Friday, December 2, 2016

A public history of the shared super-person universe

A public history because it leaves out things happening behind the scenes or in secret.

Contents:

-

Who is in this universe anyway?
[top]

Not every superhero thing I write is part of a shared universe.  This story, for example, takes place in a world where the hero in the story is the only superhero (so far.)

That said, I definitely like the idea of an expansive and populated super-person universe.

Corv's team (elements of which are seen in Bunking Together, A confrontation in Hell, and Jailbreak) is definitely part of a setting where superheroes are more common place.  The first linked to post involves Corv talking to a hero higher in the hero hierarchy (a member of an international association with agreements from multiple countries allowing them to operate freely) the third involves a then-former member of her team imprisoned with other superpowered people.

Not Broken showcases two members, Des and Ge, of a copycat hero team (copying Corv's team.)  While not written yet, Des called on Page (the only story she's appeared in is being a background character in Schism) for help when she was initially unable to depetrify Ge and again when there were unexpected side effects from the eventual success.

Where Not Broken showcases an unauthorized knockoff team, Getting the Girl shows a team that was probably an official franchisee of Corv's team.  In something more important than winning Podarke and Downdraft both exist as solo people, but Podarke has access to things, like focus group data, from the larger hero community.

Not entirely sure whether the superhero prevention squad exists in this universe or not.

Super Artisans and Super People Get Together show glimpses into the lives of normal people who happen to have super powers.

-

History

It is said that superpowers have always existed.  That people with powers were hunted as demons and witches.  That by the modern age the had developed an almost instinctive drive to hide what made them different.

What is known is that before the 1970s, no generally accepted record confirming the existence of superpowers existed.

The first superhero
[top]

In the early 1970s a superhero emerged.  Super strong, flying without wings, allegedly fast enough to dodge bullets, definitely impervious enough he didn't have to.  He, briefly, seemed like he could save the world from itself.

He never got a chance to work on anything like that.  He was an ally when he could be, he would denounce apartheid whenever the opportunity arose, he'd gone on record as supporting the rioters at Stonewall over the police, and his stance on nuclear disarmament would have been considered downright treasonous if he'd had the opportunity to expound upon it, but his time was taken up with problems that seemed to be of his own creation.

With the escalation he represented in crime fighting, a counter escalation occurred in crime itself.  The emergence of the superhero begat the supervillain.  With supervillains, more every year, he didn't have time to fight ordinary crime, and certainly not an opportunity to fight the injustice he saw in the mundane world.

Some of the villains had powers like his own, others had immense resources and used them to build machines that drew upon aspects of science well beyond conventional understanding.  Some even used magic, something long dismissed as myth or superstition.

By then he was firmly located in New York City and most villains realized that for their plans to succeed they had to deal with him first.  Thus the first superhero and the supervillains he fought, were largely considered a New York thing that much of the country could ignore, and certainly an American thing that the rest of the world could take minimal interest in.

Various scientists from all over the world relocated to New York in hopes of being able to refine their understanding of the universe by studying the seemingly impossible things going on there.  The prospect was made difficult by the nature of the encounters (unpredictable, never the same thing twice, never in a laboratory setting, so forth.)  Still, many groups set up many sensors throughout the city in hopes of making world altering breakthroughs.

It only took a few years before the hero and the villains he fought rarely made the news outside of New York based publications.  They'd captured the world's attention for longer than moon landings, but not much longer.

Then, in 1986, he died.

Those who were present placed great emphasis on the fact that he could have survived.  He could have easily dodged the ray that killed him if he'd allowed an I-beam to hit a medium sized crowed of bystanders.  He chose to save those people, and that was why he died.

Those that killed him were so focused on his corpse that they forgot about the onlookers entirely.  The crowd that had been held at bay via the threat of their high tech weapons was forgotten.  That proved to be a nearly fatal mistake.

The villains were in the midst of self congratulations when the crowd rushed them and overpowered them.  The resulting mob would have beaten the villains to death if not for the fact that someone had the presence of mind to scream that the hero wouldn't have wanted them killed.

After the villains were taken away by the police, and the injured were driven off in ambulances, one question loomed large, large enough that the world's attention was captured for the first time in a decade:

What now?

The Age of Heroes begins
[top]

The hero had been singular.  He'd just been called: "the hero", or "hero".  Many acted as though "Hero" were his actual name.  All because he'd been unique.

The villains were not.  The encounter that killed the hero had resulted in the capture of only one group from his extensive list of enemies.  Most of them remained free.

Some expressed worry that there would be no one to stop the other super villains.  Some put forth the same idea with outright terror.  They needn't have bothered.

A new generation of heroes stepped into the light and filled the void left by the hero's death.

Immediately there were comparisons between the old hero and the new heroes.

No one had really cared about gender, race, sexuality, nationality, religion, legality, or birthplace of the hero before.  Now it seemed to matter a great deal.

An innocent explanation was that it was because, as the only hero, there was no one to compare him to.  A more cynical explanation was that it was because he fit perfectly into the mindset of the dominant culture in the United States, which was where he operated.

He'd been accepted, if somewhat controversial, during his lifetime, but now that he was dead the fallen hero was revered.  He could no longer say unpopular things, and so he could be appropriated however one desired.

He was a presumed straight (actually asexual) white protestant male from Nebraska.  (Never mind that he preferred New York City to his hometown.)  The kind of hero that America was clearly supposed to have.  Not like this new crop who included women, people of color, women of color *shock. gasp. fetch the fainting couch*, some openly gay people, naturalized immigrants, outright foreigners, and so forth.  And as for religion, they seemed to come from all of them, and some were even atheists.

The fact that the hero was born on a farm even led to the rumor that he'd been born in a manger (no, he'd been born in a house, not a feeding troth.)

The fact that when asked about his hero he'd always talked about Bayard Rustin was quietly pushed aside, forgotten, and ignored any time anyone tried to remind people of it.

So the dawn of the age of heroes was also the true beginning of criticizing and mistrusting heroes.  The new heroes seemed to come from everywhere and that shocked and dismayed the comfortable masses.

They came in all colors.  They came from all places.  They came from all income levels.  They came from all religions.

At first they were at least (US) American, or Canadian which could be passed off as "almost American", but where before supervillainy had been centered on stopping a single hero who had seemed the only impediment in the way of world domination, and thus come to him in the US, now it was as decentralized as the heroes, and soon the entire world had heroes and villains.

The first hero had, in any legal sense, been a vigilante, but he'd never been treated as such.

Now things started to be looked at from a legal sense.

Laws varied by country.  In some merely being suspected of having "unnatural" abilities was grounds for imprisonment or, in some cases, conscription.  In others the fact that human rights applied to human+ individuals was enshrined in law.  At least two went so far as to create a definition of "person" that was sure to include human-level (or above) members of other species, artificial species such as AIs included.

Within the United States, the place the whole mess had been born, laws varied widely by state and sometimes even by city.

The time of Consolidation
[top]

It was only a matter of time before heroes started to band together.  Teams, sometimes underground, were not uncommon, but an official transnational organization of heroes had never been attempted.

Many heroes tried to stay out of the light, so creating a public organization was something they wouldn't even consider doing.

The Public Face
[top]

Building blocks were being put in place as early as 1995, but it wasn't until the year 2000 that the League of Heroes (which was hoped to be more useful than the League of Nations) was created.  It it worked with governments to have heroes registered with them (which required extensive vetting) to be authorized to work within their countries, sometimes in general, sometimes only under special circumstances.

It created an apprenticeship program so that that young heroes could learn the trade without having to resort to trial and error.  It worked to advance superhuman rights as much as it could without losing the hard won legal transnational jurisdiction it had achieved.  (In other words, it worked for rights, but not much.)

It aimed to be spotless and beyond reproach, which was of course impossible.  Even so it came close.  Connections to any less than legal organizations have never been proven despite frequent audits.

Yet, somehow, when they meet superhumans in danger who they can't protect themselves for whatever reason, those superhumans always seem to safely make it to underground organizations dedicated to protecting ones such as themselves.

The Underground
[top]

All of the hero groups I've written about so far are in places where the laws are fairly super-person positive.  That is not representative of the whole of the world in which these characters live.  Not at all.

There are organizations dedicated to hiding super powered individuals or smuggling them into jurisdictions where they'll have more rights.  Some are able to create entirely new identities for those they help.  These organizations have managed to largely stay under the radar.  Many people are aware of their existence in a vague general sense, but they work to keep themselves out of the public eye and off the public's mind.

There are also other organizations.

Within the United States there are four underground organizations, not all of them very organized, that rose to the level of making headlines.

The headline makers, and others of note:

The Resistance
The Resistance had begun organizing early in the first hero's career, believing that his actions would inevitably lead to the persecution of people with powers.  Their first members were drawn specifically from groups that had experienced other forms of oppression.

Someone ten years old when Auschwitz closed was in their twenties when the first hero appeared on the scene.  World War II had seen American interment camps as well.  While they weren't death camps, they obviously weren't right and individuals from them knew that such things could happen within the United States because they'd lived through it.

Likewise Martin Luther King Jr. had not been long assassinated when the first hero started his work.

Indeed history seemed to create an unending supply of people who were oppressed, and The Resistance was at work recruiting any powered members of those groups who were willing to fight against it ever happening again.

Some of those members dropped out when they learned how The Resistance planed to fight, but enough stayed with the organization.

When the world awoke to the fact that there wasn't just one hero and a handful of villains, but people with powers all over The Resistance was ready to stage counter attacks against oppressive reactions.

The Resistance is an unabashed terrorist organization, and as oppression spread throughout the globe, so too did they.  They consider any government that treats individuals with powers differently from those without as occupying forces.  They believe that any registration is a prelude to internment camps and, perhaps, worse.

They believe that any powered individuals who work with such governments are collaborators.

They back these beliefs with assassination, bombings, sabotage, violence in the streets, and whatever else they can do to strike against their oppressors (real or perceived.)

The Outlaws
The Outlaws were, at first, the only other underground organization of note.  They're unregistered heroes who fight both villains and The Resistance.  They believe that the only way they'll ever gain full rights is if people like those in The Resistance stop providing excuses to mistrust individuals with powers, hence fighting The Resistance, and if currently oppressed individuals prove their worth, hence fighting villains.  Their choice of name was specifically to remind anyone they help or save outright that they're criminals under existing law, law that if obeyed would stop them from helping and/or saving those people.

The Outlaws are primarily based in the United States, though they do have some smaller cells in other nations.

Smaller groups with similar operations
The Resistance and the Outlaws are run by, as one onlooker put it, "A couple of old white guys."  While the general membership The Resistance was very diverse from the outset, that doesn't change the leadership.  The Outlaws started off overwhelmingly white and have been slowly becoming more diverse.

This has led to a variety of smaller groups with similar goals that didn't particularly like the idea of their only options in the fight for their civil rights being the organizations of . . . a couple of old white guys.

The Protectors
The Protectors were formed as an alternative to the terrorism of The Resistance and the inaction of The Outlaws.  Sometimes The Resistance and The Protectors find themselves working together, but it's always uneasy.  The Protectors chose their name because they are an entirely defensive organization.  They will fight tooth and nail, but only to protect victims.  Assassinations, bombings, sabotage, and so forth are beyond the scope of what they're willing to do.

They never go on the offensive, and never actively strike against the governments that oppress powered individuals.  Instead they step in to protect those individuals when one of those governments is actively striking against them.

If someone has been violating the Geneva Conventions against powered individuals for ages, and will continue to do so in the future, but isn't doing it right now, The Resistance would respond by assassinating them, The Outlaws would denounce them but not act against them, The Protectors would wait until the individual was doing, or about to do something, and act only then.

If an operation doesn't involve the other side currently in the process of doing something wrong, The Protectors want no part of it.  That's seen as the path toward the outright terrorism of The Resistance.  It's not quite that The Protectors never strike first, it is the case that they never strike unless the other side is trying to strike first.

In theory at least.  Mistakes happen.  Individuals become jaded and go too far.  So on, so forth.  The policy, though, is to be defensive only.

The Marchers
They didn't name themselves and are easily the least organized of the four major groups.

Since each of the other three groups were "The [blank]" news sources wanted to put them into a similar format and "Marchers" sounded better than "Sit Iners, Strikers, Occupiers, Blockaders, Marchers, and such."

The Resistance, The Outlaws, and The Protectors are all groups that use violence.  The Marchers are a non-violent group, or coalition of like-minded non-violent groups, that believe civil rights can be gained by non-violent direct action.

The Resistance are terrorists, The Outlaws don't even work for rights, instead hoping that their oppressors will reward them with rights if they're useful enough, The Protectors are the only other group that some of the Marchers support, but they themselves do not believe violence, even in defense of the oppressed, is the answer.

The Letter from Birmingham Jail is required reading in most cells.  Those who are illerate will have it read to them.  This this passage, in particular, is often cited as their goal:
Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

Dropouts
They don't really make the news.  Some people know about them, some people don't.  They aren't an organization.  Some people with powers have responded to hostile societies by simply dropping off the radar.  From transients to groups that have set up entire under-cites in sewers, maintenance tunnels, abandoned subways, and such, some individuals simply want to be left alone and are willing to abandon conventional society to achieve that end.

There are thus communities of super powered individuals that are off the map . . . in hiding.

Child Soldiers?
[top]

While groups like them had existed for at least twenty years, Corv's team was the first official, legally recognized, team of heroes in their teens.  And they were in the younger part of the their teens.  They came together quite by accident in about 2007 and were accepted as an arm of law enforcement in their city soon after.  They quickly established ties to the league of heroes.  Within a year they were famous.  Not long after they initiated a pilot program in which they set up another team in their . . . franchise in another willing city.

With the second team's success teenage and young adult teams began to spread, though (obviously) only in places where super individuals were accepted.

While the team has no part of it, and has officially denounced the practice, teams built on their model have also been created in places hostile to super individuals as a sort of perpetual community service that allows individuals who would otherwise be imprisoned, or at least in hiding, a measure of freedom.

In 2009 the fame of Corv's team led to a copycat team, which Desdemona and Ge belonged to.  Ge was petrified two years later.

In the present day (2016) teenage superheroes, and supervillains, hardly raise an eyebrow.  A ten year old probably won't get much reaction provided that the service is as sidekick to an older individual.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The problem with making a game that's self aware

I'm not talking about artificial intelligence here.  Fiction of any kind can be written in a self aware manner.  The characters in a book realize they're in a book, for example.

Games can be the same way, but they risk a serious problem.  The problem is recognizing bugs as bugs instead of the self-awareness of the game.

I was a beta tester once on a game where it was just an ordinary (action-adventure FPS-RPG) story unless you stumbled upon/sought out enough indications that the world wasn't the world.  Touch the sky, find a place with a default texture, hit a glitch, do . . . whatever.

If you hit enough of them then the player character could put the pieces together and either play out the game as if they didn't know or decide to break free of the bonds of the game.

So I was testing, and I was doing that ending, and I convinced a debugging subroutine to crash the all powerful (within the game) entity that controlled the game's universe and kept everyone doing what they were supposed to be doing instead of going all free-will on the player.

The debugging subroutine went forward with the plan to insert bad code into the game-world and thus crash the whole thing and . . . the game crashed.  Crash to desktop, don't remember the error number.

I never reported that as a bug.  I didn't realize it was a bug.

As it turned out there was an entire cinematic that went with that ending and the game was not, in fact, supposed to crash to desktop.  Fortunately someone else noticed the problem and thus it was fixed before release.

But that's the risk you run.  If you're letting the player see behind the curtain and notice the unpainted surfaces or the things that appear to be full structures but are instead just facades, then the player often has no way to distinguish between when you're doing that on purpose, and when it's a real live mistake.

Thus: Teen Titans the GameCube game.  The Teen Titans, animated iteration at least, well before Teen Titans Go, got to deal with things that were less serious than other DC things.  On the other hand . . . you know what?  Footnote.  On the other hand: *.

But, in addition to the other hand [Added] which is back on the first hand, for those keeping track [/Added], they dealt with some less serious things.  Becoming trapped inside of a video game is exactly the sort of plot that fits their style and, all things considered, not a particularly bad premise for a video game.  Certainly if it had been a TV episode people would wonder, "Why the fuck can't I play this videogame?"

Things start out seeming fairly normal, they begin to pick up hints that things aren't, finally realize that they are, in fact, inside a game, and that's when the game starts having fun with itself.

You bump into unfinished parts where the geometry is there but the textures aren't.  At one point to progress you have to walk through a clipping error.

Clipping errors have been an unintentional part of games for a long time.  Long enough that the usage here is basically fossilized idiom.  The exact same code was used for occlusion detection (occluded surfaces are clipped off/out hence the name) as collision detection, and so "clipping error" could refer to a problem in either domain.  In these modern times that's no longer necessarily the case.

The "glitch" that managed to fool me into thinking that the game had actually gone wrong was falling through the floor.  This is something that happens all too often in AAA games.  Everything seems to be going fine and then, suddenly, you drop through the ground and that's it.  You fall through infinite void.

If you're lucky you're playing a game by a publisher that hasn't turned into a full fledged Knight of the Anti-Cheat Crusaders and you can quickly type in a console command that frees you from the bonds of gravity and begin the long climb back up to the world.  Maybe.  Doesn't always work.  If there was any horizontal component to your fall or ascent you're definitely screwed.  Even if not, you may not be saved by the combined powers of masslessness and lack of conservation of momentum.

On a console, you're probably fucked no matter who made the game.

Playing a GameCube game (resolution 640x480) at 3840x2160 on a system that is not fifteen years old is something that involves a lot of going beyond what was intended anyway so some problems are to be expected.

So even though the game had already shown complete self awareness that it was a game and had thrown various fake bugs and glitches at me, that one I believed was real.

Then the game brought up the oddness of falling out of the world, there was combat, and things shortly moved on.

Perhaps it was that the game successfully managed to fake me out with that, but when I found myself on an (occluded) wireframe cargo ship fighting hordes of mundane enemies in an unwinnable boss fight (because the boss wasn't there) . . . it took me a very long time to realize that the game had glitched for real.  I kept on looking for some fake bug that would let me win instead of realizing that a real bug was the only reason I couldn't.

I was looking for a wall or floor I could glitch through, anything to get out of the area I was stuck in so I could track down the boss I was supposed to fighting.  But it was a real glitch for once: the boss was supposed to be there and wasn't.  No progress until you beat the boss, and you can't beat the boss because there is none.

But it took me forever to realize it was a mistake because, by the time the game got there, I had been trained to believe that apparent bugs were part of the story.

And that's the danger in self aware games.  Once you've taught the player to take views behind the curtain in stride, the player doesn't realize when they've wandered off of the stage entirely, or a cast member unexpectedly failing to showing up is really real instead of part of the script.

The same thing can happen in other media.  A movie that subtly breaks continuity to hint at this or that will have actual errors latched onto for epileptic tree theories.  Though not the epileptic tree theory, as that wasn't a movie and was a result not of errors so much as the people running the show having no idea what the fuck they were doing.

Hide codes within a story and pretty soon you'll have interpretations hinge on an honestly accidental typo.

When "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" was recorded, McCartney fucked up.  The final verse was supposed to be:
Happy ever after in the market place
Desmond lets the children lend a hand
Molly stays at home and does her pretty face
And in the evening she's a singer with the band
McCartney accidentally swapped the names of Desmond and Molly which makes the song make no sense.  People have spent 48 years trying to make it make sense.  It doesn't make sense.

The Beatles reportedly liked the mistake (in spite of at least half of them not liking the song itself) and intentionally left it in the version of record as well as intentionally putting it in the versions they played live after that.

You can read volumes on what people read into the name reversal at the end of the song.  Then again people thought "Come Together" was a secret message that McCartney was dead so . . .

I've lost any kind of closure I might have tacked onto the end of this post, and my brain might be a bit overheated.

-

* One of their major characters (even though she wasn't around for that long) was a homeless not-by-choice girl who was run out of every place she stayed more than a few days in, probably had lots blood on her hands through no fault of her own, thought she was betrayed by her only friend, was taken in by a manipulator intent on turning her into the perfect child solider, felt that duty and obligation forced her to do things she knew were wrong, was abandoned by the only friend she ever had, had her psyche shattered by that, was further manipulated as part of the perfect child soldier project, was forced to (she thought) kill people she once cared for, had those people turn around and try to kill her, lost her bodily autonomy, and finally did the right thing leading to her pseudo-dying, and, depending on how you view the mind-screw ending, may have had here entire sense of self ripped out of her leaving her with nothing whatsoever except the, presumably externally imposed, role of high school student (or may have retained her memory but abandoned all of her hopes and dreams because pursuing them led to soul-crushing-ness, or . . . it was a mind-screw, there are many possibilities.)

Keep in mind that all of the content in the previous, very long, sentence, refers to a character who, though major, was featured in only a handful of episodes.

The show wasn't afraid of going to very serious (and dark) places, though it did it in an upbeat vaguely anime inspired way, and it had plenty to time to visit those places.

So while it had the opportunity to do dark themes, it tended to do them with a sort of safe remove that insulated one from losing all hope and all faith in humanity.  This might be how generally avoided serious dissonance when it shifted between dark+serious and light+fluffy.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Characters and backstory from Schism

[Some description of the characters that appeared in the story Schism]

Contents:
Superheroes
[top]

Most of the team
[top]

The superhero team is less thought out so I can get through listing four out of five of them in a paragraph. Paladin is the leader. The Knights Errant and Erratic are brother and sister respectively. Erratic chose which was which. Squire, as her name suggests, prefers support roles.

Page
[top]

Page's name suggests she's the lowliest of the bunch, but it's actually playing with words. There's no official second in command, but if there had to be one everyone, except perhaps Page herself, would immediately agree it was Page. She has some confidence issues, but that's pretty much her only particular weakness. (As opposed to general weaknesses like reacting badly to inhaling water or having bullets hit you at high speeds.)

She picked “Page” because it fits with the team theme while also suggesting one of her defining traits: she loves books. She'll use the internet, and every book she owns has a digital backups and at least two non-backup digital copies (one on the teams computer system, the other travels with her in case she needs to look something up in the field), but she loves the feel of a book in her hands and the smell of aged parchment.

She's a scholar in her own right, and she's the “witch” that Tinker told Mishap to kill.

She doesn't use that word to describe herself. She has nothing against self-described witches, but she doesn't feel like the word fits her. Sure, the etymology is uncertain, but there are suggestions and hints and . . . that's not her. It's not the way she approaches magic.

If you ask her what she is, she'll say she's shooting for “wizard” but isn't convinced she's got the wisdom thing down yet. (She might never feel like she's achieved wisdom, and if she did that might be a sign she's not so wise. There's always room for improvement, after all.)

If you ask her what to call her, beyond “Page”, she'll point out that “spell caster” is quite literal, “magician” and “magic user” are both general catchalls, and there are a myriad of addition options for those with some imagination.

-

The Villains
[top]

Background leading up to Schism
[top]

The team began to fracture when Tinker shouted the order, “Kill the witch,” to Mishap in the middle of a battle. No one is really sure where that came from. Yes, the opportunity presented itself, but he hasn't ordered anyone else to kill or that anyone else be killed.

After Mishap didn't kill Page, he got on her case about not being up to the task of being a villain. Mishap was generally paired off against Page anyway, and Tinker kept pushing her to use greater violence than she was willing to and berating her for not being committed to the cause when she didn't.

Mishap probably could have made a persuasive argument that Tinker was the one with fucked up priorities since their brand of villainy was thievery and they had never gone for attacks that would do lasting harm. Then again, so could any of the others, and they didn't.

She quit the team.

Schism is the third time that her old team has bumped into her since she quit, which is why she brought up the possibility they were following her. The “shoving at a distance” occurred the second time they all ran into each other, and was during a fight with the heroes.

Tinker
[top]

Tinker is a tech villain and all of the team's equipment, including his ray guns, are things he personally made.

As for his personality, Tinker started off seeming downright egalitarian. Maybe it was being the undisputed leader, maybe it was because his team was one person short of all male, maybe something else, but as time went on he started letting how he really felt show more and more and how he really felt on the inside was not a pretty sight.

Only two sorts of people call Page a witch, for example. The first are people who don't know much about Page. The second are people who want to evoke another word while having, “I'm not a misogynist,” cover. Tinker knows Page very well, since her team has been his primary opponent long enough for mountains of opposition research.

Also, there's a reason Mastodon thinks Mishap would have been justified shooting Tinker in the back. The same doesn't really hold true for the others. The male members haven't had to put up with the same shit.

Multiplicity
[top]

Multiplicity can be in many places at once. The down side is that he can't become stronger by doing so. If there are two of him they'll each be at half strength. Three and they're at one third strength. He wishes he could divide the strength unevenly because he doesn't like the fact that, even though he's significantly stronger than the average person after several divisions every instance of him could be beaten by an ordinary untrained child. He'd like to keep at least one version at half strength, but his power doesn't work that way.

Then again, he's not there for the combat. There are plenty of ways to make use of a horde of people even when they do lack physical strength to an extreme degree. He can loot a place about as fast as someone with hyperspeed, provided the loot isn't too heavy (he does not do gold) and in a world where so much can be done with keystrokes, he often doesn't need much strength.

He hates making decisions, and so is perfectly content to follow the leader without question, and is fond of the path of least immediate resistance. He doesn't think ahead beyond how he'll spend his take, and so often makes things harder than they need to be because he won't invest a small effort now to forestall a large effort later.

Pathfinder
[top]

Pathfinder always knows the quickest way anywhere. Drop him in a place he's never been before and he'll intuitively know every shortcut and never hit a dead end unless he wants to. He's also somewhere between free runner and traceur (parkour practitioner in the purest sense.) He can be as efficient and fast as possible when he needs to be, but he likes the flourish and inefficiency to be found in free running even though traceurs tend to look down on that (“There are no flips in parkour!”)

Mishap was the only other one on the team who shared his love of movement, but even though they were longtime running partners they were never really friends. Pathfinder isn't big on getting close to people.

He also isn't big on hurting people. He joined a team of thieves, not of thugs. If Mishap had preformed the ordered killing he would have turned on the entire team then and there, but since she didn't (and since no one else seemed to be escalating violence) he thought the team could temper their leader's newfound bloodlust and go back to normal or, after Mihap left, something resembling it.

Mastodon
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Mastodon has his name because, well . . . He's got tusks, but he keeps them filed down to avoid unwanted attention. He has fur, but he shaves it so he can appear like a vaguely normal person. Why he has super-strength isn't really clear since a human sized Mastodon wouldn't be that strong and a human shaped one would likely be even less so.

He doesn't talk about how he got that way. He doesn't talk much at all.  Schism easily has him speaking more in one encounter than he did for the two months leading up to it.

Usually he's monosyllabic, which leads to various people dismissing him as a dim-witted oaf. Since he doesn't try to correct that, the reputation tends to stick.

He is, however, intensely loyal to his few friends and will use words to defend them every bit as much as super strength. He tries to respect boundaries, which is why his response to, “Are you following me?” was more than, “No.” Also he felt really guilty for not having spoken up sooner. Like, say, when things were at the level of micro-aggressions from Tinker, the team was fully functional, and no one had even thought of suggesting killing anyone.

Mishap was his only friend on the team, though all it would take for Pathfinder to become his friend would be for Pathfinder to want it. Mastodon's willing, but he's not going to pressure someone into a friendship they don't desire.

Mishap
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Mishap came to magic through natural talent, and she does consider herself a witch. She's also well aware of why Tinker started using that particular word to describe Page. As far as she's concerned it's a completely different word when he uses it, and there's no confusion because she'd never use Tinker's version of the word.

As her name suggests, she's good at making things go wrong. She can make the most nimble person trip and fall, the best written code crash, the most finely tuned machine sputter and die. Through refinement of her innate powers she's learned to do it with a great deal of control, and even do it to things she didn't originally know existed. Notably, she can cause failure in the spells of others. If she has the energy and attention to spare, and time, she can cancel any spell Page casts.

Page can do the same to her, though she comes to it via entirely different means. That means that when they face off, which they usually did when the two teams clashed, their magics cancel out absent deception or distraction. The results are physical fights where each is trying to sneak in magic while trying to be vigilant against the other doing the same.

The “Kill the witch” moment was when Page had her attention elsewhere and was completely unprepared to counter a magical attack from Mishap. If not for the order Mishap probably could have made use of the fact, but the order left her frozen in shock. Also pissed off at someone who very much was not Page.

Even so, she tried to stay on the team and make things work.  There were two things that stopped that from happening.  One was that Tinker's misogyny started to show more and more.  The other, which was presumably related, is that he kept on demanding greater levels of violence and berating her when she didn't deliver.

Later demands of greater levels of violence were more physical in nature as opportunities to get a sure magical hit in on Page tend to be both rare and impossible to predict ahead of time.

After she left the team, Tinker attempted to do the killing himself. Fortunately Mishap happened to have an unexpected front row seat for that clash. That was when Mishap “shoved” him from a distance. No one else really knew what was going on, so neither team knew that Tinker had tried kill Page.

Mishap might be the only one who noticed that Tinker wasn't trying to pressure any of the boys into changing their styles and is definitely the only one to know that Tinker has only ever personally gone after (in a lethal kind of way) the person he couldn't get her to harm.

A child was born last night

I assume it was night based on when I learned of it.

CJ is the newest member of my sister's family.  There's no great epic tale to tell like there was with Jensen, but that's not a bad thing.

CJ's biological father . . . well, I can't help but see it in light of my sister's other son.  Jensen's biological father didn't even admit to being related until this year and has never acted as a father to Jensen.  Occasionally a keeper, the sort of person you can kind of sort of trust you take care of a dog without traumatizing it, but never a father.

Instead Jensen's father is someone who has only known him half his life.  That's CJ's biological father, and the difference between the two men is just so extreme.  When Jensen was born his biological father seemed annoyed at being expected to care about the affair and really didn't appear to want to be there.

CJ's biological father, Cody, emanates pure love.  How he looks at CJ, how he holds him, how he . . . everything.  I already know he'll be a good dad, that's what he's been doing to Jensen, but it's just so different than last time, and in such a good way.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Schism (yet another superhero story)

“Ok, team, let's try to maintain the element of surprise for once,” Palidin said to the others. “They probably don't know they tripped the alarm so--”

There was the distinctive sound of someone punching through a cinder-block wall, complete with brick facade, and audible alarms started blaring.

“Nevermi--”

“What the Hell!?” came Mishap's voice.  “Are you following me?”

They rounded the corner of the store and saw Mishap standing with a cheap soda in her hand, looking at a hole in the wall.

“Unlucky accident,” Mastodon said as he walked through the hole.  “I know you want your space.”

“Traitor!”  Mishap flinched.  Mastodon's palm met his forehead.

“You'll pay for shooting Tinker in the back!”

Three more villains came through the hole in the building's wall, Tinker in the lead.

“Quit yelling, we're all right here,” Pathfinder said.

“Multiplicity recommends against referring to yourself in third person, Tinker,” Multiplicity said.  “That is Multiplicity's trademark.”

“But is it a registered trademark?” Mishap asked.

Mastodon sighed.  Then he noticed something too far away for the heroes to see, “Why do you have that out?  The heroes aren't even here yet.”

“Actually they are,” Mishap said.  Mastodon looked to her, and she must have signaled him somehow, because he then looked directly at the heroes.

Paladin raised his hand as if to wave and said, “Hi,” in a confused way.

“Ok, they are here,” Mastodon said, “So you should be pointing the raygun that way,” he pointed to the heroes.

“Did you not hear me say that the traitor would pay for shooting me in the back?” Tinker asked.

“You call that shooting?” Mishap asked.  “It was more like a shove from a distance.”

“Even if it had been strong enough to be classified as a shot,” Mastodon said, “provided it stayed non-lethal it's not like you didn't deserve it considering some of the stuff you said to her.”

“Silence your insolence!” Tinker said.  “She must pay.”

“Ok, how about this:” Mastodon said.  “Let's do some math.  Ten people here.  One neutral party,” he pointed to Mishap, “leaving four of us and five of them.  Not bad odds considering all we need to do is escape, not win.

“However, if you hurt my friend, I'm definitely going to be against you.  That would leave you outnumbered two to one.  Much worse odds.”

“You threaten me!?” Tinker shouted.

“Enough with the loud,” Pathfinder said.

“While we're on the subject of stupid,” Mastodon said, “'Kill the witch'?  Seriously?  Since when are we killers?  We're thieves.  Of course she disobeyed.  Who wouldn't?”

“We're villains, they're heroes,” Tinker said, “it comes with the territory.”

“Actually,” Pathfinder said, “I don't remember 'killer' being on the job application either.”

“Turncoat,” Tinker growled.

“You'd better think over whether you really want to alienate me,” Pathfinder said.  “If I'm against you, and you bring Mishap into this by attacking her, that leaves you outnumbered four to one.  Your odds keep getting lower.”

Tinker made a wordless sound of frustration, then shouted, “Retreat!”

Multiplicity followed him.

“He never stops with the loud,” Pathfinder said.  “I hate the loud.”

“We're going to need to find a new team,” Mastodon said.

“Let's make sure the name doesn't include a number,” Pathfinder said; “I hate having to do a full re-branding effort every time we gain or lose a member.”

“We can figure out the name later,” Mastodon said.  “There's a more pressing matter: whoever gets back to the lair first is going to loot it and leave nothing for the others.”

“It's a race,” Pathfinder said, “and we'll win.”  He paused a moment.  “But it would be too easy if I didn't give them a head start.”

A few moments passed in silence, then Pathfinder started to jog away and motioned Mastodon to follow.  Mastodon did, but just before he disappeared down an alley he turned back and shouted, “Keep in touch,” to Mishap.

“Well,” Mishap said to the empty air, then sipped her soda, “that was weird.”  Then she walked away.

The heroes were left alone.

“So,” Erratic said, “that did not go at all how I expected.”

“Aren't we going to chase?” Errant asked.

Paladin sighed.  “Even with Mastodon slowing him down, Pathfinder's too fast for us to catch.”

“I meant Mishap,” Errant said

“Our legal authority is very restricted,” Paladin said.  “It only applies to what we were called in to do.”

“She wasn't part of the robbery this time,” Page said, “so she's outside our jurisdiction.”

Paldin nodded, then said, “If we go after her because of her outstanding warrants, without being specifically tasked with that, we're just vigilantes.”

“So, what do we do?” Squire asked.

“We patch the hole in the wall,” Paladin said, “wait for the police to arrive, and tell them the bad guys got away this time.”

~ ⁂ ~

I'm going to have I have a post going into more detail about the characters I've worked out (the villains and the hero Tinker previously ordered Mishap to kill) and the events leading up to the villains' team breaking apart, but for now here's the names of the the people on or previously on the two teams:

Heroes
Paladin
The Knights Errant and Erratic
Squire
Page
Villains
Tinker
Multiplicity
Pathfinder
Mastodon
Mishap

Whether anyone is cis or trans I haven't worked out yet, but they're all gender conforming.

Other than Mishap, team villain is all male.
Paladin and Errant are male, the other heroes are female.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Most of the things I am thankful for are things that cause me great stress and fear

Let's start by not talking about me.  Maybe that will be easier.

A lot of people say, and perhaps even believe, that freedom means you can do a thing.  "Freedom of speech means you can say what you will," for example.  It's often framed that way when we first teach about freedom.  Things are framed in "can" and "can't".

That's not accurate though.  "Free speech" is such a wonderful example because we know it's not about "can" even when we know for a fact that's not true.  As we return to a place where our country finds itself mired in white power politics and John Birch conspiracy theories even unto the highest levels, Americans might do well to remember the past and reflect on the fact that there's a reason the terms are First World and Third World.  This concept had a Second World that we don't much talk about these days.

The First and Second Worlds ran roughshod over the Third World because they weren't going to damage their own fucking worlds as part of their epic global conflict.

So what was the Second World?  Basically the USSR et alia.

Did it have free speech?  Nope.  Did that mean people couldn't speak their minds?  Hell no.

The gulags were full of people who proved that they could and would speak their minds.  They did.  They spoke.  They were arrested.  And depending on the exact when and where they were imprisoned, worked to death, deported, stripped of all their possessions, possibly killed but you usually had to do a bit more than speak for that one, or otherwise subject to legal reprisal.

It's the repercussions that define free action.  If you have legal freedom to do something (like say that the president elect is an asshole and the next four to eight years will be fucking terrible) then you can do it without legal repercussion.  But there are other ways to punish people.

Some things that you can legally say might get you shunned, or ridiculed, or might see you lose friends.

Thus we have Janis Joplin tell us, in the words of Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster, that "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose".

Once you have something, it can be taken away.  If it can be taken away, then the threat of that can be used to stop you from doing things, and thus your freedom is restricted.

And that brings us back around to what I actually set out to write about.  We'll see if taking that long detour has actually helped make it any easier.

-

I'm lucky.  I don't own this house, but I have this house.  All I need to do are pay the expenses, which are significantly lower than the cost of rent in the area, and I can live here indefinitely.

That's something I have.  Which means that it's something I can lose.  I'm not going to round up the figures right now, but I think last time I did it came out to 12 hundred dollars I don't have that are needed by the end of the year.  At least nine hundred of that is the non-monthly expenses on the house being due.

Then there's oil.

I'm thankful for my house.
I'm thankful for my heat.
I'm thankful for my power.
I'm thankful for my water.
I'm thankful for my internet.
I'm thankful for this blog.
I'm thankful I'm not starving.
I'm thankful I'm on my meds.
I'm thankful . . .

And it can all be taken away.

It can all be lost.

We've reached the time of the year when I need the heat on.  I can turn it down, but never off.  Every time the furnace kicks in, whether because it needs to produce more heat or simply because it requires a given operating temperature, I find myself wondering how long before I run out of oil.

More than half of that 12 hundred dollars was already due.  Yeah, a family member covered it, but it's a loan --not a gift.  How long before she needs to either call in that debt or take action?

And the only action she can take is to begin the process of kicking me out of the house.

Do I start rationing things.  If I do, then it doesn't look good for this place.  I need heat to live.  I need electricity to run the machinery that burns the oil.  I need oil to burn.  I need water to be coursing through the system because the radiators operate off of steam.

Seems like internet goes first.

Maybe I could ditch my phone first, then internet, then . . . what?  Things are too interconnected.  It's a system, and after cutting off my means of communicating with the outside world, everything else seems to be a critical part of that system.


Catalyzer's a nothing part, Captain.

It's nothing 'til you don't got one. Then it appears to be everything.


And all of my bills are paid online anyway.

Cut out anything, and it all falls down.  Everything I have: gone.

Well, almost.  Lonespark I have in person.  Sometimes.  Not long distance, not short distance, sort of mid-distance.  It's an interesting dynamic.  But the point is that Lonespark isn't part of the "everything" I can lose in this manner.  She isn't in my house or dependent upon it; she certainly isn't with me for my money.

I've spent days too stressed out to do anything but try to distract myself from the stress by playing games or reading.  None of that stress was over losing Lonespark because I couldn't pay my Lonespark bill.

Before a year and a half ago it seemed like I had freedom in sight.  My financial woes were because something happened (i.e. "If I don't get the money for a new furnace --actually a boiler, but we always called it a furnace-- in the next couple of days then I'm well and truly fucked,") or because my SSI income wasn't enough to pay the tuition for the university I was still attending.

Once I graduated university, the structural problems would be over, and with a new furnace I seem to be insulated from that particular disaster.  Yes, I had a bunch of debt, but once the last tuition bill was paid (it's been paid) I should have been ok into the future.

How many times have I told this damned story?  Then the SSA reevaluated how much they should be paying me in SSI and decided that the fact I got people to help me pay for two semesters tuition (as a full time student no less) meant I should be able bring in enough money to do that every year, and since then my debt has climbed and every month is a disaster not because something in particular happened, but because there's just not enough.

And the stress that brings on makes it impossible to focus on the paperwork needed to say, "No, you assholes, I don't make that kind of money.  It took me five fucking years to make $100.49," and donations are impossible to predict.  That too.

Part of that is that paypal keeps on fucking up the automated ones so every time someone thinks, "Hey, I'll set up a monthly donation of $5," it utterly fails, but it's also because only one or three people have ever tried that anyway.

"Hi, I still exist," doesn't tend to bring salvation.  Though I keep on doing that once a month post.

"Good fucking god, it's all coming down around me," stands a better chance but is the opposite of certain.

And every time I say that, which happens so often now, I wonder if this will be the time when no one steps forward to help, when I can't find some way to kick things down the road, when I'm out of credit to use as last resort, and when the end finally comes.

And so the very things that I'm thankful for cause me the greatest fear.

I live in fear.  Fear of losing the things that I need.  Fear that this time will be the last time.  Fear that my lucky breaks and flat out miracles will run out.  Fear that I'll lose everything.

Dr. Jones, again we see there is nothing you can possess

which I cannot take away.


And that causes me so much fucking stress.  Sometimes it's like I'm in the deepest depths of unmedicated depression all over again.  Being too stressed out to move isn't the same as being too depressed to move, but there's a definite similarity to the feel.

On the topic of the depressed version My Zombie Apocalypse Team, also Why .hack//Sign matters (the re-post as well, but no big-type post for my favorite iPad based reader.  Sorry.
)

But back to the situation at hand.

I am thankful for a variety of material things, several of which play an active role in keeping me not-dead, but that thankfulness is tempered by the fact that I cannot long dwell on any of these things without being reminded that I stand on the edge of losing these things.  And, for the record, my balance kind of sucks.  It's a miracle I've been able to stay on the edge this long.

And so I've fearful of a variety of things.

And so I'm stressed the fuck out in near perpetuity about a variety of things.

I still have things left to lose.  And the prospect of losing them weighs heavily upon me.

Monday, November 21, 2016

I am medicated

Ok, so, apparently I dropped a pill somewhere because there definitely should have been an even number since I take two every morning and they gave me a full thirty day supply.

I noticed this, maybe, on Friday.  I was out of state, the medication has only gotten a generic a year or two ago, and even that is really fucking expensive, and my insurance ends at the state line.  No way to refill.

So I'm looking at three pills and considering rationing.  Then I realize: I'm going back the next day, so if I take two that day, one the next, and then get new pills when I get back into my insurance's domain, I'll have only one day of less than full meds.

I did not think of the fact that it was Friday.  Meaning the next day was Saturday, meaning the day after was Sunday.

So this morning I'd had one half of a dose of my most important med in the span of three mornings.

Those who pay attention to my time zone will be able to notice that it is not morning here.

Good fucking God, is it hard to make an expedition to get your depression medication when you're suffering withdrawal from your depression medication (figures that the only medicine that works is the only one to ever give me withdrawal symptoms) and possibly the fallout of not having depression medication (it can be hard to tell where withdrawal ends and "You're too low on meds in your bloodstream to be non-depressed" begins in the short term).

But I am now medicated.  And I have food.  I'd totally forgotten that I finished almost all my food before heading out of state.

Mind you I never talked about being not medicated, so this is sort of non-news because it means, "That bad thing I didn't mention is no longer a thing in need of mentioning."

Still: I have succeeded in my epic mission-quest-thing to get medication.  Woo!