Vefrin, 461

I was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to happen in my life.

– Oh, you’re awake. If what was ever going to happen?

That I should wake up and not know where I am, such that the first logical question to ask is, “Where am I?” I might have to go with “What is that horrible vibrating?” though.

– As it happens, those two questions have the same answer. You are in stateroom 8B of the Airship Loosifunt, bound on its maiden voyage to Harmanlanzi. The vibrating is from the antigrav generator.

Why’s it so loud?

– I don’t know, but I think something is wrong with the ship. The engineers are all in a tizzy going back and forth from the control room to the engine room, and all passengers are being confined to their rooms. Otherwise I’d offer to show you around.

So, how did I get here? I don’t remember anything.

– You’ve been drugged. Your memory will return in a couple of hours. We’re going to spend the intervening time convincing you not to kill me for drugging you and dragging you on this airship in the first place. I promise there’s a good explanation, but I’m afraid I can’t risk you becoming emotional, so I’ve fitted you with a Bracelet of Hold Person.

“Why can’t I move?” was my next question. I suppose I could freak out, but I’m not gonna get uptight about this. Let’s make with the explanation, shall we?

– Thank you for taking it so well. It will become clear why I took the precautions I did. But to start, we have to go back to Vefrin, 461.

Aliens Land on a Medieval Planet

Aliens land on a medieval planet. They’re figuring their tech advantage makes them immune to these primitives. They are mistaken. By hook or crook, the group of warriors who take them down are victorious without losing any of their own number. Of the aliens, four remain, the only civilians in the landing party. Captured because they would not fight. It so happens that these alien civilians are quad-linked. Technobabble to taste. Basically when one of them dies, their essence (whatever that means) will be transferred equally to the remaining members of the quad-link, increasing their knowledge and wisdom, a process which makes some kind of humming noise and vibrating, and glowing of the persons receiving the essences. It doesn’t matter exactly how it manifests. For the story to work, it has to be noticeable to the casual observer, and ambiguously threatening.

So the warriors and the aliens can communicate, because of some tech the aliens have got, but it’s not perfect communication. In other words, talking isn’t going to be easy. You see where this is going. No, but so the warriors are “interrogating” the aliens, and one of the aliens dies. The quad-link transfer begins, and the remaining aliens all glow green or whatever it is you’ve decided to happen. This freaks the fuck out of the warriors, who hack the aliens to pieces immediately. So now there’s all this quad-link energy floating around looking for hosts, and of course it settles on the warriors. Who all become super wise and smart and ethical. Realizing what they’ve done, they suffer a great anguish of remorse for killing the landing party of the aliens. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there are more of these aliens somewhere, and it seems likely that sooner or later, some of them will come looking for the ones who are dead, and then what? The warriors only won by a fluke; the aliens were absurdly careless and overconfident.

With the essences of the quad in their minds, the warriors realize the kinds of capabilities these aliens are going to have. So the warriors make a pact: that they will use their gifts to intercept these aliens and shield the rest of humanity from their influence while they work out a peaceful agreement concerning the aliens the warriors killed and the people living on planet. Basically, they’ll act as emissaries when and if the time comes that these aliens return. In the meantime, they will lead the people and prepare them for what may be coming.

The answer to my next question will tell you something about the person answering. I’m not sure what exactly, or the significance, but it’s definitely something. Anyway, the question: Does the plan of the enlightened warriors go well? Does it go hilariously awry? Or does it go really, really badly?

CC BY 4.0

Somebody in Your Room

– So you’re saying there’s somebody in your room.

Yes. He is a man named Harold.

– And he’s been there as long as you can remember, and hasn’t gotten any older.

Correct.

– What does he look like?

He’s about 5’8″, early thirties, maybe a hundred and eighty pounds, brown hair brown eyes. He wears khaki slacks and a tucked-in light blue polo shirt with a barbed heart logo. Sock-footed. Black socks. Close-cropped hair, stubble beard. Very friendly face, with a ready smile. The eyes can be intense sometimes.

– And what does he do in your room?

We hang out. He’s very adept at figuring out if I need to talk to somebody, and when I do, we’ll have conversations. Almost always helpful. When I don’t want to talk, he’ll sit somewhere nearby and we just hang. We like to play video games. It’s like being alone, without having to be alone. It is really nice. I’m very glad he is in my room.

– Does he ever leave the room?

I think he must, but I’ve never seen him leave it, and I’ve never seen him outside it. Sometimes I go in and he’s not there, but then I’ll wake up and he’s there. I’ve never seen him walk in or out the door. He’s just there most of the time I’m there.

– And how much time do you spend in your room with Harold?

Well, I sleep in my room, call that 9 hours. And I’m in my room awake for maybe 2-3 hours every day on top of that. So I guess about twelve hours in my room a day, usually with Harold.

– Does Harold sleep when you sleep?

There’s some overlap, but it’s not always one hundred percent I’m-up-he’s-up or I’m-down-he’s-down.

– Does he sleep in bed with you?

No, he sleeps in the bathtub.

– Does he wear pajamas?

No, he sleeps in his clothes. He never changes his clothes, and they never wear out or stink or anything.

– Do you wear pajamas?

No, I sleep in my underwear.

– Doesn’t all of this seem odd to you?

Lots of people sleep in their underwear, dude.

– No, I mean the fact that there’s a guy in your room who always looks the same and whom you never see enter or leave but sometimes he’s not there? Where does he go? How does he get there? Why doesn’t he age? Is he magic?

I’ll try to get this right. To answer your questions in order:

1) No, it doesn’t seem odd. This is how it’s always been.

2) I don’t know where he is when he’s not in the room.

3) I don’t know how he gets wherever it is. Hell, for all I know, he’s just really effective at hiding.

4) I don’t know why he doesn’t age.

And 5) I think probably he is. I mean, maybe he’s a ghost, but aren’t ghosts magic anyway?

[pause]

I think I got it all right!

– Yeah, I think you did. You are a question-answering machine.

Far out.

– Has anyone else seen Harold besides you?

Oh, sure. Whenever I have friends in my room, Harold is there sometimes. He hangs out well with whoever I bring in there. It’s always a good time. Always? Not always. Most of the time. The overwhelming majority. I have a couple friends who come to my room to see Harold as much as me.

– Does that freak you out?

No, dude. Harold’s just this guy, you know? He’s almost always around, and it’s good when he is. Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea to scrutinize the situation overly. I don’t want to jinx it. Not that I really believe in jinxes, but can we change the subject?

– Yeah, man, I think this is our exit coming up anyway.

What Happens to the French Taunters?

So here’s the question. What happens to the French Taunters after the cameras go off in Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Do they get arrested with everybody else? Are they rounded up? If so, how do the cops overcome the taunting? Of course, all those cops seemed breathtakingly adept at “I’m not taking any of your shit”, didn’t they? Maybe they would have just sliced right through the taunting, where Arthur and his knights were totally bamboozled by it.

The thing is, Arthur and his knights, in the scope of the fiction, were formidable opponents. Just look what happened to the Black Knight. But then the cops seemingly effortlessly neutralize Arthur and his Knights completely. They must have done the same with the French Taunters, who would only have accrued further citations for hurling objects at officers of the law. “You’re only making it worse for yourself, buddy,” as the Taunter puts a turd in the cop’s eye. I don’t know why the cop is from America, but I don’t really know how British cops talk, beyond, “What’s all this then?”

And that’s the story of what happened to the French Taunters. Part of it, anyway.

I imagine some of the Taunters went into paddy wagons with some of the Britons. I wonder how that went. Maybe the Taunters explained their taunting deal sufficiently to get the Britons to forgive them about the cow and the poop and stuff. Maybe they have a really good reason for taunting. Maybe it’s a net positive for the universe. The Britons are reasonable men. Or no, probably not. Anyway I digress. So the Britons and the French Taunters team up to escape the paddy wagons. With their combined talents, they have the power to vanquish even the mighty cops, who vanquished each of them separately, but never together.

After the cops have been defeated, the head Taunter reveals that they didn’t actually have the Grail, so Arthur has everybody fan out and search. It’s gotta be around here somewhere, right? The search continues to this day.

But the thing is, the Taunter was taunting when he said they didn’t have it. It’s in the castle in a dresser drawer in the master bedroom. No wait, it’s in the deepest corner of the lowest dungeon in a box of wood shavings. I mean no, it’s in a cabinet in the attic. There’s a line of built-in cabinets on the long wall of the attic. As you face the wall, the Grail is in the eighth cabinet from the right.

The Preferred Third

An author writes a trilogy. The third book is kind of a letdown. So a couple years later, the author comes out with a fourth book in the same trilogy, which acts as a new third book and completely replaces the original third book. Thing is, it’s totally different, even though it uses all the same setup from the first two books. Seriously, it’s amazing how well everything fits. You honestly can’t tell that the first two books weren’t written to be followed by the fourth book.

The fourth book is very popular, and lauded as the proper ending for the trilogy. That’s because it is a much better book than the third book. When the trilogy goes to mass market paperback, the four books get a box set. The standard accepted reading order is, one, two, four, then three if you feel like it, but you don’t need to. So the spines on the box set, the third book’s spine is the cleanest and least marked on most people’s sets, ’cause it gets read the least. How about that?

The fourth book comes to be known as the preferred third book.

So, was it a stunt by the author to generate publicity, or was it an honest, “I can do better, dammit” kind of thing?

The Parable of the Flower

There’s a flower. It is remarkably beautiful, its petals glow and it seems always to be sprinkled in dew that twinkles like diamonds. It is delicate and robust at the same time, and its beauty is cleansing.

There’s a group of people gathered around the flower. They admire and love the flower with full and open hearts, recklessly, and their lives are full of love and serenity and joy. In their love for the flower, they also love each other and take delight in one another’s company.

Then one day, the flower falls ill. It begins to wilt, and its petals drop to the ground one by one. Ice slivers of fear puncture the internal organs of the lovers of the flower, and a storm of grief gathers in anticipatory inevitability. The people do everything they can to try and save the flower, and they cling to one another desperately as they pour out care upon the ailing bloom.

Despite all of their efforts, the flower dies. A toxic grief settles itself in the entrails of each of the people who loved and cared for the flower. The root of their love gone, they are cut loose from one another. They can no longer stand to be together; the memory and the grief are too much. They are torn apart and scattered to the winds.

Doorkeepers

There’s the doorkeeper, who lets people in and out of the building. Doorkeepers, rather; there’s more than one. And more than one door, too. Problem is, the doorkeepers won’t turn anyone away. They operate the portal however the people going through want. So viruses break into the building, and the immune system doesn’t eradicate them because the viruses went through the doorkeeper, thus legitimizing the virus’s presence in the building. And you can’t eliminate or replace the doorkeepers, because without them, the doors cannot be operated. So. How do you keep the viruses out while not modifying the doorkeepers’ behavior in any way? You don’t. What you do is, you hire a team of virus killers and station them as guards throughout the building. If they see a virus, they’ll kill it.

Next to the virus guard barracks, there’s a drinking fountain. All of the virus guards use it on the way in and out of the barracks. The water fountain becomes infected with something for some reason. All the virus guards get sick and become insane. They now kill only the doorkeepers and leave the viruses alone.

Security finds out about the crazy virus guards and takes steps to preserve the remaining doorkeepers. In the end, there are three doorkeepers left, which isn’t enough. (And there are zero virus guards, which is the correct amount.) So obviously they’ll need to take on additional doorkeepers. But just anybody can’t be a doorkeeper, so the process to beef up the ranks will be excruciatingly tedious, and it will take a long time, and meanwhile, all these doors need operated. In the end they set it up so that when you get to a door and there’s no doorkeeper, there’s a button you can press. Then, the next available doorkeeper will come and open the door for you. So there’s a bit of a wait. The doorkeepers are given Segways and pagers so they can get to the doors faster, but it’s far from ideal.

Meanwhile, everyone has forgotten about the viruses. What have they done during the time of insufficient doorkeepers? They decide to abandon their quest to infect the building and decide to help out. They learn to be doorkeepers. They learn very quickly, and the doorkeeper ranks are rebuilt (and well-built) in a very short amount of time. It is decreed that viruses are free to go where they wish as long as they promise not to be bad viruses. Virus persecution ends.

This has all happened before.

D&D Session Story

This is a short story I wrote back in Aug-2003. It is a faithful account of a D&D session I was in. My character was Gwynn. I’m amused with the cheese I laid on this little project. I just ran across it today, 15 years after writing it. I was trying to find the name of Gwynn’s sword. So yeah. You don’t know who anybody is, but it should still be interesting. If there’s curiosity, I’ll maybe make introductions in the comments. The thrice-damned comments.

After the fight with the desmodu and the chuuls, Varden and Casartes decided to explore the pool into which the last chuul had retreated. Varden polymorphed into a shark for the expedition, while Casartes relied on his own bad monk self. Soon enough they found the remaining chuul and quickly dispatched the vile creature. They were about to explore the depths of the pool (which contained sparkly things that looked suspiciously like treasure) when suddenly, out of the depths came four dire sharks! Still beyond these new adversaries, Varden sensed something huge and ancient lurking in the depths below. Clearly, discretion would be the better part of valor, and the party still had Marharet to think about. Casartes and Varden returned to the group and all made ready to proceed.

As the party approached the large double doors in the spider-like chamber, Gwynn heard sounds from the room beyond of shuffling feet and shifting rubble. Gwynn was ready to bash in the door and bash any heads that could be found, but Casartes tempered his exuberance with wisdom and carefully cracked the portal open. “Come on in!” said a boisterous voice.

Realizing their cover was blown utterly, Casartes and Gwynn opened the doors fully. The fighter and the monk were joined by Taliesin, Varden, and Viday as they moved cautiously inside. A large room opened up, well-lit with torches and stretching nearly a hundred feet up. The remains of a staircase lay crumbled on the floor, upon which was perched a desmodu mercenary. It was he who had greeted the party. In the center of the room, a spiral staircase descended into darkness. Another desmodu tended a long chain gang of what were clearly ill-treated and overworked slaves.

Utterly incensed at the sight of such brutality, Casartes advanced upon the desmodu and confronted them as Gwynn and Taliesin moved to flank. Suddenly, a beholder rose up from the depths of the spiral staircase, eyes blazing with magical rays shooting in all directions! A fierce melee followed. Varden was struck with fear from one of the beholders rays; Viday and Casartes fought the two desmodu with valor and honor; Griffon, invisible as always, moved to free the slaves and attempted to enlist their aid, but to no avail. The poor wretches were far too ill used to fight. Gwynn and Taliesin used their arrows and blades to add to the helping of hurtin’ that was dished out to this batch of scumbags. One desmodu was dispatched, and the other desmodu and the beholder fled, the desmodu through a side door and the beholder up into an alcove high overhead.

As the rest of the party tended to freeing the slaves and pumping them for information, Griffon graced Casartes with the ability to Fly so that the alcove above could be investigated. Meanwhile, one of the slaves confided quietly to Gwynn that one of the enslaved trolls was actually a mindflayer spy in disguise. Gwynn would have none of this, and imediately brandished the mighty Karrach to slay the creature. Recognizing that its cover was blown (and after two mighty slashes from the icy blade), the mindflayer disappeared by some magical means.

Just at that moment, Casartes reached the ceiling and discovered a rude surprise: two desmodu mercenaries lurked above. The fight was clearly not quite over. After a few taunts and jeers failed to draw them out, the party decided to take the hurtin’ upstairs. Viday climbed, Casartes and Griffon flew, Taliesin used a dimension door provided by the monk, and Varden and Gwynn teleported in behind the desmodu. The party was feeling pretty good about their chances before the two beholders showed up. Then it was touch and go, and the fight was on!

One of the beholders laid down an antimagic field with its main eye that caught Gwynn, Viday, and Taliesin in a bad spot. Gwynn was toe-to-toe with one of the desmodu, keeping the vile creature trapped in an alcove. Unfortunately, Karrach was rendered ordinary by the antimagic, as were Gwynn’s protective rings and amulets. Gwynn took quite a beating, but held the desmodu at bay. Meanwhile, Taliesin was doing his best to keep the other desmodu pinned in the alcove opposite. Varden activated his ring of spell-turning and did his best to taunt the beholders into blasting him with rays in the hopes of turning their eyes against them. However, one beholder soon found itself in the power of the mighty Casartes, who apparently knows Beholder anatomy well enough to render the creature helpless through nerve pinches. Meanwhile, the other beholder was distracted by Griffon, who sneak attacked from below with his trusty longbow for a simply obscene amount of damage. You should have seen the look on that eye tyrant’s “face” as three feathered shafts ripped into its bulbous flesh. But Griffon was to pay quite dearly for his audacity, and the beholder used its eldritch power to all but slay the valiant elf. Fortunately, Varden was on hand to bestow healing on Griffon, and the killing blow on the beholder. Casartes, in the meantime, rendered his beholder foe into a slimy, gooey pulp, and emerged to help finish off the desmodu with the help of Taliesin.

After this exhausting fray, the party made a quick survey of the area and decided that it was a good time to camp.

Pink Floyd Concert

So Pink Floyd was gonna be in Cleveland, and Danny was agitated about it. I had access to a car, so he wanted to go with me. And, you know, he thought I’d like it. I thought I’d like it too. My exposure to Pink Floyd live at that point was _Delicate Sound of Thunder_, their concert album in support of _A Momentary Lapse of Reason_. There were some photos of the light show, but photos in a CD booklet cannot impress upon one the enormity of the proceedings. So I’m like, “Sure, Pink Floyd, yeah, cool.” We had to get in a lottery to get tickets. The lottery took place at Rolling Acres Mall. I remember we went to the mall, I drove, borrowing one of Dad’s cars. Or it coulda been Mom’s car. Doesn’t matter. We go in, I think by Sears, or was it JCPenny? Doesn’t matter. There was a big courtyard kind of area, not the fountain courtyard. Lots of grey-white tile and shit. Lines of people standing around. We got tickets. Cheap tickets. Shit-ass tickets, if we’re honest with ourselves. We were on the lower deck, way up under the upper deck. You could see about a quarter of the stage. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Danny was super excited about getting the tickets, and I was too, just not as much. The concert was still months (weeks?) away. So we waited around, living our lives. I didn’t think about it all that much, but Danny’s excitement never completely faded. Much reduced, yes, but still there. And then of course it ramped back up in the days leading to the concert.

Day of the concert arrives. I borrow the Barge Mobile. AKA my Dad’s ’73 Olds 98. Can’t remember if this was before or after Lollapalooza. I think before, but not positive. Anyway, it was the same car I drove to Lollapalooza ’93, if that tells you anything. I go over to Danny’s, he’s still living with his mom at that point. Despite being a drug-crazed lunatic, Danny’s Mom, god rest her soul, was really a sweet lady. Or so it seemed to me. It might have been different living with her. Whatever. The point is, she had packed us a fucking cooler (a full-size one) full of home-cooked food. And Danny’s Mom could fucking cook. I’ll never forget her chicken paprikash (although there wasn’t any of that in the cooler. It was more picnic food. And regular chicken. Cold, of course. I love cold chicken so much. But anyway.) So we threw the cooler in the trunk, and then we were fucking off. I drove to goddamn Cleveland, having never been there on my own before, without the help of GPS or anything. I had directions from Dad. 77 N to E 9th, right at the light. That was basically all I had. I’m amazed at the things I used to be able to do. Once we got to Cleveland proper on 77, the traffic backed up, and it was stop and go. We had left in plenty of time to allow for this, so no big deal. Anyway, all the cars are inching along, and I see a guy up ahead, a pedestrian, walking down between the lanes. I was in the middle lane, and he was walking on my drivers side. I was curious about this, and there was little else to do, so I watched him. He would occasionally pause at cars. When he got closer, I saw that he was a T-shirt vendor, selling Pink Floyd shirts, and they were awesome. I loved the design, and it seemed to me this would be a perfect souvenir. So I flagged the guy down when he got near, and bought a T-shirt. It cost me all my money, but it was such a sweet T-shirt that it was totally worth it. I don’t remember how much it was. $28, maybe? Doesn’t matter. So now I had no money, and a T-shirt. Five minutes later I realized that I’d spent all my parking money. Danny didn’t have any money. What the fuck were we going to do?

Finally got off the freeway and onto E 9th. There were parking lots all over the fucking place, but they were all paid lots. I pulled into one, there was a cop standing around. I asked him if there was anywhere to get free parking. He laughed in my face. No, I mean he literally cracked up laughing. There isn’t anywhere you can take the conversation from there, so I went driving around. Trying to think of an idea. I turned a corner, and there, unexpectedly, was the stadium, a block away. And right there by the corner, there was a parking spot. No meter. Just a fucking parking spot. And I got in that shit. It was incredible. I would not have been surprised if light beams from on high with the angelic chorus had shown the parking spot. It was totally that kind of vibe.

Anyway, so we’re parked. We sat there in amazement and enthused about our good fortune. I checked like crazy for a “No Parking” sign, some indication as to why this primo-ass spot was vacant, but there was nothing. It was just dumb luck. It was awesome.

Then we went to the show. On the way to our seats, we saw Matt Atkins, Trevor Sheridan, and a couple other kids from school, but we basically nodded as we passed and didn’t see them for the rest of the excursion. So we get in our seats. As forementioned, they sucked. I was resigned to it. I was like, “The light show isn’t as important as the music.” Danny was having none of it. He walked down to one of the support pillars, which are below the front edge of the upper deck. You could see the entire stage and the sky above. I had to admit this was a lot better than our seats.

The show began, and it blew me the fuck away. Nothing could have prepared me for the spectacle of it. Danny, for his part, was unsurprised. I now understood why he had been so excited. They led off with “Astronomy Domine” and it was fucking amazing.

A couple songs in, and I’ve become really attached to where I’m standing and my view of the show. Then a venue employee comes and says we have to sit down. So that’s it. Danny and I look at each other and shrug invisibly and resignedly. We look around, and there are two empty seats right in front of us. I mean, literally right next to us. Five feet away. I was reminded of the parking situation. Still no angelic chorus. We put our butts in these two empty seats right quick, and the venue employee left. Danny was on the end of the row, and I was next to him. On my other side there was a guy. He leaned over and said we could sit there, the seats were for his two friends who had ditched him. So we had king hella premier seats for the rest of the show. I loved it. As an added bonus, the dude didn’t talk to me for the rest of the show.

The show, as I’ve implied, was amazing. The highlight for me was the twenty-foot disco ball spinning over second base, and reflecting little moving pinpoints of light around the bowl of the stadium and onto the crowd. “Comfortably Numb” was the song. Those moments changed my life.

Then it was over. It was like four in the morning, since the show didn’t start before dark (it was summertime) and it was a really long show. Wait a minute. It couldn’t’ve been four in the morning. Although that’s the time I remember it being. Whatever. It was the middle of the night, okay? We found the car again no problem, it hadn’t been towed away or anything. I popped the trunk and we cracked the cooler. I’ll never forget sitting in the middle of downtown Cleveland, buildings towering over us, with a view of the old Municipal Stadium, sitting on the back of the Barge Mobile eating cold chicken. And Danny’s mom made it so it was fucking delicious. I can’t remember what we had to drink. We made a good meal of it, though. So sated, I drove home without further incident. And I had a bitchin’ shirt.

It was the best concert I’ll ever go to, and it was encapsulated in the best concert-going story I’ll ever tell. So that’s nice.