I bought my first Vampire: The Masquerade gaming book in 1999 when I found a worn copy the Revised rule book in a used book store in Granada Hills, CA.

I was already familiar with the World of Darkness, having read several of the novels published before then. So when I had the chance to buy the rule book for $15, rather than try to convince my parents to let me buy it new for $50, I jumped. I’d been playing D&D for a few years before this, and had even ventured onto the old White Wolf RP chatrooms, but getting the rule book is where the addiction really started.

I ran tabletop games for my friends, played in the ones they ran; mostly Vampire and Werewolf. I continued this, almost weekly, until a friend invited me to come check out a massive Live Action game being held down in San Diego. With over a hundred players and multiple game sites, the old San Diego game opened my eyes as to what was possible. It opened a whole new world of gaming opportunities for me.

In 2002 I joined a small Live Action game hosted at UCLA, the following year I joined my first One World by Night chronicle (a world wide World of Darkness gaming organization) and the rest, as they say, is history.

I met some of my best and truest friends through playing in the World of Darkness, through the ‘gothic horror’ that never really got to ‘gothic’ and never quite made it to ‘horror’. I met the amazing woman who later became my wife through the very same group. Every weekend I had one or more games I could attend, and even travel to other cities and states to play in their own chronicles. The world was made wide and dark and wonderful for me.

However, now in the twilight of 2015, I find myself taxed by it.

I’ve been playing this game, almost weekly, for 13 years now. I’ve been Camarilla, Sabbat, Anarch and Independent. I’ve played every Clan and Tribe and Guild and Seeming and Kith and Chorus. I’ve been Vampires, Werewolves, Wraiths and Demons and Changelings and Mages, Hunters, Kuei-jin, Hengeyokai and even a bloody Technocrat. I have walked in the shoes of every aspect of the World of Darkness, and even some of the New World…and it doesn’t hold any mystery for me anymore. The wonder is gone. The shadows have all been illuminated, there are no more dark corners to venture in to.

The World of Darkness isn’t dark for me anymore, it’s just poorly illuminated.

I walk into LARPs now, look around, and can pinpoint exactly what types of characters everyone is playing before I even meet them in-character. He’s playing the Bruiser Tank, she’s the politicking bureaucrat, he’s the socialite, that’s the meta-gamer, the bragging minmaxed twink, the anti-fun rules lawyer, and over there is the person whose only social interaction is through LARP. The same faces and characters, just painted and colored a little differently each time, over and over and over and over again.

Now, don’t misunderstand me, by no means is this my Dear John letter to the World of Darkness. The World of Darkness if probably my first, truest and more sincerely loved Gaming System and likely always will be. This is more my heartfelt conversation that maybe it’s time that we took a break and saw other people for awhile, or that I need some space because I’m feeling smothered.

That should be easy, right?

Nope.

Unfortunately, most of my local gaming community is still swept up in the apex of that passionate love affair that WoD can bring about, and who can blame them? She’s a dark and terrible mistress that sucks you in and holds you close. She’s comfortable, familiar, always there and everyones best friend…

But when the realization that you’ve been playing the same game so long that some of your fellow players were in Elementary school when you started, it really puts things in perspective.

A fellow member of the community recently put up a poll about ‘Which Game Should We Play Next’?
The choices were all World of Darkness, the same old assorted flavors.
“Can I vote for anything but WoD?” I asked.
“What vexes you about WoD?” he replied after I presented a small number of possible alternatives, to which I gave an honest and very brief summary of what I have detailed above.
I see your point, and cannot form anything but a token argument. I will say this though, as many people can attest, you will not receive “the same plot” from any game I run.”
Yes, dear friend, yes I will get the same plot. I’ll get the same characters and same faces and same out of character drama.

The fact of the matter is, that when there is only one ‘game’ in town, regardless of the flavor of that game, the community inevitably withers and dies, or becomes misanthropic and dysfunctional. Unfortunately, I’m already seeing signs of the latter which is, in same ways, worse than the former.

The simple truth is that a gaming community needs diversity in order to survive, it needs a multitude of genres and systems in order to allow people to branch out and grow and experience new things. Unfortunately, when trying to get a community to try and experiment with new systems, you might as well be trying to ask a junkie to go cold turkey. They’ll fight you, make excuses, say nasty shit and act like they know better. Ultimately, however, when you keep trying to make people understand the inevitable statement of, ‘Well, maybe you should just find a new group’ comes out.

‘Maybe you should just find a new group’, well ain’t that just a field-goal kick to the jimmy? If I wanted to ‘find a new group’ then why would I spend my breath trying to get them to try something new, let alone spend numerous weekends hanging out with the same group? If I wanted to game with another group, I’d simply tell the current one to fuck off or just stop communicating and attending events.

Gamers in general, and especially LARPers, are extremely creative people. They kit-bash together costuming and props out of nothing and they come up with truly dynamic and wonderful characters and settings, given the opportunity. So imagine what they could do when offered more than one paradigm to play in, more than one world to explore and enjoy?

Ultimately, maybe this is just one Elder Gamer’s burnt out rant. Maybe it’s just me venting.

But maybe, just maybe, there is something else out there, rather than being stuck in Darkness.

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Time is limited.

Posted: July 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

Yesterday, a friend of mine that I’ve known for roughly fifteen years passed away from complications with a long term heart condition.

He isn’t the first friend I’ve lost, but his death hit me particularly hard for reasons that I couldn’t pin down until my wife and I were laying in bed last night. We had both just settled into the quiet stage after our usual pillow talk when she rolls over and says, “You know, I just realized, if it wasn’t for Christian’s Anarch Game, we might have never gotten together.”

It’s a funny thing about gaming that most people don’t understand, but games bring people together. They form friendships and relationships that last life times, and I can’t tell you how many of my friends (married and not) begin their ‘How I Met My Better Half’ stories with, “So, I was attending this LARP/Table Top/Event Game…”, and have been with the same person ever since.

Between that statement, and the remnants of this cold I’ve been fighting keeping me up, I’ve had a lot of time to think about my wife’s statement.

I’ll leave out a lot of details here, but my wife and I had been friends through our local LARP circle, and it was ultimately when she joined our friends game that we became closer and began talking more regularly. It was that shared experience that brought us together. The wife and I have always said that it was the shared story of Anabel Bransford, the southern Brujah civil rights attorney, and Creeper, the -6 Appearance Nosferatu, that cemented our relationship. We joke that the romance between the two was us gauging each others interest in the other. But we never gave credit where credit was due; because without Christian Kenney, odds are our lives would be much different and far less rich, and they already are for him no longer sharing this world with us.

And now I can’t thank him for giving us what he did.

Before my wife’s light bulb bedtime revelation, we had a very different discussion.

She came home after a long day at work, sat down, and called me out on ‘not being happy’.
These discussions rarely go well, as they’re often intermixed with a dispute over something else, and as such to overall message usually got lost in furor of me trying to calm things down and solve the bigger problem that I saw, rather than the focused one she was seeing.

Fact of the matter is this: I’m a wonderful caregiver, but a terrible housekeeper.
I’m shit with personal time management, focus and drive to get things done around the house. Always have been. But I off-set that with being amazing at managing my wifes, my kids, and the families schedules, making sure they each have what they need each day and pushing them both to be better and to make the most of themselves.
A month ago, my wife had a moment where she realized she’d been looking at her job all wrong and, after reassessing her position and duties, has had a noticeable and marked change in happiness and productivity. She’s doing better at everything, she’s flat out happier.

During the talk, which was a little heated, there was a pause.
We hadn’t talked about Christian’s passing earlier that morning yet, and normally she only starts these talks when she is stressed over something. So, I took her hand, squeezed, kissed it and said, ‘I miss him too’.
“And that makes my point all the more pressing, Josh. We only have so much time. If the house was a mess but you were crafting, I wouldn’t care. If things were chaotic, but you were writing and finishing projects, this would be different. But you’re not. I married you because you’re intelligent and insanely creative, but you’re not creating anything. What do I have to do to make that happen? I work hard to give you the opportunity that not many other artists get: to stay home so you can CREATE.”

Queue tumblers clicking into place. Now I feel like the biggest ass on the planet.

Every other time she’s said stuff like this we’d be in the middle of a fight (note: ‘Fights’ for us are heated discussions by most other couples standards. Joshy don’t fight) so I’d glossed over it in favor of solving the immediate ‘Oh fuck, what do I do to bring this to a peaceful, amicable, conclusion?!’ But, in trying to solve the immediate, I’d never looked at the core of what she was saying: I was looking at my job all wrong.

My job isn’t playing housekeeper, it’s being the eccentric creative who also takes care of the family.

Now I need to think of what I need to be…frankly…what I never thought anyone really ever wanted me to be.

Christian, I don’t know if you’re reading this over my shoulder as I’m writing it, or if you have internet in the Next Big Thing, but thank you.

Thank you for bringing my wife and I together.

Thank you for all the laughs and good times.

Thank you for being such a good friend to so many people for so long.

Thank you for everything.

God speed.

And now your watch has ended, we will never see your like again.

Pathfinder!

Posted: October 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

So, over the past few weeks I’ve finally gotten my hands on the Pathfinder campaign setting and I have to say that, thus far, I’m a fan. So much so that on Friday I’m running my first Pathfinder game with a homebrewed world. Campaign blurb to follow.

On Akatavia, generations have looked up to the sky and seen the face of her celestial partner, Verin, dominating the night sky. With its lush green continents and sapphire blue oceans, it didn’t take much for one to believe the legends of bygone ages that once Elves, Dwarves, Gnomes and Orcs used to live on that heavenly partner before coming to Akatavia through the Way Gate on what the Elves call Tol Falas Minyar, or Island of the First Shore. Eons have passed since the Way Gate supposedly brought the last of the settlers from Verin, and since it has sat quiet, abandoned, and inactive.
Until now.
In the kingdom of Jol, the Union of Magi has found a way to once again bring the gate to life, and have begun sending settlers and explorers to Verin whom return with kings ransoms worth of mysterious ores, resources and tales of strange races and peoples. But this new found prosperity has increased tensions on the already strained relations with Jol’s rival, the Empire of Hoshrem, and whispers of the Empires armies and fleets are mustering to invade the Island of the First Shore  to allow them to assert their own claim on this new world.
Now, representative of the Royal Colonization Company are being sent through the Way Gate to insure that the crowns interests are protected on Verin as reports have begun returning of settlers disappearing and frontier towns being emptied and abandoned. Have Imperial agents made it through the Way Gate and begun attacking the crowns interests, or is there something else at work?

The campaign is going to be a mixture of the American Westward Expansion and classic D&D, and its the first tabletop I’ve run in several years, so I’m hoping everything goes well. Here’s to hoping!

I am, at this moment, in the most pain I have been in as far as my recent memory goes.

Two days ago, I woke up and my neck was sore. No big deal, our mattress is old and that kind of stuff happens all the time. So I didn’t think anything of it.

Yesterday, a bump appears on my neck in the same area that was sore the day before.
‘Oh, it looks like a spider or something bit me. Well, that explains why my neck was sore!’

But the soreness won’t go away, and in fact, it was getting worse.

Today I woke up and the pain was easily 150% more than it was the two previous days, the bump is now red as is the area around it.

Pain is now radiating around half my neck, down my left arm and into my chest and now I’m starting to think I’m in trouble.

My wife demands I go to urgent care.

Well, it turns out it’s not a spider bite, nor is it an allergic reaction, and just like an episode of House it’s sure not Lupus.

It’s fucking Shingles.

I want you to close your eyes for a moment and try to imagine what it would feel like to have someone performing the equivalent of a root canal with red hot barbed wire through your neck. That’s about how much pain I’m in WITH the Vicodin.

So, needless to say I’m not going to be of much use to anyone over the next week or more, so I’ll have lots of time to write…in theory.

Back In a The Saddle

Posted: September 10, 2014 in Uncategorized

Thats right folks, Josh is back in the game!

It has been a wild few months, but after a lot of discussion with the wife and her continued success at her job made us confident that I could resign from the delivery job that I had taken up to bring in some extra cash for the family.

Never mind the fact that I was working 6 days a week, upwards of 10 hours a day, and usually bringing in less than minimum wage every day after gas costs and car maintanance were taken into account, or the fact that my boss was an irrational abusive woman who’d driven out three other employees before I left.

Now I’m back to, what I have readily and delightfully rediscovered, is my preferred profession: a Stay-At-Home-Dad. I really enjoy being at home and taking care of my family, making sure they have everything they need. It also helps that it makes my wife infinitely happier to have me home, and a happy wife means a happy life to me.

Another great thing that this allows is for me to write more, and that means a lot to me. A project that I’m working on is to become a ‘published’ author, thanks to the wonders of E-Publishing. My goal is to get several shorts and collections up into Amazon and other outlets to get my work out there, and even make a little extra cash off the whole thing.

I’ll be resuming a fairly regular posting schedule from now on, so expect many more updates soon.

Thanks for sticking with me kids.

There was a sudden wash of sensation, a wave that traveled through the President’s body and made him shiver slightly as all the stress of the situation suddenly melted away. He wanted to panic, knowing full well that this wasn’t a natural feeling, but the ability to panic simply wasn’t there anymore. Everything was simple, cold, logical.
He turned to look at the other leaders at the table and saw similar reactions happening in the English Prime Minister, the Russian and French Presidents, even the Saudi could be seen arching his back awkwardly as doubtlessly that same chill that he’d just experienced crawled up his spine.
“Everyone stop,” the President said. “The food has been drugged.”
All eyes went to the plates in front of them, calm and cold, then to the American.
“I dare say, I think you’re right,” the Englishman said. “What is the meaning of this?”
As though on queue, the door opened and men in suits began to enter the room. At first, it was easy to mistake them for the American Secret Service, each wearing a black suit, sunglasses and an earpiece, but it was their apparent leader that gave them away.
The man who entered in the middle of the dozen bodies was diminutive, no more than four feet tall, clad in the same black suit as the others, accented with a black woolen overcoat and wide brimmed fidora that concealed his features. The briefcase in his hand seemed to be nearly half his size.
“What is meaning of this,” the Russian demanded, flatly and unable to muster his usual bravado.
The suited men retrieved a chair and a small folding table, setting them up in the middle of the delegation without a sound for the tiny man to sit and set his briefcase down.
“This,” the small man began in a voice that seemed to resonate all on its own. “This is an unfortunate necessity.”
The world leaders murmured quietly among themselves.
“Explain yourself sir,” the Englishman demanded.
The briefcase clicked open as the short man spoke, his hands pulling out manilla folders that were then distributed among the delegates by his larger counterparts.
“I represent an organization which, until August of 1974, was a clandestine but essential part of your governments. We are in charge of handling affairs outside the scope of your offices, but thanks to the actions of one drunken president showing off privileged intelligence to his actor friend, determined it best until now to remain behind the scenes.”
The short mans features had been obscured by his wide brimmed hat, but as he removed it the room went so silent you could hear a feather fall.
His eyes were almond shaped and too large for any human, strange bone ridges under the skin make his eyebrows jut out, his nose was so small it was scarcely even there at all.
“What are you,” asked the French President.
“A hybrid. Part human, part what you would call ‘gray alien’,” the hybrid said matter of factly.
The room chuckled weakly.
“This is nonsense, you expect us to believe that you’re some kind of alien hybrid working for a secret organization that exists outside of our governments,” the American said through his weak laughter.
The small hybrid did not share their amusement.
‘If I wasn’t, then how can you all hear me now?’ The words came without speech, every person in the room hearing the words even though his mouth never moved.
The laughter stopped.
“Why drug us,” the Russian asked.
“Because humans are irrational and violent,” the hybrid stated. “When confronted by something you don’t understand, one of your first reactions are either to combat it or flee from it. Fight or flight. I needed you all composed for this meeting.”
“And this meeting regards…” the Englishman probed.
“In July of 1947, a craft crashed on your planet. It was not the first time, but it was the first time there was a survivor. When his people came to collect him, they entered negotiations with various governments and created The Accord, a treaty between governments of Earth and those visitors. In exchange for advanced technologies, our guests would be allowed open access to the airspace over the member countries as well as the freedom to…borrow…members of the population for study and conduct various other experiments,” the hybrid said, his tone very plain and matter of fact about the entire affair.
“So, why the secrecy? Why were you only involved with us until 1974,” the American asked.
The hybrids unusually long fingers drummed on the table idly.
“Because Richard Nixon revealed secrets about us to his friend, Jackie Gleason. We couldn’t risk additional exposure, and so we simply stopped informing leaders that we existed,” the small man said, now looking a little weary. “Gentlemen, madam, I’m not here to give you a history lesson.”
The hybrids fingers steepled.
“Part of The Accord states that you are forbidden from firing on any visiting craft or autopsying any bodies discovered. Until a week ago, we had managed to insure that this clause was never breached. But somehow, our orders were…overruled…and a craft was fired upon, crashed, and it’s crew are now missing.”
His hands went to the briefcase once more, gingerly pulling out what could only be some type of alien firearm and set it on the table in front of him.
“My question, lady and gentlemen, is simple. Which one of you idiots just started an Interstellar War?”

I’ve been suffering a truly devastating creative drought since my last post, a case of writers block that just won’t quit.

I have lots of stuff I could write, projects I could work on, but the fuel for the fires just isn’t there.

I am frustrated beyond all description.

Tiny Things

Posted: May 26, 2014 in Creative Writing, Fiction

So, here we are. The edge of the galaxy; a bleak, dark, gods forsaken place where even the nearest star is light years away from us.

The edge of the galactic void.

There is beauty out in the void though, and for the first time in months I’ve allowed the shutters of the ship to open.

Light, from any source other than the weak greenish yellow glow of the corridor lamps, is a welcome respite.

The fact that the amber and purple light bathing our vessel is coming from the burning husk of a Kellexus warship is moot.

Burning plasma leaks from the beasts midsection, and from the intensity of the light, it must be from their version of a Void Drive. The purple hues are coming from the smoldering flesh of the ships exterior, tentacles writhing in slow motion as it dies naked in the black.

A flash of blue and white is echoed by a shockwave that makes the amber cloud shift and swirl, a bright white impact on the beasts side, the impact of our primary mass driver.

The beast begins to list to its side and we can see little forms being sucked out into the vacuum, the bioships crew, vented from the breach. Kellexus can survive fifteen minutes in total vacuum, it’s a blessing then that they drift into the burning plasma cloud and erupt like those little tissue paper poppers my son would throw at the concrete back home. A quick, faint pop and then gone. Hundreds, maybe thousands.

“Life signs of the bioship have ceased, sir.”

Here, on the edge of the galaxy, all light must fade.

“Very well. Weapons, target all available guns abroadside, torpedoes and missiles free,”

“Generating targeting solution, all guns abroadside, missiles and torpedoes locked. Targeting solution green, request permission to fire.”

All light must fade.

“End it.”

The sky burns as tiny stars of white hot plasma, glowing warheads and artillery shells streak towards their target.

The beast spins out of control as jets of burning plasma and gods only know what else vent explosively, the erupts in a brilliant amber and purple flash.

“All hands, brace for shockwave,”

I barely remember to say the words, the sight is too beautiful.

The hull trembles and I feel the ship rock and list, a fraction of what I’d expected.

“Comms, send word home, the first of the Kellexus have come through the Void Gate. We welcomed them accordingly.”

Something is amiss. Why is the hull still trembling?

Klaxons blare, red light fills the command deck.

“Report!”

Saunders, the navigation officer, has a panicked look in his eyes.

“Saunders!”

He snaps out of it, his wild eyes looking up at me.

“Void Traverse Field detected! Incoming at lattice 57.6, helion 3.”

Something else was coming through?

“Point of origin, Saunders?”

He was scrambling.

“Saunders!”

“I’m trying commander! The vector doesn’t make any sense! It’s reading as originating in galaxy NGC 1365, lattice 000, helion 0.”

That made no sense, I double check his math on my command screen.

“That’s impossible, there is no Void Gate that far out.”

“Gate sequencing engaged, VTF contact in 45 seconds, no recognition codes transmitted.”

This was impossible, there was no Gate in that galaxy, no way to fold the space between the galaxies. There was nothing there…

“Sir? Orders?”

This was impossible.

“First contact protocol! Engage axial rotation, charge weapons! Weapons, get me a firing solution on their contact point.”

The floor bounces as the center of the ship unlocks from the rest, gravity plating modulating as the mass begins to orbit around us and affect the overall gravity.

I feel my stomach lurch.

“VTF contact!”

Time slows, an effect of the Void Gate beginning to fold space to ‘catch’ the incoming object. The remaining plasma, still burning from the final onslaught of our guns, allows us to see space warp and ripple, like dropping a pebble in a still pond.

My jaw slowly goes slack at what I am seeing.

It is a behemoth, a leviathan, easily triple our size. Chitin plates and pulsing sacs of fluid and sensory organs, a thousand eyes staring and lidless.

It is a Kellexus ship, but one unlike I have ever seen, bigger than the largest of Draxi battle dreadnoughts. Impossibly big.

The time distortion is going longer than normal, and that massive hulk baring down on us is getting closer.

Time snaps back to normal like releasing a stretched elastic band.

“Hail them,”

The communications offers gives me a nod.

“Kellexus vessel, you have entered the sovereign territory of the United Terran Empire, use the codes we are transmitting to you to decode your language and respond at once or you will be fired upon.”

There is a pause.

“Unknown vessel, you will respond.”

I motion, the main mass driver firing a salvo past them.

“The next one will not miss, I assure you.”

Tiny things.
Little things.
Kill you
.

That psychic imagery was all I needed.

“All batteries, fire at will!”

It’s magnificent, the true unbridled fury of the Gentry Ascendant brought to bear, enough firepower to burn Earth itself to a cinder.

And it is doing absolutely nothing.

Charged plasma shells, high intensity directed energy weapons, high explosive ordinance that could level a city block, torpedoes and missiles that are banned from being used near population centers because they can ignite an atmosphere.

Nothing is so much as making a scratch.

“Arm the primary and secondary canons, full yield shells, emergency targeting solution.”

My hands grip the rail of the command station.

“Put a hole in its head!”

That head, if you could call the armored lump at the front of it a head, rotates slightly towards us.

It’s thinking, deciding what to do to this pest flying about and tickling it.

Well, this pest has a sting!

My console glows as the computer notifies me and the weapons officer that its reached a targeting solution. I don’t bother to wait for my officers confirmation.

“Fire!”

The ship lurches as both mass drivers fire in unison, over one hundred fifty thousand tons of ordinance streak towards the monster in front of us at nearly half the speed of light.

They hit home, making the beast reel and list, but as the blinding light fades I can see its barely scorched.

Tiny things. Break you.

A thousand eyes fix on us.

“Commander, VTF detected!”

You have got to be kidding me.

“Where, Mr. Saunders?”

His eyes get wilder.

“Lattice 11.2, helion 6…Engineering section! VTF Core!”

What the…

“They’re folding space! They’re folding it inside the ship!”

My hand is on the comms button before he’s even done speaking.

“All hands, abandon ship! To the escape pods! Now!”

Zarathan Beshon watched from the stations command deck as the lumbering chunk of planetary debris began to crumble, the five mining vessels tearing away at it, an elaborately choreographed dance that required weeks of preparation and planning for the highest possible output during this ballet of devastation. The Harvaren Mining Consortium had bought the rights to the dying system, the star having already gone into its Red Giant phase and consumed several potentially profitable planetoids, but the sacrifice of those few meant massive secured profits from the remaining five along with the stellar matter and plasma harvested from the dying star.

He’d make millions from this in commission alone from the unexpectedly higher yields the miners would bring in, because if there was one thing Zarathan Beshon understood better than anything, it was how to squeeze the most of out seemingly worthless rock. He’d probably even get an official acknowledgment from the Guilds, which would make his Personal Stocks skyrocket and insure his continued employment for the foreseeable future. This claim had officially pushed Zarathan Beshon into the top half percentile of all Harvaren.

A stubby, fat finger pressed on the comm as Zarathan Beshon watched the dancers in the void.

“Overseer to Breaker Fleet. Kyoga, increase forward mineral extractors by six percent. T’Kai, watch your armatures in the debris field. Zevrasta, hold Y axis rotation and move north on Z by twenty-three degrees, fifteen percent thrusters. We’re breaking down planets here, not waging war, no need to go full throttle.”

Zararthan Beshon had long since become accustomed to the comm echo as his orders were translated in multiple languages as he spoke, and the ponderously complex Harvaren language meant that most other species were always waiting for the translator to catch up to the speaker. At least he didn’t have any Ves ships in this team, the fact that the Ves spoke literally at light speed meant they were always waiting on you, and that notion made most Harvaren uneasy.

Never trust someone who speaks faster than you. His father had taught him that.

“Analysis of the current planetary fragment,” Zarathan Beshon asked down towards the Analyst’s Pit where fifty Harvaren, Kartoshi and Vele were watching every single bit of data coming from the various mining vessels and surrounding observer ships.

“This one reports all Organic contamination still reads nill,” said a young, pale skinned waif of a Kartoshi.

“Mineral extraction reads thirty six percent iron ferrite, high levels of assorted natural gases and the Kyoga is picking up a feathering of gold in quadrant eight. Recommend we crack Segmentum Helion and Kioshi after this to see if we can net the bulk of it before planetoid becomes to unstable,” piped up another, a wide shouldered Vele. One head was speaking to him while another watched the screens and the third head was crunching numbers and plotting mineral deposits.

Another Kartoshi gently tapped on the glass enclosure he stood in, the barrier that separated his ammonia based atmosphere from the methane required for the Kartoshi and Vele and allowed him to work without an encounter suit, unlike the unfortunate Harvaren in the pit. The Kartoshi was clad in blue and green silks, compared to the bland uniforms of the analysts, and Zarathan Beshon’s personal aid.

“Guild Office Chancellor on narrow beam transmission for Zarathan Beshon. Shall this one ask him to call again at a later time,” Hiyeni asked, her melodic tones hardly done justice through the speakers into the chamber.

“No, I’ll take it now.”

Her Harvaren was nearly perfect, although she’d never been able to shake the melodic quality of her birth race. Zarathan Beshon had to admit that the Kartoshi were more than pleasant to look at, and the diligence with which they did they tasks, no matter how mundane, was admirable. He was even considering paying for her next Youth extension, which of course would carry the benefit of keeping her a pleasant to behold female, rather than a curiously pleasant male if she aged and shifted to the male part of her life cycle. He pondered it more as he trundled over towards his Overseers Throne and engaged privacy mode, shading the glass of his environment cube and leaving the operation in Hiyeni’s capable hands. The vid screen flickering to life as he thumped onto the throne.

The Chancellor was fat, even for a Harvaren, unpleasantly so. It was a constant reminder that his station in the Guilds meant he never had to move and had enough underlings to do what needed to be done. Success meant never having to leave the comfort of your chambers, and Chancellor Jothun Getenki hadn’t needed to leave his in over a fifty rotations.

“Do I have the privilege of addressing Overseer Zarathan Beshon,” The Chancellor blubbered, all formality and pomp accorded.

“I have the honor of being named and titled such, most revered Chancellor,” Zarathan Beshon responded with equal propriety.

“Overseer, allow me to congratulate you on your most fortunate contract acquisition and assure you that the Guild Body has the utmost faith and confidence in your ability to bring -” The Chancellor blubbered on and on and on and all Zarathan Beshon could do was listen diligently and feign flattery as was expected. He kept his head nodding so as to avoid the Chancellor noticing that he was staring at the undulating jowls of fat that jiggled and bounced obscenely as the Chancellor droned on and on.

“I’m sorry, could you repeat that last part Chancellor, the planet break is causing some interference in the signal,” Zarathan Beshon said after the twenty minutes of flattery had caused him to open a monitor to continue observing the operation outside, but something the Chancellor had said pulled him back.

“I said, we require you’re assistance on a consultation brought forth by the Union on behalf of the Ves.”

The Union bringing a consultation to us on behalf of the Ves? I knew he was buttering me up for something…’ Zarathan Beshon thought.

“It would be my honor to lend me expertise, Chancellor. You may notify the Union, at your convenience, that I will be available in five rotations after the operations here have stabilized.”

The fat jowls and winkles obscured any discernible reaction from Zarathan Beshon, another perk of his station. No one could tell what he was thinking,

“I’m afraid, Overseer, that simply will not do. I am forwarding some images to you now, tell me what you can make of them.”

As the files began to steam onto his console, Zarathan Beshon let his annoyance show plainly. He had earned that right.

Images of a blasted landscape and charred and roiled ground began to appear, along with mineral and geological reports, making the Overseer frown.

“Chancellor, it would be quite obvious to someone even less skilled than myself that this world has been strip mined. Have I given such offense to the Guild that my time must be wasted on such trivial circumstances?”

That made the fatty wrinkles in the Chancellors brow deepen.

“That world is the third lunar body of Tyoga 7.”

Zarathan Beshon blinked, not sure he had heard that correctly. He chuckled.

“Tyoga 7.3 is a well known Ves research station. They engineered the cure for the Ulaty Plague there. It’s a jungle world with Nitrogen atmosphere. This…rock has no organic life to speak of, an atmosphere comprise primarily of carbon monoxide and its overall topography only matched with the moon in question by five percent. And that moon is inhabited by over-”

“Five million Ves,” The Chancellor said, ending his sentence for him.

More images began appearing on the Overseers screens. Destroyed settlements, blood stained sand, ruined structures, utter devestation.

“Chancellor, are you saying someone strip mined a Union world while it was still inhabited,” Zarathan Beshon said, almost in disbelief.

“No, Overseer. I’m saying something has strip mined eleven Union worlds.”

Zarathan Beshon couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“But, an operation the size of Tyoga 7.3 would’ve taken at least five rotations to even strip the surface. These reports show evidence that everything, down to 40 kilometers has been stripped, and I see strong evidence that even the atmosphere was harvested. An operation this big would’ve taken close to fifty rotations, and the planetoid would be crumbling apart. Why are we just hearing about this now?”

“Because, the operation you speak of was done in less than half a rotation, as well as the stripping and destruction of the other ten worlds.”

Zarathan Beshon leaned back in his throne, trying to come to terms with what he was hearing.

“There is no Harvaren technology that can do what you speak of. No Ves or Vele or Kartoshi or Sylandic nor a dozen other species combining their mining fleets could do this.”

“And that, Overseer Zarathan Beshon, is why we are sending you to Tyoga 7.3.”

Vetaya’s digits ran through the sand, slowly taking a deep breath. The sand was still damp with blood, the smoke in the air from the fires stung xyr olfactory gland along side the trauma, pain and fear still in the atmo made xyr thin skin prickle. Even without facing him, the soft glow of Betay’s luminescent words could be understood.

“Have you found anything new,” Betay asked, the color of his words a soft, calm, amber that rarely deviated. Betay was a Vruud, possessing two genders and both of them being male. Vruud were hulking, towering, Ves that stood easily double the height and triple the weight of even the largest females. Despite their appearance, however, they were gentle giants that bonded to a single Ves. They would be bodyguard and councilor to the Ves they were bonded with until the day they died, and woe be to poor soul that stir the gentle giant into the need for violence.

“No,” Vetaya responded, xyr words glowing silver and starting to radiate into the quiet of the infrared spectrum. “More of the same. Pain. Shock. Horror. Fire. Black shadows.” Xe was smaller than the rest of xyr species, ganglier, xyr limbs longer and xyr sense organs significantly more developed and pronounced, but totally lacking reproductive organs. It was a good omen to birth a Hyol, and their position in Ves society was a cherished one, because they could see things that other Ves could not. Xe was a Hyol, the seventh of the Ves race’s seven genders.

The pair had been walking on the blasted landscape for hours, Vetaya periodically stopping to run xyr digits through the sand or across a ruined wall and always wincing at the flood of emotions and flashes of imprinted memory flooded xyr mind. Everything had memory, from the sand to the alloyed hull of a ship, and the Hyol could see those memories with a mere touch.

All of the memories of this place were bad.

“Always the black shadows,” Betay asked, helping the Hyol to xyr feet again with a hand that was nearly the size of xyr.

“Drones,” Vetaya said.

Betay was quiet for a long moment, mulling that statement over.

“You are sure about this?”

“What else would do something like this?”

The blasted and charred rock they stood on, now windswept and begin consumed by the sand, had once been the colony hall. It would have been the last defensible structure of the main colony. Nothing remained. The air was sour with the shadows of panic and despair, and blood soaked sand clung to all thee of Vetaya’s bare feet, causing xyr to periodically feel the sorrow and rage trapped in the blood.

“Do you think anyone survived? Surely a few had to make it to shuttles, or at least to the comm gem to send an assistance beam.”

Vetaya glowed softly at Betay’s optimism, but it didn’t last long, the dark truth of the situation sapping xyr of anything good to tell xyr companion. Xe rubbed a bit of the coarse sand better xyr digits, holding it up to xyr face to examine it and allowed the gains to fall one by one from between xyr digits.

“No one got away from this,” Vetaya said, xyr tone shifting down towards the whispers of Infrared light.

The Ves had no eyes as most species would recognize them, and in comparison to most species, they didn’t even have a face. Their epidermis was their eyes, a highly complex and sensitive organ containing the rods and cones for sensing light. Ves communicated with light, being able to impart their thoughts and intentions in the light generated from the bioluminescent glands in their heads and chest while being able to perceive and make sense of any light that touched their skin.

Vetaya and Betay’s flickering conversation was interrupted when a comm gem hovered down near to them, gently pulsing as it awaited activation, Betay running a digit across it’s surface to open the light link.

The massive gemstone flickered, then glowed a familiar hue of lavender before the image of another Hyol Ves appeared in its facets.

“Hyol Vetaya,” the gemstone pulsed.

“Hyol Po,” Vetaya responded.

“We have found something, you should come to my coordinates at once.”

“What is it?”

“They killed one.”

Fitting a Vruud into a shuttle was no easy feat, and while Vruud sized craft were available, it was not often readily so. When Vetaya and the other Hyol’s had been dispatched, the few Vruud sized craft were all already dispatched with their massive occupants on official business of the state, leaving Vetaya and Betay to make due with a ponderous cargo hopper. While Betay fit in the ship, the only way he did so was by carefully crawling into the cargo compartment and keeping himself curled into a tight ball. Traveling this way was uncomfortable to say the least, but Betay did it without complaint. The bond of a Vruud meant he would follow his bondmate anywhere, and endure any hardship.

The flight to Po’s location was short, an outer settlement as blasted as the rest, but now being swarmed by the military and other investigators. Betay urged Vetaya to go on while he extracted himself slowly from the back of the cargo hopper, and maybe take an extra moment to massage the cramps out of his legs. The focus of all the Ves was a crater on the western edge of the settlement and Vetaya was met halfway by Po who matched Vetaya’s hurried pace.

“Is it a Drone,” Vetaya asked, barely sparing to turn xyr head towards Po for fear if xe took any attention from the site the find would vanish.

“Yes,” Po began, less afraid of their subjects magical disappearance than xyr counterpart. “It appears to have been brought down by -”

Po trailed off as they reached the rim of the crater, doing dark and silent as the other two dozen Ves had as they all stared down into the charred black pit. Vetaya had only paused the briefest second, shocked by the sheer size of the ruined craft. Large chunks of the hull were missing, slagged off or torn off from the impact, but the bulk of it was intact. Black metal, some untouched portions still gleaming, curved and bent to create a hull roughly ten meters long and standing taller than a Vruud. A slagged wound was in the metallic beasts flank, the scar from the impact of an air defense weapon. The other Ves were standing around the rim of the crater, in a mixed state of shock and awe, as Vetaya circled the craft to inspect it.

Po had been about to say that xe wouldn’t suggest touching the craft, but Vetaya was a step ahead of xyr. Visions of a cold womb, the rumble of its mother breaking atmo, being birthed into blinding light with fire and death, larger brethren lumbering in the distance as they-

Vetaya ripped xyr hand away and turned to look up towards Po.

“You saw?”

Po nodded.

“Has the land east of here been examined?”

Po nodded again.

“And?”

“Stripped of every mineral, the land churned and ruined. The same at over a thousand other locations.”

Vetaya’s second stomach roiled as though a school of Damdari Eels were living in it.

“Get me a comm gem,” xe said towards Po between shifting attention to the rest of the group which had roughly quadrupled in size. “I want this thing extracted, get a cargo barge down here to ferry it up to the Divine Light. Get the defenses back online.”

The group hesitated, forcing Vetaya’s words to shift into the loud Ultraviolet spectrum.

“Now!”