Presenting: WtC: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans

TempCover

It’s done! Well, sort of; 1) despite best editing efforts, I fully expect to get a bunch of errata notes back from early readers, 2) the cover will be modified once a previous file is recovered (long boring story). The important thing is, after way too long, WtC: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans has been submitted to DrivethruRPG, and should be approved aaaaaany minute now. (And of course I will follow up with a link when they do.) The second sourcebook, WtC: The B-Files, will be available soon. And then it’s on to the next Wearing the Cape book, operating title: Repercussions.

What is Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans?

Readers of my series will be familiar with the fictional BGS. It was modeled on the Jane’s Guide books, a series of annual publications identifying aircraft and ships of the world, both civilian and military. They were the pre-internet guide to the subject, and still are the definitive guide. I named it Barlow’s Guide in homage to an amazing book, Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (Wayne Barlowe provided the art and Ian Summers and Beth Meacham wrote the text). Published in 1979, it had quite the impact on my young imagination.

When I ran the Kickstarter campaign last year, I was aware that the Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game gamebook had a problem; it only gave the reader cape-files for the Sentinels. And while their powers varied a bit they didn’t present anywhere near the full potential of the system. Also, the campaign background chapter only went into real detail about what happened to the United States in the Post-Event World. That left a lot of the world described only in passing.

So Wearing the Cape: Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans was planned to rectify that problem. It would cover the rest of the world much more extensively (although hardly completely, it’s a big world). It would give context to superhumans in other places and how their societies influenced the way other superheroes wear the cape. It would go into more detail about Post-Event organizations, and about other places (space, the past and future, and other realities). Additionally, it would provide at least 20 fully worked up cape-files of characters from the books, complete with their backgrounds, plus an unknown number of characters created by Kickstarter backers. Those new characters would be approved by me to be fully world-compliant, vetted by me to make sure their stories and powers fit the setting and made good use of the rules.

It was an ambitious project; almost as ambitious as the gamebook had been. And now it’s finished, with only one slight hiccup. I’d let myself forget just how long it took to write the world background sections for the gamebook.

Here’s the thing; I didn’t include the wider world in the gamebook background because I hadn’t really done a lot with it. Any writer will tell you that one of the keys to getting anything done is not writing up lots of details that aren’t going to affect the story. Not that the deep-detail approach doesn’t work; JRR Tolkien wrote whole languages, alphabets, and histories out before finally getting to writing the books that revolutionized fantasy. But I’m no Tolkien and he also took years and years to finish. In fact he never did finish, he just set it aside.

And now I’d committed to figuring out what happened to much of the rest of the world, Post-Event. And it couldn’t be off-the-cuff stuff, either; the Post-Event World, as I described it in the sourcebook, would henceforth be series canon. All this while writing the next book in the series, Recursion. So, no pressure.

And that’s the long explanation before the heartfelt apology for how long this has taken, and I hope it’s worth the wait! So, what’s in Barlow’s Guide to Superhumans?

Ooooohh, lots of goodness.

What’s In the Book?

There are 20 pages of geopolitical world background, detailing the post-Event fates Eastern and Western Europe, Southern Africa, the Americas, much of Asia and the Indian sub-continent, and the Middle East. It touches on events in specific nations, including Russia, Finland, China, India, Iran, Botswana, and Mexico among others, and lays out post-Event alliance structures. I love this map:

Post-Event Europe Map.pngMoving beyond post-Event societies and geopolitics, there are another 15 pages covering organizations and the interesting “other places.” It covers known organizations like The Ascendancy, Heroes Without Borders, and the Undying Caliphate, and adds a new international criminal syndicate, Illyria as a worked example of potential enemy organizations. It demonstrates the potential of other realities with a worked up example, The Dreamlands, which ties into a new Power-Type: Dreamweavers.

Those 35 pages are almost entirely “rules-free.” They’re intended as pure background, real additions fleshing out the canonical Post-Event World beyond what has yet shown up in the books. Because they are canonical, they make up the section that took the longest to complete.

And yes, a bunch of the stuff that I “discovered” writing the additional background will have a real influence on future stories. BTW, special thanks is due to several Kickstarter backers who actually live in Europe and could give me feedback on the “political realism” of what I thought happened there; they changed more than a few details (events in Finland specifically are almost entirely due to the character backstory written by a Finnish fan).

And then there’s the expanded Power-Templates, and the cape-files. Soooo many cape-files. So many fans responded to the Kickstarter challenge to create their own characters who could be vetted for inclusion in the Post-Event World that I had to break it up; in addition to 20 author-created characters (Ozma, Grendel, Vulcan, etc.), WtC:BGS includes almost 30 fan-created original characters. A few of them (Ambrosius and The Lady of Doors, to name two) have already appeared in Recursion.

Ambrosius

Ambrosius: a White-Hat from Texas.

Are you excited? ‘Cause I’m excited. Sometime this week DriveThruRPG will put the book online, I’ll email coupons to all the Kickstarter backers waiting for it, and one long-delayed project will be finished. I will spend the rest of October prepping the cape-files going into Wearing the Cape: The B-Files, launch on DriveThruRPG, and combine both sourcebooks for the printed edition of WtC:Barlow’s Guide and The B-Files. Close to 100 cape-files of superhuman heroes, villains, and civilians in the Post-Event World.

Won’t that be something?

MGH

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

I Feel a Social Commentary Coming On.

And now, fake news.

An article claims that, when asked “How often do you think news sources report news they know to be fake, false or purposely misleading?”, 72% of respondents said A lot/sometimes.

The article about the survey is headlined:

92 Percent of Republicans Think Media Intentionally Reports Fake News.

It’s become a joke. You’re riding in a packed elevator, when the air is filled with a truly gag-worthy stink cloud. The likely culprit? The smart-ass who quips “Okay, who farted?”

The irony may be reaching toxic levels, but it makes me smile.

The thing is that, despite its own spin, the Axios article did a service by talking about it. What did the survey results actually say? That when asked the above question, 72%, nearly three in four Americans surveyed, answered A lot/sometimes. Yes, 92% of Republicans, but also 53% of Democrats and 79% of Independents.

But Axios spun even this: the actual question asked was “How often do you think that traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false or purposely misleading?” (Italics mine). The spin may have been accidental. Traditional major news sources implicates FOX, CNN, MSNBC, etc, but leaves direct-to-internet and other newer sources like Axios off the hook, but further into the article Axios uses the correct wording.

Something else pointed out from the survey; just about half of all respondents who answered A lot/sometimes use Google Search to verify facts they think are questionable.

This is good. It says we’re becoming smarter about using all of the information resources we now have at our fingertips (literally). It’s a habit I’ve been cultivating myself, although it mostly comes up in the context of Facebook. Ah, Facebook, the ultimate purveyor of fake quotes, fake memes, fake news, true head-banging stuff. If I come across something I think is stinky on my Facebook feed, and have a few minutes, I do a search about it. If it turns out to be true, well awesome, my world is expanded and my assumptions checked. If it turns out to be faked, I may drop a corrective link in the comments while leaving this:

Bullshit Is Bad

I think of it as the Bullshit Award. I don’t award it to entries I think are “spun” wrong or biased; I give it to entries that are wrong on the facts. It mostly goes to viral memes.

This hardly makes me an infallible diviner of Truth, of course. I’m sure there are Facebook posts I just see and nod at because they confirm my biases without obviously insulting my intelligence; they don’t trigger my skepticism. I think this is why fewer Democrats than Republicans said A lot/sometimes on the survey question.

So, what should be done about this?

Trick question. The correct question is, should anything be done about this? The answer is no. Not just no, but Oh Hell no. at least not politically. We already have libel laws and the absolute last thing we need is a Ministry of Truth. We do need to continue on with the solutions we’ve been developing; fact-checkers and a personal willingness to question what we read and even see. As a society we are beginning to develop pretty effective BS-meters. Yes we’re often hypocritical, calling out the other guy’s farts while ignoring our own, but we usually fess up when called out on our own. And although lies can spread pretty fast on the internet, they also leave a record; you can learn pretty fast which news sources are reliable or reliably stinky. You learn who to ride the elevator with.

Marion G. Harmon

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in The Radical Moderate | 5 Comments

A Box Full of Dreams

So today marks a new milestone for the Wearing the Cape series. I’ve been sitting on this news until it happened, but Wearing the Cape is now available as part of a 10-book collection of superhero stories! Check it out, here. Each is by a different author, some of the best Book One stories in the expanding superhero genre.

It’s got:

Serpent’s Sacrifice, by Trish Heinrich (4.5/5 Amazon Stars).
Morning Sun, by Jeremy Flagg (4/5 Amazon Stars).
Action Figures, by Michael Bailey (4.4/5 Amazon Stars).
Supervillain High, by Gerhard Gehrke (4/5 Amazon Stars).
Origin, by David Neth (4/5 Amazon Stars).
Sidekick, by Christopher Valin (4.7/5 Amazon Stars).
The Kota, by Sunshine Somerville (4.6/5 Amazon Stars).
Super, by Karen Diem (4/5 Amazon Stars).
Wearing the Cape, by me (Amazon Stars irrelevant, it’s just the best).
Hero Status, by Kristen Brand (4.5/5 Amazon Stars).

If you’ve only read Wearing the Cape or even a handful of these, this is a great way to expose yourself to some great new talent in the genre (and I won’t say which one’s my favorite, but would love to hear your opinion here). If you’ve plowed through all or most of these, the collection is still a great way to spread the addiction by letting everyone else know they can get 10 superhero adventures, all first books in their series, for $2.99.

And I have to say, this is fantastic; when I published Wearing the Cape back in 2011, there wasn’t even a superhero fiction category on Amazon; now it’s hard to keep up with all the new talent. So spread the word; superheroes rock, and with this collection the first taste of the flavorings mixed by ten superhero authors is practically free.

Marion G. Harmon

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

An Incredible Sequel.

incredibles-2-netflix

I like to think about what words used to mean. Take “incredible.” It’s the opposite of “credible”, which is to say it originally meant “unbelievable.” Not always in a good way.

“You claim that you had no knowledge of a crime, carried out over the course of many weeks, under your very nose. Mr. Brad, this jury must find your testimony truly incredible.”

Today incredible basically means “So awesome it’s hard to believe!” A much more positive connotation, don’t you think? I’d agree it’s incredible that The Incredibles II managed to be a sequel every bit as good as it precursor. It’s a show worthy of adding to my superhero movie collection.

Go see it. No spoilers, but I’ll say that it’s worth watching just for the incredibly clever use the writers/director made of such superpowers as elasticity, “teleportation disks,” and force-fields. It’s nothing you haven’t seen in the comics before, but that’s the point; the movie’s makers obviously spent a great deal of time studying the permutations of powers worked out by superhero comics writers over the years. But here I’m going to talk about something else. To be blunt, I think that too many people critiquing superhero fiction like The Incredibles have forgotten the point that it’s supposed to be incredible.

What I mean by this is that, more than most genres, superhero stories are metafiction. They are supposed to be unbelievable in a good way. Much of what is fun in superhero fiction only works if you recognize the artificiality of the genre, and don’t try and read too much into it.

The Incredibles I and II are more metafictional than most superhero stories, and totally up-front about it. The Incredible Family is a family of incredible superhumans attempting to go unnoticed, and so their public family name is the Parrs? Par as in “average”? And Bob and Helen’s children are named Violette (a Shrinking Violette, with powers of invisibility and barriers), Dash (an impulsive speedster), and Jack-Jack (jack of all trades . . . ). Obviously Bob and Helen named their children at birth, before any powers manifested, yet the children are aptly named for both their powers and personalities. Incredible, but powers fitting personalities is a common superhero convention. So is everyone’s inability to recognize people they know personally when they put tiny masks on.

The key here is that, to enjoy a movie like The Incredibles II, you need to recognize the conventions and tropes of the genre, identify which the show is playing straight, or lamp-shading, or deconstructing, and just roll with it. Fortunately, most viewers do that rather easily. Unfortunately, too many people who are payed by the word to think about and write about movies don’t.

The result can be something like this:

“Like “The Incredibles,” the new film presents the Incredible family chafing under the ostensibly democratic order that prevents them from taking the law into their own hands whenever they perceive a threat that their talents could thwart.”

And:

“Yet what’s chilling about “Incredibles 2” isn’t its smug self-promotion; it’s the superhero essentialism—the vision of born leaders with an unimpeachable moral compass to whom all right-thinking people should swear allegiance and invest confidence.”

And:

“Incredibles 2” invokes a political world in nonpolitical ways; it’s a vision of apolitical, quasi-unanimously acclaimed virtues that are assured by the supreme powers of innate and doubt-free strongmen and strongwomen who intervene only in emergencies. It’s a nostalgic vision of total power of a local minimum that echoes sickeningly with the nostalgic pathologies of the current day, nowhere more than in Win’s enthusiastic declaration of his plan to “make superheroes legal again.” In such moments, “Incredibles 2” stakes an unintended claim to being the most terrifying movie of the season.

Those are quotes from Richard Brodie’s New Yorker review of the movie, the title of which is The Authoritarian Populism of “Incredibles 2.” In case you missed the last reference, he was equating “Make superheroes legal again,” with “Make America great again!”

In a word, “Huh?”

Now, I’m not saying that TI2 was politics-free. It wasn’t; in fact it contains a couple of “clever” throw-away lines that had nothing to do with the plot and should have been thrown away. And the way the legal situation resolves at the end . . . Just go with it. Maybe I’ll address it some other time.

But Brodie and many, many critics like him are falling into a trap because they don’t recognize the self-conscious conventions of the superhero genre. He looks at The Incredibles movies and sees Superhero Essentialism as a sinister ideal; “…the vision of born leaders with an unimpeachable moral compass to whom all right-thinking people should swear allegiance and invest confidence.” But if there is such as thing as Superhero Essentialism, it’s “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Which is in many ways exactly the opposite of what Brodie sees. Responsibility, not authority.

I think that where Brodie and the rest often go wrong when trying to derive social and political metaphors from superhero stories, is they equate superhuman power with moral authority. But superhuman powers are fantasy. The unique position they put superheroes in simply doesn’t exist in the real world; how many people do you know who can stop a train full of people from crashing? How many people do you know who can shut down an active-shooter situation quickly, decisively, and at no risk to themselves? Beyond the idea that if you can do something, you should do something (and any of us can make a difference in much more human-scale ways), superpowers as a fact in a superhero world don’t mean anything.

The Incredibles don’t want to “lead with an unimpeachable moral compass,” they want to help because they can. We enjoy wish-fulfillment movies like this because the wish to be able to help is a near-universal human trait. While I’m often critical of billionaires and celebrities who use their money or fame to push causes I think are less than informed, I’ll never deny their right to try and leverage their “superpowers” to make a difference. The way we’re wired, many of us actually feel bad if we don’t try and make a difference when we can. We expect it of ourselves and others.

So if you haven’t seen The Incredibles II yet, go enjoy it. Do not fear the super-authoritarians, there aren’t any. There’s just a bunch of superheroes who want to do what superheroes do in a superhero world. Save the day.

Marion G. Harmon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Movie Reviews | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Onward to Barlow’s Guide & The B-Files

Barlow's Guide Combined Cover promo

So with Recursion finally published in ebook and paperback, it’s back to work on the sourcebook! Yay! To let everyone know where it’s going, I’m finished with the long first chapter on different regions and nations of the world and how the aftermath of the Event has changed them. I’m pushing my way through a chapter on different post-Event organizations.

Both of these chapters are totally rules-free for the benefit of a) fans who just want meaty world background and b) players using the source-material for non-Fate games. However, they will be followed by a chapter going into advanced uses of Aspects and Stunts to flesh out what’s in the gamebook, as well as pages and pages of characters from the books. And that’s not getting into the new templates and of course all the great capes submitted during the kickstarter campaign. No promises, but I’d love to have the electronic edition for everyone by the end of next month, with the printed edition shipped the month after.

Meanwhile, I’m also working on a Wearing the Cape novella, smaller than my regular novels but still an Astra adventure. No completion date or even a title, just a cool idea and some scenes so far.

In the next week or so, now that Infinity War has been out for a while, I’d like to do a post on it. Meanwhile, to let you see some of the good stuff coming in the sourcebook, here’s a couple of excerpts.

———————-

The Serene Republic of Cuba

Possibly the strangest national Post-Event story belongs to Cuba. A “unitary Marxist-Leninist one-party socialist republic” (a brutal police-state), Cuba imploded politically the week of the Event. Under the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior, the National Revolutionary Police (the PNR) began arresting all “politically suspect” breakthroughs. As authoritarian regimes around the world discovered, brutal actions against large numbers of their citizens played out differently with breakthroughs in the picture. Some breakthroughs rallied to the defense of the Republic of Cuba. Most didn’t. Police stations burned across the island as first the police and then the army failed to maintain control. A group of breakthroughs calling themselves The People’s True Revolution began a campaign of mass-assassination against Communist Party leaders and officials. Government reprisals killed thousands.

Then the Tyrant announced himself.

By radio, internet, and tv, the faceless Tyrant announced a cessation of the killing; henceforth anyone who attacked any official or citizen would be “dealt with.” His announcement was ignored, and many, many people were promptly dealt with by Upright Men who appeared from nowhere and took them away. None of the taken who returned remembered what happened wherever they went, but they didn’t hurt anyone ever again. Then the Tyrant announced the new Serene Republic of Cuba. He called for patience while direct representatives of the Cuban people were chosen and assembled to create a new state constitution under his direction.

This set the pattern of The Serene Republic of Cuba. To this day, nobody knows who the Tyrant is, but he is head of the new and uniquely structured government.

Under the New Charter, Cuba is now a demarchy. Each year, every Cuban citizen who wants to stand for national office submits their name to the Sortition Board. On Sortition Day, five hundred names are drawn by lot for nomination to the Assembly, Cuba’s national congress, where they will serve as representatives for one year. Ten names are also drawn for nomination to the Council. These ten must have previously served on the Assembly. The Cuban people may affirm or reject the nominations; if one in five rejects a citizen’s nomination, the nomination fails and a replacement name is drawn. The Assembly and Council are the legislative bodies of the SRC government, but their law-making powers are restricted by the people’s Charter Rights and the Tyrant’s Veto. Under the Charter, the office of Tyrant will be held by the unknown Tyrant for fifty years, after which the office will become an annually elective one, election and re-election made by the representatives of that year’s Assembly, with a term limit of five years.

The Tyrant of Cuba and the Upright Men

Under the Tyrant, Cuba has truly dedicated itself to Libertas, Equitas, Concordia. Government management of the economy is a thing of the past, and Cuba’s free market is booming. Although the island nation has a way to go to catch up, its per-capita wealth will likely match that of North America and Europe within a generation or two. The national government acts minimally on provincial and community governments, and laws are fair and fairly enforced. Thousands of Cuban-Americans are returning to Cuba every year, and many Cubans call it El Paradiso. In comparison to pre-Event Cuba, it’s a utopia.

If it is, it’s a utopia under the light but sinister rule of a benevolent dictator nobody knows anything about.

The Tyrant has only ever acted and communicated through the Upright Men, and nobody knows anything about them, either. They wear distinctive black suits with narrow black ties and black flat-brimmed hats, but nobody who sees them can remember details other than an impression that they’re tall and almost cadaverously lean. They are invisible to recordings. Their only known mode of “attack” is to teleport onto the scene, lay a hand on their target, and teleport away with them. Resisting targets just draw more Upright Men. Physical attacks on them can apparently land with effect, and an injured Upright Man will disappear to be replaced. The single largest witnessed pile-on of Upright Men was described as a sequential and then simultaneous cascade of more than two dozen.

While the nature of the Upright Men is a complete mystery, what triggers an appearance is not.  An Upright Man might appear to deliver a message from the Tyrant. If it’s instructions, and the instructions aren’t followed, the recipient of the instructions is taken. But far more often, Upright Men appear to take either corrupt politicians and officials (and evidence of corruption or abuse almost invariably found after the fact), or breakthroughs engaging in violent criminal activity. These individuals are never turned over to the court system; if they are returned, they are considered to have “paid their dues.” Notably, they never repeat the triggering behavior.

The Upright Men function as the voice of the Tyrant and as an extra-judicial source of “justice” in Cuban society. Since their judgements never appear to be in error, many Cubans love them. Others loudly condemn them, but freedom of speech is written into Cuba’s new Charter Rights and nobody speaking against them has ever been taken. Nor has anyone whose tried to attack an Upright Man ever been taken, unless their action injured others.

International Relations

Cuba’s relations with the rest of the world are . . . fraught. On the one hand, the Tyrant has announced no military ambitions and has not built up the army. The new government has opened reciprocal trade relations with all states interested in fair trade. The island is now completely open to emigration (immigration is mostly limited to Cuban ex-pats wishing to return) and tourism.

On the other hand, Cuba has become a sanctuary for many “supervillains.” Anybody can go to a Cuban embassy and ask for refuge, or just visit as a tourist and drop by a police office to do the same. The request will be passed to the Tyrant, and nobody knows why he may decide to grant sanctuary. Guests who simply get fake identities and stay illegally have sometimes been allowed to remain even after foreign governments tracking them there have revealed their presence and asked for their return. At other times arrivals on the island have been met at the gate by an Upright Man asking them to leave. Some of those given refuge have been known terrorists.

Many liberal western states also have a great deal of difficulty with the Tyrant since he is a dictator. Arguably a benevolent dictator, but a head of state who exercises absolute and arbitrary power. Despite the otherwise utterly liberal and democratic (if weird) nature of the Cuban government, the country has not been invited to join the League of Democratic States.

Lastly, the Tyrant has formally claimed Guantanamo Bay and does not recognize the United States’ claim to its perpetual lease there. The US President doesn’t recognize the Tyrant’s claim, but neither party has made any moves over it (one political pundit has compared the apparent mutual attitude to two cats sharing the same balcony perch while ignoring each other). Cuba treats the boundary between the US military base and the rest of Cuba like an international boundary, with a checkpoint that simply records crossings but doesn’t stop US military personnel and Cuban citizens from crossing either way. Many Cubans do contract work on the base, and US military personnel visit Guantanamo City for R&R.

Box: Using the Serene Republic of Cuba.

The Upright Men defy classification, other than to call them Mentalist-Types since they teleport. No Upright Man has ever been successfully controlled by magic, psi-powers, or Verne-tech, nor can their minds be read or their purposes mystically divined. What they do to subdue targets once they’re taken away is as much a mystery as everything else about them. When they bother to talk, they speak as dispassionate observers with little or no emotional inflection, leading some to speculate they might not be fully human. Their goals (presumed to be the Tyrant’s goals) are completely opaque, other than the continued serenity of the Serene Republic of Cuba.

The GM should feel utterly free to make what she wants from the Serene Republic of Cuba, the Tyrant, and the Upright Men. The Tyrant could be an absolute villain with diabolical plans for the rest of the world. Or he could be a scrupulous and just man, doing everything he does for what he sees as the benefit of the people of Cuba. He might be both. The one thing the GM should not do is break the mystery; whatever she decides, the PCs and players must never be allowed to peer inside the Black Box that is Cuba’s truth. Of course this assumes that the campaign is utterly canon; in an un-canon campaign the GM is free to turn the Tyrant into a known threat along the lines of Marvel’s Victor Von Doom of Latveria. The people of Cuba are his “children,” the Upright Men are his Doom Bots, etc., have fun with my absolute blessing.  If you take this approach, it’s a very good idea to make the Upright Men just a little less powerful and omniscient.

——————————-

“The First Star to The Right, and Straight on Till Morning.”

While still rare, world-jumpers are far more common than time travelers. Sometimes, the ability to reality-hop is just a tangential part of a breakthrough’s power; other times, it’s the core of the jumper’s power. Post-Event researchers are only just beginning to understand extrareality, with the serious handicap of not knowing if the observations and rules they’re establishing actually describe what it is or what they want it to be. However, a structural theory has emerged, dubbed the Infinitude. The theory appears to account for all observed phenomena and has, so far, been reliably predictive. It might actually be the way things are. Extrareality Theory divides the Infinitude, the space of all possible realities, into Stage I and Stage II Realities.

Stage I Realities

The current Theory of Everything begins with the Big Bang, with an addition to the theory; in the first moment of creation, the infinitesimal span between P and P + 10−43 (the moment known as the Planck Epoch when all forces including gravity were fully unified), the universe split. It then inflated as an infinite number of universes, the State I Realities. All Stage I Realities began as perfect copies, but over time they diverged, first on the quantum level, then on the macro level. Once life and later intelligent life entered the picture, they diverged even more quickly. However, with an infinite number of universes, a smaller set of infinite universes remain almost completely identical. In theory, there is a universe otherwise identical to the one you know except that there you ate something different for breakfast. Stage I Realities are labeled Alternate Presents (APs), and they are as immune to change as the P of our own reality.

Note that historic changes leading to very different-appearing presents do not have to be causally related. In one discovered AP, history began to diverge during WWI. Hitler was killed in action on the Eastern Front. Consequently, there was no Nazi Germany. Also, the Russian Provisional Government withdrew Russia from the war earlier. As a result, there was no Bolshevik Revolution and Communist Russia. Neither divergence caused the other, but the result was a very different geopolitical situation in the 21st Century.

Visiting Stage I Realities

Some jumpers have shown the power to enter the AP extrarealities. However, not all are equally accessible. If a traveler jumps to an AP where he doesn’t exist (where he was never born or he’s died), he will arrive physically. However, if he jumps to an AP where he has an extrareality analogue (twin), then he will mentally “possess” his twin, bringing only his memories and consciousness. His own body disappears from his previous reality for the duration. If he stays there too long, “host memories” will begin to emerge, and eventually he and his twin will become a single person with the memories of both and a melded personality. At this point the traveler is stuck as his new composite-self; if he jumps again, all of him goes.

Researchers have no idea why it works this way, but one theory is that all analogues of you are actually you, all part of one big multi-reality Oversoul. The “you” that you see in the mirror in the morning is just the instantiation of you that you’re aware of. Of course this is just a theory, along with the theory that all other Stage I Realities are actually real, as real as our own Reality Prime.

Stage II Realities

Stage II Realities are much more difficult to explain. They’re called Stage II because they appear to be causally linked to Stage I Realities and therefor dependent on them, but this may not be true. It may be that only access to Stage II Realities is dependent on Stage I Realities. In either case, Stage II Realities are all extrarealities that we might describe as “fictions.” The category includes realms of folklore, mythology, and religious beliefs, as well as realms of recorded (and hypothesized) history and fiction. Debates about the nature of many visited Stage II Realities get heated; does any afterlife realm really, objectively, exist? Or are various afterlife realms visited by supernatural breakthroughs created by them?

Lumping the Christian Heaven in with Barsoom as a Stage II Reality might seem insulting, when obviously Barsoom, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fictional Mars, is a fictional creation. But is it? If they do share the same level of realness, perhaps Burroughs imaginatively accessed a real extrareality long before the Event. Could prophets and other visionary religious types have been doing the same with their portrayals of Heaven and Hell? Or Heaven could be real, the Throne of God, while Barsoom is a fictional creation made real by Post-Event breakthroughs. There is, literally, no way to tell; no scientific test has yet been devised that will differentiate one from the other in any observable way.

Not all Stage II Realities need to look different. Some observed S2s have been mistaken for P – x, until divergences were created. For example, one devoted scholar of the history of the European conflicts of the 20th Century triggered a breakthrough-jump that took him “back” to 1911. With the bits of 21st Century technology he brought with him (a smart-phone, for one), and his foreknowledge of events leading up to WWI, he was able to get the attention of people who could introduce him to the people who could keep the Great War from happening. He also started a weapons and technology race, but in a decade S2 1911 managed to make the leap to an effective Western League that has so far kept wars between any developed nations from breaking out.

Extrarealities and Reality Prime

In-canon, the reality of extrarealities has so far had little effect on Reality Prime (the “real” world). Incursions from outside Reality Prime are rare and usually limited in scope. (Japan’s kaiju and oni problem is an exception—one that appears deliberately created.) This means that extrarealities are almost always destinations for adventure. A small subset of superhumans also claim to be visitors from extrarealities rather than breakthroughs. Whether or not they really are is up to the GM, but no definitive answer is necessary. PCs will believe different things in this regard, and in the spirit of the books the GM should keep the truth about such claims under his hat unless revealing the truth is part of the plot. For example, an incursion’s claim of coming from the future with a warning of an impending catastrophe could turn out to be an elaborate scam (which won’t prove or disprove other claims).

On the other hand, there is nothing that says GMs must stick to the limited-incursion rule. Just dialing up the prevalence and impact of incursions can make a Post-Event campaign much more epically heroic. What if the world’s breakthroughs need to come together to fight off a massive invasion of Earth launched by Ming the Merciless? Cthulhu? Or any other potentially world-conquering or ending Threat from Another Dimension? (Note: GMs need not copy threats from fiction. If extrarealities are more than just subjectively real, then the Infinitude holds dreams and nightmares we’ve never thought of.)

And of course, nothing is more true to the superhero genre than crossovers! How can any GM pass up the opportunity to work up cape-files for their favorite superheroes and arrange for them to get transported to Reality Prime to meet the group’s CAI team? Or for the team to get transported into the Marvel or DC universes to meet the iconic heroes that inspired and shaped so many breakthrough templates? (Or meet Velveteen or Halo, for that matter. . .)

 

 

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged | 27 Comments

Update to the Update!

Update Available

First piece of news; the paperback edition is now available on Amazon! Yay!

But the main purpose of this update is a follow-up on the last one. By the responses, several readers are having a hard time getting the updated ebook from Amazon. For me, personally, I went a few years without realizing this was available and how to do it. So here’s a quick walk-through.

1) Make sure you’re logged into your Amazon.com account and find this drop-down menu. Click on YOUR CONTENT AND DEVICES.

drop-down

2) You should then see a listing of all of your purchased ebooks. Look down the list to Recursion. You should see a button to click on. Click on it.

Update Available

Amazon will ask you to confirm. Do it.

It’s really as simple as that. However, apparently Amazon hasn’t been entirely consistent in how the update has been applied. One reader wrote that Amazon automatically updated the file in his library and on his device. If Amazon did this to you, then you will not see the Update Available button. Once you’ve manually updated, the button goes away when you refresh the screen.

To make things more confusing, a reader in Australia (which has its own “Amazon zone”) hasn’t seen the option appear at all. So, if you’re not clear about whether or not you now have the updated ebook on your device, do this:

Go to Chapter Four (location 522), and look for this paragraph:

“Besides not being freaked? It’s what Blackstone said—people who already hate me are just going to use this as one more thing.” I’d made this worse, with everything else. Blackstone hadn’t tried to soften it, and I appreciated that, and it sucked.

This is one of the dozen paragraphs edited in the update. If you have the un-updated file, it reads “already hate of me”, if you have the updated file it reads “already hate me”.

Anyway, sorry for the mess.

Marion G. Harmon

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Update Available! Also, Time Talk and Spoiler-Alert.

 

 

Update Available

 

First the interesting news.

So this hasn’t been the smoothest book launch I’ve experienced. . . Everyone’s up on the drama that led me to tank the pre-orders and release the book a day ahead of schedule, but it’s turned out there are other errors that didn’t get caught by the last editing round. None were so egregious as the one that caused me to drop the pre-orders to fix it, but still. Fortunately, a bunch of readers were happy to point them out! (And now I’m seriously considering formally crowd-sourcing my editing on the next book.)

So the good news is that after a final final editing round, the ebook was re-uploaded to Amazon and KDP was alerted to the changes. I checked this morning, and, per my request, they’ve set it so that if you go to your Amazon and click on your Content and Devices under your Account and Lists drop-down bar, you will find the above Update Available button on your Recursion purchase.

Click on it, confirm your choice, and you’re good to go.

And now, let’s talk about time.

Before launching Recursion, I promised everyone that it wasn’t a ret-con (retroactive continuity change) or alternate-history story. I hope I delivered to everyone’s satisfaction, but one thing I did drop from the book was the lengthy reason why Shell was absolutely convinced that Hope hadn’t time-traveled and wasn’t in her own past. I referred to the immutability of history and left it at that. So I thought I’d drop the explanation here. This is considered The Way Things Work by post-Event scientists (and is a direct excerpt from the soon-to-be-finished sourcebook for the RPG).

Past Tense, Future Imperfect

Breakthrough powers opened space, although we have yet to do more than establish a foothold on the closest island beyond our own in its infinitely vast ocean. That alone changes everything, but breakthroughs have gone much further than into space. For one thing, in a handful of cases breakthrough powers have enabled time-travel. TIME TRAVEL. Oh, the horror, the horror. . . Wait, it’s not so bad. Nobody has started rewriting history, in fact it can’t be done. And nobody has come back from the future to tell us that we’re Doomed, nothing we can do about it but enjoy ourselves and leave the future to the Morlocks, the Machine Overlords, or whatever.

You can’t break history, and the future isn’t set. Again, it’s not like the comics. This is because, whatever breakthrough power is used to travel, the nature of time appears to be the same for all travelers. It’s divided into the Past, Present, and Future, each of these being territories with different properties.

Time’s Moving Arrow

The easiest way to think about time is as an arrow, represented by a point, launched along a vector, represented by a line, at the moment of the Big Bang. From the moment of “launch”, the speeding point of that arrow (traveling at 1 second per second, of course) is the present, defined as the moment where the sequential possibilities of the universe become actualities. Ahead of time’s arrow are only sequences of possible events. The wake of the arrow is the sequence of decided actualities running back to the beginning. We live in, and our consciousness is ordinarily limited to, that moving possibility-to-actuality convergence point. Let’s call that point P.

P minus x: The Past

What does this mean for time traveling breakthroughs? For starters, for visitors to the past, it means that nothing new can happen in P – x. It’s a fully realized actuality. You can’t go back and murder your own grandfather to commit suicide so thoroughly that you were never born to go back and murder your poor innocent grandfather before he and grandma conceived your dad. Read that sentence again. He wasn’t murdered, so he won’t be murdered, even by you. You can’t change the past. What stops you? That’s up to the GM; it could be hilarious or lethal coincidence, or you could just get popped back to the present the instant you commit to a course that would change history if you carried it through. Because history is fixed, if you go back in time then you are limited to actions that don’t change P. This can be done through a Situation Aspect (or even Campaign Aspect) like You’re History. Literally. The GM can simply point to Aspect Denial whenever you knowingly, or even unknowingly, attempt to do something that will change history and rewrite the present. Alternatively, he can compel the Aspect if it will get your PC in serious trouble.

Which doesn’t mean that you can’t interact with P – x. You could, for example, go back with a backpack full of synthetic diamonds, convert the diamonds to cash, and use the cash to buy carefully picked shares of preferred stocks. Set up a trust to curate those investments for you, and then return to the present and collect your earnings. Go buy an island.

Anything you do in the past was part of the past before you were born. Ironically, this means you could be your own grandpa. Actually, could is the wrong word; you either are or you aren’t, there is never a time where you weren’t but then you were. This means that all actions time travelers take in the past are, in a weird way, fated. Try not to think about it too much. The good news from all of this is that, knowing that time travel is possible, you never need to wonder if you’ve been retconned, or someday might get written out of existence, by a time traveler going back to change things. It. Can’t. Be. Done.

P plus x: The Future

So what about the future, the P plus x point ahead of the moving arrow, the territory full of unactualized possibilities? Well there you can do anything. Anything, that is, except visit the same possible future twice. Why? Because P + x isn’t real in the same way as P and P – x are. P + x depends on the conditions of P. When you visit P + x (really visiting just one of the infinite array of potential Ps, usually the most likely one), and bring back knowledge of what might happen in that unactualized country, or bring back future-tech or whatever, you change P. Change P and you change P + x; any visit to P + x, that you return from, automatically retcons P + x. It’s not going to happen now, whether the new potential future is only different in a trivial way or in every way. This doesn’t make the knowledge or stuff you brought back to P disappear, since it is now actualized, a part of P.

Breakthroughs and P

The concrete inviolability of the past, and the transience of the future, still leaves time traveling breakthroughs with a lot of play. If you can go back, then simple tricks like going back and putting a gun in a location you know you’re going to need it to be later, work just fine. If you need to get somewhere fast and undetected, travel back or ahead far enough that whomever is looking for you in the present isn’t looking yet or anymore, make your trip, and then return to the present. And of course, as the Teatime Anarchist demonstrated, future tech and future knowledge is power. One last limit on temporal hi-jinxes is that your personal P is synced to the universe’s P; if you spend an hour in the future or past, an hour will also pass in the present—you can’t be gone a year and come back to the second that you left. Which still leaves many possibilities. See Ami Hasikawa (p. XX-p. XX) for an example.

Psychics and the Duplicate Solution

Researchers are now fairly certain that the existence of P – x and P + x is the basis for psychic powers like precognition (the ability to “see” the future) and psychometry (the ability to read the history of objects). The transient nature of P + x may also explain the power some breakthroughs possess to duplicate themselves; they are pulling future-selves from some number of potential futures into P with them. These “temporal copies” would be from only fractions of a second into the future. Of course it’s possible that some breakthrough duplicators work this way, while others don’t. In any case, until a Verne-Type develops a time-barrier that blocks travel to and from P + x, it’s only speculation.

 

———————————————

So there you have it; the rationale behind the first Wearing the Cape story. And now moving on (like we have a choice, we’re always moving on), I thought I’d throw this offer up here:

LET’S MAKE THIS THE SPOILER POST

Anybody who wants to reply to this post with questions about the ebook update, or about P, P – x, and P + x, feel free. But also, lets make this the post for discussing anything related to Recursion. Your favorite scenes. Confusing scenes. Stuff you thought worked, stuff you thought didn’t. Ideas launching from the story. Praise, criticism, whatever.

But if you do, start your reply with a capitalized SPOILER ALERT. That way anyone looking for non-spoiler topics can avoid your reply until they’ve read the book.

Looking forward to it.

Marion G. Harmon

 

 

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , | 71 Comments

One day to go . . . Wait, what?

oops

Did you know that, when you set up a book on Amazon for pre-order, you lock in a deadline beyond which you cannot make any changes to the ebook file until after launch?

I didn’t.

The lockout went into effect on Monday, which wasn’t a problem, because the last edits had been finished last week . . . Wait, there’s a problem?

So, bottom line, I didn’t hear back from one proofreader until yesterday. She’d volunteered to do one final fast-pass, and unbeknownst to both of us the window for edits had closed. I’m glad she did it, though, because she found a big OOPS. In a key climactic scene the names of two characters had gotten swapped somehow. Or rather, their rolls had been swapped earlier and not all of the spots where they’re named got fixed. The result was a major discontinuity in two of the last chapters.

So I reached out to Kindle Publishing Direct, and they confirmed there was no way for them to unlock the pre-ordered book link to swap in the corrected file. They recommended just uploading the corrected file tomorrow, when the book would be published and the lock would be gone. I could let everyone know about the correction, and they could go back on their account management page and download the corrected file.

The other option was to cancel the pre-order. Of course this would void everyone’s hold on the book. It would also ban me from using the pre-order option again with Amazon for one year.

I slept on it and then decided to cancel the pre-order. Why? Because a lot of people pre-ordered the book. They were going to get the notice from Amazon the instant it published, or just open their Kindle and find the book link ready for download. And it would contain the OOPS.

And chances are at least some of my readers would have then read the book before seeing any notice about the OOPS. I’m not sure how many first-reads it would have spoiled, but I decided it wasn’t worth it just to have the pre-order/publication go smooth. So I canceled the pre-order, then promptly resubmitted the book, going through all the steps again. In my experience, although Amazon says it can take up to 72 hours to process a submission, going from clicking the Publish icon to actual publication generally takes only 2 to 6 hours; worst-case scenario for me, it would have popped up as available overnight.

I got the best-case, so here it is, finally. Book 7 in the Wearing the Cape series, Recursion.

Sorry for the mess-up, and I hope you all enjoy it.

Marion G. Harmon

Posted in Uncategorized | 44 Comments

Counting the Days

Astra_1 R

So, four days until the Amazon launch of Recursion. And what’s a new Wearing the Cape book without a costume change for Astra?

So we’ve come to the release of the seventh Wearing the Cape book. This is kind of a banner-moment for me, considering when I self-published Wearing the Cape I wasn’t sure if I could think of that many more stories for Hope/Astra and the Post-Event World. I also wasn’t sure if I could make a career out of this, but today it’s a full-time gig with more milestones coming every day; a translation and publication of the first three books in Germany (first book, Karriere: Superheldin), a well-received tabletop RPG Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game, and more to come.

This is also, in a strange way, the closing of a circle. In the first mostly completed draft of Wearing the Cape, Hope had been a twenty-one-year-old college senior, looking at her final year of school before going out into the world. She was more together than the eighteen-year-old college freshman she turned out to be, though no less driven and optimistic. So after seven books, Hope is finally at the start I’d envisioned for her originally (although far, far more experienced). She’s loved and lost, learned and grown, experienced defeats and wins. She’s become a leader. So to me these seven books together feel thematically whole.

“The series does not end at this time.”

“What?”

“I’m just saying it now. That last sentence seemed kind of ominous.”

Oh. Okay, then. Carry on.

“Thank you.”

Not spilling any details, Recursion is the most “political” of my books to-date. This isn’t to say that the previous books have been unpolitical. Not by a long shot. I’ve always tried to make the Post-Event World as “real” as our own, and this means that a lot of our political and social real-world issues can and have been read into the stories. Also, issues that aren’t even there.

Occasionally this has gotten ridiculous. One reviewer of Wearing the Cape decided the book screamed “I am white, and anyone non-white I introduce will, in some way, be a stereotype.” He decided this mostly because the villain-groups the Sentinels fought in the first part of the book were street-villains (and presumably not white?), I referenced the US-Mexican border as one of the most dangerous borders in the world (it is), and the terrorists were international. Somewhere along the way he forgot that the Big Bad of the story, who triggered Hope’s breakthrough, tried to undo the Sentinels’ win against the local villain-groups, and destroyed southern California killing tens of thousands, was, um, white. Along with the sociopath who briefly tortured Hope. Bean-counting aside, he objected to my use of the word “black.” As in black hats, Blackout, and black box agency. He did give me credit for “good” use of the color with Blackstone. He noted that Rook was a black superhero, but for some reason forgot about Ajax, the intellectual and academic of the team.

Astonishing. Also a little depressing, and this when I wasn’t trying to make socio-political commentary.

But superhero fiction can’t ever completely escape the commentary, and I haven’t tried. For starters, superhumans are often stand ins for real-world groups just because they’re a) visibly different, and b) a minority. Mutants in Marvel’s X-Men comics have always been treated as an allegory for racial minorities, but more subtle equivalences are valid; superhumans have been used as allegories for social classes, movements, or religious groups.

In Recursion, I more explicitly treat breakthroughs as a racial minority (see their haters, Humanity First), but I also couch opposition in terms familiar to readers following the current gun-control debate. Breakthroughs can be undeniably dangerous and can’t simply be disarmed (and wouldn’t it be an interesting civil-rights debate if they could be). So, what to do about them? How much regulation and restriction is permissible in a free society without society becoming fundamentally unfree? Things get interesting when racism combines with justifiable fears. Lines can become very gray and even good people can be misguided. I don’t argue these questions in detail, I just put them out there and I expect readers to draw their lines.

Which doesn’t mean I don’t have my own lines. For anyone who’s curious, I’m a classical liberal (liberal conservative?). My vision of the Good Society is one with maximal social freedoms consonant with strong individual rights under a fiscally responsible, energetic but limited, federal government. So, party-wise I’m an independent and federalist with a light seasoning of libertarian.

Go figure.

So it will be interesting to see reader-responses to the politics of Recursion. In the meantime, to let you know what’s in the pipeline, I have several projects underway. My next commitment is to finish the sourcebooks for the Kickstarter-backed roleplaying game. Beyond that I want to try and see if I can’t take on two book-projects this year; the next Wearing the Cape book of course (yet to be titled), but also a non-WtC book. I’m currently torn between a fantasy story tentatively titled The Silver Tree, first in a prospective new series, and my long-promised comedy space-opera, Worst Contact. I also intend to produce a “generic” rulebook for the super-powers system I designed for Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game. I would like to see the Wearing the Cape books published in more languages as well, and there’s always the pipe-dream of finding a good writer/comic-artist to translate Wearing the Cape into a graphic novel.

So as I said at the beginning, more milestones to come. Thank you for all your support, and I hope the rest of 2018 is as exciting for you as it will be for me!

Marion G. Harmon

(Also, thanks to Jori Miller, Grayson Judd, Austin Murrey, Jacob Crimin, Spencer Brint, Rick West, and Chase Wayment. You’ll all see why. And thank you, everyone who responded to the opportunity to read the first 6 chapters by sending notes on the grammatical/spelling errors that hadn’t yet gotten caught by the editing sweeps!)

 

Posted in Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments

Available for Pre-Release!

 

Recursion cover, Final, realistic

First the bad news. Due to events–a funeral (not mine), a wedding (unfortunately not mine), and illness (still not mine), the final edits of the book were further delayed. Now the good news. Despite these delays, Recursion is now up for pre-release on Amazon! Everyone will be able to pre-purchase the book now and get their Astra-fix automatically downloaded on April 20th.

So, yay!

As an apology for the last delay (and since the pre-release blurb gives this plot point away), in the meantime here’s one more chapter. Enjoy.

Chapter Six

“The National Public Safety Act would force all breakthroughs to reveal themselves to the government, whether or not they ever intended to use their powers publicly. It would force them to continually ensure that local law-enforcement knew about them. It would force them to prove that they weren’t dangerous. It’s gun-registration with powers as guns, so every breakthrough will be on a government list when it decides to ‘contain’ them!”


Hard Talk Radio Show caller.

—————————————

“I’m, me. Shell?” She’d have made more sense reciting a limerick. “What’s going on? How could I be anyone else?”

Then there were two Shells. Four Shells. Eight Shells as she kept on multiplying until, turning in the air, I floated in the middle of a sphere of virtual Shells. None of them looked happy.

“Oh, let me count the ways,” they said in freaky chorus. “I’m me but I’m not, and that’s just one. Want to guess another?”

“I’m me. Stop that!”

“No, you’re not. Not since last week. Who are you?” The Shell-sphere kept getting denser, the chorus deeper.

“Stop! Shell! Stop.” I fought down rising panic. If something was wrong with Shell, what could I do? There weren’t any quantum-neural computer engineers in this year. “Nothing’s changed! What are you talking about?”

Then she was singular and right in front of me. “You don’t know. Your respiration, heartrate, pulse, vascular dilation—you don’t know, you’re not hiding anything.”

“My what? You can measure all those things?”

Her arms stayed folded, but the hard line of her mouth softened. “Your brain knows all those things, it’s sensory input, so I know through our link. Sorry, I had to check.”

Still not making sense. “Check that I’m me? When did that become a question?”

“It’s not a question.” Now she just looked miserable. “I just didn’t know if you knew.”

“That I’m not me?”

She shook her head. “You’re not.”

Okay. At least she was calm. If this was just some mistake on Shell’s part, not a quantum-ghost delusion, then I could work with it. We could break it down together. “Why? I mean, how? How do you know I’m not me?”

She took a breath. “It’s a lot of things together. A week ago, your sleep cycle changed. Completely. Like flipping a switch.”

“That? That’s got to be Chakra. She did something.”

“Nope.” She shook her head again. “You know better than that—you can feel when Chakra manipulates your chakric aura. She couldn’t have done anything behind your back.”

I blinked. I did know that. Why hadn’t I thought of that? “Okay, what else?”

“You were borderline clinically depressed before that. You aren’t all giggles and sunshine now, but a week ago I was wondering if the doc was going to have to put you on meds.”

People get better. I didn’t say it; Shell knew that, so if she wasn’t being delusional she had to be talking about something else. “And?”

“Your speech changed.”

“What?”

“You called me Shell as a nickname, before. Now it’s my name, the only one you ever use. There’s other markers—I can map every one of them. And there’s your skills.”

“My skills.”

She rolled her eyes. “Hope, your ‘fight,’ yesterday? Sure, I spotted the power-type, but you’ve never met a gravikinetic before. They’re not exactly common. You haven’t even read any reports about what the stronger ones can do to real estate just by being them. I checked. But you knew. You knew what it meant before I or Blackstone had a chance to tell you.”

“But I—”

“And your whole response last night was way off. You were proactive from the beginning—requesting Chakra’s backup just in case? And asking to call the shot yourself the second you knew how dangerous the situation was? You didn’t hesitate for a second.”

My mouth opened, but where were the words? “Shell . . . Shell, that’s just experience. A lot’s happened. I’ve grown.”

“Not that much, not this fast, not last week. And this morning? Yesterday was your first crime-scene exercise, but today? When you realized we were looking at another one, you detected. Like someone who’s been trained, knows what to look for, what it means, and what to do next.”

She ran fingers through her red mop. “You know, I even did a motion analysis, after what I saw at the warehouse? All your training sessions with Ajax were recorded, so I mapped how you move. Now your style’s got new elements in your workout. Like you’ve been training with a new teacher. Which you haven’t yet. And you’re faster. Your response time is better. Not so anyone else would notice but, hello? Computer brain, here? I know your moves. Down to a zeroth of a meter, of a second.”

All I could think of was the utterly cliché “So, what are you saying?”

“That you can’t be you. Which, I’m sure you can see, is freaking me out.”

“But I can’t not be me, Shell. We’re connected. The quantum-neural link in my brain, wouldn’t you have noticed if someone had, I don’t know, swapped me out?”

Nodding, she didn’t look any happier. “That’s why I haven’t said anything. I just kept piling up observations because it’s impossible. But it’s true.”

“Okay, then lets . . .” I looked around, realized we’d just been hanging here in the sky above Chicago to argue my reality. A news helicopter chopped the air, flying by less than a mile from us on its way somewhere. “Let’s take this somewhere else.”

The roof of the Sears Tower seemed appropriate, but didn’t give me any more perspective. Touching down and sitting on its edge, I remembered all the conversations I’d shared with Atlas here. I remembered the crushing grief. Which wasn’t crushing me anymore. When had it stopped?

Last week.

Like Shell said, I wasn’t all “giggles and sunshine” yet. But the dark cloud was gone and even sitting here, in a place I’d avoided, didn’t bring it back.

Suddenly I wasn’t worried about Shell anymore.

“So, let’s say you’re right about all of it. How could I have been switched without you noticing? Maybe,” I swallowed. “Maybe I’m still me but I’ve been ‘adjusted’? Somehow? Or swapped mentally, a new ‘me’ in the same head? Like a split personality? Do the Future Files say anything about this sort of thing?”

Shell answered slowly. “You know I can’t say anything about your pre-California potential futures. But no, there’s nothing like this. Does anything feel out of place to you? Different? You noticed your dream-pattern shift. You stopped waking up a total mess. Is there anything else?”

“Not really. Just—” No. No.

I made myself remember to breathe. Breathing made me feel real, made the world feel real.

“What is it?”

“Last night’s dream,” I choked. “It wasn’t—it was good, I didn’t think about it, really, when I woke, I didn’t—” Shell couldn’t see my dreams, any more than she could read my thoughts, and oh how I wished she could right now. Because it was a memory, and it was impossible. “I need to go home. I need to go home now.”

—————————————

Going home meant returning to the Dome to change into civvies, then driving. The city had cleared the streets after yesterday’s snowfall and traffic out to Oak Park was light, but comparing the twenty-minute drive to the one minute it would take me to fly when I needed to be there now almost had me pounding the steering wheel. Almost. I’d have needed a new steering wheel.

The knot inside me unwound a little when I saw our grand old Victorian. Not that I’d expected the house not to be there, but just seeing it made my suddenly questionable reality feel more real. Dad had shoveled the snow before leaving for the office, and I parked in the driveway.

“Honey?” Mom called from the kitchen as I came in the side door. Graymalkin padded over to wind himself around my ankles as soon as I finished toeing off my shoes, and I picked him up and went to find Mom. She looked up as I walked into the kitchen, hands not stopping as she chopped. The makings of a five-star salad lay arranged on the counter in front of her.

“Hello, sweetheart. Would you like some lunch?”

I shook my head, cuddling Gray. “Not hungry, thanks. Home for the day? And how’s . . . how’s Mrs. Robinson?”

“We closed the office for a snow day. Mrs. Robinson’s fine. A little lonely, but I saw her at the garden meeting yesterday.”

The knot unwound some more. “That’s good. Did you fight?”

She laughed. Mom and Mrs. Robinson co-chaired the St. Christopher’s Garden Committee, and arguments between them over the layout of each year’s new plantings had been known to get epic. At least as epic as people who’d been good friends and neighbors for more than two decades could get.

“No, dear. And how are you?”

That was the most she’d ask about yesterday, and I put Gray down and hugged her from behind. Only now, after I could breathe again free of my dark cloud, did I think of how hard that had to be.

The Fort Whittier Attack had been her worst nightmare. Hers and Dad’s—as a Sentinel reservist, he’d known Atlas and Ajax for ten years, trained with them. Two friends had come home from L.A. in boxes, and I’d come home a shadow of myself.

“I’m fine, Mom.” I kissed her cheek and she put the knife down to reach up and squeeze my arm.

“That’s good. Do you want to talk about it? Will you talk to somebody?”

“I have to, before they’ll let me out for anything but emergency aid again.”

“Good. Are you staying for dinner, then?”

“I don’t know. Maybe?” I reluctantly let go, reaching past her to snatch a juicy cherry tomato and pop it in my mouth. “Right now I’m going to make some calls and study.” I didn’t say just what I’d be studying.

“Then you’ll stay long enough to see your father?” Not a request.

“Yes, Mom.” I snagged another tomato and headed upstairs.

I went right to my bedroom closet. A minute’s search and I found it, the black dress I’d worn That Day. Sitting down with it on my bed, I felt its wispy lace edging and remembered.

My dream last night hadn’t been of the January funeral. That day, with the horses and the coffins, the bagpipes and the speeches and the black, black grief, hadn’t been any part of my dream. It had been another funeral, Mrs. Robinson’s funeral.

And it hadn’t happened, yet.

I knew Mrs. Robinson almost as well as Mom did. She was our neighbor and we shared a gated fence. Since her own children were all grown, she’d adopted a grandmotherly regard for me and my brothers. Arron and Josh too, but me and Toby especially. She’d even baby-sat me sometimes. My brothers had all been unreliable sitters.

And I’d worn this dress for her funeral mass at St. Chris’.

Closing my eyes, I heard Father Nolan’s comforting words again. Faith is the belief that there is something more. That beyond death there is something else. Justice for the wicked. Forgiveness for the penitent. Love for the forsaken. Reunion with all our dead.

Mrs. Robinson had been lonely because Hank, Mr. Robinson, had died two years ago. Sitting in the pew I’d cried for myself, because I’d miss her, but they’d been happy tears, because of the message. Because I knew he wasn’t waiting for her anymore, they were together again.

Wiping my eyes, I set the dress aside and focused on the memory those words and that feeling, tried to remember the world around them. Fall. It had been fall? At the cemetery the air had been crisp with the promise of frost. But in the service—beside me had sat. . .Shell? Real, and present, holding my hand? The impossibility of that almost threw me out of my memory. But there was also Jacky, and . . .  Ozma?

Oh . . .

It was like pushing on a stuck door, only a crack of light to see by as I heaved, and then resistance just vanished and I fell forward into one impossible memory after another. Into a future that hadn’t happened yet.

“So, did it work?” Shell sat beside me. “Because your heartrate just spiked.”

I stared at her, seeing Galatea and Shelly, too. Of course I was calling her Shell now. I’d forgotten her future’s other half. I’d forgotten the Shelly’s, my training and experience, my team. I’d forgotten but I hadn’t really forgotten, not even the ghost-pain in my shoulder, and now I remembered everything.

Everything except how I’d gotten here. “Shell . . .”

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments