Cross-Promotion: No Honor Among Thieves

My brother has launched a kickstarter for the card game he’s been developing, No Honor Among Thieves. Back it at any level to recieve a track I produced, or watch the video for a preview of the track. 

The game is a fantasy heist card game inspired by the likes of The Lies of Locke Lamora. If you’re at all interested in tabletop gaming, check it out!

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Interlude: Distance

Translocator adjusted his grip on the new space station module. It was difficult to really grip anything with the spacesuit gloves. Some Korean and Chinese engineers droned on behind him about how important it was that he be close enough for the astronauts on the station to begin the docking procedure. He nodded and pretended to be following along with the translation streamed to his helmet. You miss the ISS one time and nobody ever let’s you live it down. He thought to himself with a wry smile. 

“Translocator, we’ve got a call from the United States liaison,” the ITAB dispatcher said in his ear. “They want you back in Colswell.”

He groaned inwardly. “Kindly tell them that I’m not their lapdog. I helped clean up, but I won’t help rebuild. Not since you-know-who sued me.”

A pair of important-looking people shook hands in the live feed from the mission control room. 

“That’s not it. He says they’ve had another nightmare attack.”

“What?” his voice rang in the enclosed helmet. 

The engineers gave him a concerned look. Evidently they’d heard his outburst. 

“All good,” he said to reassure them, giving them a thumbs-up. 

A countdown started, translated into several languages for the benefit of the international audience. 

“We’re trying to get Monitor to confirm, but you know how he is.”

“Asleep?” Translocator asked.

“Indeed,” dispatch said with a wry quirk to their voice. 

“I’ll be there as soon as I’m done with my trip to space. Countdown’s almost done.” His previous excitement had faded, replaced with a hard knot in his gut. 

The ISS is moving at a bit over Mach 22. The speed of sound is about 340 meters per second, so that puts it at about 7500 meters per second. The countdown just hit five. 7.5 kilometers per second over fiv- no, four seconds. That’s 30 km away and [[X]] km up. 

Translocator bent his knees and took a few deep breaths as the countdown approached zero. 22.5. 15. 7.5. The countdown hit zero. He jumped. 

His suit expanded slightly as the pressure around him dropped from one atmosphere to zero. Fortunately for him, this one was designed specifically to handle that. The rushing wind was replaced with the sound of the compressed air tank adjusting the suit pressure. His ears popped and the sudden lack of gravity made his head spin. 

“Translocator to ISS. This will never get old,” he said as he looked down at the earth below him and tried to relax into the lack of gravity.

“You got that right,” came the reply from Commander Louis Beor, crisp and clear, with no atmospheric interference. “Let me know if you ever decide to go to Mars. I’ve got dibs on second place.” 

“I’d rather not get out of eyesight of home. Buy me a telescope and some booze and maybe we’ll talk.” In truth, Translocator shuddered at the idea of being unable to find the earth. He had firsthand knowledge of just how small the planet is. 

“Fair enough. Your aim’s getting better– we’ve got you a few kilometers east and up.”

“Face towards Europe. Got it.” He knew the comment about his aim was a joke, but he still winced. 

Translocator used his grip on the satellite module to turn until he was facing the right direction. As soon as he spotted the station hovering above the clouds he moved in closer. The earth didn’t seem to move, but the station now loomed large in front of him. It still felt odd to see it hovering, perfectly still, as the earth scrolled past below, knowing that he was moving at 22 times the speed of sound. The fact that he could match speed like this and that he wasn’t limited to line of sight was what made him the most powerful teleporters ever.

“Bring it around to the other side and we can take it from there.”

A few more jumps to circumnavigate the station and he had the module in position. 

“You need it any closer?” he asked. 

“That’s perfect. Get clear and we’ll start the docking procedure.” 

Translocator moved himself out of the way and watched as the astronauts tethered to the station pulled the new module in with a slow, gentle touch. 

The trip back down had much less fanfare than the trip up. Normally he’d stay and watch the docking procedure, but the news from Colswell gnawed at the back of his mind. He teleported back to the International Threat Assessment Bureau headquarters in Brussels where he stored his jet. It wasn’t really his jet, but the bureau leadership gave him full access to it at any time so he could respond to emergencies without needing to wait for council approval. 

The jet was powered up and ready to launch in just a few minutes. He’d have to fill out requisition forms for the fuel later, but fortunately that was handled post-op. 

“Dispatch,” he said. “Give me the distance to Colswell city,” he said to the air as the VTOL thrusters on the plane powered up. A rather unique vehicle, with Translocator aboard it didn’t have to move very fast, just stay fixed in the air easily. It would be more accurate to call it a hovercraft, in that regard, but the overall design looked more jet-like than anything else because that’s what the chassis was based off. 

“That’s 5682 km at 243 degrees,” said a very similar voice, but this time with a distinct Belgian accent.

“Thank you.” 

One jump and he was there. As soon as he appeared in Colswell he started receiving a transmission on the emergency-band radio. 

“-is in effect. Evacuation is not necessary. Remain in your home. All streets are closed to non-emergency traffic.”

The bottom dropped out of Translocator’s stomach as he emergency broadcast continued, listing hotline numbers for different emergencies to take the load off the primary line. 

“Get me into contact with whoever’s organizing response,” he said as he stared at what the city has become. Two thirds of the city was consumed by a sphere of pure black, rimmed in gold by the sun rising behind it, the buildings around the edges twisted and distorted as though they were being sucked into it in extreme slow motion. 

It felt wrong. His intuitive sense for distances told him that he was looking into a hole so deep he could fall forever and never hit the bottom. It like staring into the empty space between the stars.

“Translocator, thank god you made it,” said an official-sounding voice from the radio. “We’re cut off from most of the city’s law enforcement and infrastructure. Power and water are out for most of the city, and whatever that is, it blocks radio.”

“What can I do?” Translocator asked. He teleported the jet down towards the edge of the bubble, where he saw a line of US military vehicles parked across one of the broadest streets in the city.

“We have a few options. We’ve calculated the center of the area to be Durian Park. There was an outdoor screening scheduled there and local heroes were spotted moving towards that area shortly before the event.” The speaker held a brief, quiet exchange with another person before continuing. “If you’re willing, we’d like to send you in.”

Translocator looked into the void again and shuddered. “Have you sent anyone else in? Did they come back?”

There was silence on the line. “…no.” 

Typical. “Then that’s my answer.” Translocator relaxed. He had an out. 

“We sent in a drone, but we lost contact with it.” The speaker had loss the sense of certainty they’d had moments before. 

“And that makes you think it would be safe for me?” Translocator said. “Since we lost Foresight we can’t risk our lives like that.”

“I don’t know how your thing works! That’s why I asked!” There was a pause. “Look, why don’t you come down here and we can talk? We’ve got plenty of people on the ground who need help, and you won’t do any good up there.”

Translocator spent the next hour or so moving patients from Colswell City hospitals to those in safer areas. The hospitals here were already crowded and overfull, thanks to the previous nightmare event and the recent transfers from parts of the city without power. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was necessary, and just as important as the flashier uses of his ability. 

And then the bubble burst. The black hole, as those outside it had come to call it, vanished without a sound. Translocator was interrupted from his work by a voice in his earpiece informing him of what had happened. As soon as he was able, he teleported to Durian park. He’d taken a moment earlier to look at a map of the city and learn where the park was, so when the time came, he was ready. 

He arrived at the edge of the park when the sun was just peeking in over the top of the shortest building nearby. A line of dead cars clogged the road, but the air was thick with exhaust fumes, like they’d been driving all night. He gagged at the smell, and tried to teleport away from the road towards the center of the park, but couldn’t. He swayed on his feet, then staggered back, disoriented. 

“There’s something interfering with my power,” he said to his earpiece, disbelieving. 

“Translocator?” The voice that responded sounded raw, but familiar. He recognized it from his previous work in the city– Director Jamisson, the local Metahuman Affairs liaison. “This isn’t public knowledge, but Dr. Destructo’s null-field generator has been out of our hands for a few months now. If you find it, do not deactivate it. It may be what ended the event.”

He walked towards the center of the park, one arm over his mouth and nose to filter out some of the smog. 

“Who is this? This is a government channel.” demanded he man Translocator had been dealing with previously. Jamieson disregarded it and continued. 

“The source of the event was Locus, of the Wardens of Justice. If he’s still alive, do not move him out of range of the nullifier.”

“Randwulf,” Translocator cursed. “Dr. Ermen. He must be in the area.”

There was a clatter and a quiet curse from the other end of the line. The man who had been directing response from outside the bubble seemed to realize who he was talking to and stayed silent. Translocator squinted against the increasingly putrid air as his eyes started to burn. His foot hit something on the ground and he tripped. When his first reflex, to use his power to teleport away and right himself, failed, he couldn’t recover and landed hard on one arm. His wrist twisted sharply and a spike of pain jolted up to his shoulder.

“Aaagh!” He shouted in pain and surprise. 

He rolled to the side and pulled the injured arm close. Only then did he see what he’d tripped over– a body collapsed on the ground in a parka and wrapped in a blanket. The body stirred, then took a deep shuddering breath and coughed. Every few seconds some part of him kept trying to teleport out, screaming at him, you’re in danger! Get away! Get safe!

“H- hello?” Called a voice somewhere nearby. A child started to cry. 

“-breathe! I can’t breathe!” Gasped another voice. Translocator’s own chest felt tight, like he couldn’t fill his lungs quite all the way. 

Someone ran past, a blur in the smog. Translocator jerked away, startled. 

“I can’t,” he said. He stood and turned in the direction he thought he’d come from, but something was wrong. The sun wasn’t in the right place. He was all turned around. He ran, his wrist sending stabs of pain up his arm with each footfall. He could feel his reflex to teleport away butting against the inside of his skull, unable to actualize. More and more voices called out in the smog, blending with the voice speaking to him through his earpiece. 

And then he was in the hangar in Brussels. The air was clean and clear, but his breathing stayed rapid and ragged for several minutes. He hunched over, hands on his knees while he calmed himself. 

Coward. He thought to himself. Coward

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Catching my breath…

I was expecting to be able to spend more time on this, but my asthma has become significantly worse over the last few weeks. I should be able to get some interludes up, but unfortunately you should probably expect my unreliable and irregular update schedule to continue. 

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Machine Daydreams (non-story post)

I have an interlude almost done, but for various reasons (read: networking), instead of finishing it this weekend like I intended to, I created a blog to follow one of my other hobbies, generative machine learning models. Check it out, if you’re interested!

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Eclipse 9.9

Sean was sitting on the ground, when I found him, knees pulled up to his chest, hands shaking. His wings were gone, and his hair had lost its brilliant glow. Shit, he looks bad.

“Sean,” I said.

He didn’t look at me. “How are you here?” He asked, his voice low and hoarse.

“I teleport, remember?” I said, gently as I could manage in the state I was in.

“No. Get out of my head.” He sounded angry, but he still didn’t move. I kept my hand on his shoulder.

“Sean, I’m here,” I said awkwardly. How do I do this? “I have a plan to get us out.” Kind of.

“Get out!” he shouted. He grabbed my arm from his shoulder and turned to look at me. “I deserve this.”

His fingers dug painfully into my wrist. His eyes flared with light. My chest tightened with panic as I remembered being frozen by Temple. My first reflex was to cover my eyes with darkness, but what I’d seen in the darkness a few minutes ago stopped me.

“I saw it,” Sean said. “I fucking saw it.” Sean’s eyes carved dark trails in my vision. “Temple was right. We can’t fight that.”

The scars on his hands stood out, red and angry. He had taken off his gloves.

“Fight what?” I asked. His eyes, though blinding, didn’t have the same effect as Temple’s

“The thing on the screen. I only got a glimpse but it saw me.” He shuddered. “It can still see me.” He sounded more scared than angry now. His grip loosened a bit. “Fuck,” he said, voice quiet. “You’re real.” the light from his eyes dimmed, but didn’t fade completely. “I sound crazy.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. “I don’t know,” I said. “It sounds a lot like what Rob Banks said. Maybe-” I can’t believe I’m saying this. “Maybe Temple’s right.”

Sean nodded, as if it made sense to him. “So this…” He gestured at the wasteland around us. “What is this?”

“It’s Locus,” I said. “His power’s out of control, stretching everything out into… this.”

Sean nodded again, and the light in his eyes dimmed to a dull red glow through his eyelids as he closed them. He let out a deep breath. “I’m too fucking tired.” He said. “You said you have a plan? Do you need me?”

“I don’t know if I could bring you even if I did,” I said. I have teleported someone else before, I remembered. My memory of the event was fuzzy. Charity, after she got shot by Myriad. I could feel my hands shaking. But I doubt I could do that again now.

“Good,” He said, and let go. Once more, I was alone. Fuck. He needs help. I sagged with exhaustion that I had struggled not to show before. I need help.

When I found Locus, I froze with horror. His skin was ashen grey, his limbs distended to half again their normal length. His fingers twisted and splayed at unnatural angles, his mouth locked open, wider than should be possible.

My stomach lurched and I retched involuntarily. I stumbled a few steps away from where he was sprawled on the ground, using my parachute cord to get more distance.

“Oh god,” I croaked. What the fuck? I thought. What happened to him? I had seen the pictures of some of the Nightmares that had appeared over the years. An image of Molar, covered with calcified growths but whose limbs twisted and bent in impossible ways flashed in my head, and others, each more horrifying than the last. Creatures I’d studied carefully before deciding I wanted to take this path. I’d known that I might have to face one of them, or something like them, one day, but I never could have imagined that it would be in the form of one of the beloved heroes I’d looked up to for so long.

He moved without warning, turning his head to look my direction. His eyes were pleading, terrified. I have to help him, resolved. I reached down to the Nullifier and hesitated. If this doesn’t work, I might lose my marks. This might be my only chance.

And after that there’s only one option.

I turned on the Nullifier.

A wave of heat radiated out from the box as it activated and I could feel my darkness fading away, retreating back into my skin, or wherever it came from, revealing the body armor beneath. Locus writhed in pain, but the effect of his twisted power didn’t abate.

The air around us seemed to shake. Blotches appeared in the sky, like holes burned in film. The parachute cord stretched and thinned, and Locus started to move away from me as the space between us expanded.

No! I turned off the Nullifier and my darkness returned, covering me and the parachute cord in an instant, but too late. Locus was gone, vanished into the distance like all the others before. The wasteland seemed somehow different now– less indifferent, more hostile. The feeling of oppressive pressure redoubled.

The remnants of my parachute cord fell to the ground, snapped under its own weight after being thinned and weakened by Locus’ power. That was from just a moment looking at the screen, I realized to my horror. Same as Sean. Same as who knows how many other people.

I didn’t know what kind of effect it would have on people without powers. None of the other people I’d encountered seemed to have had any… symptoms, for lack of a better word, but most of the people I had tagged weren’t at the screening, and those that were were probably looking at me or Guardian Angel. Or at least I hoped they were. Another pulse of pain behind my eyebrows made my head spin.

I reached out to my marks to find that they were still there. That’s good news at least. I looked into the distance. No matter where I looked, I was looking into the distance. And after what Sean said, I couldn’t help but feel like something was watching me. No, not me, but looking my direction, but I was too small to notice.

I failed, I thought. I had one chance, and I failed.

I’m going to be stuck here forever. I sat down on the ground, then fell to my back. Moving made it worse. Given the lack of landmarks, I may have actually been spinning. I stared up at where the sky should have been been and tried to wait for the pain and nausea to pass. I groaned out loud.

“Fuck,” I said, then again, “Fuck!” My mouth was dry. “What the fuck am I supposed to do?”

I closed my eyes for a moment and then sat up. I need to do something.

“Fuck,” I said again. My voice sounded weak even to me. “I should have just killed him,” I said without conviction. My heart seemed too slow, and too loud. Each pulse pushed me down like one more brick dropping onto my shoulders.

I need to move. I stood, fighting against my body and the better part of my mind that wanted nothing more than to lie down and not get back up. I swayed on my feet, but stated upright.

Momentum. I need momentum.

I teleported to the first person I could reach. A young boy appeared beside me, curled on the ground, whimpering. I stopped, brain stalling. No. I need to keep going. I thought. That’s the only way I can help.

Pushing my doubt aside, I continued. The next few people had feared no better. None were still standing, except one who was walking blindly forward and got out of my grip almost immediately.

After what felt like a long time, I encountered for the second time the warden from the meta-max prison.

“Shadow. I thought you had a plan,” the warden croaked. “Damn but I’m thirsty.”

“I did- do,” I said. My thoughts, sluggish as they were, jumped into high gear when I spotted the blocky blue and yellow handgun on his hip. Not a standard-issue pistol. If it comes down to it, if I can get back to Locus, that might be useful. Even as I had that thought, another idea struck me.

“Denudine,” I said.

“Huh?” he asked.

“Do you have any on you?” I said.

He has to carry denudine on him. It wouldn’t make sense otherwise.

“I do,” he said. He reached into his jacket and produced a small pistol-gripped jet injector with a glass vial of clear liquid screwed into the back.

“I need that.” I might have a chance!

He nodded and handed it over. “Good plan. You can deliver it?”

“I think so,” I lied. I have to try. If I can’t… well, I guess I’d have to hope Locus would die of thirst first. It was a sobering thought.

“Good.” He unholstered his handgun and held it out to me. “Take this too.”

I hesitated, but still took it. Just in case.

“Good luck,” he said as I let him go.

Now I just need to get back to Locus. I thought. I reached out to my marks, pushing my awareness of them as far as I could. Like other senses, I couldn’t really make it better just through force of will, but I could concentrate and maybe find something I’d missed. My other marks didn’t get erased, but the one on Locus probably was. Unless…

The moment before the cord snapped, I covered it. If I remembered what I’d seen correctly, I’d covered the whole thing with one touch. If I managed to mark him, I might be able to find him again.

I searched through my marks, looking for one that fit the description. If the cord was still tied around his leg, I should be able to feel the difference in shape of the mark.

The distances involved as I scanned through my marks were dizzying. Not something I could fully process. Each mark didn’t seem to have a fixed position, just a direction, like stars in the sky. Wait, I stopped at one that seemed to fit the description. Could that be it? I reached through the connection and pulled myself through.

Locus appeared at arms length, separated by the snapped-off length of parachute cord. I took a step towards him, but he only got farther away. No! I teleported closer, but he slid out of my grasp before I could get a grip. I teleported to him again and used my power to press the jet injector to his neck in the same instant. I pulled the trigger and with a hiss of compressed air, it delivered it’s payload.

I was not prepared for Locus’ scream. It cut through the air and split my head in two. I fell to me knees but didn’t release my grip on Locus. I grasped for the nullifier and fumbled for the switch. My hand slipped off the metal surface, and I pulled it back and scrabbled at the metal before I was able to flip it on.

The world collapsed inward with a rush of air and sound. Walls rushed towards us from all sides, slamming abruptly to a halt at the edges of the park. Clouds dropped in from above, completing the feeling of a diorama being folded up around me.

Randwulf must have been caught in it too. He’s still nearby, I thought, even as my vision dimmed. I have to find him. I heard screeching tires and a crash from somewhere nearby.

I have to… I have to… I…

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Wow…

It’s been more than a month. I’m so sorry. I did not expect this to take so long, but I’m finally back in business. Now where was I…

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Technical Difficulties

Please stand by…

Really sorry about this- As usual, I really intended to get this done, but some technical problems have prevented me from getting much (if any) work done over the last week, and probably through next week if I’m unlucky.

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