Wednesday, November 5, 2014

This Is How It Was

Introduction: Many moons ago, a message board I was on had a "survival game." Basically, a whole bunch of spaceships were given a bunch of points and posters could, once a day, remove points from one ship and add points to another. After much back-and-forth, we were left with Serenity with a relative handful of points and the TARDIS with a sizable lead. And then the Browncoats showed up, as we're want to do, and we won. I wrote this blog post on Xanga as a "victory speech." Not having the heart to actually blow up the TARDIS, I found a compromise.

And you're welcome, Amy Clark.

 (The bridge of the Firefly. An exhausted-looking Wash is at the main controls, with Mal just now rising from the secondary. Jayne stands nearby, Vera on his hip and still wearing his space-suit.)

Malcolm: Well, that was just plain disturbin'.

Jayne: Don't know what you're talking about. After a coupla years of no space-fightin', we had ourselves a real battle. Plenty o' bad ass spaceships.

Wash: Well, there was that tiandu wu yohn ship that went down first. Not too impressive. And that guy, the vaguely Buddhist one - “The One?” The one what?

Jayne: Well . . .

Wash: Ooo, and then there was that cube! I mean, who wants to pilot a cube?

Mal: Cube was scary, Wash, mighty scary. Took just about all those fancy ships with the people in running suit's to take it out.

Jayne (chuckling): Runnin' suits. Looked ridiculous, every one of 'em. (rubbing the bruise on his chin) Guy with the crab on his forehead, he was strong enough, though.

Mal: But who ever heard of punchin' with an open hand? Likely to break your wrist as hurt a man.

Simon (over intercom, nervous): Uhh, captain, how's everything up there?

Mal: Fine, Simon, you getting' our prisoners patched up pretty?

Simon: The one with the red shirt didn't make it. Which is surprising as he hardly even got shot.

(sound of a saw whirring in the background)

Mal: And the green-skinned guy? The robot?

Simon: River's working on him.

(piercing screams)

Mal: Sounds like that's going . . . well. I'll leave you to it.

(turns intercom off)

Kaylee (bounding onto the bridge): Everyone all right up here?

Jayne (motions to poorly bandaged arm): Well, I got shot in the . . .

Kaylee: 'Kay, good, I'll just see how Simon's doing. (turns to leave)

Mal: And River, Book and Inara, right?

Kaylee (distracted): Right shiny, cap'n. (bounds away)

Mal: Zoe, you still out there?

(Cut to exterior shot of the Firefly where Zoe stands, hauling in a blue telephone box on the end of a long cable. Cut to close-up of Zoe's face beneath her helmet)

Zoe: Yes, captain. Thing's heavier than it looks, even in zero-g. I'll get her reeled in soon enough.

Mal (over intercom): Any idea if anyone's still in there?

Zoe: Looks like feh wu to me, captain, but looks like it might've been before this battle anyway. Not much to look at, that's for sure.

Jayne (muttering): Could say the same about this bucket.

Kaylee (off-screen): I heard that!

(Zoe draws the phone box into Serenity's loading bay where it falls on its end with a loud thud)

Zoe (over intercom): She's inside, sir.

Mal: Book, Inara, you guys down there?

(Book and Inara stand near the phone-box. Book has a six-shooter in hand, but at his side. Inarra is unarmed)

Book: We're here, captain.

(back on the bridge)

Jayne: Still say I should be down there.

Mal: The idea's to make 'em feel welcome. You ain't exactly a welcoming face.

Jayne: They was in that battle same as us!

Mal: Yeah, trying to survive is all they did. Never fired a shot.

Wash: Still, don't know if they're hostile or not, and you let the preacher and the socialite take point?

Mal (to Jayne): Look, I'm the captain and . . . wait. Wash, did you just agree with Jayne?

Wash: I'm as shocked as you, captain. Shocked to my core.

Mal: I'll leave you ladies to your love-fest, then. Got guests to meet.

(the phone box, banging, clattering and shouting from inside)

Book (putting his hand on the gun): Hope they're as peaceful as the captain expects. That doesn't sound like a . . .

(the tenth Doctor and Donna fall out of the TARDIS, pursued by a cloud of smoke and a shower of sparks)

Doctor (recovering, but still staggered, nearly collides with Book before extending a hand and shaking Book's vigorously – his crying of falling turns into his introduction): Aaaaaaaaaaand who might you be, then?

Book: Shepherd Book . . .

Doctor: Lovely! (turning to Inara) And you are?

Inara: Inara, wel . . .

Doctor: Lovely! (looking around) Oh, this is a smuggler's ship, and no mistake. Perfect. Tons of little cubbyholes and hiding places and . . . oh, is that a hover-mule! Look, Donna, a hover-mule!

Donna (arms crossed, catches Inara's flummoxed expression): Yeah, he's always like this for the first bit. He'll run around a while, get all interested. Take a nap eventually and then he'll be a bit more . . .

Inara: Himself?

Donna: No, no, this is himself, really.

Mal (booking down the stairs): What chwen let our new house-guest play get up on the furniture?

(The Doctor on the hover-mule, pretending to steer, wearing a leather helmet and goggles)

Doctor (leaping off and bounding over to Mal): And you must be the (Mal levels his gun at The Doctor from the hip) captain. Huh. Thought you'd be a friendlier lot than that. Two of you with guns.

(loud clanking from the top of the gangplank – it's the sound of Jayne cocking Vera)

Doctor: And I think THAT gun counts for three. So you all were part of that strange little war after all? Even though you never fired a shot?

Mal (to Jayne): I said I was coming down, didn't I tell you to stay . . .

Jayne: No, you didn't. Wouldn't've listened anyway.

Mal: Jayne, I . . . I'll deal with you later.

Doctor (clucking): Ah, issues with your crew. Well, I don't want to get in the way of that, so if you could just point me to a spare berth or (Mal turns his steely gaze back to The Doctor) not. I seem to have arrived at a bad time. Or, more properly, I seem to have been roped into your ship at a bad time.

Inara: If we're awake, it's probably a bad time.

Donna: Look, really simple questions. I have three of them. Everyone ready? I'll even let you know who can answer them. (silence) Right. One: were you lot actually part of all that fighting or just caught up in it same as us? Captain?

Mal: Just caught up in it, I suppose. I mean, we have some that'd like to blow us out of the sky and all, but none of 'em fly ships like the ones we just saw. Question of my own: what brought you lot here?

Donna: Well . . .

Doctor: Just passing through, really. We were trying to get to the Tiber Cluster round about seventy million years from now so I could show Donna a real live actual supernova when the primary temporal buffer panel went all wobbly. Before I knew it, we were trapped in time, barely able to move in space, ships zooming all around. We survived as much because of our shields as anything, and even those were failing. Some sort of power drain. Anyway, we pulled through and ended up here. Question two -

(during this exchange, Kaylee leaves medbay and sidles up by the captain)

Donna: I'm asking the questions, Doctor.
Doctor: Right, sorry.
Donna: Question two-

Jayne: Can I shoot 'em yet, captain?

Donna: Question two: If you weren't fighting in that battle, then are you being so aggressive now only because you're a bit on edge? Everyone?


Donna: Right. So let's just pretend that neither of us is particularly in the mood to shoot people and see where we go from there.

Mal (putting his gun down at his side, not holstering): Seems a good plan. Your last question, very talkative new person.

Donna: Three: (apologetically) Captain, mind if we stay here for a bit?

(the crew begin talking at once)

Jayne: . . . runnin' a gorram daycare . . .
Kaylee: . . . could use a hand with repairs . . .
Book: . . . as a Shepherd, I should say that . . .

Mal: Quiet, the lot of you! This ship is a democracy: one man, one vote. I'm the man, it's my vote. (turns to The Doctor and Donna) Much obliged to you both for not trying to kill us but we're full up on crew just now. We get you to a planet, we'll get you settled but that's the best we can do.

Doctor (meandering over to Kaylee): Well, I do think that we could come in handy for you captain. For example, did you know that the intake manifold on the primary extrusion engine is going to give way in a week, maybe less? Leave you drifting, that will.

Kaylee: I TOLD you that manifold weren't right and you wouldn't listen, said we didn't have . . .

Mal: Money, that's right, we don't have the money, so you'll have to make do until . . .

Doctor: Make do? Make do? This is a 03-K64 Firefly Mid-Bulk Transport, a classic spacegoing vehicle, preference of scoundrels and anti-authority vagabonds everywhere. You can have all the money in the universe, but if you don't love this ship, she'll shake you off like the turning of the worlds. Love her and she'll keep you flying, let you know what's wrong before you even notice it. It makes the ship a home.


Mal: Might do to remember that, doc, but that don't mean I can just magic up the money to pay for a part.

Doctor (to Kaylee): Do you have a Z-91 compression coil, two solid-state cadmium batteries, about thirty inches of copper cable and a pair of tweezers? Aluminum tweezers?

Kaylee: Don't know about the tweezers, but . . .

Doctor (intensely): Listen. The tweezers are important.

Inara (putting up her hand): I think I have a spare.

Doctor: Fantastic! Problem solved. I can make your manifold for you! When I'm not trying to fix up my ship, of course.

Kaylee: Can we keep him, please!

Jayne: Lio coh jwei ji neong hur ho deh yung dug buhn ja j'wohn . . .

Donna: Oi! Your mum know you talk like that!

Jayne (surprised): She's the one that gorram taught me.

Donna: Cheeky little . . .

(the crew talks up again, this time louder, ending with Mal shouting them down again, overlapping with Wash, who's just shown up)

Wash: I have to go to the baaathroom.
Mal: Everyone settle!

Jayne (to Wash): What?

Wash: I wanted to get in on the whining. Am I too late for the whining? Damn, I always miss the good stuff . . .

Doctor: Hobart Washburn!

Wash: Uh, yeah . . .

Doctor: THE Hobart Washburn!

Wash: W . . .

Doctor: Your run through the ion cloud on the Geserel IV rogue moon just before the fall of the Parliament – it's the stuff of legend.

Wash: Well, I never . . .

Doctor: Well, no, you haven't. Not yet. But you will. And it's fantastic.

Wash (to Mal): I vote we keep him. I like people who like me. It's a weakness.

Doctor: You lot do seem altogether less . . .

(River and Simon come out of medbay. River is holding a mechanical arm, still twitching, with tatters of green skin and black and yellowish cloth)

River: Broken doll, strings cut, no more dancing.

Doctor: scary than I thought . . . you . . . might.

(River sees The Doctor and immediately falls to the ground, hands over her head)

River: The storm, the waves, the crashing sea, salt in my eyes, in my EYES, Simon.

(Simon and the Doctor run to her at the same time as River continues to babble)

River: Stream runs to the lake river runs to the ocean ocean comes over me drowing, storm-driven tempest-tossed I don't want your cloven pine anymore get thee behind me Sycorax Miranda Miranda make me a stone the dark behind it all the eyes the eyes with no eyes no heart no head just hate exterminate extirpate extricate the weave and weft the curds and whey have curdled you were gone gone so long ago and so far from now torn apart the war the gathering storm you're the last the last but you aren't supposed to be at all. (sobbing)
Doctor (using his sonic screwdriver): Oh, my goodness, her brain. Neural stripping. Alterations of a kind I've never . . . I'd call this barbaric but it was done with great skill. They raped her mind and left the core of her naked and exposed. I'd heard of experiments like this, never seen one close-up before. Horror beyond imagination. (insensely) I should very much like to find out who's behind this.
Simon: We were just heading somewhere where I hoped we could find out more about her condition, see about healing her.
Doctor: I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. There's no healing this kind of damage, not in this century, not with what you have. Can't heal her mind, but there might be hope left for her spirit. Not for a while yet, but it may come.

Simon: Who are you?

Doctor: The Doctor. And you?

Simon: Simon Tam.

Doctor: Of course! So that makes the rest of you (points in turn) Zoe Washburn, Jayne Cobb, Kaylee Frye and that makes you (grabs Mal's hand so suddenly that Mal drops his gun) Major Malcolm Reynolds.

Mal: Captain. Just a captain.

Doctor: Right! Getting ahead of myself again. Well, anyway, captain, how about it? Your crew seems to want me on board and now you know I have ill intent toward the Alliance. What's not to love?

Mal (looking around): You can stay until your ship's fixed, not a day more.

(Jayne walks away, not bothering to hide his disgust)

Doctor: Captain, I believe this may be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

Mal (stalking back up to the bridge): Wong ba duhn, why can't nothin' go smooth?

(The others begin to move away)

Kaylee: Stop by the engine room when you can. I'll get you those parts you were lookin' for.

Doctor: Oh, sure, fabulous.

Donna: Well, that went well.

Doctor: Yeah, rather. We'll be a week or two here, I'm afraid. TARDIS is pretty well knocked out of commission but I think I can fix her. We get along well, the two of us.

Donna: Yeah, I noticed. Sure it's smart to let on to this lot? Bunch of petty criminals the lot of of 'em.

Doctor: Oh, that. You know those parts I asked for? (Donna nods) Not for a manifold, though I can make that easily enough from what we have on our ship. No, that's for a memory eraser. Wipe out the memory of this whole battle from the crew, and anything to do with us. Best that way.

Donna: Really? What about the girl?

Doctor: Oh, we'll get to the bottom of that, don't you worry. But I can't bring this lot into that much danger. (claps hands) Well, to work?

Donna: Of course!

(Exeunt omnes)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

13th Age Campaign Design Blog: Icons

So, my next campaign is going to use the 13th Age rules. It's a ruleset that combines the "theater of the mind" with basic tactical combat* and has tools that make it easy for the DM to use the setting as "crunch."** It also simplifies character play and DM prep to a monstrous degree which means, naturally, that I'm biting off way more than I can chew when it comes to campaign prep overall.

One of the major narrative thrusts of 13th Age are the Icons. These are personages of such great importance to the world that they're actually a part of the setting - your character's relationship with these figures is something that will affect the course of the campaign, and occasionally you'll have to roll dice to determine how much on an impact they have.

The book presents a list of Icons and they're actually quite good. Really good, in fact, so much so that for the first time I can recall I've actually used setting material from a books without significant modification. I've still worked on some of them, though, and I've put a link below to the document as it stands now. There are probably contradictions throughout, I know, and I'm still missing The Mighty Hero, The Shadow Prince and the True Paladin, but it's a start.

* Combat still uses minis, but on a much simpler map and not 3.x+'s combat grid.
** There are standard saves and standard damages for environmental hazards, so you can make travelling a swamp feel more dangerous than navigating a forest, but without rolling on a random event table every time, giving the DM (and the group) narrative control.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

10 Most Influential Books

Jon Tripp challenged me to pick the 10 books that influenced me. That's as much as I know about this challenge, so I'm basing this list on the books that most often quote and the ones that have had the greatest effects on my personal outlook. They are in no particular order.

1. The Bible*. This one's kind of obvious, but it's impact on me has been tremendous. I've read it three or four times, and portions of it more often than that (I read the book of James every few days, it seems).

2. A Wrinkle In Time. The first in L'Engle's amazing series of books, I consider it to be her best. It taught me that love is always more powerful than hate, that life is worth living fully and that being smart and being wise are equally important.

3. Knee-Deep In Thunder. Based on Native American mythology, this book taught me . . . well, just about everything about how to deal with conflict. It taught me that there really aren't bad guys and good guys, there's just us, some of us worse than others.

4. Small Gods. One of Terry Pratchett's standalone books in the Discworld series, it's a hilarious book and a meditation on the nature of faith, and manages to do good service to both ideas.

5. Ocean At The End Of The Lane. Page for page, there just isn't a better book, in my opinion. It's biographical, it's semi-mystical, it's fantasy, it's reality, it's . . . it's a book about a world that I wished that I lived, a world that scares me and one that terrifies me. It's all of those things at the same time and is a book that inspires me to write better and to write more.

6. Till We Have Faces. It's C.S. Lewis' best work of fiction, but I also think it's his best work of apologetics, although I can't quite explain to you how exactly it does that. That's the reason I love this book - it ignores fiction and non-fiction conventions in favour of just being good.

7. Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook. No, those last two aren't actually D&D, but they're carrying on the tradition of being books that function as a toolkit you can use to create your own fantasy stories with your friends. I've spent so many Friday nights doing this with friends, and many of them I'm still in contact with now.

8. TheNeverending Story. I could tell you about how this story enabled me to have the courage to walk up to a beautiful young blond woman and ask her on a date, but that is another story, and will be told another time.

9. TheGift of Fire. One thing I've always struggled with in man's initial fall from grace. This book was absolutely vital in helping me come to terms with that, and with a lot of the other things that drive my faith in God.

10. Watchmen. Yeah, I put a graphic novel on here. Read it, if you haven't, and you'll understand why. It's really pretty amazing. I mean, I'd always loved graphic novels and comic books, but Watchmen taught me that it's a medium that simply has no limits.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Try This At Home

I'm a writer. I have been since I was a little kid. I love telling stories and I'm obsessed with legends and mythology. When I'm bored, or when I'm excited, or when I'm tired or wired awake, I'm thinking of stories. I have three or four in my head right now - a young woman find a ventriloquist's dummy in her grandmother's attic that looks just like her husband, only it's actually him turned into a dummy and her mother's a witch; three hundred years in the future, everyone works dead-end jobs in cubicles, but at least it's Friday and the weekend's coming soon, only it never does because we were all hollowed out and replaced with robots and our mindless tasks are really just the sub-routines of a planet-sized super computer and the weekend's never coming; a minotaur and elf queen have fallen in love.

It's quite possible that none of these things will every end up written down in a meaningful way. I'll write a couple of lines of dialogue, maybe a description or two. In some way, shape or form, though, those stories are going to keep playing in my head. Bits of them will ooze out into other stories, some of which I'll finish and post somewhere online or maybe send them into some small journal somewhere.

When people find out that I'm a writer, but I haven't really published anything, they have one of two reactions. They either tell me that they're glad that I've found a healthy creative outlet (I love it when people say this) or they act like my lack of publication is a horrible thing, and don't I feel bad that I'm not a great crashing success.

I dislike this very much. I write because those three stories you read about up there? They've vanished, for now, and new ones are in their place. At some point, the brain, it just can't fit any more and some of what's up there has to get out onto a page or I start losing sleep, get seriously distracted and, quite frankly, really cranky. It's a outlet in the same way that venting an overheated radiator is an outlet, it's just that creative writing is less likely to scald your hand.

Huh. That metaphor sounded a lot better in my head.

Anyhow, I write because I have to, and I write because I enjoy it and, quite simply, that's enough for me. Maybe some day I'll get published, but I'm not going to live my life in anticipation of it. Frank Turner sums this up for me in I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous.

I am sick and tired of people who are living on the B-list.
They're waiting to be famous and they're wondering why they do this.
And I know I'm not the one who is habitually optimistic,
but I'm the one who's got the microphone here so just remember this:

Life is about love, last minutes and lost evenings,
about fire in our bellies and furtive little feelings,
and the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering,
and help us with remembering that the only thing that's left to do is live.

So, that's my piece. Enough with that. The rest of this is for the rest of you.

Some of you love to sculpt, but you don't feel like sculptors. Some of you love to draw, but you don't feel like artists. For Pete's sake, stop that. A writer writes, a sculptor sculpts, and an artist, err, arts. Okay, so maybe you'll never actually be good at it. Do you like sculpting and painting and writing? Then that makes it a worthwhile endeavour.

Keep doing it. Don't let the "professionals" tell you that it's complicated stuff best left to them. They're either protecting their paycheck or their ego, and you're ultimately responsible for neither.

Now, to my Christian brothers and sisters. If you were raise in a church like the one I grew up in, you were told from a rather young age that, "Everything you do, you should do as unto the Lord," and that this meant that you shouldn't spend too much time at artistic pursuits that produce things that aren't praise to God.

Well, meet Heman the Ezrahite.

That's his one psalm. Describing it as "bleak" doesn't quite do it justice. It's painfully, almost ornately mournful. I've had days like that, though, and if we're honest, most of us have and it's nice to have this psalm in the Bible - a reminder that sometimes all you have in you is despair, tempered by hope, and that it's expected. It doesn't always provide comfort, but it's good to know you're not alone.

This is Heman's legacy. This is it, those 18 verses ending with his "praise" to God, "You have taken from me friend and neighbour—darkness is my closest friend." If you want to spend an hour or two using your God-given imagination writing a mash-up of My Little Pony, Doctor Who and Big Bang Theory, go for it. God loves you with all your faults and failure. I'm pretty sure he can love you with all your hobbies as well.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Two Tigers

Once upon a time and an age ago, there lived two great friends, Owaku-sabe and Otara-sabu. They ate together, they sang together and they trained together. They were, you see, members of the Emperor’s Guard and had the special duty of guarding his son, Akime.
Now, most of the people in the land had dark hair, almond eyes and skin the colour of old partchment. They were a handsome folk, but Akime stood out among them because his hair was blond, his eyes blue, and his skin was the colour of fresh cream. Some thought his appearance was strange, but the two men found him to be of great character and spirit.
In those days, a man was expected to be skill at the arts, at sport and at letters and Akime was already skilled in all three. In addition, he had a curious mind and a gentle heart and so all those at court wished him well and even the peasants looked forward to his reign as Emperor. All, that is, except foul Kusato. She was a witch of the Black Jade who made her home in a cave high in the mountains. She hated joy and hissed and spat on kindness.
So fierce was her jealousy of Akime that she used her witchcraft to go into his dreams where she gave him strange nightmares and visions that made him cry in the night. This left him dull and disinterested by day and he grew worse with each passing night. It was dark magic, but no one could find its cause.
Owaku-sabe and Otara-sabu were greatly vexed by this and very worried, but what could they do? Their finest lullabies could not soothe him and how could they use their swords against an enemy that had no form?
After months full of long nights and great anguish, finally they found a way they might help their young charge from suffering so. An elderly witch of the White Jade came to court. She said her name was White Fox and she had been sent by the yama themselves to break the curse that had fallen on Akime. She had a powerful magic, but needed sturdy warrior to complete it.
When they were at last able to find an empty council room in which they could speak with no fear of being overheard, she explained the spell.
I can send you into the World of Dreams. When you arrive there, you will be void and without form, but you are strong of will and, with my power added to yours, should be able to take a shape that will serve you there. Then, you must find your heart-line. You both love the prince, and love him more than all things, so it should lead you straight to him. Once there, you will need to defeat the witch that haunts him.”
The two men bowed in assent to White Fox’s wisdom and two days later, on the night of the new moon, the three gathered in a nearby orchard. The two men drank a special tea White Fox brewed while she chanted and sang prayers to many spirits to open the doors to the World of Dreams and ease the two men into its embrace. They soon disappeared and awoke in the World of Dreams.
The air reeked of rot. The sky was a gaudy orange, the trees were so yellow that they hurt to look at, and the stars sang strange songs as they darted through the sky like comets. Otaku-sabe and Otara-sabu realized they were without form yet and concentrated mightily. It worked, though not as expected. Otaku-sabe was now a great orange tiger while Otara-sabu was a regal white tiger.
Now that they had forms – unexpected though they were – the World of Dreams made more sense to them. It was still not like the waking world, but the colour no longer offended the eye and the song of the stars had become musical. Their wits now about them, the two warriors set out to find the heart-line. It was obvious, a great, lavender-coloured path lead out of the dream they were in, with only the smallest of branches leading off in other directions.
They followed it, using their new-found sense of smell and their acute hearing to keep alert for danger, and soon they found themselves in Akime’s mind. It was a forest, and the men knew that each tree was a dream. Almost all of the trees had been pierced by the fangs of some beast and the trees shook and shuddered even though there was no wind. They hunted for the beast through the forest for hours and finally found it.
It was shaped like a man and yet like a beast, a spider or perhaps a scorpion or serpent, a creature of shadow that flowed and oozed through Akime’s dreamspace.
"I am Kotaku," the thing said through a mouth full of jet black fangs. "I am the Ruiner of Hope and the Destroyer of Faith. I am the Eater of Souls and the Ravener of Courage. Your prince has made a fine meal but tonight he dies."
The two men leapt as one and struck the creature mightily, but it flowed around them, taking new and stranger forms with each attack, such the two soon found that their strength was fading.
When the two were nearly exhausted, the shadow thing struck Otaku-sabe a powerful blow and the orange tiger fell as though dead. Before Otara-sabu could even react to his friend’s terrible injury, the forest began to glow with a brilliant purple flame that surrounded his friend who was already rising to his feet. Otara-sabu realized what had happened – that heart-line meant that not only did they love the prince, but the prince loved them in return. Singing of his love for his master, Otara-sabu rallied and leapt once again at the shadow thing. Otaku-sabe rose and fought as well, and this time the shadow thing could not flow around them. Every time it tried, the purple flame rose up and burned away another piece of shadow. Soon, the last scraps of shadow vanished.
Almost immediately, the trees began to heal of their wounds and the two tigers were glad, romping and playing in the dream forest.
The prince awoke to find White Fox sitting by his bedside. He was startled because his two bodyguards never allowed anyone into his bedchamber at night, for fear it would make the terrors even worse, but her manner was gentle and kind and he soon calmed.
Why are you here, old woman?” he asked.
Did you dream?” she asked.
Akime frowned. As a prince, he was not accustomed to a peasant not answering his questions, but reasoned that if his bodyguards trusted her, he should trust her as well.
I did. I dreamed of tigers that fought a monster made of shadow. It was a good dream.”
“Prince, those tigers were your bodyguards. I had hoped that their love for you would be enough, but it was not. They needed some of your spirit as well. The help you gave them has bound their spirits to you. They will never again leave the World of Dreams.”
The prince tried not to cry.
Will . . . will I see them again?”
White Fox smiled.
Yes, every night, in your dreams. And when you fade into the next life, they will survive in dreams. Maybe someday they will find another prince to protect.
I would like that,” the prince said. He yawned.
You need sleep, young prince,” White Fox said, helping him lie back down and bringing a blanket up under his chin.
I do,” he said, closing his eyes. He opened an eye. “Will you watch me? Until dawn? I have bad dreams, every night.”
I will watch, young prince,” she said, gently stroking his back. The prince closed his eyes and fell asleep almost immediately. She thought of Kotaku's body, which would now lie abandoned in her cave in the mountains. It would take some time, but eventually her spirit would return. The prince would be long gone, but Kotaku would just turn her destructive hatred on someone else. She should leave now - there were rituals that could keep Kotaku from returning for some time, but she would have to start them soon.
Just then, the prince sighed and yawned in his sleep, content at last. White Fox smiled and leaned back in her chair.
“I will watch,” she said quietly. “I will watch.”

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day 30 of Why I Love My Wife

For those who aren't on Facebook, ever day for the last 29 days, I've given a reason for why I love my wife. This is actually for 7/17/14.

When I first met Christy, I knew she was way out of my league. I was right, but not for the reasons I thought at the time.

Through an odd set of circumstances, I ended up going to Houghton College in Western New York. Christy and I were in the same freshman introduction group and at the start of the year, before classes started, we were gathered together on the large green lawn at the center of campus and asked to introduce ourselves. I was looking for a few friends with geeky interests similar to my own. This was just a random gathering of people, though, so I wasn’t expecting much.

I forget what she was wearing – my memory says a dress – but regardless she was dressed up more than most in the group, and way more than me. Not that this was hard. Then, as now, I basically had two modes of dress: casual, and what I wear in the shower. At any rate, she was put together. At my school, if a girl showed up at a fairly informal social event with a dress on, wearing makeup, that was a statement, and usually meant that this was a Serious Person.

We all sat down together and gave our names and an interesting fact about ourselves. Mine was, I’m sure, passionately dorky, but Christy said that she was a cheerleader from a private school in New Hampshire, and lived in a log cabin. That was, as far as I could tell, the end of what I needed to know about this girl.

Cheerleader? I’d been on the high school quiz and debates teams, played in jazz band and senior high band, been president of the student council and the D&D club. I lettered in athletics, though – by managing two girls’ sports teams, scorekeeping for basketball and volunteering at fundraisers and banquets. I was a geek, a nerd and a dork. A cheerleader would want nothing to do with me. This I knew.

A private school in New Hampshire? New Hampshire was where Hollywood types had cabins and stuff, it wasn’t where actual people came from. And private schools? I know of two private schools in New Hampshire, and their annual tuition was more than my parents’ mortgage.

And the log cabin thing? I was a city kid – that was just weird.

Once classes started, I didn’t see Christy much. My high school credits from Canada took care of most of my freshman courseload, and we were in very different majors. Still, it was a small campus and we have a friend or two in common, which is why we were at the same table in the dining hall when one of our tablemates had a seizure.

Christy and a friend chased the ambulance while we all waited back on campus. They came back, but said our friend would need to be monitored for 24 hours straight. We went back to his apartment and each took a four hour shift. In the morning, I bumped into Christy in the hall as I made for the  bathroom. She’d just woken up, and hadn’t had the chance to take off her make-up the night before. Her contacts were out and she wore glasses that made her eyes look like pinpricks.

But I thought of what she’d done for our friend, without a thought for her own benefit, and how her face showed no flush of pride as I’m sure mine did. She was just tired. She’d done it because it needed to be done, and she could do it. I said what I was thinking: “Hello, beautiful.”

Now, it must be understood that we were kinda-sorta in relationships with other people at this point, as I recall it. I was dating an on-and-off high school flame, she was dating a Hispanic guitar player named Manuel who would frequently serenade her with music.

As is the way of such things, though, these relationships imploded within a week of each other. Despite the time we’d spent together, we were really just acquaintances, though. I still mispronounced her last name, and she still sometimes said, “Hey,” when she saw me and occasionally called me “Tim.”

Several friends said that we should spend more time together, but the two of laughed it off – we certainly weren’t going to be someone’s “rebound relationship.” We laughed it off pretty much every lunch and dinner where we sat next to each other more and more often, and all the times we hung out in the campus center or down at the snack shop. We made fun of the very notion of dating again as we sat elbow to elbow, making friends change seats if we had to.

I think she knew first. When I got to the dining hall, I’d see her craning her neck to look for me, and I understand I did the same although I don’t recall doing so. One night when we ended up setting across from each other in a snack shop booth rather than next to each other, she said it was all right because, “Now people will think we’re dating,” and winked.

I went back home for a weekend and realized on Saturday that the reason I felt miserable was that I didn’t have her around. I vowed that when I got back on campus, I’d make a move.

Opportunity knocked shortly – there was a movie showing on campus, Casper, and thought I’d ask her out. I confessed my nerves to my roommate, Erich, who admitted with some confusion that he was reasonably certain we were already dating.

The movie was pretty awful. The walk afterward was not.

I don’t know how we ended up holding hands. I’m iffy on how my arm ended up around her waist. I’m foggy on how we ended up facing each other in the moonlight, looking into each other’s eyes. I don’t even remember what I said, exactly, except that it was something to do with deciding that we were actually now dating, officially a “couple.”

This is the part where I’m supposed to say, “and I’ve never regretted it,” but it’s been eighteen years together and there’s no point in being that deluded. There have been moments. Doctor’s appointments, phone calls from the bank, letter from “friends,” moments that make me ask, “Is it worth it?” But every time that happens, every single time, I look at her and see those same eyes I looked into eighteen years ago and realize that it is worth it. Always. Because of her.

The best years of my life are the ones that’ve been twined with hers. I have a hard time remembering a life before her, and I don’t want to think of one without her. Happy anniversary, dear.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Parables for Geeks - Part I

So, parables are an attempt to teach an ethical or moral principle through symbolic storytelling. I think this is a great idea, but sometimes the parables don't make sense to me unless they're explained carefully, and in great detail. So, as a service to my fellow geeks, here's a parable rewritten for geeks.

Luke 18:1-8
Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying, “In a certain gaming group there was a DM who was a total viking hat and did not chip in for pizza. There was a player in that groupy, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘I don’t think it’s fair that the fighter can upgrade his armour for the difference in price while I have to sell bracers of armour and buy new ones. I mean, it’s just not fair.’ For a while he was unwilling for it was a setting detail he was fond of; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I am a viking hat and do not chip in for pizza, yet because this player bothers me, I will let her upgrade for cost, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the jerk DM said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Stories from my youngest son, Part II

This was a multipage retrospective on his year, evidently done over several days.

First Grade Memory Book

Top Left - an illustration of his desk.
Top Right - a small figure at the edge of the picture says, "Eek."
Bottom Left - "I had no friends yet at this scool."
Bottom Right - "Love You Mrs. N___"
Text: I was quiet, calm, happy, excited and scared when I came into first grade. It was weird because I didn't any friends yet. I befriended everyone by now. But that is another story. My favorite memory of first grade was learning about space. That's when we went to the planetarium. It was fun! My favourite planet is Make Make. I like computer because I get to go on a computer. The teacher's name is Mrs. Smithurst. I also like her because she is a lot like me. I do Parent Pickup both getting to and going home from school. My normal routine is: When I get home I get a piece of candy. Then at 4:00, I play video games. At 4:45, my brother and I switch. Resess is fun. I like to hang out at the structure. Sometimes I play basketball or down in the field. That is what I play the most. I'm going to play basketball at lunch resess. Everybody in this school are my best firneds, especially Phoenix, Evan and Rosie. Why? Because I don't want anybody disappointed. At lunch I have a ham and cheese sandwich with mustard, gummies if I have any and a piece of fruit. Sometimes I buy ice cream. It to get Very Very Cherry. My favourite field trip was the Planetarium. I liked the exhibits. I even got a butterfly-shaped slink! I tested it at home. It failed. My mom doesn't work there anymore. I am not going to be in t his school anymore. I have nothing to fear. Okay, maybe just a little bit. I have no worries about second grade. I have hopes and excitement. I have a lot of summer plans. I want to go to Canobie Lake Park. I need to go to swimming lessons. I don't remember when I take swimming lessons. After swimming lessons, I go to the pool.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Reading Rainbow Kickstarter

Reading is wonderful.
Reading Rainbow is wonderful.

And this? This is gobstastically super-wonderful. Donate. Just something.

Because this is Levar Burton and Mr. Rogers together.

And that's a good, good thing.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


From bus to subway, no maps. Can take the boy out of the city ... #i<3boston #cityboywin

Strange women in subway singing gospels songs may not appreciate bass harmony #cityboyfail #i<3boston

Help a Bostonia find his subway. #cityboywin #i<3boston

Cripes, the Sheraton's huge #jeopardyauditions

Where's Tim P right now - category: Civil War. #oldguy #jeopardyauditions

Did good - I think #jeopardyauditions.

Stopped to listen to a busker playing Flogging Molly. #1<3boston

Friday, May 2, 2014

Stories from my youngest son, Part I

A friend suggested that posting things about your kids only is a bad idea because they don't get input into the process and might find the results embarrassing in the long run. In this case, I'm going to ignore this because my son, Brandon, has written some amazing stories at school and these should be preserved. Names have been removed, but spelling errors have been retained.

Story 1
There is a butterfly that I haven't seen before. The butterfly is driving a monster truck - literaly! You should see it! The truck is red with an open mouth and even a flamethrower.

Story 2
You should walk or ride on a bike, not ride in a car. Cars give off steam. Steam will pollute the air. Polluted air will kill many people. That would be bad.

Story 3
Me and my friends are having a easter egg hunt. I got the biggest egg. "Jackpot!" I shouted as soon as I grabbed the egg. One time E___ couldn't even find his own egg! Another time K____ cracked an egg and found a chick. We ended up winning. The score was 14-11. The bigger the egg, the more points it has.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Universe's Song - A Christian Perspective

Are you feeling really important right now? Like everyone's counting on you, expecting you to be the one who makes life better, who'll keep things going? That's a lot of pressure, isn't it?

Maybe you're feeling irrelevant. Like no one cares about you, like if you vanished tomorrow, no one would even notice.

You're wrong. In either case you're wrong.

Here, watch this:

Now, maybe you were feeling pretty balanced before, and that video had the effect on you that it had on me - it made you feel very, very small and unimportant.

When people ask me what I "get out of being a Christian," I think sometimes what they're really asking is, "Why do you matter?" And it's kind of hard to deal with that question because, well, I don't. I mean, not really. Here, another video:
What? Nothing we do matters. Is that even remotely true? Can a Christian believe such a thing and still believe in God?

Yeah. Sort of. Stick with me here.

If you're a Christian, you believe that one day, there will be a "big victory." Some people boil Revelation, Micah, Daniel and bits of Isaiah in a stewpot until they get the notion that they know exactly how the world will end - with a one-world government lead by The Antichrist* versus Israel in a great climactic battle, at which point God will rule the world for a thousand years. Some people think that we build that kingdom here on Earth, that the battle of Armageddon is metaphorical. Still others read the book of Revelation as pure apocalyptic literature that's meant to be read and not necessarily understood and pay more attention to the letters to the churches than anything else.

Whatever. In the end, God wins.

In the end GOD wins. In His time, and His will and by His power. Sure, we have a bit of a role to play. In fact, you can't talk about God's eventual victory without talking about what we're supposed to do:

"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

That's it. Visit those in prison (whether the prison of their mind or body, or, y'know, actual prison), offer food to the hungry and water to the thirsty, be open to strangers and clothe the naked. Be maximally decent to other people.

There's a phrase I heard once at Houghton College. I remember hearing it, but it was in passing by a couple of divinity students and I honestly never  figured out what it meant: immanentizing the eschaton. I frankly had no clue what it meant. A few years ago, I looked it up. It refers to bringing Earth into it's final form, ready for God to come down and destroy it and/or save it.** To immanentize is to make something immanent, to make it real. The eschaton is the end of all things.

This is kind of ridiculous on its face. Here we are, a mere couple billion humans *** scraping across the barest crust of our planet, believe that, in service to an infinite God of infinite power, we can set things up just right so that we can read his inscrutable and impossible wisdom to bring about his fiery and destructive return. Seriously? When the border between summoning Cthulhu and worshiping God becomes that blurry, it's a good idea to step back and reconsider your ecclesiology a bit.

So, immanentizing the eschaton is out.

We still need to be about the business of immanentizing, though, of making things real.

" I fought for so long for redemption, for reward and finally just to beat the other guy, but I never got it," Angel says in the video above.

I did that I lot. I still do. I do the things that I do and I act like they're victories or something that justifies my other excesses, or that should curry favour with God or with man. Sometimes just because I think that they make me better than other people. And I'm wrong, each and every time.

I don't want that. I want to help because I don't think people should suffer as they do.

Immanentizing righteousness.

* There is no Antichrist. Well, rather, there are lots of little antichrists. I John has more to say about that. (Oh, and yes, if you cross the streams and combine 2 Thessalonians with 1 John, you kind of get the idea there might be one Antichrist whose sort of like the boss at the end of the video game. This has lead people to identify various figures in Revelation as The Antichrist - the beast from the earth is popular right now, but it used to be the beast from the earth and, for a little bit, even the Whore of Babylon got in on the action. To be clear, from the description of their behaviour, I think both apostles, John and Paul, would be totally cool with calling them antichrists.)

** The end of the world, it turns out is rather complicated. Myself, I favour fire as well.

*** Every day, every single day, your body produces about 200 billion new red blood cells. It's taken us 7000 years to get even close to breaking the 10 billion human limit. Don't go taking on airs.

Bullies, Griefers and Ignorance

In 1992 I went to Canada's Wonderland a lot. I went on the rides, sure, but I spent a lot of time at the arcade. 1992 was a fantastic year for arcade video games for three reasons, in my opinion: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men and Captain America And The Avengers. All three were sidescrolling action games where you fight through a bunch of little bad guys before battling a boss. Rinse, repeat a half dozen to a dozen times and, whammo, you've beaten the game.*
Doing well at these games requires reflexes, timing and an ability to figure out how the bad guys are going to attack and getting out of the way. I loved that part of these games, and could spend ten minutes on a single quarter before making a miscue and having to feed the beast again.
This was also the summer of Street Fighter II. On its face, it would seem to have all the qualities I like - reflexes, timing and strategy - but in practice, no so much. The game had six buttons in a time when most games had two, and your opponent was randomized, making it harder to get really good at it. Also some of the fighters were simply at a serious disadvantage against certain opponents. Still, I played enough to be familiar with the characters.
One day in the summer of 1992, I was rocking out at X-Men. A trio of high school seniors joined in with me and we fought our way through a few levels before two of them got bored and moved on. Adam, the one guy who stayed was obviously not all that familiar with video games and was fascinated by the way I played, beating seemingly impossible boss guys by moving and dodging at just the right moment.
We beat the game, and he asked if I'd stick around and show him how to beat the early levels. The rules of high school meant that I was obliged to anyway, but I was more than happy to stay - my nerdy self was proving helpful to a high school senior, which was somewhat unprecedented.
The X-Men machine was right next to one of the four Street Fighter games, the one with a little flicker on the right side of the screen. Now free from button-mashing, I noticed something. An older kid, maybe in his early twenties, was hanging out across from the game, waiting for someone to come up and play single player. If it was a kid my age or older, he'd leave them alone, but if it was a younger kid, he'd drop in his quarter, kick the kid around in the game a little bit and send them off frustrated. Then he'd throw the next round and settle back and wait for a new victim.
See, Street Fighter was set up to be played one of two ways. Either you'd play solo, fighting against a roster of bad guys until you get to the boss fight, or you'd fighter against another player. It was kind an unspoken rule that if someone was playing single player, you left them be until they'd lost to the same opponent a few times, at which point you could step in. You always asked, too. This guy didn't. He was stepping in on the games of kids a decade younger than he was for the sole purpose of making them waste a quarter. A griefer, in other words.
Griefers are people who take advantage of weaknesses in a game's program to frustrate other players. They don't necessarily care about winning, exactly, they just get pleasure out of aggravating people. Griefers are, in a word, annoying.
I dislike being around annoying people.
"Hey, Adam," I said, trying to keep my voice down, but loud enough to be heard in the arcade, "How many quarters do you have left?"
"Ten bucks or so. Why?"
"There's a guy who's picking on kids on that Street Fighter game."
"That sucks. You want quarters to beat him?"
"No, I want you to play Street Fighter."
At the time, I thought that Adam gave up at the moment because he realized the brilliance of my plan, but in fact he had just come to the Savage Land level on X-Men. Anyone who's played the game and had to fight off those blasted pteranodons can understand why he actually quit.
"I only know, like, one guy in that game."
I shrugged, and then lied. "I only know one guy, too. We play each other, there's three rounds, each a minute long if we play it right."
Adam smiled nervously.
"Dude, he's going to get mad."
"So what."
Adam smiled again, this one a conspiratorial grin, and walked over to the game.
We started playing around 11. For the first little bit, we would stand there dancing around the screen until 10 seconds left in the match, then go all out until the end of the round. The third round we'd fight beginning to end. After about half an hour of this, we were actually getting pretty good. The griefer was still there, though, when one of the employees came up and commented that we were taking up a lot of time on one of their most popular games.
I forget which of us said it, but either Adam or I pointed out that there was no line and that this game had a glitchy screen anyway. The employee nodded and prepared to move on, making the final cryptic comment, "I could beat you guys with Ryu's right arm anyway."
Gauntlet thrown. Gauntlet picked up.
We continued to pick our fighters as normal, but now also announced what moves we were going to use in our fight. Blanka, feet only. Honda, hands only. Guile, sonic booms only. We continued like this for a while until I realized there were two kids lined up behind us, and that the griefer was gone.
"Adam," I said, nodding to the kids as I hit his character with an uppercut that made a tiny Asian woman clap faster than nature would permit.
"K," he said.
The match ended, and we stepped away.
This was adolescence - I never got Adam's last name, and, so far as I know, we never crossed paths again. It didn't matter. We collaborated to take care of a bully in a way that works only under a few circumstances - we beat him by ignoring him.
On social media, as in life, there are people who feed on your frustration and anger. This is a terrible thing. For them, though, not for you. See, you can be a full, well-rounded person who is strengthened by friendship, by a relationship with God, by any number of things that aren't awful. These people who feed on frustration and anger? That's an awful way to live, but getting frustrated and angry about it is the opposite of helpful.
I'm not saying that all bullies can be beaten by being ignored - I've worn glasses since I was eight, started playing tabletop roleplaying games when I was nine, and have been a clumsy, pudgy guy who typically doesn't know well enough to shut up all all along, so I've attract the attention of a few bullies in my day.
No one has the authority to push you down, literally or metaphorically. No one has the right to make you feel like a failure just for being you, or the privilege of making you feel lesser. It's just not something given to humans that they ought to do to each other. And ignoring people who try, by yourself, probably won't work.
A few years before the story I relate above, I was a "minor niner," a freshman in high school, and getting picked on by a few older kids. I generally carried two or three novels with me at a time. One for light reading (Hitchhiker's was good for this), one for medium reading (something by Poul Anderson, at around that time) and one for heavy reading (I remember this time it was Timothy Findley's "The Wars," which I filched from my sister's room not knowing it was a book she was assigned for English class). They were thumbing through them and laughing, reading bits and pieces in silly books and threatening to rip out the pages.
Despite my status as a freshman, I'd caught the attention of some of the upperclassmen because, as mentioned previously, I talked a lot. Despite being a chunky kid, I held my own in the locker room when it came to banter and some of the guys, especially two of the wrestlers took a shine to the little guy who "talked above his weight class." It was when the fate of my books seemed most dire that one of the wrestlers came by. He took the books back casually, commenting pleasantly on each one and commending the bullies' choice of literature, and handed them back to me.
He clapped one of the bullies on the shoulder and said, "You guys have a great day. I really hope I see you around." The subtext in that last sentence was palpable - it was pretty clear that if he saw them picking on me again, bad things were going to happen.
I think it comes down to herd politics - if the zebras outnumber the hyenas, and have enough strength to hold a line against them, they can starve out the hyenas. So, do your part.
Know someone who's being bullied at school? Don't get angry and frustrated, that just feeds the beast. Walk with them. Encourage your friends to do the same, until that kid's rolling three deep between classes.
A victim of bullying? Put together your herd. Not a gang, not a fight club, just a group of people you can walk with. Try to get an older kid to walk with you.
A victim of bullying online? Here it gets tricky. We have this natural urge to talk back online, to defend our righteous position. That's usually a good thing, but here it's not. Ignore them, unfriend them, delete them, just put them away. Don't announce it, just do it, and once you only have your friends standing with you, it will get better.
None of these solutions are perfect, but talking with some friends online about bullying lead me to write this as these are things I've found worked for me. I had a bit of an edge, socially, that other people might not. Good luck out there.

* If anyone ever comes out with a game that consists entirely of 90s arcade game boss fights, they will have my undying gratitude.