Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I'm Eating Al Dunlap first.

That'd be the 90s era corporate raider that came up with the bright idea of making companies more profitable by slashing benefits. Because what possible long term consequences could eliminating sick pay and vacation? Cut new employees' pay, and they'd have to work. It's the kind of imagination that sees oneself as the protagonist of a zombie movie, with a gun that shoots shurikens and a little red dress.
And what goes wrong is that your staff goes zombie. In fantasy land, that means they hunt you down and eat you. In real life, they just  become less and less productive, and you look at your disappointing sales figures and you think to yourself, "what could possibly be going wrong?" (People don't work, and because you don't pay them, they don't buy stuff, either. How hard is this to figure out?)

And I'm on a zombie day. Not a bad zombie day; first of two days off together, which the ancestors would call a "weekend" in their quaint old way. I've done my laundry, the vacuuming. And it does occur that I'm still lucky to have two days off together and that it could be worse. There are people at my workplace trying to work two jobs at the same time, and I have no idea how they keep going. I'd like to stop it. All I have to do is  find the leprechaun gold. I know it's around here somewhere....

So, two points: first, Zombie Day, do no work. Second, find gold. Which is work. How shall I resolve the contradictions of late capitalism? Post something I've already written (elsewhere) yesterday, because I was in some fugue state even weirder than today.

Or maybe because I was provoked by this. Which has the unsubtle point that lost cities are cool, and you should go visit one. Which, problem. Lost cities are lost. Sure, there might be a Club Med there to visit, but you couldn't find it, either! Sure, the taxidrivers or whatever could be on commission and you'd just ask them where the lost city is and they'd take you there. All sexy like. Sort of. But I bet Vegas is less work. And I know that lost cities that are actually still lost are even cooler. So I put together my own list.

1) Akkad. Sargon, King of Kish, conquered the four quarters of the Earth, and then built a new capital there. Or so the scribes say. Maybe it turned out differently. But the more we know about the Akkadian Empire, the more we suspect that this was a spectacular, full of cool stuff like this

 Too bad that old Akkad is probably buried deep under Baghdad.

2) Itjtawy. The capital of the  Twelfth Dynasty, renowned in literature, triumphant abroad, was the glory of the Middle Kingdom. Its location at the outlet to the flood catchment overflow basin of Lake Moeris, and testifying to the first major step in land reclamation by the Egyptian state. Befuddle New Agers with the very strong inference that it was the original Labyrinth. (No ancient European mother-goddess worshipping labyrinth threading for you, lady! Also, would it kill you to get rid of the old peace symbol on your jean jacket?)

3) Washukanni: Akkad and Itjtawy are probably buried under modern cities, not a good sign for excavators. Washukanni, chances are, is one of the vast number of unexcavated tells in eastern Syria and northern Iraq. The other untouched national capitals of the Late Bronze Age (Hattusa and Tell Amarna) have yielded rich archives. Hopefully, so will Washukanni.

4)Xiang, Xing, Ao, Bi, and Bo: Erlitou and Anyang have been archaeological gold mines. The lost Shang Dynasty capitals that come between them in traditional history should be equally rich. Or maybe they don't exist, and don't even have a cool traditional name like Yinxu ("The Ruins of Yin.") Whatever: there's a lot left to dig up in the Chinese Central Plains.

5) Pteria: Herodotus described this great walled city near the Halys river as the capital of the Medes, conquered by Croesus of Lydia in 595BC. The most likely candidate is Kerkenes, which has sent Classical historians into a tizzy, because Kerkenes was clearly a "Phrygian" city. I've blah-blahed about the potential implications before.

6) Pataliputra: Supposedly, we know exactly where the capital of the ancient Mauryan Empire was: at modern Patna. In reality, the very idea of a "Mauryan Empire" is a problem of nationalist myth-making. There really was a powerful Indian capital city that was visited by a Greek ambassador, but it was certainly not in Bihar State, but rather in the far northwest, probably near Kandahar. If we find it, hopefully we will find more ancient texts like the hair-raisingly ancient Gandharan Scrolls.

7) Srivijaya: Probably built on low-lying land in a tropical jungle, so there wouldn't be much left of the capital city of this early empire, which might be buried under modern Palembang. But once we have time machines, that won't be a problem!

8) Norumbega: Is there a lost city under Boston? Nineteenth-Century New England historians rather spoiled this legend by turning it over to an even more legendary people, the Greenland Vikings. No, there were no Vikings in New England, any more than on Ellesmere Island. Enough with the crazy pills, folks! If Norumbega existed, it was more likely the home of a mixed community of Indians and European "renegades" in the decades immediately preceding the arrival of the Pilgrims/Puritans. Why did they disappear? They didn't! Many of the ancestors of the prim and proper New England Yankee of later times were probably mixed-race Norumbegites! (Norumbegitians?) Once again, I've talked about this before.

There's more, and I could find them, but that would be even more work than I've already done, which is breaking the first rule of Zombie Day. Although apparently breaking the first rule of Zombie Day is the first rule of Zombie Day, because I've got to go do my taxes now. Soon. In a minute. As soon as I've checked out Yglesias again. And maybe Brad Delong.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rite of Spring, Finale

[Plastered to a hillside, the Champions 3000 and the Liberty Legion have had occasion to consider that real life is not at all like a MMORG.]

Amazing Spleen {Brad Neilsen]: "So we're down for at least a minute here while Mr. Wong and Miss Crudup recover from their beating. Then we're going over the top with the Champions."
Gun Girl [Jaime Neilsen]: "That was amazing, May! I don't think even the SD could have figured that out faster!"
Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "Nope. My sister is still the Great Detective."
Five Signs [Vijay Singh Kumar]: "So the guy in black was your great-uncle from the 1970s, who worked for your Mom's boss when your Mom was a supervillain who fought your Dad. Only your Mom backstabbed your great-uncle as a way of sending a fresh note to your Dad even though she ended up killing this guy who worked for her boss. Only he's not really dead because the other bad guy up on that bench is actually his resurrected lich from maybe right now. And he's using some kind of weird gizmo that was built by a super-science alien named "Sovereign" to change something that happened at this spot back in 2670 so that all of history will be rewritten in a bad way from that  moment on? Only then Kwan, or both Kwans, backstabbed him. And then the plan was to change something in 1899, only then there was the next backstab, and now it's the Kwan who is dead, only not dead, who is in charge, and we don't know what his plan is? And I guess technically, he's undead? How could you possibly figure all that out?"
May: "I didn't. I must have heard that story, like, a thousand times. Only without Uncle Kwan dying in a blood explosion. Not that I find that surprising or anything. So you hear what Jenny thinks about Juanita and Henry?"
The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]"A thousand times. SHH."
Jaime: "You don't have to always be looking after everyone, big bro. Especially not Nita."
Brad: "No, I mean shh:  I think they're coming round. Avenging Daughter, can you get Defender over here?"
May: "Why don't you do it? You need to apologise to him, Mr. Snarky Gorilla."
Brad: "Who are you calling snarky?"
May: "I'm snarky in a charmingly entertaining way. You're just Mr. Negative. You need to apologise to the grownup, over where you can't see that I'm holding Vijay's hand."


Defender 3000 [Jack Harmon]: "I had no idea that slaying dragons involved so much bodily fluid. Is it going to get any better when we go over the top?"
Earthnet: "Bearing in mind that I'm no expert on small unit tactics involving Mandaarian robots, mysterious machinery, and ancient kung fu liches, I'd say 'no.' Your Twenty-first Century allies would be the ones to ask."
Jack: "I can't. The Furious Fist and the Black Cat are still down, Kumar is too green to be helpful, the girls are spacy, and the Amazing Spleen is a punk."
Earthnet: "Some patience will work miracles with the girls. Well, with Gun Girl. The Avenging Daughter can't think straight now. And you can work with the Spleen. You just got off on the wrong foot."
Jack: "I told him he'd done a great job, and he mouthed me off!"
Earthnet: "He doesn't take compliments well."
Jack: "Everyone takes compliments well!"
Earthnet: "If you do it right. The boy has issues. Which I need to explain."
Jack: "What? He's a crazy from a crazy age?"
Earthnet: "No. He's almost normal. But you're right, it was an insane age. Brain disorders were rampant; five percent of the adult population with neurotransmitter uptake disorders. The thing is, that means that practically everyone else had behavioural tics from dealing with them, and the Spleen and his sister have pretty serious ones: overcompensated free attachment to Subject-Oriented Disorder."
Jack: "Oh. Like Daglo Laverne in Huner LaverneDiary of the Last Narcissist. I, uh, I'm not into Chick Lit or anything. I just read the book for the historical detail."
Earthnet: "Well I'm glad you read it. Makes this easier. Remember: 'Daglo can no longer hear the praise of the Placement Officer, only see and hear Huner, claiming credit with his flattery for Dayglo's successes, diving ever further into madness.'"
Jack: "So the Spleen is going to throw himself out an airlock if he passes a test so his coparent can't exploit his success as a defence mechanism?"
Earthnet: "No. Novels need drama. This is real life. Only with more werewolves. The Spleen and Gun Girl have dealt with one or more 'narcissists' all their life and have grown habituated to rejecting compliments and, for that matter, social success. Spleen is just more abrasive, because he's aggressive about it."
Jack: "So as long as I don't act like a self-absorbed, egotistical screwup, or compliment them or pay them attention, I'll be fine. See this isn't helping as much as you might think."
Earthnet: " It's a behavioural trigger, Jack, a matter of perception, not reality. They know that most people are normal. They're capable of normal interactions. The aggression and rejection come when they lose perspective. Unfortunately, they happen to be tired, stressed, isolated, and over-excited right now, and that means they've lost perspective. We don't have to fix them, just manage them. So you'll need you to preprogam your holographic projector."
Jack: "For...?"
Earthnet: "Isn't it obvious? To fake the Amazing Spleen's death for the Furious Fist. You see..."
Jack: "I get it. You're a very smart AI. 'Blah blah interpersonal group dynamics brilliant deduction blah blah.' Don't need to hear more about cave man diseases or your line of thought. I'll get Suit to program up some hologram projections, and boom! The Amazing Spleen blowed up real good. Might even be tactically helpful."

Furious Fist [Henry Wong]: "So, Earthnet."
Earthnet: "Yes?"
Henry: "Archaeological science must be really advanced by now."
Earthnet: "I can't believe that I'm saying this, but might there be  a better times for this conversation?"
Henry: "Not much we can do 'till the Champions' speedster sets off her diversion. You guys must have recovered pretty much every ancient artefact on this planet. For example, a greenish orb almost like an oversized pearl, with disturbing reptilian images somehow showing within."
Earthnet: "Like this image?"
Black Cat [Miriam Crudup]: "Goodness! The Basilisk Orb! Where is it?"
Earthnet: "In an ultrasecure clean room in the Lunar Citadel, where the Empress Marissa put it."
Henry: "Consider carefully: is there any way one of our villains could have got access to it?"
Earthnet: "Checking.... I never fail to be amazed by the elegance of Mandaarian programming. Yes. There was a tap on  the janitorbot. I've shut it down, but I gather that this is one of those magic dealies. Care to explain?"
Henry: "It might be the most powerful magical artefact on Earth, at least, in periods when magic works on the Earth. More powerful than the...never mind. DEMON tried to use it to change the future in 1968. We fought them, with the Sentinels and some other teams. I'm not entirely sure that we won. And I would imagine that that's what Kwan is trying to use it for right now."
Earthnet: "He doesn't have the Orb. I have it. Or, rather, a BOLO XXXV has it, as of five seconds ago."
Henry: "Then he doesn't need it any more for this mission. Is your diversion supposed to involve your girl being thrown through the air like that?"
Thalya The Empyrean: "Charm!"
Gavis Gan: "I've got her!"
May: "Can you set her down below and to the left? There's a ravine cutting into the mountainside and we have an ally there. Probably. Anyway, that's where he always hides when he's not ready to get in the trailer yet."
Henry: "What are you talking about?"
May: "Er. Time travel? Can't know something until you do know it? All shut up and charge now?"


[Jack Harmon takes in the scene on the terrace calmly, knowing that Suit is on the alert for threats. He's in brawler mode, suited to close combat with the Mandaarian robots, and he and Rampart can act together to put them down. The scenery is chewed up and getting worse by the minute with all the firepower unleashed on it. Infrared shows that Furious Fist is enraged. So is the Avenging Daughter, oddly enough. Is there a connection between the two and this place? It would be nice if her mysterious ally were to suddenly come charging up the hill and settle the situation, but that would be far too neat. And the allies have their own plan, even if it may well be aborted when the Furious Fist confronts the sere lich.]

Uncle Kwan [Wong Guangli:] "You know, I thought about warning my previous self what was about to happen to him. But then I wouldn't be here, would I? Though it would have been fun to kill Ma Tian myself. She really did have it coming. You were sweet on her, weren't you, Nephew? But you bounced back. I heard you ended up with some Gweilo girl pumping out bananas in Philadelphia. You know what? I'll look them up after I've placed the Basilisk Orb in my master's hands. It's been far too long since I spent time with my kin. They keep dying, you see."
[Liches should not do kung fu. It's just disturbing to watch. The Furious Fist counters his uncle's moves blow-by-blow. There's an air of familiarity to it. Jack has the sense that Kwan's confidence isn't bravado, that they've danced this way before, and it's never ended well for the Fist. And yet the Fist, too, seems confident, and Suit tells him that his Fist's eyes rake across the Avenging Daughter repeatedly as she fights Kwan's lycanthropic minions, assisted by Black Cat, Gun Girl and the rest of the Champions. Jack is more sure that there is a connection; still unsure whether it will actually matter. The Champions should have enough power to defeat all of Kwan's minions. It is just that they now know that there is a time limit. Did the Furious Fist mean to suggest that the Basilisk Orb was more powerful than the Mandragalore? If so, it had to be kept out of the hands of Kwan's mysterious master.]
Sage [Zes'arou Al'gari Vikon]: "Oh, treachery!" [3D Girl appears next to Kwan in the midst of the battle as everything grinds to a halt: timestop: Jack Harmon has experienced this before, when Arcane pulled it. It wasn't precisely stasis, because you could still think, and presumably, someone was going to get an exemption. Since it was unexpected treachery, presumably Uncle Kwan. Good thing Jack and the Fist had seen it coming.
Naomi(?) Hirsch [3D Girl]: "Miriam, Miriam. I have a time machine, too. Technically, I have yours. Don't you know by now that you can't trust a clone? Not even us! Rebecca was even going to betray me to you! Really, sell a gene-sister to some gametic accident? Our geneline has a gift to compare with Master Kwan's, I must say."
Uncle Kwan: "Oh, indeed. Who better than a time traveller to find the Basilisk Orb, after all? I gather that the real Naomi knows you in 2011. And your children. And their lovers. And as soon as we've edited the timeline, I'll know, too. You can talk now, nephew."
Henry: "You never change, do you, Uncle? One overcomplicated plan after another." [Behind, at the inner edge of the bench, Vijay and Brad pop up where there ought to be nothing but soil meeting rock. The top of the ravine the girl mentioned earlier, Jack wonders? It doesn't matter. They sprint towards the glowing machine, Vijay running with the superhuman strength of his legs, only feet away from the device in seconds, Brad falling well back. Not-Naomi turns and waves her hand; the boys are frozen. Now that's a problem, but the effect is weak, and Gavis Gan counters it partly.]
Vijay: "So I can't run. Problem solved, right? Wrong!"  [He seems so young right now, even to a 29-year-old's eyes. His smile is bright as the Sun, his every move lithe like a natural athlete's as he reaches into his Champions-issue tights and pulls out a dagger. Purely for show he throws it neatly from hand to hand, then hurls it, straight and unerring across the 4 meters now separating him from the machine, muscles rippling under his tunic. Kwan's machine explodes in a tictinic flair, engulfing Vijay as Suit fires up its projector and maps the effect onto the Amazing Spleen. It will only last a second, but that will be more than enough if Earthnet is right.

And it seems that it is, because, released from the stasis, the Furious Fist legsweeps Kwan into not-Naomi. They tumble into the time machine, the Fist kicking them down into submission. One last sweep of his eyes across the battlefield, until they lock on the Avenging Daughter.

Henry: "To know that I will be your father made me happier than I have ever been; I'm so proud of you, girl. And your sister, too. I will bear my guilt for the death of your lovers, always. I will be with you again before the end."  [The time machine glows gently and disappears, before reappearing with Rebecca Hirsch and a boy, a Mandaarian, the glowing hair of his head shining in the nimbus of Jack's receding hologram. Behind it, lying on an ancient, illegible, worn gravestone  is Vijay's burnt body, and, over him, Brad futilely, knowing that it is futile, pumping green, glowing light into it.]

Miriam: "Naomi!"
May: "Vijay!" 

This is the twentieth' installment in my Champions Universe fan fiction focussing on Philadelphia's Liberty Legion, and the seventh installment of the second arc unless I rewrite it to put it between "Jenny's End, Part Two" and "Jenny's End, Part Two, Two," in which case it will be an embedded arc.!

This episode at least doesn't use more  published characters from the extended Champions Universe. It does have two magical MacGuffins, the Mandragalore and the Basilisk Orb..

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Black Plague

 I promised the Black Death to a friend of mine, once. Tim Jenks is an awesome guy, so if you're reading this, and you're over there in Greenville, North Carolina, take his courses. (And you're an Internet ninja.) I told Tim that the Death would be a good thing, and that it would be too late to sweep away the old professors and make work for us.

And now we're in yet another Canadian election. And blah blah blah, medicare. The Tories, the party I very diffidently favour, are constantly in trouble for just not being pro-Medicare enough. That's what they get, you will probably say, for hanging with their American cousins, who just can't seem to get enough of hitting poor people in the nuts with rifle butts. (It's hilarious, and it'll start winning elections Real Soon Now.) The predictable response is that all Canadian party leaders have joined in a promise of "More Cash 4Evr" to Medicare.

Look. I don't disagree. But, you know, Black Plague. You've heard of it, no?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Rite of Spring

[Scene: A forested hillside on a line between the ancient ruins of Osoyoos and Republic. We've been here before, about forty feet below where a road once cut a zig-zag across the face of the steep slope, and another forty feet above, where the road comes back, still climbing. It's hard to tell just where, however. A thousand years of growth and burns have changed the place, and the road has shrunk down to a narrow footpath. And it is early in the season, and the forest floor is carpeted with green bunchgrass. Even the open slope to the left, so brown and sere in that long-past, still-to-come August, is vivid and verdant where grass and shrubs take root.    

Avenging Daughter [May Wong]: "'We awesome-sauce Champions 3000! We slice and dice! You  losers go low and stay out of the way!''" [May is not happy. She does not like kicking cute doggies until their snouts come out their butts, even if they are werewolves and it doesn't hurt them (much) and she is, in fact, a whirlwind of seventeen-year-old puppy kicking in the middle of an even bigger cloud of wolves and things don't look like they're going to end well.]
Gun Girl [Jamie Neilsen]: [As she fires five times in rapid succession, and silvery bullets cut through the wolf pack, dropping the monsters]: "'Awesome-sauce?' I'm telling Mr. Piccolo! Also: dragons."
Black Cat [Miss Miriam Crudup]: "Oh, hush, girls. The Champions know what they're doing. They probably will be through with whatever is going on up there before we've shaken all these mooks."
The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: "Not necessarily. I know that it's hard to tell through the trees, Xenovores, Warg Riders, and werewolves, but the bosses are probably only a hundred feet upslope."
May: "They're set up in the graveyard? Da---The Old Man is so going to kill them. And them kill them some more."
Miriam: "We worry about that when the time comes. Right now, we worry about getting my moonstone ring back. Naomi gave it to me, and I'm quite attached to it."
Jamie: "Don't worry: I told you I could do a boomerang shot. It's still in five pieces, though."
Miriam: "That I can deal with. We needed silver from somewhere --heads up, more aliens!"
Brad: "Suck life, yuck-faces!" [Green light licks up slope, shimmering almost like the aura of the grass between the trees that only burns the Xenovores.]
Jamie: "You're so weird, bro." [But she fires, too, as the fighters move up in skirmish line to take the stinger-waving aliens. Squat alien slugthrowers bark, not hard enough to get through Brad's defence screen. Yet. And before their endurance can be tested, May and Miriam are through them and back. The Xenovores seem to be losing their enthusiasm.]
The Furious Fist [Henry Wong]: [Hopping back down an open scree slope to the left faster than seemed safe.] "Shiny robots on the upslope flank. There's no easy way in from above the bench, either. Are Tridel and 3D Girl back yet?"
Earthnet: "Still not back in this dimension. The Champions will be a while beating the dragons, too. And those robots are apparently Mandaarian soldier-bots. If they don't come after you, I would recommend steering clear of them."
Henry: "And what? Wait for a miracle?"
Earthnet: "Wait for the bosses to fall out. The Solar early warning screen just watched one of the Xenovore transports hyperjump outbound. Maraud was on board, so that's one defector. I fail to see Sovereign going for a plan that involves changing history back in the 21st Century, so we can hope he'll be next."
Miriam: "And how do you know that's the plan here?"
Earthnet: "One of the plans. Sovereign's obviously got another. As for how I know, I don't. But I am very, very smart. And  time travel only really works if the timelike causality loops are closed. We have a straight eventual loop open to the 21st Century,  and at least two lifelines open to the Wong family. If events don't close those, than this will, um, never would have come to be having happened."
Henry: "Wah, wah, wah, we might not have to fight the shiny robots?"
Earthnet: "That's the gist of it."
Henry: "Good." [In a clatter of rocks, Vijay comes rolling down the scree slope, apparently headed for the river below, via the cliff not too far downslope. Henry Wong grabs him casually as he goes by, pivoting on the tree trunk he holds in his other hand as Vijay abruptly reverses direction and slams up against a particularly large boulder.] "Stop fooling around, boy."
Vijay: "I'm just lucky I'm nearly invulnerable. This new outfit, too. So how did you keep your feet coming down, old dude?"
Henry: "Practice. Catch a moment, people. It looks like the werewolves are bringing friends. Those would be, what, wyverns? Black Cat, if you'd like to join me on a quick scout around?"
Vijay: "I haven't seen so much over the top CGI since I last went to the movies in Delhi. Except this is real."
Brad: "Welcome to the life, dude."
May: "Any more of those cool drugs, Earthnet? My Mom never lets me..."
Brad: "Kinda the responsible kid here, May."
May: "J/k, Magilla."
Earthnet: "You can have two more doses of Sleepaway before I have to switch over to the military stuff, which I'd rather not. You're not getting any speed."
May: "Earthnet and my Mom, sitting in a tree/First comes..."
Earthnet: "Hilarious. Though I do think Ma Tian was helluva hot."
May: "Oooh."
Brad: "Wait. You know that Mr. Wong ends up marrying Ma Tian? Because we were trying to keep that super-duper secret."
Earthnet: "From me? Be serious. Besides, I've been meddling in Wong Hengli's lovelife since he got here. One of the ways this op could succeed is to stop the marriage. They're the cutest couple, but he's so repressed that she could practically wear a T-shirt with the slogan "Ask Me For A Date" on it and he'd still be be paralysed. Not unlike some other male members of this party."
Vijay: "Not me. We still on for next Wednesday, May?"
May: "If Mom buys my story. Brad."
Brad: "I still have no idea where you got the idea that your Mom would listen to me. As opposed to cutting me into tiny pieces when she finds out. Which she will. Also, Earthnet? I see what you did there. Butt out."
Jamie: "At least you can say that much about her now. Only a year-and-a-half time travelling and you're almost a grown-up."
Brad: [Fuming silence.]
Jamie: "I hope we have time to stop at the 31st Century gift shop. We need to get Jenny a T-shirt."
Brad: [Practicing "If looks could kill." Doing well.]
Earthnet: "Eh. Signals don't have to be blatant. It's usually a reception issue, and you just need the right smoothing or amplification."
Vijay: "Honestly, who programmed the ruling AI of Sol System to give relationship advice?"
Earthnet: "No-one. I'm a vastly intelligent AI with enough resources to have a personal relationship with every human in the entire system. How could I not? It's fun for me, and good for them."
Vijay: "The Computer is your friend."
Earthnet: "Go on, let your nerd flag fly. I..Uh. Shit! Brad, this is going seriously south. I need someone up..."
Brad: "Okay, gang. It's time to go over the top."

Henry: "Remind me to tell Brad that it's hard to be subtle and sneaky and hang bits of monsters in the tree-tops at the same time."
Miriam: "Do I smell skunk?"
Henry: "Yeah. Brad was thinking that it might keep the weres off. It's a trick he does with his biochemical manipulation powers."
Miriam: "Neat. I'll have to remember that one. So who are the guys in the clearing?"
Henry: "It's not a clearing. The guy in the open tending the glowing machinery is, per my briefing, the Mandaarian supervillain, Sovereign. The guy on the throne beside the pond is obviously a lich, but he also looks familiar. Which, considering how many of my relatives are buried on this bench...If the guy next to him in black is the necromancer responsible, I will be presently feeding him his magic wand."
Miriam: "Wait. This is your family homestead?"
Henry: "Uhm, yes?"
Miriam: "But you're Chinese."
Henry: "No!"
Miriam: "I... [Standing up], "I hear and obey, Lord Sovereign."
Sovereign [Real name forgotten by all who love the good]: "That's a good and valiant mind. I will condescend to let your friend with the mindshield remain down, for it will matter not at all, and I respect his courage, too. Truly, the best amongst you humans deserves cultivation of that feckless robot master of yours. But that can change, and once we have rolled history back 400 years and Stefan II sits on the Imperial Throne, it will.
Earthnet: "You bastard! Stefan was a maniac, and any other clones from that stem will be the same!"
Sovereign: "Ah, Earthnet. Do you know why my worm allows you to instance here and now? I'm about to close the loop of your life. Stefan was no maniac. He was a good gardener, who knew when to prune and weed. And you will shortly be his tool again, and a rather better one than you were last time."
Earthnet: "Umh, no. No, it's not, you Galactic blowhard. Don't you learn anything? Trusting the terrorists last time, and now these creatures?"
[Before Sovereign can even speak, the glowing machine blasts him directly in the back. In spite of his powerful defences and shining armour, the Mandaarian goes down on his knees. The shadowy man in black steps forward. He is a Chinese man in late middle age. The family resemblance to Henry Wong is obvious in his face. He is wearing a black, zip-up sweater with a high collar. He takes Sovereign by his beautiful, golden Mandaarian hair, and strikes down with his black, horse-headed staff. The knowledgeable eye sees the signs of the Eight Spirit Dragon technique in the blow that cracks Sovereign's skull. Reaching down with that hand and lofting the alien with the staff still held in his hand, the man throws Sovereign into the glowing machine, where he vanishes like some cheap time-lapse film stunt. Henry stares as what he suddenly realises is the worst thing that could ever happen to him comes to pass. Why, girl? he wants to ask, and the arrival of Avenging Daughter and the others behind him only makes it worse. He wants to attack right now, but he can't leave the kids.]
Brad: "Wow. Now that's what I call a doublecross."
May: "Is that ...your Uncle Guangli?"
Earthnet: "Exactly as I briefed you guys. Heads up, by the way. Wong Guangli seems to have control of Sovereign's bots. The Champions should be here in a minute, but it's on you to survive until then."
May: "Old man? Furious Fist? Go for him now."
[This girl is a foolish thing, he thinks, and a reminder that he cannot have what he wants most. His uncle is dangerous in his own right; has magic weapons and this mysterious device, and his undead ally. He would die. And he is not sure that that is not what he wants to do right now, and an Eight Spirit Dragon Master denies his desires, his urges. He waits, in a measured way, for when the times are right, because that is the way of self-discipline. 
He waits, and he thinks, until the moment is long over. Well not now! He will act on what might be! Wong Hengli, The Furious Fist, calls up the every bit of the chi'i in him and focusses it on one single power, and steps over the edge of the slope of the bench where his ancestors are buried, headed towards the man who killed too many of them.]
Brad: "Are you crazy, girl?"
Wong Guangli: "Ah. My pertinacious nephew. So fortunate that we were able to arrange for your presence in this timeline. Well, enjoy it, because shortly we will have edited the past. You will never have been, and the first great treason of my life will be as deliciously complete as any I've carried off since. Do you  like my sweater?"
Henry: "Yes, I do quite like it. I've told Ma Tian that." [Henry steps forward cautiously, in a fighting crouch.]
Wong Guangli: "My staff is a gift from that same girl, and I think that I will show her my staff after I'm done showing you hers.." [He moves to swing at Henry, and stops, his eyes bulging out, as the horsehead on the staff twists around and bites him. Great drops of blood sweat through the weave of the sweater as the evil old man's eyes bulge and then explode. His corpse barely makes a sound as it strikes the ground. In the distance, a stallion's call booms out. The lich and the machine blast Henry, but the Eight Dragon Shield that he has boosted holds, barely, as he vaults back under cover.]
May: "Wow. Now I see where Jenny gets that two-faced bitch side from."
Brad: "What?"
May: "Nothing. Forget I said it."
Brad: "Not going to happen."
May: "Think the Lion Stallion is going to show up?"
Jamie: "I hope so! I got sugar cubes from Earthnet!"
Brad: "So, about who Jenny might be manipulating...."
Henry [Leaping down from the bench onto the slope where the rest of the party is still standing]: "Down, down! Take cover! The robots are coming! And that lich is pretty mad, too."
Earthnet: "Who is the lich, exactly?"
Henry: "My Uncle Guangli, believe it or not."
Earthnet: "Well, it makes more sense now that he's dead. You'd think he'd have known what was coming, though."
Henry: "So not only do you know how time travel works, you've got raising the undead figured out now, too?"
Earthnet: "Burned. Black Cat?"
Miriam: "I hate mind control. I'm going to have to look into a mind shield when I get back to 1951. As for the question: look, it's time travel. The lich couldn't know what was going to happen, because it hadn't happened yet. Yes, that means that its memories of its own death were lost in the resurrection process. But if you can't cope with backwards causation, you really aren't ready for time travel yet."
Jamie: "Here comes the robots; and the Champions are still making explosions over the other side of the valley. This would be a great time for your time machine to start working again, ma'am."
Miriam: "No such luck. Though I can probably put up a comlink with the other node of this loop if anyone needs to make one last random crank phonecall before they die. Prince Albert in a can, anyone?"
Brad: "Probably not random, actually. Can I call someone?"
May: "Go for it, Brad!"
Jamie: "About time, bro!"
Brad: "Oh God. Oh God. Oh God oh God oh God."
Vijay: "There's no need to make such a big deal of asking a girl out, Brad. Just ask her if she wants to have a chai sometime."
Henry: "Go for it, kid! She'd be crazy to say no. Although I can't help thinking that I'm missing something here."
Miriam: "Never you mind, Henry Wong. Now let's move along and see if we can delay those robots on the upper trail. They'll be a lot more dangerous when they link up with the lich."

To be continued.

March: Werewolves and Minecraft

I really try to make it over to see the boy and the girl (and my sister) more than once a month. But time goes so quickly when you're a procrastinator, and I procrastinate about more important things than this. (Of which there are not many in my life.)

The girl now likes the tango and tried to play along to this song (and others) on a guitar and her recorder. She'd probably benefit from lessons, but whether she'd put up with something so structured is another question.

The boy, who set the precedent in terms of resisting structure and lessons, is now a Minecraft addict. I know. Well, the worlds that he creates and orders are probably a comfort when the adults around him cannot do the same.