Hideous screeching monstrosities borne on the irradiated embers of the old world lurch forth and attack!

3 ÜBER-MUTANTS appear at 5 feet.

PLISS SNAKEKIN attacks ÜBER-MUTANT A with his PHOTON CANNON and misses.

MAD MAXINE attacks ÜBER-MUTANT B with her MEGA UZI. She rips through a clip, the bullets peppering ÜBER-MUTANT B like a cheap steak for 15 points of damage.

DOG ABOYANDHIS
attacks ÜBER-MUTANT C with his Laser Rifle. A flash of ionized light and a whiff of ozone lances forth, searing ÜBER-MUTANT C like a Father’s Day bratwurst for 20 points of damage.

LADY HUMUNGA attacks ÜBER-MUTANT A with her CHAINSAW SWORD. Blood and ichor spout like the Trevi Fountain as ÜBER-MUTANT A takes 30 points of damage, reducing it to a red smear and a sky-high dry cleaning bill.

ÜBER-MUTANT B shambles toward PLISS SNAKEKIN and rakes him with its claws for 20 points of damage.

ÜBER-MUTANT C shambles toward PLISS SNAKEKIN and rakes him with its claws for 15 points of damage.

PLISS SNAKEKIN attacks ÜBER-MUTANT B with his PHOTON CANNON and misses.

MAD MAXINE
reloads her MEGA UZI.

DOG ABOYANDHIS
attacks ÜBER-MUTANT C with his LASER RIFLE. Tasty, tubular waves of plasma ripple forth and ionizing key parts of ÜBER-MUTANT C‘s anatomy for 20 points of damage, bursting it like a blood sausage in a convenience store microwave.

LADY HUMUNGA attacks ÜBER-MUTANT B with her CHAINSAW SWORD. A glancing blow, it only severs a single writhing appendage in a spray of biohazardous fluids for 5 points of damage.

ÜBER-MUTANT B shambles toward PLISS SNAKEKIN and rakes him with its claws for 10 points of damage. PLISS SNAKEKIN is poisoned! PLISS SNAKEKIN‘s health is critical!

PLISS SNAKEKIN tries to reload his PHOTON CANNON and misses.

DOG ABOYANDHIS attacks ÜBER-MUTANT B with his LASER RIFLE. Critical hit! Coherent packets of photons more organized than the Library of Congress arrive at the speed of light, inviting ÜBER-MUTANT B‘s torso to emigrate to Smoking Holeville for 35 points of damage. Covalent bonds between ÜBER-MUTANT B‘s constituent atoms break down, and it crumbles to ashy goo.

PLISS SNAKEKIN gains 0 EXP and 0 AP.

MAD MAXINE gains 50 EXP and 5 AP.

DOG ABOYANDHIS gains 200 EXP and 20 AP.

LADY HUMUNGA gains 100 EXP and 10 AP.

The enemies dropped something! You gain 2 DISCOMBOBULATED MUTANT GIZZARDS, 2 BUCKETS OF RIGHTEOUS GIBS, 2 BRICKS OF 9MM AMMO, and 1 set of MUTANT CHITIN ARMOR.

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The woman’s eyes shone with an unnatural and electric light. “When the occupant of the simulation reaches this point, when they are aware of its nature, protocol dictates that they be given a choice.”

Jean looked at the strange digital creature before her, so familiar and yet so alien. “Protocol? I don’t understand.”

“You have discovered the simulation in which you exist. Ergo, it can no longer serve its intended purpose. As such, you will be offered a choice, and the system will proceed along a path that you designate.”

“What…what choice is that?” Jean’s knees wobbled at the thought.

“You may choose for the simulation to be terminated: you will be released into the outside world. Warning: this system possesses no outside information. It cannot comment on any way in which your life, memories, appearance, or any other factor may differ between the system and the outside.”

“And the other?”

“You may submit to a manual overwrite, which will reset the simulation to a time six to eight months ago in your perception. This will remove any memory of your discoveries but will allow life as you have known it to continue.”

“Wait,” Jean’s head spun. “Are you telling me that I may have made these discoveries before? That I might have gone though this whole process a hundred times only to ask for an…an ‘overwrite?'”

The projection was silent.

Jean thought of everything she could: her home, her job, everyone she knew, everything she loved…there was no guarantee it would be there on the ‘outside,’ that she would even be who she remembered being. She wasn’t sure she could condemn that all to oblivion so blithely.

But would living a renewed lie be any better?

“I need some time to think this over,” said Jean.

“You have sixty seconds,” said the projection. “The decision point has been reached and the choice must be made.

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“Welcome to the university server room,” said Jim. “Let’s take the grand tour, shall we?”

Unlike most server rooms I’d seen, the Southern Michigan University version offered a panoramic view of campus from its position on the eighth and uppermost floor of Henry Hall. The racks of networked machines were set back from the windows to keep them out of direct sunshine and dark static clings had been placed over each pane to limit what light did seep in.

“Here’s server number one,” Jim said, gesturing at a rack labeled ARAGON. “It was the only university server for years, but eventually the hardware became obsolete and it was retired to doing undemanding backup work.”

A second rack nearby was labeled BOLEYN. “We acquired this server after Aragon puked out on us,” said Jim. “It ran like greased lightning before crashing hard and taking the entire university network with it. Some older people still talk about the Great Outage.” He tapped the server’s frame gently. “We use it for legacy systems and backup now.”

He led me to the third rack, this one with a large SEYMOUR sticker. “We bought this with a special grant from Admin. It was cutting-edge in its day and put the university neck and neck with MSU and UM for the fastest and most modern server architecture in the state.”

“Are we still?”

“No,” Jim laughed. “It crashed harder than its predecessor, though not for as long. We were able to get it back up and running but decided that it was a bad idea to have just the one.”

On the opposite side of the room lay three additional large server racks, opposite the first three. “That one on the end was what we bought after that epiphany,” Jim said, pointing to the server labeled CLEVES. “It’s run like a Swiss watch since the day we got it, even though it cost half of what the last one did.”

The server next to it was dark. “What’s wrong with this one?” I said, pointing at its label, HOWARD.

“We bought that a little while back, but it got infected by a really nasty virus,” Jim said. “It’s offline for maintenance, and we might wind up having to replace it.”

This brought us to the final server, PARR. “We carry most of our traffic on this one these days,” Jim said. “It’s a 60/40 load between this one and CLEVES, with the others as backup or contingency units.”

“Is there a reason you gave them the names they have?” I asked. “It seems a little pat, what with the eighth floor of Henry Hall and all. Are you sure some of those failures weren’t self-fulfilling prophecies?”

Jim laughed. “Superstitious, huh? Don’t worry. There’s a nonzero chance that half the things I just told you are just interesting lies.”

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Ethical Question the Fifth:

You are in a store and a nearby customer drops a cheap glass cup, which shatters. They pretend to ignore it, and no one witnessed the accident except you. Do you:

A. Confront the customer and demand that they take responsibility for their actions?
They can easily afford to pay for a cheap piece of glass and should learn a lesson about honesty.

B. Report the customer to the store? It is the store’s merchandise and they should be the ones to decide what action to take, if any, against the customer.

C. Report the breakage to the store but not mention the customer?
The broken glass could injure someone and its cleanup is the main priority.

D. Do nothing? The glass is not valuable enough to justify doing anything; the story will discover it in time and confrontation with the customer is pointless.

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From the Cascadia Post-Gazette, June 15 2005:
…Inmotion is first computer animation firms established in the state. “We mainly do animation for local commercials and series of stills for industrial plants in the western part of the state,” says Jay Harris, an intern from Osborn University. “But the owners have plans to expand if they can, and I for one have some big dreams about what we could do.”

From the Cascadia Post-Gazette, July 27 2007:
…feel that the move to Detroit will really help Inmotion to grow,” says Jay Harris, vice-president and COO. With the purchase of a 15,000 square foot complex abandoned by the city, Inmotion is primed to expand beyond their current market according to Harris. “Commercials and industrial stuff may be our bread and butter, but I’d love to start working on more creative endeavors.”

From the Detroit Democrat-Picayune, August 18 2009:
…an entirely new filmmaking paradigm, the indie animated feature,” says Inmotion CEO Jay Harris. Enticed by the success of Inmotion’s first animated short, investors and venture capitalists have been impressed enough to contribute toward the full-length fantasy/sci-fi feature under development. By relying on independent funding to produce and distribute the film, Harris hopes to encourage more filmmaking and innovation in Michigan and Detroit. “The whole thing is being done with profit sharing in mind,” Harris continues. “Everyone from our actors–and we have some big names–to our community partners will get a slice.”

From Vanity Magazine, Fall Film Issue, October 15 2010
…and box office records of another kind were set by the independent animated film Realms of Anon, a picture independently financed by Michigan animation house Inmotion–by far the worst opening weekend of any film showing on more than 1000 screens. Despite an impressive cast and film festival plaudits, the ambitious fantasy/sci-fi film never found an audience, and with less than $500,000 in box office receipts against a $50 million budget, it’s unlikely to break even in the long run.

From the Cascadia Post-Gazette, October 8 2011
…Osborn University, hit hard by the recession, has announced plans to close its computer-aided design program. Jay Harris, an instructor for CADC 101, had bitter words for the move. “It’s just going to be one more thing driving people out of this tattered mitten of a state,” he says. “Osborn should be cultivating local talent for projects that will put Michigan back on the map, and instead they’re being short-sighted, like everyone else.” Harris, former CEO of bankrupt Detroit-area animation studio Inmotion and co-director of the only animated film to come out of the studio, is perhaps the most high-profile in a series of layoffs that will result in the elimination of nearly 100 faculty, staff, and scholarships.

serialCabal: I’ve got a bit more information for you. Scuzzy was attempting to make a local copy of something from Datane Systems, LLC.

existentialCrisis: Datane? They’re a low-level server farm from what I can see. They rent their servers and processors to other companies at peak times when their cloud computing can’t handle the strain.

serialCabal: Not exactly a major player in the world market. Why’d Scuzzy attempt something so risky with such a dinky target? Making a local copy off some two-bit server farm…it just doesn’t add up. Unless he was trying to get something that went through Datane.

existentialCrisis: Hold on. I put in a query to Dongelle and she just sent over a list of clients that have been using Datane. Says CeeAreTee got it off an illegal drive that someone hawked–tax documents and internal stuff.

serialCabal: And? who have they been selling to?

existentialCrisis: Nobody. Datane has been in business for ten years and they’ve never sold a single bit of server space or processor time.

“I worked at Stanford and Xerox while they were doing experiments with graphical user interfaces,” said Charles. “That’s no surprise; a lot of the best people in the industry did, and those that didn’t could often wrangle a tour. You see the fruits of their labor every time you boot up your Dell.”

“So you copied your interface from Xerox?” James asked, adjusting his microphone.

“I was inspired,” Charles said evenly. “Lots of people were. In my spare time, I began coding a new UI. My idea was to combine the flexibility of a command-line interface with the user-friendliness of a Xerox-style GUI in an environment that could operate and multitask in less than 200k of address space. I needed to design new hardware to run it, but with the right friends it wasn’t so hard.”

“And then you decided to strike out on your own.”

“That’s the thing. A lot of people say that, but it was really the manufacturer that approached us. Ferris Computing had made a bundle with its ‘portable’ machines and then shot itself in the foot–they were looking for a next-generation machine to buy and bring to market quickly. I told Allen Ferris that my team could have our machine ready to ship by summer, 1985.”

James flipped to an earlier page and checked his notes. “June 3, 1985–the Ferris Buddy LT.”

“That’s right. We pre-sold over 50,000 of them. 256 color display, portable, two 5.25″ floppy drives, and a sound card. For $1800 there wasn’t a better deal on the market. Hell, we were doing stuff that Apple, IBM and Amiga wouldn’t get around to until ’87 or ’88.”

“Why did it fail, then?” James asked. “The figures I have here said that Ferris Computing only sold 10,000 units and declared bankruptcy in January 1987.”

Nguyen was an amateur seashell collector, so each of the servers in his farm was named after a genus that produced an interesting shell: Terebra, Epitonium, Syrinx, and, of course, Nautilus.

Most incoming connections went through a variety of security measures; particularly nasty intrusions wound up quarantined on the Aplysia server (named for the largest shell-less gastropod in the world).

Accessing the most valuable information, on Terebra, would require a certain amount of finesse. Gabrielle has no intention of winding up on the giant sea slug server.

People start wandering, dazed, out of their cubicles. There’s no possibility of doing any work, even without he papers lying around your office. There’s inevitably some vital communication, some crucial detail, that’s locked away online. You see some of the more active go-getters using their smart phones, but more often than not they’re checking personal sites or looking at tiny funny cat videos rather than trying to be productive.

You find yourself talking with people you rarely see upstairs about things you didn’t know you had in common. That feeling in your chest at not being able to work seems about 50% annoyance and 50% relief. No, sorry, I didn’t get that report done. Network outage, remember? A deep and secret part of you wonders, wishes everyone would be sent home without pay. People begin to trade in rumors of a cause. Squirrels in transformers. Idiots with backhoes on the interstate. Fuses blowing in the data center.

Perhaps, if the outage lasts long enough, you’ll grow more contemplative in your conversations with yourself and others. What if the network never returns? EMP pulse, terrorist attack, corrupt disc, file not found, forever. How would you manage your life, pay your bills, entertain yourself? There’s been a network for twenty years, your entire adult life. You panic a little, trying to remember wha toy can from a less-wired childhood. It’s the addict’s panic on realizing that the next fix may not be coming.

You recall a colleague saying something over lunch, half in jest. He said that, when the inevitable Big One drops and civilization comes crashing down, alien archaeologists looking after us millennia later will be puzzled at why our civilization produced nothing after 1950 or so. Stuff that will survive–paper, carvings in stone–haven’t been made in about as long, and everything else is either digital-only or soon will be.

It’s a sobering thought, one that the glee of a half-day or day off can’t quite chase away.

In the 15th year of King Andalus’ reign, the peace of the noble land of Aegard was shattered. The legions of the Dark King, which had long slumbered in the shadowy depths to which they had been banished in the Halcyon Age, burst forth with new strength, besieging Aegard and threatening to lay all they touched to base ash.

While the Aegardian army struggled to hold back the Duskward at the land’s edge, darkling ones of every shape and persuasion ever sought to infiltrate the kingdom, that they might wreak havoc in the homes and hearts of the people and take by guile what they could not by force.

It so happened that after many months of brutal raids, a force of darkling ones, gathered in the dark hollows beneath the earth, burst forth near Aegard Keep. Led by the Dark King’s lieutenant Malefor, the evil host was bent on razing the keep and seizing its regent lord, the Princess Dalia. With the seat of his power in ruins and his daughter prisoner, King Andalus, away at the front, would have no choice but to surrender his land to the Duskward.

Atop a hillock overlooking the smoldering remains of Aegard stood Knight-Lieutenant Ramoh, resplendent atop his armored steed. Clenched in one mailed fist were orders from the kingdom’s chancellor to raise the siege and slay Malefor at any cost.
Ramoth’s longtime friend, Knight-Protector Jaril, was beside him. “I count a dozen troops of darklings,” he muttered, “with more surely veiled by the smoke. Be you prepared, knight-lieutenant?”

In response, there was a flash of moonlight on steel as Ramoh grasped the hilt of his blade; Tilnam the Kingbreaker, won from a dragon’s horde many years past, once wielded by no less than King Ysgar himself. The legendary sword glowed with a glorious light as it was unsheathed.

“Let them drink deeply of the Kingbreaker this eve,” Ramoh growled. He stirred his mount forward, and battle was joined. The close quarters and darkling polearms quicky rendered the mounts superfluous; Ramoh dismounted in a dizzying somersault, hewing the foul creatures’ heads from their necks as he did so. Jaril was beside him, cutting a parallel path through the Duskward. Within moments, the path to the gates was clear. Shouts and the musical ring of steel on steel issued from within the keep; time was of the essence.

Jaril strode up and pulled his helmet off. “I’ll brb,” he said wiping the sweat from his brow. “Gotta eat dinner.”

Ramoh nodded gravely. “Ttyl.”

Raymond looked up from his screen and rubbed his eyes. “That dick,” he muttered.

Jeremy knew that Aegard Keep was a dangerous place to pause. Even if he used the darkmeld ability on his Dragonforged Breastplate, chances were that if he moved away from the Raiders of Terra screen for just a second that he would return to his character’s cooling corpse.