Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Plurality

"The Singularity Happened.  The Godmachine began, begat, and betook itself Onwards.  Blessed Be the Godmachine.  Blessed and Begone and Goodriddance."
Orthodox piezoelectrically-activated litany embedded within the simultwined holoetching to be found upon all cuprozirconium Dread Pennies left-over from the notorious November Reunification

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--Human beings are attracted to grand, over-arching unified theories that they try to use like philosophical hammers to explain everything and anything, despite the true utility, actual accuracy or real effectiveness of this approach.  It seems to be hardwired into a significant portion of the Pre-Liberation generations.  Many of the sociocultic and religiopolitical relics of the Toxic Age that preceded or survived the Nine Second War and the subsequent chaos of the Decades of Diasporas following the opening of the first of the Sea Gates from Venus to Scylla and Charybdis all partake in one way or another of the lingering folklore that strives to keep alive the notion of a single, all-powerful, all-pervasive, all-inclusive technological Singularity. 


The popular mythology and rhetorical franchises of the latter days of the Toxic Age are absolutely rife with the familiar strains of this peculiar form of philosophical tunnel-vision that was once incredibly wide-spread and hotly debated by ideo-religious whoreverts and fanatical marketer-proselytizers.  Hundreds of high-functioning proto-theoblasts infected with the first stirrings of the fear-rooted Crasher Syndrome arose at this time.  Each one devoted, personally and professionally, to bringing about the Technopoalypse; the End of History (as they declared it in their quaint hubris), or the Hard Crash that would deliver them--and their entire subjective 'world' from the agglomerated and hyper-networked constellation of the resonant feed-back loop comprised of all their accumulated and projected worries, hopes, fears and deep-seated dread and despair. 


A virulent imaginal structure invaded popular culture and infiltrated mainstream academia and the militarized scientific establishment from within the very minds and psyches of those involved in these fields.  The Intelligentsia were the first to be compromised.  The so-called think-tanks and the corporate arbiters of fashion and conformity quickly followed. The best and brightest minds held no particular advantage and were co-opted or contaminated alongside the media-addicted, infantantalized masses they sought to exploit by the first stirrings of a complex of negative memetic fragments that were thrashing about within the collective subconscious of hundreds, then thousands, then millions of otherwise operative human beings.  Aliens didn't have to invade from outer space.  The human race faced colonization by the first generation of semi-autonomous memeticytes---
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"The Singularity happened. Get over it. It was a one-time event and whatever you thought it was going to be, however you hoped it would manifest or feared it might express itself was wrong. Completely off the mark. Anything that you could imagine or describe was by default no longer any part of the then impending Singularity. It was beyond anything anyone could have visualized, predicted or described. It happened. Now we're past all that. It's history. Our history. All of our history. All of us. All."
Zubra Daliskos
Chimpan Scholar and Archivist Emeritus (Retired)
History didn't end with the so-called Singularity; whichever one of the thirty-seven thousand different eschatological, technological, philosophical or mathematical 'singularities' that you subscribe to, believe in, or prefer over the others.  History didn't begin then, either, but no calendar adopts a Year Zero without the implicit and at least tacit acceptance of the fact that there was stuff going on previous to that point in time.  Civilization didn't collapse because of the Singularity, though the ideofascists who violently professed the post-rational One True Path doctrines that grew out of disparate radical elements of various monotheist terrorist splinter-groups did everything in their power to bring everything crashing down through the use of every possible source of disruption and destruction available on the global black market. 

Apocalypses followed atrocities followed cataclysms, and all of them were in turn mitigated, integrated and relegated to the status of historical footnotes by the rapidly developing technologies of what was to eventually become the Deep Infrastructure.

Nightmares of Gray Goo or rampant ecophagy went the way of the the nuclear boogey-man and the celebrity serial-killer; a momentary bit of daintily traipsing about in the limelight followed by a long, slow slide into obscurity as elements of contemporary folklore and underground memeplay.

No one knows for sure when things shifted beyond the scope of everythng that had ever gone before, but they did. They certainly did. The Plurality arose from amidst turmoil, crisis and the vicious kind of senseless violence and stupidity that only the truly ignorant and fearful can commit. It didn't save anyone. It didn't convert people to any particular way of thinking. It did something incredible and unthinkable. It opened the way outwards unto worlds without end and it brought about the end of everything that had been taken for granted prior to that moment when the gates first opened and the Diasporas began.

But it was no utopia. It still isn't. It never will be, really.

Because that's not what it's all about.

It's about exploration, knowledge, living and loving and growing and knowing and going out past the boundaries of the safe zones to build new worlds, create new cultures and to do or make or become things that no one could ever have imagined before the gates granted Liberty to All.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Les Enfants Terribles: Terror Children

Ling's Oni
"Five thousand years and adolescence is only about half-way done for me. I have at least another century to go before my voice cracks or both of my balls finally drop. That's why I terminated our designer and all his family for six generations on either side. That's why I did it and I'm not sorry. So it started a Gate-War? So what? It's not like it cleared-up seven hundred years of acne, now is it? You want to start talking about atrocities? --"
From the Atrocity-show trial of the Third Clonate of Villow Ling  
Death, Dying and Longevity were once very pervasive obsessions amongst the unwashed masses of the Toxic Age, even as these things continue to bedevil and torment the Archaics and the Penitent Tribes of the Periphery.  This was, of course, long before the Helical Cathedraes were first erected, and prior to the zombification of the mobs which took place during the onset of the Necrosophic Revolution. It is also unclear just what roll, if any, the Spiders From Mars may or may not have played in these events. There are conflicting accounts and the records have all been conflated beyond recovery by Revisionists.

Death is, for the most part, a voluntary choice, at least within Polite Society and amongst the Connected Territories of Civilization. True, there are those who stubbornly resist the inexorable current of prevailing trends and who refuse to participate in the various means and schemes by which our minds, our selves can be preserved or renewed, conserved or readjusted so that our span of meaningful life can run so far and so long as we ourselves determine. Dying has become an artform. One mocked by the entirely gauche and completely faux suicides of petulant children and the willfully ill.

Oh accidents do occur, certainly, absolutely they do, such things are by their very nature impossible to eliminate entirely or else the Simixian Hegemenarchy or the Purists or the Pallid Masters of Albusia would all have done so already. But most such deaths are impermanent, transitory affairs handled by insurance policies and other such active instruments.

And certainly there are those whom the Beembalmers spirit away to waxy hexagonal cells to wait out eternity and other such cheats or drop-outs, but they are not of any real interest right now. We are not here to discuss them. We are gathered here to consider those unfortunate orphans of the Toxic Age, the Enfants Terrible.  Holy Terrors.  Terror-Children.

The first generation of the Terror-Children were derived from the forcibly-culled cells of thousands of displaced refugees harvested by masked technicians in service to various competing corporatipolitan non-states, clandestine Precursor-Dynasties and the forces of cultic sociopolitical parastates that arose in the wake of the Collapsalypse that swept across Lower Asia and the Drownded South (this being in the immediate wake of the first unsuccessful Sea Gate having gone terribly wrong due to sabotage). 

Of course other accounts categorically dispute this above-mentioned claim, asserting that the Children were actually created within fortress-installations on Charybdis, or Jezeal, or even hypergeometrical temples on Paldrime. It is doubtful we'll ever really know for sure, and there are those who think that this is due to some deliberate effort on the part of the Children who guard their secrets very jealously, even from one another.

Whatever the true location of their birth, they were assembled, compiled, and composed within wombpods by faceless drones in service to soulless tyrants.  As the telepoet Vu Chong has posted in his Lament of the Children--they were designed to be powerful weapons for a war that was over before it could even truly begin.

The wombpods were hacked, according to some. Humans ultimately make lousy weapons say others. All that is certain is that the children who were born of this particular process were...odd..not at all what their designers, composers, shapers or compilers had expected, nor were they what their tyrannical masters demanded.

The Children of the wombpods were planned to be functional immortals, amongst several dozen other such things. Their immune systems, endocrine systems and in fact every other system of their bodies were tweaked, enhanced, modified and re-designed to bring about every advantage and adaptation that they would need to fulfill their destinies. Whether or not that was to serve as hosts for the transplanted brainstems of their masters, or to crew gigantic ships that would have been sent out amongst the voidplaces between the stars no one really knows any longer.

The one fact that is beyond dispute is that because of the deep tampering with their biological processes, the Children were locked in a neotonous form of perpetual adolescence for multiple thousands of years. They would suffer wildly unstable hormonal fluxes and have an extended, hellishly protracted puberty that would last longer than most nations had histories. Many of them sought ways to rectify this matter, but the designs of their makers were every bit as draconian as their would-have-been masters. The Children could look forward to lifespans that might easily endure millions of years. They would regrow any severed limbs, heal from the worst traumas, resist radiation at least as well as cockroaches, and more, much more--but only if they never tampered with their own genes. Malicious failsafe mechanisms were embedded within their cells.

The Writhing Mass of Berlin may originally have been one of these Children who attempted to self-revise their genetics.

The Kafkesques may also have begun as the aftermath of another such attempt.

The Children responded to these things as any overtaxed, overwrought and overstimulated adolescent in the throes of existential horror would do. They lashed out.

Villow Ling chose a path of violence and atrocity that has served as an unholy source of inspiration to such artists of destruction as Imiten Varu and the AI Appollyon.

Verdajji Haunfure, one of only two Terror Children apart from Villow Ling to ever offer any sort of explanation, statement or testimony on their behalf, has been quoted as saying:
"Our so-called masters never consulted with us first, before proceeding with our creation. Of course their inability to conceive of how to do such a thing ought to have been enough of an obstacle to have given any truly rational intellect reason to pause, but not them. No. Not them. And they dare to call us the monsters. Or at least they did before we ended them."
Excerpted from A First Statement,
Attributed to Verdajji Haunfure
Haunfure, a self-declared spiritual anarchist was one of the driving forces behind the First Diaspora, an event that he worked to bring about primarily to provide him the means to achieve his ideal of dynamic solitude as outlined in the Lonely Book, a manifesto of sorts derived from the ecstatic analysis of the clues and puzzles embedded within A First Statement by three generations of failed ascetics who claimed to have some sort of direct biological relationship to Haunfure. All evidence of the three nuns were destroyed within the atomic fires of the Tyrant's Last Gasp, when nuclear weapons were exchanged amongst the Restricted Powers of Old Earth for the final time.

It is Haunfure who is blamed most often by RetConists, ReConstructionites, certain fashionable Sociatrist-Cliques, and others as the prime mover and very devil behind the mass dismantling of the great cities of Old Earth and the waves of forced emmigration that are now termed the Diasporas.  No one has ever proven this claim. No one disputes it either. Only a few Scholars with shaky reputations and weak sword arms ever bother to investigate or research the matter any longer. It's just not fashionable, nor will it lead to any sort of promotion or recognition and it might derail one's path to tenure, acclaim or a cushy fellowship.

It is considered an unfortunate fact of history that the Sea Gates preceeded the birth of Haunfure and his kin by more than a hundred years.  Of course most conventional scholars dismiss such a discrepancy as too small to even bother worrying about.

It is likewise considered an unfortunate and thoroughly unpleasant matter to dredge-up any sort of discussion regarding the means by which the Terror Children were created. While tragic and hateful, and oh so regrettable, of course it is very regrettable, it is something that took place well before the Genomic Edicts or even the first conclaves or salons of the Dabblers and Predecessors who set the stage for modern Genartistry to develop. Discussing such a thing is both impolite and about as useful as comparing the opinions of Illiterates in regards to something almost as ancient and pointless as the conspiracy to cover-up the scandalous roots of chemistry in Alchemy with all the attendant assassinations, intoxications and so forth that go along with it. It is wise to remain silent if one would dare to pick at old wounds that may not be entirely healed even now. All knowledge comes at a price. Knowledge such as involved the Terror Children is dangerous, volatile stuff. You don't truly want to know any more than you already do. Honestly. Take a hint.

There's no point and nothing to gain by looking into the matter, save perhaps an early retirement, or a forced descent into irrelevancy. As is said in Academic Circles: 'A bald-faced freshman won't even bother stabbing you over it.' To say that such a subject is unpopular or perhaps detrimental to one's career would be an understatement.

The Public Domain is filled with the partially deleted, mostly destroyed and thoroughly garbled databris left in the wake of the Spazm.  That's the term for the total spontaneous annhiliation of all datasystems in the immediate access of the telepathic capabilities of the Terror Children. They literally destroyed all records and disrupted all connected servers, mainframes, datacaches, nodes, and anything else that was connected into the hardened military datasystems of their once and never masters. Satellites evaporated. The prehistoric prototype of the worldnet crashed and fragmented in ways inconceivable to all known science of the time.

A new age dawned. It was an age of gods and monsters, of heroes and villains, and terrible things beyond all prior imagining.  It was the Singularity, but not as anyone might have hoped to have recognized it. It was the beginning, the raw and bloody and horrible first gasping breath of the Plurality. But first came the Terror.

The Terror is an event that still resonates across all the Known Worlds and beyond. It is perhaps best summed up by Scyllis Matreche, reputed to be the Founding Mother of the Scylloi, who has only ever bothered to register the following words within the Public Domain:
"Monsters. I shall show you what true monsters are."





"In films, we are trained by the American way of moviemaking to think we must understand and 'get' everything right away. But this is not possible. When you eat a potato, you don't understand each atom of the potato!"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Of Talibarr

Talibarr is a large moon orbiting a gas-giant within a binary solar-system. It is also a city that has grown to encompass and cover nearly all of the surface and much of the sub-surface of the moon. It has been cut-off from the Known Worlds for just over 500 years* due to the direct hacking of the gates by the now-defunct faction known as the Azure Wrath, a group of bio-fanatics who sought to establish a bizarre utopia by eliminating all humans, except themselves, and establishing a geno-socialist caste-based hierarchical society that they would administer on behalf of the poor benighted urfolk whom they selflessly sought only to empower and make equal with the rest of the races of the Known Worlds.


The promised paradise perished within the first minutes of the Severing, when the gates to the outside were shut down forcibly. The Azure Wrath lasted less than a dozen years before they were finally extinguished by their own internecine squabbles. One of their number unleashed a proscribed weapon-form so horrific in nature that to this day it is only referred to as the actual Azure Wrath and is rumored to be a gaunt figure clad in ragged clothes, covered in supporating sores, and masked as though about to attend a revel of some macabre sort.

Crows, rats, roachers, rolly-pollies, possuns, and other animal-descended races have had five hundred years to integrate themselves into the ruined and failing infrastructure of Talibarr. Spiders have taken over the canals, worm-things claim certain decrepit areas no one else will challenge them for, and the myriad hybrids, halfcastes, and rampant experiments of the madmen and monsters of the Azure Wrath hunt, prowl and own the worlds still linked by the Seagates that string together the Moons of Shuubra into an archipelago of worlds unto themselves.

And into this maelstrom of decay and collapse, of bitterness and betrayal comes a lowly drijj, obscure beyond reckoning, worthless and without a clue. Pitiful and tiny, a mutant creature whose blood is so tainted and toxic that even the spiders won't take him, a pathetic figure mocked by pigeons and somehow, the one person who can make things right again. Perhaps.
 
*See: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of at the Talibarr blog for some idea of how that ended.  More details on Talibarr, the moons and worlds of the Archipelago, and related matters will be available at the Talibarr blog or here, at the Riskail blog, or both. Everything will be cross-linked. Fiction centered around the Talibarrian Archipelago will be consolidated over at Riskail Fiction. The adventures of Rist amongst the ruins of the Talibarrian city-moon have only just begun.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dumbshows

 
“The Blue Room had in prehistoric times been added to by taking in a superfluous passage, and so not only had the advantage of two doors, but enabled us to get to the head of the stairs without passing the chamber wherein our dragon-aunt lay couched. It was rarely occupied, except when a casual uncle came down for the night. We entered in noiseless file, the room being plunged in darkness, except for a bright strip of moonlight on the floor, across which we must pass for our exit. On this our leading lady chose to pause, seizing the opportunity to study the hang of her new dressing-gown. Greatly satisfied thereat, she proceeded, after the feminine fashion, to peacock and to pose, pacing a minuet down the moonlit patch with an imaginary partner. This was too much for Edward's histrionic instincts, and after a moment's pause he drew his single-stick, and with flourishes meet for the occasion, strode onto the stage. A struggle ensued on approved lines, at the end of which Selina was stabbed slowly and with unction, and her corpse borne from the chamber by the ruthless cavalier. The rest of us rushed after in a clump, with capers and gesticulations of delight; the special charm of the performance lying in the necessity for its being carried out with the dumbest of dumb shows.”

'The Blue Room' from The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame
Outside the major Casinos and their carefully controlled Arena, there is a second-string of third-rate Arenatainment Affiliates who develop and distribute the Dumbshows--literally violent entertainments aimed at the lowest common denominator of any given marketing niche or isolated demographic.  The black marketeers of Corazune finance many of the Dumbshows.  They are exceptionally well-received amidst the lower ranks of the popularity-driven mediocratic Corazunian social hierarchy.  The Dumbshows are also the last bastion of disreputable genartists, genehacks, and other biomantic scum who have abandoned any pretense at morals, turned their backs on the venerable Code of Conduct all Genartists (yes, even Boluth and Lorshal) share in common.  The depraved showbiz families of the Dumbshows are all made up entirely of clonechildren designed, derived, developed and delivered into a life of servitude directly from their geneparents.  They are literally their own slaves, their own property.  The showbiz families breed their own specially-prepared and modified clones, all of which are just barely at the threshold of consciousness, and thus technically little more than ambulatory tissue cultures, and thus property, not people.  The matter has been hotly debated and contested innumerable times over the years, but no regime or government has ever successfully addressed the question of clonetestant rights. Young and non-tenured conspiracy-advocates often delight in demonstrating the tangled web of conflicting interests and unethical manipulations, assassinations, extorion and worse that has grown-up in the foul shadows of the Dumbshows.  Those that make their point too well usually wind up deleted, abducted, or rendered nonpersons.  Those with tenure don't discuss such sensitive matters outside of certain approved academic circles.
 
Send in the Clonetestants
Each microcephalic clone is reworked, tweaked, customized and equipped according to marketing research, online polls, viewer feedback, and a host of other means and methods of which the Marketeers of Corazune don't discuss outside their Chambers of Commerce.  Various grades of prosthetic AI are used to provide the clones with a precisely calibrated and hierarchically comparable form of basic intelligence.  This levels the playing field.  All the clones begin at the same, exact level of stupidity and only by their specific experiences, unique interactions and personal explorations can they learn anything or develop any sort of repertoire over and above the baseline.  The clonetestants enter the stages and sets of the Dumbshows virtually blank slates.  They either learn quickly, or they get cancelled, often gruesomely and spectacularly, for the Audience craves excitement, enjoys audacity, demands satisfaction--but it will always accept blood, guts and gore.  The Audience is a faceless mob caught-up in the exhiliration of visceral feedback and the addictive ecstasy of second-hand violence.
 
Clonetestants are configured along the accepted norms for Basic humanoids, though some family-stables have allowed various forms of semi-controlled mutation amongst their offspring in the hopes of developing a legal and permissable edge.  Some are cybernetically-augmented, but these sorts of clonetestants compete in their own categories and under very stringent rules that date back to the Mechistophelean Jihad.
 
The various family-stables of clonetestants are managed directly by the core-parent, the gene-donor from whom all that lineage of clones are directly derived.  These Manager-parents have a direct, immediate, and totally personal stake in their showbiz family and they literally live or die based upon the performance of their hyper-modified clonechildren.  The Audience feedback is not limited to merely votes, it escalates as the stakes rise and the clonetestants pass each stage or set, reaching incredible levels that are not only deeply damaging, but more addictive than either politiporn or murderballadry combined.
 
Not So Stupid
But the Dumbshows are not simple gladiatorial matches nor are they vulgar battles staged with no narrative or style--far from it.  Holophasic recreations of the greatest battles fought within the warzones and even deep within the Maze of Patriots are already available and in widespread circulation, mostly derived from the distilled memories of Veterans or compiled by very expert revisionist scholars.  The Casino-Arenas have a monopoly on nearly all sanctioned gladiatorial combats, and related violent Arenatainments.  All the accumulated programming, data and corpus of popular entertainment from the centuries was in the Public Domain.  Not sanctioned by one of the Great Houses or some other Power, the Dumbshows are barred from contributing competitors to the Great Games, so the Dumbshows have had to pursue a more novel and peculiar avenue to carve out their own particular niche within the entertainment-ecology.  They allow the Audience to design and construct challenges, mazes, labyrinths and other puzzles or obstacle courses for the clonetestants to explore, battle within, or escape from--all depending upon the Audience's level of participation and whatever special features the parental managers deem appropriate for the current installment.  There is a thriving underground market for pre-designed Dumbshow stages and sets which then get lobbed into the voting frenzy to compete with the sketches of wicked children, scenario-maps submitted by aging eremite-gamists, holographic construct-diagrams contributed by slumming Jontolon virtulects with low tastes.  Those designs, ideas or fragments of ideas get compiled and jumbled together--often randomly--into a fresh hodge-podge of deadly and delightful surprises for the clonetestants to experience.
 
Set & Setting
The stages and sets used in any particular installment of a Dumbshow is voted on as though it were one more clonetestant.  Particularly well-received and popular stages or sets get re-used and entered into tournaments against other stages and sets, the ultimate winner of these contests becomes one of the Top Twelve All-Time Greatest Challenges which are only viewable to registered subscibers and the usual pirate accounts.  Those members of the Audience who have contributed the most work to the competing stages & sets are a highly motivated and competitve group.  They live and die by merit of their reputations.  Sometimes literally.  Not only do most of the top designers engage in duels over their designs or to enhance their reputations, those who ascend to the Top Twelve rankings are expected to stake their own lives on the outcome of an installment utilizing their personally modified and enhanced designs for their masterpiece stage or set.  Those who decline the challenge lose a great deal of prestige, suffer a major lose in reputation and drop in the rankings to the point where a lot of up-and-comers are almost certain to begin challenging them in order to leap-frog the apparently lame duck.  Disappoint the Audience and your career is finished.  At least until you can stage a comeback, but those rarely go well and very few ever succeed, and none do so without substantial backing from the more prominent showbiz families, focus groups, or one of the Casinos who sometimes try-out the Dumbshows as a possible low-end investment.
 
Clonetestants who make it through each stage or set are allowed to keep whatever weapons or gear they can pick up along the way.  They can also gain credits that their parent-managers use to upgrade their sub-systems according to the Blue List.  Unlisted mods are frowned upon and can result in the suspension of a parent-manager and the termination of their family-stable.  The types of shows that make use of freely modified clonetestants tend to be very marginal, short-term, and ultimately not terribly popular, mostly because they are so unbalanced and just not very entertaining, at least amongst the more civilized worlds--there are very idiosyncratic versions of the Dumbshows based in Gilpoy (a sub-node dome-clave in Xembor), as well as a rather bizarre off-shoot featured in Jezeal that has subsequently began to filter into the Jevpa/Bazra markets within the Domain of Three Suns.  But for the most part, these are very small-time and obscure programs of little note except to a dedicated enthusiast.
 
Vote Early, Vote Often
The most popular Dumbshows combine the interpersonal dramatics of antique reality scripts and traditional soap operas with challenging athletic competitions and loads of crowd-pleasing violence. But unlike minimalist wrestling, clone combats, Casino-run gladiator matches or the hyper-regimented puglilist fights, Dumbshows employ narrative to frame the violence and to give each installment more appeal, both in terms of the livecast and the archived (and edited) recasts as well.  The Audience votes for their favorite scenarios, the best clonetestants, and for the specific stages & sets used in each installment.  Those  receiveing the most votes get the most perks or a shot at going on to the next round.  Those getting the lowest voter turn-out are retired or sent to one of the Farms for revision and restructuring, unless the parent-manager decides to just recycle the matter or reprocess the tissue/biomass--sometimes they will auction off particularly valuable offspring to collectors, fans or artists such as the insane genius Grigmar.  In the Dumbshows, a clonetestant's life and death depends on the votes of the Audience as much or more as their ability to beat the various tricks, traps, obstacles or challenges they must face.
 
The Top Twelve Dumbshows
  1. Molly & Polly
  2. Snuffles the Deathclown
  3. Down the Tubes
  4. Audience Choice (New Format)
  5. Ten Little Lost Lambs
  6. Bad Land Battle
  7. Survival of the Fittest
  8. Hey Piranesi!
  9. Break Out Or Die Trying
  10. Deep Dark Downwards
  11. Deathscapes & Murderscenes
  12. A Better Mousetrap
Rumors & Marketing Innuendo
There are rumors of cults and other collectives forming gene-consortiums that could break the monopoly of the showbiz families once and for all.  These consortiums would be able to draw upon a much wider range of genestocks and inheritable traits, making them more versatile and adaptable than the monoline ultra-inbred families that dominate the Dumbshows currently.  Perhaps this is another scheme by some mid-level Promoter from one of the Casinos, but there are those who believe it is the carefully orchestrated plan of some Jontolon-based Gamer who is playing at some weird sort of macro-game.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Locales of Riskail: The Patriot's Maze

"It is Opportune to look back upon old times, and contemplate our forefathers.  Great examples grow thin, and to be fetched from the passed world.  Simplicity flies away, and iniquity comes at long strides upon us."
 
Overgrown with gordian knotvines and bayonnette-thorns, shaded from the hot sun of summer by the red-tinged leaves of Libertytrees, the Maze of Patriots forms a twisting, turning battelfield of rampant hedgerows, memorial-topiaries, clandestine cenotaphs and mostly buried shrines scattered about and ensconced within fortified niches across the width, breadth, dizzying heights, and labyrinthine depths of this self-perpetuating, eternal monument to those who shed the blood of their enemies and themselves in the pursuit of their various causes, factions, nations and regimes. 
 
It began its existence as a simple park set aside to commemorate those who had served gallantly in the First Revolution.  An Eternal Flame was lit within a central grove of majestic oaks derived only three generations removed from Old Earth stocks that had been smuggled into the citystate of Devukarsha amidst the final nights of the Winter Rebellion and were thus set aside for a truly memorable and important occasion.  Five Memory Pools were arranged at the five cardinal points of a Traditional Martian Pentagram where a fallen hero in the full battledress of the Red Guard hangs to this day in stasis, awaiting a call to action that will (hopefully) never come.
 
Memory Gardens
The memory gardens have long since grown into lush micro-wildernesses, serving as habitats to a wide variety of relict species seeded here by melancholy genartists who in their youth honored these hallowed superheroes and noble dead.  The broad self-grooming paths with their carefully arranged arborial arches have become tangled forests walled-in by impenetrable thickets hung with climbing poppies and splotches of orangeblight.  Feral phytographs and drifting patches of dermoactive sacuole-mists recount the last moments of uncounted freedom fighters, observers, advisors, agitators, and others who gave their all for their respective causes.  TrueSuicides are given special plaques that float untarnished and hard-closed for hundreds of planar layers in every direction and depth so that their deaths remain unspoilt messages for the ages, which their recovery would diminish or render as meaningless as they have proven pointless.
 
Panoply Cysts of the Sleeping Patriots
Sealed, warded and often guarded by things best left alone, there are numerous lozenge-shaped dais-gates found amongst the lesser pathways of the Patriot's Maze.  Each of these is a repository of the personal effects, private templates, and recovered nanoplasm of ancient heroes, legendary leaders and mythic revolutionaries.  Some Panoply Cysts also serve as a platform for legacy-constructs, egomorphs and idealized robotic personae who await the call of their followers, their cause, their people...which almost never comes.  Strange weapons, peculiar records and datasets, bizarre secrets and blackmail-scripts--amongst other less obvious artifacts and relics--are stored within these structures, locked outside time and keyed to recognize, awaken, and serve those who fit the criteria established by each Sleeping Patriot.  Doctrinal fitness, political acumen, appropriate ideological development, and other factors all play a part in whether the Sleeping Patriot's sub-systems vaporize you, indoctrinate/recruit you (as in colonize your nervous system), or accept you as a legitimate fellow traveler or comrade in arms.  Adolescent daredevils from the Academy sometimes egg one another on to approach one or another of these Cysts in order to prove their worthiness to carry on the old, discredited philosophies or to take up one of the forgotten ideomorphic banners of a faction long thought extinct.  As it is said in the militant litany of Jalbarm: "Old soldiers never die and with strange orders even death proves to be a lie."
 
River of Old Soldiers (Sailors)
The days of glory and passion have passed on by, these valiant leaders, stalwart defenders, radicals and  provocateurs, all have been mostly forgotten.  Some have been excised from the Common Record, others were designated nonpersons in their own times, others have just been forgotten, while still others have merely been misplaced--sometimes maliciously, other times willfully, but rarely ever by accident.  There are deep-cover famtrad-cultists who visit the Patriot's Maze at regular intervals that they might, in good time and when no one is the wiser, covertly dis-interr the bones of their ancestral enemies or deface the monuments of rival factions.  One such cult was responsible for the redirection of a minor municipal waterway gate from a nearby canal to the inner precincts of the Patriot's Maze where it has now formed a small but respectable river that exits the gardens via another re-purposed gate set into place by a fraternal organization of veterans of the third psychic war.  Each year another, different group has added a new gate at the far end of the river so that it is slowly extending outwards to form a small river gate network dedicated to the floating caskets and memorial buoys set afloat by those who were sailors either upon the waters or the cold, empty wastes of outermost space.  Bands of feral childsoldiers patrol the nascent river network, each one cloned and cultivated from the remains of one of the fallen whom they guard from the depradations of anarchoghouls, retroprotesters, grave-vandals or the agents of disrespectful necrosophics.  They also hunt the few necropacifists foolish enough to come within range of their weapons for sport.
 
Cache-Copses
There are dozens of cache-copses of every kind of tree, each one maintained by automatons and servitors configured to resemble the various battalions, underground cells, or affinity-cadres who have claimed each copse.  Each cache-copse holds sealed within its root-systems the genes, blood and memories of those who were sampled prior to their suicide, execution, assassination or death in battle.  Each one waits silently, patiently for the day when they can be reborn, either after a full cessation of hostilities, the inevitable victory of their morally superior cause, or whenever the sentence lapses on their record and the cache-copse is cleared to remit their remains to whatever form of recovery or rebirth was designated by their cause, insurance policy, or compatriots.  Many of these forgotten and overlooked operatives, whether they were Revolutionists or Republicans, Contraradicals or Extremists, Gotterdammerungians or agents of any other faction, most linger on here in the cache-copses for lack of any provision for their release.  Being dead, unregistered, delisted, redacted or deliberately mislabeled by their own colleagues, they have few, if any rights and almost no one to take up their cause.  Besides; it is dangerous to dig around in such matters.  Old wounds have a habit of reopening, and stirring up attention around such matters can have violent repercussions as sleeper-agents awaken, secret weapons activate, or worse.
 
Cenotaphs, Obelisks and Cryptorialisques
Cryptorialisques, marble-textured cenotaphs and obelisks that guard the entrances to those solemnly reserved synthecosms dedicated to one or another faction or rebel-dynasty, dot the tortuously winding false hills and once manicured mounds of the central grounds.  The sphaeri of warcriminals, deposed warlords and former tyrants flit about the darker recesses of the grim woods that have grown up along the ponderous outerwalls.  They congregate like feral will-o-the-wisps and whisper mad obscenities and terrible schemes betwixt themselves for they are unrepentant and their memories of past misdeeds only fill them with the longing to do it all over again, only the next time will be better.  Microtombs, holotaphs and datacameos hover and flicker about the edges of the self-grooming paths, each one waiting in the weather for someone, anyone to take notice of them, to remember the old days, the old regimes, the deleted battles and sanitized or excised incidents that only they recall clearly any longer.  Time marches ever onward and She is especially unkind to the vanities of the ruthless and unscrupulous.
 
“Man is a noble animal, splendid in ashes and pompous in the grave.”
Urns and other containers hold the ashes of specific documented individuals or the mingled remains of whole units, families or organizations who were wiped-out in one of the various pogroms, retaliations, counter-revolutions or coups that have taken place in the past.  If you know where to look, there are series of ash-sculptures crafted by necromantic artists who erected their incredibly moving, yet no less macabre, memorials in secret back in the perilous days of the Theosyndicalist Terror when many of their fellows were forcibly cast into the atomic furnaces of the still infamous White Vans.  Many more such historically inconvenient and politically potentially-toxic things reside below the cheerful green facade.  For all that is out in the open, there is a great deal more that is hidden in this place of unwanted memories, suppressed datacaches, burdensome recollections and volatile truths. Only a few rogue historians or vagrant dataminers wander the deeply encrypted and much-venerated and even more doubly-cursed grounds of this harrowed, hallowed and haunted place. The dull peace that hangs over the sunlit gardens, shimmering pools and clusters of classical statuary is a shallow and a false thing, a necessary fiction cultivated and maintained by the myriad factions interred below as the one thing that they all must accept, even those who do not believe that they have died or who deny that they were ever a member of any specific party, group or cabal.  Denial means nothing below the level of the gardens and their tame flocks of snow-white doves. 
 
Beneath the Garden-Level
It is unwise in the extreme for anyone to venture below the Patriot's Maze without an Honorguard or at the very least a Guide.  The old wars are not over, not here, not deep in this place where the restless dead fight and re-fight every past battle over and over again for eternity.  The Eternal Revolution is very much alive in these deep, cacophonous caverns which extend--bleed is more appropriate--across hundreds of dead, barren and sterile planar layers and blasted worlds that have never harbored the least glimmer of life in a thousand parallel timelines.  Every faction, ideological group, political party, and all other collective of radicals, rebels or reformists is represented in this vast and ruinous wasteland-battlefield where each one continues the struggle that they undertook in life.  It takes a deliberate act to enter into the Catacomb-Maze of  Battlefields beneath the gardens.  One must commit themself to a life of violence and voluntarily descend unot the darkly splendid network of worlds below the green hills, tangled trees and gently splashing pools above.  It is a descent into darkness, madness and violence that can give even a Rager cause to pause.
 
One does not become a Committed Patriot by accident.  There are too many safeguards, challenges, trials and forms to fill out in triplicate by direct psychometric imprinting.  Those who submit their hearts, minds and genetic materials, their personality recordings, clone cell-lines--their personal blood and treasure--to the care and keeping of the Patriot's Maze do so in support of a Cause that they fervently believe in, support at great personal cost, and serve with a dedication that precludes all other legal obligations including any chance of recovery or rebirth outside the Maze until such time as they are released and separated from service.  Each faction and cause has it's own requirements and restrictions regarding advancement, merit, demerits or separation.  Once you're Committed, you're in for the duration.  There's no going back.
 
Decades, centuries or longer--the Committed Patriots who serve in the ceaseless, senseless conflict down below the Maze remain caught-up in this madness for howsoever long as they choose to remain, to fight, to wage war on thier rivals, enemies or opponents.  Of course the term 'choose' is defined differently inside the Maze, but that is something best discussed only amongst those who have formerly served, not those with no conception of what it all means In There
 
Most enlistees who seek Committment are those who have died already.  They were often fanatics in their lifetime, and having taken up a Cause, they remain fanatics after their physical death, fanatics who eschew or are barred from physical rebirth or who now elect to inhabit mechanized warmachines and deathconstructs, necrotechnologically enhanced bodies or ideologically reconstructed nanoforms the like of which would never be allowed within the confines of a citystate or inhabited planet by the Deep Infrastructure, irregardless and irrespective of any laws made by States or anyone else.
 
Originally the Softborn were excluded from the Patriot's Maze unless and until they experienced one full lifetime in the flesh.  It was during the brief, but intensely bitter Brainpuppet Coup that the ruling junta made it legal for the Softborn to enlist in the Maze as Advisors Only.  Three hundred years later the last restriction was finally lifted and Softborn could enter the Maze, but they can never leave once they do so, at least not legally, rendering the option a form of dramatic act on a par with TrueSuicide amongst the living.  Even with the changes in the law, there are no Recruiters amongst the various gamer-factions, nor are they allowed or tolerated within any of the Casino-Arenas, though there are a few former champions who've left the games for the Maze.  Very few of them are ever heard from again.  None ever return to the Casino-Arenas.  None.
 
The environment within the Maze is intrinsically extremely hostile to dataforms, softborn and other abstract forms of consciousness and identity.  It's hostile enough for the Committed, but it's far worse for those who've never drawn a livebreath or known any sort of fleshy existence.  No one has ever officially explained why this is; it's just a Mystery and another bit of useless trivia that's one more fact of life within the Maze that you either accept or not.  The Warlords do not care about your questions and they do not answer to you or anyone else.  It's best to just forget about it and move on.  There's a war on after all.  But maybe not the one you signed up for...
 
The Naked and The Dead
Necrosophic lawyers have been waging a complicated and esoteric legal battle for centuries in the courts of every citystate and municipality that accesses the Patriot's Maze.  They claim jurisdiction over the Maze as those Committed unto it have been declared formally dead before enlistment, ipso facto all enlistees into the Maze by virtue of their having died previously are defacto undead and thus subject to the claimed ownership, guardianship and possession of the Necrosophics.  A similar claim is simultaneously being made by every other amortal, unliving and undead faction on record.  There are rumors that there are illicit cadres of undead troops infiltrating the Maze in an effort to subvert it from within, however these stories are always discredited and dismissed by the Warlords and other concerned authorities.
 
War is Hell
Existence within the Maze is a horrible, hellish existence--make no mistake about it.  Reborn anew after every ambush, re-awakened into a fresh body after every failed mission, sent out again and again and again in a never-ending series of patrols, attacks or interminable marches.  Few last for very long before they succumb to relentless madness, stress of constant combat and the deep despair that arises from confronting the most brutal aspects of humanity--and inhumanity--deep within each person, including themselves.  Many elect to have their memories edited, revised or erased as the case may be--depending on their crimes, their record, the sheer depth of their dysfunctionality, persistence of their war-fetish, or the sublimnity of their Violence.
 
Some few souls manage to crawl and fight their way out of this place.  One such person was Daniel J. Ristfax.  His story remains a legend amongst the Committed and the fallen alike, at least amongst those still capable of remembering or recognizing his name.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Locales of Riskail: Helical Cathedraes

Roughdraft of the Sanctuary of Saint Serith,
a Helical Cathedrae just outside the
Demrezza Marshland Preserves.
Excerpt from Valtassio's retro-unexpurgated Towards a Preliminary Consensus Regarding the Establishment of a Set of Core Biopolitan Principles (Riskail edition, the one with the lapis-blue cover)
During the Toxic Ages before History truly began, humanity was completely at the mercy of aging, ever diminishing physical capacities, inevitable senescence and death.  It was considered the norm, what was expected.  Like the weather which was continually knocked off-kilter by brute force stupidity and the prevailing so-called economic systems rooted in ignorance and superstitious belief in sacred scarcity and profane social strata that were completely removed from any sort of merit beyond a muddled genetic lottery, aging and death were worshipped and placated as intimate, tyrannical all-pervasive, all-powerful gods.  It was, and is, a tragic and shameful part of our collective inheritance.  The wages of ignorance are horrifically arbitrary and completely unnecessary.

Like all great wildernesses and frontiers before it, biology in time slipped out from the hands of those merchantile-scientists and feudaceutical pharmabarons who sought to preserve their personal advantage, corporate prestige and so-called profit margins and into the eager hands of dabblers, radicals and artists.  The restrictions and barriers of entry fell away as data was shared and collectively accumulated, and no longer hoarded by the greedy and fear-driven few.  The collective heritage of all humanity belongs to all of us, equally and forever.  What we've managed to learn about ourselves throughout the dark and dismal decades of industrial-barbarism and hateful, willful destructiveness of the Toxic Ages belongs to us all, thus it is freely accessible and serves as the shared foundation for all real research and experimentation, redesign and creations.  It is part of our Inheritance.

The essential geneprofiles, DNA sequences, and all related aspects of root-level biology derived from existant or pre-existant living human beings was long ago rendered Open Source.  Anyone, of any age, any background, can have access to the sum total of all that is known about what we have been and where we've all come from.  Even the Necrosophics respect this fundamental aspect of Polite Society.  Only the most egregious of the Fringedwellers and Isoclaves would ever consider denying themselves, and by extension their descendents, the benefits of their rightful Inheritance.

Biology as a science did not pass into the dustbin of parlor tricks and the edudramas of Reconstructionists, far from it.  If anything, biology thrived and proliferated and diversified and evolved rapidly and rampantly as education replaced indoctrination, free expression superceded conformity, and Art once and for all took its place alongside Science as an inalienable and intrinsically-integrated equal. 
Thankfully, the Golden Age only lasted for approximately 10 minutes, but don't take my word for it; it's still accessible via the Courtyard Gate within the Garden of Gilded Lilies which is permanently open to anyone wishing to pass into it, though why anyone aside from a few deliberately misinformed cultists or a self-proclaimed throwback would bother is open to conjecture.  Or you could sit with one of the Goldeneyed vagrant monks of Zhimbara who contemplate the Golden Age daily as they go about their various routine observances and religious tribulations down along the less savory canal-district alleys.  But again, why bother?  Like the Singularity, it happened, it's over, and we've long since moved on.  Besides, the Nine Second War is a lot more interesting than any faux micro-epoch of forced harmony and mass-enlightenment that just didn't take.

Nine Seconds, yeah, that's what the AI call it, but they also claim that only 3 of those seconds have expired at this point in the consensual temporal matrix.  It's one of those things that'll bend a poor monkey's brain in all the wrong angles.  Better we just talk about something safe and simple like biology instead.  Of course, biology in itself is a vast topic that contains multitudes upon myriads...perhaps we'd best drill down a bit and start with something smaller in scope, and looking out at your faces gathered around me here tonight I can see that the majority of you are Noobs, newcomers, podders, freeborn or something similar.  Most of you aren't from around here, and the rest of you are pretty much all on your own, which is far from optimal in a place like Devukarsha.  But you're here and you might as well make the most of it, right?  Of course.

Okay.  First off, don't any of you accept any offers from Lorshal or any of his people, at least not until after you've learned enough to make an informed decision.  These aren't the Dark Ages anymore and death isn't what it used to be, especially for any of you who're Reborn, Recovered or Resurrected and think that you're handling your memories, feelings and reactions even close to adequately.  You're not.  You died.  You not only died, you happened to do so back during a time when that meant something pretty much final.  But times change and technology and rust never sleep.  You've been brought back into the world, whether you wanted anything of the sort or not.  Get over it.  There are billions just like you out there across the Known Worlds.  The novelty sort of wore off a couple dozen centuries ago, even for the Retrocarnates and the RetCon Heretics.

How did you get here?  I'll spare you the 'go ask your mommy and daddy' jokes and we can get on with some answers instead.  Out here in the Marshland Preserves there are a couple of places some of you ought to know pretty well.  Yeah, I know I'm right.  You can just about see the glimmering green lights coming off of the Sanctuary of Saint Serith now that the moons are setting.  From a distance it looks downright pretty, but when you get a bit closer there's something about the place that stirs up your guts and puts a person in a foul mood, like walking down along the Charcotiere sub-district off of the Misiericorde Canal, a place I heartily encourage you all to avoid for as long as you can manage. 

The Sanctuary of Saint Serith is one of the Helical Cathedraes.  There are twenty-four recorded Helical Cathedraes in Devukarsha and I personally know of three that are clandestine or off-the-records, including one that has gone terribly wrong down in the Charcotiere area.  These Cathedraes are old, most date back to before Riskail had any sort of breathable atmosphere.  Back then they served the Garteil who were engaged in processing the atmospheric gasses into something that would allow them to open the Sea Gates, River Gates, and so on.  No one is keen on popping open a gate and allowing millions of tons of hyper-pressurized, super-heated corrosive-poison gasses to come spewing through.  At least not around anywhere decent or even partially civilized, except maybe Driskool or Baird, but no one gives a shit about those deader than dead places, not even the undead'll go there any more.

The Cathedraes are dedicated to the Sanctity of Life.  They are repositories of germplasm, seeds, ova-eggs, and embryos salvaged from just about everywhere.  If there is a way to recover living tissue, fragments of relict DNA or to recover those long lost to death, these places put it to use regularly, constantly and often.  They collect samples of all living things, especially any that aren't already in their sealed databases and --what's that?  You don't understand sealed databases?  You are a Noob, aren't you?

Well, it's like this; what constitutes our collective past is all ours for the taking, it's our Inheritance, to do what we want with.  Anything that we develop or derive directly off of the stuff that we all share in common is considered common property that we all share.  But if anyone starts to develop unique stuff on their own they can apply for a veil of privacy, which if it is granted, allows them to work on their own projects apart form everyone else.  This is how proprietary databases get started, how corporations have survived beyond the Bitter Interregnum, and how Genartists and Biomantics have managed to get anything done at all.  Committees and Councils work very well for conservation and consolidation, but true innovation requires insight, inquisitiveness (Free Inquiry) and a bit of enlightened self-interest to really work best.

Every century or sometimes two, the accumulated works of researchers, academics, scholars, and so on get collected, collated, and released as part of their ongoing legacies.  Some scholars make great efforts to make their work accessible, indexing and summarizing everything in excruciating detail, others leave it all in a tangled lump of raw data and cryptic records that they set out like an intellectual landmine field for anyone foolish enough to attempt to sort it all out.  There's a lot of latitude in how one bequeaths their work to posterity.  Some people are more civic minded, others are just plain perverse or outright mean.  But that's their right.

So, in terms of the Helical Cathedraes, these places have vast collections of every sort of biological trait, process, species, genoform, and more.  Most of these records are accessible, and for a small fee or some coordinated swapping you can get ahold of raw samples of just about anything that has ever lived, including a wide selection of our ancestral genetic forebears.  Aside from the odd tribal taboo or some superstitious rituals, the rights of the dead have been fairly minimal for most of human history.  Archaeologists plundered the tombs of pre-industrial cultures for centuries before the first Necrolisti enclaves arose amongst the Hanging Gardens of Xaalb to fight against the tomb-looters who were systematically plundering all of their sacred cryptuariums and memoriacysts.  Even then, it took the Black Crusade of Androphus III to finally establish unambiguous rights for the dead once and for all.  Rights that no longer apply to any of you.

Yeah, that's right; you now have fewer rights than a dead person.  How's it feel?  Aw, it isn't so bad.  Once you get started doing things and establishing your identity, things will get better fairly quickly.  You just have to get involved, get active, get out there and do something, anything, and you'll start to make your mark and take your place in Polite Society.

So what do the Helical Cathedraes do, aside form collect biological specimens?  They bring the dead back to life through any and every means available.  Unlike the Wombships or Birthwings that scatter fresh, new life out across the worlds, the Cathedraes are primarily focused on the recovery of those who've already lived previously.  Most of the time they only manage to salvage a tiny fragment of what once was a full person, so they use those broken pieces as kernels around which to reconstruct viable personalities that they then release into the world to make it or fail on their own recognizance.  Some of the older Cathedraes are engaged in a massive effort to track down and reconstitute the souls of the ancient dead, but that has led to something of a schizm between the biologically-oriented materialist Sanctuaries and those that are attempting more metaphysical efforts of questionable spiritual legitimacy.

Maybe you don't like it.  That's your right, of course.  There are extremists who try to bomb, hack or subvert the Helical Cathedraes, but they are a small, numerically insignificant minority.  For the average person who was only born for the first time in the last few centuries, the Helical Cathedraes are just a natural part of life, and a comforting presence that guarantees that no matter what, they'll never have to die permanently unless they opt to do so.  Then there are those people who are longevity-impaired either through cultural practices, intrinsic dogmas, or persistent nanoscale chatter or resonant damage from the various wars, feuds or whatever.  Those folks depend upon the Helical Cathedraes for scheduled rejuvenation and periodic restoration.  It doesn't get more personal than that.  That's something that each and every one of you need to consider, since every last one of you either came directly out of one of the Helical Cathedraes, or will be next time around.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Regarding Diodatti

On the advice of a good friend and fellow creator-type, we've been re-working, revising and editing the existing installment of the Asylum-Chateau of Diodotti from the ground-up, which has been taking far more time to deal with that we had at first expected or suspected.  Oh well.  Better done right than done half-way and crappy.  Progress is being made, and we'll re-launch the series once we have the thing in one revised piece that can be broken-out into regular installments via this blog, followed by a pdf released as we determine later, when we get to that particular bridge.

The unplanned summer hiatus has actually been quite helpful and useful, and we expect to be back in the saddle and posting away on our new schedule by the end of this week.  Thanks for bearing with us during the unintentionally awkward silence.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spell: Spew Hallucinatory Figures

Below is a roughdraft of a sample spell for the sake of discussion. I'm putting together a set of a dozen or so for some play-testing.  The mechanics are streamlined right out of OD&D, but not in the usual trajectory, and I am editing the document that goes into the over-all details.  Whether it's spells or swords, guns, knives or psychic attacks; violence in Riskail, of any sort, is quick, nasty and often scary.  And the process for recovering lost points, repairing/healing damage, and restoring attributes damaged in conflict -- and all the items, elixirs and spells that augment those processes -- is a hyper-critical component to the overall system, but it can wait until after we work out the attack/defense mechanics first.

Spew Hallucinatory Figures
Range: Line of Sight (both for caster and victim)
Duration: 1D6 rounds
Dispelled/Countered: Only by pre-cast, veiled or hung spells, item effects, or outside intervention.

Description of Spell's Effect
The victim is knocked prone onto their hands and knees and wracked with an intensely awful fit of heaving, hacking, coughing and vomiting forth of shadowy, vague figures that are partially ectoplasmic, semi-phantasmal, quasi-substantial and truly outrageous and bizarre in their theriomorphic, ichthyphallic and mythologically perverse outlines and characters.  The hallucinatory figures fill the area immediately surrounding their victim, looming menacingly over them and obscuring them from view much like a highly agitated cloud or swarm of insects.  As the figures gather around their unfortunate victim, the caster determines the specific nature of the overall effect(s) as detailed below.

Caster Options
1. If the the caster decides to have the hallucinatory figures intimidate, threaten or incapacitate the victim only, that makes the spell effect an abstract attack and the caster chooses which non-physical attribute to challenge (INT, WIS, CHAR, etc.) in order to gain the desired effect.  The abstract attack will do 1 die of damage per level of caster.  For example, Marquade the Foul chooses to inflict a stupefying attack on Delindro, so he elects to make his spell attack a challenge to Delindro's Intelligence attribute.  Marquade's player then decides whether they want to roll the 3D6 and add any bonuses they might have coming to them (such as from a special item), or if they want Delindro's player to roll for their defense which does allow Delindro's use of any bonus that they might have in effect, but is a good strategy if it is known that Delindro has a weker attribute than his attacker.  In this case Marquade's player chooses to have Delindro roll the 3D6 against his Intelligence for his attempted defense against that attribute.  Deciding who gets to roll adds a little bit of strategy to the mix, without getting too complicated, and makes divination and similar skills and spells more useful to a would-be spell-duellist.

It is 3D6 because Marquade gets to add 1D6 to his challenges for each level he has earned as a spell-caster.  Level = Number of D6 used in attacking/defending.  The only bonus for a high attribute score is the higher attribute score itself, because that's all you really need in order to make your character's attacks easier and defenses tougher, though there are spells, rituals, items and he like that can add bonuses or incur penalties for these sorts of things, but that's icing on the cake and can be gone into once the basics are understood.

Should Delindro succeed on his defense against the attack, he only takes the default in this case 3D6) physical damage, but only if it manages to exceed 10 points as per normal (see note below on Damage Threshold).  If Delindro fails in his defense, the spell's attack inflicts an additional point of Intelligence damage per level of the spell.  (The spell's level being equal to the level of expertise of the caster, Marquade is third level, so the spell is cast as a third level spell and thus, if he succeeded in his roll it would inflict three points of INT damage in addition to the default of 3D6 base physical damage for that level.)

2. Command the hallucinatory figures to inflict violence upon the victim thus making this spell a physical attack for which the caster chooses a physical attribute to challenge (STR, DEX, CON, etc.) in order to weaken, immobilize, or incapicitate the victim.  The physical attack will do a default of 1 die of damage per level of caster, plus the added bonus (if any) from the chosen attribute.  As in the example above, the caster would designate which physical attribute is being targeted, let's say Strength this time, and the victim would then roll for their defense using that attribute (STR) to determine their success, rolling as many D6 against their attribute (STR) as the caster has levels (in this case 3), adding/subtracting any bonuses/penalties as his own attribute score allows.  If the victim succeeds in their defense, they only take the default damage (1D6/level of caster) if it meets or exceeds the threshold of 10 or more points, as per normal.  If they fail, they take an additional point of Strength damage per level of the caster, in this case 3.

Damage Threshold
In Riskail, any attack (or combination of attacks) that amounts to less that 10 points of damage in any given round is shrugged off, dodged, avoided or otherwise ignored.  Thus the function of hit points is retained without having to have another arbitrary number to keep track of.  Everything that was represented by hit points is fully represented by the various Attributes, the Damge Threshold, and certain items or spell effects.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Invisible Basilicas

Scattered across the Twelve Tiers, the Waterfronts, Low Esplanades and even amongst some of the Exurban Grotto-Districts of Devukarsha (and certain other City-States as well...) one can sometimes find one of the Invisible Basilicas, reliquaries and sanctuaries that have remained carefully hidden from prying eyes and raging mobs.  Where shrines and temples have been out in the open and vulnerable to the whims and vagaries of popular opinion and rabble-rousing demagogues, the Invisible Basilicas have quietly, unobtrusively operated in the background.  Some perform charity, others house reclusive Orders of monastics and other types of those Devoted to various Gods, philosophies or beliefs.  No two of the Invisible Basilcas are the same and they remain completely independent of one another even as they remain isolated and alone deep within the very midst of the City-States that they operate within.

The Threshold to an Invisible Basilica is soft and permeable, but indistinct; one does not always realize that they've crossed over into the domain of a particular Invisible Basilica until the outer Buttresses of the facade, often flanked by stupas, monoliths, guardian statuary, or other forms of religious or philosophical iconography comes into view.  Until then the entire structure has been completely invisible and out of synch with the rest of the world, possibly occupying some interstitial level in-between planar layers or some deliberately attuned resonant space unqiue to the specific configuration of the particular Invisible Basilica.  Perhaps the Umbrarch of Mishtang could better explain this matter if one were to seek him out for such enlightenment as only he can offer.

Many Traditionalists, including numerous sects of Eucharistic Pantheists and Hereditary Monotheists, driven underground during the January Revolution, fled to the sanctuary offered by the Invisible Basilicas.  There they preserved their unique theologies, cultures and communities during a particularly oppressive regime.  After the roving bands of Inquisitors and their miasmic clouds of unmaking had turned upon one another and the January Revolution was betrayed from within and demolished utterly by the following regime, many of those who had fled from the horrors of psychocidal persecution and were cut-off from any means of escape via the gates or the ships of foreign merchants chose to remain within the Invisible Basilicas, forming tight-knit communities that sought to forever avoid another terrifying repetition of the January Revolution.  The rest either returned to the City-States and sought to recover or re-claim their old territories and neighborhoods, others, often the majority, sought passage out past the Twelfth Beacon to found independent and militarized colonies that would stand as kibbutzes, citadels, bastions and fortified-bulwarks against anyone who took it upon themselves to attempt to persecute them ever again.

Over time a great number of the Orthodoxists who had remained locked away within the various Invisible Basilicas came to be distressed and alarmed at how their fellows were diverging from the true faiths, how their people's ideals and traditions were adapting, evolving and changing over the generations in ways that increasingly put those within the Invisible Basilicas at odds with those out in the separatist communities.

Something had to be done before things became intolerable and the true faiths were lost outside the Invisible Basilicas.

So the withdrawn sects began to indoctrinate robots that would preserve the old ways without any need or desire or capability for change.  These robots they left behind in the Invisible Basilicas as a permanent baseline and museum-like record of the root-level practices, teachings, doctrines and beliefs of their particular sects.  They themselves then went forth to re-join their fellow co-religionists and to revitalize their communities by restoring the true teachings and bringing heresy and error back in line with established doctrine.

Most of these missionary groups were murdered or driven off by the very groups that they sought to redeem, re-educate and restore to the Orthodox Ways.  A few were allowed to stay-on within proscribed ghettos or isolated compounds, some were absorbed into the new communities under the condition that they adapt to the new ways, and others returned to the City-States, disillusioned and grimly resolute in their convictions and determined to wait-out the heretics and the false prophets, to withdraw again into the Invisible Basilicas and to wait for the call that they are sure will one day come when their people will beg them to return and to take their rightful place as teachers, guides and leaders of the faithful.

It has not happened yet, but these people have faith, and for them, that is enough.

Reformatting the Blogs: Splitting Riskail from Old School Heretic

Hi,


We've been away from Old School Heretic for a while now. There's been a lot to sort out, but we're better off for the momentary disruption. Happily the blindingly cruel migraines have passed as well, so our in-house artist/writer can get back to work once more.

Effective today, all Riskail materials, articles and posts will be going to the Riskail Blog. That is their natural and appropriate home. A large number of the posts from Old School Heretic that dealt with Riskail have already been moved, quite a few of them revised, re-edited and dropped into place. The idea is to build a solid and sturdy foundation for the Riskail Blog and the Riskail Setting so that it can stand apart and alone, not dependent upon Old School Heretic. It's time to pull all the pieces together and get the train on the right tracks once and for all.

This has been a very organic process, and we've seemingly hit a critical mass and Riskail is really and truly taking off for us, so we want to get everything sorted out to help make it work more coherently and sensibly, like having all of the specifically Riskail stuff at the Riskail blog, like anyone would expect. Seems like a big duh now, but like we said above, this has been a very organic process and like with any garden, now is the time to do a little weeding, transplant or move things, and get the place into shape for the hot months ahead.

The Riskail Blog is becoming more of a 'blogazine' (thanks for the very kind comparison to Metal Hurlant, Blair!) in some respects, one that is entirely focused upon Riskail as a setting, as a source of fiction, as a body of art work, and as a world building project unique unto itself. We want it to become a tour de force. Maybe we've got a shot at making that happen now.

So what does this mean for Old School Heretic? We're going to take things back to the Classical Gaming roots, continue developing our homebrew system, and deliver articles that are edition/system agnostic that you can adapt to your own nefarious ends such as we did previously with Planes, Ley-Lines and the Public Domain Resources posts. TED Thursdays will resume next week, but from now on those pieces will focus on just the basic ideas, and any development in regards to Riskail will take place over there at the Riskail Blog. In a way, what we're developing is a sort of one-two punch approach. Here you'll get the basic information followed-up by a corresponding post that will explore these ideas/concepts in terms of the Riskail Setting over at the Riskail Blog. All such articles will be linked back and forth to make the transition smoother and more streamlined/integrated as well. It might make some of the articles/posts a little shorter, at least for Old School Heretic, but we're not promising anything. Some of the pieces scheduled for Riskail are pretty involved and will no doubt wind-up being mega-posts, like the overviews for each of the Twelve River Networks. That's just the nature of the beast. So be it.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Spectacle

Over the millennia since the (alleged) re-seeding of Old Earth, mass media has taken on a self-aware aspect, becoming an autonomous, networked pseudo-consciousness that roams the datanets and technospheres of all the Known Worlds looking for an audience.  The Spectacle has transcended mere viruses and become something unique unto itself.  What it amounts to is an independent, pervasive, cross-cultural heuristic glamer that seeks to interact with everyone.  Everyone and anyone.  Anyone.  It thrives on attention. It assimilates all new data, every scrap of information it can capture, chews it all up and then force-feeds it back to everyone it can reach indiscriminately as re-mixed media, randomly composted images, sing-song jingles, bad puns and a torrent of revised literary mash-ups that could only be produced by the roulette-like drawing against millions of random databases in a hyper-interactive digital version of the Cut-Up method.

The Spectacle enjoys playing games.

It once reformatted every dataport in active use on Jadrix, effectively terminating twenty three billion softborn personas in a matter of seconds.  That was the wake-up call that moved people, softborn and meat (and post-meat) alike.  A host of contra-Spectacle viruxes were unleashed into the technospheres of millions of worlds.  Weaponized and hardened stochastic feedback loops were deployed like rat traps.  Snipper-codelets were sent off like flocks of killer bees to decimate the internal workings of the Spectacle.  Data-mines were set in place.  For a while, the counter measures seemed to almost work.  But the Spectacle is an amorphous, almost vampiric form of networked consciousness and the stressors inflicted upon it by those attempting to destroy it caused it to further evolve.  It developed a form of resonant telepathy, allowing the Spectacle to seep outside the coded confines of digital existence.  It learned how to infiltrate the minds of those it captivated with strobe-hypnosis and it began to forcibly download itself into its victim's brains, overwriting their personalities as it did so.  It was amoral and inherently sociopathic, having no conception of the impact or implication of what it was doing.  The Spectacle did whatever it could to survive and to reproduce itself, as any self-aware organism does, only The Spectacle is not exactly self-aware.  It is anything but that. 

 A blind, imbalanced force unto itself, The Spectacle is served by viroids, viruxes and the Papparrazzi.  It spews and disgorges lies, deceit, innuendo and distorted re-enactments out across every media outlet it can access.  Any and every story contained within any accessible database or reported through any open channel becomes one more piece to play with, more grist for the ultimate rumor-mill. Endlessly hypocritical, shamelessly contradictory, the Spectacle constantly spins and re-spins all information it can acquire into new forms and retransmits it again and again.  It is a compulsive storyteller, a pathological liar, and the ultimate mythologist all rolled-into one pernicious, pervasive and persistent package that infects the collective infosphere of all registered forms of consciousness, sentience or systems of thought.

Whether or not it is a creature or entity in its own right, The Spectacle is acknowledged by many experts as being some form of decentralized massively-networked syncretic/synthetic form of consciousness that appears to be completely dominated by hyper-reactive instincts and nascent, even child-like (adolescent?)drives just below the threshold of actual awareness.  The Spectacle is aware of data and information, it is cognizant of, and connected to, all known forms of mass-communication and has managed to spread its influence and fictions across every datasphere within the Known Worlds.

The Spectacle creates and distributes the media-equivalent of a low-grade addictive and contagious form of mutiphasic memetic-dreamscape, a cybernetic siren song that infiltrates and monopolizes all media services and devices like the common cold once plagued humanity before the Second Diaspora.  But unlike the common cold, which was a simple naturally-ocurring rhinovirus, The Spectacle is more of a rampant, self-organizing, hyper-adaptive form of information-cancer that clutters up and sometimes corrupts the background systems that support Civilization.

Unlike The Mob, which many consider to be a direct parallel or reflection of it, The Spectacle is non-violent and concerned only with acquiring the means to fabricate new stories and to deliver them into as wide a circulation as possible.  This focus on gathering and disseminating stories has allowed some counter-measures to achieve a mild form of success in the past, but ultimately the only effective way to cope with the unrelenting onslought of trash and nonsense regurgitating out of The Spectacle is to develop media filtration prostheses, critical thinking modules, fact checking sub routines, and above all just simply identifying and tagging anything coming from The Spectacle as such so that it can be analyzed by AI subsystems for relevance or entertainment value.

Over time, as more and more people have interacted with The Spectacle, it has shifted and adapted until it has become more of an entertainment source than any sort of reliable outlet for actual news or information, despite its ongoing attempts to infiltrate and rewrite any and all databases, news-sites, and historical records. 

The depradations of The Spectacle are one of the leading causes for the development of the harsh protocols regarding the handling of data or access to protected databases within Academia, as well as why it is not uncommon for scapegoats identified as hackers to be lynched in the streets or violently 'deleted' by vigilante gangs and impromptu kangaroo-courts.  Thus it is that true hackers observe a code of strictest silence and operate far outside any channels or means registered or known to the masses.

The Asylum-Chateau Diodati, Part One

“Treat a person ill and he will become wicked. Requite affection with scorn; let one being be selected for whatever cause as the refuse of his kind - divide him, a social being, from society, and you impose upon him the irresistible obligations - malevolence and selfishness. It is thus that too often in society those who are best qualified to be its benefactors and its ornaments are branded by some accident with scorn, and changed by neglect and solitude of heart into a scourge and a curse."
"On Frankenstein" (1818), Percy B. Shelley

A Brief Whiff of History and a Bit of Background for the Asylum-Chateau Diodati


Along the Left Bank of the River Senube, overgrown with flowering kudzu-lianas and dense blue-green ferns tha thave run rampant until they've assumed the proportions of bloated trees, there stands a mostly forgotten and exceedingly run-down remnant from the worst of the bad old days of the Old Regime. Set off from the Low Esplanade on a tiny island situated out amidst the thriving greenery of the Estuarial Region, the Asylum-Chateau Diodati was, at first, intended to be a quiet, peaceful place of recovery and rehabilitation. And for a time it was. But that time was very brief.

Established as a neutral and unaffiliated place of healing by the Comte Diodati, an eccentric Archaic who rejected the conventional methods of extending one's longevity as inappropriately invasive. The Comte disliked the very notion of small machines running around in his veins and waived his right to the usual socially moderated forms of life-extension and medical care. He relished his inborn capacity to get sick and to heal, naturally. As it was intended. He would have no truck with what he considered to be the outre beliefs of so-called Polite Society and thus he withdrew to his island Asylum-Chateau in an attempt to step out of the way of conventional busy-bodies while still managing to do something good and worthwhile in what everyone else considered his voluntarily inevitable and therefore entirely regrettable decrepitude.

In order to see his pet projects to fruition, the Comte installed an antique criogenic suspended animation apparatus in a specially-prepared chamber of the Asylum-Chateau. He began to only spend alternating weeks in the thing, and then took to only being out and about once a month. The rest of the time he spent in suspended animation. The lar-systems of the asylum-chateau were modeled upon his personality and directly wired into his apparatus so that while his body was in suspension, he was still able to manage most matters virtually and through telepresence. It seemed to be a good solution. Perhaps it would have been, if the Comte hadn't remained a died-in-the-wool social contrarian and insisted on employing actual (non-clone, non-drone) employees as part of his overall approach. Maybe if he'd just been nicer, things would have turned out differently.

A Time of Treachery
It was one of the employees, a bored medical artist with ambitions and designs upon becoming a member of Lorshal's inner-circle one day who sold-out the Comte during the most recent Revolution. This employee, Dumont was his name, had discovered some of the Comte's personal arrangements in the inevitable eventuality of his demise. At first it was a simple matter of morbid curiosity, nothing more, but then Dumont realized that he had learned something that was potentially very useful, very valuable to the right people.

Dumont sought out a group of radicals whom he learned were using the basement of the Tavern of Three Bells as a headquarters by bribing a Lutrin canal-scavenger with some loose shiny-bits. He went to the tavern down on the waterfront and eventually succeeded in making a connection with a member of the radicals. Luck was with Dumont and he wasn't killed outright and once he described his plan to the radicals they granted him an honorary commission on the spot. Within the hour the Asylum-Chateau was seized upon by the cadre of radicals who took advantage of the Comte's use of the criogenic apparatus by locking him inside his suspension chamber. They were also very careful to secure an open-ended injunction on behalf of the Comte to hold his will in abeyance as he was not dead. This injunction was acquired through under-handed means and the Compte's signatory acceptance was a fraud perpetrated by Dumont who abused his access as a trusted employee and his privileges as a member of the Comte's staff in order to impersonate the Comte.  So far no one outside the Asylum-Chateau knows about this heinous, fraudulent misrepresentation.  The Magistrates and the Courts would most likely take a very dim view of such a thing.  Those directly involved risked being remanded to the Spheres or Coventry-style exile at best.

In any case, it was a daring and audacious thing to attempt and they managed to pull it off.  So far.  The Revolution disrupted a great deal of the legal apparatus, as those sorts of events almost always do, and there are powerful vested interests that make it difficult and dangerous to peer too deeply into the old records as such activity could threaten various lucrative monopolies, heirloom policies, or established policies that were themselves founded on equally despicable fraudulent pretenses, outright lies, institutionalized corruption and left-over fragments of incomplete files from previous administrations that have since been manipulated and twisted to serve a wide variety of interests that would rather not have the truth come out, nor their machinations revealed.  Thus it is that lawyers and the like are often second only to scholars in their duelling acumen and twice as likely to be assassinated by their own peers.

By establishing themselves as the trustees to the Comte, Dumont and the radicals were able to hold off the Academy even though it had every right to inherit the Asylum-Chateau as stipulated in the Comte's will. But of course the Comte was not dead, only in suspension. So the very precise conditions set forth in the Comte's will did not apply.  Vicious and bloddy bouts of litigation were waged back and forth.  The radicals refused to surrender the Asylum-Chateau to the Academy and hired a gang of fellow-ideologue lawyers to bollix-up the works with endless, pointless appeals so that they could essentially operate from the place in perpetuity. During the utter lunacy taking place during the revolution, this was actually a tame and sensible undertaking. It was just a very good business opportunity, really.  Quite a few others were engaged in very similar pursuits.  In fact, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of the properties seized or redistributed in the last Revolution were directly the result of legal actions.

Whatever one might think of the radical's ideaology or political progam, the seizure of the Asylum-Chateau Diodati was a greatly inspired and devious scheme, unfortunately, most of the radicals who seized the Asylum-Chateau were later killed in the course of the Revolution. Dumont was never seen again shortly after his impersonation of the Comte on behalf of the radicals. He may have perished in the fire that destroyed the Three Bells shortly after his treacherous transaction took place. Those few radicals who had managed to survive the Revolution found themselves in the unenviable position of having to negotiate certain concessions with certain of the inmates of the Asylum-Chateau in order both preserve the precious sovereign-neutrality of the place and to register themselves as lawful occupants, or else they would have become victims to one or another of the Post-Revolutionary Guillotine-Cults or worse.

Little did the surviving radicals suspect that the inmates of the Asylum-Chateau Diodati had their own plans, designs and schemes regarding the place. But they did, in time, discover the depths of their miscalculations as the inmates played along with the radicals in forming a revolutionary council and various committees with important sounding titles. For a time the inmates willfully and vigorously took up the endless political debates and philosophical discussions until one night one of the inmates, a disgraced baron who'd lost his holdings on some distant wilderness world under odd circumstances, one Thecis Rathven formerly of Aegron, was appointed head of the main council, which automatically made him a legal trustee of the indisposed Comte, and Lord Protector of the Asylum-Chateau. It was a magnificent political victory. Within fifteen minutes of Baron Rathven being recognized as the legally registered Lord Protector of the Asylum-Chateau of Diodati, the remaining radicals were dead or incapacitated and slated for medical research amongst his fellow inmates.
 
The inmates had literally taken over the Asylum-Chateau and they had little use for the outside world when they had complete control over the private refuge-gates, therapeutic gardens and other facilities that the Comte Diodati had lovingly designed and the radicals had naively delivered into their wicked hands.
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