observation posts, field airports, and headquarters were favorite targets. Bushrangers would move as far ahead as possible, with one Kelly each in support if they ran into a small enemy unit (generally infantry or cavalry). Only if a viable target was found would Kelly Heavies be employed, each directed to an advantageous firing position by a Bushranger, where the Kelly Heavy could employ their Australian-built Owen Gun Shields, with their machine carbine and integral HEAT launchers.

Armored Scouts were consistently the most effective units including heavy infantry throughout the Global War, their tactics honed in part due to Australia’s much longer history with armored infantry, dating back to the 1890s Bush Battles against the Martian tripods in and around Victoria. Kelly Heavies, in particular, were designed with much heavier armor in front, especially on the head and chest, and lighter armor over the rest of the infantry fighter. Because they generally engaged in battle supported by more mobile units, Kelly Heavies could reliably face the source of the heaviest enemy fire and depend on support to alert them from threats outside their narrow field of vision. While no heavy infantry could survive direct hits from anti-materiel weapons, Kelly Heavies could take glancing blows to the heaviest section of their armor, and hold up to direct hits from most anti-personnel weapons. As a result, “damaged” Kelly Heavies were much more common than other heavy infantry units (which generally didn’t survive being hit by anything heavy enough to do significant damage).

I’m making an effort to make these miniatures more dinged-up than I normally try for, but they are otherwise fairly stock.

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Genre Emulation Feats – Noir, Fatale

Genre Emulation Feats are an idea I noodled with while running an Anachronistc Advenures campaign called “The Travellers,” where my players bravely agreed to make mundane modern day characters using the AnacrAdv rules knowing I was going to do SOMETHING with the game, but not what.

“What” turned out to be a series of world-hopping adventures that took them to different realities (Alterniverses) where different genres held sway, within which each PCs got a template giving them abilities appropriate to their role within that Alterniverse. Several of those had Genre Emulation Feats, which were designed to enforce specific tropes with that reality. GEF were more powerful than normal feats, but you only got a few, only to fit one role, and only within that Alterniverse.

each character never filled more than one role. If your roll changed, you could swap your old genre feats for new ones. I generally gave out a bonus GEF at 1st level, 3rd level, and every 3rd level after that.

These are examples of the ones the Fatale role could pick up, which certainly were not gender-specific.

A Paramour in Every Port
Prerequisites: Fatale role
Benefits: Each time you enter a settlement, you get a number of followers as if you had taken the Leadership feat (but no cohorts… ever). Your Leadership level for this is equal to your Charisma bonus, plus the bonuses you gain from Bluff or Diplomacy from feats (you add only the bonuses to one of those two skills, whichever are highest), plus the higher of the settlement’s Corruption or Society rating. For Leadership scores of Your effective Leadership has a minimum of 6 to 9, you still receive followers (1 follower for a 6, 2 for a 7, and so on). Your total followers in a given settlement never exceed your character level.
Your followers are Friendly, and their roles within the town are random. Their alignment is also random, but you know their alignment within one step (your GM tells you, and the answer will be correct or within one step). You do not need to pay for these followers gear or upkeep unless you give them full-time (40 hour/week) tasks.
Losing a follower lowers your leadership score in the same settlement by 1 until you gain your next level. each time you gain a level, you can recalculate your total followers (replacing lost ones and gaining new ones if needed).

Bushwack
Prerequisites: Fatale role
Benefits: When you lure a target into a secluded area where the target cannot see or hear any of its allies, any nonlethal damage the takes in a surprise round before the target acts is quadrupled. This only functions if you convince the target to move from the location where you encounter it. If any of these conditions end you cannot use this feat again on the same target until you have gotten an attitude or friendly with the target, or if the target does not realize you are the same person when you next lure it into seclusion.

Quid Pro Quo
Prerequisites: Fatale role
Benefits: You can make a Diplomacy check to ask favors of creatures that are not hostile to you, in return for you doing a favor of the same level of danger and/or cost for them first. The DC for this is 10 + x1.5 the CR of the target. This otherwise functions as a normal Diplomacy check asking for a favor.
Obviously you’d want more feats and different roles…

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More Diesel Pulp

Most of my “Diesel Pulp” figures and models are part of a specific setting I worldbuild purely as a hobby. I work on them in my (limited) spare time as something connected to many of the things I love about my hobby, without being something I plan to actually ever turn into a product. And, of course, a lot of it is left half-done…

47-frei-corps

In the background two Maginot Field Turrets (each topped by an Irregular — Sister Sanguine and Tommy Atkins), in the foreground several more Irregulars including Father Pentacaust, Buring Skill, Mister Mythic, Captain St. Louis, The Haze, Torch Singer, the Marshal , Kilroy, Pirate Jack, and Black Hood. to the far right, three members of the Iron Raptors.

Diesel Pulp Allied Troops

Diesel Pulp Allied Infantry
Top, Left to Right: US Light Infantry medic, three US Medium Infantry (anti-armor, close combat, flamethrower, all in unpowered armor), two US  Heavy Infantry (combat support, flamethrower, in powered armor), and one US “Rough House” AT2 Gun Carrier (walker equivalent of an armed jeep)
Bottom, Left to Right: two Allied Special Unit Light Infantry (Pacific Theater, the Yelling Yahoos; one with captured Japanese Death Ray rifle and one with an experimental Power Arm, both with captured Tokubetsu Kōgekitai swords), one Free Corps mercenary (European Theater, the Minuteman Militia) and two Irregulars (All-American Girl, with her Boom Gun and Tomastic Sword; and Sky King with his Jetpack, SpectraGoggles, and Colt 1911a .45).

diesel-pulp-troops

These are for my ’49 setting I play around with as a hobby. I have shots of kitbashed walkers here and here, and talk more about the technology of the fictional setting here. and have a history of some of that tech here.

The Light Infantry medic is a rebased HeroClix
The Medium Infantry are Dust Tactics troops
The Heavy Infantry are Grindhouse Games APE suits for their Incursion game.
The Gun Carrier is a West Wind Productions Commanche battle suit
The Yahoos are rebased Heroscape.
The Free Corps is a repaint HorrorClix.
All-American Girl is a Heroclix Liberty Belle, with a modded-in gun and sword (and she’ll eventually have a US flag on her chest instead of a bell)
Sky King is a modified Lobster Johnson IndyClix (with the lobster claw removed from his chest, and Jango Fett’s jetpack from WotC’s Star Wars line)

 

Diesel Pulp Kitbash Project: White Tsar Tank

In the ’49 setting, the Crimea remains under the control of the White Russians, loyalists to the Russian monarchy despite losing most of their territory to the Soviet Union. The White Russians are commanded by Anastasia the Great, also known as the “Black Dutchess,” the last surviving child of Czar Nicholas II. Anastacia is a military genius with a reputation for ambushes and nasty surprises, a lifetime of conflict, and mysterious ties to the legendary Rasputin.

One of the things that has allowed the Black Dutchess is hold on to the Crimea as the last gasp of the Russian Empire is that rather than build walkers (which her tiny empire simply lacks the resources to design or maintain), she depends on the mighty White Tsar rolling heavy armor units. Faster and cheaper than walkers and more reliable than the legendarily finicky tracked vehicles, the White Tsar remains the only wheeled heavy armor unit in the war. Though the original Tsar wheeled mecha was too heavy to move, by using what Martian-derived technology is available to her on a revised wheeled design for a huge mobile cannon platform, the Black Dutchess has created a mobile mecha unit that performs very well, and which traditional anti-mecha tactics don’t work well against.

I plan to kitbash a “White Tsar” tank model. Here we have a picture of the real-world Tsar Tank prototype, circa 1914. This thing was massive, but never worked well. In the ’49 setting, many of its shortcomings were solved and, while it was never a great armor unit, it remained active through the Russian Civil War, almost exclusively in the hands of the White Army.

I have a model of the also-real-world VsKfz 617 Minenraumer prototype, a German minesweeper vehicle design, circe 1942. Clearly much smaller than the Tsar, it’s also a trike design, though it replaces 22-foot tall bicycle wheels with 7-8 foot pedrail wheels. Like the Tsar, it was slow and a terrible idea, and never put into production. But I plan to use a 1/35 model VsKfz 617 as the basis for my White Tsar  in the ’49 setting. Since my models are generally 1/48/O Scale/28mm, a 1/35 VsKfz 617 will look MUCH bigger, as fitting for my White Tsar II.

Also above is an illustration of a KV-2, an actual WWII Russian tank. The KV-2 has a distinctive, enormous turret. I plan to mount a 1/48 KV-2 model turrent on the 1/35 VsKfz 617 body to create the mythical White Russian.

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Tripod Toys and Diesel Pulp

My Diesel Pulp Nazis in the ’49 setting I play with are going to have “pocket tripods” as late-1930s designs they still use variants of in 1949 as light walkers. To represent these, I plan to kitbash from these McDonald’s Happy Meal “BLACK MANTA Launcher” toys I picked up on Ebay for about $7 each with shipping. Here they are unmodified next to a DUST Tactics German walker and a HeroClix heroine.

My Diesel Pulp setting assumes that the War of the Worlds happened, and involved multiple waves, one in 1899, and a second in 1903, both while Mars is in opposition to Earth. The first invasion goes very much as described in The War of the Worlds, but the second lasts until 1907 and was a significantly broader conflict. They are known as the First and Second Wars of the Worlds, and these events changed history forever.

At first Martian technology is too advanced for Earth’s governments to unravel, but eventually the secrets of compression gears, genetic chemistry, etheric generators, Cavorite, N-rays, odic forces, and red mercury began to be revealed to the nations of the world, though often at great cost and consequence, and unevenly. Some nations specialize in specific applications of just one or two of those technologies, while some secrets are unlocked only by a few specific geniuses.

As a result of these two invasions, the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Revolution of 1905, first and second Balklans Wars, and World War One do not occur. There are many minor conflicts that do occur in the altered time and one major conflict, the largest of which is the Triples War, which is essentially a shorter version of WWI that is restricted to a conflict between the Triple Entente (the British Empire, France and the Russian Empire) versus the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy). However this conflict runs only from to January 1915 to March 1917. Importantly, the United States, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria do not enter the war. The Triples War did include the development of trench warfare, and it was also the first time major powers used Martian-derived technologies against one another.

Perhaps most importantly was the development of mecha, heavily armored mechanized units, specifically walkers and tracked vehicles. Because Martians had very advanced technology, and depended on walking machines (especially their tripod fighting machines, but also their working machines and excavators) a broad school of military thinkers concluded that “walkers” were clearly superior to wheeled vehicles of any kind. It was generally assumed that the fact compression gears and etheric generators were able to easily power an articulated limb, that the increased mobility of a walker was a clear advantage over any other form. After all, God had made man a walker, rather than some wheeled creature.

In Germany, a pragmatic school of planners argued that while armored legs might function better than wheels, advancements in tread technology for tractors could create a rolling war machine that would be faster, more stable, and present a lower profile than any walking design. Walker designs were clearly extremely complex, and the flexible all-compression-gear design of Martial fighting machines was well beyond any Earth nation. But as the death rates for trench warfare during the Triples War skyrocketed, the need for some mobile, armored, armed, trench-crossing machine became clear to both sides.

The British build the first Earth-designed walkers to be used in a military conflict, and both Britain and France fielded simple walker designs beginning in February 1916. The British Type I was a small two-man walker, with a driver sitting low in a central cabin that was taller than it was wide or long, and a gunner/commander sat above him. The Type I’s legs could fold up to its sides in such a way that if it was knocked over or fell, it could “squat” which would cause it to right itself, and then stand again. Though its external weapon sponsons (placed where “arms” would go in a humanoid figure) were not designed for climbing, operators soon found the strong, flexible legs and longer cannon-sponson would allow it to climb up and down the sides of trenches, albeit slowly.

Germany instead developed the A7V*, a tracked “Sturmpanzerwagen” (roughly “armored assault vehicle”). The A7V had a crew of 18, six machine guns and one Maxim-Nordenfelt cannon. It had poor off-road capability and a high center of gravity, which made it prone to getting stuck or overturning on steep slopes. It was also hot, slow, under-armored, and under-armed.

The first mecha against mecha combat in history took place on 24 April 1918 when three A7Vs met three Type Is (two armed with just machine guns, and one with two 4-pounder guns) near Villers-Bretonneux. During the battle, the machine-gun armed Type Is were damaged and fell back, unable to significantly impact the A7Vs. The remaining Type I then attacked the lead German sturmpanzerwagen with its two 4-pounders and knocked it out (killing five of its crew). The Type I then managed to damage the tracks of both remaining A7Vs. Their crews fled, which began a route among the German forces present.

The lesson learned by military planners of the time was that tracked vehicles were unreliable and, as suspected, Martians had depended on walkers because their advanced science had proven the designs universally superior for the role of front-line fighting mecha. This is arguably the wrong lesson, but it was largely accepted as “proven doctrine” by the nations of the Earth. While wheeled and tracked vehicles were still designed for personnel carriers, artillery, and support vehicles, all major militaries turned to walkers for the vast majority of their armored mecha designs. By the time the First Global War began in 1939, hundreds of walker and support mecha designs existed worldwide.

I have shots of other kitbashed walkers here and here, and talk more about the technology of the fictional setting here.

*The A7V really is the real-world German effort at tanks in WWI, and it really was a terrible design. That design really faced Brittish forces at the time and palce mentioned above, but I replaced the British units in that first real world tank-on-tank battlewith walkers, so Diesel Pulp’s first-and-only walker vs tank battle is responsible for the rise of walkers as military designs. This helps hammer home that however bad an idea a walker is for 1940s-era combat, there’s a reason they are at the forefront of heavy armored units in my ’49 setting.

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’49 –  Léo Saint-Clair (Part One)

Léo strained his sight and hearing to the outer limits of their power. It was an act of will now, as instinctive as walking, to focus on the meditation that controlled his augmentations. Causing the right blood vessels to expand or contract had taken him months to master, and for a time he feared the core design was flawed. But just as an infant learned to walk, he had learned to master his new eyes, ears, lungs, and heart. The extra power did cause the augmentationss to heat uncomfortably, but Léo knew he was in no danger as long as he didn’t maintain the effort too long.

The thick fog coming up off the Nançon River made the bridge spanning the river hazy, but even that could not hide the looming wall beyond, or the massive Saint-Sulspice Gate just on the bridge’s far side. Normal eyes would have picked out little more than the wall’s shape in the dim light the few lightposts provided, but Léo’s augmented eyes were far from normal. Ultraviolet and infrared light flooded the nighttime scene, allowing him to make out the Vichy and Nazi flags hung along the wall, the guards on both the wall and bridge, and even the glint of snipers in the towers of Castle Fougères further beyond the wall.

“Well?”

Léo glanced at the speaker, the largest of the three figures lurking in the church behind him. The only American in the group, the man had originally spent weeks trying to communicate in his broken French. But since Léo and his compatriots all spoke excellent English, and generally used it in preference to suffering through his French, the man had long since given up the effort. Léo kept his voice low.

“Lupin was right, as usual, Captain Challenger. There’s an actual Nazi contingent here, and Fougères’ defenses have been significantly strengthened. Something is definitely going on here. As to whether the Professor himself is here… it is too soon to say. He stopped flying his own pennant after Marianne nearly killed him in Bordeaux last year.”

Challenger shifted his stance uncomfortably and glanced over at Marianne. The petite French woman flashed him a smile that appeared genuine, but lasted only a fraction of a second. Léo knew to look at her right hand’s grip on her pike, and saw her clenched knuckles were white. Marianne had been fighting the Axis since before Léo’s modern memories began, and Professor Ragnarok has been her chief target for much of that time. It was a credit to her iron will that she was able to stand, apparently calm, and wait in the church with the rest of them when her most hated foe might be asleep less than two kilometers away.

Challenger glanced back at Léo. “So, do we hit them or not? We can still cross through the water, using the bridge for cover, then sneak over the gate… ”

Marianne shook her head curtly, and her voice held no sign of the growing desire to act she must be feeling.

Non, Captain. If Professor Ragnarok is within, he’ll have packs of kreighunds patrolling. We’d be discovered immediately. If he is NOT within, then we lack the reconnaissance to know where the high value target is, or even what it is. Lupin’s analysis can only tell us that something vital is being held here by the Boches. We cannot afford to stab blindly into a fortification this size. If Le Nyctalope,” she inclined her head toward Léo, “identifies a potential target with his observations we can consider a plan to breach. Otherwise, we wait for Fantômas to flush the target out or contact us with a map leading to something we can strike at clandestinely. As planned.”

Challenger frowned. “We wait how long?”

Léo shrugged. “As long as it takes, or until Lupin informs us he has a better lead. I did warn you, Captain. Fighting with the Maquis de Masque isn’t like the fighting you have done with the army. We cannot engage the enemy in direct, open conflict. The unorthodox nature of our goals and agents often leads to unorthodox solutions, and those are difficult to time to the minute. Or even the day. Schedules for our missions are approximations, at best. Fantômas has had only a day longer than we have. We should get comfortable, and rest in shifts. This may take days. Perhaps weeks.”

Captain Challenger chewed, though he didn’t seem to have anything to chew on. He moved back from the stained glass window, where Léo was keeping watch, and sat on a pew next to a young man who made up the fourth member of the team within the church, Wasp, who was casually laying along a pew while  wearing a chauffer’s uniform with a domino mask and a wasp embroidered on his shoulder.

Challenger seemed to get through whatever he’d be chewing on.

“I don’t like letting Fantômas operate on his own, either. I don’t trust him.”

Wasp, sitting up and moving next to him, clapped Challenger on the back and laughed.

“Of course you don’t trust him. Lupin doesn’t trust him. I would guess no one trusts him. He’s a murderer and a madman. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he has chosen to support the Vichy, given his ties to Germany. But he didn’t, and he’s nothing if not prideful. As long as he sees the occupation as a greater insult than working with us is, he’ll hold up his end of things. At least that’s what Doctor Sun keeps telling me. And the Doctor has a great deal more experience with him than any of us.”

Challenger frowned, but leaned back and relaxed into the pew. Despite his size he blended into the shadows of the darkened church well, thanks to his dark green uniform, standard issue for an American Army Ranger save for the arming sword slung from his belt between a canteen and an ammo pouch.

“And were is Doctor Sun? Wasn’t the plan to rendezvous here?”

Léo winced at the entirely-American pronunciation of rendez-vous, but nodded.

“Yes Captain, that was the original plan. But after arriving and doing a brief recon, the Doctor felt it wiser to stay in reserve and I must say I agree. We may need to move swiftly through the streets, or flee into the swamps, and in either case the Doctor is better served ensuring our… transportation… remains in top shape. It… it does require regular maintenance, and if it’s spotted by sympathizers who get word to any member of the Zweckforschung, much less Ragnarok… ”

Captain Challenger gave a wry grin. “It… it is pretty distinctive, isn’t it?”

“Not always,” Wasp interjected. “As long as the Doctor isn’t threatened, and it can restrict itself to roads, it’s a fairly typical Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. Unusual, sure, but not unknown. Heck, Lenin had one, though his was a halftrack. It’s sound is distinctive, sure, but if it’s not running, it can blend in fairly well.”

Oui,” replied Marianne, with a slightly longer-lasting smile. “But a stationary car isn’t very good back-up, no?”

Wasp opened his mouth, but his retort was lost as the room’s shadows were replaced for a moment by glaring brightness. Light briefly flashed through the church’s stained glass, flooding the interior with a riot of colors. A split second later a thunderclap shook the rafters, and the shadows rushed back. Léo spun to look out the window, his optics picking up a billowing column of smoke, throbbing with infrared light, gushing up from somewhere within Castle Fougères, well beyond the Saint-Sulspice Gate. A second sun-bright light flashed within the interior of the castle grounds, his augmented eyes automatically tinting to prevent blindness as the glare of temporary daylight presaged another church-rattling explosion. One of Fougères’ far towers, barely visible even to Léo, was now missing its upper half and belching fire and soot. He spoke without turning away from the scene outside.

“That would be Fantômas. We should presume he’s flushing prey toward us.”

“Holy mackerel.” Challenger replied quietly.

Sirens began to wail, first just within the castle grounds but shortly thereafter throughout the surrounding town.

Marianne had flattened herself on the far side of the window Léo was looking out of, cracking it open so her unaugmented eyes could see better.

“I think he’s got them thinking it’s an air raid, targeting the castle itself. If they have anything crucial, they’ll certainly move it. But will they take this road?”

Léo nodded.

“Fantômas knows where our vantage was. If he’s flushing a target, he’ll have ensured they’ll come by here. I have no idea how he’ll have managed that, but his record speaks for itself. Wasp?”

The young man hopped to Léo’s side.

“Dash across the street to the cobbler’s shop. Stay out of sight! Depending on what the Nazi’s are moving and how they’re transporting it, we may need to have you slip on board, rather than ambush them. Use your best judgement.”

Without a word, Wasp jogged to the church door. He barely seemed to open it, slipping through and disappearing quickly into night which was quickly adding smoke to its concealing cloak of fog.

Another explosion shook the church.

“Good lord almighty!” Challenger exclaimed. “What the blazes is he using to hit them as hard as an airship barrage?”

Marianne shrugged. “Perhaps an airship. Or warheads smuggled in on hay carts. Or he may have found their munition dump and spread around their own bombs. Fantômas is a maestro, and his preferred symphony is mass murder. He set fire to an entire city to cover a single art heist, killing thousands to modestly enrich himself. He’s the Devil, and I put nothing past him.”

She turned to Challenger and gave a toothy, decidedly predatory, smile.

“But for now, he’s our devil.”

Previous entries in ’49

Jenkins

Carcaso

Kol

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’49 – Kol

It was cold in the Box. Kol knew it was always cold, and he sniffed to see if something was making it seem colder. His stomach growled, and if he had smelled food he could not reach that would have been colder. There was the faint scent of smoke and burn, which made his spine cold, but that wasn’t new. The Workers had been smelling smoke for more than the day. Gray light filtered in through the cracks of the Box. The light did make Kol cold. It was a bad light. A pain light.

Pain was very cold.

He pressed closer to his workmates for warmth. Kol was on the outside of the nestle, so he was colder than those further in. Kol knew he was among the biggest of the Workers. He could force his way closer to the center of the nestle if he wanted to. Maybe not the very middle – the Workers would complain, and while no one Worker was stronger than him, Workers together could do more than a Worker alone. The Bright Lady had taught all the Workers this truth, and Kol had seen the truth himself.

Thinking of the Bright Lady made Kol warmer for a moment, but when he realized she wasn’t in the Box, he became the coldest he could recall being. Of course the Bright Lady didn’t sit in Boxes. But knowing she was not nearby drew away his heat. His head sunk down, and a soft moan escaped his lips.

Gris, the Worker to Kol’s knife-side, placed a hand on Kol’s shoulder, then brushed the back of his hand past Kol’s cheek. Kol took the hand, and pressed it to his face. It was cool, but warmer than Kol’s face. That Gris would offer the comfort was warmer, still.

Together, Workers were stronger than apart.

The Box had a pattern. A sway to one side. Two kathunks, one louder than the other. A sway back. It was all the Box offered. Sway. KATHUNK, ka-thunk. Sway. The Workers swayed with the Box, and sometimes nodded with its kathunks. It wasn’t warm, but it was something to do. They knew the Box. They understood it. It was when it changed the Workers were unsure what to do. Sometimes change was warm.

But not often.

Thunder echoed in the distance, and may of the smaller Workers near the middle of the nestle whimpered and one, Kol thought it might have been little Ys, cried. Kol wanted to cry, too, but he felt the chill growing over all the Workers. If he cried, he who was among the strongest Workers with the biggest hands, then all the Workers would feel the chill that fire could not drive away. He knew he had to ignore the cold, and ignore the thunder. He snorted, derisively, then gave a soft grunt. Several Workers near him chuckled at his grunt, and the whimpering grew softer. Gris grinned at Kol, baring both slashing-teeth, and thumped Kol’s side with the back of a hand. Kol grinned back.

Workers were stronger than cold.

Workers had to Work, but that was okay. The Bright Lady gave them Work, and told them they were all equal. She was a Planner, one of those whose Work was more than others, and who made sure Work was not wasted. The Bright Lady was the first smell Kol remembered, from his time in the First Place. Like all his workmates, Kol had been taught to talk, and to use voice sounds to emulate talking. She had given him his uniform, and his knife. She had taught him how to hate the Bourj, and how to use his knife to free the Bourj’s slaves. That Work always made Kol sad. A Bourj slave looked a lot like a Worker once you freed them, except for the blood.

Not all Workers could do the Work. But Kol, and his workmates in the Box, had been praised and rewarded by the Bright lady many times. They had, she said, earned the right to have Rifles, as gifts from the Father.

Kol looked forward to meeting the Father. But apparently the Father lived far way. They had been in the Box a long time, waiting to get to the Father.

From outside the Box, the metal screams warned of a sudden jerk. No Worker liked the metal screams, but Kol had learned they sometimes meant change. And the Box was cold, so change might be good. When food came, it was after a jerk. And the quiet time was always after a jerk.

The metal scream weakened, and the sway and kathunks became uneven. Many Workers chittered their unease. None liked the Box, but steady was better than uneven. Kol did not chitter. He disliked uneven, but this always happened after a long metal scream. It was a kind of even, just one few Workers knew.

No kathunk. No sway.

The thunder continued, sometimes louder, sometimes not. There were pops as well, and slams, and sizzles. The smoke smell was stronger, and had many different smokes. Wood smoke, Kol knew that one well. Oil smoke, too. And hair. And flesh.

Kol did not think this change from the Box would be warm.

The silence in the Box was colder than the swaying kathunks. Kol could hear Planners make voice noises outside, and Tall Workers. They were not calm. When Planners were not calm, it meant a plan had gone wrong. Planners could not fix bad plans. All they could do was tell Workers and Tall Workers how to fix it. Tall Workers didn’t work as well as Workers, and many thought they were Planners, too. But they didn’t have the Brights the Planners did, and their plans were often bad for Workers.

Real plans were bad for Workers too, sometimes, but that couldn’t be helped. It was important for other Workers that each Worker try to finish a plan.

The side of the Box growled, and slid away. The gray light flooded in, and the nestle broke apart as other Workers moved away from the colder air. Kol was near the open side, and did not move away. He turned, to look out of the box.

Four Tall Workers, one with a rifle, stood in the open side of the Box. They were voice noising, loudly. Kol knew he knew the words, but he didn’t care yet. Beyond the Box were many Tall Workers, and they chattered. Some had a Bright marking them as little Planners, and these yelled at the Tall Workers without Brights. Kol realized there were many Boxes, rows and rows of them, sitting on the metal lines that carried them. They stretched out as far as he could see. Boxes. Tall Workers. Little Planners. Yelling, shoving rifles into Tall Workers hands. If there was a plan here, it had already gone bad. Kol felt his lips peeling back from his slashing-teeth. Bad plans were very, very cold.

“I said move!”

One of the Tall Workers standing in the side of the box grabbed Ys, and began hauling her out of the Box. Ys’s closest brother Yan, grabbed at her. No Worker would try to separate Ys and Yan, but the Tall Worker didn’t know better. Gris moved forward, using his hands to quickly flash a few words of explanation. Kol began to use his voice sounds to make words, to remind Gris most Tall Workers couldn’t communicate properly.

Then the Tall Worker hit Gris with the butt of his rifle. Gris was surprised, and fell, raising one long arm to protect himself.

“Get away from me, you freaks! And move out now!”

Kol felt his face furrow. Tall Workers and Workers didn’t hit each other, unless the ones being hit were breaking the Law. The Bright Lady had taught them that over and over. She had spoken of making sure Workers never hit Tall Workers, but obviously the rule went both ways. They were all Workers. They were all equal. They’d been told this.

The Workers behind Kol shuddered. Other Tall Workers grabbed Ys and dragged her away from the Box, throwing her down on the ground by the metal line. Blood leaked from her cheek, matting the soft hair covering her face. The red color and iron smell immediately warmed Kol. When a Worker bled, other Workers made it stop.

The Tall Workers grabbed Gris’s foot, and began to drag him out too. Kol didn’t know if these were actually Bourj, or if the rule against Workers hitting Workers was gone, but it didn’t matter. He knew how to stop Tall ones from hurting his Workmates. His hand dropped to his long knife, and he bared his slashing-teeth. Behind him, he heard the sound of three dozen palms slapping on knife-handles.

“Idiots! Stop this right NOW!”

The Bright Lady leaped over Ys, and into the Box. Her long coat was not as clean, and its many Brights were not as shiny, but Kol knew her scent and sound immediately. As she used her voice sounds on the Tall Workers, her hands spoke to Kol and his workmates. Wait, beloved Workers. She flashed with one firm hand.

If she’s said to stop, Kol wasn’t sure if he would have. Not even for the beloved Bright Lady. Not once blood was in the air. But she’d saved them many times by having them wait. Wait until night, when the Tall ones don’t see as well. Wait until the Bourj slaves walk past, then drop on their backs. Wait until the spoiled Planner is gone, then go back to doing things the right way.

Wait was a warm word. Kol waited, hand on his knife, and focused on her Voice.

“ …closer to death than you’ll ever know. Get back, and leave this to me.”

“Ye… yes commissar. We didn’t think… ”

“Obviously!” The Bright Lady’s voice was full of scorn. Kol knew the shame that Voice could bring, and the Tall Workers hung their heads with cold disgrace. They were, Kol thought, not that different from his workmates.

As the Tall Workers moved away from the Box, the Bright Lady’s knife-hand told Gris to pick up Ys, and bring her close. Her other hand flashed words to the Workers in the Box.

“Our Great Father is threatened, and this is why we are here. The Bourj and their slaves attack and burn his home. You can smell it now! He wanted you to have homes here, but the Bourj have burned your homes!”

Kol felt warm anger slowly fill him. The Great Father loved them so much! And if it weren’t for the Bourj, the workers could have lived here, with the Tall Workers. And then the Tall Workers would learn to work with them, as they worked with each other.

Gris brought Ys to the Bright Lady, who crouched and cradled the small worker to her. Other Tall Workers often turned their heads, and avoided touched the hair on a Worker’s face or arms, but the Bright Lady stroked Ys, and cooed at her while keeping her hand talking.

“Good Workers, it is time to fight. We do not want to fight, but we know we must, for all Workers everywhere. You were promised rifles for this fight, but the Bourj took them. We do not have enough rifles for all. And the Tall Workers, they are weak, and afraid. This is why they lashed out at you, in confusion and fear. You all know their weaknesses. They cannot climb as you do, or do red Work with their knives. We will let them have the few rifles here, for they are too fragile without them. We will forgive them for their weakness.”

Kol had only fired a rifle a few times, in training, but he had looked forward to having his own. When the Bright Lady took them to do red work and Bourj had rifles, they would hurt workers. Kill them.  But the Bright Lady was right. Tall Workers were not as good with knives as Kol, or any of his workmates. And if they were afraid… Kol felt badly for the Tall Workers.

The Bright Lady kept her hand talking.

“Bourj slaves are attacking our Father’s city right now. The Tall workers can hear the fight, but we can smell it. The city may… “ she paused. “The Father’s place is threatened. The Bourj want to make all of this a Bad Place.”

Kol found himself exposing his slashing-teeth again. Only a Bourj would make a bad place.

“But we will stop them! You, and I, my dear, dear workmates. The Bourj slaves have rifles, rifles meant for you. We will scent them out. We will find them, and do the red Work. And then, their rifles will be ours! And the Father will be pleased, and we will be honored!”

Kol slapped his knife, as did every workmate. Even little Ys, laying in the Bright lady’s lap, slapped the handle of her knife.

Kol felt very warm. There was WORK to be done.

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