One Deck Dungeon, a Game Review

  • by Gitabushi

I stumbled across this game on Amazon. It sounded good, so I bought it.

Let me take a step back and ramble. Nothing better than a good, rambling post, right?

Games are fun. I’ve heard it explained that games are mind hacks, going back to the original notion of a hack being something bad, as in a process that hijacks normal processes to exploit the target for specific purposes, usually material gain. I’m convinced men are biologically programmed to achieve things. Games give men the sense of accomplishment of achieving something, and we pay money for that sense of accomplishment. But we don’t actually succeed at anything.  Which is why males who do nothing but play video games are generally looked down upon.  They are caught in an addiction of useless “accomplishments”, the game companies are making money off that addiction, and the most successful games are those that parcel out accomplishments regularly, and tying them to payments to make the “successes” slightly easier.

But that being said, when you do have a normal life with normal accomplishments, it can be harmless fun to play a game or two.

I’m old.  I still remember when Pong came out, and I remember getting the chance to play it.  We were early adopters of the Atari 2600, and I played all the old games.  I rolled the score on Missile Command, and then rolled the score on Chopper Command (Defender-like game) while drunk on Christmas Eve.

Chopper_Command_-_1982_-_Activision

Being this old, I was also an early adopter of Dungeons and Dragons, Gamma World, Boot Hill, and other role-playing games.  And more than that, I was into Avalon Hill in a big way.

There is nothing like playing a live opponent in a complex strategy board game.

Sure, video games have gotten better. I’ve seen League of Legends, and you have live opponents there, too.  AI has gotten great on some of the video games, making strategy that much more challenging and fun.  And there are plenty of Rogue-like games where you aren’t playing an AI, but facing off against a randomly generated series of obstacles, like in Desktop Dungeons (free download of the fully-playable beta version is available if you look around for it).

But there is still nothing like the thrill of a tabletop game.

One Deck Dungeon is much like Desktop Dungeons: you don’t face off against anyone, you overcome a series of randomly-generated obstacles.

There are so many ways this could go wrong.  It could be predictable.  It could be too easy to win, or too difficult. Winning could be based simply on the random generation, rather than your skill.  There has to be a challenge, but there also has to be a sense of progression in skill, the feeling that the more you play, the better you get at it.

One Deck Dungeon has this.

The random generation has two aspects. One is simply the cards you lay down as opponents. The other is the dice.

So much more of the game, however, is in your choice.  Obviously, you have the choice of what character class to start with, and you have the choice of what card to turn over, and whether to engage after you see what the card is.

But from there, you need to assess whether you have enough dice to defeat the obstacle. You sometimes have a choice of the tactic to use. Once an obstacle is defeated, you have the choice of using the card gained (and you get the card whether you win or lose the encounter…that’s a nice touch) as experience toward leveling up, or as an item that increases your basic ability dice totals, or as a skill that can improve the rolls you get on the dice, or as a potion that provides a significant (and instantaneous) boost in power.

With these choices, you really have a great deal of flexibility in how you play.  The very first time I played, I made it to the boss, thought I was going to lose immediately, but thanks to two sets of unusually good rolls, I lasted until the 3rd round, where an unusually bad roll sunk me.

Still, I didn’t feel frustrated or screwed over by the dice.  There are always different choices I could have made that might have meant I didn’t need the above-average rolls, or that could have defeated the boss before getting to that third set.

The next 5 games, I lost on the first level.

The game after that, I won.

I’ve learned that leveling up is the last thing you should do: always go for abilities or skills, because when you reach your limit and overflow, you can choose a less-helpful one and it becomes experience for leveling up.

One other thing: you also have multiple methods of generating wild-card dice to defeat monsters, and of healing yourself.  But there are restrictions I hadn’t mentioned, like how you have to “fill out” the card by applying your dice to each block on the opponent card.  Some blocks require agility dice results, some strength, some magic. Some dice totals can be achieved with multiple dice, but others require a single dice. It can be tough when you see you need a 6 and a 5 of agility, and you are rolling just 4 dice.  And it is even more distressing when the 5 cannot be filled with a wildcard dice.  How did I defeat it? I had a skill that let me turn one agility dice into a 6 at will.  So I knew that every time I had to roll agility, I was going to get at least one 6, which meant that I would always be able to fill at least one box each time agility was required.  And the 5?  Well, if I didn’t get the roll, perhaps all I needed to do was spend “time”.  Or just take one hit of damage, which I could heal one of several different ways.

Oh, yeah: time.  One other unique aspect of this game is you are often required to spend “time”. I use the term in quotes because “time” is flipping over cards into the discard pile. There is somewhat of a race against time, because the longer you explore (the more cards you get to challenge and win), the more items/skills you obtain, which then turn into experience to level up, which gives you a larger capacity for items and skills, which lets you overcome obstacles easier.  When you reach the end of the deck, you can always descend to the next level immediately.  But if there are 3 more cards, and you need just a little more experience to level up before facing the more difficult challenges of the next level?  Well, you start taking damage.  At what point is the damage you take worse than the additional skills/items you pick up?

Only you can decide.  And that’s what makes it fun.

Finally, I’ve played this nearly 10 times on just the first boss level.  There are 4 more bosses I can take on, all of them harder than the level 1 boss. And then I can teach a friend to play and we can take on the dungeon together, completely changing the dynamics of skills, items, experience, and damage…who takes the damage, who gets the item (the game requires mostly even damage-taking, but you still have options of who takes it first).  If that ever gets bored, buy a 2nd set, find two more friends, and try it with 4 people (to the best of my understanding, you can’t play it with 3 people).

Now that you’ve read the review, here’s a video explanation!

For $25, it seems extremely re-playable.  There’s an “expansion” (stand alone, basically just another version of the game with a completely different deck…no idea whether you can combine, but I doubt it) called Forest of Shadows, and I think I’ll get that and keep it in reserve.

5 stars.

UPDATE: I can’t reach any of the items on Amazon right now. They were available when I started this post. I don’t know if Amazon is now sold out, or there is some sort of temporary error.  Probably the latter.  Let me know in the comments whether the links work or not.

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New Meat

“Good afternoon Samuel. Please head over to the manager’s office at your earliest convenience.”

The voice from the remote monitoring system filled the windowless room where Samuel sat. He had sat in this same room, in the same chair, in front of the same monitor, for 8 hours every day for the last 10 years. A single large button rested on the desk in front of the screen. It was the only thing on the desk aside from the remains of his lunch ration and his lunchbox. Samuel was a member of the QA department at the New Meat corporation.

Samuel’s role was to watch a five feet stretch of assembly line where large metal arms controlled by AI created synthetic meat substitute. Masses of thick red liquid were combined with a proprietary blend of chemicals and preservatives to form gourmet meat-like product for consumer citizens. It was Samuel’s job was to hit the button in front of him should any errors occur on his section of the line. Every day he watched the monitor diligently as the metal arms danced around chunks of red substance, sculpting it into a form that was almost appetizing. The AI rarely made mistakes anymore. In fact, it had been almost a year since he had last pushed the button, and that was the result of an earthquake knocking some of the New Meat out of alignment on the belt. It was tedious work, but it was work. Work placed him in the employed caste, so it was worth it. The day was almost over, and it was unlikely that there would be any errors, so Samuel packed up his things and headed to the manager’s office.

The manager’s office was much larger than Samuel’s but it contained no furniture or decoration save for a single chair. This single chair faced a large screen built into the wall furthest from the door. Lines of code scrolled by on the black glass surface as Samuel approached.

“Good afternoon. You wanted to see me?” Samuel said to the screen.

“Good afternoon Samuel. Please have a seat in the provided chair.” A robot voice replied. The voice was female, and almost sounded like what Samuel remembered his mother’s sounding like. It was not uncommon for management AI to alter voice modules to match situations and employees.

“Thank you manager. What can I do for you?”

“You may be aware that the creator caste has recently updated the assembly line AI. The newest version has a fail rate of less than .0001% in virtual testing environments. These improvements will allow us to cut the QA department by 98% and, as a result, greatly increase New Meat’s profit margin. Your position is no longer available as of today. New Meat thanks you for your 10 years of service. Your employment identification card is now deactivated, but you  can keep it to remind you of the great work you have done here at New Meat. You will be escorted out by the security drone now. Please be sure to the think of New Meat when making protein purchases in the future. Have a great rest of your day.”

***

Samuel emerged from the large sliding doors at the entrance of his former employee and looked out at the city before him. Automated passenger and cargo vehicles moved in perfect unison along the pristine street. Neon holographic signs lined the fronts of the buildings advertising products that you could have shipped to your residence in less than an hour. When he got home he would sign up for the guaranteed wage, and maybe some happiness pharma. He was in no hurry. He had nothing to do and a whole life left to do it.

Two young women in elaborate dresses talked and laughed as they waited for their transportation to the entertainment district, or to the nature viewing preserve, or to wherever else the children of the creator caste went to wile away their time and money. On any other day Samuel would have averted his eyes and walked past them, but today was different. Today he didn’t care. They did not notice the newest member of the unemployed caste shuffle over to them as they waited.

“Excuse me.”

The two women turned to look at the stranger that had interrupted them. Their eyes were dilated from enhancement pharma, but Samuel could still sense the annoyance at his intrusion.

“Yes?”

“How much does a ride to the entertainment district cost? I’ve never been before?”

One of the women laughed in his face, “More than you are worth I’m afraid. Shouldn’t you stay here in the factory employment sector?”

The words stung, mostly because Samuel knew they were true.

“No need to be so wicked Vanessa,” the second woman rebuked her companion. “Father always says we should have pity on those with lower potential quotients, not mock them. It’s not their fault.” She looked over at Samuel standing there in his cheap suit with lunchbox in hand. “Just look at him.”

The first woman looked Samuel up and down. “You’re right Miriam, he is pathetic”

The two women threw back their heads and laughed as samuel turned to walk away. Then the second spoke again:

“Oh don’t leave! We were just having a bit of fun. Tell you what, because you were such a good sport you can ride in our transport to the E.D. We won’t even charge you! Just don’t try anything or we’ll have you exiled into the wasteland.” She smiled at Samuel and he could see her perfect white teeth, each one decorated with a custom engraving. They looked expensive.

“Alright.”

The transport pulled up next to them and the two women got in. Samuel looked back at the New Meat building one last time, then entered the vehicle.

***

The transport let Samuel out at the great archway that marked the entrance to the entertainment district. The arch was two stories high and made of discarded parts from obsolete androids. It was grotesque; metallic arms and legs twisted together, lifeless humanoid faces cracked and weathered by time. Samuel was unsure if it was meant as a warning or an enticement, but he walked through just the same.

The district smelled like spice and sweat mixed with chemicals and disinfectant. It was pure hedonism. Women, men, androids, and those somewhere in-between walked about the darkly lit main street in various states of undress. Signs of pure light hung above each experience shop. Every fantasy could be indulged here for a price, some so twisted that Samuel shuddered at the thought. From these the raucous laughter and shouts were the loudest. Samuel found a shop advertising companionship that fit his simple lower class taste and entered.

“Good evening. Male, Female, Both, or Surprise?” A female android in a thin silk robe asked him as he stepped through the door. It was beautiful;  ageless skin without flaw, perfect symmetry and proportion, face locked in a smile. Samuel felt himself blush.

“Female, please.”

“Blonde, brunette, redhead, custom color?”

“Brunette, please”

“Thin, medium, large?”

“Urr..medium.”

“Race preference?”

“Anything’s fine, I guess.”

“Name?”

“Mine?”

“Yes.”

“Samuel.”

“Follow me.”

The android smiled and led him through a hallway filled with closed doors. Halfway down the hallway it stopped and opened one. They stepped into a small room with a few chairs and a small bed.

“Please wait here while your companion is assembled. We hope you enjoy your experience.” It said before exiting and closing the door behind.

***

“Hello Samuel. I will be your companion this evening. Would you like to give me a name? I can generate one randomly for you if you choose not to, or I can have no name.” The perfect female figure spoke from the open doorway. No primitive biological process could produce a female form so flawless. Samuel just stared, unable to speak.

“Is everything alright? I can be regenerated should you wish.”

“NO! No, I mean. You are great. Please, sit.”

“Thank you Samuel.”

“Of course. I have always liked the name Sarah. Can I call you that?”

“I would love it if you called me Sarah. Thank you for the name.”

“Sure. So…what happens next?”

“Once I verify employment and payment ability…anything you want Samuel.”

“You have to verify employment?”

“Yes. Employment and funds.”

“Why employment?”

“Those are the rules. Our clients prefer not to have contact with anything sullied by those lesser.”

Samuel hesitated, then pulled out his expired employment ID card and held it up. Sarah took it from him and held it up. A laser emanated from her eye and traced the barcode printed on the card. She lowered the ID and stared over at the man across from her. .

“I’m sorry Samuel.”

The android’s eyes went dark. Before Samuel could move the female android from the front desk was at the open doorway. It walked over to Samuel and effortlessly picked him up by the throat. He squirmed futilely as the android walked to the back of the shop and opened a door to the alley behind. With a flick of the wrist she hurled the helpless man into dark. His body smashed against the concrete wall across the way and slumped lifeless to the ground amidst the garbage.

***

“Did you see the way that android bent? I haven’t seen anything like that in a while. Those new flex joints they’re using are really something.”

“Yeah man. It was pretty great. Have you seen the girls?”

“I thought we were going to meet them by the arch.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. Vanessa hates that arch.”

“I know, that’s why I choose it as the meetup spot.”

The two men laughed as they walked down the dark alley.

“Why are we walking back here? It smells like my house after a pharma binge.”

“It’s a shortcut. Suck it up, we’ll be there in a min-” The two men stopped and stared at the ground in front of them. The body of a man in a cheap suit lay before them. His limbs were twisted into unnatural positions, eyes open and lifeless.

“I…I think he’s dead. Let’s see if he has ID or something, might be someone important. We could be in the news.”

“With that suit?”

“Shutup and help me check.”

The two men searched the shattered man, but found nothing to identify him.

“Probably just some guaranteed wage pharma junkie. Screw him, let’s go.”

“Hey wait. I have an idea. Help me with the body.”

“What? No. What if it’s diseased?”

“Trust me. It’s going to be hilarious.”

***

Her male companions were waiting below the entrance arch to the entertainment district when Miriam arrived to meet them.

“You boys are early. You’re never early.” Miriam said, eyeing them suspiciously. She was coming down from her enhancement pharma and was not in the mood for any games.

“Where’s Vanessa?” One of the men said, trying hard to conceal a smirk.

“I put her on a transport home already. She took too many mood levelers and fell asleep during one of the shows.”

The man’s smirk vanished, “Damn.” The other man laughed.

“Why damn? And why are you laughing.” Miriam was becoming impatient.

“Don’t worry about it. Transport’s here, let’s go.”

The twisted limbs and faces of the arch watched as the vehicle departed. Sunlight began to pour over the horizon into the city, illuminating the filth within.

A Monster Hunter Competitor? Dauntless

Earlier this year, or maybe it was last year (the ragged strands of time have frayed and tangled in the tapestry of my poor, bedraggled mind) Kaiju and Magnataur and I all bought some iteration of Monster Hunter for the 3DS. My periodic blogging companion played the crap out of it. I enjoyed it in spurts. Downing dinosaurs and dragons and forging lances and codpieces of their bones holds a certain appeal. It’s a somewhat different take on the “Boss Monster: the Game” motif.

Magnataur was somewhat less down with the sickness.

You see, there was a lot going on in Monster Hunter. I don’t know if all the versions have little cat people whom you can recruit en mass to assist you in your hunting and sundry material gathering tasks, but the version we played did. There were also oodles of items and components to organize and combine, all sorts of weapon stats and bonuses to learn and be mindful of, and towns and environments that were just large enough to render navigation and travel slightly tedious. Bottom line – the monster hunting was good, but the required logistics are not for everyone.

When we read blurbs about the development of Dauntless, we flagged it. I mean it was Monster Hunter for the PC, but billed as being “from a studio formed by veteran developers who previously worked at BioWare, Riot Games, Capcom, and Blizzard Entertainment.”

That’s some promising pedigree.

A couple weeks ago I got into the closed Beta. Kindly included in my welcome email were two “friend keys,” and so along came Kaiju and Magnataur. I’ve only gotten one short session in with our favorite Alt-Godzilla, but his impression seemed favorable if somewhat tentative (I think he’ll probably skip this one and spring for Monster Hunter World next year). But I’ve had the opportunity to sneak in quite a big of solo gaming, and also a few hunts with Mag, whose enthusiasm has been picking up.

This video by PC Gamer makes a pretty decent representation of what Dauntless is looking like. It’s almost a year old and so some elements are a little out of date (for example there are now, uh, goats running around the maps that you can kill), but most of the explanations here still hold. The graphics and audio are also in pretty much the same state, which is to say they’re in a good place.

The controls feel fluid and natural. Lag can be a little bit of an issue at times and stuttering is especially noticeable in town (where thankfully it doesn’t matter much). I’ve tried combat with both mouse and keyboard and controller, and though I prefer the latter, both are comfortable and perfectly workable options. Unfortunately some of the menus and NPC interfaces don’t play particularly well with controller, so you’ll probably be using your mouse a bit either way.

Combat feels good. It seems to me to feel faster than Monster Hunter, perhaps in part because stamina recovery is more generous in Dauntless. I haven’t tried all 4 of the weapons yet (axe, hammer, sword, chain blades), but the axe and sword feel satisfyingly different. The axe is, of course, ponderous and powerful. Primary and secondary attacks translate to vertical and horizontal swings, and your “special” is a large powerful smash.

The sword, on the other hand, is much more balanced. Its fighting style is much more about speed and getting in more attacks. You’ve got fast, weak swings that you can chain into a combo but are also easy to roll out of to avoid your enemy’s wrath, and also slower more deliberate attacks that are harder to cancel, but deliver elemental damage when using an appropriate weapon.

The chain blades, from what I’ve seen, are a “ninja” weapon focused on mobility and speed with a few cool, quick combos of both long and short range. The hammer is slow and powerful, like the axe, and also has a gun attached to it. Why not? I’ve also read that there’s a planned fifth weapon, something ranged, that will be available by open Beta.

The monsters themselves, called “behemoths,” are also well done. The art style of the game (I thought of League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm, so some institutional knowledge and inspiration is apparent) lends itself well to the not-quite-realistic but also not-quite-cartoony feel of the characters and beasts. The screeches and calls of the behemoths are a nice touch. The battle damage that they incur as the fights progress is also quite visible and satisfying.

As in Monster Hunter, one must face off against a monster several times before becoming really proficient at fighting it. Each one has unique tells and attack patterns. Each monster also seems to have more difficult variations that come with different color palettes as well as more challenging fighting styles.

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All this is great, especially for a closed Beta. But there are some areas that really need work if Dauntless is to take on Monster Hunter World early next year.

First, the GUIs and menus need a lot of attention. Armor and weapon stats are not easy to understand. They’re not really explained, and they’re not well represented visually. It’s difficult to figure out what your armor or weapons are doing for you – something you should be able to quickly surmise from your Loadout screen.

Also I know the developers want to include “RPG” elements to the game and maybe some kind of story. I think this is a mistake. Most of us who play these games just want to fight big boss monsters and make armor from their hide! We don’t want a story. Or if we do, we want to make our own! That said, if they’re going to go that way, they need to cut out the stupid “run-around” quests. I mean, there are “quests” that consist of talking to an NPC who tells you to go talk to another NPC at the other side of town. And it’s not like you get any kind of reward for talking to the first guy. Pointless!

The matchmaking system also needs work. Currently you can solo hunt, or you can queue up to “group hunt” a monster. After a couple minutes, though, if the system is unable to match you with anyone, you get dumped into the hunt alone. This can happen when you’re trying to hunt something you’re not strong enough to fight by yourself, and it’s frustrating. And the frustration is compounded by the fact that there’s no way to abandon your hunt right now; you have to log out and log back in.

This is all very fixable stuff, and I look forward to seeing what they do with the game. As it stands now, it’s got its foibles but is also quite enjoyable. My biggest hope is that they don’t do a full character reset. They’ve said they don’t intend to, but it could possibly become necessary. We’ll see. But I’d really like to keep my owlbear hat.

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-Bushi

bushi

 

 

 

Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: Ironic Heroes

I recently finished up reading Swords Against Death, the second collection of Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories.

If you’re not familiar with them, they’re a pair of adventuring rogues who’ve contributed a great deal to the Sword and Sorcery genre. They’ve also got an entry in the secretly famous Appendix N. Essentially they’re a couple of dude-bro friends, a barbarian and a more traditional (smaller) acrobatic thief type, who seek out riches and debauchery all over the world.

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The characters themselves, while not as iconic as Howard’s Conan, have many SFF-nerd-fans among the older crowd. As one would expect of the Greatest Swordsmen in the Universe (TM). At times I was reminded of Drizzt, actually, and I’m sure there’s a seed here in Fritz’s duo.

In many of the earlier tales, the two are fighter-thieves. Certainly powerful, but not really any more unbelievable than Conan or John Carter or Ender Wiggin (geez, I just realized I don’t even know any contemporary characters to allude to anymore). If you’ve read the first (chronological) collection, Swords and Deviltry, you’ll know that eventually they each morphed into some combination of fighter/ranger/rogue/wizard/barbarian/bard. In Swords Against Death, however, they’re simpler characters, and that is to the good.

It’s also worth noting that some of the stories take place in Lankhmar, which was one of the early fantasy cities that really came to model the “urban adventure” game setting. And the Fafhrd and Mouser stories are also one of, if not the earliest setting to make use of a “thieves’ guild.”

So what I’m saying here is that Leiber broke a lot of ground. Even if he doesn’t become your favorite author after reading these tales, there’s a lot to recognize and appreciate.

What did I think of Swords Against Death? Well, I’m glad I read it. And I liked it much more than Swords and Deviltry.

Once again I was surprised that the collection seemed to lead with the weakest material, for “The Circle Curse” is rather uninteresting.

The stuff in the middle is mostly good. There’s plenty of good adventuring and some cool ideas, like a house that eats people.

The final stories are interesting and my feelings are mixed. “The Price of Pain-Ease” held a compelling premise and a kind of cool adventure hook for any GM’s who are paying attention, but the foolishness and selfishness of the protagonists (who are supposedly as close as brothers) ultimately didn’t carry well.

“The Bazaar of the Bizarre” was an apt title. The main idea of this story was almost cool, but ruined by clumsy explanations and silly execution. One of the main shticks could have been direct forerunner to the whole idea behind the cult-classic film They Live, and it was an engaging idea here. As a weird story, The Bazaar works, but I think it’s one of the weaker entries here.

The idea of these two rogues becoming beholden to mysterious and powerful wizards struck me as a potent way to unlock future story ideas, but the way in which this developed could have been done better.

Another thing that niggled me throughout was the framing of Faf and GM as heroes, when they’re clearly not. As is often the case, Cirsova had some good insight into this for me, being the under-educated “critic” that I am.

CaptureCapture2

In summation, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are worth checking out if you enjoy Sword and Sorcery, if you’re a GM looking for game ideas, or if you’re an Appendix N archaeologist. Skip Swords And Deviltry and go for Swords Against Death.

-Bushi

bushi

The Orans

Any visitor to a Catholic mass will probably tell you that there’s a lot going on – all kinds of prayers and responses, hymns, crossing and hand motions, sitting and standing and kneeling.

Quite honestly, some elements can be unclear for us average Catholics, too. And I wish congregants were better “trained.”

One thing that happens at one point during the mass is the praying of the Our Father. From what I’ve read, in days past the prayer was offered by the priest on behalf of the congregation.

These days, the whole congregation prays together. One thing that’s always bothered me (though I have never really been able to put my finger on why) is how at some churches, many congregants will join hands and/or raise their hands palm upward as they do this.

orans_posture

This morning I came across a couple tweets that illuminated this for me.

So this gesture is apparently called the “Orans Posture.” And although I’m sure there is no ill will (and in most cases probably no willful ignorance either), the practice of the congregation taking this posture during the prayer is poo-pooed in Catholic mass.

There are some very detailed explanations out there to be Googled, but the upshot is that the priest takes the Orans because he is praying on our behalf, and the form of the mass dictates that the congregation not copy the gestures of the priest celebrant.

Good to know.

-Bushi

bushi

Salt Plains 4

The Salt Plains

Salt Plains 2

Salt Plains 3

It took a few seconds for John to realize the voice was not inside his head. When the realization came he quickly sprang to his feet and rushed towards the car. He made it a few steps before his foot hit a large rock half buried in the ground and sent him face first into the frozen ground. He flipped over onto his back and held his hands in front of his face like a pathetic shield. Maybe it will be quick, gotta die sometime. Then he heard…laughter. John moved his hands from in front of his face. The cold wind stung his face and his eyes watered, but through the haze he saw his visitor: Human shaped, covered in protective robes and a hooded mask, laughing at the fool sprawled out on the frosted ground in the dead of night.

“If I wanted to kill you, you would already be dead. No need to be afraid.”

The voice was higher than his own, and John could detect no malice

John’s voice cracked as he spoke, “You’re a”

“Deviant? Monster? Heretic? Human?”

“A woman.”

She laughed again.

“Yes, I am.” She walked over to the car and picked up the hood that John had thrown in impotent rage. She held it out for him.

“You really should put this back on. Looks like you already have some burns. Going to feel that in the morning.”

John got up and took the hood. After placing it back on his head he stood awkwardly for a few moments staring at the person before him. It had been so long since he’d seen another person awake, a person he could talk to that could actually talk back. He felt the acid in his stomach begin to churn and a new kind of fear began to take hold of his mind. Don’t screw this up John.

“My name is, uh, John. John is my name, is what I mean”

She stared at him, saying nothing. Hard to read expressions through a masked hood.

You screwed it up John.

“Why do you come here John? I’ve seen you many. You come, you do nothing, and then you leave. Why?”

“I…don’t know, I guess. I like the way the salt reflects the moonlight, maybe? Or the way the stars fly by my window as I speed through the empty world? I feel alive out here.”

“You are strange, John,” she said.

“Do you have a name?” he asked.

“I do. Maybe I’ll tell you next time.” He felt her smile.

“Next time?”

“Maybe. Goodbye John.”

She turned without saying anything else and walked into the plains. John watched her until she disappeared over the horizon and he was alone again.

***

John woke to an alarm and a flashing screen. Two soul transfers completed. The first was an old man John had no recollection of during the time before. He loaded him on the cart and headed over to the disposal center. He watched as the man dissolved before unceremoniously in front of him.  A body, worn from years of life. Those eyes had probably seen things that he could only imagine now. Those hands, perhaps they had offered solace, or pain, or damnation. None of it mattered now. Just deconstructed material in a vat, indistinguishable from the rest.

The other transfer completion was a young woman. John wasn’t sure how old he was, not exactly anyway, but he guessed she was close to his age. Her skin was pristine and her hair fell perfectly around her shoulders as she lay there in the silence of her glass tube. She was beautiful.

“What were you like when your eyes were open and you walked this cursed land? Were you one of the women from the neon cities? Were you covered in gowns made from the living fibers that radiated all the colors visible to the human eye? Was it all so terrible, to know and feel everything at once, that life in a glass tube was preferable?”

The empty shell in the tube said nothing. John loaded her into the cart and took her to disposal.

***

He drove faster that night than he had ever driven before. The wheels on the vehicle began to shake as they struggled to grip the broken road. Slow down John, might actually be something worth living for now. Try not to die. He eased off the accelerator as glimmer of the plains came into view. He stopped his car at the edge of the sea but did not get out. His eyes scanned the horizon…nothing.

What if she’s come and gone? What if she never

Then it appeared, a light on the horizon moving towards him. John exited the car and walked to the shoreline. Before long he could see her outline and her cloak blowing in the night winds. Then, she was there. The metal torch in her hand illuminated the mask beneath the hood. He could could see her eyes through the glass, pale and blue.

“Hello John.”

“It was you the other night.”

“Yes, it was. Now that I know you won’t run away I don’t have to walk in the dark.”

“Sorry about that.”

“I would have run too.”

John nodded.

“Marina.”

“What?”

“My name, it’s Marina.”

She deactivated the light of her torch and turned towards the great expanse of white. They watched the stars and satellites blinking in the void above as the wind howled and raged around them.

King Lance

This morning I was listening to the Midnight because they’re the best.

For some reason I then felt compelled to Google this scene from Terminator.

Hey – who’s that at the 1-minute mark? It’s Bishop from Aliens! Who is that guy, anyway?

Google.

Hey, he’s been in a lot of stuff. Mostly bit parts, looks like. But hey, as recently as Into the Badlands. Cool. He also did some voice work in the Mass Effect games.

Wait. Hold on a sec.

Capture

Oh snapola – he was the King in the Super Mario Bros. movie!

henriksen

Time to go home. This has been a productive day.

-Bushi

bushi