Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wayward Traveler - Prologue (Full Text)

A few weeks ago I posted part of the prologue for a story I'm writing called Wayward Traveler.  I decided I didn't like how it sounded, so I rewrote it nearly from scratch and then went on to write the rest of the Prologue.  Please tell me what you think!


Detective Crawley was about to have a bad day and the growl in his stomach told him so. All he really wanted at the moment was a decent sandwich, but in Ashetown, a decent sandwich was nowhere to be found. The red-headed step child of the Imperial city Regalis, the Ashetown district teemed with the unwashed denizens that the rest of the Imperium had forgotten or merely ignored when passing them on the street. Cyberpunks and the homeless called this place home; a cesspool of burned out apartment blocks surrounded by garbage-strewn alleyways. And not a decent sandwich anywhere.

Crawley’s stomach grumbled louder as he spied a street vendor down the sidewalk. The sign on the cart read “Gyros and Falafels – Real Meat!” The vendor was a Tor, a minotaur race from the labyrinth cities of Rochan. On his home planet, the Tor would have been a successful craftsman, hammering ruddy iron into intricate shapes and selling them to the off-worlders who came to gawk at the sweaty spectacle. Here, he shoveled carved meat into pitas and sold them for 2 creds apiece.

Knowing this was probably the best he could do, Detective Crawley made his way toward the xeno and his cart, passing walls the local youths had decorated with gang tags and unflattering caricatures of the Emperor. You could get yourself shot for that, but nobody really cared too much around here. Mind your own business was the rule of the day.

The Tor towered a good foot or more above the Human cop. The tip of one horn was missing and the ring hanging from the bovine’s nose looked brown with tarnish. Like most of his race, he wore a leather kilt and not much else. Perspiration zigzagged down his bare, hairy chest, dripping into the row of pita breads sitting in the cart.

“You got any beef in that cart, cud-muncher?” the detective asked. He had left open his coat just far enough that the Tor could see the badge on his shirt and the strap of a shoulder holster.

“Yes, officer,” the big brute replied in a slow, baritone voice.

“That’s “detective” to you, xeno.”

“Can I get you something, Detective?”

“Isn’t it kind of strange for a cow to be serving beef?”

“It wasn’t anyone I knew,” the Tor said.

Detective Crawley smiled wryly. “Then I guess it’s safe to eat.”

“I didn’t say that.”

The Human heard a warble coming from deep inside his coat pocket. He reached in and pulled out a small datapad. The image of his lieutenant, a middle-aged woman with grey hair, winked open on the screen.

“Crawley!” the woman said. “There’s a possible homicide at the Greenwood Towers on the West End. I’m assigning the case to you.”

“West End?” the detective queried. “That’s not my usual beat, Lieutenant.”

“Just do what you’re told, Crawley.”

The display went blank, revealing Crawley’s reflection and the questioning look on his face. He rolled his eyes and popped the pad back into this coat. The vendor was handing him the gyros. The detective took the sandwhich, without offering to pay, and turned on his heel. He headed back down the street where his gravcar hovered silently.

The bufferbot didn’t know anything about Imperial society, but it knew a great deal about polishing floors. It knew exactly the right combination of cleaner and abrasive compound, enough to brighten the fine marble without scratching, and the precise amount of torque to keep its cylindrical body moving steadily without getting pulled to one side or another. The bufferbot had no idea, however, that the floor it was polishing was in fact in the West End district, literally on the west end of the city, across the Regalis river opposite the slums of Ashetown. The robot would’ve been perfectly happy doing its job in either location, although marble in Detective Crawley’s corner of the woods was even harder to find than a respectable ham on rye. The robot would do its best no matter what the conditions. It didn’t mind. In fact, its mind wasn’t partial as long as it provided a service, appreciated or not, in line with its corresponding protocols. Coincidentally, the Robot Freedom League abandoned trying to liberate janitorial bots for this very reason. It was frustrating to say the least.

When the bufferbot sensed the apartment manager of the Greenwood Towers crossing the freshly polished lobby floor, the robot’s circuits nearly jumped with glee at the prospect of redoing what he had just finished. The manager, a Dahl named Eadan, barely acknowledged the bot’s existence as he trotted anxiously past. His mind was on the oddly misplaced Human standing just inside the lobby entrance. Slight of build with pointed, elf-like ears -- a typical Dahl in every respect -- Eadan approached the stranger with the trepidation of a host encountering someone crashing an otherwise wonderful party. The Human, in his late forties, wore clothing of someone who gave up on making a mark in the world long ago. His coat was a synthetic blend, probably made by cheap labor off planet, and his shirt, tie, and pants were hopelessly outdated. The manager noticed one of the large potted planted plants to one side and momentarily considered dragging it over to the man, blocking the view of him from outside the entrance, but thought better of it. The Dahl’s frame was too slight to move such a heavy pot and, anyway, the Human wouldn’t be staying long with any luck.

“Can I help you?” Eadan said doubtfully.

“I’m Detective Crawley, Regalis PD.”

“Yes, of course, I was told to expect you, but I was expecting something…else.”

“Sorry to disappoint,” Crawley blatantly lied. He didn’t trust Dahls; they tended to be psionics and he didn’t like having his mind read without permission. He thought of a racial slur, but the manager didn’t flinch. A non-psi, apparently.

Eadan motioned toward the elevator. “This way.”

Once inside the lift, the manager attempted a more cordial tone, failing miserably. “Obviously, we’re very concerned about appearances,” Eadan said. “The thought of one of our tenants being murdered could damage our reputation. That just wouldn’t do.”

“That’s not my problem,” Crawley replied.

“All we ask is a level of decorum in your investigation. There’s no reason our other tenants need to know a murder has occurred.”

“Well, I guess that all depends on you.”

The manager’s eyebrow rose slightly. “How so?”

“I normally canvass the apartments near the crime scene, you know, to see if anybody heard or saw anything unusual. I’d have to explain to the neighbors the circumstances of the questioning, the murder that is, during the canvassing process.”

“Is this canvassing really necessary?”

“Not if I concluded the murder was an open and shut case.”

“Is that common?”

“Not particularly,” the detective said matter-of-factly.

“What if you were motivated to consider it such a case?” the manager asked.

“Well, I can’t imagine what kind of motivation that would entail.”

The Dahl fumbled awkwardly in his pocket and produced a small, plastic chip.

“Would this suffice?”

Detective Crawley took the chip. The tiny LED display on the cred stick read 500. “Yeah, that’ll be enough.”

“Good,” the Dahl replied as the door to the elevator spread apart with a rush of air.

Outside in the hallway, an android waited patiently, its casing painted black except for a silver trim and the lettering FU42 stenciled in yellow. “Detective Crawley, I presume?” the robot asked, holding out his hand.

Briefly taken aback, Crawley shook the machine’s hand but immediately felt stupid for doing so. “Yeah, who are you?”

“Forensic Unit 42,” the bot said. “Please come this way.”

The detective left the elevator and the manager behind and followed the robot down the corridor.

“Aren’t there any other detectives here?” Crawley inquired.

“No, sir.”

“Not even a green shirt?” he asked incredulously, referring to the uniform worn by regular policemen.

“I was the only unit sent to the crime scene, sir,” Unit 42 said in a clear, monotone voice. “Do you require another officer? I could request another FU bot if you’re dissatisfied with my performance.”

“I just got here,” Crawley said. “I don’t know if you’ve been satisfactory or not.”

“Except for preliminary scans, I’ve left the crime scene as undisturbed as possible, sir. I hope I can fulfill any FU needs that you require.”

“I’m sure it’s fine.”

Unit 42 opened the door to an apartment and walked in, its gait mechanical yet steady. Without pausing, the robot took the Human through the main living room, down a short hallway, and into the bedroom. On the bed, a nude woman was lying with the sheets covering her lower body. Her left arm hung over the side. Her cold, dead eyes greeted the detective with sharp indifference. Crawley heard someone talking, glanced around the room, and saw a large shimmering holodisplay next to the far wall. A man, some kind of news anchor, was speaking. “…more about the retirement of Duke Tertulla after these messages.”

Camera up on a man and woman, their backs to the camera, sitting on folding chairs on the beach as they look out on a brilliant azure sea.  Between them is a small wicker table with
an ice bucket sitting on top.
  (Sounds of the ocean and sea birds
in the background.)
Cut to the front of the couple.  The woman looks hot and uncomfortable.   Brad: Hey, Linda – what’s the
Cut to woman.   Linda: Oh, Brad, it’s so hot out here and all this exotic food is making me constipated!
Cut to man.  Smiling, he reaches into the ice bucket and pulls out a can of soda.   Brad: Well then you should try
Cut to soda can. Label facing the camera.   Brad (OC):  Spastic Cola has a
refreshing cold taste AND it’ll keep you regular!
Cut to woman.  She takes the soda can and drinks from it.   Linda: Mmmm, I feel better
Cut to product shot .   Announcer:  From MoFoCo, enjoy a delicious can of Spastic Cola today!  Now with 20% less anal leakage!

“Holodisplay off,” Detective Crawley ordered. The apartment AI obeyed immediately and the floating soda can disappeared. “That shit gives me gas,” he said.

The gastrointestinal tract of organic creatures fascinated Unit 42. The forensic robot was amazed by its complexity and how easily variables, like the kind of food that was ingested, could throw the entire system off kilter. Granted, organics required sustenance to create internal heat and build biomass, but an internal fusion reactor and a mechanical prosthesis was infinitely more dependable. There was much about organics that Unit 42 simply didn’t understand.

Ignoring the body, Crawley strolled over to a black lacquer dresser and pulled open the upper drawer. He reached in and casually removed a pair of pink woman’s underwear with white lace.

Unit 42 watched the police detective attentively, unsure what purpose the undergarment served in the investigation. The robot noticed that Humans often depended more on their intuition instead of hard facts. Perhaps this was a piece of evidence that his own cybernetic brain could not comprehend?

The detective slipped the panties into his coat pocket and turned toward the corpse. “Can you imagine living like this?” he asked. “This bedroom is bigger than my whole apartment.”

“I live in a closet,” Unit 42 remarked, hoping to create a friendly rapport.

“Shut up and tell me what you know about her.”

Unsure which of the opposing directives the Human actually wanted, the robot hesitated momentarily. “The manager told me that the woman’s name is Jolana Valeria, a 38 year old from Middleton,” Unit 42 stammered.

Middleton was the third district of Regalis, for those not wealthy or blue-blooded enough to live in the West End, but still better off than the unwashed masses of Ashetown.

“How could a middle-class girl afford to live in West End?” Crawley wondered aloud, considering the options. She could be a mistress or a sugar daddy’s kept woman or even a prostitute, although a lot classier than the whores the detective normally encountered.

“Cause of death?” he asked.

“Asphyxia,” FU42 said. “Her hyoid bone is broken, indicating she died from manual strangulation. Also, after examining the bruises on her neck, I’ve concluded that the murderer was a male, approximately 180 centimeters tall.”


“One more thing, the murder appears to have occurred either during or shortly after coitus.”

“Ahhh,” the detective’s attention perked up. “Now we’re getting somewhere. I bet she’s a prostitute and the john didn’t want to pay. I see that crap all the time in Ashetown, though you’d think the guys around here could afford it. Cheap bastard.”

“I took samples, but I’ll need the lab at the station to test them.”

Detective Crawley stood near the woman's body. The blood vessels in her eyes had burst, red tendrils filling the white like the strands of her auburn hair strewn over the pillow.

Unit 42 examined the detective while he was doing the same to the body. Of the two, the robot found the corpse far less puzzling. A dead organic was infinitely more understandable. They decayed at a set rate – this particular one expired precisely eight and three-quarter hours ago. They no longer suffered from bouts of uncontrolled emotions like anger or sadness. Living beings, at least the non-cybernetic kind, were often unpredictable based on their moods or intuitions or what kind of sandwich they ate for lunch.

The robot heard a faint warbling from the detective’s coat. The Human removed a datapad from the coat, snagging it for second on his shoulder holster, and looked at the screen. Instead of a video feed, only text appeared. Unit 42 didn’t know why someone would only send text, but organics were apt to do strange things from time to time. Perhaps it was a joke somebody thought was funny enough to share with the detective. Humor was another thing the robot found mystifying. Sarcasm was especially lost on the forensic unit. It must not have been a joke, though, or at least Detective Crawley didn’t seem to “get it.” He had a strange look on his face as if he didn’t entirely understand what he just read. Then, he glanced at the body.

“You haven’t uploaded any of your findings have you?” he asked Unit 42.

“No, sir,” the robot replied. “I was waiting for your authorization.”


Detective Crawley held the datapad in his left hand, leaving his other hand free to pull an energy pistol from his shoulder holster. He pointed the gun at the robot.

This was curious behavior to say the least, thought Unit 42. He wondered, for perhaps a millisecond, whether this was another example of organic humor. He waited, calmly and without moving, for the detective to put away the weapon, smile and then laugh. Instead, Crawley squeezed the trigger, sending a flash of superheated plasma across the room.

Very odd indeed, Unit 42 thought just as the energy bolt impacted the outer casing between his eyes. The plasma continued, melted plastic and fusing circuits, until it reached the back of the casing. A fountain of sparks, smoke, and bits of formerly expensive electronics showered over the furniture. Unit 42 took a step forward and fell to the floor with a loud, metallic crash.

Detective Crawley returned the blaster back into the holster and erased the message still showing on his datapad.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wayward Traveler - Prologue Part 1

I’ve been working a lot on my next supplement, Minor Races, but I’ve also had the idea of a fiction story bubbling in my head.  I wanted to finish my comic script first, Crimson Kiss, but this new story wouldn’t leave me alone.  So, below is the first part of the Prologue of what might grow into something novel-length (or not).  Part 2 of the Prologue is coming a little later.  In the meantime, I'd welcome any feedback you'd like to share.  :-)

Prologue - Part 1

Detective Crawley heard the faint warble of his datapad coming from deep within his coat pocket.  He stood beside a street vendor’s cart, buying a sandwich.  The vendor, a Tor from the Labyrinth Cities of the planet Rochan, shoved beef between two slices of bread.  The fact that the Tor were partially bovine, with the body of a man and the head of a bull (including horns and a brass ring through their noses), made the choice of beef a little unsettling to the detective.

Crawley reached into his pocket and pulled out the datapad.  The image of his lieutenant, a middle-aged woman with grey hair, winked open on the screen.

“Crawley!” the woman said.  “There’s a possible homicide at the Greenwood Towers on the West End.  I’m assigning the case to you.”

“West End?” the detective queried.  “That’s not my usual beat, Lieutenant.”

“Just do what you’re told, Crawley.” 

The display went blank, revealing Crawley’s reflection and the questioning look on his face.   He rolled his eyes and popped the pad back into this coat.  The vendor was handing him the sandwich.

“Are you going to pay this time?” the Tor asked in a deep, unsympathetic voice.

Detective Crawley grabbed the sandwich and looked at it skeptically.

“Not until you start paying your protection money,” he said.

“Why are Humans such assholes,” the vendor grunted.

“Beats me, cud-muncher.”

The detective turned on his heel and headed back to where his gravcar was parked further down the street.  “This was a nice part of town,” he thought, “before all the Xenos moved in.”  He took a bite out of his lunch, made a sour face, and threw it to the curb where a small service robot was sweeping garbage into an internal dustpan.  The bot, like a crab with mechanical appendages, considered the sandwich, decided it was waste, and tucked it inside.

Detective Crawley was a man in his late forties, wearing clothing of someone who hadn’t quite made his mark in the world.  His coat was a synthetic blend made by cheap labor somewhere off planet.  His shirt, tie, and pants had stains of varying sizes and textures; his shoes showed signs of over use.

The gravcar hovered silently next to the sidewalk.  The vehicle was oblong with a large windscreen covering most of the top section and an airfoil rising from the back.  The plastisteel body had a grey finish and the word Police etched across the front, just above the headlights.  Detective Crawley touched the side of the car.  The vehicle’s AI registered the man’s fingerprint and opened the top, allowing the detective to climb inside.  Crawley swiped away the fast food boxes from the seat and pressed himself comfortably into the leather upholstery.  He programmed his destination into the navigation computer and felt the gravcar lift off the ground.  The car pushed upward 500 meters until it reached the skyway, a line of vehicles in single-file, moving at an AI-controlled speed.  Crawley’s gravcar quickly matched velocity, merging in with the others.

The city of Regalis sprawled out below the traffic like a relaxing giant.  Regalis wasn’t the largest or even the most beautiful metropolis on the planet Aldorus, but it served as the seat of government and the home of the Emperor, which made it the center of the Imperium for most citizens.  Crawley’s beat was a section of the city called Ashtown where the poor lived in tightly packed slums and crime was a constant reminder that the Underclass was the lowest rung of society.  To the North of Ashtown, the skyscrapers of Middleton rose up like fingers of glass and plastisteel, paying tribute to the bourgeois that called that part of the city home.
The detective watched with detached interest as the gravcar flowed with the other vehicles down the skyway.  Traffic was dense heading toward Middleton, but the parade of cars was noticeably thinner where Crawley was going.  Leaving Ashetown behind, he headed west toward the Regalis River (nicknamed the Reggie).  Past the ribbon of water, the gleaming West End seemed to beckon, though the detective knew the aristocrats living there would be less than welcoming.

The Greenwood Towers were three columns of apartments, thirty stories high, with a main strut, containing the elevators, running up the center.  Walkways connected the hub with each level, providing a view of the surrounding grounds.  Detective Crawley landed his gravcar on a designated pad at the base of the structure.  Once the detective was safely off the pad, the slab of ground lowered the car into the unseen garage below where the parking AI would file the vehicle away like a book in a library.

Crawely walked up the main driveway, past a line of sycamore trees flanking a turquoise reflecting pool.  He became acutely aware that people were staring at him.  Residents, and even the staff, were dressed in clothes of fine fabrics and tasteful jewelry.  This contrasted badly with the detective’s own attire.  He cringed, but kept walking.  The logo for the towers, a golden trident, hung above the main entrance.  Crawley walked through the sliding glass doors only to find the reproachful look of the concierge.  The gatekeeper was a Dahl, an elf-like and somewhat effeminate race known for their intellect and general snobbery.  His pointed ears twitched ever so slightly as the interloper approached the front desk.

“Can I help you?” the concierge asked doubtfully.

“I’m Detective Crawley of the Regalis PD.”  He showed his badge.  “I’m told you have a possible homicide on the premises.”

“Well, don’t announce it to the whole world,” the Dahl said.  “We pride ourselves on being discreet.”

“Yeah, well I’ve got a job to do so if you don’t mind…”

“Indeed.  Please follow me.”

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's in a name?

Of all the things I do related to the Imperium Chronicles, naming things is probably my least favorite.  This is ironic since naming something (like Adam in the Bible) is a powerful thing.  You’re attaching a tag to something that will probably be the first thing people associate with that thing from then on.  I mean, people will view a guy named Robert much differently than someone named Biff, so naming things is important.

Unfortunately, I hate naming things.  This is all too apparent with my newest game supplement, Minor Races.  Each race gets a name and I’m the one who has to figure out what that will be.

I don’t have a particular system for names, although I do have a couple of fallback positions that I usually end up using.  My favorite method is to use words from other languages, preferably ones that nobody has heard of.  This gives the name an exotic quality that is perfect for a sci-fi game like mine.  The language I’ve used the most, including for planet names in the Basic Rule book, is Sanskrit.  There’s something about that ancient Indian language that is both familiar and yet fantastic.  One of the reasons I’m drawn to other languages for naming is probably Star Wars.  I was watching a news program about a small island nation in the Pacific whose population was amazed to find their language being used in Return of the Jedi.  A henchmen of Jabba the Hutt opened his mouth (ostensibly to say something in an exotic alien dialect), but what came out was in fact the native tongue of this island nation.  George Lucas, instead of creating a whole new language (such as Klingon), simply used a preexisting one (albeit one that few of us have ever heard of).   From that point onward, I decided that if George can do something, so could I.

Now, the problem with using foreign words (including Latin) is that it’s hard to explain why those words would be known by these sci-fi creatures.  In other words, it’s illogical to believe that an alien in Jabba the Hutt’s hideout would be speaking a language from a small country in the Pacific (considering that Star Wars is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away).  For that matter, why is the hero of the movie named after a chapter of the Bible?  This is when writers like myself (and apparently George Lucas) pull out a little thing called “Poetic License.”  It’s a similar concept used in fantasy games: if you can’t explain something, say it’s caused by MAGIC!  It’s a powerful tool (magic or poetic license, take your pick) because it takes a lot of pressure off the writer.  Logic flies out the window and the writer can continue on his happy way.

We’re not all J.R.R. Tolkien, after all.  Some of us have deadlines.  ;-)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sci-Fi Dungeon Crawl

Last night we finished up play testing the Ovid Incident.  It went really well and I’m going to incorporate some of the lessons learned into the module.  The supplement itself is much like a conventional “dungeon crawl,” but in a sci-fi setting.  This corresponds with the theme of my game system: a mash up of sci-fi and fantasy elements.  The only downside is that players are pretty much led through the adventure (on “rails” as it’s called), but the module is also telling a story and I think this is the best way of achieving that.

Besides working on the Ovid Incident, I’ve also been making changes to the Basic Rules.  Some of the lessons from play testing the adventure module have led to me wanting to change a few things in the Basic Rules that I originally hadn’t planned on.  For one thing, I’d like to review the abilities (especially the psionics).  Currently the recast duration on several abilities (i.e.: how long before you can use the ability again) is not very standardized.  I’d like abilities to have one of three recast durations: once per round, once per encounter, or once per day.  This is similar to what’s used in some of the other games in the industry, most notably, Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition.

I haven’t done anything with the Crimson Kiss (a comic script I’ve been working on) for several weeks.  Between the Ovid Incident and some non-game related tasks, I haven’t really had a chance to work on the script.  I’m hoping in the coming month I’ll be able to get back to it.

Lastly, I’ve been playing Star Trek Online lately and it’s gotten me in the mood to design more starship deck plans.  I’m thinking about making maps for some of the races in the game, like the Dökk and the Lutins (as well as other groups mentioned in my Monster Menagerie supplement).  Unlike the original Deck Plans supplement, however, I’d like to give a deeper description of each ship, especially how it’s used by the races in question.

I realize I put too much on my plate at times, but I tend to go with wherever my imagination takes me.  Hopefully I can get some of it done eventually.  ;-)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

I can't find my glasses!

Since I’ve been updating my progress on our Facebook page, I haven’t felt the need to write a whole blog for quite a while.   At the moment the Ovid Incident has progressed nicely, although at a glacier speed.  I’ve completed three sublevels and I’m about to start the fourth.  I’m a little unsure whether Sublevel 4 will be the last or whether I’ll need a fifth.  Either way, the module is more than two-thirds done.

A funny thing happened after my big hard drive disaster: I had done the model for one of the main characters, Howard Wimple, which included some thick, black glasses.  After the meltdown, however, I thought I had lost the glasses model.  This wouldn’t be a big deal except I had rendered a really nice picture with Howard wearing those particular glasses.  If I found a different looking pair, I’d have to discard the render.  So, the other night I lay in bed thinking about it, and I just couldn’t sleep.  After midnight, I started scouring the internet for the lost pair of glasses.  Eventually, after having no luck at all, I took another peek at my folders where I keep the different Poser models.  Low and behold, in a folder I normally don’t expect to see Poser models, I found the precious glasses.  As far as victories go, this probably wasn’t a big one, but at one in the morning I’ll take what I can get.

Btw, I’ve started playing weekly with some friends via Skype (voice only).  Last week we ran through an adventure using the Labyrinth Lord rules.  It’s been suggested that I might want to run an Imperium Chronicles game, and I think the Ovid Incident would do nicely (once it’s finished).