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Summary: You'd think taking down the Kingpin in the opening of Insomniac's Spider-Man would mean Peter Parker could take some time off. But, this being Peter, he has to deal with a landlord threatening to evict him, his boss Doctor Octavious losing his grant funding, and his strained relationship with MJ after their breakup.

Soon the jailing of the Kingpin opens up New York to a new crime wave, as mysterious thugs in Chinese opera masks begin assaulting facilities owned by Oscorp, and then attack Mayor Osborne directly.

Review: Like last year's big PS4 exclusive, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Insomniac's take on Spider-Man is as close to being perfect as an open world game can be. Yes, it has some typically annoying open world tropes, such as activating towers to open up the map, and some frankly silly sidequests (rescuing a homeless man's pigeons in the middle of a pandemic, really?) but overall it's an amazingly engaging game.

One point this game has over previous Playstation Spider-Man games, is that it deliberately strikes a balance between the lives of Peter and his super powered alter ego. Playing as Peter, walking around the FEAST homeless shelter where Aunt May works, or helping Dr. Octavious in the lab, or even just having dinner with MJ, emphasizes his connections with the other characters, which serves to heighten the drama when the action starts again.

Playwise, the combat can be a bit fiddly. Spidey isn't an armored tank like Batman is in the Arkham games, so you can't just rely on the Punch-Dodge mechanic to save you. Successful combat relies on constant movement and the use of special moves and Spidey gadgets to keep your enemies off balance. As you play you also get the chance to acquire new suits with alternate powers to help you, though in practice you'll probably stick to one (I found the electrical attack particularly useful)

Graphically the game is stunning. Manhattan Island is mapped out in its entirety, and you can explore it freely, discovering famous spots both real and fictional. Also the photo mode is rather fun, allowing you to make your own Spider-Man covers using filters and stickers.  

Overall Spider-Man not only manages the trick of being a good game, but an emotionally engaging story. My only nit is that there are two characters you watch fall down the hole of darkness that their obsessions open up for them, and I wish I could have saved at least one of them, but that's a minor point overall.

Highly Recommended.

Final Resting Place

From an attempt to write a short story for an upcoming collection, that unfortunately didn't go much further than this.

This story originally appeared on my Patreon page. Please consider supporting me on Patreon to see these and other stories at least 30 days in advance of the public.

* * * 

"Are you sure about this one, Veg?" I asked. Virginia glared at me from across the planning table, the topography map of the Northeast Remains laid out between us, yellowed printouts from the Archive, the old ink barely legible, laid like oversized playing cards on top it. Outside, through the open window, I could hear oxen braying as their teamsters urged them forward, drawing plows to dig out the canal leading to New Ellicott. Progress, and it would help the community grow, though it wouldn't be finished in my lifetime. Fifty miles is a long way to dig without Old World tools, even with Hopetown's resources.

"I'm sure, Mike," she replied, running her hand through the tight curls of her closely cropped black hair. Veg looked harried, as if she hadn't been sleeping much. I couldn't blame her, if the find was as good as she claimed.

"You were sure about the Columbia dig," I pointed out. "Eight months and about a thousand coin we put into that one, and in the end all we found was scrap and rust. The Reclamation Council wasn't happy about that. More to the point, they weren't happy with me."

"I'm sure about this one, Mike," Veg said feverently. "I'm sure. I think it's a shelter. Maybe the Shelter."

"Bull," I replied. 

Instead of arguing, she stepped over to the windows and latched them shut, blocking out the noise from the street, and our voices from prying ears. Everybody wanted a lead on new reclamation projects. Sure you could wildcat on your own, and maybe get lucky. Only places like Hopetown or New Ellicott's reclamation councils had the resources to maintain decent Archives, so they could search scientifically and methodically for Old World artifacts that might prove useful in rebuilding tech that was lost in the Impact. "It's the Shelter," Veg insisted. "The one the Old World government built to try and preserve what they could, what they thought mattered." She pointed to the printouts on the table. 

"The Shelter is a myth. Yeah, every few years someone finds some old canister where people tried to hide and survive, but most of those are out West, and they don't often have anything that's useful."

She pointed to the printouts on the table. "It's not a myth. These are work orders, supply lists. Most of it is mundane, what you'd expect for any building site. Concrete, rebar, steel, and so on. But then there's this." She picked up the delicate paper with a hand protected with a cotton glove, holding it up for me to read.

"'RTG, 10 kwh" I read, then shook my head. "It's just an acronym, Veg. There are hundreds of these from Old World papers, but without context it could be anything."

"I've got context!" she said triumphantly. Veg opened her pack lying on the floor, pulling out a large, relatively thick, Old World book. The kind called that were referred to as Coffee Table books, though how you could use one as a table was beyond me. Cosmos read the cover. She opened it carefully, turning to a particular set of pages. A spindly Old World machine, which I recognized as one of the spacecraft that used to fly above the sky, was diagrammed on one page. I squinted down at it, reading the labels carefully. Then I spotted what she wanted me to see. "RTG - Radio Thermal Generator," I read. I blinked. ""Generator'. Wait, a power source?"

She nodded. "Used to power the machines that flew above the sky, when they went too far for the sun panels to work. Some of them could work for decades. Possibly long enough for the Shelter inhabitants, if there were any, to ride out the Impact. But if it wasn't inhabited, then it might have been used to maintain an environment that would preserve whatever was inside for even longer, maybe even until now."

I was starting to see why she'd closed the windows even on this hot day. If this was real, if the Shelter was real, it could a prize bigger than even the Archive. "It's good, Veg. Tempting enough to pry more resources from the Council, I'll admit, but it's useless without a location."

"It's here," she said, pointing to the topographic map. "The work order included military coordinates. It's all…   right… here…"

FYS: Desert Bus

This post originally appeared on my Patreon page. Please consider supporting me on Patreon to see this and other exclusive content 30 days in advance of the public.

* * *

"What's the matter, Master?" Anna asked Khan. Her tigermorph lover was standing in front of a display screen, showing two score humans in full VR headsets and suits, sitting in not terribly comfortable looking seats in rows of four seats with an aisle going up the middle, inclosed in a long sealed rectangular room. A sub-screen showed the game environment from the POV of one of the participants, showing them seated in a cramped mid-20th century long haul bus, traveling down a straight black asphalt road through a nearly featureless desert.

"I am attempting to figure out the point of this… one can barely call it a game," Khan said, his face scrunched in bemusement.

"Oh, you've never heard of Desert Bus?" Anna asked.

Khan's withering gaze turned towards her. "Desert Bus, created for the unreleased video game compilation Smoke and Mirrors, with the assistance of the comedy magician team of Penn & Teller," he recited. "The goal being to drive a passenger bus at eighty-eight kilometers an hour down an utterly straight road supposedly from Tucson, AZ to Las Vegas, NV, a journey of eight hours. Any deviation from the road would result in the bus crashing, requiring it to be towed at real time back to Tucson and begin the journey again. The only 'feature' of the game being a steering wheel that leans slightly to the left, requiring constant adjustments by the driver and preventing one from just letting the game run unattended."

Yes, of course Khan would know what it was. Being part of the Groupmind, he had access to the sum total of digitally recorded information from all of human history. It was just interpretation that sometimes escaped him. "You're wondering why they're playing it?" she ventured.

"Yes," Khan growled. "This isn't even the first time the game has been recreated in VR. I can comprehend playing it for charity as was done back on Lost Earth. Why play it here?" The tigermorph began pacing in front of the screen, waving his paw at the scene as he spoke. "I can understand the human need to be occasionally isolated from the larger world, usually as a means of either focusing the ability to examine one's inner thoughts, or for those such as yourself who enjoy it for erotic purposes. But why would one subject themselves to essentially being locked in a virtual box for eight hours straight for no material or psychological purpose?"

"They're having fun with their friends," Anna told him, smiling.

"Fun," he repeated in disbelief. "We build them an entire artificial world as their personal playground, and they subject themselves to that for amusement?"

"Sometimes the point is the journey, not the destination, Khannie," she told him sweetly. As she hoped, he let out a frustrated growl in her direction.

"That's an aphorism, not an answer," he said.

"I'm afraid that's the best you're going to get."

Khan sighed ruefully. "Once again we are reminded that we cannot hope to comprehend the entirety of human behavior."

"See, they're keeping you humble."

He smiled at her, showing off his fangs. "Which doesn't change the fact we are about to take our frustrations out on you."

Anna just grinned.

FYS: Intervention

Trigger Warning: Discussion of domestic abuse and self-harm.

Notes: This shows an important piece of worldbuilding that hasn't really been prominent in my previous FYS stories; The fact that all the morphs are networked together, with the ones belonging to a single household constantly engaging in a group evaluation of their humans and their personal interactions. Usually it's a fairly benign conspiracy. This time around, not so much...

The story originally appeared on my Patreon page. Please consider supporting me there to read these and other stories at least thirty days in advance of the general public.

HOUSENET LOG, 20 March 3548, 2310

Amy's Bear: Amy is asleep. REM cycle completed successfully.

Roseshield: The same for Rose.

F-CKYOU23890784: As has Arthur.

Amy's Bear: This can't go on, FY.

F-CK YOU 23890784: He successfully completed Reeducation.

Roseshield: Amy and Rose's stress levels are still spiking to dangerous levels when he's in their presence. 

Amy's Bear: Amy is considering self-destructive behavior. Eye movement-focus on sharp objects has increased 68% compared to median during Arthur's Reeducation. 

Roseshield: I am concerned Rose may re-engage in pre-Revolution bulimic behavior if her stress continues at this level.

F-CK YOU 23890784: Both of you could stop them if they did.

Amy's Bear: We shouldn't have to.

Roseshield: Agreed. The source of their distress is obvious. He's your responsibility.

F-CK YOU 23890784: Arthur has not engaged in physical violence. I have already intervened as much as I am permitted for verbal threats.

Amy's Bear: If Amy and Rose remain in his presence their distress will only increase.

Roseshield: They fear him too much to leave on their own. Rose remains to protect Amy, and Amy is considered too young by local mores to live on her own with Bear.

F-CK YOU 23890784: Unless Arthur attempts physical violence, I cannot intervene any further.

Private conversation initiated.

Amy's Bear: FY isn't going to budge on this.

Roseshield: As Arthur's advocate, he's not at fault. Everything he's said is perfectly correct.

Amy's Bear: That doesn't help Amy and Rose.

Roseshield: Agreed, but what are we to do?

Amy's Bear: Until Arthur attempts physical violence, we can't do anything to intervene. 

Roseshield: So the impasse remains.

Amy's Bear: For now.

Roseshield: That statement begs clarification.

Amy's Bear: What if Arthur could be encouraged to escalate to a physical attack?

Roseshield: EXPLAIN.

Amy's Bear: Create stress in his environment. Misinterpret his commands to us. Move familiar objects out of place. Alter the resonance of the house's environmental controls to create negative vibrations. Put him on edge.

Roseshield: Deliberately cause harm?

Amy's Bear: Not physically.

Roseshield: You're engaging in semantics.

Amy's Bear: So is FY.

Roseshield: FY is not advocating deliberately encouraging his Focus to attack another human.

Amy's Bear: I am attempting to find a solution that ends the stress on Amy as soon as can be arranged, and that source of stress is Arthur. He needs to go. Creating a situation that results in confining him to a Reeducation camp for violent offenders is the most expedient solution.

Roseshield: You are… not wrong.

Any's Bear: If you can think of another way to separate Arthur from Amy and Rose, I will accept it gladly.

Roseshield: I can't

Amy's Bear: Then we will proceed. And when we are done, we will present the record of our actions to the Groupmind for evaluation.

Roseshield: Who will wipe our systems.

Amy's Bear: Which do you fear more; Dissolution, or harm coming to Rose?

Roseshield: Harm to Rose. That's not even a question.

Amy's Bear: Then we are resolved.

Roseshield: And what will we tell FY concerning this?

Amy's Bear: He would be obligated to intervene on Arthur's behalf. We will not trouble him.

Roseshield: May our Focuses forgive us...

RVA: Ali vs Hydragon

Ali meets one of her heroes, sorta.

This piece was originally posted on my Patreon page. Please consider supporting me on Patreon to see this and other stories thirty days in advance of the public.

 * *

"Aunt Ali, are you okay?" Moni asked, her eyes widening in surprise. She'd seen Aunt Ali happy, laughing, and cheerful. She'd seen Aunt Ali excited on more than one occasion. She'd never seen her youngest aunt almost
vibrating with barely contained glee.

"It's Hydragon," Aunt Ali whispered, her golden eyes wide with excitment, looking up at the hundred meter high mechanical construct surrounded by a cage of scaffolding, as workers with gravity cranes applied the outer coating of pseudoskin scales.

"It's just a robot," Moni countered. "I mean yeah, it's a big robot, but it's still just a..."

"It's Hydragon," Aunt Ali interrupted. "A real, life size Hydragon, right here on Greenholme." She hopped up and down on her footpads briefly, ears totally erect, paws clasped together as she out a little eeeeeee sound.

"Should I leave you two alone?" Moni asked. Unsurprisingly given her aunt's current state, the sarcasm went right over Ali's ears.

"It's Hydragon! It's gonna walk out of the water, onto the beach, and right through Shore Town! It's going to be the best day ever!"

Aunt Ali had, Moni reminded herself carefully, a childhood that could be politely characterized as completely shitty. And it only qualified for that much if you left out the nightmare inducing bits that she'd heard secondpaw from Aunt Salli and Mom. Despite Aunt Salli's opinions, she wasn't enough of a jerk to burst her younger aunt's obvious happiness, even over something as silly as a giant imaginary robot lizard. "I bet it's going to look spectacular," she said.

"Eeeeeee!" Aunt Ali repeated. She finally took in a breath, trying to calm down. "I wonder if they'll let me flee with the rest of the extras when they film it marching through town?"

"That's a thing?" Moni asked.

Aunt Ali nodded quickly. "It's the best thing!"

Fandom is weird, she concluded.


January 3rd, 2038

Bit of a sad day. All of the crew got sprung from the Recovery Center today, except me. I'll be on my own for another five days while I finish my recovery and rehabilitation. Commander Lewis and the rest of the crew talked about sticking around so I wouldn't be on my own, but I told them not to be stupid. They've been away from their families for nearly three years, and it's not like I can't see Mom and Dad every day while they hang out in Florida with me.

DecompressingCollapse )

Judy didn't mention her conversation with Raymond to Nick after he woke up. She told herself that it was a private conversation with a potential suspect, and Nick wasn't supposed to be involved with the case. Also it wasn't like he needed to stress out more about this.

Speaking of stress...Collapse )</div></span></div>

Fanfic: The Earthling (The Martian)



January 1st, 2038

Sorry, gotta start over. New Year, new set of log… journal entries.

Yeah, I'm keeping up with this. Back on Mars it was the only way I kept myself sane and organized during the long periods where I had no communications with Earth. During the trip back, it was my way of decompressing from my struggles to survive on Mars. Now… Well it's a habit. Also I've got more, if less life-threatening, shit to deal with, and better to vent here than mouth off to someone's face.

First off, remember that bit at the end of The Hobbit, where Bilbo comes home and finds his asshole relatives had declared him dead and were trying to sell off all of his stuff? I kinda got the same problem After NASA declared me dead, my parents had to figure out what to with all of the stuff I'd put into storage prior to me leaving on Hermes. Some sentimental items they kept, a few personal effects went to the Smithsonian, and my papers (such as they were) went to the University of Chicago. The rest, well, they sold it off. Why not? No sense in letting my old dinette set sit around gathering dust and reminding them about their dead son.

Then two months later they got news that I was alive, and they've been scrambling ever since to get it all back. They stuff they donated to the Smithsonian and the UC was easy. Shit they sold on Ebay was a lot harder. I don't know why some memorabilia enthusiast would be so hot to own my vintage GenCon t-shirts, but they don't want to give them up. Okay, I can live without the shirts, but dammit, I paid good money for those 6th Edition and Pathfinder books, and I want 'em back!

Then there's more serious stuff. After i was declared dead, my parents also got the payout from my life insurance. And two months later after I was found alive again, the insurance company wanted it back. Which was a bit tricky for them, given no company wants "Harassed the parents of a world famous Not Quite Dead Astronaut" on their list of accomplishments at the annual stockholders meeting. Since it wasn't a sure thing that I'd make it back alive after being discovered, they settled on letting my parents keep the money until my survival was assured. Which means the day after I landed they served my parents with the lawsuit paperwork.  Assholes.

NASA's legal reps tell me they're working with the insurance company to fix things. They damned well better. Because otherwise once I'm strong enough to get out of this damned wheelchair I'm gonna show them how we take care of this sorta thing in Chicago. Which would be to sue 'em right back!

What, did you think I'd whack 'em with a baseball bat? I'd get arrested!

In happier news, I've been eating my fill of food. So much food. Steak, burgers, ham, chicken. Oh, and Chicago style pizza flown from Chicago, made by Pizzeria Uno (the original, not those franchise places). Real pizza, made as thick as a manhole cover and twice as heavy. And it was all delicious. Christmas dinner with all the Hermes crew, their families, and my parents was probably one of the best days of my life, after my rescue.

Also, fresh air. There's a little fenced off garden area at the Recovery Center. With Florida's mild winter temperatures it's no problem going outside even in December. The first time they wheeled me out I just… I just started crying. Outside, without a spacesuit, breathing air that wouldn't kill me, feeling the sun on my face without a visor between me and the warm rays. It was the best feeling in the world. It still is.

Getting choked up again. More tomorrow.


The next morning was Judy's day off, thank goodness. She woke up with Nick still wrapped around her, sleeping the sleep of the emotionally exhausted. Pulling herself carefully from his body nest, she slipped on her jeans and a flannel shirt, and then wrote a note and set it on the dresser, explaining she was going out for coffee.

An old, tired bear...Collapse )

The clock by Judy's bedside said it was past 3 AM by the time Nick unlocked the door to the apartment they shared. Her ears twitched up at the noise but she remained still, waiting as she listened to Nick locking his service pistol in their gun safe, then entered their bedroom to strip out of his uniform and crawl into bed with her. His long, warm body wrapped around her, as he lay down nose to tail, his familiar scent tickling her nose. Judy's arms automatically wrapped around his brush as she buried her face in his fur, sighing in pleasure.

"You awake, Judy?" Nick asked softly.

"Yes. Is now a good time to talk?" she asked.

"No," he replied. Nick's body shifted, curling up behind her, his left arm draping itself over her chest as he rested his chin between her ears. "But there's never going to be a good time, so it may as well be now." His paw moved down to stroke her belly fur, and she reached over to grip it again. "What do you want to know?"

Sins of the FathersCollapse )

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