Friday, May 31, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 11.

Episode 11

The digital worlds of the nearby nodes were degraded as Lexel began to maneuver her way through the local connections. She had to move through tedious connections and narrow pathways to find her way around into the more familiar systems she was used to. At least the trouble meant that this virtual briar patch would also add a layer of protection; if she was having difficult navigating her way out then anyone else would have just as much trouble trying to track her back in.

Traffic pulsed around her in flashes of green that the wrecked terminal weakly wrestled with trying to translate for her sensory input. Lexel regretted the fact that the unit’s perception filter hardware must have been failing. She missed the higher resolution renderings of her old fully functional terminal. But she wasn’t here to enjoy the sights; she reminded herself of the importance of her task and punched forward.

A few more grid point jumps and she slid home into an old node she had drifted into once by accident, thankfully finding her backdoor still safely in place. The node itself wasn’t anything special to look at; it didn’t glimmer with the promise of a swarming data-haven or the shadowy draped tell-tell signs of a tar baby trap. No, she had made it a point to remember this little location because it made her instinctively perk up her ears.

Lexel had learned a lot in her nightly running through the nodes but most importantly she had learned to trust her own instincts. Her gut told her there was a connection here, a use that she could tap; this node was just to clean and placed neatly in plain sight. As she skillfully probed her way around she detected no traces of traffic of any kind, not even the typical clutter found on an empty place holder node. Curious she dug in a little deeper and began to look at what wasn’t there more than what was.

It wasn’t easy or quick, but slowly Lexel began to piece together a vague idea of what this node was used for. While it held no real information of its own, she soon establish a handful of others that directly received encrypted feeds from it that in turn rippled further. This little silent spot was a source; a broadcast point from what she could tell that had to be used for fight feeds. Lexel realized it was just a theory, but it was one that her intuition said felt right.

“Time to roll the dice,” she decided firmly and sent a pulse back from the passive node. Before she even had the time to worry about the possible danger of her plan a floating head of fuchsia appeared with a plain look of irritation upon it. The anonymous avatar stared into her, and as it did so she could feel scans already sweeping to probe the surroundings. Unless she wanted to be relegated as just another punk meddling with nodes for kicks Lexel judged she would have to seize the initiative here and now.

“Don’t bother asking how it was that I found you; it’s not important,” Lexel bluffed with all her might. “What is important though, is the fact that I have found a fighter the likes of which has never been seen before. And all he wants is entry into the games. Interested?” It was a gamble, trying to come off as some kind of hot shot but it was one Lexel hoped her limited hardware might actually help by not displaying more of her expressions. She was the first to admit that acting wasn’t her strong suit.

When the face finally spoke it did so in cold distorted tones that were anything but natural. “Another hopeful dreamer I see,” it proclaimed with a purr. “We shall see whether or not your fighter has the mettle for a match, but be warned; we do not take kindly to anyone foolishly wasting our time.” A series of coordinates were transmitted to Lexel as the face began to fade. “Be at this location by nightfall; we will see if your worth entry into the games with a little trial match,” it warned before the node itself went dark as well.

“Drama much,” Lexel joked before making her way back to jack out. Zero was hopefully still patiently waiting and it was beginning to look like they needed to get ready for a fight. A fight she had a feeling would not be easy in any shape or form. As she jacked herself back out into waiting reality she soon found a mild headache was already taking hold. Using a makeshift piece of hardware had its drawbacks, especially if its signal filters made the experience less than smooth on you.

Lexel paused briefly to close her eyes and rub at her forehead for a minute as she tried to compose her thoughts. Thankfully she found Zero had in fact faithfully stayed by her side the whole time. “How long was I plugged in for anyway,” she asked her stalwart sentinel who still stood guard. “You have been away for precisely 1 hour 27 minutes and 36.4 seconds,” Zero informed her. “Did you meet with success in your endeavor?”

Before answering that one Lexel had to take in a deep breath for a second. She found herself debating how to look at it. While she had managed to locate a connection that promised to potentially lead them to NaN’s underground arena, she didn’t have a guaranteed entry. “We have to pass a test first,” she finally decided to answer. “At nightfall we have to be at a location where a no doubt nasty street fight awaits us. If we survive it is implied that we will earn a shot at the arena games.”

“I have no prior experience with which to estimate our chances of success,” Zero began. “What do you think our odds of winning such a contest will be?” It was the same question she had been considering before she ever even jacked out. “Oh, we totally have this locked in; don’t worry,” she reassured him. Zero decided he trusted his friend and while he didn’t have any previous reference such fights he did have vast combat experience. How different could it really be?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 10.

Episode 10

“I have an idea,” Lexel told her determined defender as she motioned for them to head on down the street. “There is an underground arena somewhere in low town, they call it NaN. I hear things, see things mentioned when running the nodes; it exists but doesn’t exist.” As they walked on Lexel struggled to explain it to Zero. How could she put it into words; it was a legend, a myth among the streets.

“That is a contradiction; your statement can not be possible,” Zero objected as a can rattled, rolling away from his foot to bounce off a nearby wall. Lexel gritted her teeth and took a quick breath before trying to make the logic-locked lab rat understand. “While you are right technically, you are wrong in reality,” she countered. Lexel spun on her heel, stopping dead in her tracks to focus her full attention on Zero.

“NaN is not a place; it doesn’t exist as a location. There is no sign, no building; they have tried to shut it down for years but nobody can ever find it to do so. But it does exist; I know it for a fact. NaN is, like I said, an underground arena among other things. From time to time hidden feeds surface to showcase fights or other events to lure in new blood and the like. There is a lot of money to be made but it isn’t without its share of risk. Tourists and people from the street vanish all the time trying to make it big in the games.”

“That isn’t going to happen to us though,” Lexel reassured Zero with cool confidence. “I have seen you fight, and with my advice there isn’t going to be anything that can stand a chance against us.” Zero carefully considered everything his new companion told him, but found himself unable to completely reconcile the notion that they were looking for something that didn’t exist. It made his transistors twitch just thinking about it; how would they find it if it couldn’t be found?

“The trick is going to be finding NaN, and I know a lot about tricks,” Lexel proclaimed with a wicked grin. “We just need to find ourselves a public terminal or some way of accessing nodes and I think I can work some magic.” That was going to be the challenge she knew; finding a workable access point wasn’t like finding trash in the street. Most people carried their own hardware; almost nobody used public terminals anymore which meant they were few in number and even fewer functioning. But if she could find one she could patch up just enough – well it was bound to be no longer listed on the grids, which could mean less chance of being tracked.

“Come on,” Lexel said before dashing off, Zero obediently following behind her. It wasn’t like she had never exactly done something like this before. There was that one time she pulled a prank on her teacher using an old terminal, but back then she had Xeph by her side to nervously play the part of her conscience. Her friend didn’t like the idea at all back then, and Lexel was sure she would have liked it even less now. Even so, she did wish that she had her scared scarlet-haired sister by her side. Without Xeph to be brave for Lexel found she was going to have to do her own share of worrying.

It took hours of searching as the sun rose higher overhead and Lexel grew more frustrated with every time they had to duck for cover. She was growing more irritated by the minute, not by the lack of terminals but more so by the fact that she needed to use one. If she had had her own mini-com like most other people she wouldn’t be frantically hunting right now. However, if she did have her own it might have already leaded whoever was hunting them straight to her by now.

That thought was a welcome consolation as they patiently waited for some passing workers to go by. Lexel looked up to check how high the sun had managed to climb up in the sky to find instead a sight that made her almost yell with excitement. Nestled behind the sanctuary of debris they were hidden in she could see the mangled remains of a terminal barely hanging on a wall. Its weathered frame cracked and most of its wiring frayed or exposed.

Quiet as she could, Lexel reached up to examine her fortunate prize. Shielded from view by the safety of stacked scrap and assorted bits she set herself about discovering how much of the damaged device still could function. Most of the visual output was gone, several of its boards were cracked or fried, but some of its core functions looked to be intact. After re-routing a few wires and adjusting some plugs Lexel delighted at the familiar sound of a terminal clicking online.

Drawing a short datajack cable from her bag Lexel looked over to Zero as she plugged one end into the device. “I won’t be long, just keep an eye out; alright,” she asked her waiting guardian. Zero nodded his agreement and Lexel slid the other end into the jack behind her ear. The familiar hum of the nodes greeted her with its subtle songs of static.

“Here we go…” Lexel commented to herself and started running.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 9.

Episode 9

At first Lexel and Zero traveled in complete silence, but after a few blocks the growing pressure of so many questions soon became too much. Zero was the first to break the self imposed quiet that had trailed them after fleeing the scene of their almost-ambush. Cautiously he considered their surroundings, he was still wary from the last encounter, as they tucked around a corner.

“I am unable to identify our attackers; there is no previous record of them within my database,” Zero informed Lexel with an almost audible edge of regret in his voice. “But their attack pattern is consistent with an attempted removal of a target using stealth; however I can not conclude which one of us was the likely target. It is likely that either they did not anticipate my presence or the effectiveness of my defensive capabilities.”

“Has anyone ever told you that you talk a bit much,” Lexel interrupted. “Seriously, you are probably the chattiest robot I have ever heard of! Not that I have heard of all that many talking robot dogs mind you, but I figure there can’t be another one who talks so much.”

Zero’s optics narrowed in as close of an approximation to blinking as Lexel presumed the curious creation could manage. “Is there something wrong with my speech? I could alter my response parameters to meet a more concise format if you prefer. My base programming requires me to provide extensive feedback on my experiences and to provide assistance in its analysis.”

“Spoken like a true ‘bot; that is something we are going to have to work on. It is going to be a dead give away that your some advanced tinker-toy fresh from a R&D lab.” Lexel shuffled her feet as she looked around, the corner of her mouth pulled tight as she failed to completely mask her growing worry. “Just tell me, as simply as you can; is it possible that those two back there were only meant to deal with me? I mean, didn’t you say they did not seem adequately armed to confront you?” Lexel had to ask, as much as she hated to hear herself say the words. The little voice inside her was certain that it wouldn’t take a fully armed strike team to deal with one little old girl, and it wasn’t exactly being polite about it either.

“Yes,” Zero began to reply after a brief pause to ‘blink’ again. Lexel hoped he wasn’t doing it solely for her benefit because she found the whole act somewhat disturbing. “It is a sound assumption that you might have been the primary target as the weapons brought to bear were better suited for dealing with soft or lightly armored targets at close range. However, it is also possible that my reaction impaired our adversary’s ability to make full use of their tactical strengths.”

“Please tell me that was the short version,” Lexel said with a groan. She had to hold a finger up to gesture for Zero not to answer because she was sure the verbal wonder would do so if she did not. As she found her other hand firmly pressed against her forehead she had to push the image out of her mind of her mother in a similar pose. It was anything but helpful right now and truthfully she hated comparing herself to her mother.

“Okay,” Lexel sighed, trying to order her thoughts. “Let’s review; we don’t know what attacked us. We have no real idea even which one of us they were after for sure. Does that about cover everything?”

“It bears stating that if you were the primary target that without my intervention our attackers would have been successful,” Zero added. Lexel couldn’t argue there, even though she really wanted to. She had to admit that knowing what Zero could do in a game was one thing but it was quite reassuring to see he was just as skilled in a darkened alleyway. And as for herself, well already she was forming a working plan to get them funds she discovered.

Lexel had to confess she never expected to be handling a situation like this nearly as well as she was. Sure there was a part of her that just wanted to hide somewhere and close her eyes until it all went away. But reality had a harsh way of reminding you that nothing was ever that easy. And if life had any more surprises in store for her, well she was determined to at the very least try to prepare herself to meet them.  

“Do not be afraid,” Zero’s electronic voice suddenly shattered her train of thought, prompting her to almost jump startled. “If anything moves to threaten you again, I will stop it. I have added a new directive to my primary functions; to protect and defend you from harm.”

Lexel wasn’t sure what to say to Zero about his sudden declaration, but it puzzled her slightly. It didn’t exactly make sense – logically at least. “Why,” she found herself asking the metallic mutt. “Wouldn’t it be more efficient to focus on your own preservation? We aren’t playing games anymore, Zero.”

“You are correct,” Zero confirmed with a nod, his eyes never wavering from hers. “But you are my friend; my core could not resolve the loss of your existence without irreparable damage to it.” The pedigreed prototype ‘blinked’ again and tilted his head slightly as he considered Lexel’s reception to his explanation before remembering what she had said about talking so much. “I do not want to lose you.”

Lexel smiled at the sentiment and more so at the fact Zero seemed to be learning. “Maybe you are pretty smart after all, for a science project that is.”

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 8.

Episode 8

Mr. Graystone’s booted heel crunched under what remained of a door as stalked his way inside the messy apartment. “Fan out; scan and search for any sign of that meddlesome mutt. I want him found, three cycles ago!” Waiting behind the imposing image that was Graystone a small swarm of drones spread out to obey his uttered command. Floating in mid air metal orbs darted around as beams of light probed and analyzed everything in an orderly manner.

Flanking Graystone on either side a pair of sleek black and chrome plated four legged robots stepped forward as they melded from the shadows. They were his pride and joy, creations he had customized with his own unique tactical needs in mind. He lovingly referred to them as his ‘Greyhounds’ often treating his pets as his own personal covert-ops agents and private enforcers.

The Greyhounds base design had original been built from the tried and true chassis of the New Republic’s Hell Hound model droid. The Hell Hounds were reliable robots in their own right, serving respectfully well in security patrol and even tracker roles. But Graystone preferred something that suited his needs in a more subtle manner, he didn’t trust free thinking subordinates. And he absolutely refused to put his faith in inept underlings who could always develop loose lips or decide to have a change of heart.

All the guards and defenses in place had failed to prevent that pesky prototype from escaping. If not for some of his prowling pets left to patrol the perimeter Graystone would have missed this little opportunity. It was regrettably unfortunate that his Greyhounds had somehow lost the erratic trail left by Unit Zero even if only briefly. The small delay had cost him precious time he could have used to seal the test subject’s fate. But it was of little consequence now, after its escape he could easily press for the project’s cancellation with virtually little chance of even Honeywell being able to make a case for objection.

“He isn’t here,” Graystone muttered to himself in frustration. “I want to know what lead him here, find me everything there is to know about who lives here, now.” He trusted that his little Oracle droids could provide him with a detailed report within a few moments, which would leave his Greyhounds to the task of resuming the hunt. “Hounds target Unit Zero; track and terminate.”

Amber eyes flashed briefly signaling his command had been accepted and understood before the deadly duo silently slipped back into the shadows to obey his order. Graystone always smiled with satisfaction as he watched them go to work, he treasured the fact that they never questioned him. But, then again he had programmed them himself and personally saw to it that there was no way for them to even be able to do so.

“Clear out,” Graystone told his obedient orbs still buzzing around the apartment. “I want that report within the next three minutes and I want all evidence of our visit wiped clean in two.” As he stepped back out through the doorway he couldn’t resist taking a moment to enjoy himself. “Oh, and make sure this door is replaced immediately – have it billed to one of my anonymous accounts. I would hate for anyone to think me rude or inconsiderate.”  The notion made him chuckle to himself.

While Graystone was busy delighting in his own humor his Greyhounds was already hard at work hunting their prey. Lexel had only just managed to secure her secret message as she and Zero considered what their next move should be. The pursuing predators carefully approached their target, keeping their sensor masking systems active as they prepared to engage.

Following their primary combat programming the Greyhounds primed Midnighter grenades for release before dropping their masks. The devious devices were designed for covert engagements, once deployed they would blanket the area in thick darkness, completely rendering a target blind. This tactic had served Graystone’s secret soldiers well in safeguarding his interests for a long time.

But the would-be armored assassins had never encountered any prey quite like the prototype Zero. As they moved towards them his advanced sensors registered the distorted motion that some of his other systems couldn’t account for. Something in his circuits made his solder tingle, Zero couldn’t explain it but he found himself instinctively taking a defensive position.

Lexel opened her mouth to question the sudden change in Zero’s demeanor but an explosion of inky blackness engulfed her before the words could form. Terror alone held her mind as she found herself unable to find any trace of light or any idea what was going on at all. She felt a sudden surge of motion around her and the realized she didn’t have any idea what could be attacking them, or if it was after her or Zero.

The muffled sound of metal clanging on metal brushed her ears and Lexel had to resist her imagination from running wild in an attempt to understand what was happening. Unseen in front of her Zero bravely battled the twin terrors. While they held the advantage of on-board weapon systems, Zero quickly found they had sacrificed much of their armored frames in compensation. The Greyhounds lacked the benefit of his resilient frame, of his reinforced chassis designed to far exceed anything his operational requirements might need. They had never been designed for a head on battle like he had, instead they were meant to take advantage of stealth.

Zero lacked the offensive weapons his opponents brought to bear, but there was no matching his brute strength. The Greyhounds attacks met waiting armor and found it defying them, laser blasts barely scorched him when they connected. Other shots went wild as he continually evaded them. After several long moments, Zero maneuvered himself into a final pass between his foes and found both anticipated attacks instead finding a waiting home in their partners.

Still sputtering with sparks the limp bodies of the Greyhounds laid on the alley floor as the grenades induced darkness dissipated. Lexel had to look on in wonder at Zero who was standing triumphantly beside her.

“We, um, I think we should get out of here before something else shows up,” Lexel stammered half to herself. “A logical assessment,” Zero agreed. Together they quickly made their way out of the alley in silence. Lexel couldn’t find the words to address what just happened, but made a note of it to try to as soon as possible. She had to find out what had just happened, and more importantly exactly what she had just gotten herself into.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Discussion On A Discourse In Steel.

It isn't very often in my experience that as a reader you can pick up a book out of a series and not have the usual starting disconnect. That inevitable period where you often find yourself getting into the flow of things, catching up on missed time etc. Most of the time there is a subtle feeling that prevails to make everything feel different. You might over the course of a few chapters acclimate to the new series of events but generally speaking at the beginning that feeling is typically there.

As a writer myself I can easily attest that it is no easy task to circumvent that aspect of writing anything in a series. It is a nagging side-effect of the process it seems. But just as I did when I picked up The Hammer and the Blade I found myself gripped by the unfolding tale. This is an undeniable testament to Paul S. Kemp's incredible mastery, I have to say. The fact that unquestionably time has passed by from the events of the first novel and yet as I open it's successor I immediately find myself in the comfortable familiar presence of fictional friends. It is akin to meeting with an old dear friend and finding that it is as if nothing has changed between you, everything feels just as it did when last you met.

The whole thing is wonderfully impressive on one hand, and delightfully rewarding on the other. Yes, I will confess you cannot escape the knee jerk reaction of asking yourself: "What have they gotten themselves into this time?" But even as you find yourself following along to find out and be filled in on matters you also soon become distracted by the growing plot that no doubt will ensnare our beloved and boisterous heroes.

The dialog as can be expected is dripping with wit and flavor as our pair of protagonists quip back and forth. The story builds in the expected way Mr. Kemp has proven himself able to skillfully shackle you to his book. Every element of the sequel is, I must admit nothing less than the original in my opinion.

I do have to reluctantly confess that I myself have yet to finish the novel. Typically I try to reserve any comment until I complete a book, but with this work(just as I found myself compelled by it's predecessor) I cannot resist praising it. I have absolute faith in the remaining fun awaiting me in the novel to be able to say that you have to do yourself the massive service  of grabbing a copy immediately. And if you have yet to read it's fore-runner, I recommend highly that you acquire both and buckle up for a pleasantly enjoyable ride of pure fun fantasy.

Recently I had found the majority of my time and focus directed on my own writing, that is until I opened A Discourse In Steel for a quick peek. Now I find myself regretting the time I cannot spare to rush through it's pages.

Neon Knights - Episode 7.

Episode 7

Lexel had closed to her eyes as she looked inside herself for the answer to a single question. She didn’t have to ask herself if someone could have tracked her like Zero had. As much as she hated admitting it, it was a painful truth that it was only a matter of time before someone else did just that. And when that happened there would be no covering her tracks or hiding Zero’s presence from them.

The only real matter of importance to her now was the simple lingering inquiry; did anything hold her here that she couldn’t leave? It was a hard thing to think about as she endeavored to do so. As much as she hated to admit it, she did care for her mother – she wasn’t all bad. Her mother had done her best to take care of the both of them for a long time and to be fair had missed a part of her youth to raise Lexel.

While her mother wasn’t around much she did work hard to keep the bills paid and if she didn’t at least spend some of her down time on entertainment might have burnt out from the stress long ago. Lexel could understand the strain her mother must have went through for a long time. But even understanding didn’t ease some of the pain she had felt growing up. The knowledge didn’t remove the longing she had often had to have her mother there to talk to or comfort her.

And now, as she weighed her feelings she could see at the very center of her a tiny ember of emotion that guided her decision like a lantern in the dark. For all her love that she still felt for her mother, it wasn’t enough to hold her there. That life had started to drift from her long ago she realized. She had grown weary of waiting and watching to see if her mother would stumble in or call needing her to come help her home.

Even her classes seemed a waste of her time these days. Lexel was so far ahead of her peers that every lesson was more a review for her than something fresh to challenge her mind. There weren’t even any classmates who would miss her she could think of, instead there were only those she would welcome not having to avoid anymore. The only person she could even honestly admit might tear up over her leaving would be Xephaeda. Poor Xeph, she would be heartbroken by her friend leaving; not to mention worried sick on a daily basis about everything she would probably assume might be happening to her.

Deciding she at the very least owed her best friend a farewell before departing, Lexel had to admit the idea made her nervous. What if her friend tried to talk her out of running off? Lexel slowly realized that her mind was made up, and knew that as it was not even Xeph would be able to convince her not to do something once she decided to. No, the real worry she had to admit was in possibly bringing any potential trouble her friend’s way. Xeph was a lot of things, a great friend chiefly among them. What she was not though was someone equipped to deal with serious trouble disrupting her life. Xeph lived in fear of crossing a street when the traffic guide had yet to signal it appropriate. Lexel shuddered to think of how she might react to anyone official knocking on her door with questions.

Using even an encrypted communications channel was out of the question though, if anyone traced Lexel down then that would just be another risk leading to her friend. Meeting Xeph in person also didn’t feel like a safe choice either, people would start returning home soon and she refused to allow Xeph to be seen as the last person to talk to her before she vanished. The only option that seemed left was to leave a recorded message for her using their old secret slot.

“Give me a moment,” Lexel told Zero, who still setting in her living room patiently was watching her. She tried to take a deep breath to compose herself but immediately abandoned the idea as she slid a small thin strip into her terminal and punched up the command to record.

“Hey there girlie,” Lexel said to the screen with a weak grin. “It looks like something has come up and you can save the ‘I tried to warn you speeches’ for some other time, promise. I am going to be out of touch for a while, but I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye first. Know that I really will miss you, you have been like a scared scarlet haired sister to me and we both know without you there is no telling where I would be right now. I know you will worry about me, but please try to keep it to a minimum; you should be able to admit that by now, if anyone can take care of themselves it’s me. Please, if you could do me a huge favor though; just check in on my mom from time to time. She is sure to need some looking after and I don’t know when or if I will be able to be back. I’ll never forget you Xeph, and if I can I’ll try to keep in touch.”

Lexel paused for a sigh as she reached up to end the recording before she had to stop to add one last thing to her message. “So I guess this is goodbye for now. Please don’t be upset that I had to say it like this, but should any trouble come this way I want to keep you from being involved in it. Sorry Xeph, promise I will try my best to be as careful as I can.”

With a single tear trailing down her cheek Lexel turned off the recording and removed the strip of memory from the terminal. She grabbed what she could of her belongings, mainly a few clothes and a handful of things precious to her before turning to look at her terminal one last time. Reluctantly Lexel grabbed the nearest object to hand and smashed it into her terminal.

Zero was still waiting in the same position when she returned with a bag of her belongings. “We better be going, come on, I have one stop to make and then we make tracks.” As the two made their way out the door Lexel refused to look back, but couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before her mother would notice she was gone.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Neon Knights - Episoide 6.

Episode 6

“Just what is going on,” Lexel asked herself as she paced around the somewhat disheveled room that served as the living room to the apartment. She absently picked up a blanket hanging off the end of a chair and began to fold it before pausing to shake her head at the notion. “What am I doing,” Lexel continued to talk to herself; struggling to find some rational explanation that might justify a robotic dog appearing on her doorstep.

The only possible reason that came to mind was one that she really didn’t want to consider. Her mouth went dry and she tried to swallow the lump that was forming in her throat but it just didn’t seem to go away. Lexel looked down at the pair of what she wanted to call eyes, but part of her knew they were just optical sensors as she found them looking back at her.

Nervously Lexel coughed, still trying to clear her throat and shake the confusion from her mind. “So, I guess this means that you are actually real after all then.” The simple statement slipped from her lips and as soon it left them, Lexel could hear just how silly it must sound. “Of course your real, I mean, you are standing here in front of me and all. But, I don’t know; I guess I had just figured you were part of the games. You know, just a character in them – not a real actual thing.”

Lexel couldn’t help but feel somewhat like a mental patient as the thought struck her that she was at this very moment talking to herself or a robotic dog depending on how you looked at it. Neither option sounded all that sane to her though. “This cannot be happening,” Lexel exclaimed with a groan. “All I did was played some silly games, and now I have some hound of hardware in my home! How on Taral VII did you even find me anyway? Nobody has ever back traced me. For that matter; why did you even come here?”

The questions all formed at once inside Lexel and as fast as they did all of them tried to poor out at once. There was so much she needed to know, so very much she wanted to understand about what was going on. Especially if she had been playing games all this time with something that was now on the loose, surely somebody would be looking for it. And seeing as how she had been accessing a restricted node for a while now there wasn’t exactly anything she could say that wouldn’t firmly place her into a deep pit of serious trouble.

Zero tilted his azure and snow colored head slightly to the side as he considered the string of questions that he was already making a list of to try and address. He waited for what he thought was an acceptable amount of time, even though he couldn’t be sure before he tried to answer. The perplexed prototype figured a pause of 4.8 seconds had to be more than sufficient even if it did seem overly long to him. When his inquisitive young friend didn’t seem to show any signs of continuing to speak further he decided it a suitable moment for him to answer.

“In our last encounter you did state that we would play again the following night. However, the probability was calculated that certain events could transpire that would lead to my inability to do so then or ever again. Upon facing such eventuality it became necessary for my preservation of self to seek out favorable odds by an alternative avenue. The only preferable option was to locate you so that we might continue our nightly games and thereby potentially avoid a less than acceptable fate.”

Zero watched Lexel’s response, noticing as she blinked trying to digest the information that he had almost overlooked one of her questions. “I managed to retrace your signal by recording your repeated access over time and incorporating the various routes to consider corresponding patterns. Your technique is effective but begins to loose efficiency with repeated visits to the same location.”

“Wait, I cannot believe a talking tin can is standing here criticizing my methods,” Lexel replied at the perceived affront to her talent. “I will have you know there isn’t a system yet that has managed to catch me. And what do you mean by certain events that might have prevented us from playing again anyway?” Lexel couldn’t resist her own curious nature as it started to take hold.

“There is the distinct and likely possibility that certain components involved in the project are already moving to see it declared a failure. Should that happen the only logical outcome would be for them to disable me for storage or completely dispose of all aspects of the projects research – including myself.” Zero looked down as he explained what had motivated his flight from the facility, in what Lexel had to admit looked like an honest concern for his continued existence.

“I feel I should make you aware that it would only increase the likelihood of both of us becoming in jeopardy to assume that I alone could manage to extrapolate your location.” Zero watched as Lexel raised one eyebrow at the comment in irritated disbelief that he presumed merited his response. “Your claim, while formerly sound, is no longer obviously factual. As you stated, I did manage to locate you and logically if you have been tracked once you could be so again.”

Lexel had to swallow hard again as she found herself unable to argue with Zero’s assessment. She thought for a moment that there was a faint chance of never being found, or so she tried to convince herself to little avail. It wasn’t like she could run, could she? Could she really just up and leave everything behind?

It seemed to Lexel that the answer to that question might hold the very key to her immediate future.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 5.

Episode 5

Even on some of the lesser used back alleys and side streets it isn’t easy for a four legged robot to pass without being noticed. Zero had to move as carefully as he could afford to without sacrificing too much time. As an escaped experiment he needed to gather more practical data to aid in his chances of success. He had a formulated route to guide him to his friend, but without any knowledge of traffic patterns or the mechanical workings of his surroundings at large he was traveling blind.

There was only so long that Zero calculated that he could keep moving without attracting attention by skulking in and out behind dumpsters and other urban debris. Pausing to review what various options might be available to him, something registered to his optical sensors. His records indicated it was some form of guidance coordination system for both pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

As he considered the curious device his analytical circuits began cross-referencing his detailed databases and predicting its potential qualities. While the whole process had only lasted a few mere microseconds, for Zero it seemed like he had been focused on the subject for far too long.  He again had to regret his lack of practical knowledge about such common elements of life in the world.

According to Zero’s computed figures, the distance to the device far exceeded any safe range he could approach it in order to patch himself into it directly. That meant he would have to wirelessly connect with it’s systems in order to examine the flow of data that passed through it. Data that he decided he both needed and desired. Connecting indirectly wasn’t without its risk though; it stood to reason that any such device would be hardwired to prevent such intrusions. Otherwise any passing person might easily tamper with it, a peculiar notion that puzzled Zero. He couldn’t begin to fathom what could motivate someone to do so but it seemed like a logical safeguard to prevent. Unlike expecting to have to defend against an intrusion made by a refugee robot seeking to acquire raw traffic data for analysis.

Zero scanned the signals swimming around him and tried to isolate his targets carrier wavelength to ride his way in. Seizing upon the beacon as a guide he slammed his mind towards his objective and instantly felt a series of simple security barriers shatter as he met them. It had never occurred to him that such hardware had never been designed to handle anything as complex as his presence. He could feel its circuits faltering under his increased workload burdening them.

While Zero tried to rush to gather all the information he could compile, one by one he marked the invaded systems crashing. His intrusion was already having a visible effect as the brightly lit tower began to flash and behave erratically. Zero barely managed to secure the last of the available records located within before the traffic guide completely failed. The reaction of passing travelers was already one of confusion as several barely avoided colliding with one another without the aid of the now lifeless lights to direct them.

Deciding it might reduce his odds of being discovered inadvertently by anyone investigating the now growing source of chaos, Zero quickly moved to relocate himself. Finding a dark corner he settled into position as he reviewed what data he had been rewarded with by his recent encounter. The information detailed things that at a glance seemed worthless enough but as he compiled it together he could establish trends that helped him understand the flow of the city.

It seemed the bulk of the city’s inhabitants were active at night, which made his current situation all the more dangerous. With every added passing person upon the streets his chance of being noticed went up exponentially. Zero studied the figures as he processed every scrap of information that was passing through him to be sorted and stored. Pathways formed through the neon lit night streets that he noticed where traffic was regularly worse and those routes that were almost never used.

Using this newly acquired data, Zero adjusted his perspective path that would lead him to his friend and cautiously resumed his journey. The night wore on slowly as he made his erratic way around the city to avoid the crowded courses used by so many others. As the sun sleepily began its sluggish rise into the sky, Zero confirmed the address before him as an apartment registered to the corresponding location he sought.

Zero entered a coded entry request and awaited a response while he stared at the door. When it began to open he found himself greeting a sleepy-eyed girl with his routine question: “would you like to play a game?” Instantly her eyes went wide and her pulse became elevated according to Zero’s sensors. Had he somehow startled her, he wondered to himself.

“What the…” Lexel exclaimed as she found herself gripped with shock at the sight that awaited her outside her door. She quickly scanned the street as her mind reeled to make sense of the strange situation. “Better get in here quick,” she told the familiar form before her. “And this better not be some kind of sick joke!”

“You just had to say it, didn’t you,” Lexel lamented secretly to herself. Why did her friend have to be right this one time of all times?

Friday, May 24, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 4.

Episode 4

Zero paced about in his little room blanketed by the bright glow of white light that permeated from every wall and even the floor itself. His various internal sensors had detected and compiled a complex series of data that he was still digesting. Professor Honeywell had been outside only moments ago, and she was not alone – Mr. Graystone was there as well. Zero didn’t like that man, not at all. He made his circuits short and his software glitch whenever he was around. The man was trouble, and Zero didn’t trust him.

The professor had said for him not to worry, he had heard her say those words. But even as he replayed the audio of what she had said he couldn’t ignore other details he had detected. Like how her heartbeat had gone from calm steady beat to an erratic fast paced one of anxiety. His caring creator was scared about something, and judging by the conversation he had overheard he had a very probable idea on what it might be.

Specifically the odds were quite high that Graystone was pushing his agenda to sabotage the project into being declared a failure. And that would inevitably mean that it would be shutdown, its research buried or destroyed. This would leave Zero him self facing some very unpleasant options. He would either be shutdown and placed into storage where he might never be brought back online ever again, or even more likely; permanently deactivated.

That thought rippled through Zero’s core as everything it implied took hold of him and demanded to be processed. If he was to exist no more then that would mean no more experiments with Professor Honeywell. It would mean no more chances for him to prove himself against the various challenges they tested him with. But most importantly it would mean no more games with his friend who had visited him every night.

At that thought, Zero knew that he didn’t have a choice; he had calculated the odds and they confirmed his course of action was the only one with even a marginal chance of success. He called up an old buried sub-routine in his programming that had been edited titled ‘Preservation Directive’ and engaged the file. Zero had always been designed with the drive for self preservation when it engaged in simulated contests and the like. But one of the things he had learned over time, especially from his nightly games, was that anything could threaten his existence. He had faced countless simulations, accumulated various strategies and massive combat data that he could reference. But none of that would do him any good locked away in this room; in here he would be defenseless to any number of methods that could be used to disable his systems.

Zero wasn’t about to wait around while he considered his continued existence in jeopardy. He called up a recording he had logged of the tone sequence to his rooms door and broadcast it into the electronic lock. The simple device lacked the advanced circuits to register the difference between the correct key combination being pressed and the corresponding series of distinct notes. It was something the designers had never considered, and why would they? The thought of the projects prototype test subject actively trying to escape was beyond consideration. Their only security consideration was technically to ensure access to the cybernetic creation was limited to authorized individuals.

It was just one of the many oversights made by people involved in what officially was referred to as the Prototype Armored Weapon System Project or P.A.W.S. for short. And it was just these sorts of mistakes that Zero had to act upon now or forfeit any chance of preserving himself. He had to act fast, Professor Honeywell would try desperately to defend him and that meant looking for every bit of evidence she could cite on his behalf. This could mean her discovering his nightly game sessions and tracking them back to locate the source of the recurring signal. If that were to happen Zero didn’t have enough data to extrapolate what possible outcome it might have.

When the doors opened with their normal hushed hiss, Zero sprang into action following a complex series of detailed instructions he had encoded into the sub-routine. He raced down the halls directed by a pre-plotted path, comparing his internal chronometer with the scheduled routes the guards always took. Zero made sure to make minor corrections to his course as he went while actively allowing his sensors to sweep and scan around him. Nothing could be risked to chance, not now.

Carefully his path carried him to a marked corridor on the mapped layout he had compiled of the facility. Without any time to spare the running robo-hound activated his ion torch and began to cut his way through the metal around a utility access point. He only had a minute and 15 seconds by his estimation before a patrol was scheduled to pass this way so he wouldn’t have time for precise cuts, forcing him to opt instead for crude and fast ones.

As the final metal plating fell from to fall from before Zero he didn’t hesitate to leap into the waiting dark of the night outside. He had to activate the thrust stabilizers of his drop pack systems to slow his decent towards the ground; otherwise this escape would quickly become counter-productive. Fortunately his reserves he found were more than adequate to deal with the drop and he felt a certain relief as he realized he had just landed outside his previous prison.

But where should he go now? His planned route had never considered a final destination, only the goal of escape. Logic alone merited somewhere safe to hide from his inevitable pursuers. The only possible destination he could think of was that of his nightly visitor, who even now might already be discovered and in danger.

Luckily Zero still held a traced route on the signal that had carried his gaming companion to him; all he had to do now was follow it. His form passing off into the neon lit night of Taral VII, shouts were just beginning to be heard from guards investigating a strangely absent section of walled corridor.

They were not the only eyes probing for the fleeing form of the project’s precious prototype.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 3.

Episode 3

Professor Honeywell had been deeply concerned by the sudden spike in activity in Unit Zero’s monitors. She checked the logs and found the pattern was a re-occurring one that she couldn’t account for. The copper haired researcher was puzzled to try to explain what her prototype project was doing inside his secured storage.

“There you are, professor,” the voice behind her echoed after a sharp staccato of booted steps that meant it could only be one man. The impossible and infuriating Mr. Graystone, who for some mysterious reason had been assigned to directly supervise the project and liked nothing more than looking for reasons to shut it down.

Honeywell needed more time to study Unit Zero; her work on the curious creation had been yielding wonderful results that given more time she was sure she could analyze further. There was something there, hard to define but her instincts told her that just maybe it was the start of awareness. If that were true then this was a breakthrough on the level of monumental proportions. It was also one that could be incredibly dangerous; nothing of the sort had been attempted since the Type II and Bioid projects had led to the shattering of the New Republic.

“Your project has yet to produce any results beyond what could at best be labeled as questionable,” Mr. Graystone explained. His bearing was stern, stone like, and even though he didn’t wear any form of uniform Professor Honeywell detected the unmistakable trace of military service in his stance. “This project has been nothing but a waste and a failure from day one. Your only success has been in creating a meager play thing for you to waste countless valuable resources on for your own enjoyment.”

The bold claims carried an insult deep into Honeywell that she longed to confront, but lacked the nerve to do so. Without the project she held no backing, no support to further her research. And if it was classified as a failure she would be ruined, Honeywell desperately needed more time. Time to complete her analysis and study her findings of the data Unit Zero was providing.

“But Mr. Graystone, please, I advise you to consider what you say in the presence of Unit Zero. I would also like to point out that even you have expressed a profound value in how well the prototype has functioned in some of our simulations. Please, all I ask is that you give us a little more time to complete our research before you abruptly end this project.”

A sneer briefly showed upon Graystone’s face as he glanced over at where Unit Zero was kept. “And why on all of Taral VII should I consider what I say in the vicinity of a mere machine? It is a constructed thing, without feelings or thoughts of its own. To presume it has been endowed with such is very unprofessional of you professor; especially considering it to be your own invention. As for it’s merited value, it may have proven itself to be capable of success when presented with simulated scenarios, but those are just that – simulations. There is precious little practical worth in virtual experiences when compared to the real thing.”

While Graystone spoke Professor Honeywell couldn’t help but wonder what he was secretly up to. The man had proven himself to be nothing short of devious the whole time she had known him and considering that and his ceaseless campaign to find fault with her work it made her wonder. Was it her that he didn’t like? Or, just possibly was it more likely that Graystone had something against artificially created life? It wouldn’t be the first person she had heard of who hated anything created instead of being ‘born.’ She had heard such terrible stories about the acts committed by the self-proclaimed Purgist Party; a sinister political faction bent on eradicating the rights (and existence) of all beings they deemed unnatural.

“Unit Zero is a unique subject Mr. Graystone one that I am confident that if you give us just a little more time to explore the full spectrum of what he is capable of we’ll discover his potential.” Professor Honeywell trembled at having to confront Graystone even in the face of her project being taken away from her. She had to firmly level her gaze down at the floor for fear that meeting his eyes might strip her of what little resolve she could muster. This was easy enough, considering that she barely stood even with Graystone’s shoulders and typically had to look up at the muscled menace.

“Questionable results, my dear professor, by their very nature can only mean one thing; the questionable viability of the project.” Without another word on the matter Graystone turned and marched away, leaving a lingering trail of echoed footsteps to haunt Professor Honeywell.

“Don’t worry Unit Zero,” Honeywell told the door to the prototype’s secure storage facility. “I’ll think of something, Graystone isn’t going to shut this project down, or you.” As she walked her way back to her office she had to fight back tears and hoped that somehow she was right.

If only she could make some sense out of this recurring spike in activity, maybe that would help. It was almost like Unit Zero was engaging in simulated matches, but that couldn’t be – could it?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 2.

Episode 2

The virtual world inside the node was always the same; it was the little details that interested Lexel. While she had run through countless other nodes peeking around and tinkering most of them she had found held highly detailed renderings of visual settings. This strange little digital landscape was fairly sparse to the point of being nearly blank. It was an endless sea of white in all directions every time her mind settled into it that slowly took shape depending on the game she selected.

And that was the other curiosity; the games themselves. These were not the complex kind of games that flooded the markets in an endless stream that strives to capitalize on whatever whim was the latest craze. The games listed here never changed, they were fairly simple in nature and always held the same main character. Each game’s name was some odd approximation on a cliched theme like war games or battle training. Lexel had originally thought the whole thing was kind of silly at first, until she tried one of them.

It wasn’t the games themselves that initially proved to hook her, it was the strange character always referred to as ‘Unit Zero.’ This Zero character was always represented as some four legged robot that looked kind of like a dog. The truth is though that the peculiar character had grown on her to the point that Lexel thought of it like a friend. She knew it wasn’t a real thing, just a bit of programming but she always found herself cheering for the little guy.

“Let’s see, what sounds like fun tonight,” Lexel asked herself without even calling up the list of available choices. She had been playing these games every night for at least a month or so and by now knew them all by heart. “I know, let’s just try a quick game of Match Fight,” she decided and smiled when her familiar friend formed before her.

Of all the games Match Fight was one of the most straight-forward; the point of the game was simply for Zero to fight another simulated robot. However the only catch was that Zero had to do so without being armed with any weapon systems. Hence the challenge typically made less than fair by the fact that almost always his opponent suffered no such restriction.

Zero greeted Lexel’s presence with his usual bowed head before focusing his attention in front of him where another figure formed. Taking shape was a two legged form with broad shoulders and large arms that nearly drug the ground. Its shoulders displayed mounted weapons of some kind that immediately trained themselves on Zero and fired violent blasts that barely missed the already moving target.

The brutish bot turned to track Zero as it tried to continue to press its attack but for all it’s firepower it couldn’t match his speed. Lexel knew that Zero had the advantage in that regard and would have to make the most of it. “Zero, tangle rush,” she called out the command, one of many she had taught him over time. As she watched Zero changed course to charge his way towards the other robot, desperately dodging blast after blast as he did.

With his four legs Zero quickly closed the ground between himself and his opponent. Just as he entered into range he activated a grappling tether and prepared to launch the magnetic locking tipped cable aimed at his foes feet. In a hiss of release a series internal actuators in Zero’s legs fired at once launching him forward as he set himself to leap around his over-sized adversary.

Everything happened so fast that Lexel almost missed it. Zero sped his way towards the other robot and jumped into an arc designed to carry him around his attacker enabling him to get close enough to tangle its legs up with a grappling tether. But as Zero let fly his cable a massive metal arms flung its way forward to intercept him in the air. The harsh crack echoed around them and Lexel watched in shock as Zero slammed into the ground. She had seen the little digital dog take a hit before but the sheer size of his opponent made her shudder to think of what the blow had done to him.

Rising from the ground, the resilient robot shock off the stunning strike and redoubled his attack. He raced his way back towards the ever-blasting bot to angle for another attempt. This time, though, as Zero vaulted his way into the air he made one calculated adjustment to his offensive and activated his micro-light. The sudden flash scrambled his attackers optical sensors as it tried to compensate for the sudden change in light and the momentary distraction was all Zero needed to avoid another counter-strike.

His tether hit home with clang as the magnetic tip locked on to its target allowing the trailing cable to tangle its way into winding around the other robot’s legs. Without the support of his legs Zero’s challenger found himself off balance and unable to maintain the footing it needed to support its bulky frame. Awkwardly the clumsy creation toppled to the ground, its weapons still firing into the air defiantly trying to somehow destroy its intended target.

 His opponent now helpless on the ground the game registered Zero as the winner. Lexel rewarded him with her regular pat on the head as she considered just how proud she was of this little piece of programming. She called up the time with a subtle mental cue and had to sigh at the displayed answer to her query. It was getting late already, which meant she would have to log out and see to some things around the apartment.

“Don’t worry Zero, we’ll play more again tomorrow,” she told her friend as she bit it goodbye. Lexel would keep playing all night but she knew somebody would have to clean up and make dinner. Besides, she could play more tomorrow as usual; it wasn’t like anyone was going to discover her little game sessions. If they hadn’t by now then they probably never would.

Still, Xeph’s worried warning hung at the back of her mind, bothering her. “Ugh, she worries too much,” Lexel said to her self and tried to forget about it. But all night long it remained like a lingering headache that refused to go away.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Neon Knights - Episode 1.

Neon Knights

- Episode 1-

As the sun slowly made it’s descent from view the lights above the city were already racing to replace its dying illumination. The neon glow never truly died away, but as the sun’s bright light faded it always seemed to flare to life to dominate the sky. And with it the city itself seemed to awaken, bursting with a fresh fast-paced life of its own. Which meant soon enough the streets would be flooded with people, and that was reason enough for Lexel to not be.

Lexel was used to the walk home; she had been doing it for as long as she could remember. It was part of her routine, just as much a part as making the trip alone was. She could barely remember the last time she walked home with her mom, or for that matter made it home to find her mom there. But at least these days she had her friend Xephaedra to walk with which was kind of nice. Xeph had insisted for a long time on going home together, even though Lexel was fairly sure it was simply to avoid her friend having to make the trip alone. She was a great friend, no doubt about it, but Xeph could quite often be overly cautious about, well, almost everything.

They made for an awkward pair Lexel had always thought. Xeph was almost a head taller and already growing into the sort of pretty girl every boy couldn’t stop looking at. While Lexel herself never cared much for being the center of attention she couldn’t help but notice that she herself could never quite compete with her friend. Not in the looks department anyways. She was shorter than most the girls her age and while she found her thin toned figure to be adequate most of the boys didn’t seem to agree. Which suited Lexel just the same; she had seen the kind of attention some girls attracted and it was something she long ago decided wasn’t for her.

“So, what you have planned for tonight Lex,” Xeph asked her friend even though they both already knew the answer. Lexel always wondered why she kept asking but she had to admit it was kind of nice knowing Xeph would always worry about her. She couldn’t resist rolling her eyes at the question before puffing a strand of her short brown hair out of her face.

“Oh, you know, the usual I guess,” Lexel replied as she walked right through a lingering puddle without hesitation. It always made Xeph squeak a little, which made Lexel smile at the silly notion. “How girly can you get,” Lexel thought to herself.

“You know, one of these days your going to get caught Lex, and when you do it’s going to mean trouble. Why in the world do you even keep doing it anyways? What is so fun about playing other peoples games or prowling around into all those private nodes? It’s dangerous if you ask me, which you never do, and I am scared that one day soon your going to find yourself in the wrong one.”

Lexel was used to Xeph voicing her concerns about any number of the things she did that her friend deemed to be overly dangerous. But Lexel had been looking forward all day to getting to play some more of her current discovery. It was a little simulation game on a private node she had found about a month ago by accident. The getting in was surprisingly easy for a node that was tucked away like it was. It was the kind of thing that should have had some nasty security all over it to keep her out, which made it a curiosity to Lexel.

That was the part Xeph and others could never really understand; it was all about curiosity and the challenge of it all. She just had to see just how far she could go, just how much she could find. If someone told her she couldn’t get in or that it wasn’t something for a girl to be doing, well then Lexel would just become determined to prove she could. It was just one of those things about her that she couldn’t stand; just because she was a girl didn’t mean she had to be girly or that she wasn’t just as talented as a boy. In fact she was quickly starting to think that she might even be cleverer than most the boys in her classes.

“Thanks for the concern Xeph, but I’ll be fine; don’t worry so much,” Lexel tried her best to ease her friends fears. But it was still written all over her red-headed confidante’s face; Xeph was really concerned. “Just be careful, alright Lex,” Xeph said, her tone hushed before bidding her friend farewell.

Lexel waiver goodbye as she watched Xeph head down the street to her own home like they always did and then rushed up the steps that led to the small apartment she shared with her mother. She entered her personal access code and entered to find as usual she was home alone, again. “Nothing new,” Lexel said with a sigh as she stepped around a few clothes that she hoped belonged to her mother before heading straight to the terminal in her room.

It was the sole luxury Lexel had available to her, while most of her friends had portable little mini-coms they could pack around with them her only real access to the nodes was through an old terminal. While other kids might laugh at the out dated hardware she treasured it as her primary escape. They couldn’t ever afford much, but when she was little she had been lucky enough to find the old device that miraculously still worked.

Lexel patted the old terminal thankfully as she jacked herself in and smiled to herself. Awaiting her was the same old greeting that she had been met with every time since she had found the hidden node:

“Would you like to play a game?”

Her answer was always the same – yes.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

He’s The World’s Greatest… And You Clearly; You Are Not.

Now, I may not attend as many of my children’s school events as I should. I have come to discover as they get older, and the size of the proceedings invariably becomes larger it quite simply becomes to taxing on me. Don’t ask me to explain it, because I can’t. All I know is the larger the crowd and the more noise/commotion involved the greater the odds are I am going to fall victim to the situation. Take my word for it, when facing the prospect of fighting a wave of drowsiness that is guaranteed to get the best of you and take with it some measure of your mobility etc, the last place you want to be is in a crowd. You then become at the mercy of anyone your with and reliant on their aid – in short it stirs up the feelings of being a burden. Especially if it means whoever you’re with has to miss out on things worrying about or helping take care of you.

Granted, I know without question that my loving and capable wife could handle the situation wonderfully (she has time and again). Be that as it may though, there is the lingering subconscious issue of how others will see you. Not to mention the possibility you might frighten the children present who may not understand why a grown man suddenly is acting very strange.  

For some time I tried to be there for everything I could before I started to realize the strain it was taking. There have been times I had to be escorted out or politely excuse myself to try to stubbornly try to hide my dilemma out of sight. Over time I have simply come to the conclusion that I must select my appearances carefully. So when my son was going to be graduating from Kindergarten after struggling with some issues of his own I decided it was a warranted visit.

Typically I try to stick to the smaller events that almost always guarantee a smaller crowd. When I considered my decision I failed to remember that this ceremony was not such an event. Specifically, if it means the use of the gym to accommodate the crowd I try to avoid it if possible. Call it sensory overload if you wish, but once I get into a large group of closely approximated people its murder on me.

But, I can safely attest that I was victorious in my visit. I managed to witness my son graduate, sing a few songs and basically be very proud of him. I should point out that one of the main songs they sang was one ‘The World’s Greatest’ by R. Kelly, which he really seemed to get into.

However, the whole experience wasn’t completely pleasant, and I’d like to point out something that particularly upset me. While I struggled in order to attend the program, I was utterly ashamed at some of the other self-proclaimed ‘adults.’ In order to maintain a safe environment for the children and a level of responsibility in the event of an emergency the school wisely limits entry to the building to a single point of entry. Upon entering the premises it is clearly noted that you are required to sign in and leave your I.D. This is not only a required safety measure it is a minor action that should be common sense to any self-respecting parent. We want our children safe and to know that if something bad did happen that at the very least a record exists to identify any visitors present.

Instead of bearing witness to such responsible behavior I had to set and continually remind myself to resist the urge to give my mouth any liberty. One such example was a grown man lamenting the need to sign in or leave his identification. This self-same individual went on to profess that he wondered if he should have surrendered his gun as well. Proclaiming that such practices meant that we were being treated like terrorists.

For starters common sense alone dictates that it is absolutely irresponsible to even consider taking a gun into a building full of children. I love guns, I own guns – but part of being a gun owner isn’t just the right to do so, it is the inherent responsibility it involves. While I have children and guns I have never left the two in close proximity. I cannot imagine the desire to take a loaded gun into a place packed with not just my own kids but others as well. But then again I am not a trained expert engaging in a duty to safeguard the lives of others either.

And yet, sitting only a few feet from me was an agitated man who was unabashedly claiming that he had a gun in a school full of kids to watch a kindergarten graduation. WHY? For what purpose would you possibly think to bring a loaded weapon into an event full of 6 year-old's? What could threaten you so much about listening to them sing and smile as they show how proud of themselves they are? And for that matter, even if you did do so; why in the world would you be ranting about it so everyone could hear?

This wasn’t the sole experience I had this morning that has bothered me all day either. It was but one, another example was being forced to listen to a man behind me lash out at a small child demanding to know ‘just what the #$!! is wrong with you?’  The child hadn’t even made a sound.

I am almost ashamed to call myself fellow parent alongside the likes of some these people. Whatever happened to acting with respect and decency in public? As an adult you are not only a role model for your own children but others as well. While watching my son sing his song I couldn’t agree more with the words; he was the world’s greatest in his behavior. He was polite, patient and respectful up there on the stage. I wish I could say the same for more of the audience, but then again perhaps it’s not that unusual. In any case I know that as my children get older I may have to check my impulsive ill-restrained mouth at the door along with my I.D.

I can only tolerate so much, and we were in a school after all. If we don’t behave ourselves then how can we ever expect our children to do so as they get older? I shudder to think what would happen to me even at my age if I behaved in such a manner in public if my wife or my parents found out. I would like to think that I was raised better than that…

Friday, May 17, 2013

Luck Of The Claw - Episode 50.

- Episode 50 -

Baron Samael watched from the waiting shadows, Thatch and Cobble silently in tow behind him.
The fearsome dark magic infused dragons had withdrawn from the potent defenses of the Keep's wards that even now were still flickering. Such a powerfully spell-crafted barrier would be near impossible to breach by brute force, it would take some time and careful preparation to subvert it. Time was something he had, even if it did strain his patience. Yes, indeed, if he was to get his hands on that dragon or reclaim what those meddling brats had stolen from him he would wait.

And as for those rogue forces from the Vault, perhaps they could be yet mastered and guided to serve him. "Thatch, Cobble; it looks like you may yet be able to avoid your fates for failing me," the Baron coldly cooed. Both of his cowardly cohorts gulped down their fear as they tried not to imagine what that might entail.

"We have work to do, so very much to prepare for, come," Baron Samael bid them with a gesture as the empty air shifted and transformed briefly around them. When next Thatch or Cobble looked around them they found the familiar stone walls of FrostThorn Tower awaiting them and a strange tingle lingering in their skin. It was a rare enough experience that neither knew what to make of it - the Baron never had been known to use his magic to transport anyone other than himself.

But as the pair allowed themselves a sigh of relief for managing to return to the Tower intact and not in some other twisted form they couldn't help but feel like something was wrong. After a few long moments of being left alone it slowly started to sink in; aside from the Baron they were alone in FrostThorn Tower. Where had everyone else gone? Terror tickled it's way back up both Thatch and Cobble's spine until they both found themselves shivering.

"Until I can restock myself with suitable materials, you two will see to the various tasks required. Cobble, you'll find those interesting beasts below; see to it that they are fed and secured. Thatch, you will bring to me every tome and journal I have so that I may research a few things. Go on now, to work with you," Baron Samael ordered them.

The Baron, already beginning to become lost in contemplation, marked the exit of his misfortune minions. "Time for a few experiments I think," he quietly remarked to himself. The image of Lady Adriana crying out in pain like some savage beast warmed him inside as he recalled the scene had just witnessed. His only regrets were two-fold; that he hadn't delivered the blows himself and that he had been able to see her lifeless corpse. Instead Baron Samael would just have to treasure the look on the creature's face as he turned his focus on new plans.


Meanwhile, back in Oakhelm Keep; Trinity was struggling to make sense of a sudden ripple of magic beyond the wards marking a cast spell. Moments ago someone, or something had been out there unnoticed and now only the lingering echo of dissipating magic remained to confirm it's presence. Her mind raced to try and make some sense of what it could mean but Trinity had grown too tired; she couldn't think of anything.

"I think I should warn you," Trinity started to explain to everyone. "This is far from over," Mal interrupted her as he cautiously started to re-sheath his sword. "Those dragons will be back, if not here they will be waiting to seek us out elsewhere," the old knight declared. "Then we will be ready for them," Camden added proudly as he patted Silver-Claws affectionately on the neck.

"It looks to me like not only has my best knight returned to me but that he has brought with him three new heroes to safeguard the realm," King Rainborne mused thoughtfully. "I'd say we are in the best possible hands," Tonniel added as he slapped Mal on the back playfully.

"Fates favor us all," Mal prayed as he looked into the eyes of both Camden and Trinity. Something told him they were going to need all the help they could get.