The Editor’s Rant: Issue #15

by Michael D. Pederson

 

Well, here we are again with another Issue #1. It’s actually kinda exciting. When I launched Nth Degree (way back in 2002) I didn’t have a space for the Rant so I wasn’t able to bubble and gush all warm and fuzzy about starting a new magazine. I wasn’t able to tell everyone that we were creating a magazine that was specifically for the talented writers and artists that were struggling to launch their careers.

Most people figured that out pretty quickly though. Now, fourteen issues later, we’re starting a new monthly e-zine. This isn’t intended to replace Nth Degree and you can easily read one without the other. Our goal is for Nth Zine to complement the print zine.

Nth Zine will probably never look quite as nice as Nth Degree, there simply won’t be as much artwork. The monthly schedule makes it too difficult to maintain the more intensive design that goes into Nth Degree, so I’ve streamlined the design. Now, text can be easily dropped in place and each issue can then be either viewed directly on your computer or printed up and read on bits of dead trees.

As for content, the new monthly format will allow us to run reviews that we simply can’t use for the quarterly print zine. When the summer issue of Nth Degree comes out at the end of May, it stays in circulation until the end of August. The content ends up being mostly written in April and, face it, a movie review written in April won’t make much difference in the heat of August.

I’m hoping to be able to use this new more-timely format to be able to put together special issues as well. I really want to do a Halloween issue but I suspect that will have to wait until next year.

Finally, I debated with myself for quite a while on whether or not to include ads. As you can see, I decided in favor of keeping them. These guys paid good money to be in the print zine and I want to give them the most bang for their buck. I hope you like it!

(The contents of this Rant may seem confusing now that I’ve done away with Nth Zine and converted all the old issues to the Nth Degree format. My apologies. MDP, Sept. 2014.)

 

Con Review: Dragon*Con 2005

DragonCon2005by Robert Kelly

 

Dragon*Con 2005
September 2-5, 2005
Atlanta, Georgia
http://www.dragoncon.org/

If what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, then what happens at Dragon*Con never really happened. It is a fleeting moment of fantasy spread across an all too short weekend. Dragon*Con is a menagerie of every sci-fi and fantasy character you can imagine and some of the actual actors and authors that first breathed life into them. From author Anne McCaffery to actress Marina Sirtis—Star Trek: TNG’s Deanna Troi—to the cast of Joss Whedon’s Serenity. There were storm troopers, Darth Vaders, Jedis aplenty, Aliens and Predators, the Incredibles even made an appearance, and I swear I saw Ben Affleck, the real one.

The filk on the main stage, Saturday night, was fantastic. The talent and genius of the performers and their love of their art was apparent. Along with the regulars was Rob Balder, his first time on the big stage. After a few minutes of banter he performed “Sympathy for George Lucus,” which was featured recently on The Dr. Demento Show. I attended the “Nuts and Bolts of Producing a Webcomic” panel Sunday evening; an informative and inspirational panel featuring Jeff Darlington (General Protection Fault), Erin Lindsey (Venus Envy), Jennie Breeden (The Devil’s Panties), Chris Impink (artist of Fragile Gravity), Bill Holbrook (Kevin & Kell), and Rob Balder (PartiallyClips).

The artwork on display in the gallery was absolutely beautiful. Each piece evoked emotion and imagination. You could create a universe and get lost amongst the surreal images brought to life in oil, bronze, wood, and water color.

Dragon*Con, has once again demonstrated why it is one of the largest science fiction, fantasy, and pop culture conventions in North America—spanning three massive convention hotels. I can’t say enough good things about the staff. They worked tirelessly and tried to accommodate every guest, press member, and con-goer. My personal thanks and appreciation to Star in the press room.

 

Pro Files: James Doohan

JamesDoohan2001by Jack Jeffers

 

A Tribute to James Montgomery Doohan

I had the privilege of interviewing James Doohan at Dragon*Con in Atlanta in 2001; I found him to be a polite, humorous, intelligent and very well-read man. James was born March 3, 1920 in Vancouver, British Columbia and grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. He served in Europe during WWII as a Royal Canadian Armed Forces Captain. He landed at Normandy on D-Day, as a member of the Royal Canadian Artillery. While he was still on the beach, a German machine gun stitched eight bullets across his chest. The only thing that saved his life was a metal cigarette case in his inner jacket pocket that deflected a round that would have penetrated his heart. He told me, “Don’t let everyone tell you that smoking will be the cause of your death, every time!” He also lost the middle finger of his right hand. He was one of the first British officers on the beach that day.

I asked him what was the most harrowing experience that he had during his military service? He answered, “It was seventeen miles we had to go in our little rowboat to be number one off on my beach. I was in charge of ‘D’ Company of the Winnipeg Rifles and their fifth LCA (Landing Craft Assault). We were just about a mile away from shore and were supposed to land at seven a.m., when a British motor torpedo boat came slashing across in front of us (the water was rough). They announced, ‘H-hour postponed 30… H-hour postponed 30.’ We found out later it was postponed to give the bombers a chance, let the clouds rise up and let the bombers bomb the beach before we landed. This is the worst part; we had to delay thirty minutes. We had to cut across the waves, with the waves. We did that three or four times, and I swear to you, that’s where I did some engineering without thinking of it as engineering. I told my troops, all strangers to me, all experts; beach commandos, beach signals, beach engineers. I told them all to put the weight close to the center, heavy persons to the center, and to move the heavy equipment to the center with the rifles. We had to overcome the waves some way. The Regina Rifles lost three LCAs because they did not do these proper things. You could see the motor torpedo boats disappear behind the waves. That will tell you how thick it was. All of the troops with me had a job to do when they landed. There was one fellow who had an unbelievable number of stripes on his arm. I guess he was second in command to me. He was from Singapore and was Japanese. Can you imagine? He had escaped from Singapore, and here he was to land on Normandy.”

James recovered in a veterans hospital in Canada and was released from service. His brother, six years older than he, was a Brigadier General in the Royal Canadian Army; following the war he was in charge of the Veteran’s Administration in London, Ontario, Military District 1, Canada. He advised Jim to go back to college, under the Canadian Bill of Rights, as he was entitled to twice the length of his overseas military service which was 5 1⁄2 years. They owed him nine years of university training with a living allowance. He moved to London, Ontario to go to school.

He listened to a local radio station between Christmas and New Years 1945 while he was studying. He said that “I put down my books at 8:00 p.m. to listen to a radio drama, and it was the worst I ever heard. I got my Irish and Scottish up and I got some stuff to read and went down to CMPL, the only radio station in London, Ontario. I went to one of the operators there and told him I wanted to make a recording. He said, you mean a transcription. I did it, and horrors of horrors, I heard my own voice for the first time. I told the operator that I didn’t like it. He said, ‘What are you talking about? You’re good!’ I was stumped for a second, and then I asked him where you go to learn. He said, ‘I have a brochure for a drama school that teaches radio [to] veterans.’ I sent them a telegram and I got an answer back. I went to the school in Toronto the next Friday. I made my first professional appearance with a CBC radio show on January 12, 1946. At the end of June, I graduated with top honors and won a scholarship for two years free tuition at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York City. I went there and was amazed at how brilliant the teacher, Sanford Meisner, was. I was a student there for two years, then he asked me to stay on and teach because Jo VanFleet, his assistant was leaving. I taught for three years.”

He began to work in radio in New York, and was in much demand, as he now could do sixteen different dialects, and coached Broadway actors in speech and dialect. He graduated to television, guest-appearing in such major shows as Tales of Tomorrow in 1952; Bonanza, Gunsmoke and The New Breed in 1962; Hazel, The Virginian and The Twilight Zone in 1963; The Outer Limits, Ben Casey, The Man from UNCLE, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and The Rogues in 1964; and The Fugitive, Laredo, Convoy, and Bewitched in 1965. He continued making guest appearances in many of these series, while also appearing in several movies made for TV during that time.

In 1966 he was asked to audition for Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry. He auditioned for the part of the ship’s engineer using eight different accents. Roddenberry asked him which accent he liked? James answered at once, “If you want a chief engineer, he had better be a Scotsman, because Scotsmen, which includes my grandfather, made the British Empire.” Of course, James’ Scottish heritage had something to do with his decision. And so… “Lt. Commander Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott” was born (the “Montgomery” was from his own middle name!) and he appeared in the pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before”. And so it began. He was one of the best-liked characters in the TV series and in all of the movies. A little-known fact is that he was also a linguist, and devised the Vulcan and Klingon language dialogue heard in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Over the next twenty years, other linguists expanded Klingon into a full language of its own.

I asked James which episode of Star Trek was the one he liked the best, he answered, “It was ‘The Doomsday Machine’ because of it’s suspenseful mood and because it had a great actor, William Windom, in the lead. The one that was the greatest fun, was ‘The Trouble With Tribbles’ where I got to do about 95% of my own stunts. The best film, I think, was number six, The Undiscovered Country, because it was beautifully written and directed. The greatest line [from any of the movies] was when we landed in San Francisco, and William Shatner, as Captain Kirk, said ‘Everybody remember where we parked.’”

In 1966, James was granted an honorary Degree in Engineering by the Milwaukee School of Engineering, as they said over fifty percent of their students majoring in engineering, said that they were inspired to study engineering, by James’ character “Scotty” on Star Trek.

A fine man, a gentleman, and a true hero before he ever stepped into radio, television, and the movies.

Somewhere a voice said, “Beam him up! We have need of him here!” and he went.

But he will be missed.

 

Game Review: Hero System (Fifth Edition, Revised)

HeroSystem by Brandon Blackmoor

 

It’s no secret that I am, and always have been, a huge fan of Hero System (what used to be called Champions, back when it was a role-playing game rather than a collection of rules). The core game mechanics are elegant, the power construction system is flexible and functional, the skill system is playable, and the overall system is admirably scalable. You can run nearly any genre or power level using Hero System, and—for the most part—the game system is self-balancing. It permits the players to focus on the game, rather than on wasting time tweaking the rules. The rules work without getting in the way.

Perversely, the greatest weakness of Hero System is that it attracts exactly the kind of players which want to tweak the rules: the kind of players who revel in game mechanic geekery rather than in role-playing. Historically, this was the source of the majority of complaints about Hero System from people who were not themselves players. Those who did not use Hero System in their games would encounter a rule-tweaking, mechanic-fiddling, mini-maxing, minutiae-obsessed Champions player, and draw the obvious, albeit incorrect, conclusion: that this was the kind of game play that Hero System was best suited for.

This historical context is important to keep in mind when one reads Hero System: Fifth Edition, Revised, because it explains a great deal about the book—primarily its size. The original Champions games were slender, saddle-stitched tomes. When Champions 4 was published in 1989, the rules of the game were organized and clarified, and the default setting for the game was fleshed out and made so that a potential player could buy the book, become familiar with it, and begin play almost immediately. No other books were required, and this was one of the great attractions of Champions: although it could be used to run any kind of game in any genre, it came with a default setting that made the book a self-contained and playable role-playing game. At 286 pages, it was also much larger than any previous edition of the game, which gave rise to its nickname of the “Big Blue Book”. The size of Champions 4 was due in no small part to the mini-maxing rule-players who had plagued the game since its early days. Champions 4 clarified nearly all of the areas of the game system which had previously been abused by the mini-maxers, but this clarification came at the cost of additional pages. For the most part this was a good compromise, and Champions 4 was widely regarded as the best multi-genre game system ever published at that time.

Unfortunately, the 1990s were not kind to Hero Games. A serious of unfortunate business decisions, combined with the advent of collectible card games, resulted in hard times for the game publisher. Fortunately, in late 2001 Hero Games was resurrected by DOJ, Inc., a company formed by Steven S. Long and Darren Watts, among others. Long was responsible for the re-write of Hero System when Hero Games was still owned by Cybergames, and this 2002 edition of Hero System was the first book published by DOJ, Inc. dba Hero Games. The fledgling company was strapped for cash, so there were no frills: Hero System, Fifth Edition was a bare-bones, ashcan cover, hardback reference book with few illustrations. Yes, it was an ugly, ugly book, but Hero fans were happy (and lucky) that it was published at all.

It was also the largest version of Hero published to date: weighing in at nearly 400 pages (374, to be exact), Hero System, Fifth Edition made the “Big Blue Book”; look scrawny by comparison. However, this increase in the book’s girth is even more drastic when one realized that Champions 4 included 130 pages of setting material which was absent in Hero System, Fifth Edition. No longer could one simply buy the book and play it. Furthermore, the once-elegant game mechanics had become burdened with endless lists of complications and special cases, in a vain attempt to forestall abuses by the mini-maxers and rule-players. Even so, fans of the game adopted the new version of the game with a passion, and they supported the resurrected Hero Games with their time and their money. Hero Games rewarded them by publishing book after book of the best role-playing supplements ever created. From the content, to the interior artwork, to the covers of the books themselves, Hero Games created a product line which any gamer would be proud to own.

And so it was that the announcement of Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised (or “H5R”) was met with great anticipation by all Hero fans. At last, the flagship product of Hero Games would be updated with the same care and quality that had become the hallmark of Hero Games’ products. Or so we thought.

Physical Attributes

Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised is, in most respects, the worst book the new Hero Games has ever published. Not only have the flaws of the original Fifth Edition not been rectified, they’ve been made even worse. It retains the hideously ugly ashcan cover of the Fifth Edition, which pronounces to the world, “It took every resource we had to push this book out the door, and we could not afford even the simplest artwork, nor even attractive text.” This was acceptable when the reinvigorated Hero Games was a new company, desperate to get its first book on the game store shelves. Now it’s simply an embarrassment.

What’s worse is that the paper quality and printing quality are perhaps the worse I have seen in a role-playing game in the last fifteen tears. The paper is coarse, grey, lightweight, and simply repulsive to touch or look at. Each of its 592 pages (!) is an exercise in unpleasantness. The first thing anyone who opens my copy of Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised says is, “Jesus, how old is that book? And what’s it printed on, newsprint?” It is not, in fact, newsprint: the standard basis weight for newsprint is 30#, while the paper used for Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised is 45#. In comparison, the paper used for Hero System, Fifth Edition was 55#. You can definitely feel and see the difference. One minor saving grace of the repugnant paper used in Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised is that it has a slightly higher rag count than the paper used in Hero System, Fifth Edition. This is a good thing, because otherwise it wouldn’t hold up to even casual use.

Aside from the poor quality of the paper, the printing itself is visibly substandard. The “black” ink actually ranges from 30% to no more than 75% black (see photo). Between the light grey paper and the medium to dark grey ink, do not try reading Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised in anything other than very bright direct light.

The one physical attribute of the book which is not a disappointment is the binding. The book lays flat when opened, and the pages are firmly attached to the spine, and remain so even after months of regular use. This is a marked improvement over the binding of previous editions of the game, particularly Champions 4, which was notorious for having pages detach from the spine.

h5rpage160_tnContent and Organization

At 592 pages, Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised dwarfs every previous edition. With so much more content, one would expect that new sections had been added, or that many entirely new Powers had been created, but this is not the case. A few Powers and Talents have been modified from their Fifth Edition versions, but for the most part the additional 200+ pages are filled with special cases, exceptions, and other mechanical minutiae spelled out in excruciating detail. Will this prevent the game system from being abused by mini-maxers and rule-players? Of course not. What it does is make the game more difficult than ever for new players to learn. It reminds one of the Task Force Games product Star Fleet Battles, which used a game system with more exceptions than it had rules.

At first glance, the organization of the book appears to compensate somewhat for its ridiculous length. Each section has a printed tab at the margin to assist one finding one’s place (see photo). This is a nice touch, and it’s helpful. The index is also quite complete, which is a feature sadly overlooked in many role-playing games. It would have been nice if, when an entry has several page numbers listed, its primary page were distinguished from those pages which merely mention the entry, but this is a small complaint. Overall, the index is exhaustive and accurate.

This is a good thing, because the organization of the book itself leaves something to be desired. There is a section for Advantages, for example, in which each Advantage is listed alphabetically. Unfortunately, a great many Advantages are not listed in this section at all, or are listed under a name other than that of the actual Advantage. The Powers section suffers from the same lack of organization. If it weren’t for the excellent index, Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised would not be usable at all.

Character Creation

Aside from the physical and organizational flaws in this particular presentation of Hero System, Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised retains at its core what has made Hero System (and Champions before it) one of the most enduring role-playing games of all time.
Character creation is point based: each character has a number of “character points” which may be used to purchase “Characteristics” (e.g., Strength, Dexterity, Charisma), “Skills” (e.g., Disguise, Gambling), “Perks” (e.g., Contacts, Favors), “Talents” (e.g., Ambidexterity, Danger Sense), and “Powers” (e.g. Energy Blast, Flight). The number of points which may be used to build a character may be increased by adding “Disadvantages” to the character (e.g., Overconfidence, Watched By The Authorities). The number of points, the number and type of permitted Disadvantages, and the type and power level of Powers are all determined by the Game Moderator, based on the genre and setting of the specific game to be played. Guidelines for all of these values are provided, and are relatively straightforward. It actually sounds more complicated than it is, and the author has done a good job of explaining character generation with clarity and precision.

There are some wrinkles to Hero System character creation which can cost one either more or less points for the same amount of effectiveness, particularly in the realm of Characteristics, and the game does not provide explicit advice in this area. However, the modifiers and the costs for Characteristics are not complicated, and one can quickly perceive where a few points may be saved. Unlike the more egregious uses of “mini-maxing”, this simple exercise in cost-effectiveness is both straightforward and obvious, and it quickly becomes a matter of habit for experienced Hero System players.

Power Creation

With very few exceptions, it is possible to approximate any conceivable super power, magic spell, or high-tech gadget using the Hero System power mechanics. However, this unlimited flexibility comes at a cost: the most complicated part of Hero System, by far, is its power creation system. It is unlikely that a novice to the game would find it comprehensible without a great deal of trial and error. Fortunately, there are copious examples for the Powers themselves, as well as a number of example characters in the back of the book. For even more examples and ideas, one can take a look at other Hero System sourcebooks such as the excellent UNTIL Superpowers Database and the Fantasy Hero Grimoires. Another aid which makes Hero System character creation much easier is the Hero Designer 2.0 program, which is a reasonably-priced Java application (which means it will run on Windows, Linux and Mac). Hero Designer is frequently updated, and technical support provided on the Hero Games Discussion Forum is always prompt, if not always helpful. There have been several attempts to create a user-friendly character creation application for Hero System: Hero Designer is without question the best of the lot.

Conflict Resolution

Combat and skill contests in Hero System are resolved using similar systems. Combat is resolved by the attacker rolling three six-sided dice (3d6) and adding them. Generally speaking, if the attacker rolls 11 or less, the attack hits the target. The target number is adjusted up by the “Defensive Combat Value” of the target, and down for the “Offensive Combat Value” of the attacker. Combat maneuvers and circumstances may further affect the target number, but the core game mechanic is consistent for all types of combat, including mental attacks.

Skill contests are also resolved using 3d6. However, the target number of the skill is increased for each separate skill by putting more character points into that skill (either during character creation or during play, when the character is rewarded with “experience points”). As with combat, circumstances may further affect the target number.

Genre Adaptations

Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised has no default setting, but it does contain a small section which devotes a half-dozen pages of hints for each of seven major genres (e.g., superheroes, martial arts, pulp), as well as a few paragraphs for less popular genres such as post-apocalyptic games and westerns. These sections do an adequate job of conveying the general idea of how one would adapt Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised to run an actual game, but do not provide enough detail to do so. Anyone who wants to run an actual game using Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised would either have to spend significant amounts of time creating a setting, or they would need to purchase an additional sourcebook such as Hero Games’ Valdorian Age fantasy sourcebook or Gold Rush Games’ award-winning San Angelo: City Of Heroes.

Conclusion

There is no question that Hero System, Fifth Edition, Revised is an essential part of every gamer’s library. The book suffers from serious flaws in organization, editing, and presentation, but the core system is the best extant game system for role-playing, bar none. I hope, along with many other long-time fans of the game, that Hero Games will someday correct this edition’s flaws, and that Hero System, Sixth Edition will proudly take its place as the flagship of the Hero System game line. Until then, this book has a place on every gamer’s bookshelf.

 

 

Movie Review: Just Like Heaven

JustLikeHeavenby Pamela K. Kinney

 

David (Mark Ruffalo) has just moved into a small apartment in San Francisco when a woman named Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) appears, demanding to know why he is in her apartment. Then, as suddenly as she appeared, she vanishes.

Eventually discovering that she is a spirit, Elizabeth and David search for the truth of who she is and how she came to be in her present state, their relationship deepening into love. Unfortunately, there’s very little time before any prospects for a future together permanently fade away.

Mark Waters, the director of Mean Girls and Freaky Friday, has a new romantic paranormal comedy that is refreshing among many comedies today. Here the movie itself—without the need for bodily functions or other gross-out humor that modern comedies use these days—allows timing and the way the characters interact with each other emotionally to draw out the laughter from the audience.

The actors, especially Mr. Ruffalo and Ms. Witherspoon, were wonderful in their roles, but the one who stuck most in my mind after I left the theater was Jon Heder as Darryl, the psychic owner of the paranormal book store. His combination of valley boy and savvy medium was a great piece of acting.

If you’re looking for a ghost story to frighten the wits out of you, then Just Like Heaven isn’t for you. But if you like a film that’s not only a great date movie, but one that parents can even bring their kids to, then try Just Like Heaven and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

Comic Review: Chronicles of the Sea Dragon #0

SeaDragonby Michael D. Pederson

 

Yes, pirates are very big these days. Disney’s nonsensical big-budget pirate movie has ushered in a new age of swashbuckling. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Chronicles of the Sea Dragon (from indy publisher Night Wolf Graphics) is a black and white comic rendered in traditional style. And by traditional, I mean lots of line work and cross-hatching. Artist Bill Bryan’s style definitely brings to mind classic comic book artwork, from long before the Liefields, Lees, and McFarlanes took over the biz.

The story, by Richard C. White and April MacDicken, is about a group of privateers and takes place in a fairly standard fantasy setting. Being Issue #0 this story seems to be primarily introducing us to the characters and giving us their back story. There seems to be a fair amount of deviousness amongst the crew and a few of the characters blurred together for me but I was greatly pleased to see the heroes using their smarts as well as their swords. Lots of high adventure and old-time artwork make this a fun read for those of us that grew up on Sinbad.

 

Heavy is the Head

HeavyIsTheHead_MikePhillipsFinalCandidate

Illustration by Mike Phillips

by Robert E. Waters

 

An impish voice whispered in Palanor’s ear, muffling the bitter screams of his father. “Are you going to sit there and take his insults… again? Kill him! Kill him now!”

Palanor scratched away the voice, then drew his sword from its sheath and swung it wildly at his father’s neck, catching the old man in mid insult and knocking him off his horse.

Oh, the blood. Spurts and flows covering the road in deep crimson. His father’s blood. The king’s blood. More blood than Palanor had ever seen. His stomach turned. He looked down from his horse, down upon his father’s gurgling, moaning form.

“What will you do now?” There was that voice again. “Look at him. Even now, choking on his own phlegm, he mocks you. Finish him!”

Palanor jumped from his horse and raised his sword like an ax. Eyes wild, he brought the blade down into the gaping wound of the first cut, then again and again, until the head popped off like a ball and rolled across the road and down the gully wall.

Silence, save for the rustle of the head rolling away in the distance beneath the brown and red leaves. Palanor pulled a rag from his belt and wiped the blood from his sword. “You’re dead, Father,” he hissed, hovering over the beheaded man. “And you will never hurt me again.”

He tossed the bloody rag to the ground and stepped over his father, toward the gully where the head had rolled. A heavy suggestion of snow lay in the wind’s voice, whistling wetly through the trees, bringing to Palanor’s ears the first hopeful sounds of his life. Your father is dead and you will now rule, he thought to himself. No more shameful times. No more embarrassing moments in the courtyard, his father belittling him before his own mother and brother, his own countrymen, raising doubts about his mettle. No more feeling worthless. “Now you are the embarrassed one, Father, the weak one,” Palanor snarled at the head lying somewhere below. “You’ve lost your head, and your guard isn’t here to fetch it for you.”

Palanor stumbled down the muddy gully wall, supporting himself with the sword. His heavy boots scooped out dark cuts in the ground. Only now was his blood cooling in his face, though his heart was still beating strongly. As he descended, he wondered: How will I make it look? How will I convince everyone that we were jumped and I fought valiantly to save the king? He looked at his arms, his legs, seeking signs of struggle. None. The decision to kill had come quickly, per the advice of that tiny little voice, the meek whispery tickle on his ear that most assuredly had been his inner demon, his own conscience. No struggle except that which was now building in his mind, replacing the promise of the wind with screams of inner panic.

He reached the bottom of the gully and began poking through the leaves. It couldn’t have rolled far, being so fat and bumpy, like an over-ripe apple from a tree, popping off its branch and cracking on the roots below. He swept the leaves left to right, moving the broad blade of his sword like a broom. Where is it? He moved further down the gully, into the shadows where the ground was dark, so dark that he could only hope to feel the meaty thump! of his blade against the sallow flesh of his father’s head. His heart beat faster, forgetting the delight of a moment ago. Palanor dropped to his knees and started fishing through the sea of leaves.

“Are you looking for something?”

A childish voice from behind. Palanor’s head popped through the canopy of leaves. He whipped his body around to face the voice.

“Please don’t stop on my account.” There it was again, this time from the side and up in the trees. “But I can’t help but wonder if what you’re looking for is this…”

Palanor held his sword forward and braced for a threat. His face wild, he said, “Who’s there?”

“I’m up here,” the voice said. “Up here sitting pretty.”

Palanor turned right and looked up into the dark shadows of the twisted trees, up into a faint glow of magical light he hadn’t noticed before. And there perched his father’s head, delicately on a branch, swaying in the wind; lips crusted with drying blood, swollen, pudgy face, mangled white hair glued to a dead white brow. And eyes, covered in thick, ashen lids, accusing, mocking lids of eyes that could no longer pass judgment, but could still stir Palanor’s insecurities. The sight of his father’s face was too much for the prince to bear. The only thing that saved him from screaming was small legs crossed and resting on the bridge of the nose.

A brightly dressed pixy sat on the king’s head, subtle elfin-like lips parted devilishly, smoking a small pipe, blowing rings, swinging little legs, bouncing tiny shoes off cold flesh. Palanor fell back in terror, eyes fixed on the little imp. The pixy inhaled a long thread of smoke from the pipe, tossed his head up, and blew the smoke away. He seemed very content.

Finally, the pixy said, “Is this what you’re looking for?” It rapped its knuckles on the balding skull like knocking on a door.

Without thinking Palanor nodded.

“I thought as much,” said the pixy, cradling the pipe in its left hand. “I thought you’d come after it.”

Palanor finally gained his strength and stood. He looked around the base of the tree, searching for a way up. The steep, coarse trunk of the tree rose before him, its black roots peaking out of the eroding soil like serpents. Steps up. Palanor leaped for them, scrambling with hands and feet, pulling his way up the roots towards the little devil. His moves were violent and rash, clumsy and unprepared. It took several minutes to reach the branch where the pixy sat, but when he got there, the imp and the head were gone.

“Psst,” a voice from behind and up. “Over here.”

Palanor turned and looked up. The grinning, contented face of the pixy sparkled in the shadows. “It’s no use to try to catch me,” the pixy said, fluttering thin wings, “so I recommend we negotiate a deal.”

Breathless and dizzy, Palanor stumbled back down the tree and rested against the gully bank. Something about the pixy’s voice was familiar, but his mind could not place it. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“What do I want, you ask? I want what all men and fairies of good conscience want: World peace, a warm meal, female companionship, and a place to rest my weary head.” The pixy giggled. “But seriously, I’m no one special, and I don’t really want anything. I was just working my way through these woods, in hot pursuit of dinner, when I heard hooves on the road. My dinner spooked and ran off. Frustrated, I slipped up to the road to see who was coming and to my amazement, I saw the King of Trunkheim and his heir trotting along. I thought to myself, ‘Lucky me, I finally get to meet the great king and the prince.’ Well, you can imagine my surprise when suddenly I see you draw a sword and lop the old man’s head off.”

“You saw nothing!” Palanor screamed and flung a glob of mud.

The pixy ducked. “Not only did I see something, I felt it too. The king’s head flew right into me and knocked me down. It pushed me into the mud, it did. See…” The pixy stood up and turned, revealing a mud-streaked pink vest and wings. He sat back down and giggled again. “A pixy goes through his whole life thinking nothing like this will ever happen to him, and then it does. I feel like I’ve been hit by lightning.”

Palanor bared his teeth. “You saw and felt nothing, you miserable whelp. Now give me my father’s head.”

The pixy rubbed its chin and considered. It shook its head. “No, no. That won’t do. I think we need to talk a little more. Get to know each other better.”

“I said give me—”

“Shh!” The pixy put its hand out and pressed it down. “Don’t talk too loud. You don’t want anyone to hear you, do you?”

Palanor shut up quickly. He had forgotten the way voices carried in these woods. A childhood memory flashed in his mind: he and his brother running through the gullies, each casting his voice to confuse the other. Find me! Find me! They’d scream. Over here! No here! And then the booming voice of their father or a court aide calling them home, ending the fun. How many times, Palanor wondered, have I gone through this very gully? How many times had he climbed these very banks and flung this very mud?

Palanor breathed deeply and said, “Okay, what do you want?”

The pixy knocked the tobacco out of its pipe. “Like I said, I don’t want anything. The big question is what do you want? Political assassination and fratricide is a big step in a young prince’s life. Was it worth it?”

Tears welled at the corners of Palanor’s eyes. “He was a hateful man. He deserved it.”

The pixy nodded, tucking its legs away, still perched on the head. “He must have been. But it must have been equally hard for you to deliver the last blow…”

“Not at all.”

“…and it’ll be even harder for you to explain how it happened.”

That realization hit Palanor hard. He had forgotten that small detail in the scuffle to find his father’s head, and how he searched for excuses. “Self defense.”

The pixy shook its head, yanking a long strand of white hair from the king’s scalp. “I didn’t see any struggle.”

“The struggle wasn’t physical. It was internal and brought on by years of abuse.”

“I see,” said the pixy. “So you’re the victim in all this, huh? Please tell me more.”

“My father was ruthless,” Palanor began. “All my life he treated me and my brother like dogs, shaming us before our mother and our countrymen. When we were young, he would beat us and laugh. How many times did he call me ‘worthless’ or ‘unfit to govern’ or ‘wasted seed’? And for years I took the abuse. For years I let him humiliate and shame me. But not anymore.”

Palanor dropped down and began to cry, a cry of many years, a cry that wailed through the trees, echoing back like the howls of a lost banshee. And while he cried, the pixy flossed its teeth with the strand of white hair. “Yeah, it sounds like he was a bad man. I never knew that about the king.”

Palanor sniffled. “Few do.”

“Well, how are you going to cover it up?”

“Oh, I don’t know. We were attacked by thieves. How’s that?”

The pixy shook his head. “I don’t remember any thieves.”

“Nobody knows that.”

The pixy smiled. “I do.”

Palanor jumped up, his wild, sweat-soaked hair smearing his vision. “You little rat bastard. I’m the king now. I order you to bring down my father’s head.”

By this time, the pixy was lying on its stomach and reaching over and pulling up one eyelid and then the other, left, right, left, right. The cold, glossy eyes beneath, each time they were flashed, drilled holes into Palanor’s soul. Oh, what have I done? What have I done? Your eyes, Father, know the truth. I killed you in cold blood.

The pixy reached for the bloody mouth and pried the lips apart, opening and closing, opening and closing the hollow, dark mouth. “You are a bad son,” the pixy said, casting his voice lower, mimicking the king’s voice, opening and closing the jaw with each word. “You killed me and you will pay.”

“Shut up!” Palanor’s words bounced through the wood. He flung another glob of mud and this time hit the pixy square and sent the head tumbling down through the branches. But the pixy had disappeared again, flying into the shadows. Palanor scrambled forward, trying to catch the head before it struck the ground. He lunged and grabbed a handful of hair. He hit the ground hard, the weight of the impact knocking out his wind. But he held his father’s head firmly. Palanor brought the bloody orb to his chest and hugged it like a doll, lying in the mud and weeping loudly.

“I’m sorry, Father,” he whimpered, stroking the white hair. “I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean—”

“You know,” said the pixy from somewhere behind, “I think you ought to come clean on the whole thing. You’re the king now. What can they do?”

Through his whimpering, Palanor saw the truth in the pixy’s words. It’s right. What can they do? I’m the king now. Mother cannot even touch me. Suddenly, fear and despair were replaced with hope and optimism. He cracked a smile.

“You’re right,” Palanor said, turning his father’s head around to stare defiantly into the wrinkles. “I am king now, Father. It doesn’t matter who killed you. I can’t be touched.”

“That’s right,” trumpeted the pixy, suddenly appearing on Palanor’s shoulder with a flutter of wings. “They can’t touch you. And judging by how terrible he was, you did Trunkheim a favor, wouldn’t you say?”

Palanor’s eyes beamed with delight and he looked at the pixy, forgetting his desire to crush the little imp in his hands. “Yes.”

“Sure. Why I wouldn’t be surprised if they—” The pixy stopped and turned his ear to the wind. “Do you hear that?”

Palanor listened. Faintly, the sound of clinking hooves and jangling armor came from the road above, faint and distant, but growing stronger.

“The body!” Palanor said, suddenly remembering that his father’s corpse was lying alongside the road. He tossed the head aside and scrambled up the gully, like a dog, clawing at the mud and leaves. He reached the top and crawled to the body. Up the road, in the direction he and his father had been riding, came a single horse. On the horse was a man, a man of equal height and build as Palanor, but younger. A man of equally brief facial hair, but sharper. A man Palanor knew well.

His brother Roth.

Palanor rose up on his knees, but he didn’t try to hide the body, nor did he show remorse. What purpose would it serve anyway? Roth had experienced the same shame and humiliation at the iron hand of father. Surely he of all people, Palanor thought, would understand and give thanks. On his knees, he smiled faintly and watched his brother ride up.

Roth looked down from his horse, shifting his eyes from father to brother. His chest started heaving violently, his handsome face growing red with anger. “What is this? What have you done?”

Palanor spoke proudly, “I’ve killed the old bastard. I’ve killed him.”

Roth jumped from his horse and drew his sword, moving close. The sun was setting fast behind him. “I came looking for you because Colonel Gregor had sent his falcon forward with word that you and Father had slipped away from the knight’s tourney early this morning without the protection of his guard. I’ve been looking for you and this is what I find. Are you insane?”

“Roth, it’s over,” Palanor said. “Our misery has ended. I am king now.”

Roth lowered his sword, and Palanor rose to his feet and laid a hand upon this brother’s back. The young man began to weep.

Palanor pulled him close. “It’s all right, Roth. It’s all right. We’ll make it right.”

Through sobs, Roth asked. “How? How are we going to do that? What are we going to say?”

“We’ll carry the body back,” said Palanor. “We’ll tell Mother that we were attached by brigands and Father fell fighting bravely.”

Roth nodded. “But what about the absence of the guard? Why weren’t they here? Why were they left behind?”

Palanor shook his head. “I don’t know. Father slipped into my tent this morning and ordered us away. When I asked him about why we were leaving, he told me to shut up, so I didn’t press him.”

“You know,” said the pixy, setting down upon Roth’s saddle and coolly filling his pipe, “I witnessed the entire thing, and I don’t recall any brigands.”

The brothers stared at the imp on the saddle. “No one knows that,” said Palanor.

The pixy smiled, lighting his pipe. “I do. And besides, what with the story about your father’s ruthlessness that you explained to me, everyone will immediately assume that it was a conspiracy: Brothers conspiring to kill their father.”

“Wait,” Roth said, pulling away from Palanor. “I didn’t kill my father. There was no conspiracy.”

“No? Please forgive me.” The pixy stared deeply into Roth’s eyes. “Am I to assume, then, that the bag of gold you gave me two days ago had nothing to do with your political aspirations?” It giggled and patted the velvet bag tied around its waist.

“What’s it talking about, Roth?” Palanor asked, raising his brow.

Roth turned and threw up his arms in confusion. “I’ve never seen this imp in my life. It’s lying.”

“Lying?” The pixy’s little face wrinkled as if wounded. “Then I guess that knife you’ve hidden in your boot is for show and not for your brother’s chest.”

Palanor grabbed Roth’s leg and tugged down his leather boot to reveal a long blade tied to the calf. He pulled the knife out and pushed Roth back.

“Palanor, believe me,” Roth said, trying to calm his brother. “I always wear that knife. Always.”

“I’ve never seen you wear it,” Palanor snapped, throwing it to the ground. “I trusted you, Roth, and now I see that you planned the whole thing. Conspiring with Colonel Gregor to somehow lure Father and me away from the tournament early, leaving me alone with him out here in the woods, knowing full well that I’d be the center of his wrath, hoping that I’d lose it and kill him. And then you’d come looking for us and sob and weep and act the understanding brother. And when the moment was right, you’d kill me and take the throne.”

Roth backed up and raised his sword. “You treacherous bastard. You’re insane. You’re the one conspiring with Colonel Gregor, not me. You and Gregor and this pixy, luring me into a trap.”

“Me? Why you—” and Palanor raised his sword.

Roth braced and met Palanor’s attack. The swords met again and again, clanging violently in the waning light of the sun, filling the woods with the clamor of battle. The brothers moved over their father’s body, stepping on loose parts of the royal robe, stubbing their toes on his stiffening flesh, stumbling over his legs and arms. Arms stripped with cuts, legs weak and waning, the brothers cut and thrust and swung their blades, all in the presence of a small pixy humbly perched on Roth’s saddle.

He smoked his pipe.

And like before, a tiny voice entered Palanor’s ear and guided his sword home, deep into Roth’s neck at the vulnerable spot. Another blow, and another, and Roth’s head popped off his neck like a dandelion. Palanor dropped his sword and fell to the ground, chest aching for breath. More blood, even more than before, covering his father’s drying blood like a second coat of paint on a fence post. Palanor could not stop his tears.

A small body with a flutter of wings set upon the prince’s left shoulder. “You know,” whispered the pixy, “this is quite a mess we have here. In more ways than one.”

Palanor felt the pixy’s breath on his ear. “It’s you, isn’t it? You’re the voice I’ve been hearing. This is all your fault.”

The pixy nodded and smiled, shoving his smoldering pipe into his velvet bag. “It’s true, I must admit. But I’m merely a small player in a very big game.”

Right then he should have grabbed the imp and crushed him. But no. Doing so would not bring his father or brother back, nor douse the pain in his heart. He’d killed them. He, Palanor, the Prince-cum-King of Trunkheim had cut off their heads. And now lying in their blood, he didn’t have the strength to be angry.

“It’s over, isn’t it?” Palanor asked the imp. “I can’t be king now. What would I tell my mother? How could I show my face to the people with so much blood on my hands? So much shame. What do I do now, Imp? Tell me what to do.”

For a moment, no answer came. But then it did, not as a voice but as Roth’s knife, floating up from the ground and hovering before him, suspended in a magical white light. Palanor stared at the knife, and a little voice whispered in his ear, “Take the knife, my good prince. Your father commands it. Take the knife and finish the job.”

Palanor snatched the knife from the air, turned the blade toward his chest and drove it home.

* * * * *

In the dim light of the setting sun, the pixy rolled the severed heads up to Palanor’s head and arranged them in descending order. Father, Palanor, Roth. Oldest to youngest, left to right. It crawled up onto Palanor’s forehead, lit its pipe, and drew deeply. The warm smoke felt good curling down its throat. It took the chill off the bitter wind. It crossed its legs over the prince’s nose, smoked, and waited.

In time, a steady, slow clapping of horse hooves came up the road from behind. The pixy knew who it was. It could smell her perfume.

Without turning, it said, “It’s a tragic tale, isn’t it? An ancient one of hate, jealousy, greed, lust, and pain. Father sires son; son grows up weak and wanting; father hates son; son kills father; brothers kill each other. Makes you want to weep, doesn’t it?”

The clapping of hooves stopped. “Spare me your drama, Imp. I’m not in the mood. Did you have to arrange them like that? Right next to each other? So morbid.”

The pixy chuckled. “I thought you’d like to see them all together one last time, my lady.” It jumped up and faced the queen.

She was wearing a black robe with a thick hood clasped tightly at her neck. She was beautiful in black, it thought, admiring how her green eyes accentuated the darkness of the fabric cupping her face. It studied that face for some sign of remorse, some measure of guilt. Yes, yes, perhaps there it was. A flash of red in the eyes? A spot of tear on the lash? Was she, too, a victim in all this, it wondered. But that was a silly question, for it knew the answer to that already.

“My husband accepted your plan to lure Palanor here and pick a fight?” the queen asked.

“Yes,” said the pixy. “Once I convinced him that his sons were conspiring to seize the throne, he couldn’t wait to get Palanor alone. And when the moment came, I locked his arms against his side with a simple lock spell and he couldn’t defend himself.”

The queen looked down at her son’s bloody chest. The hilt of Roth’s knife stuck up like a tomb. “Palanor did what you told him? No troubles?”

The pixy sniffed, feeling the chilly air, fighting back the growl in its empty stomach. “Clay in my hands, your Highness. Clay in my hands.”

“And Roth’s knife. It was where I said it would be?”

The pixy nodded. “That was a nice touch.”

“Thank you,” the queen said smiling.

Men riding up halted their discussion. Ten mighty warriors of the royal guard lead by Colonel Gregor. They pulled up to the edge of the dried pools of blood and stared at the bodies. Gregor, garbed in the silver and red of the Trunkheim army, rode forward, eyes fixed upon the queen. She stared back. Gregor nodded politely. The queen responded in kind. Then together, they leaned forward over Palanor’s body and kissed.

The pixy cleared his throat. “Pardon me for interrupting this warm and cuddly moment, but we had a deal, your Highness. I do you a favor, and you do me one.”

The queen pulled away from her lover’s lips. “Very well, Imp. Name your price.”

“Full access to your royal grain stores and wild game reserves. Plus, if it won’t be too much trouble, a comfortable rat-hole somewhere in the castle. Winter this year, I fear, will be harsh.”

“Access to my grain? My animals? My castle? Impossible!” She looked at Gregor for support.

Gregor nodded carefully… very carefully. “It seems fair, my love.” The colonel then looked at the pixy. The little creature gave Gregor a quick wink and a smile that only the colonel could see. This tragic tale, the pixy knew, was far from over.

The queen shook her head, but said, “Okay, Imp. You have a deal.” She pulled the reigns of her horse, turned around, and motioned toward the three dead bodies, two headless. “You men clean this up,” she ordered, “and forget what you saw here today.”
Trotting up the road, the queen and the colonel held hands. The pixy flew between them, coolly smoking his pipe. “You know, my lady,” it said, “I wouldn’t be too concerned about giving me access to your food supplies. After all, there are three less heads at the dinner table now.”

Behind them, a guardsmen picked up the king’s head and placed it in a leather bag.

 

Minaret of Necromancy

by Hope Evey

 

She stands in the top chamber. It’s too open to call it a room. The decorative swirls that give the minaret shape define the space. From a distance, it’s beautiful. Closer, horror creeps over you. No one element stands out as wrong, but the sense of wrongness builds. Beautiful, yes; and as unnatural as the woman standing in its summit.

“I hear you behind me. You know the cost of my turning.”

“All who see your face, Lady, die. It’s a risk worth taking.”

“I wear no veil. Should I but turn, your life is forfeit.”

“Are you so sure? What if my knife strikes before you turn? There are no guards to stop me. They say you are old. Perhaps you are slow… and necromancy does not touch the quick.”

He froze there, knife raised, unable to draw back or to strike.

“You began dying the day you were born. And I rule all that is dead. But I am surprised at how fully I can control you. I wonder…” her voice trailed off as the would-be assassin’s eyes went wild. Her mouth twitched at the corners as he fell to the floor gasping. “Be glad I only stopped your breath. Fill your lungs, child.” She paused, but drew no breath. “Does the wind carry the scent of flowers tonight?”

“What does it matter!?” he spat at her, gasping for breath as he rose.

The sound had to be a laugh. It couldn’t be anything else. Her dry cackle would curdle milk in the breast.

“That is why I can control you.” She turned then, faster than anything should move. In a blink she stood lover-close to him. “I cannot smell the breeze, nor even feel it. I gave that up for power.”

“You gave it up for vengeance. But neither of us can smell the flowers.”

He ran, then. Even after he shot past the edge of the floor, he still ran, racing to shatter his empty shell.

 

That Office Sci-Fi Dork

That Office Sci-Fi Dork

Illustration by J. Andrew World

by Christopher Shawn Jones

 

There’s a man at my work with the indelible quirk
of gravitating where he is least wanted
His head’s like an orb and his mind has absorbed
the trivia that most other minds shunted
He speaks of Star Wars until others it bores
And that Tron is a flick well worth seeing
When asked about tazers, lasers, and phasers
His retort is his reason for being
He talks of scifi with a twinkling eye
Star Trek his conversational aperitif
He knows Spock from his Spork and though he’s a dork
He’ll never turn over a new leaf
He’ll just babble on about Babylon
5 and other shows I’d rather not mention
And though a disbeliever I’d call every receiver
just to beam me up past his attention.

 

Linktear

by Zachary Spector

 

This is a large room, with several identical tables lined up throughout it. There isn’t much else in it right now, because the kitchen staff is off paying attention to something more important. The room does, in fact, resemble an elementary school lunch room in both form and function, save for its total lack of windows, lower ceiling and position about half a mile underground.

Near one of the room’s four corner doors, a little girl of about twelve years sits, doing nothing. She sits on the floor rather than on the bench nearby, wearing a generic tunic, and looking pensive. She’s waiting for something to happen, and is very patient for it. It’s a grim sort of patience, a kind of fatalism.

Some time later—a man comes in through the nearest door. He’s certainly not wearing a generic tunic, preferring instead to bear as little resemblance as possible to the child next to him; he’s a warlot, not yet zipped into his husk but carrying all the equipment needed for it. It does in fact look odd to see this hulk embracing this little girl with such affection, but that doesn’t stop them from trying… or the daughter from weeping.

“You’re going away?” she asks.

Asemoneen answered this question a while ago, so he doesn’t try it again.

“Why?”

“It’s not easy to explain…” And that is true. But insofar as the father has time after all his procrastination, hoping that the draft would leave his name alone, he’s going to try to explain what it’s all for anyway. “Come—let’s sit down.”

So, given no other options, Watch and her father sit down on the same bench, and look away from the table, at a blank wall.

“We’re fighting a war,” he begins. “And so, it has all the things going against it that every other war does… we shouldn’t be doing it because it wastes lives, and there are simpler ways to go about that, and why can’t we just let the politicians fight it out, anyway. So I’m not going to talk about that. The war’s here because… Well. No, I’ll start by saying who’s fighting it.

“Watch—when was the first time you saw the sky?”

Watch looks her father straight in the eye, or as close as she can come to it. “Last year. We were trying to find a new matter tank, and you took me along.”

“Do you remember the people we met up there?”

“The tan people? Yeah, I remember them. They were—” She tries to find an adjective. “—I didn’t understand the way they lived. It was like they damaged the land to get what they could from it, and then left it that way, moved somewhere else.”

“Pretty much. And you see… there are some good tan people… you met a few, I think… but there’s this problem that we always seem to have with them. The tan people like to dig for the resources they need, instead of finding matter tanks like us, and we happen to live in a lot of the same earth that they’d really like to dig through.”

“Yeah, but I don’t get it, why mine? There’s just no need to if you can find the Linktear’s matter tanks.”

“That’s the thing, see? When you think of the matter tanks, you think of them like water, or blood—they’re a thing that you need to have, and so you get more of them, even when that means you have to get messy in the process. But, um… the tan people… the ones who care, anyway… they don’t see it that way.”

“Why not? It’s easy! I could show them how to use the matter tanks if I went up there right now!”

“I’m sure you could…”

The conversation just sort of stops for a while here. It’s not really because either of them is afraid to continue; really, they’re just thinking about each other, as a father and daughter would tend to do at times like this. They need time for it, before Asemoneen goes off and dies for someone.

“People like you and I,” he says, “we don’t really mind what we have to do to get new matter, as long as we get it. But the tans have some other things to say about that, like… for one thing, most of them just think it’s gross. When you might have to fight off a zombie beetle that comes out of the matter box when you open it, that’s usually enough to put a lot of tans off, they’d rather just dig a lot to get what they need and pretend they never have to risk their lives for anything.

“But there’s also something else to it… see, taking and using matter that’s really, truly new is something that a lot of people just can’t take. Their grandparents were born, lived, and died knowing that matter is never created or destroyed, that we have what we have and just have to work with it until we run out… or actually, most of them didn’t think of that limit, but still, that was the idea. And now this Linktear thing comes along, and breaks that rule.

“Now, when you’re breaking a rule that the universe has, that’s like you’re breaking a part of the universe. The tans, they appreciate, they value the condition of the universe in a way that we don’t—they respect the rules it has, and when this Linktear or whatever you call it comes around and starts breaking those rules, it’s doing something wrong to their good buddy Universe, and they… really don’t want to sit by and just watch that happen.”

“But why do they have to kill us for it?!” Watch screams. “Why can’t we just leave each other alone and do stuff with this universe like each of us wants to?! It isn’t hard! It’s just—it’s just—” And she falls, sobbing, into her father’s lap.

“I know. Honey, I know.” And he pauses for a while. “It’s just so hard for us humans to leave a difference alone.”

“…difference.”

“Difference in opinion. In religion. I don’t know, whatever it is, we’re fighting over it. And… here we are.”

They wait for a while longer.

Asemoneen knows his daughter well enough that he avoids carrying her back to her room; she needs to wait for a while. He just walks out to go suit up, and eventually some staffers come by and take Watch home.