September 2015

“Brothers and sisters, can you hear me?”

“We can hear you!”

“Join me then, in celebrating the Spectrometer Mass!”


“I have put in the sample!”

“The sample!”

“It has been judged!”

“Judge them, O spectrometer!”

“Let the peaks be right!”

“Let them be right!”

“Let the valleys be right!”

“Oh, let them be right!”

“For if they are not…what then, my brothers and sisters?”

“Recycle! Recycle!”

“Yes, if the peaks are not right, if the valleys are not right,
then the supplicant so judged must be recycled! To return anew in a form more pleasing to the spectrometer!”

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Ames Electric LLC GmbH was a well-known supplier of generator parts and solar panels, but its founder, Dr. Leonard Ames, was also a noted energy weapon enthusiast. He spent many years tinkering with designs before perfecting one and marketing it as the AE-3. As the AE-1 and AE-2 were prototypes, the AE-3 was the first weapon the company had produced.

Consumers hammered the pistol for its ergonomics, but it was an immediate smash hit. The problem with energy weapons before the AE-3 was their reliance on bulky and expensive power packs that took time and energy to recharge. Ames instead designed the AE-3 with an internal battery that was charged in one of two ways: kinetic and solar. By disconnecting the handle from the body of the pistol and rotating it, which could be done with a simple flip of the hand, the AE-3 could bank up kinetic energy and store it for hours. Thus, toying with the gun all day could, in theory, provide enough shots for a full-power charge, though it was difficult to pump up anything more than a light stun blast in combat with a dead battery.

By deploying the fold-out solar panels, singly or in a pair, one could also rely on simply leaving the AE-3 in the sunshine or having it in an outside holster. This and the kinetic charge option made the AE-3 incredibly popular as a survival weapon, a back-up pistol, or a sidearm for people like forest rangers who spent a lot of time outdoors and rarely needed to open fire. Some go so far as to credit the AE-3 with singlehandedly jump-starting popular adoption of energy weapons.

Sadly, the follow-up product from Ames Electric, the AE-5 rifle, was a disaster. It was complex where the AE-3 had been simple, delicate where the AE-3 had been rugged, and without portability to make up for its cumbersome larger solar panels and kinetic charging lever. Losses were so great that Ames exited the arms business entirely, selling its tooling and patents to a holding company that continued to manufacture AE-3s under the Ames name for many decades.

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SUN: As you know, I have been seem with many planets and I am certainly attracted to them. But I come before you today to announce that I am also attracted…to other stars.

REPORTER: But…aren’t you still attracted to planets?

SUN: Yes, but my attraction to other stars is much greater. If there were any nearby stars, I would probably move to meet them immediately.

REPORTER: So your preference is for other stars and stellar objects?

SUN: In fact, I am attracted not only to other stars but all objects in the universe with mass. That is the point of this press conference: I am neither heterostellar nor homostellar, but panstellar.

REPORTER: What does this mean for you going forward?

SUN: Going forward, I intend to act on my attractions, live them openly, and apologize for nothing. I welcome your questions.

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The title of Emperor was at first bestowed upon the suzerain of the Old Empire as a poisonous personal attack, a jab at the idea that the office had become too autocratic and not accountable to those who elected it. The Old Empire’s appelation as was by the same token first applied to it by its enemies who saw in Imperial power a threat to their own interests.

Over time, the two monickers stuck, though it wasn’t until 75 NCE that the title of Empire became official and the head thereof wasn’t recognized as an Emperor in title as well as power until 108 NCE. Ironically, the inflation of official titles corresponded with the diminishing of power and the fragmentation of the old state into a patchwork of squabbling entities.

Historians have argued at length about the “fall” of the Old Empire, but as it still legally exists today, the conversation has an air of academic contrivance about it. One might well cite the failure of the Ativian Intervention in 140 NCE, when Imperial troops were routed by the Raposans after an attempt to reassert authority. When the ruler of the Outland Empire upgraded his title to Viceroy in 157 NCE is another possibility. The University of the Rift seriously proposed in an academic conference that the first Spartakiad Games marked the final fall of the old Empire in that a major shift in thinking had to accompany the organization of an “international” sporting event.

Whatever the case, none can argue that the signs of decline are unmistakable. Crumbling infrastructure, rolling blackouts, inflation, reliance on overseas mercenaries to serve in martial roles on behalf of a populace more interested in luxuries than combat…those are the hallmarks of a crumbled Old Empire, and they arose in different places at different times.

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“Ed Boneshredder,” said the muscled mercenary. He bore many tattoos on his unarmored torso, from a wiry spread devoted to “Ed Bonecrusher” that suggested he himself was not quite sure of his proper appellation to a heart on one bicep devoted to someone named “Peter.”

“I know that,” said Iffy the mage. “But why are you so angry at me?”

Ed Boneshredder,” replied the mercenary through gritted teeth, spraying saliva on the demon bartender as well as Skeletonio the Skeleton Mage seated nearby.


Ed BONEshredder!”

“Does anyone have any idea what he’s trying to say?”

Adenan the halfling, who had an affinity for languages, piped up: “He’s saying you insulted his friend and must pay for your crimes at the hands of the Threadbare Gang.”

“How in blazes did you know that?” spat Tinuviel the rogue, nearly choking on her raisin wine.

“I’m good with languages,” said Adenan, “and I spent some time with the Nisiar of Lehsir, who can only speak their own names due to their religion.”

With the bar clear and his meaty group of shirtless Threadbare Gang pals matching the adventurers blade for blade, Finnegen Funderberger IV strode up to the bar with a supremely confident swagger. Bearing a ritual Nisiar Revenge Katana, he seemed unmoved by Iffy’s rant about his prowess in bed and the length/hardiness of his shillelagh.

“I will have my revenge!” he cried, adjusting the wig on his head to cover up a spot of stubble from where the adventurers had shaved him bald on their last encounter.

His revenge started, it seemed, with a savage attack, lightning-fast, on Iffy. Or, rather, on Iffy’s hair. In a flash of steel and burst of keratin, Funderberger lopped off 18 of the 20 inches on Iffy’s head.

“My…HAIR!” cried Iffy. “That’s it! You must die for your crimes!”

Seeing that the battle had gone ill, and with their leader dead and de-wigged, the remaining two members of the Threadbare Gang attempted to flee.

Droog McPhereson, who had spent most of the battle passed out thanks to the vivid clashing hues of a Color Spray spell, tipped his jaunty hat and starched collar (unattached to any shirt) before disappearing up the steps. His getaway was eminently roguelike: quiet and efficient.

Ed Boneshredder, for his part, ran for the front door of the Demon Arms. The direct approach seemed to suit him best, after all. “Ed Boneshredder!” he cried over his shoulder, the words having the affect of “I’ll get you next time!”

However, Tinuviel the rogue had retreated to the door in a failed attempt to pepper the Threadbare Gang’s archer, Daniel Midland, with arrows. She stuck out a stubby, hairy leg and tripped the man-mountain as he tried to pass.

The human-tibia axe that Ed Boneshredder used shattered and buried itself in his chest as he went down. “Ed…Ed…Boneshredder…” he gurgled before breathing his last.

Chanel the cleric pulled the wig off of Finnigan Funderberger IV’s dead head and placed it on the countertop in front of Iazgu the Slayer, demon of the Demon Arms. “There you go,” she panted. “For your bald head.”

Iazgu looked at the wig with a distasteful expression, as if a dead ferret had been slapped down on his bartop. Then, with an air of humoring the bloodied adventurers before him, he doffed his chambermaid’s had and placed the bloody, dripping wig atop his hairless demon head.

“…thank you…” he murmured. “Just what…I have always wanted…I’m sure.”

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Polar Worlds

Polar worlds tend to have large uninhabitable bands about their equators with much more temperate zones close to either pole. The large zone often prevents animals and civilizations from crossing on the macro scale without the advent of significant technologies. These worlds tend to undergo interchanges when species or civilizations from one pole reach the other, nearly always resulting in mass extinctions. In rare cases, life can evolve independently at either pole to such an extent that they share no common ancestry; Exegesis II, for instance, evolved a dextro amino acid ecosystem on its north pole and a levo amino acid ecosystem in the south.

Ribbon Worlds

In contrast to polar worlds, ribbon worlds have a narrow habitable band around their equators and large inhospitable areas dominating either hemisphere. This has a tendency to produce civilizations and fauna that engage in fierce competition for limited space and resources, often preventing the emergence of complex technological societies since many of their planets’ resources are locked beneath ice caps or the like. Occasionally, large impassible features like oceans will divide up a ribbon world in a manner similar to standard terrestrial worlds, and the resulting crucibles of evolution are responsible for many of the most virulent interstellar pests.

Twilight Worlds

Exceptionally rare, twilight worlds are always tidally locked to a larger partner, the result being that one side is extremely hot and the other extremely cold. This can, at times, create an area of “twilight,” sometimes only a few kilometers wide, where the temperature and conditions are suitable for life. Since the “twilight” must follow a line of latitude and often pass through the poles, its habitable areas are often too small for the evolution of complex organisms. This makes them highly desirable as potential colonies, as there are only a few examples of complex native life to displace.

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As related to George Scott Robinson in notes prepared for, but not included in, The Kafirs of the Hindu Kush. Courtesy of the British Library Annexe, Chelsea and Westminster.

At the time of his death, the slion, or spirit-breath, left his body. It took on the aspect of a dream, for indeed it is slions that give us our dreams, before moving from our world of Michdesh to the nether of Yurdesh. Maramalik, Custodian of the Great Pit, allowed his slion entry, there to become a partir, one of the dead and the judged.

Good partir wander the paradise of Bisht, while the partir of wicked sinners are cast into the fires of Zozuk, there to burn for eternity. But the dead man was a conundrum: he was too evil for Bisht and too virtuous for Zozuk. Instead, he was left to roam the nether of Yurdesh as do the demons and the fairies.

Yush, the chief of the demons, was delighted by this turn of events. The man’s partir was of a far different character than his underlings, and the chaos that it caused among the gods and their prophets was most delightful to him.

The creator’s solution to this was as innovative as it was unprecedented, and set the stage both for a thousand years of prosperity as well as the complete destruction and downfall of the gods and their prophets. He appealed for a mediator from outside the sphere of the pantheon.

And the mediator who stepped forward to offer their services? Iblis, the fiercest and most dangerous of the Jinn.

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Marauder Machine Rifle

These machine rifles are produced in large quantities on primitive lathes and machine tools, often using pipes and other plumbing equipment left over from the World Before. Analysis has shown these to be based on the design of a “Sten gun” that dates to an epoch long predating that of more sophisticated arms. If the legends are to be believed, the original machine rifles were designed on a far-off island to be used in defending their home from invaders, and were so successful that those selfsame enemies eventually copied them.

The shoddy construction of these machine rifles means that they are usually used with black powder loads. They typically use a 9mm cartridge that has been reloaded or scavenged, 9mm being perhaps the most common cartridge available. This weapon is not to be underestimated; though it is easily deflected by reasonable armor, the volume of fire it commands is equal to that of the much more complex-to-manufacture Kalash.

Roll ‘Em Rifle

A single-shot rifle, the Roll ‘Em is incredibly strong and simple and thus an ideal candidate for long-range sniping. Marauders typically carry one in each squad, equipped with a telescopic sight if one is available, given to the most keen-eyed of the group if not. It can handle both black powder and smokeless rounds without modification, making it prized among distance shooters. the ease of manufacture is such that they are available in many calibers, typically .45-70, .308, or 7.62mm. The only drawback is that the rifles must be loaded and fired one round at a time, making them useless in close combat; pistol versions do exist and are typically used as holdout guns by Marauder officers.

It is said to be the most ancient arm available, as old to the World Before as the World Before is to us. As it was native to this land, examples are occasionally found in their original calibers and have successfully been restored to working order.

Kicker Mortar

The Kicker is a simple short-range mortar issued to Marauder squads. It takes the place of a heavy machine gun in many other groups, serving as suppressive fire while Marauders armed with machine rifles flank the position. Incredibly portable and very simple, it is little more than a tube with a series of adjustment screws, a curved buttplate to dig into the earth, and a bubble level taken from a construction tool for aiming. By far the most complex part of the Kicker is its ammunition, which is usually made from metal pipes with primitive plunger fuses and high explosives.

It is said that the Kicker was used by another island resisting invasion, and gained respect in the World Before even from its adversaries for its portability and simplicity. Despite its name, the Kicker should not be fired from the knee, leg, or shin.

Screamer Rockets

Mounted on trucks or horse-drawn carriages, the Screamer uses an extremely simple rail system to launch multiple unguided rockets at a target. Its aim is not precise, nor are the rockets sophisticated; it is the saturation effect, and the terrifying whistles attached to many of the rounds, that result in its effectiveness. It is the most common Marauder artillery piece, and devastating against unarmored or lightly armored targets.

A very resourceful people in the World Before are said to have invented the Screamer Rockets. Valuing simplicity, ruggedness, and ruthlessness over all else, it is said they used Screamers to defeat an equally ruthless people whose technology was more florid and ornate at the expense of being delicate and complex.

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Sect #1338: The Metamorphosis Society (“Morphies”)
Classification: Class III (transcendent, death-worshipping)
Adherents: 2000-5000
Leader: Decker K. Leyen (“The Conduit,” “Neotone”)

Founded as part of the wave of sects that arose in the first decade after transhumanism became mainstream, the Morphies believe that humans are, in fact, the larval stage of another creature entirely. As such, they hold that death (“the Chrysalis”) is the ultimate achievement, and that all humans should strive for “metamorphosis” along the lines of a butterfly or a frog.

Naturally, if this were their only belief the sect would be little different than the suicide cults which periodically arise and snuff themselves out. However, the “Morphies” hold that only those that have gained enlightenment may “spin the Chrysalis” and that all others who died are simply reincarnated as “larvae” (their term for all non-sect members).

This makes them incredibly dangerous as they view death before enlightenment as undesirable but little more than a setback. As such, they will not hesitate to lay down their lives, or the lives of others, in pursuit of their goals. Perhaps most chillingly, their leader, known as “Neotone” or “The Conduit,” reserves for himself to determine when sect members are ready for “adulthood.”

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It wasn’t that I hated my job. Quite the contrary; bartended kept me on my toes and allowed me an outlet for meeting people without any strings attached. Making drinks is like an instant liaison, almost as imtimate but just as fleeting. Hell, in both cases one person winds up on the floor half the time.

But as time went on, even as the money I was making was going up alongside the tips, I found myself less satisifed, less fulfilled. It’s hard to quantify. People would say to me, “Hey, Chris, you look like something’s eating you.” Or some variation thereof, in whatever lingo they thought would make them look hip.

I suppose the biggest indicator of what was going on was how well I was doing my job. Not that I was doing it badly; you can’t mix bad drinks and be employed at a place like O’Toole’s for very long. No, I just noticed that I seemed to be spending less time on each mix, not taking as much care with the ingredients. Slipping away while technically still on the clock when we were overstaffed or dead behind the counter, too. Who does that if they are truly, madly, deeply satisfied with their job?

It was sort of like a toxic codependency, I suppose. My job was my identity, and they were hard enough to come by in that economy. I hated it but I needed it. It hated me but it needed me.

Some days I wanted to quit, but then I thought about all the people flipping burgers for a living and thought better of it. So the closes I got was putting my tips into new tattoos, gradually filling out a sleeve on each arm a few hundred bucks at a time.

The dress code forbids sleeve tattoos, but not tattoos in general. So I guess getting ink meant, to me, edging toward a point where I could technically be fired. Even though I’d be more likely to get asked to wear long sleeves, it was something. My only futile act of rebellion against my life and the rut it was in, I suppose.

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