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Beyond Workwear and Americana: Western Workwear

Beyond Workwear and Americana: Western Workwear

To understand the context of this guide, you should first know a bit about workwear in general. u/Smilotron wrote this excellent guide, which I highly recommend you read. In the guide, he defines Americana as a subset of workwear. This guide defines western workwear as a subset of Americana, and focuses on the elements of Americana that have a Western vibe. Basically, it tries to thread the needle between rodeo dad and basic workwear. Still, the west is a big place. For this guide I don’t narrowly focus on one area of the west, but think more cowboy than park ranger. I’m also leaving out tailoring (something I don’t know much about) and SLP-esque stuff, although the latter does have several points of overlap. I added a couple inspo album to help show what I mean:
Personal Inspo Album
RRL Inspo Album from u/ancient-alien
One of the most important aspects of western workwear is wear. Clothing that is noticeably broken in and worn looks best, so pick materials carefully. Denim, leather (both top grain and suede), and waxed cotton show wear quite well. Wool and cotton are good materials as well. Polyester, rayon, and other synthetic materials are best avoided. I’m going to refer to both roughout and suede as “suede” because the difference isn’t very important. Also, I honestly don’t know the difference between different cotton weaves so if I say “cotton” I mean everything that’s not denim or waxed cotton.
There’s a fair amount of leeway when it comes to fit. You want to stick to relatively slim (not skinny) clothing: you don’t want to be swimming in anything. Still, you can go a bit wider and a bit slimmer with no issues.
A lot of Americana depends on history and heritage. I’m going to start off with a couple articles on the history of some of these items. Feel free to skip this, or read the rest of the guide and come back, it’s not essential.
Cowboy Boots
Mackinaw Jacket
Wabash (just mouse over the underlined word “wabash” in the details section)
Western Patterns

Common Items

Leather Jackets (Black Roughout Trucker, Tan Racer, Brown Suede Racer, Brown Shearling)
These are probably the most classic jackets for Western workwear. Any type of leather works, but suede and shearling look better than top grain. Stick to shades of brown and tan. Cafe racer, trucker, and button-up leather jackets are the best cuts.
Buy From: Taylor Stitch ($), Freenote Cloth ($$), RRL ($$$)

Chore Coats (Waxed Cotton Freenote Cloth Jacket, Cotton Jacket)
Brown chore coats are another classic element of western workwear. Waxed cotton is better, as it breaks in much more than standard cotton, but both work. Color is very important. Stick to a warm brown for regular cotton chore coats. Waxed cotton coats have more leeway: nearly any shade of brown looks good.
Buy From: Carhartt ($), L.C. King ($$), Freenote Cloth ($$$)

Denim Jackets (Raw Denim Jacket, Shearling Jacket)
Denim jackets are a bit tricky. While they certainly go with the denim-heavy vibe of western workwear, wearing them with a denim shirt and jeans is difficult to pull off. For all those non-denim shirts, however, denim jackets are great. It’s best to stick to medium wash, dark wash, or black denim. Make sure that there is a noticeable difference in wash between the color of your jacket and your jeans. A shearling lining can also help to separate multiple levels of denim. If you’re curious, this is a quick primer on the types, but they’re minor differences that don’t matter much in the end.
Buy From: Levi's ($), Taylor Stitch ($$), Orslow ($$$)

Wool Jackets (Patterned Overshirt, Patterned Overcoat, Gray Mackinaw, Red Mackinaw)
Wool jackets are the heavy hitters that make this viable in truly cold conditions. These split into two main groups: patterned jackets and mackinaw jackets. Western patterned jackets are tough to find, as very few bands carry them. They can come in any form, from overcoats to overshirts. Of course, patterned jackets are possible in other fabrics, but the brands that sell these almost always make them in wool. Mackinaw jackets are much easier to find, but not all of them look Western. Stick to gray or red buffalo plaid.
Buy From: Filson Mackinaw ($$), RRL ($$$)

Others (RRL Knit, Wabash)
I’ve listed the main categories of jackets, but there are still a few other types that work, although they are a bit more niche. The first is Wabash. Wabash is a bit of a weird one- it’s denim adjacent, as it’s indigo dyed and fades like denim. It wears in very well. The other is the RRL knit cardigans. These are typically intricately patterned and very high quality. While there are certainly more jackets that I haven’t mentioned, this list covers the main ones.
Buy From: Ben Viapiana ($$$), RRL ($$$)

Plain Denim Shirts (Dark Wash, Medium Wash, Light Wash, Chambray, Embroidered)
Denim shirts are an absolute essential. While any denim shirt will do, a Western yoke helps to put it firmly in the category of Western. A Western yoke is the extra piece of fabric that comes over the shoulders, as you can see in this pic. Check out this guide for more info on shirt parts. Just like denim jackets, be sure there is a significant difference between the color of your pants and your shirt. Light and medium wash shirts are the most easily worn, but dark wash can work as well. Chambray shirts are so similar to denim shirts that I’m not going to differentiate between them, so they’re included in this as well. Embroidery and wear can make these a lot more interesting.
Buy From: Levi's ($), Taylor Stitch ($$), Iron Heart ($$$)

Patterned Denim Shirts (Wabash, Decorated, TS Western, Striped Denim, RRL Jacquard)
There are a few patterned denim shirts, although they are a bit rare. Wabash shirts are the most common, although they can still be tough to find.. There are also a few shirts that have a similar pattern to Wabash, but with a more intricate design instead of just dots. Striped denim shirts and shirts with jacquard patterns are two other good options.
Buy From: Ben Viapiana ($$$), Iron Heart ($$$)

Other Cotton and Wool Shirts (Red Iron Heart, Freenote Cloth, Faherty Patterned, Pendleton Flannel)
These shirts are difficult, but not for lack of options. Rather, the overwhelming amount of options makes it difficult to find shirts that really fit the Western vibe. It’s difficult to make any hard rules about which shirts work, but there are a few guidelines. First, a Western yoke goes a long way towards cementing that Western look. Second, pay attention to color: red, orange, and brown are generally the best colors. This is probably best seen with the Pendleton flannels. This flannel has that dusty Western vibe, while this one just looks really flat. You can also see this with the Iron Heart buffalo plaid flannels. This flannel definitely looks more Western than this green one. In addition, pay attention to patterns. Buffalo plaid is a safe bet, and you want to stay away from anything that’s too busy. While this shirt is the same color as the Iron Heart one above, the addition of an extra color and all those lines makes it way too busy. Shirts with Western patterns, such as this shirt look really good, but are tough to find.
Buy From: Taylor Stitch ($), Pendleton ($$), Iron Heart ($$$)

Henleys (Natural Henley, Indigo Henley)
Henleys are an Americana staple. White/natural henleys are the most classic, and can work on their own or as undershirts. Indigo, black, and gray are also good options.
Buy From: J. Crew ($), Taylor Stitch ($$), Merz B. Schwanen ($$$)

Others (White Oxford, White Indigo Stripe, RRL Striped, Suede)
There are a few other niche options that don’t really fit well into a category. White shirts work as a good basic, although they don’t have a strong Western vibe. There are some white patterned shirts that look good, many of which have a Mandarin collar. Suede shirts are also a fantastic option in almost any color but, again, are difficult to find.
Buy From: RRL ($$$)

Jeans (Black Jeans, Medium Wash, Raw)
Jeans are absolutely the core of western workwear. In terms of fit, sticking with relatively slim (not skin tight) jeans are a safe option to avoid the rodeo dad look. Make sure to either cuff or crop your jeans so that there isn’t too much piling up on your boots. A variety of washes can work, including black, but washes that mimic natural fading are best. For example, these jeans look a lot better than these jeans primarily due to fit and how natural the fading looks.
Buy From: Levi's ($), Naked and Famous ($$), RRL ($$$)

Other Pants (Suede Pants, White Jeans, Brown Pants)
While jeans are really all you need, there are a few other options. Suede pants look good in almost every color. White jeans are a surprisingly good option, but it’s difficult to find the right cut and thickness. Brown pants, while not giving as strong of a Western vibe, can also work. For brown pants, stick to a warm brown (just like with the regular cotton chore coats).
Buy From: Rogue Territory ($$), RRL ($$$)

Cowboy Boots (Dark Brown Suede, Light Brown Suede)
Cowboy boots are the most obvious option for footwear. There are, however, a couple ways you can go wrong with these. First, don’t tuck your pants into your boots. Next, let’s look at two pairs of boots: these work boots versus these Lucchese boots. They’re both brown cowboy boots with stitching on the toe, but the Lucchese boots look far better. This is due to a few things: the work boots have a thick lugged rubber sole, a square toe, and a much chunkier profile. The Lucchese leather is also shinier. From this example, you can see the importance of silhouette: cowboy boots should be relatively slim, have a thin leather sole, and not have a square toe. Suede and top grain both look great, and any shade of brown or tan is a good color.
Buy From: Tecovas ($), Viberg ($$$), Lucchese ($$$)

Chelsea Boots (Brown Chelseas)
If you don’t want to go full cowboy, chelsea boots are a fantastic option. The same warnings of cowboy boots apply: make sure the sole and toe aren’t too large and chunky or you end up with Blundstones. On the other side, you want to avoid streetwear chelsea boots with a crepe sole like these Common Projects. Also steer clear of anything highly polished like these boots: you want your boots to look like they can take a hit. Something like these Vibergs are perfect. As with cowboy boots, suede and top grain both look great, and any shade of brown or tan is perfect.
Buy From: Astorflex ($), R.M. Williams ($$), Viberg ($$$)

Other Boots (Engineer Boots, Brown Lace-Up Boots)
Engineer boots are an option with a strong Western vibe, but they’re a bit of an acquired taste. Of course, you can forgo all of these shoes altogether and simply wear a set of standard brown boots. Just like with the chelsea boots, you need to thread the needle between overly chunky work boots and sleek dress boots. Something like Iron Rangers are a good example. Once again, stick to brown and tan.
Buy From: Red Wing ($), Oak Street ($$), Viberg ($$$)

Hats (Tan Hat, Brown Hat)
Hats are difficult to style without being over the top. Keep them relatively small and unstructured, and you should be good. Dark colors also help to avoid looking like these idiots.
Buy From: Stetson ($), Hampui ($$), Lone Hawk ($$$)

Jewelry (Jewelry)
Rings can look super dope, but show some restraint. Turquoise, signet, and band rings look cool, but keep the size to a minimum. Something like this is a little much. I haven’t seen many bracelets or necklaces, but go ahead and wear them. When it comes to turquoise jewelry, please try to buy from Native American artists. This helps to support the communities that originally created a lot of this art and are historically impoverished due to the actions of the US government. Please do your research, however, as this article shows the devastating economic impact that fake Native American jewelry can make. I’ve listed a couple sites that are legit as far as I can tell.
Buy From: Etsy ($-$$$), Iron Heart ($$$), Pueblo Direct ($$), Alltribes ($$)

Bandanas (Bandana)
Bandanas are heavily associated with the American West, and there are lots of cool bandanas with interesting patterns and prints. Stick it in your pocket, tie it around your neck, put it in your closet to look at every once in a while, or do whatever. These can be hard to style without looking costumey, but have fun with it.
Buy From: Etsy ($), Mister Freedom ($$), RRL ($$$)

A lot of people associate western clothing with huge belt buckles. These can be pretty hard to pull off, so it's best to stay away from these if you're unsure. u/CharmingCan7 pointed out to me that studded belts are a great addition that are more subtle and easy to style. u/FamousLastName made this amazing post about studded belts, everyone should totally read it.
Buy From: 706 Union ($$$)

Other Guide and Inspo Albums
u/ancient-alien posts some pretty slammin Western fits, although he leans more SLP than workwear
RRL Inspo Album: a huge inspo album from u/ancient-alien
Bandana Inspo Album: an inspo album from u/jerichokilo
Cowboy Inspo Album: an inspo album from u/jerichokilo
Mackinaw Jacket Inspo Album: a bit of history and an inspo album from u/ayysic
Westernish Inspo Album: a super cool and creative album from u/criminal_pink
Denim Shirt Inspo Album: an inspo album from u/thisishirokisamerica
Workwear Guide: a guide from u/smilotron
Cory Mahlke Instagram: an Instagram that features a lot of Western fits
Boot Brand List: an overwhelming number of places to buy boots from, courtesy of goodyearwelt
Raw Denim Buying Guide: an overwhelming number of places to buy raw denim from, courtesy of rawdenim


AB Fits- Lots of niche brands available
Berkeley Supply- Probably the coolest store I’ve been into, they offer a ton of staple brands
Blue Owl- Mainly Japanese workwear, but has some Western stuff as well
Franklin and Poe- Workwear shop in Philadelphia
Huckberry- Huge aggregator of a lot of brands, including some niche ones
Lone Flag- California brand that sells the standard brands
Self-Edge- Very high end workwear
Snake Oil Provisions- Super cool store that focuses on Western workwear
Stag Provisions- Texas brand that sells a lot of cool stuff, including RRL
Standard and Strange- Lots of cool vintage and repro brands
Withered Fig- Virginia based store that is more curated
Astorflex- Good budget footwear including chelseas
Carhartt- Heritage brand with great chore coats
J. Crew- Sell some staples such as denim shorts and jeans, but nothing exciting
Levi’s- Good budget denim
Stetson- Huge cowboy hat maker
Taylor Stitch- Relatively budget-friendly brand that sells some western shirts
Woolrich- Really old American brand, tons of stuff on eBay, don’t buy new
3Sixteen- Great denim and some jackets that work well with Western workwear
Bradley Mountain- MiUSA jackets, luggage, and leather goods
Corridor- Very rarely has Western clothing, but they make my one of my favorite shirts
Filson- Another OG American brand, they make a few good shirts and a lot of jackets
Flint and Tinder- Huckberry’s in-house brand, lots of cool MiUSA staples
L.C. King- MiUSA chore coats and denim
Left Field NYC- MiUSA denim and some shirts
Lucchese Boots- Heritage cowboy boot brand
Naked and Famous- Great entry-level raw denim
Outclass- Workwear brand that has some stuff with a Western vibe
Pendleton- An OG American brand, you can find a ton of their vintage stuff used on eBay and in thrift stores
Rogue Territory- MiUSA brand, whose highlight is their denim and waxed cotton jacket
Tecovas- Modern cowboy boots, definitely the best for the budget
Thursday Boots- Very budget-friendly boots
Ben Viapiana- Fantastic custom stuff
Freenote Cloth- MiUSA brand that make a lot of Western workwear
Ginew USA- MiUSA native owned brand that sells all sorts of Western staples
Gitman Vintage- MiUSA brand (although that may change) that make some Western flannels
Grease Point Workwear- Very cool MiUSA workwear
Harden Co.- Vintage inspired MiUSA workwear
Iron Heart- Very substantial flannels and denim
Lone Hawk- Very interesting restored vintage hats
Merz B. Schwanen- Vintage-inspired henleys
Railcare Fine Goods- MiUSA denim and jackets
RRL- Some of the best Western clothing out there
Tellason- MiUSA denim, jackets, and shirts
Viberg- Some of the best side-zips and chelseas you can buy
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[FF][RST] The Erogamer: A Darker Timeline (sfw)

The Commander stood straight with his hands clasped behind his back, carefully upright despite his age even with no one present to bear witness to it. His eyes had fixed on the sterile white drifts beyond the reinforced window of his office, now appearing black beneath the night above. Some might have called the view uninspiring, but not far beyond the window lay a grave. It was not a much-decorated grave considering the expense it had taken to bury its sole occupant there, beneath a shipping tag torn from a compressed-air container and pinned in place with a knife.
The Commander wished that it was the grave's occupant standing here now instead of him. He didn't know what the hell he was supposed to do now, but whatever it was, the grave's occupant would have done it better.
Failing that, being able to phone home for orders would have been nice. The first flash of bad weather that knocked out their radio hadn't perturbed the Commander. The second surge, that knocked out the repaired radio, had perturbed him more. After receiving their unexpected visitor they'd took a chance on activating their last set of spares, and a storm had knocked that out too. Now they were out of contact for days, at least, until the base technicians could improvise another solution.
It didn't seem likely the visitor could have caused all that. But he was also having a hard time believing that it had been sheer coincidence. Perhaps their visitor had known that they would be out of contact, at this particular time, and had chosen just then to arrive...
The communicator on his desk warbled out its mock-melody, and the Commander took a step over to press the button with only a glance at the ID. He'd been waiting on this call.
A young woman's voice said, "Sir."
There had been a time earlier in his career when he would have been nervous about handing over duties this important to a member of the fairer sex. He felt no such anxiety this day. Nobody got assigned to this Base unless they were damned good at their jobs.
The vidscreen flickered into action, displaying the upper half of - the Commander privately admitted and would certainly never say out loud - the prettiest sight on the Base, or at least, she'd been the prettiest sight as of one day earlier. If Major Jane Getherde was feeling any feminine jealousy about her suddenly materialized competition, she wasn't showing it.
"All right," the Commander said. "Tell me about our... guest."
"Do you want the most important parts first or should I take things in order?"
"Take it in order, if there's nothing of imminent urgency." He should have been woken again from his sleep if that had occurred. He wouldn't have been sleeping at all, in this situation, except he'd already stayed awake the previous 36 hours trying to fix the radio problem. He was no longer as young as he'd been.
Major Getherde's comportment betrayed no sign of fatigue from her own sleepless night. "All the noninvasive examination I could do with medical instrumentation I had on hand showed our guest as an ordinary human female in every respect. Zero scars, zero birthmarks, no evidence of significant surgeries. White, perfectly aligned teeth with no evidence of fillings or other dental work. Her feet do not have calluses."
The Commander raised a hand and massaged his temples. "Can you tell me whether we're looking at advanced medical care, genetic engineering, or something wearing a newly grown body?"
"I can't think of an easy way to tell. You could order me to inflict a small cut on her and observe how fast it heals."
The Commander grimaced. "Let's continue holding off on that for now. The items she had with her?"
"The earrings glow faintly in the dark. No alpha or beta, very low gamma, consistent with a properly shielded isotopic power source. The high heels seemed ordinary on a surface examination. I didn't want to try more destructive tests, such as X-Rays that could potentially destroy concealed microfilm, without waiting for orders."
Considering that the visitor had been wearing nothing except earrings and high heels on arrival, under circumstances where a visitor should have been wearing rather more, he would have bet a great deal of money that the heels were not ordinary either. "Agreed. Keep holding off on that."
"A full medical examination revealed that the subject had a small case hidden in her vagina. I, ah, took it out. It wasn't locked, and inside were two ampules that looked like they were intended for a hypodermic injector. The case is self-refrigerating."
The Commander grimaced, not liking to think of the required invasion. "Any notion of what it was doing up there?"
"No sir. Obvious thoughts are that she was hiding it, or that something about her transportation method made it easier to carry things inside her body. The XO decided that the equipment should be kept away from the subject for now."
The Commander nodded. "I concur. Continue."
"The two ampules inside the case appeared to be filled with a homogenous transparent liquid. Since there were two seemingly identical ampules, the XO agreed that it was reasonable to draw a small amount of the liquid for further examination. After optical microscopy failed, I had the electron microscope moved into the medical section. Electron microscopy showed virus particles in suspension."
The Commander didn't straighten, because he was already standing completely straight, but his expression sharpened. "A virus? Are you sure?"
"It was hard to be sure from electron microscopy alone. After some discussion with the XO I decided it was worth the risk to inoculate a live mouse with a tiny amount of the fluid - under highest biohazard conditions - in order to observe the results."
The Commander shook his head, frowning. "Not what I would have done," he understated.
"I wasn't sure how long the sample of liquid would survive. The XO thought it made more sense to use it before losing it, rather than needing to draw another sample later. It did seem like something we'd want to try at some point."
The Commander sighed. "So do we now have a shape-changing psionic supermouse destroying our base?"
"No sir?" Major Getherde sounded uncertain.
The trouble with youngsters nowadays was not just that they lacked history but that, lacking history, they lacked imagination. If you were a Native American and people in unfamiliar ships suddenly showed up on your shore, you would be mistaken to assume that your experience with arrows let you understand the destructive potential of the invaders' ammunition stores. Playing with the stranger's toys while she was asleep had not been the correct move.
"What did happen?" said the Commander.
"After a period of four hours consistent with rapid incubation of a disease, the mouse developed a fever. At four and a half hours it began to bleed from all orifices, then it... melted... and then what was left caught on fire."
The Commander scrutinized Major Getherde to see if she was joking, although that seemed unlikely under the circumstances. "A bioweapon?" he said, feeling chilled.
"I would be shocked if it were intended as a weapon, sir," Major Getherde replied, sounding more confident than her previous statements. "A bioweapon should have a long period of contagious incubation, and should only produce symptoms that contribute to its propagation or lethality. Nobody engineering a bioweapon would sit there thinking about how to make the corpse catch on fire after it finished melting."
The Commander nodded, feeling ashamed of himself for not seeing that earlier, and mentally upgrading his estimate of the girl's competence by another notch. "Do you have any idea what the virus is, if not a weapon?"
"Speculation only. I think we may be looking at a biological Swiss army knife, a multitool. A portable lab. I can't see much detail with our equipment, but the virus particles were huge, as large as a herpes virus, and those can carry hundreds of kilobases of DNA. In the hands of an expert, there might be specific settings that produce supermice. We didn't know how to use the portable laboratory, so it deployed random effects that melted the mouse and set it on fire."
That made a surprising amount of sense. The Commander turned the idea over in his mind, considering it. If he had been traveling far from his home civilization, unable to carry even the clothes on his back but still able to carry one kilo of material, his first thought would have been to bring with the Library of Congress on a hyperchip, plus a microfilm on how to construct a reader to retrieve the hyperchip's data. Taking an entire laboratory wouldn't have occurred to him... but that was because his civilization still thought in terms of machines and engines, rather than kilobases of DNA. His race had unlocked the secrets of the Atom; the mysteries held in Life were of a higher order. "Do you have any idea how to operate her... laboratory?"
"It could be a matter of exposing the ampule to a sequence of colored lights. Or feeding a subject the right mix of eye of toad and tongue of newt before infection, if the tool is meant to operate in more primitive settings. The key could be in the earrings, or the high heels, or something we haven't spotted. It seems likely to take considerable experimentation, if we can work it out at all."
The Commander grimaced. "Had the feeling it was a stupid question, but I was hoping you'd tell me otherwise."
"Sorry sir." Major Getherde looked genuinely apologetic.
"Not your fault, son," the Commander said before he could stop himself, then helplessly considered if he should correct himself to "daughter" which did not sound right to him, or apologize to her, or... it was probably better to just drop it. "Next steps?"
Major Jane Getherde spread her hands. "Wait for our guest to wake up."
As if timed to her words, beeping began to sound from off the vidscreen.
A couple of hours later, the Commander was sitting beside Lt. Commander Akio Nagasaki, his base second-in-command, one of Japan's contributions to NATO. Major Getherde had been the only person to have physical contact with the visitor, sealed away from the rest of the base in the medical quarantine unit - the most obvious and basic of precautions. The Commander had on further consideration taken the less obvious step of ordering that only Major Getherde was permitted to communicate directly with the visitor. The existence of psionics and mental superpowers still seemed unlikely, even under the circumstances. But the Commander couldn't be sure, that was the problem, he couldn't be sure of anything. The visitor could have a hyper-advanced organic computer buried in her brain, indetectable to X-Rays, augmenting her ability to read body language and manipulate lesser minds. God damn it, shouldn't his base have had detailed protocols on file for a Little Green Man scenario?
"Report," the Commander said to Major Getherde's image on the vidscreen.
Major Getherde had a distant look about her, as though she was operating on momentum while not really believing in what was happening. "Our visitor identified herself as 'Starry' and presents herself as being... well, sir, I know it sounds unbelievable, and I'm not asserting any such thing myself, but 'Starry' claims to be from an alternate branch of Earth's history."
Beside him, Nagasaki's eyebrows flew up, the Japanese man showing more open emotion than he usually did. The Commander's own mind was recalling dim memories of sci-fi stories he'd read when he was a good deal younger, in particular the Paratime stories by H. Beam Piper. In his mind's eye he stretched out a long timeline of Earth's history, ready to extrapolate possible changes. "Point of divergence?" the Commander said at once. He'd been prepared to stay calm in the face of stranger stories than that one.
The Major looked taken aback herself at her Commander's lack of shock. "Ah... I'm not sure. Taking everything she said at face value, 'Starry' said she was from the United States of her world, a town called Norville in central California. We don't seem to have a national street map on base, so I couldn't check her knowledge of local roads, but she had Interstate 5 right. Her belief about the current date and year matches ours, minus the day she spent unconscious. She confirmed George Washington as the first President and that Abraham Lincoln won the Civil War. She recognized Eisenhower's name, though she wasn't sure whether he'd been President. Mentioning Harry Truman's name made her say 'Dewey defeats Truman', so that part happened the same way. World War II ended with atom bombs being dropped on, ah..." The Major's eyes darted in the direction that would correspond to Akio Nagasaki on her own vidscreen - an unnecessary concern, but the Major evidently didn't know that. "The same two cities. No recognition of Adlai Stevenson's name, or any later Presidents from our world except Jimmy Carter. She named John F. Kennedy as a President in her own world, one she remembered because he'd been assassinated."
That put the divergence at 1960 or earlier. Part of the Commander's mind was trying out possible stories for what would have changed without Stevenson in power. More of his attention was focused on the further implications of her not knowing whether Eisenhower had been President in her America. "She didn't know her own world's history?" he said.
Major Getherde wore a look of faint disapproval. "She had to think hard to remember the current Speaker of the House - Nancy Pelosi, no idea who that is - and she had no idea at all who her Representative was."
"Amnesia?" Akio said.
"I don't think so, and she didn't seem otherwise stupid or scatterbrained. More like she'd played hooky on all her high school civics classes and her family didn't subscribe to any newspapers."
Akio snorted, mirroring the Major's disapproving look.
The Commander lifted a quelling hand. "Don't judge her when we don't know her circumstances," he stated. God knew there were still some kids, even in America, who legitimately had more urgent concerns than their future civic duties. "The larger implication is that our visitor is not an experienced... parallel-timeline traveler, let's call it, or 'paratimer' for short. I would expect a veteran paratimer to have a wide grasp of history."
"Our visitor seems reluctant to speak of how she got here," Major Getherde said. "But it did seem like her journey might have been... unintended."
Beside him, Akio was frowning. "She brought arong a biorogicar raboratory in her vagina," he said in his accented English. "I doubt she arways carries one in her vagina."
It was a good point. The Commander pondered it. "Her apparent age doesn't square with travel on diplomatic or military business," he said aloud. "A stowaway? A refugee of disaster?"
"Our visitor did seem somewhat in shock when she first woke up." The Major seemed slightly embarrassed. "My first priority was putting a blanket around her and telling her she was safe, which seemed to help."
Akio and the Commander traded glances.
"Continue with the report," the Commander said.
Major Getherde looked down and off-screen, probably at her notes. "Again taking all she says at face value, her timeline is advanced beyond our own in the biological and computational sciences, behind us in atomic energy and space travel. Specifically, her timeline doesn't seem to have developed liquid-phase fission reactors, with drastic consequences for all civilization. She had vague memories of learning about an 'oil crisis' that happened in the 1970s. Global warming is becoming a planet-threatening catastrophe. She didn't recognize the names or models of the first Nerva-series spaceships, and seemed genuinely shocked at the concept of using atomic energy for propulsion. Her first question was about radioactive waste contaminating the atmosphere, and she looked surprised and interested when I said a spaceship's atomic reactor only heated the propellant rather than spraying out fissionable materials." Major Getherde spread her hands to display her own puzzlement at the visitor's puzzlement. "Her world has one space station and that's it. She didn't know its tonnage, or whether it was in low orbit or higher. Her people visited the Moon in the 1960s a few times and then they never went back."
The Commander pursed his lips, loading this scenario in his mental timeline. "I hadn't thought liquid-phase atomics would represent a serious technological bottleneck," he said. "I certainly wouldn't expect the idea of using a reactor to heat inert propellant to be a difficult concept." He glanced at Akio, who might know more.
Akio seemed absorbed in thought. "Both riquid-phase reactors and inert-properrant rockets have great engineering difficuruties," he said eventually. "But I wourud not have expected it to be impossiburu in the face of effort. There is no brirriant invention at the core, only much work."
"It could be a cultural issue," said Major Getherde. "Our visitor seemed to show traces of a superstitious or religious dread about atomic energy."
"Hm," said the Commander. He was by far the oldest person on the Base, the token Experienced Officer appointed to ride herd over much healthier youngsters. Even he wasn't old enough to remember the initial introduction of A-bombs in 1945. Still, he knew that dread of atomic energy had been widespread immediately after. If that attitude had persisted and grown, producing a general retreat from material technology into the realm of the mental and biological... he could see it, the Commander supposed. Especially if their timeline had acquired stronger justifications for fear. "Any large-scale atomic exchanges in their history? Any use of atomic weapons above the deca-kiloton level?"
"I... I'm sorry, sir, I didn't think to ask explicitly. It hadn't occurred to me that she wouldn't have mentioned something like that, if it had happened."
The increased fear would have needed to begin early enough to avert research into liquid-phase atomics, which had begun in the 1960s according to his memory. Truman had still been elected in 1948, with events proceeding similarly enough to duplicate the famous headline... "Maybe ask her about the Korean Invasion in particular," said the Commander. "Truman played a damn tight game there. Using Mark-4s may have gotten the NKs to back off, but a lot of historians worry it could have gone the other way - normalized the general use of nukes in warfare, instead of showing that we were willing to use tac-nukes defensively."
Major Getherde nodded. "I'll ask. However things played out, their Cold War ended in the late 1980s with victory to the West -"
"How?" the Commander demanded, leaning forward at the vidscreen as if to press answers out of it. That could be the single most important item of knowledge their visitor had.
"She had only vague ideas. Her rough picture was that the Soviet Union ran out of resources to contend with us and gave up, dissolving into its constituent countries." Major Getherde spread her hands. "The Eastern economies have always been less efficient. As it stands, they're wringing their civilian populations dry to maintain a war footing. Take away everyone's atomic generators, and..."
"Christ," the Commander muttered. "Talk about the mother of all mixed blessings." What he wouldn't have given for a good look at the history shelves of a dozen timelines! If there was a real Paratimer civilization out there, their grasp of history would be chemistry to his Earth's alchemy. A true science that laid out cause and effect with surgical precision, relegating his own historical monographs to poetical essays for the fiction stacks of the library... with an effort, he focused again on the vidscreen. "Maybe I'm being sidetracked from more important issues, but curiosity is eating me alive. What happens after the end of the Cold War?"
Major Getherde hesitated. "Not... not what we'd hoped. My impression is that her United States is also on the verge of dissolution."
A shock of horror went through him. The Commander reminded himself that it wasn't his world... but if there were mistakes that could destroy the West, it was the type of lesson best learned in a single world, once. "What's happening to them? Running out of coal?"
"I..." Major Getherde looked at her notes, and shook her head. "I don't know how to - I don't understand - her attitude towards capitalism versus communism was one of utter despair in both systems. I don't know whether to write it off as teenage nihilism or if her world has been through experiences I can't imagine. I asked if they were having an economic depression. She said that official statistics said no, but it seemed to her like the economy in her city was feeling very sad. And though she didn't say it in so many words, it sounded to me like her America was heading for civil war. As if the only thing holding the USA together had been the Cold War, and once the common enemy was gone, internal divisions began tearing America apart. Political lines more than racial ones, 'reds' versus 'blues'. And it also sounded as if - as if the United States lost interest in its ideals once we didn't have the Soviet Union to contrast ourselves to. People being arrested and held without trial and, and worse. She didn't seem to think other Western countries were better off, and she didn't think the decay was being driven by environmental meltdown or resource exhaustion but by some type of - inward despair, madness, a mass psychological catastrophe of unknown origin. I halfway expected her to describe Martian telepaths launching a psychic assault on all of Terra's sanity like in War of the Worlds IV. Some of what she said sounded like a joke, or insane, the most extreme case being that Donald Trump was elected US President in 2016."
"I have not heard of him?" Akio said, glancing in the Commander's direction.
The Commander was trying desperately to keep a straight face. President Donald Trump. Christ, that wasn't funny, it wasn't funny at all, what was wrong with him, that had actually happened in some poor lost timeline out there. There were real people living in that para-Earth, American citizens, his officers would be rightly critical of him if he started laughing. He just hadn't been prepared to encounter those three words in that order.
"Imagine the most vulgar man in the world," the Commander said, once he felt confident in his ability to keep it together. "Donald Trump is twice as vulgar as that. The only reason the Dems would field him for the White House would be if they wanted to horrify Republicans as much as possible." He was tempted to crack a remark about having not thought even the Democratic Party could sink that low, but he restrained himself. It wasn't his world's Democratic Party, and political dialogue was vitriolic enough without mudraking for scandals from multiple timelines.
"Ah... sir, she said Donald Trump was elected on the Republican ticket."
For a second the Commander thought he'd misheard. "Say again."
"Donald Trump is a Republican President in their world."
"Is he a conservative in their timeline?" the Commander said blankly. "Family man, distinguished service record?"
"She had only vague ideas about his policies but said that the main one she remembered was building a giant wall between the United States and Mexico."
Akio and the Commander looked at each other, and both started to speak at the same time. Military protocol being what it was, that meant the Commander went first. "Can you imagine selective developments or non-developments in military technology that would make a new Maginot Line useful to the USA in the event of war on a Mexican front?" the Commander said.
Akio shook his head. "Extreme deemphasis of air power? I have nothing."
The Commander looked at Major Getherde.
"I - I don't think - I don't think we can understand - there's something very wrong with her world. I said that to her outright and she just nodded. The things she said - I can't summarize, it was a gestalt feeling - that was the largest single thing but there were little things too. She's from a timeline where that is what their lives are like."
"Something went wrong with their advanced biotechnorogy," Akio proposed.
The Commander felt the chill all the way to his ankles. His base's reactor needed a more powerful self-destruct.
Major Getherde glanced back down at her notes. "I had a similar thought," she said. "There could be some drug or supplement that everyone was taking, with undiscovered effects on the brain, like the lead-poisoning theory of the fall of Rome. They'd have no way of knowing that what was happening in their timeline wasn't normal."
The Commander thought that the woman might have an unexplored talent for writing psychological horror stories. Christ, what a terrifying thought.
Major Getherde was still talking. "Another possibility is that it has something to do with their more advanced hyperchip technology. 'Starry' said they'd recently developed the false-reality device that's always five years out according to Popular Science - completely surrounding a person with a binocular 3D vidscreen built into a helmet. That could be having an effect on their psychology, I suppose? People losing contact with reality? Or some broader psychiatric syndrome caused by too much contact with the inhuman logic of computers. An emotional reaction, people clinging to instinct and illogic as a form of protest..." Getherde let out a breath. "I keep wondering whether there's some way for our dimension to launch a rescue mission to their dimension, but I have no idea what we'd do once we got there."
"Let's not get that far ahead of ourselves," the Commander said. "Anything else to report?"
"Our guest seemed oddly interested in hearing about," the woman looked uncomfortable, "well, our sexual standards. I think she was surprised when I told her we were, ah, normal. As if she was expecting to arrive in a culture more... licentious." Major Getherde hesitated. "She seemed surprised that I, personally, was making no attempt to force myself on her. Despite the extreme inappropriateness given the age difference and the serious overall situation and my position as a medical doctor, on a military base where both of us were being recorded at all times, not to mention that she is effectively our prisoner and protected by international conventions!"
"She's a resbian?" Akio said.
The Commander gave the younger man a sideways glance, just to make sure he wasn't leering, but his comport looked as decorous as usual.
"More that she expected me to be homosexual, and - and she thought that's what homosexuals were like!" Major Getherde sounded even more uncomfortable than before.
An intuition tickled at the Commander, born of years of command and experience with subordinates being evasive. He thought again about sci-fi depictions of psionic powers, or implanted hyperchips for reading body language. He needed to ask Major Getherde, in strict confidence and with some urgency, whether the visitor had in fact been right about her - whether the Major had felt a desire to take advantage of their visitor, and properly repressed it. But not with Akio listening. The Japanese were less liberal than modern America about such matters.
"The two packages of virus?" said the Commander, giving the Major a chance to change the subject.
"She seemed surprised that I'd found them at all. Then she said she'd only discuss that with the base commander."
The Commander pursed his lips thoughtfully. It could be a trick to get into his presence. It could also be a legitimate request for any number of excellent reasons. Put Akio in temporary command? The man was as steady as any XO he'd known.
"That reminds me," Major Getherde said. "I'm not sure, but... I think the visitor might have recognized your name when I said it, Commander? She did ask for you by name, after I explained the radio outage and said you were at the top of the current chain of command."
"Ran for President in her timerine, on the Democratic ticket," said Akio, and the Commander shot him a glare.
The Major hesitated. "Actually... I'd have to review the recordings... but in retrospect, I think that mentioning your name was when she stopped acting like I was about to sexually assault her. It was shortly afterward that she first asked for clothing. It's - it's sad that the flag on my uniform wasn't enough. I would have hoped that the Stars and Stripes would mean more than that, even across timelines. Are individual people greater constants than countries? Do genes count for that much? Or fate?" She shook her head. "Sorry, sir, it's hard not to think about - to get distracted by - doctors usually don't have to deal with issues this deep during medical examinations."
"Hmmm..." the Commander hmmmed. Akio's crack there, born of long acquaintance between them and trust enough to jaw about politics, had triggered a thought.
Then the Commander chuckled, unable to help himself despite the severity of the situation.
He'd spotted the joke.
"All right," the Commander said, "I guess I'd better talk with the young lady. Akio, I'm relinquishing command to you pending our recontact with home."
"Sir," Akio said. He hesitated. "Are you certain this is wise?"
"If we trust appearances, this young lady knows one of my alternate selves quite well. Well enough to wind me up some while letting me know that she and I are acquainted. I doubt she made up the story of her dying world from whole cloth, but she did change one detail."
Akio raised his eyebrows again.
The commandant of Heinlein Base leaned back in his chair, an easy motion in the low gravity. Beyond him in the window behind, the searing darkness of the Lunar night stretched out above Mare Imbrium, the white dust blackened beneath it, save where a single spotlight imperishable shone upon the grave of the base's namesake. "Republican President, my ass," said Commander Marcus Adan.
submitted by EliezerYudkowsky to rational [link] [comments]

Fridge's Beta Feedback 8/24/2020

Hi, Fridge here to offer some feedback on the beta experience, there isn't a place to post this atm (they have beta feedback on the forums but separated by patch, so I didn't get a chance to post this before they locked it, and they haven't opened a new one yet)
Just going to put my feedback here. Game so far is ok. My biggest complaints & most of my feedback is around the UI, because it is missing so many things, and honestly sucks a tremendous amount of fun out of the game currently. Lots of this has already been shared and given as feedback, and they are working on some of it but it's worth repeating.
Also FYI because I haven't seen it too much anywhere, your crowfall forum name is your character name, for all characters, forever. You can email crowfall support and request a name change, which the response time was actually incredible, I think my name was changed in less than 5 minutes. I believe you only get to do this one time.

Please, Let us open and interact with windows while moving!!

EDIT: Thanks to u/aRcticOP for letting me know there is a setting for this | Settings Gameplay - Exit Cursor mode on movement - Turn this OFF for your windows to stay open - This changes my feedback to this setting being turned OFF by default, and possibly rename it so it's more clear, how about "Close Menus on Player Movement"
Moving currently closes all windows, whether I press W once and take a tip-toe forward, or if I'm auto running I can't open any window. Want to look at your inventory? Stand still. Look at your talents or stats? Stand Still. Need to review a crafting recipe? Stand Still. Adjust Hotkeys & Action Bar? Not while running! This might be my most hated part about the current game. I never realized how often I look at menus while running to a destination.
being able to open every other window while moving should be a high priority. If someone is asking me a question about my talents, passives or I want to manage my inventory I currently have to stand still - which is just plain frustrating.


Map & Navigation

I Honestly despise the current map, and have gotten the same sentiment from everyone I have spoken to about it. The game involves a bunch of travel (makes the world feel big which I like) this requires referencing the map often. Standing still in a PvP zone while looking at your map (it's a separate screen no overlay) is a sure fire way to get murdered, so ideally when you need to look at the map, you can do it quickly because it is easy to read. This map is not easy to read in it's current state. You also end up Auto-Running a bunch, you can do this and then open the map to become less of an easy target, but you can't interact with the map at all, except zoom in and out with the mouse wheel.

Interface / Menus

Whoever is in charge of the interface has their work cut out for them. I generally press ESC to open the menus, and then open my spell book or crafting menu or talents. I then press escape when I'm done. The next time I do that, everything that I had opened remains open until I click the X on the menu to close it. I'm not used to this, but I'm sure some people like it. Make this an optional toggle, and give people the option to close everything until they re-open it on purpose. Everything on the interface should be toggle-able & be able to be click and dragged by the player. This is important, let the players decide the most important information they want to see.
Currently Can't move Inventory / Character stats / Equipment
Can't move Chat window
Can't Move your own health bar character icon
Can't Move group info / other party members - This also covers up the chat window when clicking on the '?' to bring up chat commands(unable to move Chat commands Window) By default your hunger bar actually covers the name of the window, and if you have party members the commands are essentially unreadable.
Give the option to scale the UI, let me make it gigantic or tiny.
Add Raid Group - Having a 'Raid Group' would be nice to join with other guild members when you have more than 5. This helps a raid leader move people around for Group compositions, and can have 1 person dedicated to inviting people etc. Would be nice to be able to see if everyone is dead, or if everyone is in the current zone when there are more than 5 people.
People miss messages so often, when I first started playing I thought no one ever typed anything outside of General Chat. It turns out people can't easily see new messages in chat, and new people don't even know about the different channels to move into group chat. I bet if you took a poll 99% of players would not know that /say exists & which channel the messages show up in.


Combat is ok for a beta at the moment and it is honestly pretty fun. There are latency issues and wonky-ness, but it does feel like skill is involved and when you win a fight, you actually outplayed your opponent which is nice. (Barring zergs and what not)
My main issue with combat right now, is the game does not tell you at all what is happening, because the 'floating combat text' is really bad at the moment, and you don't have an easy way to see what de-buffs do when they are on you. Since there is a big lack of information, it makes learning and improving take longer. Right now, you essentially need to play every class (at least the popular things) to understand what they are doing when fighting against them to be able to counter it. Or have someone who plays that class tell you / help you practice. This can be frustrating when you get rekt, or a stun doesn't land and you have no idea why, so you don't know what you need to do differently for next time.

Combat Text

The main thing is all the numbers look the same, auto attacks are white, critical hits are white & the same size, spell damage is white. The text is too small, but just give players options to customize it themselves.
submitted by Fridge_Collective to crowfall [link] [comments]

Unleashed pt. 20

Another instalment from u/eruwenn and myself.
First / Prev / Next
It took Alexa three attempts to get authorisation to land in the Azrimad’s shuttle bay, the heavily armed K-7 setting off security alerts throughout the ship. The final attempt was only successful due to Engineer Ha’Mon taking it upon himself to bypass the security protocols. The Kasurian engineer was nervously waiting close to their assigned landing pad, along with the large J’Rami security officer, Clak’Soon.
The docking clamps engaged with a meaty clunk and Aaron stood. His clothes had stuck to the seat as the blood dried, and there was a satisfying peeling sound as the two separated. Where the gore had encrusted on his skin it was now uncomfortably tight, and his shoe that had filled with his own blood squelched as he walked. The adrenaline and relief had faded away during their return trip, and Ranjaz and Aaron were now as exhausted as they were filthy. Sassie was asleep on one of the seats and she didn’t even stir. Aaron decided not to wake her yet, and gently ran his hand down the blood-matted fur on her side.
The door to the K-7 opened slowly, a rush of refreshingly breathable air reached them before their own stench overwhelmed it. Outside the shuttle the opposite happened and Ha’Mon and Clak’Soon both began wretching as the scent of baked innards washed out of the shuttle. “That’s disgusting!” The Kasurian turned away from the sight.
Clak’Soon was quick to add, “Why didn’t you get cleaned up? Can you not smell that?”
Ranjaz, his fur also matted and stiff, had lost his good humour. He sniffed loudly. “Nope. Must be you.”
Being the more diplomatic of the pair, Aaron wearily explained. “We had to leave in a hurry.”
“Sure, sure.” Clak’Soon had watched the feed; he could see why the planetside authorities wanted them gone. “But, this is a K-7?”
Aaron’s patience was wearing thin. “And?”
Ha’Mon fought past his racial dislike for blood and walked on board, careful not to touch anything. He made his way to the rear and opened the toilet door. Using as few words as possible so he would not have to breathe in the foul air. “Toilet.”
Ranjaz stared blankly. “You want us to wash in the toilet?”
Ha’Mon closed the door, then pushed a wall panel which popped open. He tapped the small display that had been revealed, and a quiet but repetitive beeping followed and a final higher ping indicated it was complete. He opened the door, gesturing emphatically. “Shower and” -he leaned in and pulled open a small door- “hydro-cleanser with sonic dryer.” He rushed back outside the shuttle before sucking in the sweet recycled air of the Azrimad.
Aaron and Ranjaz were already pushing each other and stripping off their clothes.
“I’m first.”
“It’s my shuttle!”
“‘Cos of me!”
Alexa whistled loudly, silencing them both. “Why not use one each?” She began taking off her own clothes. “And one of you can clean my clothes as well.”
“Woah!” Aaron was quick to stop her. “Remember the rule!”
Alexa stopped and scowled. “You are very prudish for someone with a certain private folder on their phone.” She pushed past him and entered the cubicle, then called for Sassie who grumbled and rose to follow. “Let us test this out.” The door closed and after what felt entirely too long for the dirty duo, she stepped out in a simple outfit of jeans and a shirt, her other clothes neatly folded under her arm. Sassie was clean, and dry, but clearly looked unhappy about the ordeal.
Ranjaz looked surprised. “It has a fabricator?”
Aaron cuffed the Kittran gently across the back of the head. “She’s cheating, those are nanites.”
It had been a long day and Ranjaz could only muster a half nod and a vague hand wave of direction. “It’s been tested. You take that one.”
Aaron entered and stripped, tossing his belongings into the cleaning cabinet. As the door closed a touch panel lit up and he tapped it. He stepped into the middle of the cubicle and saw a series of illuminated panels on the wall. Thankfully, the symbols were easy to follow and he was soon being doused in lukewarm water. Another button produced foam that sprayed over him like he was in a carwash, and Aaron got to really scrubbing. A low hum suddenly started coming from the cabinet, and he reached out on instinct to touch the door. As it was vibrating at a high frequency, he guessed that the sonic drying function was now in process. Curiosity now satisfied, he went back to the blissful process of finally getting clean.
Just when he was wondering how in the world he was going to deal with being sopping wet, warm air washed over him from all sides. He was dry and dressed shortly after. His clothes, too, were dry. And spotless, and so soft - it was an amazing feeling, to be clean. As he walked past Sassie's snoring form on a seat and exited he saw Alexa standing before Norrin, her clothes morphing and her hairstyle changing repeatedly. He laughed out loud. “Fashion show?”
Ha’Mon was now sitting in the pilot's seat, making buzzing noises and leaning side to side. Clak’Soon was at the gunner’s post and was hooting and yelling about incoming hive ships. Alexa turned to Aaron, ignoring the two using the ship as a toy. “I thought that Norrin may be too conspicuous.”
Aaron couldn’t help but agree. “And you thought a flowing silver ball gown and a mohawk would help him blend in?”
Alexa’s hair flowed back to its normal shining silver bob. “I was merely demonstrating.” She peered closer to Norrin. “I think I really did break him,” she said, looking at her reflection in his faceless head. “Norrin, let me see your core.”
Aaron flopped into the seat beside Sassie as a thin line opened on Norrin’s chest. As the line widened into a crack, tiny gold specks were visible within the Inorganic. They coalesced into dots, then joined up to become flecks, moving together like magnetic raindrops until they formed a small ball in the centre of his open chest cavity. Aaron couldn’t help but be amazed. “Woah.”
"It's very small," Alexa said, and concern was evident in her voice.
“Don’t judge his size.”
“Quiet,” Alexa chided him. Her chest opened and a ball almost three times the size of Norrin’s formed. “My core is a little small after-” She gestured wordlessly to Aaron and Sassie, causing the human to feel a pang of guilt. “-but his was much larger. Until…”
Sensing her regret Aaron finished her sentence for her. “You defended yourself.”
Without lungs she took a deep breath and exhaled her tension - another affectation. Her chest closed as she spoke, the core dissolving into her once more. “You can close up Norrin.” She sat back and seemed to be deep in thought.
The optimistic human was about to start offering ideas when Ranjaz finally appeared. At least, it could have been Ranjaz. “Not one damn word, “ he growled.
The cleaning foam and warm air had clearly had a startling effect on the Kittran's fur, and the entire shuttle burst into uproarious laughter. Everyone, except Norrin.
As they all settled down once more, the Inorganic tilted its head to the side. “Why is there humour in the increased fur volume of the Kittran? Is fluffy funny?”
And the laughter erupted once more.
Estrilla completed a form on her datapad, then looked up to Embar sitting on the edge of the bed in the medical bay to check on his wounds one last time. “You still need to go easy, Sergeant.” She passed him his shirt.
Embar struggled to get his arm in the sleeve as the new skin was still tight, and smiled when Estrilla lifted the garment for him. “Thank you, Doctor.” He stood and gathered his things: balloons, cards, fruit and a large basket of Rinoxian cupcakes he had been forbidden from eating. Another human idea that had swiftly caught on: visiting hours. The idea that family and friends could improve the rate at which a person heals. He had laughed at the very idea, and then missed them when they left.
The cards were all handmade, with drawings on the front. Allistan’s was embroidered and featured Rinoxian symbology. He’d gotten some of it wrong - it wished him a swift return to health and promiscuity - but he knew the symbol for strength was very similar so he had understood the sentiment. Estrilla saw him holding the card. “The Inspector stayed up all night to make that. He felt bad he wasn’t there with us.”
He already knew that, the X.B.P.A. officer had apologised many, many times. “It is a fine card. They all are.” He took the one from Agent K’Lua. In large letters on the front it said Get better and inside it read at dodging. “Even this one.”
With a smile Estrilla took the stack of cards and began to look through them. “Don’t be too hard on him. He helped Allistan find the Rinxoxian symbols for his embroidered card, and he took it very seriously.” She didn’t notice the smile on Embar’s face as she had finally found the card she was looking for. “I like this one. Painting the pads on one of Sassie’s paws and using the print to make balloons is strangely adorable. Humans are fascinating.”
“Human.” Embar corrected. He’d taken the message from Aaron’s video to heart. Watching it a few times in the last two cycles, he kept coming back to Aaron talking of his desire to go home. Something he understood all too well. His home, however, was lost in a different way. The large Rinoxian stood and began walking towards the exit. “At least things will be quiet today. He was going to purchase an extra-system ship from the local star port. How much trouble can they cause shopping?”
Walking alongside the Rinoxian reminded Estrilla of being a hatchling, walking beside her father, tall and protective. “He’s a bounty hunter, in a K-7 attack shuttle, going to a star port in a fringe system. Oh,” -she put her hand on his forearm- “He has the weapons you made on Arkellis. Captain Vy’Mes returned them with his compliments, and Hexy refuses to have them on board.”
With a resigned groan the sergeant asked, “Who did he take?”
The loud brash voice of the J’Rami echoed around the shuttle. “Come on Slo, crank that dial!” He swung back around to face the others. “Why is he piloting? I could have had us there and back already!”
Ha’Mon was sitting looking at his datapad, assessing potential ships that were for sale. “You had your license revoked” -he swiped left muttering too ugly under his breath- “for reckless jump speeds, and this was the fourth time.” Another left swipe. eww, too old.
The Jaimsmae had tentacles across the whole control panel, not one of them increasing the shuttle's speed. “We are going the legal limit for pulse engines within tier two planet proximity shipping channels. Once we are at a safe distance I will engage the grav drive and, as you say, crank that dial.”
Clak’Soon hooted with excitement while Ha’mon kept swiping left. He paused. Nice curves, he murmured, and he swiped right. “You do both know that the K-7 does not use a dial for its grav drive? No ship has in a hundred celes. It’s all touch controls now.” Left swipe, left swipe. Maybe? If we lower our standards… Right swipe.
Leaning over the Kasurian engineer, Clak'Soon tried to take the datapad from his friend's hands. “Let me do it!”
Ha’Mon wriggled away and moved to sit by Aaron, continuing his search for a ship. The Kasurian held up his datapad. “Don’t let that ape near this, he swipes right on everything.”
Aaron wasn’t listening, as he was unwrapping a blue piece of cloth from around the small parcel Alexa had given him as he left. Inside was a lunch box with a picture of Selva Blaster stuck to the front, the iconic bounty hunter striding forth, guns blazing. Ha’Mon saw the design. “Oh wow, Selva Blaster! He’s the coolest. I didn’t know you were a fan.”
“Ranjaz has loaned me some of the books,” he replied, “I haven’t had a chance to read them.”
Ha’Mon considered this for a moment. “My favourite is the one with the Arakians, he seduces their queen.”
“Nah,” Clak’Soon jumped in, “the one where he becomes a gladiator in the Imperium and has to fight his own clone. That was epic.”
The Kasurian engineer shook his head. “I didn’t like that one, too scary. Especially when the clone took his place and killed his fourth wife.”
Aaron tuned out the spoiler talk and opened his lunch box. On top was a paper bag with the words Sick Bag scrawled across the front and a large smiley face drawing. Below that was a sandwich wrapped in paper, a small bottle of water, some timpan fruit cut up and placed in a clear bag and a note. He unfolded the small square of paper and read, Be good, play nice and come home soon. With a smile he folded the note once more and carefully placed it in his wallet alongside the wrapping paper. “Time to get this show on the road.”
The others paused to watch as Aaron took two small drone cams from his pocket and released them gently from his palm. “You’re recording your first grav jump?” Ha’Mon asked.
Aaron gave a nod, then began chatting to the camera, greeting the Cupcake Coalition and thanking them once again for their support. Clak’Soon and Ha’Mon watched carefully. Their own show was gaining popularity, and they were hoping to pick up some tips from the human. “You think we should name our fans?” Ha’Mon whispered to Clak’Soon.
The large J’Rami considered the idea for a moment. “No.”
The short response deflated the Kasurian, whose shoulders sagged. “Might have been cool.” He slowly became aware of Aaron’s talking as the human described his collab with the shuttle review channel. A camera pointed his way and after a short pause he raised his hand and waved.
Clak’Soon immediately hooted with laughter and the camera swung to him. “What Hammy was meant to say…” the J’Rami trailed off into a mostly accurate description of how grav drives worked. The engineer in Ha’Mon shuddered at the slap-dash and vague technical terms the J’Rami was throwing around.
A voice from the front of the K-7 broke into the brashly enigmatic J’Rami’s monologue. “Please fasten your safety harness and prepare for grav jump.”
With a little help from Ha’Mon, Aaron buckled in. Safety belts made for all shapes and sizes had a lot of additional straps for the various body types they might need to accommodate. “Harnesses? I thought this was routine?”
Sitting down and fastening his own harness, Ha’Mon nodded. “Perfectly safe and routine in a larger vessel, as they have dampers and compensators. Grav drives weren’t designed for something this small. A lot of the comfort features had to be left out - no space for them.”
There are humans who read instructions, humans who turn to instructions when things become difficult, and then there are humans like Aaron. He had not read the manual, or the safety guidelines sent to him by the Chief Medical Officer. “So… uncomfortable?”
Slo’s voice came back to them. “Commencing grav jump in three.-”
Ha’Mon gave him a puzzled look. “Depends on your species. How do humans handle gravitational waves and displacement inertia?”
Clak’Soon finished strapping in and grasped his harness firmly. “Stop fussing, Hammy. Humans are indestructible.”
“No we’re-” His stomach felt it first. Like he was experiencing a sudden drop, it lifted and churned. After the momentary lightness, his whole body felt like it was rapidly decelerating. A final stomach flip and it was over. “-not.”
Looking around the shuttle Aaron felt a little light headed, and slightly nauseated, but no worse than after a particularly energetic roller-coaster. In the pilot’s seat Captain Slo had retracted into his shell. His long tentacles began emerging and wriggling across the control panel, while his eye stalks popped into place. The skin that was visible through Clak’Soon’s fur was pale and he seemed to hang on to his harness desperately. Ha’Mon hung limply in his harness, unconscious. Seeing the concern on the human’s face, Clak'Soon tried to reassure him. “Don’t worry, that happens sometimes. Give him a shake.”
Obligingly, he gently rocked the engineer by the shoulder. Ha’Mon snuggled into the human’s hand. “He’s fine,” Aaron said as he quickly withdrew his hand and began to undo his harness. “Well, that was fun,” he said drily. Turning his attention back to the camera he began chatting again, apologising for not needing his sick bag and holding it up for the camera to see Alexa’s handiwork.
Clak’Soon, now free of his harness, began to shake Ha’Mon roughly. “Wake up, you’re making us look bad in front of the human!” Coming back around Ha’Mon squeaked in terror before regaining his composure. “You fainted.” The J’Rami shook his head in disappointment and staggered back to his seat.
“Awwww,” Ha’Mon whined, “not again!”
As they approached the star port, Aaron watched the screen in awe. The size was absolutely impressive. The design was some sort of mix between post-modern and post-apocalyptic, looking like it had been expanded several times. Each expansion had been, perhaps, designed by someone with a serious grudge against the previous architect. There were a few enormous craft docked on the newer-looking upper level: Selari trade ships. These were ships like the Azrimad, so large that smaller ships were docking with them and shuttles skimmed in and out of their bays.
The lower levels had ships in a wide variety of different sizes and designs. The most popular by far seemed to be the local Arkellian ships, but there were still a good number of Fae'Dan craft to be seen in the mix of offerings. Aaron skimmed over the grav drive shops that ferried goods within the system, as they didn't interest him. His eyes hungrily sought out the extra-system ships. The first step in his journey home.
There were no alarms, and barely a security procedure to be followed. Having weapons on your ship was clearly not something of note here. The atmospheric shield at the shuttle bay entrance gave off a loud crackling as they passed through, and Aaron got a static shock from some exposed metal by his arm. Ha’Mon tutted loudly, “Been a while since they’ve serviced this place. I could report them for that.”
Slo brought them down in a corner of the bay, the docking clamps engaged and Aaron eagerly grabbed his jacket. Exiting the shuttle, the experience was immediately different to that of walking onto the Azrimad. There was no fancy racking system here, and the layout reminded Aaron of an underground car park. Ha’Mon and Clak’Soon joined him, and he noticed that both wore their sidearms. “Should I have brought a weapon?”
Ha’mon looked up at the imposing human who had torn the arm off a military cyborg. “You are a weapon.” He passed Aaron an ear piece. “In case we get separated, and so Slo can keep in touch.”
The ear piece was uncomfortable, not designed for human ears, but Slo’s voice came through loud and clear. “I’ll stay and keep an eye on the ship.”
It was Ha’Mon who replied. “You sure you’re going to be able to handle things alone?” In response the shuttle’s side mounted gun turret sprang to life, targeting the Kasurian. “You can just leave if there’s trouble and come back later. You don’t have to shoot people.” The turret sagged, and then returned to its standby position.
“Bah!” Clak’Soon shook his fists above his head. “Blast ’em, I say. Their own fault for messing with a K-7.”
An angry voice yelled out, “Don’t you dare!” An Arkellian approached. He wore a security uniform, dirty and patched. “‘Least not till my shifts over.” He chuckled before noticing Ha’Mon and Clak’Soon’s pristine uniforms. He poked Ha’Mon accusingly. “Gal. Fed.? This better not be a surprise inspection.”
The J’Rami stepped between them, towering over the Arkellian in a security face-off. “Looks like you’re due an inspection.” The guard guffawed at the insinuation. “But, we’re actually here to help our friend choose a ship.”
The guard now turned to appraise the human. “Friend? And who are you?” He squinted at the human accusingly. “Some big shot, huh? Bribed Gal. Fed. to show you around, I bet? You still gotta pay your bay fees.”
Ha’Mon began tapping on a small panel nearby. Aaron recognised a parking meter when he saw one. The Kasurian spoke as he worked, as if he was offended by the guards' ignorance. “This is Ambassador Aaron Cooper, the last human.”
Aaron rolled his eyes, leaned over and paid the parking fees. “First human.”
The guard chuckled, “As long as you pay your fees you can be first, second and third for all I care.”
Smiling at the guard’s efforts at humour, Aaron decided to move things along. “We’re here to buy a ship. Someone called Lek Xii’Nok said they had some they could show us. We’re going to level eight and the Junak Arm, can you help?”
The guard seemed to give Aaron a second, closer inspection. “Lek Xii’Nok, hmmm. He sells extra-system ships. Got to have a few credits to even think of talking to him. Guess that Ambassador bit wasn’t a joke.” Realising he was staring he turned and pointed to the exit. “Through those doors, on the right is the transport lift. That’ll get you to level eight, and just follow the main thoroughfare spinwise till you get to a bar called The Engineer’s Pit" He paused, and looked uncharacteristically serious. "Don't go in." The moment stretched until the Arkellian decided that the message had gotten through. "Opposite that dunghole is the entrance to the Junak Arm. That old crook Xii’Nok owns most of that expansion. Just walk along it. he’ll soon sniff your credits out.”
Ha’mon liked the sound of a bar for engineers and as they walked to the exit he asked, “Maybe we can stop by the Engineer’s Pit and get a drink once we have a ship arranged?”
Clak’Soon hooted excitedly. “Sounds great, maybe they do food as well.”
Aaron, who had several years experience as a doorman, gave them both a puzzled look. “You want to eat in a place someone just referred to as a dunghole? I’m going to guess it isn’t called a pit because of their excellent barbecue.”
The optimistic J’Rami was thoughtful for a moment and, deciding the human may have a point, replied, “So just the drinks?”
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[Table] r/Fantasy – I’m Marie Brennan, author of DRIFTWOOD and the Memoirs of Lady Trent. Ask me anything! (pt 2 FINAL)

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Thanks for coming on here and answering our questions. I have two questions 1. Do you think aspiring writers should have to read or study other authors or their books in order to get better at their craft? I think there's a limit to how much you can improve your writing without reading. Think of it like a compost heap: you want to be adding lots of stuff to it. Without input, your soil won't be as rich. (I have never maintained a compost heap, so, uh, my metaphor may not be literally accurate.) Or think of it like feeding a young animal so it can grow. I won't say you have to study other authors in a formal sense, though that works for some people; you just need to open yourself up to new input, rather than going around in circles in your own head forever. And that input can also come from comics/games/movies/TV, though those won't teach you the specific craft techniques of prose -- I've seen some pretty terrible writing from people who don't realize that movies and prose fiction aren't the same thing.
2. Who are some of your favorite lesser known authors? I'm a huge fan of Dorothy Dunnett, a historical fiction writer from the 1960s and 1970s, particularly her Lymond Chronicles. She's the only writer who's ever made me feel just abjectly inferior about my own work. :-P I also highly recommend Lord Dunsany, one of the fantasists from the early 20th century, especially The King of Elfland's Daughter, and Hope Mirrlees, author of Lud-in-the-Mist. (If you've read Susanna Clark's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I think of that book as "what the fantasy genre would look like if its founding text were Lud-in-the-Mist instead of Lord of the Rings.)
Photo: I don't know why the city of Gdańsk in Poland has a place, Artus Court, which is basically a monument to the medieval period and King Arthur, but it does:
So, I read the First Lady Trent book a couple of years back and absolutely loved it, because I’m a sucker for that kind of voice. Got the rest of the books on my TBR and plan to tackle them in ‘21. My question is: did you find people in the publishing world initially pushing back against the series’ distinct voice, or were they all on board for it? This is probably the number one thing I look for in any fiction I read, and I want to see more of it in fantasy, which is why LT was such a breath of fresh air. No pushback at all! In fact, I think it was a selling point. As you say, it contributes so much to the story -- and like you, editors are often looking for that kind of distinctive voice.
Photo: a view from the Vernal Loop trail in Yosemite National Park:
Thank you so much for answering questions and thank you even more for your books. I never know whether that’s a weird thing to do - thank an author for their work - but I can’t help myself. They mean a lot to me. I absolutely adore the Memoirs of Lady Trent. I'm an evolutionary biologist myself and reading about Isabella's passion for her field of study was such a joy! I rarely see biologists as main protagonists in fantasy and it was simply perfect. I haven’t had the time yet but I’m also very much looking forward to Driftwood, it sounds like such a great concept and I can't wait to read it. I have to admit, I mainly wanted to tell you how much I love your books. But in the end, I still came up with one (or 2?) questions. As a writer, how easy is it for you to look back at your own finished and published novels? Are they exactly as you want them to be, or are there things that you would do differently now? Or similarly, how easy is it to accept something as finished and not wanting to change it again and again? When do you decide that you’re done with a story? (Though I suspect your editorwill also have a say in that ;)). The day I get tired of being thanked for my work is the day somebody should punch me, because I've become an insufferable git. :-)
Some writers can't bear to look back at their own work because all they see are things they want to change and can't. I actually like doing it; sure, there are often things I would do differently now (because I should hope I've grown as a writer over the fifteen or so years I've been publishing), but I'm also capable of getting sucked into what I enjoyed about the story in the first place. That's why when I gather my short stories into ebook collections, the only changes I make are to fix typos, or to revise out offensive elements (like the use of "gypsy" in one story). The latter are the one exception to my "let it stand" rule, because that's not just about me growing as a writer; it's about not saying something hurtful if I can avoid it.
As for deciding I'm done, heh. Yeah, when it comes to novels at least, the answer is "I'm done when my deadline arrives." :-) With short stories I have more leeway; they don't go out until I'm done with them. It's just developed instinct? If I hit a point where I can't see anything significant that needs fixing, then it's time to send it out. Otherwise I could wind up polishing the life out of i.
Photo: it's impossible to truly capture the glory that is the interior of La Sagrada Familia and its stained glass, but this gives you one taste of the astonishing effect it has on the light:
Oh my god! I’m reading the tropic of serpents now. Small world 😂 I guess my question is how confident do you have to be to be a published author? I love writing, I’m doing a creative writing degree at university, but I am petrified of public speaking. Is that something you had to overcome? Writers don't have to do public speaking, so if that part really does paralyze you with fear, you can always skip it! Me, I really enjoy reading out loud -- but it helps that I got warmed up to that by "Milk and Cookies," which is a social thing where people get together (ideally by a fire) to drink milk, eat cookies, and read stories out loud to each other. It's really lovely, and it gave me practice with public reading before I had to do that with my own work. So you might try things like that to help get you past your fear, since it can be helpful to do public readings, interviews, that sort of thing.
There are other types of confidence you definitely need, though. Traditional publishing involves a lot of beating yourself against a wall until the wall gives up; you've got to be persistent, which means having a healthy enough dose of ego not to quit in the face of rejection.
Good luck with your degree!
Photo: some irises from the San Francisco Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park:
What was the writing process like and how did u not go mentally insane from the stress u must have felt. :) I've been publishing for over fifteen years and full-time for nearly twelve, so at this point I think I'm used to it. :-) But for Driftwood it was definitely a bit of a different game, because this book is what's called a "fix-up": it's built partially out of short stories I previously published, plus new material. So in this case I printed out teeny-tiny copies of each story and then sat on the floor rearranging them until I had a good sequence, then had to build the rest of the book around that. It's nice to get a new challenge sometimes!
Photo: snowy egrets are beautifully elegant birds . . . most of the time:
Hi Marie! I don’t have a question because I read through them all and everything I would have asked has already been answered. But I just want to say I love your Lady Trent books! They are amazing! I love what you do with the different types of dragons and I love the research Lady Trent does in Akhia when she learns about dragons hatching with different traits depending on how their eggs are handled. I just think that is so cool! And your dragons have inspired some of the dragons in my writing. (I’m not copying you I swear). Thank you! You get a photo anyway, of the Rock of Cashel in Ireland. And good luck with your work!
In Voyage of The Basilisk you describe the concept of mana as a complicated system which determines social ranking. Were you inspired by any particular sources for this story element? That comes directly from Polynesian beliefs (which are markedly different from "mana" as a spendable magic resource in fantasy games). All of Keonga is based on Polynesian cultural elements, with the exception of the "dragon-spirited" third gender.
Photo: the island of Mokoli'i in Hawaii:
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Is the "Dragon-Spirited" not based on the Fa'afafine? Ish, in the sense that it is likewise a third gender. But it doesn't operate in quite the same way as fa'afafine, in terms of either who falls into that category (ke'anaka'i can be assigned either male or female at birth, not just male), the expectations for their behavior, or the ideology behind the concept. It's certainly inspired by various real-world third genders, that one included, but the specifics of it are very much tailored to this specific world and story.
Photo: Ganesha! Hanging out at Halebidu:
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I realized that they weren't quite one-to-one comparisons. I hadn't really given much thought to other cultures perhaps having a third gender as well. As a Samoan it was the first thing that popped in my head while reading about the "Dragon-Spirited". Seeing as how the rest of Keonga seemed to match rather well to Polynesia, it was kind of nice thinking that this aspect of our culture was also included. edit: Thank you for answering, btw! I did enjoy the whole series and look forward to your future books. Oh, I'm sorry if that disappointed you! From my perspective it's an issue of not wanting to be all, "yeah, I totally based it on that (but then got a bunch of things wrong)!" -- since, y'know, white writers doing that sort of thing is kind of a problem. Better for me to acknowledge that something influenced the idea, but not to claim it's directly based on X. I do mean it when I say that fa'afafine were part of the inspiration for ke'anaka'i, though -- in fact, it's probable (though I can't say for sure, this many years on) that fa'afafine were the reason I decided that book was the one where I should include third gender, which had been on my mental list of "interesting things I should try to work into the story at some point."
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I loved the Memoirs of Lady Trent a lot, the science, the world building, the story! Not to mention that Lady Trent herself is a very likable character and I want to congratulate you for creating such amazing story. I also loved the nods to real cultures and the time system (with the names for the days of the week and months). I loved "code breaking" those and I even sent you an email about those and I'm thankful that you replied to that. Now since this an AMA I have 2 questions for you: * How do you keep being motivated? I love writing and while I'm never short on ideas, I struggle to keep writing the same story and sometimes to write all together even if I know what I want to write. Do you deal with something like this? Motivation is definitely a challenge sometimes, but how to approach it varies from person to person. For some people, deadlines are motivating; if you aren't locked into one with a publisher, maybe set one with a friend who will hold you accountable. For some people it can help to choose an external reward. For others, it's all about habit; if you make yourself write every day, then it gets easier. (Are you aware of 4thewords?) I'd experiment with different things and see what works for you. But that leads to the next question . . .
• Do you listen to music while writing or have something else on the side? I often find myself playing with a blob of modeling clay while writing and listening to music while drawing. Sounds counterproductive but doing multiple things at the same time actually helps me focus. Thank you! I do listen to music while writing, and in fact, that's part of how I handle motivation! Quite by accident, I rediscovered the principle of Pavlovian conditioning: I'd gotten obsessed with this one song, so I listened to it while writing what eventually became my first finished novel, and after a while I realized that when I heard that song, it made me think of the story. So I regularly use a song (or these days, more often a playlist) in that way, because it's easier to hit "play" than it is to start typing, and the former winds up helping with the latter. Other people use tea, or lighting a candle, or some other small ritual they can associate with the work. Plus the mood of a playlist can help me get into the headspace of a scene, e.g. if it's dark and creepy or a battle (those being two common types of playlist I make for a book). And yeah, I find it helps me focus, by drowning out any sounds like the TV or my husband on the phone.
Photo: my husband and I were lucky enough to be crossing the Grand Canal in Venice right at dusk, when the moon was posing near La Salute:
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Thank you for your advice! I have a similar thing with music and drawing, there's a playlist I saved that no matter where I listen to it I end up sketching something. One more thing I find inspiring to me is nature, among trees I get so many interesting ideas :) Nice photo! Would you like to share some songs you listen to while writing? I can do you one better: if you check the novel pages on my site, on the right-hand side (on desktop) or at the bottom (on mobile) most of them will have a link saying "Music," which will take you to the soundtrack (i.e. mix) I created for each book! And some of them also have links to Spotify playlists. Those are usually incomplete because a lot of the music I use isn't on Spotify, but I pull together what I can.
I'm a huge fan of yours from way back! :D What advice would you give to a writer who is having a hard time with the world at the moment, thanks to the pandemic and well... everything else? Hoo boy. That's a tough one, in part because what works for some people won't work for others. Me, for example, one of my main coping mechanisms is to ignore as much of the news as I possibly can, because I know it will just suck me down into a cycle of anxiety and depression, without any productive result. But I have friends who cope much better if they feel like they're well-informed, and it's not knowing that freaks them out.
But if there's anything I can say that might be universal, it's this: be kind. To yourself, and to others. We need kindness. We need consideration for others. We need to feel like we're not each in this alone; we're in it together. Find ways to help other people (safely!), to make somebody else's day a little brighter. That will also brighten your day, and the more of us who do that, the more the light will grow.
Photo: my best sunset shot ever, from Point Lobos State Park:
Besides the basics, reading and writing, what advice would you most recommend for an aspiring fantasy author? Hobbies! There are so many random things that can feed into your writing -- Robin McKinley has a whole book that's basically about magic honey. Being able to work in some first-hand experience with painting or folk dancing or baking or gardening or whatever can add some vivid and unexpected depth to a story.
Photo: a pretty glass bowl in Murano, Italy. I got to watch a glassblowing demonstration there, and it was awesome!
Hi Marie, what's your favorite non-spoilery piece of world building in The Mask of Mirrors? Or, what's a piece of world building that you really loved in one of your books, but couldn't find a way to incorporate into the story? I kiiiiiiiinda have to brag about the pattern deck. :-D We knew we wanted our main protagonist to be essentially a tarot reader, but we didn't want the deck to be the tarot with some new names slapped on, so we (and I mean mostly me, because I was busy designing this while Alyc was busy making up numinatria, a magic system based on sacred geometry) came up with the pattern deck, which has a short introduction here. In fact, the title for The Mask of Mirrors is one of the cards from the deck, and all the chapters are titled with cards, too. But we didn't just stop at the divination: there are also two card games referenced in the story that can be played with a pattern deck -- and yes, I know what the rules for them are, and if we ever manage to crowdfund the creation of the actual deck like we hope to do, rules for both nytsa (based on koi-koi) and sixes (a form of poker) will be included as part of that. And I have rules for "pattern dice," which are a bit like cee-lo; that's basically a simple bidding dice game riffing off of the three threads (suits) of the pattern deck. There are lots of other little touches worked into the story, which I love because it makes it feel real rather than like a plot device -- like in a recent scene we wrote, one of the cards that comes up is The Laughing Crow, and a character in the scene says "Isn't that a tavern?" Because of course you'd wind up with taverns named after cards, too.
Photo: some dice and dominoes from excavations beneath the Louvre in Paris:
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I love this so much already. I really want a deck now! We really, really hope we get to make one someday! I bought blank cards I wrote the names on, but it would be so much more awesome with art. That kind of thing is a massive undertaking, though.
Not a question, just wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed ‘A Natural History of Dragons’. I received my copy from a Reddit Secret Santa. I finished my copy while on holiday and passed it along to a fellow lady traveler I met in Hong Kong. My hope is Lady Trent, wherever she is now, is thoroughly enjoying her new adventure somewhere around the world. Thanks again!! Thank you! And passing along books is an excellent thing to do. :-D Photo for you anyway: the organ and rose window from St. Fin-Barre in Cork, Ireland:
Do you see Driftwood as part of a series? And, if so, do you see it as a series of short stories or will there be Driftwood novels? In a sense Driftwood has always been a series, because it started out as short stories, which then got linked together into the book. I doubt I'll ever write a full-blown novel there, in part because I feel like that's antithetical to the setting: Driftwood is a place of fragments, not coherent wholes, and a novel is a big coherent whole. But I may very well write more short stories, plus I have a half-baked notion for a novella in the setting, so there may indeed be more in the future, even if it isn't a conventional novel.
Photo: the old waterfront in Gdańsk, Poland:
Hi Marie! I'd really appreciate it if you could talk a bit about your research process and approach to artistic licence specifically in relation to the Onyx Court series. It's so heavily caught up in scientific discovery and political intrigue that it seems like a difficult balance to strike between finding ways to make the story work and establishing the real world and history you're working with. Thanks for all your work and for any thoughts you have! That's a particularly interesting case to look at because what I wound up writing was secret history: I tried to hew as close as possibly to the known facts of the past, while slipping my own additions into the cracks. So in that instance, a lot of it involved reading about the period with a constant question in my mind of "how can I use this?," which meant that "establishing the real world and history" went hand in hand with "making the story work." By far the hardest round of that was In Ashes Lie, because the history I'd decided to grapple with there was SO complex; it was much easier in the other books where real-world events weren't driving the plot quite so closely. But my approach meant I had countless instances where I discovered really cool things, then found ways to work them into the plot. It's a fun game, but also an exhausting one; it contributed heavily to my decision to set the Memoirs in a "not quite our world" setting rather than real history, so I wouldn't remain stuck in that gear.
Photo: since we're talking about the Onyx Court, here's my favorite of the 1.7 million photos I've taken of St. Paul's:
Hi Marie! I love the conflicting legends of Last in Driftwood. I am wondering what some of your inspirations were for telling his story from multiple viewpoints. It has to do with the order of composition for the stories. The first one I wrote was "Driftwood," which opens the book, and which alternates between Last in first person and Alsanit in third; the second one was "A Heretic by Degrees," and when I set out to write that one, I had to make a decision. Was I going to continue with that alternating structure? I decided that no, Last would be more interesting if we saw him through Qoress' eyes -- and that wound up setting the pattern for the rest of the stories, that apart from that first story (and "Smiling at the End of the World," which I originally wrote as just a flash bonus for my website), you wouldn't get Last's perspective directly. Any time you want a character to be enigmatic, it's way more interesting to view that enigma from the outside!
Photo: kitten inna pot! From the Tsuboya pottery district in Naha, Okinawa:
Hi Marie, What was the last place you visited pre-pandemic? My answer to that is sadly uninteresting: Walnut Creek, a town to the east of the Bay Area that hosts the FOGcon convention. And prior to that, Boston for Christmas. I was slated to attend a convention in Toulouse in the spring, but that wound up being canceled.
Here's a black-and-white photo I took from the base of the Eiffel Tower on my previous trip to France:
Hello! Not a question, but I just wanted to say that I have been looking for a new fantasy series to read for such a long time now and no dice... however after seeing your post today I downloaded A Natural History of Dragons and so far it really is fantastic and I’m really excited to read the rest of your work. So I guess what I’m trying to say is - THANK YOU! You are awesome :) I'm delighted that this inspired you to pick it up, and that you're enjoying it so much!
Photo: an Oxford gargoyle!
Hi Marie! Good to see you here! Do you think you'll ever branch out into another genre? If so, what sub-genre or special section of that genre? I definitely like the idea of not pigeonholing myself too narrowly -- that's why I'm writing everything from urban fantasy to epic fantasy to historical fantasy to (in short fiction) even some dark fantasy/horror. Probably the most likely direction to go in would be straight historical fiction, since I've already done a few short stories of that type, and it isn't too far afield from my usual work. I've got a couple of SF ideas, but wouldn't bet on them ever going anywhere. I think I'm unlikely to ever write mystery in the genre sense (though some of my plots are quasi-mysteries, like Turning Darkness Into Light or the upcoming Night Parade of a Hundred Demons), and since I find romantic plotlines more compelling when they're the B plot rather than the A plot, I doubt I'll ever write a genre romance.
Photo: probably one of my favorite shots I've ever taken, of the Piazza San Marco in Venice at night:
Memoirs of Lady Trent is something that has been recommend to me and other people before on here and I immediately went to buy it because it was such an interesting and refreshing concept for a fantasy novel. And driftwood looks so interesting too that I can’t wait to get a hold on it (assuming college doesn’t try to take all my time). But this is an AMA so I guess I’ll ask a question, what is your favorite color and why? Green! For the very simple reason that when I was about ten I got contact lenses, and was offered a choice between a blue tint or a green tint. This was in the days before significant color effects from lenses; the ophthalmologist told me it was really just so I could find the lens more easily if I dropped it, and wouldn't change the color of my eyes. I chose green, and when I popped the first one in . . . my eye was EMERALD GREEN. It basically took the hints of green that are already there, and magnified them to the point where total strangers would comment on it. Green became my favorite color on the spot.
Tragically, at this point my vision is bad enough that only a few companies make lenses in my prescription, and they don't offer tints. So my days of emerald green eyes are behind me.
Photo: I would probably like moss even if it weren't green, but that adds. :-) And Japan does some SERIOUS moss:
Sorry if this has been asked, but how much did your "past" life influence how you write fantasy and how you create your worlds? As a fan of the Lady Trent novels and the Malazan novels of Steven Erikson, it feels like there's a deeper understanding of worldbuilding for those authors with an academic knowledge of the myths and stories that inform and shape societies/civilizations. Oh, it influenced me enormously! I mean, literally my entire Patreon is about leveraging that. (Well, it's about me going "I'd like to write a book about worldbuilding!" followed by "but I have no idea how to organize a book about worldbuilding!" followed by "huh, if I did it as a Patreon I could just write it in whatever order I like and worry about organization later" -- followed by three and a half years of me writing about worldbuilding every week. But hey, I've gotten three books out of it so far.)
Honestly, what I say to people is that I didn't choose my majors in college by asking "what would be most useful to me as a fantasy writer?" . . . but that's more or less what I ended up with. It's absolutely integral to how I work now.
Photo: two gorgeous medallions of Arabic calligraphy in the Hagia Sophia:
the below is a reply to the above
Well, now that I know you have a Patreon, you have a new subscriber! It's really cool to hear that it's integral - there's a bit of a difference between "knowing" and knowing, ya know? Thank you so much!
Hi, - obligatiory first of all - I really love your works, especially the Lady Trents Memoirs Series. Despite the tons of books I've read, it remains among my top favorites. I really like the characters and one of them in particular stands out to me: Natalie. Her statements about not "liking" men, but neither "liking" women, reminded me a lot of my own thoughts I had, before finding out that it wasn't about "liking", it was sexual attraction, and I'm simply asexual. So I wanted to ask wether Natalie is asexual too, or if she's simply very introverted or something similar. (I'm sorry for being a bit late, I've been traveling for weeks and don't always have access to the internet) No worries about being late! And yes, Natalie is ace -- but that's not a term that feels like it would fit into the period/the propriety of a Victorian lady, which is why she speaks of it merely in terms of "liking."
Photo: a butterfly at the Cal Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.
This is one of the best AMAs I've seen on the internet, thank you very much! I've already asked a question, but I'm really loving your pictures (you've got a great eye for framing) so I'm curious: What kind of camera do you use? A Leica V-Lux Typ 114, and before that, a Leica V-Lux . . . 2, I think? It's actually not a system camera (i.e. interchangeable lenses -- what people usually call an SLR, though those don't actually mean the same thing), so it has distinct limitations compared to being able to swap in a macro lens or whatever. But I don't want to carry the extra weight of lenses when I travel, nor make my husband be even more patient than he already is so I can swap things out. Also, I love that these models have their screens on a full-swivel hinge, so I can do things like place the camera on the ground aiming upward and still see what the viewfinder is showing.
Another photo! One of my favorite temizuya I've seen, at Fushimi Inari:
With women receiving 90% of nominations in all major literary awards this year (Nebula, Hugo, etc.), how much of writing is affirmative action? With men receiving the overwhelming majority of nominations and awards for decades on end, how much of that was sexism?
Photo: another carving from Bath, England:
I LOVE your Lady Trent series! I have only one question: What was your favorite dragon to design/write about? I think I have to give that to savannah snakes. Mostly because I based their behavior in cheetahs, and I am an unabashed cat person. :-D
Photo: sailors climbing the rigging of the Lady Washington:
I don't have a question, I just wanted to say how much I truly loved your Lady Trent series. I am an avid fantasy reader and particularly love a story with thoughtful world building. I massively look forward to reading your future books! Thank you! A photo for you, of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul:
What's your favorite candy? There's a chocolatier at our farmers' market who makes these little chocolate-wrapped squares of toffee and caramel -- they're amazing.
Photo: this fellow in the Dublin Castle chapel looks like he has a headache:
I listened to the Lady Trent books with my mom and she loved them. So thanks for giving us that :) You're welcome! Credit also goes to Kate Reading -- her narration for those is amazing.
Photo for you: a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala:
Omgosh I have nothing to ask. I just freaking LOVE your books!! 🥰 Thank you! Have a photo of a stone lion sleeping in the snow:
What keyboard do you type on? And may I recommend MechanicalKeyboards A Microsoft Sculpt. I really like the curvature and split, and the backward tilt is much better for me than the frontward tilt of most keyboards.
Photo: San Francisco's City Hall at night, with a statue silhouetted in the foreground:
I just wanted to say you are wonderful. I resonate with you, your career, and entertainment choices. My undergrad is in anthropology, and will forever have portion of my heart, but when I went for my MA, I went for English literature. I haven’t done LARP but ♥️ RPG. Thank you for taking the time to answer questions. We appreciate you. That's incredibly kind of you to say, thank you!
Photo: candles at Montserrat:
I found the Lady Trent series just at the start of the pandemic and it was exactly the kind of book I needed at the time. We even read it for my book club (where it got glowing reviews). Thank you so much for an excellent series! I look forward to reading more work by you :-) I'm so glad you enjoyed it!
Photo: Himeji-jou, posing with cherry trees:
I don't have a question per se. As a conservation biologist who wishes she were a naturalist, thank you for your Lady Trent books. I've only read the first one so far but I've absolutely loved it and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Thank you! I've been giving out photos even without questions, so here's some cool moss on a fallen tree in Yosemite National Park:
Is it too late to ask questions? Just read your blog post about finishing #2 in R&R. WAs curious how long the breaks you take between books are and how long you write per day/week (including writing for short stories). You managed to catch me before I drifted away from Reddit again! :-)
Breaks between books vary wildly. I had basically none this year between finishing the draft of Night Parade and the second Rook and Rose book, because my deadlines said I couldn't afford one. But when I'm writing just one book a year, I regularly have six months or so between the end of one draft and the beginning of the next -- during which time I'm doing revisions and such, of course, but for me that's a different mental burden from writing the initial draft.
As for time per day or week, it varies even more, and I'm bad at tracking it. I usually measure my progress by wordcount rather than time, and my default is to aim for 1K a day during novel drafting. Which used to mean seven days a week, but these days it's often more irregular; I might write more like 1500-2K, then take a day off, etc. On a good day I can probably do 1K in an hour or so; on a bad day, it takes longer. Short stories tend to come out in bursts, so that it rarely takes me more than maybe 3-4 sittings to polish one off, and often less. But of course none of that factors in the time spent just kind of mulling stuff over while I'm washing the dishes or whatever. If I were a more data-driven person, I'd actually track this and know what the real numbers are!
Photo: a statue in the Japanese tea garden in San Francisco:
[removed] Hi! For the first of your questions, I went into that here; I'm just linking rather than re-answering because it turns out I've written more than 7K words of answers to things in this AMA, and my wrists need a break. :-)
Historical period . . . I don't know that I would visit any period just for the sake of being there. Without attempting to claim that our modern age is perfect, historical periods generally have much worse sexism, racism, and classism, not to mention horrible diseases, food scarcity, general lack of indoor plumbing, and so forth. (I know, what a romantic answer!) BUT -- I would totally visit any number of time periods if it would let me find the answer to a question. What was {insert New Worlds society of your choice} like before European contact? How did people make {insert forgotten substance of your choice}? Who was Jack the Ripper? (I just finished reading Katherine Addison's Angel of the Crows, so that's on my mind.) I don't know what question I would most want to answer, but that would definitely be my motivation for time travel.
Photo: the clock from the Rathaus in Basel, Switzerland:
the below is a reply to the above
[removed] No worries about re-asking; with over 150 comments on this AMA, I don't expect anybody to have read them all!
OH I hope I'm not too late, I've been doing for an opportunity to ask! How do the Moulish reach the island? You are not too late! But I do not know the answer to that; they never shared that secret with me. :-)
Photo: another Costa Rican bug, that being the place I drew on to think about life in a jungle:
If the characters lived in 2020, what would their lives be like? From the Memoirs? Easier in some ways, harder in others. The social barriers of gender and class wouldn't be as significant, but on the other hand -- as Isabella says at one point -- back in her day, the field of dragon naturalism was so new, all you had to do was hold your hand out for new data to fall into it. At this point it would be far more advanced, and they'd have to learn a lot more before being ready to go study a much more fine-grained topic.
Photo: a fellow chilling in his punt in Cambridge, England:
What is your age if that's not too personal Since I'll probably be posting about it publicly in seventeen days, I am almost forty.
Photo: the lake pavilion at Shikina-en in Okinawa:
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The Featherlight Transmission, Ch. 19

Sector Sixteen is gross. And I’m not being affectionate here, like “Oh, Sixteen is so gross, haha”. It’s disgusting, both physically and otherwise. Seventeen takes the very idea of filth as an object of careful consideration and respect. Sixteen seems to be sprinting headlong toward an early death by infection as quickly as humanly possible.
There have been a few times where Wellspring City has broken out in armed conflict, inside itself. The Intersectional Wars. Only two of them, in the span of about six hundred years, because even if you hate your neighbors with a blind passion, it’s still a city and all the parts still fundamentally need one another. That and the Wellwardens tend to put a quick stop to any large-stale infighting with the flick of an indestructible wrist.
Both times, Sixteen was destroyed almost immediately, by joint assault led from either Three or Twenty. Why? Because Twenty is the city’s religious district, and Three is home to the prison, the courthouse, and the headquarters of the Watch. Once the Sector Lords abandoned their duties in favor of bloodshed and a total dissolution of civil safety, Three and Twenty wasted no time in falling upon Sixteen like a shining hammer of crystalline justice. The sectors of Law and Purity finally had their chance to wipe their hated foe straight off the map - the sector of Abandon.
They’d tried education and rehabilitation for decades, and elected the time had come for the helping hand to form a fist instead.
And it worked. Why wouldn’t it? Three had all the muscle, Twenty had the most stirring speeches - Sixteen had no allies and no chance. It burned to the ground, along with all its debasement and sin.
And Sixteen is still here.
There’s a lesson in this, kids, and it’s one that people like Three and Twenty have a hard time getting to grips with. You can kill sinners. It’s easy. Shoot them in the face, cut their heads off, hang them, tear the flesh from their bones, burn them at the stake. Not even a problem. You can do it all day if you’re motivated enough - all it takes is some earplugs, an apron, something sharp, and a can-do spirit.
You cannot, however, kill sin. It is always going to be there. You can whip yourself, fast, pray, feed the hungry, heal the sick, read a thousand books and climb a hundred mountains, but there is always going to be a part of you that wants something you know you’re not supposed to have. You might not act on it, but you’re still going to want it. Pretending otherwise is an exercise in puritanical foolishness that only results in self-loathing and insanity.
If you want to cauterize sin once and for all, the last person on the pyre is going to have to be you.
They tried burning Sector Sixteen to the ground, but like a weed with deep roots, it just grew back, right out of the ashes. And the place shows all its scars, with a kind of devilish pride. There isn’t much order to the place. There’s still piles of charred rubble in some parts, left as a kind of lazy monument to the things the district’s been through. All the cheap neon lights and billboards shine on crumbling stone, rotten foundations, and the toothy grins of all the good ghouls who came here for a particular brand of fun.
It’s festive here, sure, in a way. But it doesn’t have that homey, clannish charm that Thirteen has. There’s something oily about it - a grease released from all the curdled shame of the people losing themselves here.
This is where I found Tennima, a long time ago. I used to find a lot of kids here. As you can probably imagine, children do not belong in Sector Sixteen. But that doesn’t stop them from showing up.
I’ve broken a lot of bones in these alleys. And only a few of them were mine.
My stride widens as I work my way through the sweaty multicolored lights and past many dark doorsteps. I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to. A lot of bad memories.
Hell, it’s half past noon and I’m being solicited left and right. And that’s not really unusual. Slabs have a hard time finding companionship. They’re enormous and oftentimes mentally unstable - trying to find physical affection when you’re a frothing mountain of angry muscle is about as easy as finding an ice cube in a smelter. And of course, for a lot of them, that just makes them angrier. The uh… hardworking men and women here charge slabs extra, for liability purposes, but they will take them as customers, unlike most everywhere else. And both parties know it. There are a lot of very big people in these crowds.
“Hey there, big boy. You look like you could use some company.”
“Why don’t you come this way and party with us, baby?”
“I’m reinforced. I can take a lot.”
A few of them approach me and take me by the elbow, trying to lead me off into one den or another. I don’t look any of them in the face, and keep walking. They don’t have a hope in the world of stopping me, either physically or mentally, and they realize that fast and break off to go hover around someone else.
It’s not that I’m disinterested in sex, specifically. Sex is a perfectly fine way to spend an afternoon, I guess. I’m just disinterested in most things, and one of those things is copulating with… these fine people. One - I can’t afford it. Two - half these receptive men and women are more augmented than I am (they have a pretty rough job, after all), and I prefer a more organic experience. Three… well. I like a bit of emotional involvement. Call me a romantic.
It takes me a bit to get to the far eastern sections of Sixteen, and every step feels like it’s sunk in sticky oil. The deadliest sector in the city is Three, bar none - that’s where they literally kill people, after all. But Sixteen is infinitely more dangerous. Three will at least run you through a paperwork mill and tell you that they’re killing you before they do it. Sixteen doesn’t extend that kind of courtesy, and it won’t kill you all at once. You’ll die slow. You’ll die of desperation. Of loneliness. Of anhedonia, bankruptcy, and overdose. And by the time the serpent has coiled around you and sunk its fangs into your neck, you’ll be asking for it.
Seventeen does come after Sixteen, after all.
And speaking of pain and death… I see a familiar face off to the left of the street. A dumpy, pear-shaped body awkwardly mashed into a cheap purple plastic suit, with thinning hair and an amount of sweat that only comes with years of high-test doses of thump. He’s a businessman, after all. Got to stay awake.
He sees me back, over the tops of dozens of heads. Leaning against the side of a flesh shop like he owns it, his eyes go wide, for just a second. I don’t blame him, considering the things I said to him the last time we saw one another. He doesn’t move, though. Doesn’t run or try to hide behind anything. There are a few heavy men standing near him, the kind you pay to intimidate people like me. Ten years ago, he couldn’t afford this kind of muscle. If he had, I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I did. I guess he learned some lessons and recouped from the loss.
Ten years is a long time, after all.
I stop walking, smack in the middle of the street. A few people crash into my back and mutter expletives at me. I can’t even hear them. There’s this rushing sound in my ears, like a waterfall, blocking everything out. My eyes won’t move from this old acquaintance of mine.
The instant I stop, staring at him, he comes off the building, leans on his shiny black cane, and beckons one of his goons. They exchange a few words. He doesn’t take his eyes off me the entire time. The four or five slab bodyguards come to a kind of pack animal attention, tipped off that there’s a threat nearby. They join their boss in trying to stare me down.
I carve a path directly through the crowd over to him, neon shadows and pedestrian bodies flowing all around me. It’s like walking through a bad dream. My heart won’t stay put. And my legs are acting with a will of their own. I’m a stray bolt being drawn in by a magnet.
Out of the crowd and in the mouth of the alley, I’m about twenty feet from him. If I get any closer, there’ll be a fight. And we wouldn’t want that.
It’s darker here, in the arms of the buildings. Tougher for anyone behind me to see what’s going on in the shadows.
He speaks first. He’s the kind of guy that’ll do that - head his competitors off as soon as possible. There’s a voice like chemical wind from under the door of a morgue.
“So. The Beast emerges from his hibernation and walks among us once more. You catch me by surprise, Featherlight. I didn’t think I’d see you around here anytime soon.”
His arms are folded over his flabby chest in a show of confidence, but his sweat and juddering vitae tell a different story. I don’t say anything for a moment. I shake my head and laugh quietly. I can’t help it. Some people are just naturally funny.
I reply, “I find myself confused, Strake.”
He smiles back at me. “Oh? And why’s that, pray tell?”
I scratch my head bemusedly. “Because the last time we saw each other, I snapped both your femurs, traumatically confiscated your testicles, and explained in no uncertain terms that if I ever saw you in Sector Sixteen again, I’d not only break every other bone in your body, but I’d also make you a fancy new necktie out of your own unraveled larynx. I was very clear. You were screaming very loudly at the time, but I was pretty sure you got the message. And yet, here you stand. Very impressive, by the way. I realize your knees were probably replaced a while ago, but has medical science progressed to the point that they make prosthetic balls now too? I’m dying to know, Strake. Because we established a while ago that you’re not mature enough to use them responsibly, so, if that’s the case, I’m going to have to take the new pair as well. You naughty boy.”
I swear I hear one his henchmen stifle a snicker behind me. Strake’s smile evaporates. Bad memories will suck all the cheer right out of a guy, and for Strake, I’m eight hundred pounds of things he’d rather not remember.
He replies around his scowl, “Yeah, well, we all make promises we can’t keep sometimes, don’t we. I bought a cane. I get around just fine. ‘Cause some of us have persistence, Featherlight. I pushed through it and now I’m bigger than I’ve ever been. I survived you. I buy my own bullies now, see? And you’re just another sad gutter slab tryna wreck up hardworking businessmen for no reason other than sanctimonious pettiness. I pity you, frankly. A miserable animal unfit to live amongst us civilized folk.”
I grin down at him. “Whatever helps you sleep at night, Strake. I’m so goddamn glad to see you again, you adorable little goblin. Really, I couldn’t be happier. I fucking love hurting you. Maybe that’s bad of me. You know what, no - it definitely is. But honestly?” My arms shrug wide, and my eyes gleam emerald and bright. “If being an animal means I get to feel your putrid fucking carcass give way under my hands all over again, then I’m just not cut out to be human.”
I’ll give the cretin a bit of credit - he’s still got a brave face on. But his vitae looks like it’s in the middle of a hurricane, and I see him grip his cane with both hands to stop them from shaking. He remembers what it felt like. He remembers every single second he and I spent together that night, and I’m overjoyed to see it.
Because I remember, too.
He takes a single step back. Just one. And for now, that’s all I need in order to be the happiest man in the world. His goons, however, all take a step forward.
“You can’t do shit, Featherlight. You live on thin ice. I’m a citizen, and you’re a fucking mutant. Put a goddamn finger on me in a place like this and the Watch will be all over your ass like scumbirds on a dead cat. Why don’t you fuck off back into the sewer you crawled out of, huh? Leave the daylight to us normal folk.”
All I can do is smile and nod. “Hmm. I admit it, Strake, you’ve got me there. But I’ll say this much - you bet all your chips on the law’s protection last time, too. And as I recall, they found themselves very distracted while I made you into none of the man that you used to be. I wonder if you’re a valuable enough citizen now to get them to come to your defense. I guess we’ll find out.”
I turn my back on him, grinning from ear to ear, and start back down the street.
Behind me, he calls, “I know where you live, you fucking freak!”
My hand waves back at him dismissively. “You’ve known the entire time, Strake. Come and visit for once. I’d save me the effort of having to track you down.”
I think he says something else, just so he can say he got the last word, but by then I’m far enough in the crowd that I can’t hear him.
You know, it occurs to me that it might be an incredibly poor judgment call to antagonize this many people that all know my exact address. I’m stacking up potential enemies like firewood. Before long I’m not gonna be able to leave my house without getting painted with an entire rainbow of crosshairs.
And I don’t really fucking care. Once you’ve been shot a few dozen times it kind of loses its menace.
I’ve got way too much to do lately to make Strake a priority. Sadly, the Sector Sixteen Watch precinct probably feels the same way, and I’m not about to ping my only Watch contact to go across jurisdictional lines to harass some pervert they’ve never heard of.
I wonder whether I should tell Tennima that Strake is still kicking around. The only reason I know him at all is because of her, through no fault of her own. Ten years ago I tore his balls off and shattered his legs on her behalf, but that was ten years ago. She’s an adult now, and smart enough to make toys that are way scarier than I could ever be.
She might want to kill him herself. She alone has the right. And she could do it without even lifting a finger.
Do I want to be a part of that? Do I want that for her? Is that even the decision she’d make, and is it even up to me to get involved? She knows what I did and why, but would it help anything to tell her that he’s still around?
Sigh. It doesn’t matter. She’s right, she isn’t a child anymore, even if it’s hard for me to see her as anything else. She’s a grown woman. And withholding this wouldn’t be respectful of me.
… But I’ll call her later. It’s not gonna hurt her to be in the dark a little while longer, and I’ve got shit to do.
I should probably make it clear, here, that I’ve never actually killed anyone before. Not as far as I’m aware, at least. I might have hinted that I have, a couple of times throughout this ripping narrative, but that was just me being colorful. The truth is that the gods teamed up with dark science to give skull-squishing strength and body mass to a complete and utter softie. One time when I was a kid my mom stepped on a slug and I fucking cried. Before all of… this happened to me, I thought I wanted to work my way out of Nineteen and become a doctor, of all things.
It’s amazing, the things you’ll think as a kid, before you realize you’re too poor to pay life’s protection money, and then it shows up on your front door and uses brass knuckles and a lead pipe to teach you that you’re not the one calling the shots around here. Dreams are for people with money. The rest of us get to spit out our teeth for sixty years.
… What was I saying? Oh yeah. Never killed anyone. It wouldn’t be hard or anything, people are super killable. I just don’t have it in me. I couldn’t even kill Strake, and believe me, I wanted to kill him even more than I wanted my mother to get better. And I fucking loved my mom.
I’ve hurt people, sure, no question. Hell, I’ve torn bits off people. Important bits, too. I’ve punched, kicked, headbutted and bitten my way through more than a few scraps in my time, and I’d be lying to you if I said there wasn’t a small part of me that’s enjoyed it every time. But that’s not who I am. And it’s not who I want to be.
… That said, I really, really want to kill Strake. I can’t just let him exist as he is. If that sack of shit is back to doing what he used to do, some kids are going to be hurt. In ways that don’t ever heal. I figure if I can prevent that by breaking him into teeny tiny pieces, it’ll be worth the permanent stain on my morality. I can’t be the only one that wants him dead, right? Maybe I’ll see if anyone’s put a hit out on him. I’m not an assassin, because I’d be terrible at it and the risks aren’t worth it, but in this case, I’m sorely tempted to make the exception of a lifetime. Especially if the money’s good enough. I’m supposed to be some kind of mercenary or something, aren’t I? I’d give his evil little head to the first person that handed me a thousand-credit chip for it.
Or at least I might. I should have gotten my conscience removed when I had the chance.
After more grimy blocks than I can count and avoiding several thousand suspicious-looking puddles, I come to the far end of the sector. The Wall, dark and impassive as it ever is, looms high above me and everything else, barely even reflecting sunlight. And lying in its shadow, just away from the edge of the sector platform, is the bar I’ve come to visit.
This is away from the high-energy bustle of Sixteen proper, so it’s quieter, and a little less… venereal. Even a place as hot and gross as Sixteen has its calm spots, because eventually the thump wears off and people have to take their antibiotics and sleep. The place doesn’t actually look that bad, on the outside. Relatively clean brick facade, some wrought iron fencing, nestled to one side of an open backstreet square that seems like it still hasn’t woken up even though it’s the early afternoon. I climb up the rusty plate steps and, yep, fancy filigree sign says The Scripted Serpent. Door’s even made of wood - very classy. It doesn’t match it surroundings at all - if you told me this establishment got transplanted here from Ten or Twelve I’d be inclined to believe you. I walk in.
Inside, it’s somehow smaller than I expected it to be. Or maybe it just feels that way. There’s a ludicrously well-polished middle-length bar taking up the far wall, with a clean-looking mustachioed fellow in a white shirt at the helm, smoking a shiny pipe and making drinks. Dim and smoky, as befitting any den of booze and iniquity, but in a way that makes the room seem cozy rather than nefarious. High ceiling, vaulted with crossbeams. Everything’s done in expensive wood and stone rather than metal and plastic. Whoever built this place wasn’t afraid of shelling out. It’s quiet. And nice. Honestly, if I had money and didn’t have to walk through the entirety of Sector Sixteen to get here, I’d like to hang out in here sometime.
Not many people at this time of day. One or two with their bellies to the bar, a scattered few at the booths and tables, including a group of three old men smoking cigars and playing cards. But I see one guy over by the window. Only one in here wearing a hat. Dressed like one of those Hot Plains cattle ranchers.
The bartender and a couple of the less engaged patrons fix me with looks. This kind of seems like one of those places where every customer is a regular, and I’m highly irregular. Do I want a drink? Yeah fuck it, I want a drink. Who knows, I could be dead tomorrow. And I’ll feel like an idiot if I die with anything left in my bank account.
I approach the bar but don’t sit down. The drinks drone hovers toward me like an automech on a mission.
“What can I get for you, sir?”
I stifle a snort. Sir. What a weird thing to call me.
“I’m on the hunt for a beer, if there’s beer.”
“There is beer.” He reaches over the bar to hand me - get this - a list. “We just got in a few barrels of fresh north-Krathian frostbock, if you’re in the mood for something sturdy. So fresh we haven’t gotten it on the menu yet, actually. You’ll find the rest there. More than thirty options.”
I think I might be in the wrong kind of establishment. I just hold the menu back at him without looking at it. “Oh boy. Uh. As it happens, I’m poor as dirt, so I’ll just have to go with whatever sludge you’ve got left at the bottom of your vatbeer tank.”
He smirks, looking down at the glass he’s polishing. “The owner refuses to let vatbeer cross his doorstep. Check the prices, sir, you might be pleasantly surprised.”
I blink once, and open the menu. I have no idea what this guy’s driving at, there’s no way I’ll be able to afford anything other than the sextuple-filtered wheatpiss anyway-
I look back up at him, brow furrowed and deeply confused. “Is this entire list a typo?”
“Nope. No mistake. That’s what our beer costs.”
My eyes go back down to the menu, then back up at him again in total bewilderment. “How? Unless this piece of paper is more full of fabricated bullshit than the average issue of the Herald.”
The guy just keeps smiling and cleaning contentedly. “You be the judge. Pick one and find out.”
Well now I’m just indignant. There’s no way they could be selling actual, real, unadulterated imported beer at these prices and still be in business. People like me aren’t allowed to afford drink this good, it’s the fourth law of econodynamics.
“Alright then, champ, you’re on. I’ll have a tank of the hollowhunter’s ale.”
He holds up the slab-sized tankard he’s been polishing, inspecting it for flaws. “Good choice, sir. Just a moment.”
He turns around to address a row of taps set into the back wall.
When fresh and properly made, hollowhunter’s ale is like the fun version of drinking razor blades and pine needles mixed with acetone. Because your average hollowhunter is about nine inches from death at any given moment and they don’t have time to waste on pathetic normal peoples’ beer. The stuff is known the world over, and selling it is how the hollowhunters are able to afford all their armored vehicles and explosives. The copycat imitation variety doesn’t taste like the relief of having survived one more day without having your spine and kidneys torn out with one pull of an undead hand - it just tastes like battery acid and sadness. You can taste the suicidal bravery in the real stuff, and your average human coward just can’t replicate it.
The barkeep hands me the glass stein, with both hands. Strong arms. Guy doesn’t wobble, or spill a drop. I accept it from him and hold it up for inspection against the light. The brew is the color of a ruby sunset over a field of ripening wheat. Layer of fine white bubbles on top, like snow. Looks like the stuff I’ve had before. Hard to forget a beer that looks like liquid jewelry.
I take a sip.
Have you ever been exhilarated? Actually, genuinely flush with the pure, unbridled and electric wonder of being alive? The kind of seismic joy that only comes from giving Death himself a smooch on the cheek and scampering away before he can catch you? Have you walked through a living nightmare and emerged on the other side bleeding and broken, but suddenly aware of how beautiful grass can be when the sunlight strikes the dewdrops just right? That’s what this stuff tastes like. It tastes like snatching your own life out of the claws of something that eats entire forests as an aperitif. This is the beverage equivalent of shedding a single gasping, breathless tear in utter disbelief at the fact that your heart is somehow still beating, even though the flesh all around it is nothing but bloody bruises.
Smiling like he just pulled the greatest trick of all time, the bartender plunks the chip reader down on the bar top. “That’ll be four hundred credits.”
I ignore him and take another luxurious pull, because life’s too short to do anything other than love what you have. A sigh leaves my lungs like misty wind fleeing the summer sun. Then I (carefully) set the glass of liquid art on the bar, pull out my wallet and pay, shaking my head.
“I don’t get it, man. This stuff costs three times what you’re charging. Is there a trick, here? Do you own my house now, or something?”
He just shrugs, and grabs another glass to polish. I think bartenders have a condition that causes their brainstem to liquefy if their hands aren’t in contact with glass and a rag at all times.
“I just pour ‘em, sir. Somehow the bossman gets away with it, but I’ll be damned if I know how. All I know is that I keep getting my paychecks and the lights haven’t ever gone out.”
I retrieve the holy vessel and take another precious taste. “Well… the next time you see him, tell him he’s got a new favorite customer. I’ll keep coming back as long as you keep giving this stuff away.”
He nods happily. “I’ll let him know. Enjoy.”
And the giver of mighty gifts flutters away on invisible wings, to bless another undeserving soul.
Alright. Fun’s over. Business time.
I turn about and cross the room over to the booth where my not-man is sitting. Nobody pays me any mind as I approach, and neither does he. It? I’m not sure what the designators are, here. I’ll go with “he” because he looks like one. He just keeps his eyes out the window, looking at… I dunno, the world, I guess.
He doesn’t even look at me when I sit down right across from him.
At a passing glance, there isn’t anything unusual about this guy. He just looks like an older fellow that’s worked under the sun his whole life. Bronzed skin, wrinkles. Wearing his rancher’s outfit. He could just be some cowboy in from delivering a shipment of beef for the Inner Circle to enjoy.
But now that I’m up close… there’s definitely something off. His skin seems unusually thin. The light is hitting it wrong - it looks like papier-mache, or plaster. With the sun at this angle, I should be able to see some hair, but his cheeks are completely smooth, in the way you see on a healed burn victim. And the eyes. They’re too… perfect. Too glossy. Can’t see a single spot, no striations in the iris, not a single vein. They look like doll’s eyes, not ones grown inside a real human skull.
There’s also the fact that he has no vitae at all. Nothing, not a single wisp or bubble or ray of color. In biomantic terms, this guy is indistinguishable from a toaster or a washing machine. That absence makes him look more and more like an unusually lifelike mannequin the longer my eyes are on him. My brain’s accustomed to the human form always being in the company of its swirling, colored vitae. It’s not here, and the contradiction is making my skin crawl.
He doesn’t move or say anything or react to me in any way. So I guess I’ll start.
“Do you know why I’m here?”
I predicted it. The logical, thinking part of my brain knew that it had to happen at some point. Otherwise, how could this thing have gotten here? But when it moves, when it turns its head away from the window to look at me, I nearly jump out of my fucking skin. Things without vitae aren’t supposed to fucking move unless they also have an engine or an internal reactor. The sight of it, right in front of me, makes my spine want to slither away to a place where creepy shit like this doesn’t happen.
Its eyes are blue, and are not made of flesh. No water or salt or protein. Just glass.
“No. Why are you here?”
My skin is spiders.
Its voice is almost perfect. Almost. Honestly, if I weren’t scrutinizing, I probably wouldn’t even notice. But the lip movements only mostly match the words that came out of that hole. And there’s this tonal incorrectness - a lack of richness, of bass. It sounds very slightly like a lesser-quality recording of a middle-aged man’s voice. Dry, papery, without any impact or lung behind it.
And the thing doesn’t move. Not even a little. A human person trying as hard as they can to be motionless still isn’t - you can’t help the barely-perceptible bob of the head as the heart pumps blood through the chest and neck, you can’t prevent the gradual rise and fall of the chest. Or not for very long, at least. This thing is genuinely, absolutely still, in the way that only an inanimate object can manage.
I want to get this over with. At least an automech has decency enough to look nothing like the humans they get their shape from. Every part of me is convinced this thing shouldn’t exist - my sympathetic nervous system is going into overdrive just from the sheer number of contradictory sensory inputs. I don’t know whether to tear its head off or run screaming out of the building.
A layer of mental concrete pours over my nerves before I reply, “I’m looking for the way to the Library.”
Its tilts its head to one side, face still neutral.
I frown. “Because I want to learn stuff. I’ve heard there’s a lot of good books in the Library. If your boss is okay with me paying a visit, that is.”
“What do you want to learn about?”
I had no idea I was signing up for an interview when I walked in here. But I guess if I was the Librarian I’d be pretty careful too. I pan my eyes around the room before saying a very dirty and controversial word.
The unusually large doll nods, very slightly. “You are an arcanist.”It says this without any kind of emotion at all. It’s not a question, or an accusation. Just the statement of a fact, with a machine’s confidence. I’m not sure if it guessed or if it somehow knows things from out of thin air. I don’t know. I’m just along for the fucking ride, here.
“... Yeah. Is that a… problem?”
“No. Not intrinsically. The arcanist seeks knowledge of magic. The river flows to the sea. This has happened for many thousands of years. What you seek is power, as knowledge sublimates into power in the mage’s hand. And you seek it in full awareness of the risks. Plainly, the conflux of fate has made you incredibly strong of body, yet you wish for more. Why?”
I really cannot express in succinct words how goddamn unnerving it is to listen to this thing talk. It’s so, so close to being human, but just off the mark. And worse, now it’s trying to get personal with me.“Why do I want power?”“Yes.”“Is that something you need to know?”
“... Why?”
It laces its fingers together on the table. The motion makes a sound like paper folders sliding over one another.
“Because to the Librarian and to many others, knowledge is also a currency. Sharing it with you is akin to an investment. And within this dynamic, bad investments can become catastrophic. So explain yourself. Or leave.”
Heh. Not the first time I’ve ever had to defend my life. Thankfully, I don’t even have to lie.
“Some bad things might happen to some good people soon. Some people that I know. The stronger I am, the better I can help them. And the more likely it is that I can catch those bad people, to stop them from hurting anyone else.”
The homunculus doesn’t move. “You seek power for altruistic reasons only? To defend the weak from evil?”
I snort. “No. Those same people are also trying to kill me, and I’d like to increase my chances of making it out of all this with my bones still connected to one another. Self-preservation motivates me just as much as anything else.”
“And once the danger has passed? What will you do with your power then?”
… Huh. There’s a cutting question. Frankly, I’m so used to living in this exact second that I hadn’t stopped to consider what life might be like once all this is said and done. If I don’t die, the things I learn could turn me into… something else. More, than I ever had the impetus or inclination to become before. New abilities could be great. Or they could be a horrible curse, in the end.I don’t really care. It just has to happen. The future can show up at its own pace.
“I don’t know. I honestly hadn’t thought about it. But I’m probably not going to try to overturn the Reclamation or anything. Way too much work. And I just don’t care enough.”
The homunculus’s not-eyes stay on my not-eyes for a heavy second. I’m not sure what it’s trying to see. I don’t even know if it can see anything. But honestly, I don’t know a goddamn thing. That’s why I showed up here in the first place.
It finally replies, “What have you brought?”
I swing my backpack around and lay the books on the table. Carefully. While looking around to make sure the law hasn’t walked through the door in the last few minutes.
The thing glances down for a split second, looks back at me, and says, “There are multiple copies of these volumes within the Library. The Librarian has no need of more.”
I rub my face with my hands exasperatedly. I knew it was a long shot. I was told as much. But the idea that I came all the way out here for nothing is really mashing my potatoes something fierce.
“Y’know… I’m betting you guys could save a lot of wasted time by just putting out a damn registry of what you do and don’t have.”
“The Librarian has infinite time. And a public listing would be traceable. You have nothing else to offer?”
I take a big slug of my beer and clunk the tankard down on the table, eyes looking directly at the core of the earth. I don’t have anything else to offer. I don’t have a goddamn thing. For the Librarian or Em or to anyone else. Maybe I should leave the city. Just… fuck right off and go be a monster in the mountains. No need for money, no need for cars or property or paperwork. Fuck it, all of it. At least then I could punch bears to death and terrorize villages and feel like something. Win at least some animal glory using nothing but the contents of my own-
The contents of my own body.
My lenses snap back up to the doll. “You’ll take media other than print, right?”
I reach into my coat and whip out a blank data drive and a transfer cable.
It’s a hell of a thing, being able to record literally everything you see. It makes it much more difficult for other people to call you a liar when you can literally show them what you saw, right out of your own eyes. That’s why I keep these on me. I don’t have to use them often, but in my lines of work it’s helpful to be able to prove my experiences to people with footage hot out of the brain boiler.
One end of the cable goes into the drive, and the other stabs directly into a port at the rear of my occipital lobe.
For the record, it is the peak of stupid for anyone with a cerebral array to just shove connectors into their skull without sanitizing them first, unless they happen to be a huge fan of aggressive meningitis. For reasons already explained, however, I do not have to give a damp hoot. Microbes are idiots. I am the bastard fuckspawn of magic and technology and I will not be stopped.
I hit a little switch on the side of the drive and wait a second for it to boot up. Unstoppably.
The light turns green and there’s a spasm of connection errors and driver misfires across my vision. My automatic interface software shows up with a gun and calmly explains to them that nobody has to get hurt as long as I get access to this drive right the hell now. The warnings and errors hold up their hands and reply that everything’s good here man, no need to do anything drastic. They show me to the door.
The drive connects.
This sensation is very hard to describe for anyone that’s never used their brain to talk to machines before. This is just a blank drive. Empty space. A clean warehouse in a white void, just patiently waiting for someone to put something into it. And right now, it’s connected directly to my brain. It has physically made the total volume of my brain larger. Not more full, not better at processing data or anything, just bigger.
Imagine you’re hanging out minding your own business in your living room, sipping coffee and reading a book or whatnot. Then, for no reason, a huge door appears in your wall and opens, revealing a colossal amount of empty space in a huge room that wasn’t there before. That weird sudden shift of air pressure and subtle echo of newfound hugeness is kind of what this feels like. It’s unsettling, because the brain was never meant to receive these kinds of inputs in this specific order.
This is right around where a lot of people puke, because the conflicting sensory data causes the brain to go completely haywire. It’s like motion sickness or vertigo - there’s a sense of something physical that just happened, despite the fact that the information from my eyes and ears tells me that I’m very much still sitting in a booth at a bar across from a freaky golem. I close my eyes. Less incoming information to try and juggle.
I can’t upload literally everything, because that much video would take days to compress and upload. But I’ve got a different solution.
After about a minute, I have my autoconnect software let the poor drive management programs go, and take my leave. I yank the cord from my head. This causes a painfully loud SNAP in my ear, makes my vision flash lightning-white for a moment, and puts a taste like liquid copper on my tongue. I bump my head with the palm of my hand once, and the static clears from my eyes.
I turn the drive off and push it across the table toward the human facsimile. Then I point at it for emphasis.
“That is an autotranscripted text log of every single conscious thought I’ve had since I was eighteen. That’s eleven years of a person’s life, straight from the source. The parts where I’m drunk are probably full of spelling errors. However, the autotranscript program might have processed some of my dreams, if they were vivid enough. So that’s something.”
The homunculus just tilts its head at me, like a dog that’s heard a funny noise. “And why would the Librarian be interested in this?”
“I have no idea. But I can promise you he doesn’t already have a copy - I’m one of a kind. Tell him to read it and find out.”
The thing regards me silently for another long moment. Then it takes the drive and puts it in a coat pocket.
“... Very well, Mr. Featherlight. The Library thanks you for your contribution.”
It holds out a tiny business card. I try to take it, but its other hand whips up like a striking viper and clamps around my wrist. Its fingers can’t make it the whole way round (my wrists are as wide around as some people’s biceps), but the sheer force of its fingers digging into the meat of my arm is enough to make me grunt in pain.
“But know this. Should you choose to disclose this information to another living soul, you will cease to exist. There are eyes everywhere. Be wise.”
There’s still nothing in its eyes. That’s the face of an accountant showing up to his 15,936th day of work.
Its hydraulic hand lets go of my arm, and I have to actually fight back tears from how fucking bad it hurts. If I’d been anyone else, that amount of pressure would have squeezed clean through the meat and bone of my innocent limb like a fat divorcee through ice cream. It gently places the rectangular card into my palm, gets up, and leaves the bar.
I’m just gonna finish my beer, and pretend for just a few precious moments that I’m a guy that was never cursed with an interesting life.

[this story has over 30 posts now, which you can find through my reddit profile. hundreds and hundreds of pages of ol' Featherlight. and i update pretty much every week, so you can look forward to more ♥]
[you can read this story on Royal Road too, if that's the kind of thing you're into. reviews would be greatly helpful for a new guy on the scene ♥]
[if you think this story is good enough to pay for, why not flip me a tip? i'd appreciate it ♥]
[and thanks for reading ♥]
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