Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Steampunk Astral Projector

I am not a brave person. I have wandered through catacombs and fought zombies, but, fundamentally, I do not feel the need to face danger and risk life and limb. Others can do so with fewer gray hairs – some even like the danger – and I firmly believe in the concept of comparative advantage. It’s not always clear where mine lies, but taking risks is not it.

Sometimes, however, danger finds me.

This preface is a roundabout way of explaining how I found myself on a corner of Aether Isle, staring at a silo-like structure that had recently appeared. “Try the Steampunk Astral Projector” read a card slipped under my door one evening, giving this location but no more information. I sighed. Risking life and limb seemed more like Kathy’s bailiwick, and creating situations that threatened life and limb seemed more like Professor Luminos’s area of expertise, but here I was.

Astral Projection, for those who have insatiable Curiosity, involves the ability to leave one’s body to travel in the astral plane, or the world of the planetary spheres, generally said to be occupied by angels or other spirits. One cannot do this, of course. Pure poppycock. But Steampunk Astral Projection…now, that sounded like another kettle of fish entirely. Steam, as we know, can work miracles. I prepared to have my soul enter the planetary spheres.

Entering the silo, I saw the equipment to my left, clearly prepared to generate a great deal of steam pressure. One of the pipes was already leaking steam, which did nothing to soothe my nerves. To my right was a control panel. Dead center was a chair. My optimal course of action seemed clear enough: run like hell. But no, that would not do. Regaining control of my nerves, I walked to the control panel and threw the switch. The machinery started to hum, the lights dimmed, and the sounds of steam pressure building rose in my ears.

I sat in the chair. No sooner had I done so when the doors closed. The hydraulic mechanism engaged, and the chair began to rise. The sound of hissing steam became much louder. The chair stopped, and brass rods descended. A deafening clap was heard, and I was enveloped in an electric field that grew in strength until I was blinded. Then…

…everything around me disappeared. Was I dead? Was this some sort of eerie afterlife? (Author’s note: no, merely well above 3000 meters. How is the air up there? the Bangles once asked. Mighty thin, if you ask me.) As my vision cleared, I began to see celestial orbs glimmering in the distance. They came nearer, then receded. The pattern repeated itself. I was definitely having some sort of metaphysical experience, though I was strongly reminded of a good absinthe jag. And no angels presented themselves – doubtless wanting nothing to do with such as me.

My God - it's full of stars!

Ultimately, the vision became too much for me. I must have fainted, for the next thing I knew, I was lying on the floor of my house. Astral projection: try it if you dare.

(Thanks to Miss Fogwoman Gray and her endlessly inventive ways to simultaneously torture and amuse.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

In the Catacombs

I had heard of the catacombs deep beneath Brigadoon, and decided to see for myself. Perhaps going at night was not the wisest choice.

I passed a graveyard, shrouded in fog. Was this an ill omen? Casting aside my doubts, I soldiered on.

I stumbled into the catacombs themselves. When my eyes had adjusted to the gloom, I saw...snakes. Why did it have to be snakes? Well, at least it wasn't spiders. I have a dreaded fear of spiders.

Oh-oh. Spiders. Coming out of the dank mist that enveloped me.

Fortunately, I could sit for a while to collect my wits and have some tea. Unfortunately, the tea service appeared to be levitating, and was poured by someone not visible to me.

More spiders? This made conversation with the tea-serving wraith uncomfortable. I kept wondering if the spider was eying me as a possible meal.

This looks ominous. Perhaps it was the spider's last guest?

I took the opportunity to claw my way out of the catacombs and make my way to the nearest pub for a restorative - barkeep, whatever you have is fine, just put the bottle in front of me!

(Thanks to Mr. Jayleden Miles for developing this fright, er, sight, located in the southeastern quadrant of Caledon Brigadoon. Set the environment to midnight and be sure to turn on the sound!)

Sunday, September 28, 2008


Today was the handfasting ceremony between Miss Gabrielle Riel, Duchess of Carntaigh, and Miss Azuel Draken. The ceremony was in the chapel on Her Grace's estate of Carntaigh. I had never been to such a ceremony before...and it was just as well that I decided to see this one from a distance, as the entire sim crashed just prior to the start.

A restart, some furious relogging, and a short time later, with some of the guests thoughtfully occupying spots in Victoria City to observe from a distance, the ceremony got underway.

Sir JJ Drinkwater, resplendent in his kilt, escorted Miss Riel, lovely in white, down the aisle.

Making their way down the aisle...

...and greeting guests and well-wishers...

...and finally making it to the altar.

The attendants wore blue and red.

Deacon Hypatia Dejavu officiated, with Miss Draken on the left, beautiful in blue and white, and Miss Riel on the right.

Several Caledonian guests were kind enough to repeat the ceremony, line by line, on ISC, for the benefit of those who could not attend, or were kind enough to not crash the sim a second time.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's the Silly Season - Just Not Here

It has come to my attention that elsewhere in the world there is a quaint custom called an "election." Such elections are held periodically. Here in Caledon, of course, we have the Guv, and the Guv has assistance in the form of the Vicereine and various Estate Managers. Thus, we have the benefits of a benevolent dictatorship, and no need for a periodic frenzy.

Still, I see various signs that suggest some residents - generally not Caledonians, thank goodness! - take an unhealthy interest in what goes on in Other Places. For some reason, one Other Place with an unusually high level of interest is that where my typist resides. When I see such "team spirit" - I can only compare it to the wearing of one's team colors - I am unsettled and more than a little annoyed. My typist sees enough team colors; I have no need to do so. Show me faeries, nekos, pirates, and vampires. Show me areas of combat and areas of great beauty. Do not proselytize for your team. Do not, for the love of God, explain to me the finer points of your man's tax policy. My typist works in that great cesspool known as the District of Columbia and may or may not care. I most certainly do not.

Indeed, if the Guv were foolish enough to insist on an election, and even more foolish not to run, my preferred candidate is shown below:

Thank you for your attention.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Everyone is Special

For some reason, this struck me as humorous:

The scene is Caledon Prime, looking at an En Garde! scoreboard (at Fizzworks, I believe). Though the names and scores are a little difficult to read, the "Local Champions" leader has 10 points, the next four have 8, 5, 3, and 1, and the next two have...zero. That's right, zero points gets one on the leaderboard. Well, in a world where schools tell children that everyone is special, maybe that makes sense.

Oh well, one takes humor where one can find it, even in small quantities.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lover of the Bayou

Kathy had heard of a distant land – flat and swampy, where the air was thick and hot, and the pace of life slow. Polite conversation over a tall glass of iced tea, or perhaps a mint julep. Spicy food to heat up the body, making the climate less oppressive. All set within miles of still water and primeval trees.

The distance was too far to make travel by ordinary airship impractical, so Kathy gambled on an experimental technology. “Say, what does this button do, I wonder?”

She made it there in one piece, but in need of a restorative mint julep after a long, dry voyage. The swamp and trees were a little eerie.

The manor house was impressive – and inviting.

First you needed excellent bourbon whisky; rye or Scotch would not do at all. Then you put half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass and merely dampened it with water. Next, very quickly - and here is the trick in the procedure - you crushed your ice, actually powdered it, preferably in a towel with a wooden mallet, so quickly that it remained dry, and slipping two sprigs of fresh mint against the inside of the glass, you crammed the ice in right to the brim, packing it with your hand. Last you filled the glass, which apparently had no room left for anything else, with bourbon, the older the better, and grated a bit of nutmeg on the top.

The glass immediately frosted and you settled back in your chair for a half an hour of sedate cumulative bliss. Although you stirred the sugar at the bottom, it never all melted, therefore at the end of the half hour there was left a delicious mess of ice and mint and whisky which a small boy was allowed to consume with calm rapture. Probably the anticipation of this phase of a julep was what held me on the outskirts of these meetings rather than the excitement of the discussion, which often I did not understand.

(from William Alexander Percy, Lanterns on the Levee)

Thus restored, Kathy agreed to provide some entertainment for the evening. Who knew her talents ran to the pianoforte?

Afterward, she insisted on posing at the top of the stairs, saying, “Oh Rhett, don’t leave me!” I had no idea what she was talking about.

During a long, hot day, often the best thing to do is nothing.

All good things must end, so Kathy finally dusted herself off and set course for home, dreaming of her own white manor house and about a pound of crayfish. And another julep, of course.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You Can’t Legislate Manners

Why do I like Victorian society? To be honest, it’s not the clothes. Well, not the ladies’ clothes, at least. Gentlemen looked dashing in coats and tails, starched white shirts with cufflinks, neckties, top hats, and walking sticks. The ladies, in contrast, look odd (bustles) or uncomfortable (corsets). No one in a bustle ever asked the question, “Does this make my butt look fat?” because the answer was self-evident. And don’t get me started on the hair.

What I do like is the emphasis on manners and decorum, at least in public. Whatever nastiness goes on behind closed doors is between a gentleman and his wife. Or mistress. Or another gentleman. But out here in the public eye everyone knows how to behave, and faces social opprobrium for violating the code. Polite is good. Tolerant is good. Cursing, abusing the weak, airing dirty laundry: not so good. A hearty “I say, old chap!” or “Really, Mr. Smith!” goes a long way in informing an offender who has grossly deviated from the acceptable path.

Now, I am certainly not condoning all Victorian attitudes, including the unfriendly attitude toward women in the work force. That women now have the freedom to choose to work in virtually any field is not only good for working women, but good for economic productivity as well. (Perhaps not so good for some men, and perhaps not all that good for healthy family life, but life is full of tradeoffs.) And no doubt there was much about the Victorian work place that would shock the modern conscience. Nonetheless, whether in the work place or on the street, Victorian society had a well-structured code of conduct that governed social interactions.

I bring this up because my typist has had inflicted upon her a modern indignity called “Workplace Harassment Training.” The only positive aspect is that the course was entirely Aetheric. Otherwise, it was an example of well-meaning but ill-conceived legislation designed to formalize inherently gray areas and punish by force of law those who run afoul of its Byzantine logic. For example, a gentleman (or lady) may get one free shot at bad behavior per victim: a pat on a lady’s bottom, or a “Hey, sexy” while the eyes focus on the bosom, and all is well until the lady objects. On the other hand, one cannot tell an off-color joke if there exists the chance that someone will hear it and be offended – and “offended” is defined entirely subjectively. For example, the Merry Widows of Caledon Calendar would be condemned as “offensive” and banned if even a single person found it so, despite the fact that, objectively, the calendar is sensual, not sexual, and can hardly be said to arouse one’s prurient interest. (Would it not be more sensible to require that a “reasonable” person find it offensive? Or a majority? Or a “substantial” minority? The legal standard is being determined by the most radical outlier of the group.) How can one navigate through such a world?

The real problem is that government cannot legislate good behavior. If polite intercourse (one hopes that word does not offend anyone!) between men and women – or between gentlemen who prefer gentlemen, etc. – is not enforced through the social code, the alternative seems to be to scare employees into submission.

(The obligatory disclaimer.) Of course, no one wants the egregious behavior that is the stuff of tabloids: the casting couch, the incessant leerer, ethnic stereotypes, religious zealotry (or anti-religious zealotry) that creates an intolerant and unappealing environment. And I don’t deny that such environments exist. My point is that the law is a blunt instrument, and the fear of running afoul of the law can change the work environment in a way not necessarily for the better – especially when no problem existed. For example, I find that humor helps in many situations. But sometimes jokes fall flat. I don’t mind that my act bombs on occasion, but I would prefer not to be unemployed as a result of an ill-advised jape. I work with good people who are usually congenial, and even when tempers run are almost invariably restrained in their outbursts. The level of insult is more along the lines of “You’re an idiot!” rather than “You lazy [stereotype].”

Then again, this episode was not as painful as the Clinton-era mandatory safe sex lecture, but that shall remain a rant for another day. Suffice it to say that “uncomfortable” and “offensive” were two appropriate words. Too bad we didn’t know about harassment laws. Or do they not apply when it is the government doing the harassing?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Cliques and Claques: Much Musing About Nothing

One of my morning pleasures is reading the real estate section of the Caledon news organ, the Forums. Perhaps it allows me a moment of fantasy about becoming a land baroness as properties become available in Regency, Mayfair, the Highlands, Cape Wrath, and so on. I can fantasize about the possibility of seaside property, or a posh mansion, or a mountainside retreat, all for the cost of the latest issue of the Forums and a cup of coffee.

The number of properties offered for sale (yes, yes, I know, offered for “sale,” as the Guv ultimately owns Caledon; let us not quibble) waxes and wanes over time. I presume this reflects new land coming onto the market periodically, including that offered by the Guv as well as other, similarly-themed lands, as well as the ups and downs of the broader real estate market. In other words, supply and demand. New residents arrive, old ones leave or reshuffle their portfolios. None of this is remarkable.

However, in seeing much recent land shuffling – and here I’m thinking of some of the recent acquisitions in Steam Sky City by Miss Gray and Mr. Volare, and Mr. Nix Sands’ sale of a number of his properties, among other examples – I started thinking about Caledon’s own land barons and the remarkably small core group of Caledonians. At last glance, Caledon had in the vicinity of 800 citizens – admittedly, some of those are likely to be alts, some are primarily residents of other nations (often within the Realm of the Roses) who like to keep up with the events in Caledon, some (shockingly) have lives outside Caledon or the Realm, and some are people whose typists have largely retreated from our world – but appears to be dominated by perhaps two dozen of its most prominent citizens. The same names keep appearing as owners of void sims, as substantial landowners in various full sims, as builders, as shop owners (and most often creators of merchandise), in ISC chat, and as developers and hosts of the majority of group activities. Let New York society have The Four Hundred; Caledon has The Two Dozen (Give or Take).

I have mixed feelings about this state of affairs. It is wonderful to see those individuals devoting so much time and energy to what is clearly a labor of love to them. (I will assert with confidence that no one is getting rich.) It is also true that other citizens make smaller, but still valuable, contributions, and in aggregate are an important source of the vitality of the community. I do not mean to impugn or disrespect their contributions in any way. I benefit from this work every day as I explore the ever-changing environment that is Caledon. At the same time, having such an obvious core of prominent citizens might create a perception of a ruling clique that is (naturally) polite but not warm to everyone.

Two modest digressions: first, the nature of ISC chat helps foster both the egalitarian aspects of Caledon – anyone can jump in with a comment (though chat lag may result in the comment arriving several minutes late and/or out of order) (and invariably swallowing my best jokes) – and the perception of an in-group – discussion about, say, an upcoming event may be intermingled with discussion about a typist’s children. Chat is like having a group conversation in which private asides are broadcast at the same volume. Second, some time ago during ISC chat, one citizen who shall remain unnamed objected to the use of various aristocratic titles. She preferred not to have to call people “Duke So-and-So” or “Baroness Such-and-Such,” as this created a society stratified by class. Of course, one can break down the use of titles into the honorific (service to the Guv, whether through ownership of a void sim or work for the betterment of the community) and the jokes. In the first case, the titles are earned but are mere recognition of the service, rather than a statement about class; in the second, the joke is usually widely-recognized, and thus is again no statement about class. But there is a deeper truth to the lady’s objection to titles, which is that both uses of titles are a reflection of the often insular nature of our society. (I simply can’t keep track of everyone’s title – Lord Primbroke? Oh, you mean Mr. Pearse? – so don’t think I’m rude or that I won’t play along. Just another example of CRS syndrome.)

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? If the latter, what, if anything, can be done about it? The answers are not clear. Some people can spend much more time in-world than others. Some are more highly motivated to participate than others. No Caledon-erected barriers exist to prevent people from joining the core group over time. Ultimately, the community is entirely voluntary, from the amount of time individuals spend in-world, to the activities they host or participate in, to the friends individuals make.

So where is this going? Nowhere, really. Just Tuesday morning musings after reading the Forums. Perhaps I should switch to decaf.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nothing of Consequence?

For some time I had heard rumors – nothing more – about the extensive tunnel network on Aether Isle, below Steam Sky City. Not the semi-official tunnels under Miss Avariel Falcon’s Tesla Tower, or what was once the home of Doctor Obolensky’s Lord Smashington II (before the mechanical monster found himself lodged aloft in the City), or the Stormhold Monastery before it became collateral damage in the Doctor’s war against his loud neighbors aloft. These were rumors of deeper tunnels, used for unnatural experiments. I searched for some time, found nothing, then gave up.

Then the noobies started to disappear. At first, no one noticed. By definition, all noobies look more or less alike – why, one might pass by a noobie named “M Linden” and not notice. After enough disappearances, however, the authorities suspected foul play, and I suspected the secret tunnels may have played a role, as the last known sighting were often near Aether Isle. I set out once again to find the hidden tunnels.

I first encountered an abandoned house on Aether Isle. Records showed the property still in the name of Mr. Newbe Writer, but the appearance of the lawn and several broken windows indicated no one had been in residence for some time. Pushing open the unlatched door, I scanned the ground floor. Thought I could see no signs of human habitation, an eerie, ghostly fog permeated the floor, giving an aura of evil. In the day’s fading light, I summoned my courage to travel to the second floor. There I found the mayhem that had been done: lying in a pool of his own blood was a dead noobie.

I seemed to be on the right track.

Under the cover of darkness, I slipped into the tunnel network from an entry point at the Tesla tower. The hum of the machinery filled my ears, and the sharp tang of ozone made my eyes water. Flashlight in hand, I made my way down the dark passageway. I reached the end of the tunnel – or what I thought was the end – when I felt air circulating through what I had earlier believed was a dead end. I made my way through the tiny space, moved along another passage…and promptly fell about six feet as the tunnel came to an abrupt end, opening into a large room. Inhuman noises suggested I was not alone.

Dusting myself off, I swung the torch around the room. Immediately in front of me lay another dead noob.

The skulls nearby suggested this one was not the first victim. Behind the noob was an enormous vorpal bunneh – caged, fortunately, as his hungry eyes tracked my movements. Had I a mutant carrot, I would have pitched it his way.

Then, from the corners of the room, zombies appeared. I quickly drew my pistol and fired at the nearest. The zombie exploded in a mist of blood and guts (quite literally, and I was surprised at how red the blood was).

Fire and reload. Fire and reload. I could send the beasts back to the hell from which they came, but still they kept arriving. I retreated back to the tunnel opening. Firing twice more, I cleared enough space to jump, grab the tunnel opening, and pull myself up before the next onslaught arrived. I kept firing until the gun became hot in my hand. Finally, the main spring failed and I beat a hasty retreat back through the tunnel, to the relative safety of the Caledonian night.

Making a mental note to have Ordinal Enterprises service their pistol, I checked myself for zombie bites. Finding none – I understand the consequences are very unpleasant – I made my way home, the mystery of the disappearing noobies solved. Passing by the site of my zombie encounter – above ground this time, thankfully – I saw a sign on the property: “Nothing of Consequence.” Nothing of consequence, my arse!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Revelry in Steam Sky City

Part of the celebration of the refurbished Steam Sky City - the post-Havok 4 havoc, as it were - included a dance in the aft section. Miss Fogwoman Gray, center, was our hostess for the evening, with music by Soliel Snook of Radio Riel. Fittingly, the musical selection was heavy on the Steampunk side, particularly Abney Park. (As far as I can tell, Abney Park is the only Steampunk-themed band that actually believes that a melody is important. To the right in the photograph below are Mr. Aberdon Enigma and Miss Fauve Aeon, cutting a rug, as I believe the youngsters are wont to say.

Some more shots, including Your Humble Narrator in an outfit by Miss Fuschia Begonia, from the Dark Victorian Emporium. Did someone say this dance was formal? Oops.

Miss Martini Discovolanti unveiled her sculpture, entitled "Harbinger of Steam," or, as I call it, "The Guv Blowing His Top."

In recognition of her work for Steam Sky City, Miss Gray was named to the Order of the Black Thorn by the Duke of Murdann. I don't pretend to understand the aristocracy in Caledon, but it seems like a well-deserved award, so bravo Miss Gray!

The aft section is the new home to the Young Women's Caledon Association, offering a home base for wayfaring waifs.

The "new" Steam Sky City has made a number of other changes. The Volare Ballroom is no more, thanks to Doctor Obolensky's attack on it with Lord Smashington. Lord Smashington is now firmly wedged where half the ballroom once stood; the other half of the ballroom now houses a branch of Miss Ilsa Munro's Munro Imaginary Motors, with a fine selection of airships. The city also has a branch of All Dolled Up, for your favorite clockwork construct. Big changes seem afoot on Aether Island, too. Exciting times for Steam Sky City!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ray Guns at Dawn! (Part 3)

Dawn found me awake, dressed, and at the appointed spot, although my head was still pounding mightily. Pettifog was there, along with his second, Mr. Gregor Constipapalous, and a crowd of curious (and curiously early-rising) Caledonians. Always up for a good dance or a good duel, my fellow citizens. Mr. Constipapalous spoke no English, though he attempted to make up for this by smiling a great deal. He also patted my bottom as we were introduced. I moved several steps away and delivered my most withering glare, which had at least a temporary effect on him.

I failed to spot Uncle Roland, however. It was well within the realm of possibility that he had overslept, or even forgotten about the duel completely. Just as I was debating how to communicate to Mr. Grabby Constipapalous that his man had won the day and we could all go back to bed for some much-deserved sleep, I heard the sound of an automotive motor moving slowly toward us. The vehicle stopped, and I saw the top hat Uncle Roland always wore. My head throbbed some more.

“A lovely morning, is it not?” he exclaimed to no one in particular.

“D-d-d-do you have the g-g-guns?” Mr. Pettifog asked. Mr. Constipapalous smiled in my direction.

“Am I having fun? What kind of question is that, Pettifog? This is serious business, man, and if you cannot take it seriously, I’ll…By golly, I don’t know what I’ll do. Anyway, choose your weapon, you blackguard.” He produced a wooden case with two ray guns nestled inside.

Mr. Pettifog gulped at the sight of the guns, but summoned his courage and chose the newly-made gun. Mr. Luminos took the other, then handed me the empty case. I could not help but think the whole concept of seconds was highly overrated, and I could have been sleeping off the hangover while these two made fools of themselves. “Gentlemen, can we move things along?” I said rather crankily. “The customary twenty paces, one shot each, then we can all go home?”

“Dental places?” Uncle Roland replied. Then his brain deciphered my sentence. “Oh no, dear girl, that will not do. I insist that we have at least two shots – tricky business, these ray guns. First one might not hit the mark. Be a shame to have come out this morning only to have both of us go home alive.”

“F-f-f-fine with me. Twenty p-paces and t-t-two shots it is,” said Pettifog.

The two principals measured off the twenty paces while Mr. Constipapalous and I followed along. I had to slap his hands twice. Mr. Pettifog was situated at one end of the graveyard fence, in front of where Uncle Roland had parked his automobile, while Uncle Roland took the other end of the fence. He raised his gun. His opponent shouted, “Come now, Luminos, it’s not too late to call this off!”

“Calloused cough? I don’t care about your problems, Pettifog. Fire on the count of three, I say. One!” Wasn’t that my line? Pettifog raised his gun. “Two! And three, eh what?”

At the last word, two beams of light shot out from the guns. I winced. When I looked at the principals, both remained standing and the same height as before, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. Pettifog had shot wide and high, and hit the Caledonian flag, which now fluttered above us resembling a colorful pocket handkerchief. Mr. Luminos also shot wide, but lower, and hit a lamp post next to the train station, turning it into a flashlight.

“One more time, Pettifog. Better make this one count, old boy!” Again the countdown, and again the flashes of light. This time the nerves of the first round had settled somewhat, and both men were considerably more accurate. But both selling bonds and inventing horribly destructive items were hard on the eyes, and neither was a young man. Pettifog was just a tad high, and the ray hit his opponent square in the latter’s top hat, which was reduced to the size of a thimble and blew off, revealing Uncle Roland’s completely bald head.

Uncle Roland saw that his opponent was still breathing, and shouted, “Well, Pettifog, I guess today was not your day to die! Just as well, eh, because you’re a good old bean, and I would have hated to have killed you. Friends again?” Mr. Pettifog looked at him incredulously. Then Uncle Roland saw where his second shot had landed: it scored a direct hit on the side of his motor car. The vehicle had shrunk to the size of a toy, and two small children were now playing with it. Uncle Roland sighed, and began walking back to his laboratory. I retrieved the other gun from a relieved-looking Pettifog. Mr. Constipapolous took the opportunity to feel a breast, which seemed particularly dangerous now that I had a lethal weapon. I limited my response to stepping on a foot with a stiletto heel. As he grimaced in pain, I smiled at him.

The sun was now fully above the horizon, and my bed called, so I, too, headed home.

And that is how Uncle Roland stopped driving.

(All three parts are available as a single file from Calameo - RJ.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Ray Guns at Dawn! (Part 2)

Much later, license denied – somehow the employees at Caledon’s Division of Motorized Vehicles turned out to take a dim and, to Luminos’ mind, a rather unenlightened view of the scientist’s recent driving record. He was also surprised that they came to this conclusion only after having him wait in several different long lines. – he remembered the impending appointment. Giving the matter of a second some thought, and reviewing the number of people in Caledon who (a) had forgiven him for the cross-breeding experiment (cockroaches and snakes – producing venomous bugs that reproduced seemingly at will) and (b) were willing to serve as a second, he called upon me.

“Uncle Roland! What a…surprise,” I said, greeting him in the doorway of my house in the Downs. I was wearing a tattered housecoat and fuzzy slippers in the form of vorpal bunnies and sipping a cup of tea while I decided what to wear to the Big Brass Ball that evening in Steam Sky City. Dr. Luminos was not my uncle, of course, but I jokingly called him that ever since I had once said he was so much nicer than my actual Uncle Eamon. I will write about Uncle Eamon when my therapist gives me the green light to do so.

“I seem to have found myself agreeing to a duel with Pettifog tomorrow morning, what ho, and I am in need of a second. Care to do the honors?”

“You certainly get right down to it, Uncle Roland. No small talk with you.”

“That seemed to be what got me in trouble in the first place, my dear. I’m exchanging pleasantries with old Pettifog, and the next thing I know I’m defending my honor tomorrow at dawn.” He eventually got out a version of the story. I assumed there was an innocent explanation for everything, but I knew I would never find it. I sighed and agreed to be there for him.

“Have you given any thought to weapons?” I asked. My hope was to direct him toward something non-lethal, as unlikely as that sounded.

“Oh yes indeed! Been giving it my undivided attention. Well, most of my attention, at any rate. I spend exactly fifteen seconds every minute thinking about a better combination of animals to cross-breed, and six seconds thinking about ways to torture the DMV employees until they return my license. Other than that, I’m focused on the weapons, eh what?”

I made a gesture that he correctly interpreted as my being desirous of knowing his choice. “There’s the pistol, of course. Miss Malaprop has a fine selection. Classic, really. I thought about my latest project: a pellet gun with two barrels.”

“What’s so special about that?”

“Well, dear thing, the left barrel shoots a pellet of ordinary matter, and the right shoots a similar pellet of a substance I call ‘anti-matter.’ The barrels are not perfectly parallel to one another – user-adjustable, of course. Set the distance of the target. Both pellets eject simultaneously, and meet at the target. If my calculations are correct, the resulting explosion will be quite satisfactory. Fiendish, eh what?”

I worry about Uncle Roland’s sanity sometimes.

“Of course, still a few problems to be worked out. Can’t quite figure out how to hold the anti-matter pellet in the gun. Can’t quite figure out how to create anti-matter in the first place. Problem, problems. But I’ll solve them eventually. Always have.”

“So, ah, perhaps this particular project is not ready for a formal unveiling tomorrow, and you might go to something a little more proven, Uncle?”

“P’r’aps, p’r’aps. In the end, I think I shall choose my miniaturizing gun.”

This seemed a particularly poor choice, and I said so. His mind was made up, however, so he retreated back to his laboratory in the Moors to construct a second gun along with the prototype. I promised to meet him at the graveyard the next morning.

Needless to say, there was no Ball in my future that evening, as I mulled over how to prevent a tragedy. Or at least to reduce the degree of farce. Half a bottle of absinthe later, I was no closer to a solution, though I was far closer to the floor.

(Next: The Thrilling Conclusion!)

Ray Guns at Dawn! (Part 1)

This is the tale of how Uncle Roland stopped driving.

The other day, walking in the Moors, Mr. Peter Pettifog encountered Dr. Roland Luminos while the latter was en route to Victoria City. The two were acquainted, and Mr. Pettifog greeted the other with a hearty, “Hello, Luminos! Where have you been hiding, you scalawag?”

Dr. Luminos is an eminent scientist – you may recall some of his experiments, such as the anti-gravity belt (not entirely successful; most believe the test pig is still accelerating away from Earth, though long since dead, of course), or the zombie re-animation elixir (sadly, the newly alive remained psychotic; the Home Guard killed six or seven before the Guv made Dr. Luminos stop experimenting). However, he is also somewhat elderly, and suffers from hearing loss, though he refuses to admit it. He simply does the best he can with what he does hear.

“I say, it’s Pettifog! Good day, old chap. Haven’t seen you in elephants’ years. Been chiding an old hag, have you? Not very sporting, eh?”

His interlocutor looked confused. “Hag? No, I said…never mind. Where are you bound?”

“Victoria City. I’m told I need to seek to retrieve my automobile driver’s license. Had a bit of a smash-up the other day, and the bobby said, ‘What-ho, Luminos? Third time this month. Better have a look-see to the licensing people, check your eyes, give you a little test, that sort of thing.’ I bristled a little because, of course, none of those mishaps were my doing, but no arguing with John Bull, eh? So off to VC for me to explain to the good folk that my driving skills are as good as ever.” That last claim was likely true. Unfortunately, Dr. Luminos was always a terrible driver. He would think of an answer to a problem that had been vexing him and then forget he was driving. His mechanic limited the top speed of the doctor’s vehicle to ten miles per hour in an altruistic gesture to enhance public safety; Dr. L. never noticed the performance drop and, ever since, his accidents have involved less damage.

“Ah, yes. Good luck with that, Luminos. Do well on your test.”

Now it was the scientist’s turn to look confused. “You’re challenging me to a duel? I can’t imagine how I offended you, old bean, but not my call to make, eh? Well, never let it be said a Luminos shrinks from duty. I accept!”

Peter Pettifog sold municipal bonds for a living. He was carrying perhaps thirty extra pounds, much of it in a large belly he had achieved through a sedentary lifestyle and a love of rich food, and he was deathly afraid of guns. He was confident that he had not challenged anyone to a duel, much less the main who invented a miniaturizing ray gun (unfortunately, the gun worked by compressing molecules, so the target became much smaller, much more dense, and, if a living creature, much, much more dead). Yet he had his pride. Dr. Luminos had spoken quite loudly – a hazard among those with hearing loss – and several people had come out of their houses and shops to see what the excitement was about. These people had heard the scientist’s acceptance of a non-existent challenge; to correct Luminos now would be seen as backing out of the affair, and Pettifog could not suffer that loss of face.

“G-g-good,” he stammered. “Dawn tomorrow at the graveyard? Your choice of w-w-weapon, I believe.”

“Good God, man, stop stuttering. Someone might think you hadn’t the spine to follow through with your challenge, eh? Can’t take offense at every little perceived slight and challenge a man to a duel if you don’t have the stomach for it, old blighter.” He chuckled and scratched his white beard. “Never fear, I’ll have the pistols for us. Dawn it is, then!” With that farewell, he continued strolling toward Victoria City, as though he had no greater care than to retrieve his precious license.

(To be continued in Part 2!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mayhem in Steam Sky City

I had heard rumors of a battle between the villainous Doctor Obolensky and the pirate Mr. Vivito Volare in Steam Sky City. While I was too late to report on the battle first-hand, I can attest to the damage in the aftermath. Lord Smashington is gone. Or perhaps not completely gone, as some of Smashington appears to be in the wreckage of the Mr. Newbe Writer's Stormhold Monastery:

A view of the monastery from the other side, the wreckage still smoldering:

And the latest weapon of mass destruction, Mr. Volare's Noob Cannon:

It appears to be such a devastating weapon that the Conventions of War should perhaps ban it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


I have spent a good deal of time lately flying about Caledon, learning my way around the mighty Expedition, from Munro Imaginary Motors. Miss Munro's latest flying ship is based on the African Queen, but has the virtue of being both seaworth and airworthy.

In part, I have been practicing landing where I want to - not always easy in a craft that has forward and reverse thrust, and separate elevation controls, but works with a (deliberately-imposed) lag. But even I got the hang of it.

Coming in for a landing at the home of Her Grace, the Duchess of Sound. (The Duchess was Out.)

Approaching the tree house of Miss Martini Discovolante in Tanglewood.

And several shots of the approach to the Vicerine's airship at the Isle of the Children of Moreau. Still a ways out:

Coming in for a landing:

A shot from the opposite angle:

A successful landing! I must say, the wind does a number on one's hair!