31 Dec 2014

Wrapping Up 2014.

At last, 2014 is ending.  At the beginning of the year, I listed a few plans I had for the year.  Time to look at what did and didn't happen.

1) Get Lost in Translation compiled, cleaned up, and bookified.
Didn't happen, though I am still writing the column.  Time available was a minor culprit, as was a lack of discipline to gather one hundred and twenty numbered columns and the extra essays.  It's still a project to be done.  I just need to figure out how to layout the essays and reviews.

2) Clean up at least one completed NaNoWriMo project for publication.
Sort of done.  While Crossover, from 2008, has had a few editing passes made, By the Numbers went a different route.  Other works need to be finished.

3) Start a new serial for Fridays.
Done.  By the Numbers, part of number 2 above, and Beaver Flight were adapted for serialization, and Unruly will be coming soon.

4) Figure out how to incorporate more pictures in the blog.
Didn't happen.  When I sit down to write, it's all text.  I get pleased with myself for having hyperlinks.  Adding pictures only happens when the post features the visual.  Something to work on.

5) Save money for the inevitable end of my contract.
Did that.  Wound up out of work longer than expected.  Leave a comment if you want my resume.

6) Get out to more conventions.
Didn't happen.  I've gotten more uncomfortable in crowds over the years, and what I've heard about traffic management and sheer size of crowds at other conventions has had me avoid some major ones.  That said, I do want to get out to some smaller cons in the future.

7) Enjoy life.
Overall?  I did.  Life happened.  I'm still alive.  I have two cats who enjoy being cuddled, though on their terms.  I have hobbies that keep me busy and I'm employable.  Life happened.

So long, 2014.

25 Dec 2014

Merry Christmas

And happy holidays, however you celebrate.

Beaver Flight and commentary will return next week.

23 Dec 2014

Test Run - Shadowrun 5th Edition

It's been a while.  Things cropped up, and NaNoWriMo took over November, but I now have time to try out a new ruleset and new character generation.  This time around, I'll look at Shadowrun 5th Edition.  If you've read By the Numbers, especially the commentary, you'll have an idea of the setting, a cross between cyberpunk and high fantasy as magic returns to the world.  By the Numbers was written with the fourth edition of the game in mind, so characters, like Charles, were built using that edition's character generation.  The latest edition, the fifth, returns to the priority system used in the first three versions.  As always, I'll go through the process as laid out in the core rules.  This gets long, so everything starts after the break.

19 Dec 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 9

"I had him."
"They're not doing a good job at invading, Major."
"I really don't think we're dealing with a gang of horny teenaged space girls here."
"Inside was a woman, apparently Doctor Kayla Asselin but DNA tests are being done to confirm her identity."

Chapter 9 - Happy Canada Day
July 1, 2128

"One more arc, then we can go in," Darcy said over the radio.  The rest of Beaver Flight acknowledged the order.  "Then, we can celebrate properly.  Minus the beer and fireworks."

"It's not the same, McGee," Dominique said.

"Oh, sure it'll be."  Darcy angled her power suit, beginning Beaver Flight's last pass over the moon's far side.  "I asked the Major to try to get us live coverage from Parliament Hill.  She's told me that she managed to arrange something extra."

18 Dec 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 8 - Commentary

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

The Beavers now fly solo, no Aussies to hold their hands.  If things seems to be getting brushed aside, it's because they are.  Halfway through NaNo 2012, I knew that the format was wrong, but I was determined to keep going.  Too late to back out and start something new.  The story works better as a serial, in installments, if not in a more visual medium, like a webcomic.

Chapter 8 opens with action, mostly because I needed some in there.  Lidar (or LIDAR, but the acronym doesn't stand for anything) is light-based radar.  Light gives a quick response that can still be measured but won't be picked up on Earth.  The mission is secret, at least from the general population.

For those wondering about the "penny for your thoughts" discussion, Canadian coins have changed greatly over the past forty years.  The Canadian one-dollar bill was phased out in the 80s, replaced by a brass-gold coin.  The change wasn't appreciated by all Canadians, in part because the government that forced it was one of the most hated in Canadian history*.  With the pair of loons on the reverse side, the coin became known as the loonie.  The two-dollar bill was soon phased out, with the replacement coin getting called the twonie.**  Fast forward a bit, and another Canadian government facing an electoral revolt phased out the penny.  All that was boiled down for the sake of extra words.  Go me?

The goal of the action, besides having action, was to put the research the Beavers did into action.  It was time for the Canucks to be unpredictable.  The aliens have been met by an aggressive defense in the past.  Darcy is letting them set the tone so that her team can gather more information about them.  Tori adds to the fun by meeting ram with ram, then trying to take a prisoner.  The attempt doesn't work, but proves it is possible and shows the full capabilities of powered armour.  Prior to the lunar mission, Tori studied the existing media on mecha, mostly anime, to figure out what she could do, without even knowing she was going to need that knowledge.

The brainstorming the Beavers are doing let me also brainstorm and to toss out some ideas.  I hadn't completely worked out the reasons why the aliens were invading, beyond the "Venus Needs Men!" approach.  It's there, and the Beavers run with it.  No, the aliens aren't a gang of teenaged space girls out for sex.  I wouldn't have had so many troubles working out the aliens' motivation if they were.

The cylinder's inhabitant came about when I realized that there's really no such thing as a space mission that's all one gender.  An earlier mission would have had a woman.  Thus, Dr. Kayla Asselin, part of the original lunar mission that was taken by the aliens.  Why was she returned?  Kayla's not male.  So between taking Kayla and the assault that took the Russians except Yulya, the aliens learned... something.

The date stamps became a character point, if not a plot point.  July 1st, known as Canada Day, is the official date celebrating the formation of Canada in 1867.  Different parts of the country celebrate in different ways, with having a day off to party being the common thread.  From barbecuing fish on the coast to barbecuing a cow in Alberta, outdoor cooking rules.  Ottawa trumps all that with chip trucks and Beavertails.  Oh, and a massive fireworks display on Parliament Hill.

Tomorrow, Chapter 9, "Happy Canada Day".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, fixing the 1998 Godzilla.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the December news round up.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.
Next week, because of Christmas, there will be no commentary or chapter posted.  Spend time with loved ones.  The commentary will return on January 1, with Chapter 10 on January 2.

* How hated?  The Progressive Conservatives went from record majority to two seats in the 1993 federal election, which lost them official party status.
** A lack of imagination on the part of media prevented the coin getting called a doubloon, since it was double the value of a loonie.

12 Dec 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 8

"I watched that video like you wanted.  I don't think any of those marines died."
"Routine can be boring, and that, at least according to my boss, can get us complacent."
The aliens don't seem to shoot at us until we're really close.  Even then, they try to ram us or something more often."
"We shoot first two-thirds of the time."

Chapter 8
First Contact of the Third Kind
June 29, 2128

"Okay, Princess, Dominatrix, take the overwatch position.  Geek, you're with me, low over the moon."  Darcy waited for the rest of Beaver Flight to acknowledge her orders.  In three, two, one . . . Break!"  She fired her side thrusters, pushing her suit away from the others' before beginning her dive towards the lunar surface.  On her radar, she saw Victoria's suit following.  Darcy establish a direct laser link to her partner's suit.  "Geek, do you hear me?"

11 Dec 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 7

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

The Beavers have a typical morning, with Tori needing more sleep and Renée needing a caffeine IV drip.  Darcy directs the team to expand on the work Tori's doing.  One would think that the senior staff would be doing this, and they are, but Darcy wants to keep her team busy and away from each other's throats.  Darcy also wants an update from Tori, who really doesn't think well first thing in the morning.

The footage from the prologue showed Russian marines being shot, with the men being taken away.  Yulya Emelin, the commander of Bear Flight, was shot in the attack.  Not killed.  Neither were the marines taken away.  Tori's imagination runs away with her, but she is starting to get the idea.  The scene let me bring in the original idea, "Venus Needs Men!" and have it voiced in-character.  It is an odd idea; there's no guarentee that alien physiology matches up with human, or, as Tori puts, a human Tab A can fit properly into an alien Slot B.  Tori's other idea, human men as food stock, is also out there, though aliens may prefer their humans fresh.  Darcy's effort to keep Tori on track fizzles, but let me have Tori (mis)quote The Untouchables.  Even the 007 route, used in You Only Live Twice and Moonraker, requires some sort of compatibility between human and alien bodies.

While the more scientific minds work on their puzzle, Renée heads out to be the social researcher.  Uniforms on the station are varied.  Different commands have different needs, and wearing a uniform every waking hour, while the norm for soldiers on duty while deployed, isn't something a civilian gets.  There's a need to step away from the job, even for the pilots who could be called to launch within a moment's need.  The lounge is a way to escape being on duty even when off, so uniform regulations are relaxed a bit.  Hue is Renée's soul sister; they both have needs beyond the basics.  Hue is starting to be the base's scrounger, the woman who can get whatever is wanted if it's not on official lists.  I didn't plan on her going that route, but it turned out to be useful.

Tori and Dom's examination of the aliens let me get a few other details out.  First, the aliens should be visible to anyone looking in the right direction.  They just appear.  The comment about red shifts should really be about blue shifts; the colour blue has a short wavelength while red has a long one.  Second, there's character interaction involving Tori where the other person isn't annoyed.  Dom even revealed some of her interests and family.  Third, Tori's specialty is useful.  At the quantum level, physics doesn't behave as expected.  Subatomic particles can pop into existance in empty space, apparently violating the Conservation of Matter.  The popping, though, doesn't mean a piece of chocolate cake with lemon frosting will appear on a table.  Quantum physics is still being investigated, but it makes for an interesting premise in science fiction.  Finally, it gives enough information for Darcy to make decisions on how to deal with the invaders.

The chapter highlights the drawbacks of writing by the seat of your pants.  I needed details that really should have been worked out before I started.  The alien invaders have an objective, but what it is, I should have known by this chapter.  Instead, I was still working out their tactics and realizing that their attacks weren't working out in a way that made sense.  I also needed to work out my main characters in advance, a lesson learned with By the Numbers, where I had written something with my leads prior to the story proper.

Tomorrow, Chapter 8, "First Contact of the Third Kind".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the 2014 Jack the Giant Slayer.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, fixing adaptations.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

5 Dec 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 7

"The invaders, they don't press their advantage."
"If you look in that direction, you'll get a wonderful view of home."
"The outcry from the deception would be loud.
"I need you to do something for me that neither of can talk about at all in public or with the rest of the Beavers."

Chapter 7 - Farther and Further
May 20, 2128

Darcy woke up with the first sounding of the alarm.  She heard the other women groaning as they stirred.  Above her, Darcy heard Victoria mumble something along the lines of, "Fi' more mi'utes."  She gave the brunette geek a poke from below and got a more coherent, "Hey!"

Swinging her legs out from under her covers, Darcy called out, "Everyone up!  Busy day today!"

"Hosti!"  Renée climbed down from her upper bunk.  "What time is it?"

"Time to get up, Renée."  Darcy clapped her hands.  "Let's go.  The bathroom's free, breakfast is in the mess hall.  We'll eat together for a change."  The Lieutenant climbed up on the ladder on her bunk to check on Victoria.  The brunette was on her stomach, her face buried in her pillow.  Darcy shook Victoria's shoulder.  "Let's go, Tori!  You don't want to be late.  Trust me, there."

4 Dec 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 6

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

With the test flights out of the way, the Beavers are added to the patrol roster.  The Canadian flight teams up with the Australian to shadow the more experienced team.  This means that there's still a rotation of four patrols, but once Beaver Flight is up to speed, the other patrols can be given a day off each week to rest properly.  With the Aussies down one pilot, with Peri in sickbay due to injuries, the Canadians can bolster the patrol.  Darkside One has a skeleton staff.

Back in Chapter 4, Kangaroo Flight used numeric designations, Roo One, Roo Two, and so on.  In Chapter 6, I gave them call signs and started working out names for them.  Roo One, the leader, is Baz Minogue, call sign "Kylie", after the singer.  Roo Four is the injured Peri, call sign "Pipsqueak".  The other two members are Hue Ng, call sign "Koala", and "Shrieker", whose name hasn't come up in conversation.  Koala got her name because her fellow pilots thought she was cute and cuddly.  Shrieker's comes from her shrieking in training.  There is a reason why Bear and Tiger Flights don't get as much attention; that's eight more names needed, plus a way to introduce the characters.  Beaver and Tiger are on opposite shifts, not running into each other.

As mentioned in previous commentary, the civilians were recruited for their knowledge.  Shrieker is a computer technician with a doctorate, good for not just designing but for analyzing.  Dom's aerospace engineering helps her understand the design of spacecraft from the materials used to the shape of the craft.  The ring Dominique mentions is the iron ring engineering graduates receive as a symbol to remember the price of failure.  The iron ring is rough and is said to be made from steel from a collapsed bridge.

Renée and Hue bond over their dislike of the names of their respective flights.  Kangaroos aren't known to be fierce.  The drop bear is a fictional animal, based on the idea that there's no such thing as a safe animal in Australia.  The pair find other things to bond over, like personal needs, including coffee.  Despite, or maybe because of, being tiny, Hue strikes at the heart of matters.  She's boisterous and knows what she wants and how to get it.

When I wrote Beaver Flight during NaNo 2012, artificial meat was just being worked on.  Schmeat was still being grown  I figured that, if it worked, all that had to be transported were the stem cells for the animal and the solution for growth.  After that, 3D print a steak of a chicken breast and then cook as normal.  Since then, Schmeat has been cooked.  The flavour was called bland; there's no fat in the Schmeat to add flavour.  What's to stop the makers of Schmeat or the food printer from adding flavour nozzles?

The political ramifications of Darkside One come up.  Secrecy is critical; a leak that aliens are kidnapping astronauts will cause an uproar, from people wanting to surrender, people wanting to make first contact, and people wanting to violently retrieve the kidnapped.  There are also places that would dismiss the need for the all-woman force.  While the Americans and the Russians are being cautious, other nations and elements within those two countries, will push to send a "proper" armed response.

Darcy learns that Yulya Emelin wasn't the first woman to meet the aliens.  Another, in an earlier attack, went missing.  Darcy then makes a connection; Yulya was left behind on purpose, without serious injury.  With questions in her head, she gives Victoria something to do.  Why Tori?  Tori needs to be kept busy.  The assignment will keep Tori out of trouble, something desperately needed.

Renée's tolerance for being on the moon hits its lowest.  She's the least happy to be on the moon, preferring to see it in the sky instead of under her feet.  Going through a bout of homesickness, especially when the long distance charges are astronomical, is difficult.  The gravity is wrong, there's no windows, there's no proper day/night cycle.  Renée is having problems adjusting.

The paragraphs where Tori watches the video of Yulya getting shot took some planning.  If /Beaver Flight/ was in a video format, Tori could rewind the playback easily.  In a text format, getting that detail is difficult without outright saying so.  If you compare the first playback with the two times Victoria rewinds, I use the exact same wording.  A cut-and-paste to make sure that the phrasing never changed.  Did it work?  You tell me.

Tomorrow, Chapter 7, "Farther and Further".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the 2014 Godzilla.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Jack the Giant Slayer.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

29 Nov 2014

NaNo 2014 - Week 4 Progress

The third week ended on the 28th.  The hard numbers, also available in a easy to read chart format, are as follows: 54 929 words total, 8923 added in the third week.  The overall average words per day is 1962, and 1275 words/day during the third week.  I passed the 50k word mark during a write-in on Sunday the 23rd.  Afterwards, with the push to reach the goal no longer there, my output dropped.

With the need to produce large volumes of words gone, the third arc, Basketball Night in Canada, is still unfinished.  I've reached chapter 7, where I ended each of the previous two arcs, but this time, the story continues beyond.  What should have been an arc that occurred over the course of a basketball game turned into a larger conspiracy.  This is what happens when you don't plan ahead.  In NaNoWriMo, this is known as pantsing, as in, writing by the seat of your pants.  My approach favours pantsing, provided that I have a good handle on who the characters are.  Laura's personal storyline continues to develop, and Caitlin is now having to deal with setbacks.

Reaching 50k words also let me take a break from Unruly to work on something else.  I have an idea for a follow up to By the Numbers*, picking up several months after the end of the first story.  Right now, the story is still in the middle of the opening, with the remains of the crew infiltrating a Seattle fashion house and seeing the run go bad.  I do know where Numbers comes in, but I haven't reached a point where I can introduce that part of the plot.  I am counting the extra words in the overall count, but only because I am past the 50k goal.


* Linked to the main By the Numbers page.  She was tired of the running gag.

28 Nov 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 6

"I was visiting Peri.  The doctors said that she doesn't have to lose her arm."
"That's what we're in for here.  Boredom punctuated by absolute terror."
"Any chance that they'll bring up men once a month or two?"
"However, next time, we will be working as a team.  No unnecessary heroics."

Chapter 6 - First Patrol
May 19, 2128

"Beaver Flight, this is McGee.  Check in as you're ready to launch."

"Geek here.  Everything's green."

"Dominatrix checking in.  All good, even foot space.  I should be able to run today."

Darcy waited half a minute before asking, "Princess, any trouble?"

"Princess here.  Just about, no, wait, got it."

"Princess, what was the problem?" Darcy asked.

27 Nov 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 5

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

In Chapter 4, we saw the aliens appear, with heroics by Tori to rescue an Australian pilot.  Chapter 5 is the fallout.  No plan ever survives contact with the enemy.  Beaver Flight, barely a team, is fragmenting.  Darcy has her work cut out.

Tori makes a point early.  While the Beavers are on a military mission on a military base, three-quarters aren't military but civilian specialists.  They weren't trained to be soldiers day-in and day-out.  The other flights, except maybe Russia's Bear, are the same way.  To be fair, even soldiers need down time in their day, time to bond with fellows without rank structure in the way.  While Beaver Flight wasn't trying to emulate M*A*S*H, the TV series was an influence.

The appearance of Pac-Man was to have a bit of fun figuring out what video games would be like in 2128.  It's difficult to kill a franchise.  Popular characters will remain popular, with fan bile targeting the creative crew of a bad outing instead of abandoning the franchise.  It takes an active effort on the part of the creators to turn off fans.  Thus, the first-person eating game, Pac-Man: Ghost Hunter.  The game is part of the world-building that could have used more work before starting.

The conversation Dom and Renée have reflects the issues of a long-term mission where logistics are complicated.  Getting from the Earth to the Moon takes a lot of energy.  Cargo is limited by mass.  Necessities like food and water take priority over luxuries.  Data is easy to send, though.  MicroSD memory holds 128 gigabytes easily and is smaller than a fingernail.  Given another hundred years, and data storage should boost the capabilities to the terabyte range.  Regular entertainment runs that involved files, which includes everything from ebooks to movies and entire TV series, don't add that much mass.  More ahem personal items do, and may have to pass through other barriers as well.  Renée is also more open about her needs; it's the Quebec/Ontario divide.

The last scene is Darcy laying down the law.  Darcy is aware of the building friction and knows she needs to shut it down.  Tori and Renée, in particular, are always rubbing each other the wrong way.  The threat of the ring may work, at least for the short term until routines are settled and personal space is found.  The conflict between characters is good for drama, but there's an external threat that needs to be dealt with that takes priority.

Tomorrow, Chapter 6, "First Patrol".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, managing expectations of adaptations..
Saturday, over at MuseHack, there goes Tokyo again, with the 2014 Godzilla.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

23 Nov 2014

NaNo 2014 - Week 3 Progress

The third week ended Friday.  The hard numbers, also available in a easy to read chart format, are as follows: 46 006 words total, 15 950 added in the third week.  The overall average words per day is 2190, and 2279 words/day during the third week.  At the end of the third week, I am over six and a half days ahead of pace, reaching seven days in hand on the 21st.  The slowdown I had in week two was not in evidence.

That just tells the tale of the numbers*.  I completed the second arc and started the third.  Some changes are happening.  First, the Jennifer Revolt may happen sooner than I expected.  The ringleader, Jenn, has appeared and has shown far more initiative than expected.  Second, Laura is scary.  Most NaNo projects involve odd searches.  This year, besides high school basketball and Oshawa school names, I got to add truth sera, such as scopolamine, to my search history.  If I disappear, check with law enforcement drug squads.  I also discovered that lasers aren't covered by the Criminal Code of Canada but under industrial regulations.  That robot army can be armed with lasers without a problem!**  Third, while I had in mind an ongoing rivalry between Caitlin and Verity to be the driving element of the early arcs, I now have someone else playing them like chess pieces.  Neither girl would admit to being pawns, though.

Starting the last full week of NaNo with less than 4000 words left means I can have a slow day and not lose time.  I can now work out the implications without losing ground.  I should still reach 50 000 words in the upcoming week.  It's a good feeling, and writing has been far easier this year than in the early years.  Well worth rebelling this year.

Get it on!

* You weren't expecting a off-hand references to her?  Tsk.
** Except the licensing needed for higher-powered lasers.  Oh, and Assault with a Deadly Weapon still applies, because that law doesn't specify what a weapon is.

21 Nov 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 5

"Darkside Control to Beaver Flight, return to base.  Repeat, return to base."
"I'm hit!  I'm hit!"
"I can help her if you won't."
"Grieg, do you ever listen to anyone?"

Chapter 5 - Working Out
May 18, 2128

Victoria finished scrubbing herself off after her sonic shower.  She couldn't get the sight of the Australian pilot out of her mind.  While her power suit managed to seal off the breach into hard vacuum, part of the Australian's arm was exposed to space.  The medtechs did what they could to save the arm, but . . . Victoria shook her head, trying to chase the vision away.  She sighed.  And for Kincaid to tell her to not help?  Victoria was still steamed from that.  Though some of the Lieutenant's words sank in.  But I have to also look out for you, Renée, and Dom and make sure that I don't have to tell your family that you loved them because you never went back home from here.

20 Nov 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 4

As always, please read the chapter before continuing.  Spoilers!

The Beavers received their new toys, power suits.  Victoria geeks out over hers while Renée has mechanical problems, just what the reasonably frightened needed.  Before I started writing, I had an idea of what the mecha would be like.  Each one was tailor-made for the pilot, using feedback from the pilot's own muscles and nervous system to move.  The controls aren't quiet intuitive; they're first generation.  Darcy's helicopter pilot training gives her an edge.  Helicopters require not only hand-eye coordination, but foot-eye as well.  Victoria plays video games, so she has improved her hand-eye coordination.  Dom and Renée had to spend extra time in the simulators to make sure they could keep up.

The problem with lunar orbit being a combat zone is that it's hard to train for it without being in the zone.  NASA's Vomit Comet provides minutes of zero gravity experience, but the airplane isn't big enough for powered armour to stand up in.  Thus, Darkside One becomes both forward base and training camp.  The Beavers get a first-hand look at the invaders.  The Aussie flight, Roo, after the kangaroo*, was on patrol.  However, Darkside One doesn't have much on the bench.  Eagle, Bear, and Tiger flights, four suits each, aren't enough to hold off a full-on assault.  Yet, the invaders aren't assaulting.

Victoria is headstrong, lacking discipline.  Almost deliberately so, really.  She also has a strong sense of right and wrong.  Leaving an injured pilot in the field goes against her core.  If she was alone, that wouldn't be a problem.  As part of a military unit, big problem.  Unit cohesion is often needed for tactics to succeed.  There's a reason why an army is comprised of soldiers, not warriors.  With the Beavers in training, Darcy's main concern was getting her people to safety.  Victoria running out into the battlefield ran against Darcy's goal.

Tomorrow, Chapter 5, "Working Out".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, the November news round-up on remakes and adaptations.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, adaptations and expectations.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

* "Because they're kinda weird down there." - Arrogant Worms, "We Are the Beaver"

18 Nov 2014

NaNo 2014 - Week 2 Progress

The second week is over.  The hard numbers, also available in a easy to read chart format, are as follows: 30 056 words total, 14 888 added in the second week.  The overall average words per day is 2147, and 2127 words/day during the second week.  As a result, at the end of the second week, I am four days ahead of pace.  I slowed down, compared to the first week, but not enough to fall behind schedule.

Numbers aside*, story-wise, everything is coming together.  I'm rebelling a little.  Traditionally, NaNoWriMo results in a 50 000-plus word novel.  My project is a series of serials, short stories and novellas broken down into chapters to appear in weekly posts.  This gives me a bit more flexibility.  Arcs can last as long as they need without being stretched out.  Overall, I'm aiming for at least 50 000 words written, but individual parts don't have to be that long.  The first arc, now complete, totals 18 739 words.

With the first arc complete, the second arc is being worked on.  I had a slow start, trying to figure out what would happen.  That resulted in a couple of slower days until I checked an inspiration.  From there, I got not only the plot for the arc, but a few ideas for a later antagonist for the Unrulies.  I love it when a plan comes together.

Coming up in week 3, the end of the second arc and the start of the third.  I may go with "Hockey Fight in Canada", to give Skye the spotlight for a bit.  Skye's turned into the voice of reason, at least when her roommates start bickering.  It's time that she lets out her aggressive side in a basketball game.


* Numbers had her time in NaNo already.

14 Nov 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 4

"Beaver  Flight command to Beaver Flight.  Call in.  Over."
"McGee, these things have thrusters.  We can fly!"
"Walk?  We can fly!"
"Okay, Beaver Flight, this is it.  Let's see what these babies can do."

Chapter 4 - A Giant Step
May 18, 2128

As the outer hangar doors opened, Darcy looked out on the lunar landscape in awe.  The long shadows from the sun creeping down in its long setting created harsh distinction between craters.  Data crawled along the bottom of Darcy's holo-HUD, giving her a direction.  "Beaver Flight, form up and follow me."  She heard her team's acknowledgements as they called in, then pivoted her power suit on its heel to turn it in the right direction.

The first step on the moon's surface landed with a satisfying thud that echoed through the suit.  Darcy had to smile; her one dream, to be assigned to a lunar base.  Not the base she's expected, but being on the moon was still being on the moon for her.  A small cloud of dust floated up under her suit's foot.  She picked up the pace, bringing her power suit to a swift walk.  On her scope, the rest of the team kept up and in formation.  The drills were starting to take hold.

Over the radio, Victoria whooped with pure delight.  "This is awesome!" she bellowed.

"Geek, this is McGee," Darcy radioed.  "Watch the volume there."

"Sorry, guys."

"And Geek?" Darcy added.  "You're right.  This is awesome!  Okay, let's pick up the pace.  How are you guys at running?"  The young Lieutenant opened the throttle more, pushing her suit into a sprint.  The controls just felt natural to Darcy, similar to the ones she used flying helicopters in Trenton.  The only difference was a lack of wind through her hair through an open door.

Behind Darcy, the rest of Beaver Flight struggled to keep up.  Dominique had her power suit in a stumbling trot over the lunar terrain.  Victoria bounded over the landscape while Renée kept at a walking pace.  On Darcy's holo-HUD, a path highlighted in green appeared.  "Beaver Flight, this is McGee.  We're getting close to the proving grounds."  She eased up on her suit's speed.  "Remember, this is our best chance to fine tune our suits.  Take your time here.  We've got more than enough fuel and oxygen to get back to the hangar."

Victoria caught up to Darcy.  "That was fun!  I can't wait to try out the thrusters, McGee!"

"Baby steps, Geek.  Baby steps.  Make sure you can walk and shoot first, okay?"  Darcy shook her head.

Dominique trotted into the proving grounds and slowed to a stop.  "Still some kinks to work out.  I couldn't get out of second gear, or whatever they call it.  I need to extend my foot a little more and I didn't have the space for it."

Darcy opened a file with her onboard computer.  "I'll make a note of it, Dominatrix.  McGee to Princess, how far away are you?"

"Princess here.  Ma'am, I am having problems keeping this beast upright.  It keeps trying to go right when I want to go straight."

"Darkside Control to Beaver Flight, this is Doctor Takemori.  That's an alignment problem.  We've seen that in a third of all units sent.  It's an easy adjustment at the hangar, but your pilot needs to keep things slow for now."

"Copy that, Darkside Control," Darcy acknowledged.  "Princess, you heard that?"

"I heard it, McGee," Renée said.  "Should I return now?"

"Negative, Princess," Takemori said.  "The problem won't affect your assigned training mission, just getting back to the hangar."

Renée sighed over the radio.  "Understood."

Poor girl, Darcy thought.  She's not cut out for being here.  "Okay, team, pick up your weapon from the cabinet.  Pick a target, and take aim.  The good doctors want to see how accurate you are with their aiming package.  Here's as good an area as any, and there won't be any wind to push your aim off, unlike on Earth.  Geek, no hotdogging it.  Got me?"

"Yeah, yeah."

"Beaver Flight, go."  Darcy walked her power suit to the weapons cabinet and picked up a training rifle.  The feedback through the suit's arms made the weapon feel like the rifle she trained with in basic at the Royal Military College.  Looking down at it through the suit's cameras, though, she could see that it was as long as she was tall.  She raised her suit's arms to check out the weapon closer.  "Impressive," she murmured.

"McGee, this is Dominatrix, what was that?"

"Nothing.  Disregard."  Darcy felt her cheeks grow warm.  She lowered her suit's arms.  "Geek, Dom, go ahead to the firing range and follow the instructions that appear on your HUD.  I'll wait for Princess."

"McGee, you don't have to wait for me," Renée said.  "I'm almost there."

Darcy watched Victoria and Dominique as they grabbed their rifles and strode to the range.  "Princess, it's the commander's duty to make sure everyone reaches the objective.  Don't try to rush, either, okay?"

"Thanks, McGee."  Darcy could hear the relief in Renée's voice.  "I'm going to need a proper shower after this, though."

"We'll do what we can."

Renée manhandled her power suit into the proving grounds.  Darcy handed her one of the oversized rifles, then walked with her to the range.  Victoria was well into the instructions, firing while lying her suit prone on the ground.  "Let's not show off too much, Geek.  We don't want to make the other flights jealous."

"The aiming programs are working properly," Victoria said.

"Dom," Darcy said, "how about you?"

Dominique crouched her power suit down.  "It's working.  I think my suit will need adjusting for my height."

"That's why we're here, Dom.  Take your time.  That goes for you, too, Geek.  Don't rush the instructions."

Renée brought her suit to a stop and sighted in.  She fired, a thin red beam lancing out and tagging a target five hundred metres away.  "Are we really using lasers?" she asked.

Doctor Takemori answered, "Just for now.  When reviewed the recording Lieutenant Emelin made, we saw that her team's bullets did some damage to the aliens' armour, though not enough to penetrate.  Since they didn't appear on any of the LIDAR scans, we're assuming that they can absorb laser emissions."

"Let me translate for you, Princess," Victoria said.  "The aliens mecha absorb light.  Laser is really intense light."

"I understood perfectly well, Geek."  Renée's tone turned icy.

"Just making sure."

Renée turned her power suit in place and shot at Victoria's with the training rifle.  The laser hit Victoria's head dead on.

"Geek, Princess, enough," Darcy admonished.  "Back to testing, both of you."  She walked her suit into the remaining bay and started running through the instructions that came up on screen.  Darcy recorded the results, both where the suit said the gun was pointing and the coordinate that was actually hit.  There was a minor difference between the values, enough to warrant some work, but not enough for Darcy to be worried.  As she progressed, she brought the suit down to a kneeling position, taking her time with each shot to make sure that she didn't bring any user error into the mix.

After about fifteen minutes of practice, an Australian accent called out, "Contact!" over the radio.  Darcy brought her suit back up, ready to move.  "Three bogeys, alien configuration, inbound at zero three zero mark two five."

"Darkside Control to Beaver Flight, return to base.  Repeat, return to base."

"Beaver Flight Actual, acknowledged."  Darcy backed her power suit out of her bay.  "You heard her.  Let's get going."

"Roo One, Roo Three.  Two more appearing!"

"Copy that Roo Three."

"Kangaroo Flight, this is Darkside Control.  Eagle Flight is suiting up.  Time to launch is three minutes."

"McGee, I can get there faster," Victoria said.

"Roo One, I've got a bogey on my tail!"

"Negative, Geek.  We have our orders to return to base.  We also lasers at low power.  They're useless."

"Roo Two, go help Roo Four."


"No buts, Geek."  Darcy knew what Victoria was going through and what she was thinking.  "What can you do up there?  Point your gun and shout, 'Bang, you're dead'?"

"I'm hit!  I'm hit!"

"Anyone, this is Roo Two, got the bogey.  It's running.  Roo Four looks bad, though."

"Roo Two, Roo One, We have four more bogeys.  Roo Four, return to base."

"Darcy, we can help her."  Victoria triggered her suit's thrusters.  "I can help her if you won't."

"Geek!  Grieg, get back here!"  Darcy slammed her hand on a strut.  "Dom, help Princess get back to the hangar.  Don't go too fast; her suit's not working right."  She feathered the controls for her thrusters.  The leap into space pushed her into the acceleration padding.

"Beaver Flight, this is Darkside Control, avoid the battle ground.  Repeat, avoid the battle ground."

"Roo one, this is Roo Four.  I have no power.  I can't feel my arm."  The pilot choked back a sob.  "Tell my family I love them."

"Acknowledged, Control," Darcy said.  She locked on to Roo Four's signal.  "Geek, sending you coordinates.  If you're going to disobey an order, you'll bloody well do it right."

"Got them, McGee"

Ahead of her, Darcy saw the thruster banks on Victoria's suit flare.  Darcy kicked in another burst to escape the moon's pull.  "Control, this is Beaver One.  How long until Eagle Flight gets in the fight?"

"ETA two minutes."

"Roo Two, Roo Three, get that bogey in a crossfire!"

"McGee, I see her.  She's falling and missing an arm."

Darcy cursed under her breath.  She scanned her scope, trying to pick out the aliens from Kangaroo flight.  One of the symbols for the aliens winked out.

"Roo Two, did you see where that one went?"


"McGee, need your help here."

"Coming."  Darcy kept her thrusters firing as she closed in on Victoria and the damaged Kangaroo.  Electrical sparks shot from wires severed and dangling from the remains of Roo Four's left arm.

Victoria manoeuvred her power suit to below the plummeting Austrailian.  Cushioning the damaged suit with her own, she applied her own thrusters to slow the suits' fall.  Darcy reached the pair and took position at Roo Four's legs.  She tossed away her rifle to grab the legs of the damaged suit.  "Got her, Geek."

"Try to match my thruster burns," Victoria said.  "I'll give the count.  In three, two, one, burn."  Victoria and Darcy both fired their suits' thrusters.  "Good.  Let's bring her down slow."

The pair of Canadians managed to get the damaged suit into the hangar's airlock.  Overhead, the remainder of Kangaroo Flight was joined by Eagle Flight to put chase to the invading aliens.  Once the internal pressure was equalized, emergency medical technicians dashed out.  Engineers and mechanics had cutting tools standing by.  Darcy backed her suit out of the way, then opened the clam shell hatch to get out.  She spotted Dominque and Renée standing near the door to the briefing room.  Darcy looked around.  Victoria's power suit was crouched down, its own hatch open; the woman herself was climbing down from it.

Darcy strode over to her charge.  "Grieg, do you ever listen to anyone?"

"We rescued her.  We may have saved her life."  Victoria turned to walk over to the rescue scene.

Darcy grabbed Victoria's shoulder and pulled her around.  "There's a reason why we were told to return to base.  You flew into a battle zone unarmed and in an untested vehicle.  You could've been killed."

"Geez, what is your problem?  While you were following orders, I save her life!  Doesn't that count for anything?"

"It means you got lucky, Grieg.  That could just as easily be you getting cut out."

"So I'm supposed to sit on the side?  Is that it?"  Victoria glared at her commanding officer.

Darcy took a deep breath and counted to five before answering.  "Look, Tori, I know exactly how you felt out there.  Don't you think it was killing me to have to come back here?  But I have to also look out for you, Renée, and Dom and make sure that I don't have to tell your family that you loved them because you never went back home from here.  Don't put me in a spot again where you go off half cocked.  Do you understand me?"

The two women stood staring at each other for a long moment.  "I understand," Victoria said, sounding more subdued.

"Thank you."  Darcy closed her eyes for a second.  "Now go see how Roo Four is then get cleaned up.  You've got an hour break."

Victoria ran off without a word back to where the damaged Australian power suit lay.  Darcy watched for a moment before turning and walking towards the briefing room.  As she entered, Renée and Dominique swarmed towards her.  "You're letting her walk away?" Renée asked.

"Not now, Lalonde."

"Lieutenant," Dominique began, "I'm sure Tori meant well."

"Not now, either of you."  Darcy sat on the edge of the room's large table.  "This isn't a democracy.  I talked to Grieg and now I'm talking to you.  You both have an hour off.  Use it to clean up, get changed, and rest."

"But—" Renée stuttered.

Darcy levelled a glowering look at the Quebecoise.  "If you finish that sentence, you'll be cleaning our bathroom for a month."

Renée closed her mouth then turned on her heel.  She stormed out of the briefing room.  Dominique joined Darcy on the desk.  "Ma'am, if you need to talk," she offered.

"Thanks.  I just need to go work off steam."  Darcy patted the taller woman's leg.  "Go get some rest.  At least stretch out a little."

Dominique stood up and walked out of the room, leaving Darcy behind.

Next week:
"Command isn't easy."
"Neither is letting someone die."

13 Nov 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 3

More chapters, more commentary.  As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

People annoyed by Victoria may have had some reason to cheer.  Tori isn't being allowed to get away with annoying her squad mates.  The need for certain specialists was greater than having a proper psych profile done, apparently.  Sometimes, the best woman for the job is a little annoying.

The sonic shower is a standard in science fiction.  For a long-term base on a dry rock, water is limited.  Sonics shaking away the accumulated grime is more efficient, especially when the so-called darkside of the moon spends time facing the sun.  Solar panels and batteries to store power makes sonic showers a better idea than water.  The shower also gives Renée a small bit of revenge.

The big reveal in the chapter is the mecha.  Powered suits, bigger than standard EVA suits with feedback control.  Each suit has to be tailor-made for the user, so Dominique's is hers and hers alone.  Two women with similar heights and builds might be able to use each other's powered suit, but they'd find it uncomfortable after some time.  The controls of the suits are modelled after the control of a helicopter, requiring coordination between arms and legs to get the craft to move properly.

One last stab at the name of the flight.  This time, though, the reason why the beaver was chosen over other animals.  Victoria's explanation paraphrases the Arrogant Worms' song, so go buy their albums.  If it weren't for the innuendo, the name of the flight and the story wouldn't be so bad.

The researchers from Nissan are a nod to mecha anime; the powered suits are a Japanese design.  Honda is better known right now for research in personal robotics, with several prototypes already revealed.  It's not that far-fetched that Nissan would have similar research happening.  Industrial robotics are a given today, but all the work is remote, in factories where the only humans on the floor are there to fix the devices.  As for Doctor Aoi, he's the most popular person on the station with the majority of the residents.  Dr. Aoi is the only man on the base.

Callsigns are a stable of pilots, usually of fighter jets but not limited to them.  Callsigns aren't assigned nor can they be self-designated.  Instead, they're given by fellow pilots.  A callsign like "Maverick" is not likely unless mean ironically or derogitarily.  On The Big Bang Theory, Howard gained the callsign "Froot Loops", thanks to his mother yelling at him during a video call.  For the Beavers, though, it was all internal.  Darcy already had "McGee" after flight school, after the Canadian prime minister and the bar named after him.  Victoria's "Geek" was a natural fit.  Dominique kept her hated nickname from Carleton Ravens basketball, "Dominatrix", based on her name and her style of play.  Renée got "Princess" from being fussy.

Tomorrow, Chapter 4, "A Giant Step".
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, a second look at Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, the November news round-up on remakes and adaptations.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

9 Nov 2014

NaNo 2014 - Week 1 Progress

One week has passed by already.  The hard numbers, also available in a easy to read chart format, are as follows: 15 168 words written, averaging 2167 words per day, putting me two days ahead of schedule.  Numbers* don't tell the full story.

The first arc is starting to wrap up.  While it was meant to introduce readers to the setting, it also became Laura's introduction.  She took centre stage, adjusting to her new life.  Characters developed in ways I never expected.  Flora and Fawna, the twin sisters no one bothers to get right, have a war brewing, where one is building an army of laser-wielding zombies to fight the other's zombie hordes.  Cassie is having fun poking Caitlin's ego.  Caitlin, for her part, is blind to her own ego and is like a force of nature.  I've also set up the Jennifer of Jennifers serial.

The St. Dymphna students are also coming together.  Mackenzie, previously described as Verity's pet geek, developed a spine of sorts.  There's also a spark of something between her and Laura.  Caroline's crush on Jay has been set up, as had Autumn's.  Drama and conflict should come out from that.  Possibly explosions and collateral damage.  Verity hasn't said much so far, but is definitely the centre of her clique.

Coming up in week 2, the end of the first arc and the start of the second.  I should have a Caitlin focused arc next, to show how she works, but I have plans for a Skye-focused arc as well.  Considering that Caitlin took the offensive in the first serial, there should be a Verity-initiated plot for retaliation.  I hope to keep to the pace I've set, which will give me an off day if I need it.  I have enough potential serial titles to keep me going and a scene in my head for at least one of them.


* No, not her.  And not personified math, either.

7 Nov 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 3

"Pfft.  Normal's overrated."
"Yeah, I noticed that the place is a little barren."
"It's going to be a long mission here."

Chapter 3 - New Equipment

May 18, 2128

The morning began with a bugle blaring over the intercom speaker.  Victoria threw her pillow in the general direction, hitting the door instead.  "Someone make it shush," she grumbled sleepily.

Darcy hit the floor almost immediately.  "Okay, girls, time to get up!  Let's go!  We've got a long day ahead."

6 Nov 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 2

Welcome back to the commentary track.  As always, please read the chapter before continuing.

Chapter 2 involved more world building, providing the readers and me an idea of the layout of Darkside One and who else lives there.  To be clear, since it gets a little confusing, the Beavers are all part of the Canadian Forces.  Darcy is career Air Force.  Victoria and Dominique went with the default, Air Force, when given the choice while Renée opted for the Royal Canadian Navy.  The main reason for Renée's choice was to avoid writing "Lieutenant" all the time.  Renée's full rank is Acting Sublieutenant, which really didn't solve the issue.  Since Renée is Quebecoise, she could have gone with Enseigne de vaisseau, deuxième classe.  In hindsight, I should have, just for the boost to word count.  For the record, Dominique and Victoria are both Second Lieutenants, equivalent to Renée and Darcy is a Lieutenant.  Just wait until the other nations appear.

Victoria is not military material.  She's in the Flight because she sees the adventure potential in going to the moon.  The nature of the mission required getting specialists who may not be in the military.  Granted, given the likes of the Royal Military College, I had to really consider possibilities.  Other countries have similar education available.  Irene and Pranaya, though are civilians.  The breadth of degrees on the base may give an inkling about what Darkside One is facing.

Darcy confirms the above with Major di Carlo in her scene.  As well, Darcy makes the formal complain about the name of the flight.  She also shows sign of decent leadership; she has a problematic command, with non-military personnel getting on each other's nerves.  Basic training, in one of its many goals, forces a disparate group of young people and gives them a reason to band together despite their differences.  Victoria, Dominique, and Renée haven't gone through the full training, just enough to survive on the moon.  Time was of the essence.

The conversation Dominique and Renée have was based on one I have had.  I read a lot as a kid, but the reading material tended to from England.  Books like The Famous Five contributed to my vocabulary.  I've broadened my range a lot since then, but I'm not thrown when I read anything by Terry Pratchett or JK Rowling.  So, words like "horrid" tend to get used.  The rest of that conversation is more about dealing with aspects of life that people take for granted.  Most people have their own home, or at least their own room, and can go out and see men and women around.  The mission has no men.  While not everyone in Darkside One is straight, most will be, and, depending on each person, needs happen.

The big reveal, for those who remembered the prologue, is Yulya Emelin.  Yulya was the survivors of a previous attack, the only person left behind.  She's been made an officer and given a promotion.  Yulya doesn't talk about what happened.  She is happy to warn people about the coffee.  The talk about Tim Horton's was inspired by the Canadian Forces' mission in Khandahar, Afghanistan.  Tim Horton's had an outlet there; job postings included mention of moving expenses and danger pay.  Made the Canadians popular, though.  Tim's is everywhere, possibly more common than Starbuck's.  I am within a fifteen minute walk to at least three, one being three doors down from me.  On my last contract, there was a Tim's in each building, plus one over at the mall across the highway.  Tim's is everywhere.

The rest of the food discussion was based on the idea of printed food.  What I hadn't considered was Schmeat, artificial meat force-grown from stem cells.  Shipping cuts of meat to the moon is wasteful, due to the mass of the cargo.  Shipping stem cells and the equipment to grow the meat requires an initial cargo to get things started, then just resupplying the stem cells and growing solution.  Add 3-D printers with flavour nozzles, and you get proper meat.  While Schmeat is beef, other artificial meats, like pork or chicken, should be possible.  Hydroponics provides vegetables.  The biggest issue, really, is water.

Tomorrow, Chapter 3, New Equipment.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, The Wolverine.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, a second look at Mr. Peabody & Sherman.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

31 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight Chapter 2

"Okay, ladies, we will make sure our helmets are secure."
"We want to at least pretend we're competent soldiers."
Welcome to Darkside One, Lieutenant.  We've been expecting Beaver Flight since you launched."

Chapter 2 - Settling In
May 17, 2028

Beaver Flight found their duffel bags waiting for them on the floor of their shared quarters.  Dominique stooped to enter the sparse room.  "Ma'am, you mentioned something about beds fitting?"

"I'll put a request in to get you something comfortable," Darcy said.  "For now, find your bag, find a bunk and take an hour to get settled.  I need to arrange for training space."

"Do you have a preference of top or bottom, ma'am?" Renée asked.  She ignored the snickers coming from Victoria.

30 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Chapter 1

Hooray!  Commentary!  As always, please read the chapter first.  Spoilers, sweeties!

Trying something new this time around.  Each chapter will start with a Previously and end with a Next, like the Republic serials of old.  I want to create the feel of a serial.  If this works, I can continue with the idea in my NaNo2014 project, Unruly.  Feedback will be appreciated.

With Beaver Flight arriving on the lunar base, Darkside One, this gives me a chance to introduce not just the four women properly but also the setting and the supporting cast.  The name "Darkside One" comes from the base being on the dark side of the moon, the side facing away from Earth.  The mission is secret, and placing the base out of sight helps maintain plausible deniability by the participating countries.  Major Joan di Carlo isn't the commanding officer; she's is in charge of the patrols, including Beaver Flight.

Beaver Flight's home squadron, 404 Squadron, does exist.  The 404 Long Range Patrol and Training Squadron, part of 14 Wing, is based out of Greenwood, Nova Scotia.  Instead of helicopters, though, the Squadron flies CP-140 Auroras airplanes used for long range patrols.  I *ahem*borrowed*cough* the Squadron's name to take advantage of the HTML error, "404 Page not found", to reflect that Beaver Flight is fictional and doesn't exist.  Computer humour.

The problems with the name of the flight get brought back up by the women themselves.  Victoria doesn't have a problem, but she's letting her inner twelve-year-old out.  The rest could have let the name slide if no one else said anything.  The discussion, such as it is, reflects the thoughts I had in my head at the time.  The concept is great, a flight named after Canada's national animal, to go along with the other national animals.  The execution has a problem when the flight is composed solely of women.  Um, oops?  Mind, the name is useful for getting attention on shelves and in lists.  Use the innuendo for good, not perversion, and such.

Tomorrow, Chapter 2, Settling In.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Howard the Duck.
Saturday, over at MuseHack, The Wolverine.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of /Lost in Translation/.

29 Oct 2014

NaNo Prep 2014 - Clock's Ticking!

Not long before NaNoWriMo 2014 starts.  Where am I in preparation?  Can you say, "Ng-ng-ng-ng," boys and girls?

28 Oct 2014

Test Drive - Firefly - Ships

Still poking around with the Firefly RPG from Margaret Weis Productions.  Last time, it was to create Frankie, a former Browncoat pilot who lost her nerve.  This time, though, I want to see if I can hack the system for the Third Imperium setting for Traveller.

27 Oct 2014

Test Drive - Firefly - Frankie Jones

Bit of a cheat here.  I've already created a character - Tanya - using the Firefly RPG.  This time around, I want to try creating a character that comes out of the setting instead of being one imposed upon it.  Best way to do that is to create a veteran of the Unification War.  Presenting Francesca "Frankie" Jones, former Browncoat gunship pilot.  She was a hotshot during the war, but lost her nerve somewhere along the way.
Name: Francesca "Frankie" Jones
Background: Hot shot pilot turned cold

24 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight - Chapter 1

"First, what do you remember about the lunar base?"
"It was a multinational effort, like last century's International Space Station."
"After the loss of contact, the Russians sent a mission to find out what happened.  .  Everything was intact, except there wasn't a soul to be found."
"Sir, these people are civilians."
"Were civilians."

Chapter 1 – Arrival
May 17, 2128

The lunar lander touched down on Darkside One's landing pad.  Darcy unbuckled herself from the acceleration couch.  "Okay, ladies," she barked, "we will make sure our helmets are secure.  We will then leave the lander and march to the airlock."

"Yes, Mom," Victoria called.

23 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight Commentary - Prologue

Welcome back to the commentaries.  If this is your first time here, please read the chapter first.  Spoilers may abound.

Beaver Flight was my project for NaNoWriMo 2012 and was the reason I started blogging.  To save time going back into the archives, the core of the story came from an Arrogant Worms song, "We Are the Beaver".  The idea of mecha flights named after national animals appealed to me.  That's still not enough to hang a plot on, so more thinking occurred, leading to a mystery on the moon.

The prologue turned into mostly exposition.  I had a number of elements that needed to come out without interrupting the flow later.  Darcy, our Fearless Leader, needed to know this so she wouldn't have to ask embarrassing questions later.  By having the Brigadier provide the information, top secret info at that, to a low ranking officer, I avoided the dreaded, "As you know, Bob," set up.  Darcy doesn't know.  No one does.  Military conspiracy at its finest.

Darcy is quick on the uptake.  One survivor, a Russian woman, deliberately left behind while the men were removed.  I wanted to flip the "Mars needs women!" approach to pulp.  "Venus needs men!"  Why?  That comes out later.  For now, it's part of the mystery.

Because the song is "We Are the Beaver", Darcy is part of the Canadian Forces, specifically part of Air Command.  While mecha tend to be ground forces, even if they have flight capability, the complexity of balancing the movement of the arms and legs led me to compare piloting one to piloting a helicopter.  The Heron isn't a current Canadian helicopter, but the name fits into current naming patterns that uses animals and weather.  I am hoping that current craft like the Comorant and the Griffon will be retired by 2127.

To add to the fun, Darcy will be the only military officer in her flight.  The other three women are civilians given sweetheart deals to join up.  The civilians have other specialties that could be handy given that the closest help needs to time departures with launch windows.  The more self-sufficient the lunar base is, the better.

Tomorrow, Chapter 1, Arrival.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, Godzilla (1998).
Saturday, over at MuseHack, Howard the Duck.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

17 Oct 2014

Beaver Flight - Prologue


November 4, 2127

Darcy's mind backtracked over her past year's behaviour.  As far as she knew, her demeanour was proper for a newly minted Second Lieutenant.  Sure, there had been a few wild parties, but nothing that embarrassed her or the Canadian Air Force.  Still, she sat outside the Brigadier's office with no one saying a word to her.

The office door opened.  A sergeant stepped out and said, "Lieutenant Kincaid, the General will see you now."

Darcy stood up.  She adjusted her uniform one last time then followed the sergeant into the office.  Inside, various paintings of the history of flight adorned three of the walls; the third was blocked by a tall cabinet.  Darcy stopped in front of the Brigadier's desk, came to attention, and saluted.  "Second Lieutenant Darcy Kincaid, reporting, sir!"

Without looking up from his display, the Brigadier said, "At east, Lieutenant, and have a seat.  Sergeant, hold all my calls.  We're not to be interrupted."

"Yes, sir."  The sergeant grabbed paperwork from the outbox before leaving, closing the door behind him.

Once seated, Darcy held still as she waited for the Brigadier to acknowledge her.  She felt a cool droplet of sweat run down the side of her face.  Darcy tried to ignore it, but the drop hung from her jaw.  She swiped the back of her hand across her cheek.

"Would you like something to drink, Lieutenant?" the Brigadier offered.

"I'm good, sir."  Darcy felt her throat tighten as she spoke.

"Relax, Lieutenant."  The Brigadier turned to face his subordinate.  "You're here because of your skills and potential.  Your country needs you for an important mission, but you are free to decline if you so choose.  First, what do you remember about the lunar base?"

Darcy blinked at the change of topic.  "It was a multinational effort, like last century's International Space Station.  As far as I knew, everything was fine until contact was lost a few years ago.  Since then, there's been some attempts at going back, but not much hit the news sites."

The Brigadier sat forward in his chair.  "Anything you hear in this room as of right now stays in the room.  Nothing can get out.  Understand?"

"Understood, sir.  Nothing leaves your office."

"Good."  The Brigadier sat back.  "There's a reason why nothing hit the news sites.  After the loss of contact, the Russians sent a mission to find out what happened.  They lost contact several hours after touchdown, but some video was sent back.  During the time they were in communication, they explored the central command core of the lunar base.  Everything was intact, except there wasn't a soul to be found."

"No one, sir?  That seems unlikely.  What about the emergency suits and rescue balls?"

"Completely untouched.  However, while the Russian team was investigating, they had unexpected visitors."

Darcy cocked her head at the news.  "Visitors?  On the moon?"

The Brigadier nodded.  "No one did until the Russians released the video to the Americans.  Even then, the file was examined for telltales of doctoring."

"But . . . but how?"

"No one knows."  The Brigadier shrugged.  "The Russians showed the video to the Americans.  After the analysis, the Americans sent a squad of Marines with a squad of Russian Space Troopers.  Don't laugh, Lieutenant.  The Russians were ready long before the lunar base was even bandied about."

"Not laughing, sir.  What did they find?"

"Nothing.  No bodies, no alien traces.  Everything just like in the video before the attack."

"I see."  Darcy shook her head.  "No, sir, I don't see.  That's two teams that have disappeared completely.  What does that have to do with us?  Canada supported the lunar mission but didn't have anyone up there."

"There was a third attack.  The aliens returned.  The two squads defended themselves, but were overwhelmed."

Darcy's eyes widened.  "And they were disappeared, too?"

"Not all of them.  Junior Sergeant Yulya Emelin survived the attack despite being wounded.  She reported in several hours after the attack, dazed and semi-coherent."

"How did Sergeant Emelin return to Earth?"

"Another rescue mission, this one to just land, get the sergeant, and return.  Her suit's camera kept recording even when she was unconscious.  The invaders took the rest of her team and their own wounded.  Took them several trips, too."

Darcy sat back in her chair.  "So why leave her?  They've left nothing behind before, correct, sir?"

"Correct, Lieutenant."

"And they were willing to take the time needed to get everyone else.  So, why . . . Sir, were there any other women on either squad?"

The Brigadier smiled.  "Good observation, Lieutenant.  Emelin was the only woman sent up."

"And the prior team was composed of just men, too, correct, sir?"

"Now you get it, Lieutenant."

Darcy grimaced.  "I'm here because I'm a woman, not because of any other qualification."

"Lieutenant, you'd be here even if men were being recruited.  You scored the highest in your qualifications on the Heron helicopter, have held your own during difficult search and rescues, and are a damn fine officer from all reports.  And, right now, we need the best."

"I see, sir."

"So, the question is, do you want to take the fight into space against these invaders?  You'll be promoted one grade upon entering training and will be able to choose your next assignment.  In return, though, you will be out of touch with friends and family, will be in a hostile environment, and will see regular combat.  The choice is yours, and a refusal will not affect any subsequent postings."

Darcy looked down at the floor as she thought over her options.  Time crawled by, the Brigadier's stare feeling like it bored into her.  Finally, she raised her head again.  "Sir, yes, I want this assignment."

The Brigadier unlocked his desk drawer and pulled out three file folders.  "Good."  He handed the folders to Darcy.  "Read over these files.  Each one tells you about your new squad."

Darcy flipped through the pages, glancing at the information.  "Sir, these people are civilians."

"Were civilians.  Congratulations on your new command, Lieutenant.  Make sure your charges know the chain of command."

"How much time do I have?"

"Six months."

"Sir, that's an impossible time line.  These women are barely raw recruits.  Boot camp takes several months."

The Brigadier nodded.  "I know, Lieutenant, but these are unusual times.  Each of your squad has other knowledge that will be useful.  Renée Lalonde is a linguistics expert, having done a master's thesis in deciphering dead languages.  Dominique Pearson is an engineer.  And Victoria Grieg is a physicist specializing in sub-atomic structures.  You, Lieutenant, will be the glue that brings them together and keeps them going in the right direction."

Next week: Chapter 1, Arrival
"Try not to trip up.  We want to make a good first impression here."
"We've been expecting Beaver Flight since you launched."

16 Oct 2014

By the Numbers Commentary - Numbers

As with the previous three Thursdays, I'll go into Numbers as a character in a narrative as opposed to a game.  Numbers was the first to be cast.  It wasn't that I needed a hacker right away so much as I knew Saeder-Krupp would be involved.  Numbers, with her background and her nemesis, made for conflict.  The goal of By the Numbers was to have the story feel like it could have been part of a campaign.  Having someone with an enemy on the character sheet meant having that enemy show up.  Numbers had the perfect nemesis.

15 Oct 2014

Project Peregrine Drive

I recently picked up Catalyst Labs' Valiant Universe RPG and finally had time to read through it.  Lots of interesting background for the various Valiant comics to the point where I may pick up one or two to get a better idea of the feel of the setting.  A key point of interest, though, is that the game allows for sidekick-level games.  Nasty, of Subject 13 falls in that level of superheroes.  Thus, this isn't a Project Natasha nor a Test Drive.

I'm creating Nasty.

The Valiant Universe RPG may be the first superhero game I've run into where Nasty won't be underpowered.  With Champions, I'd have to create her as a 75-point character to be accurate, the 150-point superhero level leaves many a character point left over.  The same happens with GURPS Supers and Mutants & Masterminds.  Nasty's power level is below that of a normal comic.  A sidekick level of power?  That's a different kettle of wax*.

It never hurts to go through the recommended character creation steps of a new game.  Shortcuts can come later, once I'm more familiar with the mechanics.  For those of you with the book, and I will recommend it as it has some useful advice for running superhero campaigns, character creation starts on page 60.  There's nine steps, and if you've read any of the previous test drives, especially for the D&D 5th Edition, the steps aren't much different.  Nasty's character creation starts after the break.

13 Oct 2014

NaNo Prep 2014 - Update

November 1st is approaching.  I need to be ready to go by 12:01am local time.  Yet...

Life got busy the last few weeks.  Work required moving many computers and peripherals, plus phones, cables, and printers, all over a hectic few days.  Following the weekend of the massive decommissioning, removing PCs that I had helped install on a previous contract, my old back injury decided that all the bending I did was not conducive to a pain-free existence.  Made going to Can-Con the following weekend interesting.  I also managed to disrupt my sleep schedule, so exhaustion plagued me, making it hard to put proper words together.  The disruption delayed regular commentary as well.

I lost two weeks, really, but not completely.  While I wasn't writing, I was working out some plot lines, some potential arcs, the cast's appearance, and little details that turn a jotted note into a breathing character.  The main four - Caitlin, Skye, Autumn, and Laura - have last names.  Caitlin even has a family, though I'm not sure if she should have an older brother or an older sister.  I have possible story arcs, some of which will require setting up in earlier arcs; Jenn, in particular, needs to make a few appearances before "The Jennifer of Jennifers" arc.

The school finally got a name and a bit of history.  The Ulrich F. Gephardt Academy for Unruly Girls.  Ulrich never existed; I started by trying to find a possible name that could be morphed into "unruly".  The closest I got was the surname Unrein, a German surname.  Then I hit on the idea of the $Name Academy for Unruly Girls, leading to ditching Unrein but picking up Ulrich and then filling out the rest of his name.  Even worked out a bit of background for the Academy.  Ulrich was from Berlin, Ontario, which later became Kitchener during World War I*.  In 1886, he had the idea of founding a school outside Oshawa to take in young ladies who were troublemakers.  A year later, he changed the Academy's mission into turning the young ladies into his own private army of spies.  Ulrich retired in 1888, leaving Oshawa to go to the Century Manor Asylum in Hamilton.  The Academy continued to take in girls who, with the assistance of the Headmistress, managed to give themselves an education.  Even today, the Academy uses unusual teaching methods but graduates of the school go on to be leaders, innovators, and most wanted.  The latter, sometimes by law enforcement.

Setting, therefore, is mostly worked out.  Mostly, because areas like the school grounds, the dorms, key hangouts in Oshawa, and at least one back need to be worked on, but that can happen over the course of writing.  Characters, at least the students, are ready.  Teachers will be filled in as needed.  The Headmistress is becoming a black box - I know what she'll do in most situations, but I don't know how she processes the events.  Could be useful given the focus is on the students.

Am I ready?  No.  I do need to figure out why Caitlin and Verity have a war of one-upmanship going on.  I need to figure out what Caitlin's scheme is for the first chapter.  I'll probably post a bit more to try to work things out.

For all I know, though, I could wind up writing about a hafling archaeologist.

* Kind of makes "Freedom Fries" look lame now.

10 Oct 2014

By the Numbers - Behind the Scenes VI

Wrapping up the behind the scenes work is Numbers.  The hacker was the first I statted out.  Between her and Charles, I didn't want to spend more pre-NaNo time prepping Oz and Treehugger.  Numbers, though, did need statting out.  The core Shadowrun rules doesn't have an archetype for the social engineering hacker.  Numbers also got a full name, mainly because Herr Wulfe of Saeder-Krupp was going to use it against her.  The negative Notoriety comes from the First Impression quality, which I'll cover later.  The core concept, as mentioned, was a social engineering hacker, someone who not only breaks into computer networks but also hacks social interactions.  Social engineering hackers exist even today; the Nigerian prince scam/spam is a classic, if poorly executed, example.

9 Oct 2014

By the Numbers Oswald - Commentary

Last week, I went through the character sheet for Oswald, the crew's mage, with comments about the changes made for By the Numbers.  Today, let's look at Oz as a story character instead of a player character.

As with Treehugger, Oswald's role was defined first.  The crew needed a magician.  The goal of By the Numbers was to present the Shadowrun setting while still making sure that the events in the story could be played out.  The main difference between Shadowrun and other cyberpunk and even non-cyberpunk science fiction is the addition of almost Tolkien-esque fantasy.  It's possible to argue that Shadowrun is a futuristic urban fantasy setting, but the fantasy elements harken back to more traditional fantasy than the supernatural or the faerie of urban fantasy.  As a fantasy element, magic exists, though in Shadowrun, it can be tested with the scientific method.

Thus, Oswald was needed, or at least a magician.  I could have gone with a shaman instead of the hermetic Oswald, but I felt that was one more layer that could break the suspension of disbelief.  Oz was still nebulous, though.  I was envisioning a man in a long coat, collar turned up against the wind, lighting a cigarette with his finger.  That image told me a bit about the mage, but not everything, and nothing about his background.  I went back to Charles and Numbers to see what they lacked.  Charles covered the combat roles while Numbers had the social and computer skills covered.  They didn't have any real investigative abilities.  Sure, Charles could stand menacingly over someone, but intimidation tends to leave the intimidated frustrated, embarrassed, and angry afterward.  Polite questioning, though, would leave the questioned wondering, but not in a mood for vengeance.

Once I realized that a mage investigator would work, I remembered the Mage Detective archetype in the rules.  That still left me having to work out the character's background.  A private investigator could work for the plot, but PIs tend to have a sheen of legitimacy to them.  I wanted a team of runners, equals to each other, not a team that answered to one person.  The Federated-Boeing Johnson wanted a team of deniable assets, not a private investigator who would leave a data trail.  That meant that the detective had to be in the shadows for some reason.  From there, the idea of an ex-cop came to mind.  The ex-detective couldn't be from Seattle, though; he'd be recognized by former colleagues.  That's how Oswald came to be ex-NYPD Inc.  New York is the other side of the continent from Seattle and NYPD Inc never had the law enforcement contract for the West Coast city.  Ta-daa!

Most of Oz's personality came out while writing.  He has a low tolerance of BS, which has him in conflict with the elf poser Treehugger.  He doesn't target innocents, though who is innocent is based on his judgement and experience.  He won't harm children, though teenagers are another matter.  In Chapter 9, Oz is the one championing rescuing Sun Jung for the girl's sake.  And, somehow, Oswald turned into a ladies man.  Completely unintentional, but it worked for him.

Tomorrow, Numbers' character sheet.
Also tomorrow, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week Q&A, where you get to ask the questions..
Saturday, over at MuseHack, an early round-up as announcements come fast and furious.
Also Saturday, check out Comics Bulletin for comics-related reposts of Lost in Translation.

8 Oct 2014

By the Numbers Commentary - Treehugger

Going back, I put up Treehugger's character sheet and discussed the mechanics and how her traits affected writing.  Now it's time to look at Treehugger as a character in a story, much like I did with Charles.

Treehugger was the last to be cast in the crew.  I had a role that needed filling, the rigger, but didn't quite have an idea of who the getaway driver would be.  The Shadowrun fourth edition anniversary version had two different rigger archetypes, the Smuggler, as seen with Treehugger's sheet, and the Drone Rigger.  I needed a getaway driver and didn't feel like going through creating a player character sheet from scratch, thus I went with the Smuggler, who came with vehicles.  From there, it was a matter of reading the character sheet and seeing if anything struck me.  The Elf Poser drawback led to Treehugger's elfiness.  From the elfiness, I got the idea of an ill-informed girl from the city streets thinking that elves are in touch with nature, then wrapping her car around a tree on her first run.  The dam broke, and Treehugger because a character instead of a set of stats.

Treehugger also wound up being the team's face for negotiations.  As you will see later this week, Numbers focused her skills on social engineering, deceiving people into giving her everything she needed to hack past security.  Treehugger, though, had the very critical Negotiation skill.  She learned to hide her surgically altered ears during negotiations.  TH also became the backup hacker; she's as wired as Numbers is for direct neural interface.  The difference between plugging into a computer and into a van is negligible; it's just how the hardware works that's different, not the interface.

Of the crew, Treehugger had the cheeriest outlook, despite having the most invasive set of implants.  Part of this is from her elfiness, her belief that she is really an elf in a human body.  She believes that elves are, overall, happier.  It's not that she hasn't met any dour elves; she just sees them as being dour because she sees them in the same line of work she's in.  Shadowrunners aren't a happy group in general; Glenn Frey's "Smuggler's Blues" works for both Colombian drug smugglers and shadowrunners.

Treehugger is an awkward fit with the group.  Between her allegy to sunlight and her elf delusion, she is an oddity, someone who will stand out from a crowd.  Numbers is the chameleon.  Charles is the big one, as is expected from trolls.  Oswald, outwardly, is scruffy, like many a shadowrunner.  Treehugger stands out; she's there for the rush, though the money will help her with the gene therapy she needs to be the elf she truly is.  However, from the narrative perspective, she let me add some intra-team conflict by being herself.  Treehugger also reflects a reality in the settings - sometimes, you have to take what's available, the good with the bad.  Treehugger is an amazing driver, but her teammates have to deal with her being elfy.

Tomorrow, Oswald's commentary.
Friday, the last of the behind the scenes posts with Numbers.
Also Friday, over at Psycho Drive-In, hiatus week questions and answers.

3 Oct 2014

By the Numbers - Behind the Scenes V

Welcome back.  This week's character study is Oswald, the crew's mage.  Oswald's stats are the same ones for the Mage Detective archetype in the fourth edition anniversary release of Shadowrun.  I didn't feel like creating Oz from scratch, but did want to change the spells known, adapting them for my needs.  More after the jump.  Oh, and if parts seem familiar, I needed to save time in writing by reusing last week's prose.  Apologies.

2 Oct 2014

Commentary on hiatus

Sorry, folks, no comments about Treehugger this week.  Massive upheaval at work due to a change of ownership that led to overtime and heavy lifting.  I hope to get the commentary going again next week.  In the meantime, feel free to comment yourselves.

29 Sept 2014

Test Drive - D&D 5th Edition, Wrapping Up

Welcome back to the short series testing out the D&D 5th edition Player's Handbook.  If you've missed a part, the list is below.

Part I - Reverence, tiefling monk
Part II - Liga Dawnspringer, Kagonesti barbarian
Part III - Aelfward Shadowstar V, half-elf swashbuckler
Part IV - Roscoe P. Tealeaf, halfling entertainer
Part V - June, priestess of Istus

For those just joining in, I've been giving the D&D 5th edition Player's Handbook a test drive.  To give the new rules a fair shake, and because it was fun, I tried a character for different campaign settings.  Now the ultimate question, how does the new system feel?

It feels right.

Simple answer, yes, but accurate.  I had no problem staying to concept where I started with one and getting a concept while following the character creations steps.  Aelfward is a swashbuckler, one who can impress the observers while being effective in a fight while still keeping a swashbuckling flavour even outside battle.  June, on the other hand, came together well as I went through the steps.  Fifth edition is easy enough to follow for a beginner while still giving the experienced player room to poke and prod the system to see how flexible it is.

Some older character concepts may not work ideally; this will happen if the concept is based on an older mechanic.  The drow mage/thief concept I had from when the first edition's Unearthed Arcana came out falls apart, but can still be approximated using the right background.  That said, playing a halfling archaeologist, a human warlord-in-training, or the bard, Elvish Presley, is easily done.  Each character should come out as an individual, not stamped by a cookie-cutter, with chocolate chips for eyes and icing for mouths.

The easiest campaign settings to create a character for were the Realms and Greyhawk.  Greyhawk was the default world in the first and third editions, and fifth leans heavily on both.  The Realms allows for a greater range of concept for both high adventure and low.  Roscoe may not fit in well in Greyhawk; he's a colourful character for the Realms.  Dragonlance will need its own setting book; there were many changes done to the character section of the rules in earlier editions to be able to adjust easily.  Part of the need comes from the available races.  Humans, elves, dwarves, and half-elves are straightforward enough.  Halflings were changed into kender, with a different set of racial abilities.  Gnomes were based on the rock gnomes, but with a curse that forced them to be constantly tinkering with their inventions which would never work.  There were also changes to classes.  Wizards had to either declare a robe colour, based on the character's alignment, or go rogue.  Fifth edition wizards might work, at least for now, but the GM will have to impose alignment restrictions on the school of wizardry chosen.

Overall, the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons is forgiving to character concepts.  It should be possible for a player to create a character that he or she wants to play.