Birthing Pangs: A Universal Serial Book

birthing

Welcome to the server cluster of Avalon. It is a city of the future, and of the past. Avalon and her sisters represent a way of maintaining the world as it once was, and of continuing a species that has long since destroyed its habitat. What is Avalon? What are the clusters? Avalon represents the most advanced computers ever devised by man, linked together, and running a simulacra of humanity.

Avalon is our final resting place.

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A Weird Western Oddity From the National Firearms Museum

On a recent trip through social media, something very cool came to my attention: A vampire slaying kit on display at the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia. The kit includes a customized Colt .38 Detective Special, silver plated to ward off the evils of the night. If you look close at the motif you can see the work of bats in its lines. The pistol comes in a coffin-shaped case along with a wooden stake, a mirror for finding those without reflection, and a vial of holy water. The other cool thing included are vampire shaped bullets that strongly resemble my favorite Dracula.

The pictures of the display her below, along with a video. Special thanks to Erin for allowing me to post these!

5 Great Books on Writing

To write is to read. In order to become a better writer, you must always have a book in the queue. Typically this advice falls in line with reading the style which you seek to write, but the same is also true of books which teach the practical, technical skills of writing. I have a bad habit of picking up books and keeping them on the shelf above my writing computer as if they are talismans whose very presence will impart great writing skill. But every so often I read a book that is so incredibly useful that it sticks with me. While this is by no means a replacement for a good writing course or an MFA, these books will help flesh out your skill set, tell you what to do once the first draft is done, or inspire you to greater heights. This is my (2017) top five list of books for writers.

5. Writing Monsters – Philip Athans51n-3ki4k1l-_sx321_bo1204203200_

I write monsters. For Dead West I have to construct folk-lore terrors to stalk the majestically blasted landscapes of the American West. But I’ve also written my share of fantasy and science fiction, both of which require a thorough understanding of the monsters and monstrous antagonists that harrow the heroes of my books.

Athans has created the book to help you understand your monsters. In a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, he helps you needle through their anatomy, their psychology, their strengths, and their weaknesses. My favorite part of the book comes in the first chapter where he provides a fleshed out worksheet for building your boogeymen. If you write genre fiction (or maybe even if you say you don’t), then this is a great book to keep on your shelf.

513vzjihiol-_sx348_bo1204203200_4. The Emotion Thesaurus – Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi

“Samuel was so gosh darn angry. He was so angry he could spit.” “The sight of the bad hackerman made Dera very afraid.” We’ve all seen it. Sentences like these are the reason ‘show, don’t tell’ is the first rule for writers. Don’t tell me that Samuel was angry, show the gritting of his teeth, the rigidness of his limbs, the darkening of his brow. Of course, Hackerman made Dera afraid. But what did that fear do to her? What about the rising pulse in her throat, the dilated pupils, the beat of quivering sweat down her cheek?

The Emotion Thesaurus is one book in the ‘Thesaurus’ series from Writers Helping Writers. I own three of the bastards, and I can recommend all of them. But I think this one is the most useful of the lot. Within you’ll find a list of the big ones for negative emotions, including the spectrum of anger, fear, and envy. Each entry will go over the physical signs of the emotion, what the character may experience internally, and ways that the emotion could escalate. Excellent stuff to avoid telling.

index3. Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market – Writer’s Digest

There’s not much to say about this old standby. A new edition of this book comes out every year, with listings of agents, publishers, contests, paying markets, and more. Any writer who is looking to get paid for their work needs to keep a copy on their desk. The service is invaluable.

5100lvz-oql-_sx331_bo1204203200_2. Take Off Your Pants Libbie Hakwer

I will sing the praises of this book! Take Off Your Pants is the single best book on the subject of outlining that I have ever encountered. It gives incredible detail on a method of outlining that is so much more brilliant than simply listing out a vague sketch of the order of events. Hawker, a highly regarded historical fiction writer, has put together such an interesting and unique view of the outlining process—a technique that emphasizes deep character building first and foremost. Of the books I’ve listed this year, this one is by far the most technical. I’m only a new convert, but she’s earned a fan for life by her work here.

1. On Writing – Stephen King41w6ybzk-l

Hooboy. It was late 2010. I was in a job that was eating me from the inside out, and outside of a very happy marriage, I was emotionally in the lowest place I can recall ever being. An errant thought wandered into my mind: Why not try and pursue something I’d always loved, but never felt like I’d be able to do? Something I’d always talked myself out of? I stopped off at the local bookstore and picked up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing and my world imploded.

On Writing is only tangentially a book instructing the art of writing. Rather, it is a memoir that covers the topic in a brief touch. This is a beautiful book of inspiration. Because of its singular ability to capture and motivate me to write, it will likely always be the best book on the subject that I’ve ever read. If you’re on the fence about this writing thing, and you think you might want to take a go at it, this is a wonderful book to pick up and read. Or, even if you’re just curious about the head-space of a best-selling author. It’s a beautiful book, written from a very humble place. King does not take the time to brag, so much as to share with you the wonder and excitement of the milestones of his career. And he shares with you that great passion he has for the act, with the hope that you too will share in that love and passion.

So, those are my top five writing books. Do you have any you’d like to recommend? Leave a note in the comments below, or hit me up on my Facebook or Twitter. I’d love to hear what books have helped you the most, and maybe they’ll help me too.

Captain’s Log: 1/3/17

So here we are. The new year. Outside, the weather is taking a temporary detour toward cold, though the grass is still green in defiance of this weak winter. I’m beginning to feel as though I live in Westeros, and we can only expect winter to arrive perhaps once every five or six years. Several times over the Christmas season I reflected that much of our tradition, our songs, and our decorations may soon become nostalgia for a season that barely exists.But enough of that gloomy talk.

But enough of that gloomy talk.

Dead West 3 is starting to really fall into a good rhythm. There were some setbacks during the autumn, but I came back to the book after a brief discussion with my wonderful editor (Hello, Nikki!) recharged with brand new capital in ideas. Again, there has been further breakthroughs, further revelations. Dead West 3 will be a thrilling book; a hard one for Charlie, but satisfying for you.

Bonds of Blood is still in the prep as well. The editing was completed in September, and we’re on the cusp of publication. I ask your patience as we work through the last few stages. My beta readers tell me this is an even better book than West of Pale.

Last week saw the release of the last chapter of the rough-draft serial, Birthing Pangs. I am going to leave the page up for one month and would welcome any comments and critiques. She’s a diamond I plan on polishing and presenting for publication. Perhaps this summer when you see me at the conventions, I’ll have a copy for you.

If you want to offer your suggestions and critiques you can reach me by email at jallen.writes@gmail.com.  For updates, or to see me goof around, you can always find me on Twitter under @jpatrickauthor. Rocket Punch Radio is prepping for an exciting third season as well, so keep an ear out there.

USB: Birthing Pangs denoument

Chapter 26

birthing

The monument garden was a strange place with its own strange rhythms playing discordantly along the strains of the colorful high rises of the city surrounding it. What ever Jack or Jill administered the garden had set the weather ambience to a weak, misty drizzle under a dark sky, without a hint of irony. So, I stood in the rain in my slicker and good heels, watching Colm.Trenger stare at his son’s gravestone. The only illumination came from the tines of my umbrella and the lapels of my jacket.

“This is, what, the third time you’ve bothered me this week? I could have you arrested for harassment,” Trenger said, without much feeling. His face remained in profile, and I studied the way the rain collected and dripped off his nose.

“I’ll just tell them you reneged on a business contract. That should settle it. My friends in the Force will probably sweep it under the rug for me.” Truth was, most of my ‘friends’ in the Force couldn’t stand the sight of me anymore, but you probably knew that. “I need my money, Trenger.”

“I voided the contract, remember?”

“Only after I found your wife. Way I see it, I fulfilled our contract and then some.”

His lip curled. “You got her arrested.”

“I got her saved. Mobsters don’t take kindly to traitors, Trenger. You’re lucky your only involvement with them was being the dupe your wife milked for government contacts. Ara is alive because of me.”

He turned his head so I could no longer see his face. “If you call it living.”

“Figmentiaries ain’t so bad. She’ll have three squares, a place to sleep at night, and plenty of activities to keep herself occupied. If anything, prison is the utopia this world was designed to be, before we got here.”

“She won’t be able to touch anyone.”

“Except you, during visitors hours. She’ll need you more than ever, now.” I tilted my head, regarding him. “Ain’t that what you wanted all along?”

He let out a breath through his nose and opened up his console. Fingers flew over keys, arranging the transfer. Trenger’s hand fell over the keyboard, and hesitated.

I rolled my eyes. “I have errands to run, Trenger. Think of it like this—we run in different circles. Hurry this up, and you’ll never have to look at me again.”

“I don’t run in those circles anymore, Ms. Sazerac,” Trenger said. He fixed me with a dark glower, but he hit the transfer button. That was all I care about. “I can’t. Not after you exposed my wife and ruined me.”

“Traceys don’t ruin their clients, Mr. Trenger. They just occasionally dig up ways the clients ruined themselves.” I tapped a key on my own console, accepting the transfer. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

 

***

 

“Place your palm on the pad and spread your fingers, please.”

I did as the woman instructed, giving a tilt to my hips and making a show of my ringless fingers.

As the device ran over my palm, I felt a cool tingle in my hand. As the sensation penetrated my skin, goosebumps prickled and my access to my command console, my inventory, and my applications was blocked. But I still smiled.

“You know,” I glanced at the name tag across her right breast. Turning my eyes up, I flashed her my winning smile. “That uniform is really fetching, Ms. Darling.”

The Fetching Ms. Darling regarded me with a flat expression and gestured to the opening gate in the stark-white hallway. “That is Lt. Darling to you. Do you have any gifts to declare?”

“Just the one marked in my inventory.”

Lt. Darling glanced at her display and nodded. At the tap of fingers on the keyboard, a small sack appeared. She passed me the sack, never dropping her grim mien.

“Pass through the doorway. You will be under observation during the visit.”

When my back was turned on her, I made a face at being snubbed. Wiping away the irritation, I focused instead on the gate in front of me. For the fiftieth time, I checked my jacket, my skirt, my good heels. When I stepped through the doorway, the world shifted.

The stark white hallway turned into a stark white room. The dimensions were perfectly cubical, lit with no visible source. Shadows found no safe corner to hide. At least it didn’t smell as sterile as it looked. A faint trace of vanilla cookies and cut grass wafted on the air. Windows outside gave views of the yard where other inmates socialized, played games, or worked on crafts.

I found her, sitting on one of the two plain gray couches placed across from each other in the center of the room. Compared to the immense dead space in the cell, they seemed almost comically small. Of course, the way Ara stretched out on them, you’d never notice. Even in a prison uniform she looked like white chocolate poured into a mold of Venus di Milo.

I tried to tuck my hands in my pockets before walking over to her, but the skirt had no pockets. Grumbling to myself, I tried, awkwardly, to find other ways to appear casual.

“Nice digs,” I said. Not much in the way of things to say to an ex, months after you’d last seen them, but who said you have to be smooth all the time? “Do they make you sleep on the couches, or…?”

She looked up at me from her book, eyes half-lidded in a way that expressed either molten sensuality or plain sleepiness. I suppose it was the latter. Pursing her lips, Ara closed the book and tucked it away.

“The décor changes during the day,” Said Ara. “Welcome to my mansion.”

“Please, don’t get up on my account,” I said as I was lowering myself onto the couch opposite her. She hadn’t even threatened to. She remained lounging, like a cat. I tried to ignore the way that even a lazy Ara at ease still set a fire in my belly.

“So…” I said, leaning on my elbows.

“So,” said Ara.

She watched me, and I stared at nothing in particular. The urge to whistle, innocently, came up but I ignored it.

“Come to see how the other half lives?” she asked me, after a too-long silence.

“I already know, thanks.” It was supposed to sound like bragging, but I guess it came off as something worse.

She frowned to herself. “Yes, I suppose you’ve seen enough people put in here.”

I shrugged, rolling my eyes to one side, a guilty half-grin sliding across my face. “Not as many as you’d think. Mostly the job entails lost things or cheating lovers. If I’m in a court room, it’s usually for a divorce, not homicide.”

“Well, then I’m glad to be your first.”

“Well you weren’t my first. At least, not in the court room.”

She let out a breath in what I still think was an attempt not to laugh. Pulling her legs off the couch, she sat forward and pulled something off the little table between the couches. A cigarette. Placing it between her lips, the tip glowed blue then began to leak artful circles of smoke.

“Want one?” she asked.

“Sure.” I leaned in, out of habit, half expecting her to place one in my lips just like the old days. And for a moment she seemed she would, but at the last, she just offered me the stick. I took it and for a brief second it seemed our fingers would brush, but hers passed through mine as though they were only an illusion. My eyes flicked to her face, and I decided to pretend I hadn’t seen the hurt that caused in her eyes.

Leaning back, I sucked a deep drag, letting the sensation unfurl along what passed for nerves in my avatar’s body. It reminded me of something.

“You know,” I said, gesturing with the cigarette held between two fingers. “This used to be a lot worse. I hear when the system first went live they would deprive prisoners of their avatars and lock them in their partitions, bodiless.”

“You always know how to cheer up a party,” she said with a quick of her brow. “Did you bring me anything?”

“Yeah.” I held up two fingers. “Two things: First, I talked to Trenger this morning.”

Real hurt sparked in her expression. She shrank away, looking out the window. “How is he? He hasn’t spoken to me since the trial.”

“It could have been worse for both of you—the trial I mean.”

“I don’t see how,” she muttered.

“Justices usually tend to shorten the allotted life span for convicts in cases of partition hijacking.” I remembered the case clearly. I’d hidden in the audience the whole time, watching Duke Petrucci give his character witness. In the end, it was his word that bent the presiding justice toward leniency. “You still have all your years left. Just lay low, play along with the rehabilitation and arts and crafts, and you may get out and get your life back.”

She rested an elbow on her knee, holding the cigarette aloft. It was one of those small, strikingly feminine mannerisms I always loved about her. “I suppose…”

“So—your husband. I talked to him this morning.” I’d just leave out that he’d been trying to stiff me my fee for months and that I’d finally collected.

“And?”

“I think you’ll be starting to see him real soon.”

You could see the tension start to leak out of her body. Her shoulders started to slacken, her calves loosened. Ara leaned back, obviously trying not to show how pleased that news made her.

“Thank you, Dera.” Saying the words seemed to pain her, but she continued. “That—I know it hurt when I left. That you would do that means the world to me.”

“And that’s part of why I did it.”

“Part?”

Giving her a side-eye, I smiled coyly. Holding the bag up, I said, “There’s one other present.”

She took the bag from my offered hand, taking care not to let her hand pass through mine again. That’s why folk on the street call them Figmentiaries, I guess. Prisoners can’t touch anyone but one designated loved one. You become a figment, able to see and talk to others but never know what it’s like to shake hands, to hold them, or even to fight them.

Ara leaned back on the couch as she reached a hand in the bag and pulled the gift out. It was a small snow-globe, depicting a city-side beach scene. Inside, three people hugged each other and waved to the viewer: A man, her husband, and their son.

Tears welled in her eyes. Ara bit her lip, staring at it, seemingly too scared to even shake it. “Why did you do it? What’s your price?”

“Nothing. I just did it. Thought it might make the wait in here bearable.”

Her voice was quiet, almost as though she didn’t want me to hear. “Bullshit.”

“Seriously. No price. I’m mercenary, but I’m not heartless. You know that.”

I looked away, gave Ara her privacy while she tried to compose herself. I heard her sniffle, heard the wobble of the snow globe as she shook it. Finally, when she cleared her throat, I looked back. Ara was transformed. There was no cool regard, no invisible distance. She smiled, well and truly.

“What can I do to repay you? For everything?”

“Nothing. There’s noth—“

“Please?”

I swallowed, looking down at my shoes. “Alright. Maybe there’s one thing.”

“What is it?”

“Could you sing for me? Like old times?”

A slow smile spread across her lips, and after a moment she stood. Her lips parted to take in a breath, and then she sung.

Table of Contents

The Prize Fight

john_l_sullivan

Wikipedia

Something you don’t see Hollywood make much play of in Westerns is the role of boxing as a sport of choice among several famous gunslingers and law-men of that fabled era. Several notable figures including Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were known to officiate such bare-knuckle fights, and in Masterson’s case, he even hung up his six-guns to become a sports columnist specializing in boxing. In research, I came across this little newspaper clip from the Dodge City Times dated 6/16/1877. It describes a prize-fight between Red “Red Bird from the South” Hanley and Nelson Whitman. Notice, the time and circumstances under which the fight occurred. Though boxing was a popular sport, it was not a legal one. As such, pains were often taken to keep the event out of the eyes of law-enforcement—after which, of course, they would publicize the event in the local papers. Inconsistencies like this are part of why I love this era!

In either case, enjoy this little historical snippet in honor of Boxing-Day.

On last Tuesday morning the champion prize fight of Dodge City was indulged in by Messrs. Nelson Whitman and the noted Red Hanley, familiarly known as ‘the Red Bird from the South.’ An indefinite rumor had been circulated in sporting circles that a fight was to take place, but the time and place was known only to a select few. The sport took place in front of the Saratoga saloon at the silent hour of 4:39 a.m., when the city police were’ retiring after the dance hall revelry had subsided and the belles who are in there were off duty. Promptly at the appointed time, the two candidates for championship were at the joint. Colonel Norton acted as rounder-up and whipper-in for both fighters while Bobby Gill ably performed the arduous task of healing and handling and sponging off. Norton called time and the ball opened with some fine hits from the shoulder. Whitman was the favorite in the pools but Red made a brilliant effort to win the champion belt.

“During the forty-second round Red Hanley implored Norton to take Nelson off for a little while till he could have time to put his right eye back where it belonged, set his jawbone and have the ragged edge trimmed off his ears where they had been chewed the worst. This was against the rules of the ring so Norton declined, encouraging him to bear it as well as he could and squeal when he got enough. About the sixty-fifth round Red squealed unmistakably and Whitman was declared winner. The only injury sustained by the loser in this fight were two ears chewed off, one eye busted and the other disabled, right cheek bone caved in, bridge of the nose broken, seven teeth knocked out, one jawbone mashed, one side of the tongue bit off, and several other unimportant fractures and bruises. Red retires from the ring in disgust.

USB: Birthing Pangs chapter 26

Chapter 25

birthing

Exhaustion, that fickle bitch, that legacy trait left over from our meat bodies, started to leave lead in my arms and legs. I hunted for internal wells, wells of need and determination, and kept running. The trail couldn’t go cold here—the path was obvious, and their way out was unconscious yards behind me.

They had minutes on me, owing to the fight, but there was only one of me and I wasn’t dragging an unconscious man. Ara and her men came in sight after a short run.

“Can’t—wait…!” I stopped, leaning a hand against the curved wall.

To my surprise, they did stop. And stared.

“What?” Ara asked.

I held up a finger. “Just—just a second. My buh—my breath.”

She muttered something under her breath, one of her little invectives she reserved for when she was impatient with me. “Rigg, can you see to her?”

“On it, boss.”

Ara and the second thug started to move again, walking this time. Urgency bled out of them. I watched, still leaning against the wall, really playing up how tired I was. As Rigg came near, I mopped my brow with my sleeve. He rolled up his own, and grabbed for me.

Walking right in range of the stinger hiding up my sleeve. I dropped it into my hand and jabbed him right in the bird cage. He grabbed at the spot on his chest and his polygons tore for a brief second before he dropped.

“Time to end this cheap charade,” I muttered, and started running again.

Mook number two had Petrucci’s disconnected avatar slung over his shoulder. He’d be distracted with that. Good. As one, Ara and Number Two spun as they heard the slap of my shoes on tile. Ara dropped into a defensive stance, her stinger appearing in hand. Numero Dos tried the same, but still had to deal with his burden. He was unprepared for a stinger duel. He was even more unprepared for what I did.

I jumped, relishing his widening eyes. My knee connected with the dope’s chest. He clattered to the ground, dropping Petrucci in the process. Dropping to my feet, I pivoted, bringing my stinger down on Ara. She met it, ready, with her own.

Like our love, the stingers met with an electric pop that fizzled out. She slipped hers out of the clash and tried to strike me. The swiftness forced me to step back just to keep out of its way.

“When’d you learn to fight?” I asked, feigning a strike to the left.

She saw it coming and had her own up to parry as soon as I shifted. “Started when I joined the Family. Learned from my boss.”

“A Petrucci thug?” I grabbed her free wrist and tried to drag her into my stinger’s tip. “No, you’re too graceful for street brawling.”

“I started studying dueling after they killed—“ Ara wrenched out of my grip and stumbled back several feet. For a moment she only stared in disbelief, then started laughing. She ran a hand through her hair, sweeping a lock out of her eyes. “Sakes, you’re annoying. You’re trying to distract me!”

I shrugged, grinning like a cheshire. “Look. I don’t wanna beat you no more than you want to be beaten. How about you just surrender now? I worked out a deal with the Duke over there.” I jerked my head in the direction of Petrucci’s prone form.

“As if.” She snorted and dropped into a nice and tidy guard again. Oh yes, she was school taught. I recognized that guard. Meat shields for higher class criminals than Roburn.Petrucci often used similar technique.

Shrugging out of my coat, I let it drop to the floor. As it hit the tile, it vanished into my inventory, ready to be recalled at the tap of a button. I, too, dropped into a guard. “I got your people, Ara. As we talk, Cluster Sec is mopping up your boys at the mansion. Your muscle and that black-hat in the glasses are AFK a mile back behind me. Magilla Gorilla over there is likewise down for the count. It’s just you.”

She spat. “What deal did you cut with Roburn?”

“That things proceed through normal courts. I know why you’re doing this and—and I don’t think you should be disconnected by some thug in the night. No mom should go through what you went through. Just… Surrender, alright?”

The woman before me, this woman who so closely resembled the woman I once loved, considered the offer. She bit her lip, the way the Ara of the past used to.

“You’re wrong,” said Ara.

I flicked a glance over my shoulder. “No, I was there for it. I’m pretty sure it all went down the way I said.”

Taking a deep breath, she released her stinger. It clattered to the tile once and vanished. “No, you said it was just me now. That assumes it was ever any other way. Fine. I surrender.”

I’d seen this situation go pear-shaped too many times. My console flashed open and my hands moved automatically. The stinger swapped out, replaced by a pair of binders dropping in my hand. You’ve probably seen Cluster Sec using them. They’re wrist-sized rings joined along one edge. They lit up white around the edges to show they were ready for use.

Ara didn’t fight it. She knew the drill. She stepped forward, hands together. The binders slipped onto her wrists, and a code-intercept paralyzed her arms at the shoulders-down. She was caught.

“Why’d you do it?” she asked.

“Because I was paid to.”

Her voice was soft, burning with scorn. “Liar.”

“Because I didn’t want someone I care about to come to a bad end.”

“Liar,” she said again, without much conviction.

Chapter 27

Table of Contents

The Remington Model 1858

He ignored me in favor of the large man who addressed him. A calm hand swept one side of the frock coat aside revealing a pistol. The large man glanced at it. Blued steel contrasted against a tarnished brass frame glittering in the smoky lamp light…

…I never saw the moment he drew his gun. What I saw was the gun seem to materialize with the muzzle pressing into the fleshy part of the man’s neck where it met the jaw.

remington_new_model_navy_revolver

from Wikipedia

When I set out to write Dragonfly Shadow I knew I needed an iconic weapon for the monster hunter Samuel H. Clayton to wear. I went into it knowing a few things about the character and the setting. 1) Samuel was an ex-confederate soldier, a survivor of dozens of battles. He would have something sturdy and reliable, and likely nothing too fancy. Unlike Charlie, Samuel didn’t go for dandy etching and ornamentation. As long as it killed and didn’t get him killed, well that would suit him just fine. 2) Many of the stories, including the earliest, would take place in the years before the legendary Colt Single-Action Army’s invention. Besides, this weapon is so overused in fiction, that I knew I’d want to go with something different.

I was aware of Remington’s presence in the gun markets in the 19th century, but never looked too close into them. And then I happened upon the artful curves of the Remington Model 1858, a work-horse of the Civil War. Samuel’s like many pistols on the confederate side of the wary, features brass frames to hold the pistol together. Steel wasn’t as readily available to the Confederates as it was to the Union, so many pistol manufacturers utilized brass in places where steel wasn’t absolutely necessary. As long as the pistol didn’t fall apart or lose its accuracy after being fired, it didn’t matter.

The 1858 predates the advent of the modern brass ammunition casing, releasing in a cap and ball configuration. What this meant for reloading is that men, especially cavalry men like Samuel, would carry multiple pre-loaded cylinders and swap them out when the pistol ran dry. This ability to swap out entire cylinders made the pistol quite popular with folk who could afford its additional cost over competing firearms.

In terms of popularity, this pistol was second only to the Colt models. On the Union side it was only a secondary issued side-arm until 1864 when the Colt factory in Hartford, Connecticut suffered a massive fire. Only two outbuildings remained, leaving a massive shortage in Colt firearms. This led to increased popularity for the Remingtons, as well as dozens of smaller firearms manufacturers (including several Colt knock-off producers).

In the beginning of West of Pale, Charlie follows Samuel’s trail to a small town in Iowa

800px-remington_diassembly

From Wikipedia

where a clerk recognizes the name and remarks that Samuel had sent a package and then received one some time later. With the proliferation of Smith & Wesson brass cartridges, many firearms producers, and smaller gunsmiths, started to devise conversions for existing cap and ball models. In most cases, for a nominal fee, you could send your pistol off to the manufacturer or gunsmith to have the conversion performed. Samuel received his pistol back in the winter of 1871, fully converted. In a firefight—especially with a slithering horror—even a fraction of a second’s difference in reloading speed can mean the difference between life and death.

Among those happy few who carried Remingtons, most praised it for its durability over the more popular Colt firearms. This is owed to the top-strap running above the cylinder. Comparable pistols at the time did not have this small innovation, and would slowly warp with use, leading to weird quirks in aiming and reliability. Colt later adopted the top-strap with the invention of the legendary Peace Maker.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog entry, I’m planning on doing features on the various weapons found in Dead West, giving a historical context to the action you’ve read on page. I hope you’ll join me for future articles.

USB: Birthing Pangs chapter 25

Chapter 24

birthing

An endless hallway stretched before me, wide enough for ten men to walk abreast. The ceiling rose and curved low over me, giving the place a squat, claustrophobic feel. Light strips ran down the spine of the ceiling in a hand-wide stripe, casting the glazed white and green tiles in a cold, almost clinical light. It felt sterile. It was a place designed to serve a function.

I paused and centered myself, catching my breath. The hallway ran with a slight curve, so I could only see so far ahead. But the polished tiles echoed with sound. I could hear them. The corner of my lip tugged into a slight smile. I was off.

Some things you’re born with—you can only work with the makeup you’re given. Your wits, your personality, your adaptability. That’s all head stuff. It’s a combination of your parentage. Your avatar, well. That can be changed. You can be made stronger, harder. Personally, I went for faster. Mom and dad gave me smarts, I got me speed. Speed and smarts always win out.

They’d be weighed down by Roburn.Petrucci’s stalled avatar. If I guess right, they’d need the lady in the mirror shades to plug in an exit door. In both cases, they’d be slowed down. And what did the good guys have? Just li’l ole me and my feet. Catching up would be no problem.

Mind focused on the task, I made sure my stinger was at hand and my flash-wall armed. The hall passed in a blur, doors occasionally popping up on either side, marked with obscure code that was meaningless to me. It didn’t matter. I knew they wouldn’t be passing through those. They’d make their own way out.

Soon, the curve of the hall revealed what I sought. Shades was just drawing up to her group when they must have heard my foot-steps. As one, they turned to face me. Shades, Ara, and three thugs in trench coats.

“Left your mop-up detail behind,” I called, slowing down to catch up to them. “Ain’t good for morale.”

Ara said something to the others that I didn’t hear. One of the men had Petrucci over a shoulder—she and that one turned to run while the other two thugs and shades remained.

“Damn,” I said. “You’re going to draw this out?”

Shades grinned. Her console popped up and she tapped in a command. A matte black stinger fell into her hand; a model not dissimilar to mine. Then her fingers tapped in a second command and it doubled in length.

I whistled.

She chuckled. “Mine’s longer.”

“Nice trick. Maybe you can show me how it’s done. Over dinner?”

“Thanks, but I don’t share trade secrets.” She rushed me, the others two on her heels. I just had time to catch my breath and draw into a guard stance.

“Worth a shot,” I said.

Three-on-one was not a problem. I’ve fought those odds, in games and on the street. If I don’t come out on top, I usually have a killer headache. That twenty-inch stinger was trouble, though. I warded off the initial flurry coming from the two meat-heads before ducking low of Shades’ baton. The hallways echoed with the static clacks of our exchange.

A furious downswing from Thing-A caused me to almost run right into Shades’ stinger. I managed to parry it with my own and sock Thing-B across the jaw. While he was startled I’d even try such a thing, I rapped him across the bicep with my stinger, dropping him.

“She hits,” Thing-A said, sneering.

I deflected his next attack with a snap from my stinger. A follow-up punch sent him backward, surprised. “Like a girl.”

I lunged in to strike his chest, but a blur from Shades sent me reeling back. Quickly putting me on the defensive, the black-hat came after me with a series of devilish strikes. Just once, I managed to get an in, slipping my stinger through her defense to strike her wrist. The air around her burst with an electric pop. I cursed to myself.

“Flash-wall, honey.” Shades bit her lip and grinned. Again, she was spinning on the attack.

This was no back-alley style, not the hard-edged striking technique taught by cluster-sec. It was something flowery, flowing. Even as I defended one attack, the long stinger was spinning in her hands to present a new threat against a different part of my anatomy.

Thing-A tried to jump back, growling and lumbering like a beast, his stinger coming down in a hard over-head strike. I ducked back from his swing and smacked him atop his lowered head. He crumpled, and I felt only a second’s relief. A second later my flash-wall burst, spent.

Free to move without striking her friends, Shades’ attacks only became harder to fend off. She was edging me back now. Every two steps she took forward were two steps I had to take back. My hand flew, only just keeping up with her attacks. Until…

The wall hit my back and the breath left me in surprise. She leapt forward, stinger flowing toward me. I pivoted to one side, wincing at the impending blow. Instead, the longer stinger bounced off the tile wall, sending her arm wide and her guard open.

We both blinked in surprise. And then I hit her. A hard left across the jaw and a stinger to her wrist. The longer device dropped from her hand, vanishing and she crumpled. Her avatar flickered, prone on the tile floor.

“You might’a been cute if you weren’t such a bitch,” I said. I staggered off, catching my breath. It was long-past time to get this over with.

Chapter 26

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Great Western History: Stagecoach Mary

scmUnsurprisingly, one of my favorite shows on TV is Hell on Wheels. Occasionally a minor character comes along who is so distinctive, so outstanding, that you just know that was a real human being. During a recent watch-through of the last season I found one-such person: Stagecoach Mary.

Mary Fields was a distinctive person to behold. It’s said she was never seen without a cigar chomped in her teeth, and never without her pistol or jug of whiskey. She led the kind of extraordinary life of western adventure that you rarely see in the history books—the kind that only seems to appear in novels and movies.

Fields was born a slave to a Tennessee judge in 1832 and remained in slavery until it was finally outlawed in 1865. At the age of 33, the world finally opened up to her. She lived many roles in her life. She ran a restaurant in Cascade Montana that served to anyone, regardless of whether they could afford it. She ended up in gunfights more times than the men around her would like to count. Local Indians gave her the nick-name White Crow. She came to be so respected that, on her birthday, the town of Cascade would close its schools to celebrate.

But Stagecoach Mary was perhaps best known for her work with the Postal Service.

In 1895, at age 62, Mary was looking for a career change. There was a general call for mail carriers, and she applied. Amazingly, she got the job. This was in no small thanks to the fact that she was the fastest person—man or woman—to hitch a team of horses up during the interview.

Embodying the USPS credo, Mary delivered rain or shine, with the help of her trusty mule Moses. And if the snow got too deep for her horses (or Moses), she’d slip on snow-shoes and continue with her duly appointed rounds.

At last Mary retired in her seventies. In 1914 she died at Columbus Hospital in Great Falls, Montana. Actor Gary Cooper wrote of her, “Born a slave in somewhere in Tennessee, Mary lived to become one of the freest souls to ever draw a breath, or a .38.”

USB: Birthing Pangs chapter 24

Chapter 23

birthing

The code-baked gap in the floor continued to widen by the cycle. Snapping myself out of my thoughts, I bolted into action. My console lit up and I hammered at commands, running through a list of possible causes and counter measures. The longer that I took, the further away Ara and her cronies ran. Even as I worked, the woman with the mirrored shades blew a kiss and vanished behind the closing door of the transit tunnel.

With a sweep of a finger I highlighted the bug that had opened up the transit gate and pulled that aside for future use. Then it was back to the problem of the little moat. Behind me the fighting started to lull as those left behind from Ara’s crew were subdued by the Petrucci muscle.

“Isn’t there anything you can do?”

A glance over my shoulder told me the owner of the question was Ms. Skinner. I frowned.

“Maybe-haps if you can leave me alone for five minutes to find a solution.”

“We don’t have five minutes!”

“All the better reason to stop talking.” My lip twisted in a snarl. “This code’s good. Very good. Can’t crack the moat, and while I hammer away at that, the access gate for the transit tunnel is disappearing.”

I cut my losses with the moat and took a crack at the tunneling code. Across the room, the door was mostly closed now, and the sight of the green-and-white enameled tile was swiftly dissolving back into the mansion’s sedate wood paneling. The app was unraveling itself—a common trick used to cover tracks when you can’t stick around to shut off a function yourself.

Stopping a code from unravelling is usually simple. I hammered away at the bits and the bytes and the fade stopped. I looked up to survey my work. The access gate’s security door remained frozen, opened just a hair. It would have to be enough.

“How we doing on the security situation?” I asked the secretary.

Ms. Skinner frowned and consulted her console. “Still 4 minutes away.”

“Too long. What-ever this thing is, it’s not budging. I need to crack into the house’s component structure.”

She cleared her throat. When I glanced up from my console, the corners of her mouth turned down. I waved away her concern with my free hand.

“Don’t worry, I’ll conveniently forget how to access it when I’m done.”

“Don’t steal anything.”

“Cross my heart.”

Unable to root out the problem, I decided to attack the space around the problem. I began cracking away at the security preventing iterants from messing around with the fundamental makeup of the Petrucci home. Sweat beaded on my brow, as each heart beat spent meant Ara and the Duke were further and further away.

I snapped my fingers. “I’m in.”

“What are you doing?”

“You’ll see.” I began dragging items and blocks of code from folders of pre-made items, things I never would have intended for the use I was putting them to. When it was done, I slapped the compile button and closed the console.

“What did you do?” she asked. “I see nothing different.”

“Watch this.” I took two steps back and attacked the gap at a run.

The men around me took in a breath as one. Where my feet should have passed into the moat, they slapped hard glass. Frissions of light danced out from my foot steps as I bolted across the moat and to the door. A moment later I was through the transit gate, transported deep within the bowels of the servers.

I walked where only Admins should tread.

Chapter 25

Table of Contents