Dream zombies

Okay, picture this:

Brain-eating zombies. But brain-eating zombies that only eat the brains of people who are asleep. Because zombies can’t dream. They have to get dreams from other people.

So, to protect themselves, people stop sleeping. But after a while, with no sleep, after an extended period without dreams, people become zombies themselves, and it’s only then that they begin to realize that the people zombies eat just die, they don’t become zombies themselves.

So they can either sleep, and dream, and die, or stay awake and become the horrors that prey on them.

(Brought to you by exhaustion and me shambling around work feeling half alive this week. :p)

It would appear David Bowie has left us. Presumably to return to the courts of his fae brethren. Hail the returning Oberon! #RIP

Hello world!

I’m pretty tickled that I was able to nab the tabards.in domain. Mostly for nostalgic reasons. Back in the early days of really building my own site (as a young adult — I’ve been teaching myself since I was around 14), tabard’s.in! was what I called it. Not for any particular reason, really. I was just young enough to think it looked cute. And, while I’ve come to think it’s amusing that people read “tabardsin” as “tabard sin”, this is how it was always meant to be, and now it’s all mine for at least 10 years (it was ridiculously cheap, so I figured why not). The play on words lives on!

The plan is to actually put it to some kind of regular use in 2016, since I spent a chunk of my Christmas money on it.  So. Welcome.

An Ode to (the) BOB

Big Orange Book Exterior
The Big Orange Book in its current form. (Ignore the unvacuumed carpet, I say! It is unimportant!)


If you’ve ever gamed with me, you’ve likely been introduced to the Big Orange Book of Gaming Doom. It is the tome that tells the tale of my gaming history for pretty much my entire adult life, and even holds some remnants of my first forays into MERP in high school (I still have my original character sheet, Eric 🙂 ). When I’m tabletopping, it goes with me. Yes, the whole thing. Yes, every time. (Insert “A Pimp Named Slickback” pun here.)

In its original incarnation, it was a thick sketchbook with orange fabric on the outside cover, funny/memorable quotes from game sessions on the inside, notes and character doodles scribbled throughout, and loose character sheets and more notes sandwiched between its pages. It positively bristled with papers that stretched the binding to its limits and beyond, and a few years ago, I finally had to admit it was falling apart. But I couldn’t just get rid of it or replace it. There were too many good stories in there.

So I sliced off the spine, three-hole punched all the pages and it evolved into 2.5in binder with (surprise surprise) orange inserts for the covers and spine, and plenty of room for the handwritten pages, printed character sheets in sleeves, doodles, notes, reference sheets, and other gaming ephemera that had previously been scattered across multiple books/notebooks.

The Big Orange Book lives on! And this isn’t even its final form, since it’s so packed with stuff AGAIN that the spine is once more slowly splitting with use. Only the future will tell what it’s next evolution may be. Orange duct tape reinforcement? Bigger binder? No one knows!

But really, mostly I shared all this because, I’ve only today, like JUST A FEW SHORT HOURS AGO realized that I can legitimately refer to the Big Orange Book as BOB. And if you know me, you know that this? This makes me happiest of all. XD

Big Orange Book Interior
D&D notes on the left, the Vampire: the Masquerade character that kicked off the BOB on the right

Vignette: Jeep Hate Sidhe Music

A little bit of setup: This is a character — Jeep is her street name — for the tabletop roleplaying game Nightlife. At the beginning of our current game, she was sitting in a Kin-friendly bar drinking and listening to a Sidhe band play. Sidhe Bigwig enters and ends up singing along to an old-country dirge mourning all the things they’ve lost, which has quite an affect on most of the people in the room. Mostly this is me still trying to get a grasp on the character and her history, and wanting to get some internal stuff down that wouldn’t have/didn’t come out in actual role-play.

Damn the Sidhe.

Damn them, and damn their blasted song that brought faces from her past swinging violently to front and center. Brothers and sisters at arms, the ones lost to war, and the ones left behind to pick up the pieces after; enemies who shouldn’t have been enemies; enemies who should never have been allowed to stand as long as they did; wars fought for noble causes, and wars fought for no reason. The decades slid past her mind’s eye, slowing only as they reached the beginning of her second life. They lingered there on the precipice, terrifying and taunting, then spilled over into the years she’d shoved aside longer than any others.

She saw the gentle face of a man young enough that the weathering still barely showed, but old enough that the horror and grief he held back was betrayed only by the crease of his brow and the twitch of his clenching jaw. Three children stood close to him, the oldest with her face pressed into his hip, refusing to look at whatever he was seeing; the second oldest cradling the third, a wailing infant, staring defiant and stubbornly forward, ignoring the tears that wet her ruddy cheeks.

Next came the house, the one they’d built together; the farm they’d both worked until they ached and barely had the energy to make love; the family, all of them, his and hers both.

She shook herself out of the dark reverie and took a shaky swig from the beer in her hand, then swiped angrily at her wet cheeks. The tears came still. It was like she’d sprung a damned leak. She glanced at the rough man sitting at the bar next to her and realized with some surprise that he too was weeping. It almost made her laugh. Almost.

It made her angry too, to have those memories unlocked unasked. She crushed down the impulse to throw her beer at the Sidhe man singing along in the booth nearby, the pretty one who’d drawn all eyes when he’d entered the room. The Wolf snarled inside her chest, and she knew that, for the first time in a long, long while, it would not allow itself to be sung into silence. Not for much longer anyway.

Conversation down the bar drew her attention away from her emotional wound-licking. Nasty creature afoot? Someone may need “taking care of”? She didn’t know these life-drinkers from Adam, but when they asked who wanted to come along, she threw her hat in. Better to cut the Wolf loose somewhere useful than have it run rampant somewhere she’d feel guilty about later.

No telling exactly how long I have so I’ll be quick

If you’re reading this, it might already be too late for you, but I have to try. I can’t risk the time to share my theory on what the hell is going on, so you’ll just have to trust me. Whoever you are, wherever you are, as soon as you finish reading this, drop all your gadgets and run. Technology is no longer your friend, and you are already surrounded. Anything that has a network connection of any kind is a threat. Everything that gets a signal receives and transmits the virus. Everything.


And if you tuned in for the most recent Apple announcement, SO ARE YOU. From what I can tell, that audience took the alpha strike from the first wave vectors.

If you can find one of those places in the middle of nowhere that has no internet or cable or anything, go there as fast as you can. Your car should be okay unless you’re unlucky enough to be lowjacked, or to have one of those satellite uplink things that can disable the engine. And for the love of god, don’t be an idiot and turn on the radio.

I think all of us in the big cities are screwed. It’s too technology-dense and there are too many people. You could almost watch the progression of the virus down a crowded sidewalk if you were crazy enough to stick around for it.

I’m not that crazy. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get out, but the zombie box is not getting me without a fight. Screw you, new robot overlords.

Welcome to the new dark ages, space cadet. Stay safe out there.

Livestream Story: All Sales Are Final* Part 2

This is the second part of a three-part short story, inspired by the folks chatting during one of MCA Hogarth‘s livestreams a little while back. If you missed Part 1, read it here before jumping into this bit.

Mr. Fickle’s Pawn and Shoppe the sign hung above the door read in gilt letters beneath one of the eponymous chess pieces carved in relief and painted black. Ted looked down at the card in his hand for the millionth time, then back down the alley toward the street he’d come from. Another bubble of uncertainty welled up from his stomach. He could still go back to his wife and pretend the previous evening’s strangeness hadn’t happened. He had wondered if perhaps the woman was just some nutcase — but the place actually existed! It was more than he had expected after an hour and a half of getting so turned around by well-meaning strangers that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to find his way back to his car, much less the hospital.

He gritted his teeth and pushed the door open. A bell chimed, cheerful but unheeded as Ted gaped at the sheer immensity of the place. On a second floor, open to the ground level, indistinct figures moved in the shadows of row upon row of bookcases like library stacks, and along a catwalk at the room’s perimeter overhead. A stairway curved up one wall to a third floor, hidden from sight. The room in front of him stretched back into dimly lit rows of shelves and display cases with signs denoting such strange things as “Yesterday,” “Today,” and “Tomorrow,” or “Beastly Components,” or “For Warding.”

“Welcome, sir!” A tall, impossibly thin man approached him, arms open in greeting. “I’m Bristlewine, at yuir service.” He paused watching while Ted stared, then leaned forward and said in a low voice, “I’d wager yuir a first time customer, if ye’ll pardon my sayin’.”

“Uh… yeah. A woman at the hospital gave me your card.” He held it out to the man, eyes transfixed by the excited wiggling of the strange man’s ears, long and pointed, jutting up and back out of lank white hair. Bristlewine took it, barely sparing a glance for the front, and flipped it over to see the name “Elzebub” that had been written there in neat curling script, accompanied by “Woman, mated” and the date his wife had entered her current state.

“Ah, I see,” he said, frowning, and handed the card back. “And she told ye that ye’d find this woman’s soul here, did she?” He leveled his storm-cloud gaze at Ted who, unsure how to respond, simply nodded. “Follow me, then.” He turned on his heel and headed back into the store proper, moving briskly through rows of boxes and bottles, crystals, bits of stone, sticks, and all other manner of apparent detritus and other odd objects. Questions tugged at Ted’s tongue, but he bit them back, preferring to have this weird business done quickly. All the way across the vast expanse of that lowest floor they hurried, to the farthest corner, occupied by an enormous floor-to-ceiling glass display case, lit carefully from above by small bright spotlights.

It was filled near to bursting with jars of all sizes and shapes, some of clear glass, some smoky or brown, and for all the world, empty to a one. Each bore around its neck a bit of twine with a tag, probably the cost, Ted thought, until he leaned in to see what outrageous price an empty jar might fetch in such a place. Instead, he was surprised to find they bore hand-written notations of species and gender — “Dog, neutered male” in the case of the first he read, a small wavy-surfaced piece that looked like it may have been made by hand. He quickly scanned the others, moving around within the corner to examine different groups of jars while the shop attendant waited patiently, apparently familiar with this dance.

Ted found that they were separated by type of creature, and noted with absent humor that there were about a third as many cats as dogs, but too there were a small herd’s worth of horses, several types of primates, only a couple bears, and–

“Human, male.”

She won’t wake up until her soul is returned to her body.

He staggered backward, and immediately Bristlewine was at his elbow, steadying Ted by his presence alone, as he made no attempt to actually touch him. “There y’ are, sir,” he said gently. “I believe those’d be the ones fer which ye came. If she’s truly yuir own true mate, ye’ll know the one ye want when ye find it.”

“This is some kind of joke right?” he asked incredulously, the patience borne of desperation finally beginning to crack. “How much money do you and that woman make off of grieving people? Selling empty jars, saying they have souls in them?”

“Oh, these containers aren’t empty. Take a closer look at those there.” He pointed at the group with the “human” labels.

Ted was sure he’d had just about enough of this place, but felt compelled to turn back to the case, leaning in close to the glass to examine the jars. For the most part they did look empty, but in a handful of them, he was sure– There! Tiny, tiny sparks, like flecks of delicate glitter flashed and swirled for a moment and then were gone. If he watched long enough, they appeared again, but always just for a moment, and the longer he stared at one, the stranger he felt. He scanned the shelves, searching for some unknown sign, when suddenly sparks flared in one of them, bright gold behind pale green glass, and he heard Catherine’s voice.

Or more a whisper of it, really, like in a dream where you can tell from someone’s voice who they are, but can’t understand what they’re saying. It was his wife, absolutely, for all that it sounded like she was speaking from a thousand miles away. The sparks seemed to hang still within the jar, lasting longer than the others he had seen, and when they finally faded, the sound died away. He lurched suddenly into the glass case, making a pained noise as he scrabbled to reach it.

“Ah! That one then!” Bristlewine sounded surprised. The man’s voice brought Ted back to himself enough to regain some semblance of control, though he had never in his life wanted so badly to hold an object in his hands. His palms near burned with the need to have the jar, to take it away from this strange, strange place.

“What do you want for it?” He pulled out his wallet, not caring how insane it was, ready to pay any amount the strange elf-eared man wanted. But the attendant simply held up a hand to stop him.

“That plastic card won’t buy ye th’ smallest twig in this shop, sir.”

“I’ll go to the bank then, and get cash. Here, take my keys as collateral. I want to place a hold on that jar.” He thrust the car keys at the man, but found himself once again refused.

“Let me try t’ explain, sir. This’s a very particular kind o’ place, and we cater t’ very particular sorts o’ patrons. We dinnae trade in money.”

“Then what the hell do you trade in? I’ll give you whatever you want!” Ted’s voice was rising frantically.

“Any o’ those others, might go fer a song, but that one in particular is quite potent. One o’ the most vibrant I’ve seen in quite a while. It’ll come at dear cost to its buyer. Be sure yuir willin’ t’ give what’s asked.”

“Take everything I have if you want. I’m not leaving here without it.” Ted met the man’s piercing gray gaze and for the first time in weeks felt completely certain of his path. They stood there a moment, then the man nodded, seemingly satisfied, and fished a ring of keys from his pocket.

A short time later, they stood at the counter. Bristlewine had placed the jar in front of Ted, who compulsively wrapped his hands protectively around it. He was startled to find himself at once surrounded by the whirling sound of Catherine’s excited whispers, and also effectively immobilized by feet grown ponderously heavy. He tried experimentally to lift one of them, and it came slowly away from the floor as if moving through molasses, and Ted suspected that if he were not loathe to release the jar he would be free again.

The other man had donned a pair of thick-glassed spectacles, with several small colored lenses attached at the corners, through which he squinted at a piece of what Ted could only guess was parchment. He was drawing the paperwork up by hand, with stylus dipped in ink. After a few minutes, he returned the pen to its stand and looked up at Ted.

“D’ ye know yuir True Name, sir?”

“Theodore Percival Spires,” he said, stumbling only a little over the frilly name he had always disliked. The man flipped two yellow lenses down over his spectacles, leaning his head back a little so he could examine Ted through them.

“Not yuir given name. Yuir True Name.” He stared unblinking through the specs.

“Uh…that is my name.” Bristlewine shook his head and picked up his pen again to make a notation on the document, then set it carefully out of the way and pushed his glasses up on his nose. He flipped a pair of dark purple lenses down over them and stared at Ted without comment. Ted stared back for a few moments, then began to fidget nervously under the strange man’s gaze. Before he could ask how long the paperwork was going to take, the attendant made a noise of pleased surprise and removed the glasses.

“Well, Theodore Percival Spires, you don’t have much that’s of use t’me, but I believe ye do possess a small thing I’d be willing t’ take in trade. I’ll give ye that soul jar and its contents in exchange for th’ Potential of yuir True Name.”

“I don’t know what that means, but if it means I’m not leaving empty-handed, it’s yours,” he said, unwavering.

The white-haired man’s brow creased and he pursed his lips. “If ye should discover yuir True Name, it’s mine t’ do with as I see fit.”

“Sure, fine, it’s all yours. Where do I sign?” Ted asked, growing more impatient with each passing moment.

Rather than answering, the man held up the paper he had been writing on and showed it to Ted. The writing was in a language he didn’t know, the letters spidery and angular.
“Speak yuir given name fer th’ record.” Ted did so, feeling somewhat silly speaking at a piece of paper, but was amazed to see a gold light etch a signature in his own handwriting at the bottom of the sheet. The man turned it back around to look at it and nodded, then spoke to it himself in a clear voice. “I, Bristlewine Harew Fickle, do accept and sign this contract of trade to be fullfilled at an unspecified future date.”

“That’s it?” Ted asked, feeling his feet suddenly released from whatever force had been holding them.

“Th’ purchase is complete. I’ll need yuir stamp to validate th’ transfer of ownership on the soul.” Fickle turned to a cabinet behind the counter, still speaking. “In blood, o’ course. Technicalities, ye know. Then she’s all y–” He turned with a small rolled scroll in his hands to find the space at the counter empty and his customer gone. “Oh… That’s unfortunate.” He clucked his tongue. “Impatient mortals.”

He shook his head and locked the scroll safely away again.

Livestream Story: All Sales Are Final*

MCA Hogarth does these great art livestream things every so often. It so happened that a couple sessions ago the chatter in the accompanying chat room made my brain esplode with the inspirations, and over the next few days, I ended up writing about ~3500 words of a short story. Unfortunately, I got all the way to the last scene and have since been stumped by the ending. But I said I'd share with everyone so they could see the monster they'd created (did I mention that this story had spawned an entire setting of its own in my head within a day of my starting to write it? >.>).

So I figured I’d post it in parts since the story is kind of laid out in three scenes anyway, and possibly get some feedback that will help me figure out how to put this thing to bed (because I haven’t finished anything in a long long time, and I’m kind of excited about the prospect –-). I’m open to thoughts and speculation on the story itself, as well as constructive criticism and grammar/spelling correction. Seriously. I haven’t shared a lot of my writing in recent years, and I’m very out of practice. –

Anyhow, without further ado, Part 1 of “All Sales Are Final*”!

“She won’t wake up until her soul is returned to her body.”

Ted Spires stared at the only vaguely familiar nurse. She had swept into the room a few minutes earlier, the almost imperceptible scent of ozone wafting after. She wore neatly pressed scrubs, and went about the business of checking his wife’s vitals and the level of fluids she was getting.

“Wh…what?” he asked dumbly, shocked by the utter strangeness of the non sequitur. Up until that moment, he had been sitting by the bed, head in his hands, ignoring everything else in his misery.

Six weeks. Six weeks since the disease wracking Catherine’s body had completely disappeared. Six weeks since she had fallen irretrievably into something that hovered between a coma and a vegetative state, her body responding to stimuli, but her brain showing no signs of anything but baseline activity. Every doctor he had spoken to since had been completely baffled by the miracle-mystery. Compared to her previous medical records, her body was healthy, pristine even, and her brain was undamaged. But so far, nothing had any affect on her condition.

The nurse plucked at the pillow, at the sheets and blanket, straightening them though they didn’t need it. “Her soul. It needs to be rejoined with her body, or she’ll stay this way for the rest of her life. She’s fallen for the oldest trick in the book, and a gotten caught in a particularly nasty loophole, I’m sorry to say.”

Ted simply gaped at her, unable to produce a response that was adequately insane. Was the nurse some sort of religious nut, or just your standard run-of-the-mill crazy?

She paid his expression no mind and continued talking absently while she completed her duties. “We try to protect the patients, but we’re not supposed to interfere directly, and frankly, we’re short-handed these days.” Her eyes drifted momentarily back to Catherine, brow creasing in anger as she spoke more to herself than to Ted. “But we should’ve caught this one. The fool probably doesn’t even known what he got his hands on.” She shook herself from her thoughts and approached him, pulling a business card from her pocket along with a pen she used to write something on its back.

“I don’t know where the one who did this is now, but his kind have no scruples.” She held the card out to him and he took it without looking at it. “That’s where he usually hocks his wares. If he’s stayed true to form, you’ll find what was taken from your wife there.” She peered down at him for a few long moments, as if her gaze might pierce through his eyes and into his skull, then blinked before turning and heading toward the door, speaking as she went. “You’ll know what you’re looking for when you find it. Just…don’t go signing any contracts without reading the fine print first. That’s how she got in this bind in the first place.”

And then she was gone. Ted could have sworn he heard a sound like wings beating just before the door closed. The click of the doorknob brought him back to himself and he flew to the door and threw it open. The hall was quiet and there was no one in sight except the night orderly at the desk a short distance away.

“Everything okay, Mr. Spires? Do you need something?” the young man asked quietly. Ted approached the desk and asked if he had seen the nurse that just left his wife’s room. The orderly gave him a strange look and told him the duty nurse wasn’t due around for another hour. “Maybe you should try and get some sleep, sir. I can bring you some extra pillows or blankets if you like.”

“No… Uh, thanks, Ben.” He rubbed his face, thinking the orderly might be right. “Sorry for bothering you.”

He returned to the room, and just when he began thinking he might have hallucinated the entire thing, he saw the card on the floor where he had dropped it.

Co2K: The Battle

According to the journals of Darmari the Nomad, as he heard it from the mouth of Moq-Anhata himself, when Anhata finally engaged the foreign warrior, the field cleared around them, and stilled for three days as the two armies watched in awe at the fury of their battle. War stories passed through the generations invariably say that the clashing of their weapons — Anhata’s morlan and the foreign warrior’s sword — rang out like cracks of thunder, and attracted the attention of the god of storms so that on the third day, a torrent of rain washed the bloodied plain.

Moq-Anhata recounted the match to Darmari at a conclave feast one night: “Never before had I faced a man who used such a style of fighting. He darted and wove through the thrusts, and sweeps, and blows of my spear, so that it was as if we danced rather than warred. He used speed and cunning where a plains rider would wield the power of his arm and the strength of his back. It was not until the rains on the third day that I realized why it was that the foreigner did not fight like any man I had known. I saw it when the downpour forced the warrior to remove his helmet, after it had washed away the mask of clay paint from his face. It was no man, but a woman with whom I had fought for three days!”

The first bit of actual story I’ve written out (as opposed to notes) from a novel idea, titled “Chronicle of Two Kings”, that was a candidate for this year’s NaNoWriMo. It’s intended to be fantasy — complete with magic and fantastical beasts — written in the style of a non-fiction book, and was inspired by my first read through of Jack Weatherford’s incredible Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.

I’m mentally poking at another, related excerpt that falls a decade or so before this one. You may see bits and pieces of this project here and there, but I have a feeling I’m going to have a difficult time writing this one, if for no other reason than that I’ve never written any non-fiction before, and don’t really read much of it, and so am not familiar with the style and methods. It’s going to take some getting used to, and will probably take lots of practice/research/effort to get it right. I really like the titular characters as they currently exist in my head though, so I’m looking forward to seeing where their story leads. 🙂

Information Sickness, Oct 27-Nov 17

This is the first aggregated update of my 365 Sentences project “Information sickness”, wherein I write a story over the course of a year, one sentence a day. Following this entry, collected updates will be posted weekly (or as close to weekly as I can manager or remember to do). This update covers the days of October 27 to November 17, 2011.

In the city of New Chance the heat of the fading day sizzled unrelenting in the darkening streets, but in a tiny modular apartment near the edge of town, just on the bad side of the metro-slum boundary, a man lay supine on an old bead-filled futon, eyes shifting blindly in a REM-like flurry, fingers twitching spiderlike between moments of stillness, oblivious to both the heat outside and the ice-cold air conditioning for which he paid several hundred rubals a month. On the output side of his projected-image eyecaps, the world neural net rapid-fired data at him from several sources at once: an awful old-world porno a friend had sent for laughs ran mostly forgotten in the background, overlaid with incoming mail, forum messages, and IM’s, and a connection to a server box in a corporate building on the other side of the planet through which he currently paged in search of half a dozen items listed in a sidebar in his visual workspace.

A priority message appeared suddenly, blinking garish red across the center of the active window, and he spat a short string of annoyed invective at his current (and only) client, who was asking for the fourth time in three hours if he had the docs yet. “Priority Reply:” he said through clenched teeth into the silence of the room, “Still working, and four interruptions is roughly twelve extra minutes worth of your money at the contract rate, Banks.” He awaited a reply for a count of ten, and when none came, returned to the search, fingers flying again as he dug through the unfamiliar system.

For what this corporate no-name was paying him, he had expected the job to be considerably more…exciting than it had turned out to be, but so far he’d come up against no resistance from either the corpsys or any counter hackers. All seemed quiet on the home front. Of course, even a novice should know that’s the first sign that something’s not right — should being the operative word.

It may sound odd to suggest one can be blindsided by something as simple as cigarette smoke, but when you’re in the digital middle-of-nowhere, minding your own business (or someone else’s, as the case may be) and not expecting the hyper-real olfactory stimulation of virtual smoke in your face, it’s likely to do just that when it hits. And suddenly, without even the opportunity to activate a single security mechanism on his personal headspace, he was completely locked down with only sensory input to keep him company, effectively frozen and forced to watch while the new entity interposed itself between him and his workspace, thumbing lazily through the active items, and tossing them away, the data fizzling into corrupted bits as it leaves dextrous black, clawed fingers.

He had seen some fancy avatar work before, but most people didn’t bother with more than off the shelf uncanny valley-triggering humanoids or anime characters (mundanes), or annoying cartoons, porn screenshots, or suspiciously innocuous looking adorable baby animals (hackers and other underbelly ilk). This branch-horned, snake-bodied creature that sat up on its haunches with its back to him? — that was detailed enough that his brain tripped a little over the impossibility of it; the minutely rendered scales; the individual hairs on its lion-maned head; the heavy, grooved claws it used as extensions of its already long digits. He couldn’t be sure he’d seen anything that looked so terrifyingly real and alive even in reality before.

The entity flipped one long ear back in his direction, giving the distinct impression, as it replied to his fears in an eerie, synthesized polyphonic voice, that with just the attention of that small appendage, the thoughts had been plucked from behind his internal firewall as easily as one might pick up an apple. “It has taken many years to perfect it to this degree. You should have seen it when I was just a wee newb, using static pictures of cheesy long statues and old paintings.” The sinuous black figure went silent again, and unnervingly still as it paused over the list of files he’d been attempting to retrieve. It spawned a safe window abruptly, bordered in swirling, eye-bleeding orange, and in moments had retrieved the files for which he’d been scouring the unfamiliar system and digging through security and permissions for the last three hours. The moment the icon for the final file hit the sandbox its border flashed in warning, red and orange alternating rapidly.

“So…any idea who your contractor is working for?” it continued finally, still in a conversational tone, though its heavy brow was creased when it turned its head to look over its shoulder at him with one huge, wild-looking black eye.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he snarled, finally able to speak, though in truth, he didn’t know anything about the contractor aside from his name, and that he was apparently very well funded. And since all communication thus far had taken place via text, even the short, balding, rotund corpse with the high-pitched, nasal voice was purely a construct of his imagination and his irritation at being pestered while he was working.