Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Dark Inside Her Bones: First Period

Kate was almost to her next class when Kisha stepped out of the bathroom, stopped abruptly, and gave her almost the same look that Julian had. She slowed, stopped, and returned the girl's regard. "Yes?"

"Girl..." Kisha drew the word out, then stopped and said, in a clipped, precise, academic accent: "What have you done?"

Kate opened her mouth, closed it again, then made herself take a breath. "Okay," she said. "I know you aren't working with Julian, so what the hell is going on? Why do you guys keep staring at me?"

Kisha stopped, eyes wide and head slightly turned. Then her eyes narrowed, and she grabbed Kate's hand and pulled her into the bathroom. Kate didn't fight it; privacy suddenly seemed like a very good idea.

When the door swung shut behind them, Kisha stepped back and looked her over. "You're... more than you were yesterday. And it wasn't one of those half-assed white-boy rituals that Julian and his friends with Families are so proud of, either."

That was when everything fell into place. "Oh, shit," said Kate, stepping back and leaning against the wall. "There was a shadow in my brother's room. He's afraid of the dark, and it kept coming back, and he was waking up. He was waking us up."

Kisha looked puzzled. "So you...?"

"I got tired of it. I told it to stop bothering us."

Kisha's eyes widened. "You took it into you."

Kate nodded warily.

"That's..." Kisha shook her head. "You've got some balls, girl."

Kate shook her head and looked away. "I was just frustrated and angry."

"...But you must have walked into the dark. You must have spoken with it. It must have understood you."

Kate stopped, frozen by the memory, and felt the shadow raise itself to look out through her eyes again. It curled around her spine, wary and interested, then withdrew. "...Yes," she said, when that moment had passed.

"And Julian noticed too? Dismore?"

Kate nodded uncertainly.

Kisha let out a breath, eyes narrowed. "Maybe we can confuse him. Get to your class, I'll find you after."

Kate nodded, turned towards the door, and then turned back. "Kisha?"

The other girl looked at her. "Yeah?"

"Thank you."

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Fluidized Sand

It's been a while since the Mad Scientist has checked in, but here's a bit of coolness in case you've been missing it:

This was the genesis of Firstborn's Science Fair project. If you listen carefully, you'll hear the guy in the video say something like, "We went through about twenty-five versions before we got it to work." Annnnnnnnnd, yeah, that sounds about right. Sheesh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Urgle Blarg

Who am I, again? What was I doing? What century is this anyway? Does anybody here remember my name, and if so could you remind me what it is?

This morning was seriously like:

...Except I don't get any cool transformations out of it.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Send Whiskey, STAT

We're attempting to deal with the underlying intestinal issues that resulted in Secondborn having hernia surgery back at the beginning of the summer. This involves the child drinking a very great deal of some of the foulest-tasting medicines imaginable. And if there's one thing an eight-year-old boy wants to know when he finds himself in such dire straits, it's that someone else is suffering as he suffers. On this day, his mother is the chosen sacrifice. She, too, is Taking The Medicine. She, too, partakes of the suffering.

I, meanwhile, have had to pop into work twice because the automated job I'm running to clean up my database and make it run better is also locking people out of the database and making it (effectively) not run at all, at least until I go in and reset the connection. Which means I've got to find a better way to do this, because there is literally never a time when we have nobody in the system. This, however, is more of a practical annoyance and an existential worry; what's killing me right now is Firstborn's Science Fair Project, which is due Tuesday, and which has been "almost done" for perhaps four weeks now.

"Almost done" (for those of you who aren't parents or are otherwise unfamiliar with the phrase) means "we've got some of it put together but we haven't tested anything, and it's almost certainly not going to work the way we want it to, but we really don't have time to rebuild it from the ground up." In this particular case, it also means that I keep moving the thing outdoor to test it, then back indoors because I can't be sure that it isn't going to rain. This would all be much easier if I had an unlimited budget and a team of engineers and craftsmen under my direction. I'd look like a fucking genius if I had an unlimited budget and a team of engineers and craftsmen under my direction. Instead, I have a recalcitrant twelve-year-old, a lot of pvc, an air pump, some sand, a hot glue gun, and the rapidly receding hope that all this will somehow come together into a working fluidized sand bed.

Don't send hopes and prayers.

Send whiskey.

(I'd hoped to crank out a few more pages of story this weekend, but... no. Just, no. But that's okay, I'm not bitter.)

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Human Nature

I'm beginning to think that a surprisingly large number of problems in our society actually boil down to the fact that a large percentage of the population can't tell the difference between Decisive Leadership and Basic Assholery.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Post-Midterm Elections Hot Take

Well, we didn't blow up the Death Star last night. At least, I wouldn't read it that way. But then, that was always a longshot - you know, like trying to hit a thermal exhaust port that's only two meters wide with proton torpedoes while engaged in a dog fight with Imperial Tie Fighters.

What we did do, I think, was more on the order of sabotaging the Imperial shipyards. And if we can halt production there, then that sets us up with more of an advantage for the next big battle.

This election was never going to fix everything. There is no quick fix for this. Where we are now? It's the culmination of years (and in some areas, centuries) of people gimmicking our political system. It's going to take years to try to fix, and if the best we can do right now is put the brakes on some of the worst abuses, well...

It's a start. And it's a start worth celebrating.

So we take what we got. And then we get back to work.

Sometimes the best you can do is rescue your friends and get the hell out of Cloud City. We did a lot better than that.

And... if you don't find me encouraging enough? Read this whole thread. Fewer Star Wars references, but a good look at where we are and why even the losses matter.

Martha Wells also has an excellent take (which I fully agree with) on why she's sick of people blaming Texas for remaining weighted-Republican. Texas actually did pretty well, under the circumstances.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The thing about victory...

...is that even if we get a victory, we're not done.

You don't get to just blow up the Death Star and go home. That's the kind of thinking that gets you frozen in carbonite. I mean, sure - stop and celebrate. If we pull it off, we'll have put a big damper on the Empire's ability to just go around blowing up planets. But they'll still fall back on fleets and stormtroopers and Imperial bureaucracy. We'll still need to keep working to minimize the damage that they're trying to do.

They're not going to stop. Even if we do blow up the Death Star -- and that's not even remotely guaranteed -- they're just going to try to build another one. So we have to stick with it. We have stay organized and keep up the opposition. (And we can't keep expecting the murder-bears of Endor to save us, either.)

So get out there and vote today, but be ready to keep at it tomorrow (or day after, or the day after that -- it's okay if you need a bit of a rest after all this).

(I mean, we all know perfectly well that Luke and Han and Chewbacca all went down to the cantina and got thoroughly drunk and then slept for like fourteen hours after they got back to the Rebel base, right? There was some serious recuperation time between Blowing Up The Death Star and the Victory Awards Celebration.)

Still hiding...

...Here's hoping we'll turn a corner, and even if it doesn't make everything right again we can at least slow the collapse.

Meanwhile, if you want a reasonable summary of where a lot of people I know seem to be right now, have read through Lilith Saintcrow's Let Me Be Wrong.

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Dark Inside Her Bones: Back at School

"Oh hey! How are you..." Julian hesitated. "Wait, are you new here?"

Kate stopped, turned, looked at Julian with quiet deliberation. "We've been in school together since third grade. You spent most of fifth and sixth grade trying out charms to trip me, make me stutter, undo my bra, or take my voice. Or, you stole my books. Last year in Geometry we swapped tests for grading, and when I handed yours back you put an acne curse on me because I pointed out that you'd done half the problems wrong. Why are you even talking to me?"

Then she put a hand over her mouth. She couldn't believe that she'd just said that. She'd only barely even articulated it to herself; she certainly hadn't readied any kind of rehearsed speech on the off chance that one of her tormentors suddenly and unwisely decided to treat her like a human being.

"I'm sorry," said Julian, stepping back. "I didn't mean... It's just, you've..."

Kate stared at him, genuinely puzzled.

"You're an initiate," he said. "I thought you belonged to one of the Families."

Julian was a Dismore, part of a sprawling semi-aristocratic family that featured a number of remarkable sorcerers, and a great many lesser talents. The bully's arrogance didn't just come from being born to power; his family also had wealth and connections to ensure that the consequences of his behavior were never too severe. Saint Ann's was supposed to be an egalitarian school, where the brightest students would learn everything they could regardless of their background, but sorceries were still the closely-guarded secrets of the various High Families. They weren't taught in schools, and knowing them still set someone like Julian apart. So this was just some new prank, some odd and juvenile attempt to make her think that somehow things had changed.

"You know that's not true," Kate said evenly. "I'm not a name. I don't belong to a Family. I'm just one of those people you step on, on your way up. Why are you even talking to me? Don't you have better things to do with your time?" The anger felt good, cleansing and righteous, and she stepped past him and walked on to her first class.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

DnD & Boys, New campaign 2: Travel is Murder

Last weekend, the boys started their first adventure in the new campaign. I will note for the record that the boys are twelve and eight years old, so we're good for about an hour before Secondborn's attention span runs out. But, as it turns out, that's a fine length of play for a Sunday morning.

I began by reading them the introduction, then had them explain why their characters had decided to accept Lord Ardivil's offer.

Lithos, Firstborn's human paladin, signed up to gain experience and for the greater glory of his order. He's there to protect people and make sure things get done right.

Legacil, Secondborn's elvish druid, wants to explore this strange new place and see if there are any forgotten people still living there.

Nistril, my half-elf rogue, is looking to escape his life of crime, so the the opportunity to earn pay as a professional explorer intrigued him.

In addition to those three, the initial expedition includes Lord Ardivil himself, the expedition leader Victoria, and three drivers -- one for each wagon. Lord Ardivil is only a minor noble; he's actually better known as a scholar, but he has enough money and backing to put the expedition together. He plans to write fascinating historical monographs on his discoveries, and possibly found a museum. Victoria is trained as a fighter, but her primary job is to keep the caravan organized: make sure the wagons are properly loaded and in good repair, oversee the drivers, keep track of food and supplies, and generally handle the logistics.

The expedition follows the trade road towards the inland city of Dravish for the first two days, then takes a turn-off onto a clay road that heads back into the hills -- a route mostly used by loggers and the occasional hunter or trapper. They are camped for the night when a group of brigands appears and demands the horses and wagons.

The group of bad guys consist of three warriors (stats), plus a human wizard and a halfling sorcerer (both quick-generated here).

As the drivers try to take cover behind the wagons, the paladin stands up and charges forward, putting himself in front of everybody else. That takes care of the surprise round. We roll for initiative, and (not terribly surprising, end up with the following sequence: Nistril, Lithos, Evil Wizard, Legacil and his wolf, brigand warriors, and Evil Halfling Sorcerer. The half-elf rogue goes first, and darts away from the fire to disappear behind one of the wagons. The paladin finishes moving in and attacks, felling one of the warriors with a mighty blow. The Evil Wizard casts Magic Missile, and does some damage to the paladin. The druid promptly drops Entangle on the brigands, rather effectively holding them in place, while his wolf races up and rips out the throat of a second warrior. The remaining warrior tries to free himself from the grasses, vines, and branches wrapping around him, but fails. Finally, the halfling sorcerer decides against trying to cast a spell and throws Alchemist's Fire instead, singing the wolf.

The rogue comes around the side of the wagon, and throws a dart at the halfling sorcerer. It hits, but doesn't kill him. The wizard is too far back for the paladin to get to him, so he steps into the Entangle spell (and makes his save, so he can still move) and cuts down the remaining warrior instead. The wizard finds that he's already used up his best spell, so he casts Frost Ray at the paladin... which hurts a bit, but not enough to make the paladin do anything except look at him like, "Really, dude?" (The wizard, as a free action, responds with, "Uh oh.") The druid moves forward and readies his sling, but doesn't have a chance to attack. The halfling sorcerer decides that they're in real trouble and tries to cast a spell, but he's thoroughly entangled at this point and fails his concentration check.

The rogue throws another dart and finishes off the halfling sorcerer. The druid decides that it's time to dismiss his Entangle, and stops the effect. The wizard promptly throws his arms up and yells, "I surrender!"

"Bring him to me," commands Lord Ardivil.

So the characters promptly marches the wizard over the aristocrat. "This seems an odd place for brigands," he observes. "This isn't a trade route, and there aren't any towns nearby."

The wizard promptly explains that they were hired to stop the caravan, steal the wagons, and leave Lord Ardivil stranded. The rest of the group didn't matter; they could be killed or spared as the brigands preferred.

So who hired them? A tall, lean man, respectably dressed and wearing a mask. He had a particular way of moving his hands when he talked. He hadn't given a name.

Lord Ardivil nodded anyway. "Benthis," he said. "I'd bet money on it. He's a steward for Lord Hallorand. My friends, it seems we have a rival."

...And on that dramatic note we promptly stopped the game and sent everybody off to fidget elsewhere. Because there was definitely fidgeting going on at the DnD table.

Overall, though, I'm really pleased. Secondborn likes his character -- the druid was a really good choice for him -- and I think Firstborn will make a surprisingly good paladin. We have a basic plot and an opening event with the promise of more conflict, and as long as we keep the sessions short I think I can even keep up with running the game. Hooray!