#3 – INVASION!

Driving into work this morning, I imagined this scene in my head. Again, as I began to write it, it was headed in a very different direction.

After fifteen minutes, I wrote the last sentence that changed everything.

Members of the 132nd Battalion looked out over the rolling expanse of land extending from what was left of the city they defended. The majority of the soldiers took cover behind jagged walls of blasted concrete, while the rest took positions in low ditches not far from the edge of the city.

As they waited for the inevitable conflict, they listened to reports of invasion all over the Earth. Weeks had passed since the first reports of attacks had started coming in from abroad. The attacks were strategically surgical and took out supply lines and defenses all over the seven continents before anyone realized what was happening.

The settlement once known as Boston, that they now defended, had already been hit hard by drone attacks, but the 132nd had just received orders to prepare to repel a ground assault. The invaders had assault carriers headed their way.

A few of the soldiers tossed water, rations, and energy batteries across dusty remnants of buildings. A stray cough or sneeze was the only sound they made as they each kept their eyes turned towards the growing clouds in the distance.

The invaders were able to create atmospheric shields around their vessels and could hide easily in the natural cloud formations that had become the norm since the first major attacks.

As suddenly and quietly as a ray of sunshine can break through a ceiling of dark thunderstorm clouds, the invaders’ ships dropped out of the clouds.

Every man standing there in the ruins of what was once the great city of Boston clenched their stun rifles a little tighter. More than a few wished the Federation had rescinded the ban on lethal weapons, but the majority found peace in the fact that they were not the murderers in this new war. They pledged to die with honor, and they would do so knowing their hands would be free of another living creatures blood.

For a century, their Earth had been the birthplace of a new utopian society of peace and efficiency. Science and technology blossomed like wildflowers in the pastures of freedom their collective efforts had grown from the near disaster their predecessors had allowed to come to pass.

The assault carriers landed in the fields with ground-shaking thuds, and swarms of invaders poured out of the massive ships’ metal bellies, firing their lethal plasma weapons and killing everything and everyone before them.

The 132nd Battalion put up a good fight, disabling three platoons of invaders without killing them before they were overrun and murdered. The now helpless citizens waited patiently in the ruins of the city for death to descend upon them.

The human war machine had returned to Earth from its banishment in deep space.

The Other Universes in My Life

All over the place.

That’s what I am, apparently. You can’t call me prolific, but you can call me wide-ranging. I write about comics, music, books, writing, video games. I write science fiction, westerns, erotica disguised as splatterpunk, steampunk disguised as contemporary Christian commentary.

I have a title for me: mediocre virtuoso

I do a lot of things just well enough to prove that I do them. I know Marvel, but not DC. I know Chinese history, but not European. I can tell you that its raining like a cow that pisses in French, but I could not ask directions to a bathroom in Paris. I can tear up a piano or bass in 5/8, but I can’t play in a band that prefers 4/4.

I’m not great at anything, but I’m convincingly adequate in everything.

That’s why I’m good at trivia.

But let’s depart:

I haven’t written about games in a while.

I am currently enjoying Star Trek Online. Why? Because its Star Trek, and I am a starship captain. Well-constructed MMO with engaging PvP and PvE, robust end-game content, and cooperative group progression? I have no idea and I don’t care. I’m the captain of a Science Vessel: The U.S.S. Acheron. I love this game.

On consoles, I’ve got quite a few games I’m in the middle of. I just purchased Aliens: Colonial Marines, and while the cutscenes are atrocious, MIND-BOGGLING ATROCIOUS, I think this game captures the feel of the movies in spectacular fashion. I die. I die lots. That’s what should happen when a human takes on a swarm of xenomorphs. If you don’t die, you’re not playing the game right. I’ve watched Alien, Aliens, and Prometheus enough in the past few months (try like every night before bed) to know if it does justice. It does.

And let me jump off here for a moment and point out that there is a definite direction that video games should go in the future and it has more to do with immersion than score or rank. I don’t outright hate cooperative or competitive multiplayer, but I prefer exploring Skyrim to deathmatches. While I’m sure there is a huge cross-section of the gaming community that lives for hardcore gaming for bragging rights, I find it no different than other competitive sport. I don’t prefer it. Ah, geeks, what happened to your escapist ways? You spent your entire youth taking beatings, verbal and physical, from those that live for competition and play to win, and you become the same monster. Live the game! If a game has a weak story, I can’t find the worth in playing it. The moment a game turns to the typical run-and-gun repetition without a convincing story, I stop playing it. I’ve stopped playing Borderlands, Halo, Gears of War, Assassins’ Creed, all the CoDs, and many, many more. Why? Because the story and the opportunity for immersion is non-existent or just apes what has been done before. This is why I’m stepping back out of WoW … again. Pre-BC it was the difficulty that made it worth playing. It felt realistic because you had to figure things out on your own AND the story and lore was entertaining. Now, I feel like someone’s holding my hand through a tour of Azeroth. I can’t even MAKE bad decisions in that game anymore.

I’m getting away from my original intentions here. Back to Aliens: Colonial Marines. I feel immersed in it during the gameplay. It’s a winner in my book.

Skyrim still beckons me occasionally. Past the main quest now, I tend to just wander looking for random encounters and side quests. I still prefer not to fast travel, and I don’t ever use a horse.

I say I don’t like competitive sport, but I have a soft spot for hockey. My player just got drafted first out of the Canadian junior leagues and starts for the Florida Panthers. Eh.

Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto 4 still have a draw for me. Open-worlds and sandbox play are my absolute favorite. Anything else just seems like a rail-shooter. Red Dead Redemption is one of my all-time favorite games.

Still on console, but jumping back a few generations, I’m playing through the Metroid Prime Trilogy and Ocarina of Time on Wii. Haven’t gone far in either, but I love the nostalgia. Last year I played and beat the original NES Zelda I and II, plus Link’s Awakening for GBA, and A Link to the Past for SNES. I also played Final Fantasy I-VI, but got bogged down in Final Fantasy VII after PC issues. I may return to the series one day. Also, in the emulation universe, I’ve started playing through NES roms A-Z. I’m currently on Adventure Island. Yeah, I beat 8 Eyes. I did. Seriously. What? Of course I used save states. Pshaw.

Back to PC, in addition to Star Trek Online, I’ve got toons on WoW (which, as I said, I’m abandoning), Guild Wars 2, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. SW:TOR has its good points. I love the story and the immersion, but again the typical MMO fare is making it slightly boring. I think I would have rather had a KotOR III, as well.

Also getting attention from me on PC are Marvel Ultimate Alliance, Spore, and Freelancer. Classic games that I can’t abandon.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to:

Elder Scrolls Online – Come on, you know you’re nervous about this, too. It’s one thing to build a fantastic open-world single player game, but the transition to an MMO is going to be rocky. It has potential though. Love the universe, not sure about sharing it with others.

Star Citizen – If you don’t know what this is, get in the know. I grew up on Chris Roberts games. My Hobbes was never a stuffed tiger. Chris Roberts is back and building a giant space game again. I still play Freelancer, and about a year ago I dished out $120 for a copy of The Kilrathi Saga. I donated to the kickstarter campaign (which was ridiculously successful). We may not see the game until 2014, but I’ll be there at alpha. Oh yeah. Check out Star Citizen at www.robertsspaceindustries.com

Wildstar – It’s sci-fi, it’s MMO. That’s all I know, and possibly all I need to know.

The next Xbox – I abandoned Microsoft about a decade ago due to social pressure. Since then, I’ve had more complaints about Apple, Linux, Android, Sony, Nintendo, and just about everything NOT Microsoft, than I ever expected. I’ll never stray again. I have a Windows Phone and I love it. I love Windows 8, and have loved every Microsoft OS since 3.1. How is that possible? I gave them a chance and learned to make them mine. And I will remain loyal until the Microsoft Robots with the faulty security loopholes enslave me. I WILL have the new Xbox.

GTA5 – Again, if its truly open-world, then I’m sure I’ll like it, though I’m ready for an open character in this series. The three-way story in this one has me slightly nervous.

Mass Effect – No details yet. I look forward to this with about as much excitement/trepidation as Star Wars VII.

Amusingly Stupid

I haven’t always been a die hard fan of science fiction. Surprised?

Well, let me clarify. While I certainly enjoyed science fiction movies, I did not discover my intense fondness for science fiction as written word until I was an adult. Regardless, that doesn’t mean science fiction has not been a huge part of my entire life.

I distinctly remember the wampa scene in Empire Strikes Back as my first theater moment. I had to have been only two years old. I didn’t know who Han Solo was, but I distinctly remember Bespin and the Cloud Cars. It has taken me thirty-two years to get them, but I finally own the original Kenner Cloud Car. And I also own the first piece of the Bespin Micro Set – I got the Carbon Freeze Chamber for a hell of a steal from my local Star Wars Toy Store, Order 66. Yes, my hometown that you’ve never heard of has a store dedicated solely to Star Wars Toys.

I also remember seeing E.T. in the theater when I was four years old. I remember this one a bit more vividly, but both of these movies were in my daily VHS rotation. I’d wake up at around six everyday and watch Empire Strikes Back that I had recorded off HBO, and then usually later in the day I’d watch E.T. or Dragonslayer.

That was about the limit of my exposure to science fiction until I could read novels and understand them. While I very likely would have gone straight for science fiction if given the chance, I was diverted by fantasy at a very early age.

My cousin had a bookshelf, in his abandoned room at my grandparents’ house, that was full of sword and sorcery titles like Conan and high fantasy like Dragonlance. It was in these realms that I first became fully immersed, and not science fiction, as it might have turned out.

I “borrowed” the Chronicles of Narnia, Lone Wolf, Greyhawk, and others, and it was these books that began a very long affair with the fantasy side of speculative fiction. It wasn’t long before I was reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. My aunt and uncle, parents to the cousin who fueled my new obsession with fantasy by abandoning so many fantasy books while off at college, continued the trend by buying me Robert Aspirin and Piers Anthony novels. On my own, I discovered R.A. Salvatore, Raymond Feist, and others.

It seemed like it was meant to be. Fantasy books led to fantasy games, and science fiction was all but forgotten.

In High School, my loyalties shifted. I read the Great Gatsby as a freshman, and it changed me. I had written a few short pieces in fantasy settings, but hadn’t developed a style. I found myself copying typical plots of high fantasy, gods become mortal, evil grows in the forest, dragons return, etc. Gatsby was not something I wanted to read, but I read it in one day – and then I read it again, and again, and again.

I realized that my writing was missing the human element. I wrote dwarves and elves and ogres and kender, but I shied away from humans. They were boring. They were violent, and they were stupid.

I finished Gatsby thinking, that could have been me – not just one of the characters, but Fitzgerald as well. I began to get the first inkling of a notion that I had the vision required to write, and I saw my potential for the first time.

Fitzgerald led to odd leaps in literature. I explored Burgess and Ballard, Palahniuk and Miller, Steinbeck and Kerouac. I dived into Fleming and L’Amour, devoured Crichton and King, cringed through Barker and a host of Splatterpunks. Fantasy was left behind, and soon I began writing straight fiction instead of just reading it.

I wrote about psychopathic heroes, corrupt humans, sick and twisted individuals that you didn’t know whether to love or hate them. I wrote shockers, twist endings, and I made my readers speculate on the dark side of the human condition.

You’ll never read these stories – ever.

It was about seven or eight years ago that I found myself in a terrible place. I had no money and no direction. I lived in my own private hell of debt and filth, and it seemed as if I would never recover from it.

In this hell, a terrible tragedy occurred. I ran out of books to read.

I didn’t have gas to drive to a major city that had the kind of books I wanted to read. I was working for a failing newspaper at the time, and had just run an ad for a used book fair to be held at the local civic building. I decided to walk over on my lunch break and check it out.

I had two dollars and fifteen cents – enough money to buy two burrito especials from the taco stand down the street. I starved that day and left the civic building with a shabby hardback copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Jailbird and a battered and faded paperback copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. The combination of those two novels, read in rapid succession, led me to a revelation:

Humans are amusingly stupid, and no matter how far into the future our species may stretch, and no matter how advanced our technology becomes, we will take all that amusing stupidity into the future with us.

I find it comforting … and that is why I write science fiction.

#2 – Tough Love

Another fifteen minute blast. Didn’t know where it was going until Franks says “crater”.

The two investigators ushered the worker into a small room with a single flickering bulb descending from the ceiling.

Trammel, the larger of the three men poured a glass of water for the worker and placed in on the small table in the center of the room.

“Have a seat, Mr. Franks,” the other investigator said, gesturing to the solitary metal chair pulled up to the table.

Franks, a wafer-thin, timid mouse of man, ignored the offered water, cautiously pulled the chair out from the table with a screech and sat down. Sweat was still beaded on his brow – whether from the heat of his heavy tech suit now removed, or the remnants of his stressful ordeal outside the perimeter of the ore processing unit, it did not matter to the investigators.

The other investigator was a common sight around Titan Base 3. Franks knew him as Rider, a nickname the roughnecks out in the methane fields had given him. Rider was the lead security officer for the work settlement and could often be spied hovering above the base and adjoining processing units on his ultralight glider.

“We want you to know that you’re not in any trouble, Mr. Franks,” Trammel said to the seated man. “But we would like to have a better understanding of what you think you saw.”

Franks’s brow furrowed at the word “think” and Rider shot Trammel a disapproving look.

“This is Lieutenant Trammel, in from Titan Home. We would both like to hear your–” he paused, and recovered,” we would like to hear the facts directly from you.”

Franks nodded to both men and let out a sigh before speaking in his rasping cough of a voice.

“I was checking out Tube 7,” he stammered. “I noticed a pressure leak in the outbound and decided to try and find it.”

“You left the unit perimeter to do this?” Trammel asked.

“I did,” Franks replied. “I couldn’t see a cause within the perimeter so I took a rover out and inspected the Tube heading out to the crater.”

“Did you find the cause?” Rider asked.

Franks shivered involuntarily, “I did. They were monstrous. Big scaly creatures. They seemed shocked to see me and ran away. It looked like they had thrown a rock at the tube and damaged it.”

“I see,” Rider said, nodding his head.

“Thank you, Mr. Franks,” Trammel stated with finality. “You can go now.”

Franks, a bit surprised, stood and exited the room.

After he was gone, it was Rider’s turn to sigh.

In his species’ language, he intoned to his offspring, “You and the others should be punished for playing that close to the human constructions.”

“We were just playing a game,” Trammel whined. His concentration slipped and the human disguise faded to reveal his reptilian hide.

Rider slapped his son for his carelessness, and Trammel wept as his skin shimmered back to a reddened human flesh color.

#1 – Weekes for a Year

Trying something new. Every day I’m just going to sit down, turn on a fifteen minute timer and just start writing.

I might write bits of other stories I’m working on, or it my be new material. It might be random, it might be planned.

I just feel like writing.

On Sunday the line is longest. Thousands of humanoids stand patiently, not crowding each other, slowly moving forward to the giant metallic cube.

The skies are purple and ships flit back and forth in front of azure clouds in the distance. Rail cars can be heard roaring through the tunnels underneath the Grande Place where the lines wind and spiral and extend on forever.

A humanoid steps away from the cube and the line moves forward one space. Like dominoes, each body appears to affect the one next to it line. There is a shuffle that continues for so long that if one were to look on the scene, one would notice that sometimes a shuffle wouldn’t end before another started. Oftentimes, there were as many as three shifts occurring in the long line at once.

Another humanoid form steps forward to receive his gift.

The android stands happily before the metallic cube and opens a small panel on his chest – approximately where a human being’s heart would be.

A glowing wire, thick enough to appear like a tentacle, snakes forward from the cube and connects to the android.

As the android stands there, the metallic cube uploads the entire life of Roger Weekes into the android – a simulation of memories and emotions that will turn the android receiving it into something more. Roger Weekes had died three weeks earlier, along with every other human being in existence.

The tentacle pulls away, retreating into the cube as the upload is completed. The android that, like every other android on the planet, allows its synthetic body to be host to the last vestiges of humanity, walks away from the cube to begin its new life as Roger Weekes. For one year, it will be the man that had a wife and family and secret affairs with coworkers. It will eat synthetic oranges, just like Roger Weekes did. It will have simulated bowel movements complicated by synthetic hemorrhoids.

It will be Roger Weekes for one year, and then Roger Weekes will return to storage in the cube until uploaded again.

The android that hosts the remnants of Roger Weekes sees the simulated face of his childhood friend on another android as he passes by on his way to the rail station.

“Hi Betty,” it says in Roger Weekes’ simulated voice. “Isn’t a lovely day?”

The android hosting Betty Brown nods and smiles politely.

The wind kicks up the bone dust that litters the Grande Place.

The sound of synthetic feet crushing human bone mixes into the cacophony of life, and the android hosting Roger Weekes displays a synthetic smile for the beginning of his new year.