nessus's Diaryland Diary

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Suicide Squad was a trainwreck. I don't think anyone's really surprised by that.

But it could have been much better. There was the seed of a good idea buried somewhere underneath all the bad decisions.

The opening is awful and unfocused. It spends almost half the movie introducing the squad. Some stuff with Deadshot working out. Shots of Harley Quinn doing weird gymnastics. And the entire aesthetic is awful, the pinks and greens, the "edgy" style. And goddamn, the music. They're trying to ape the Guardians Of The Galaxy dysfunctional team of misfits thing, and then they go right ahead and use the exact same fucking song from Guardians Of The Galaxy.

So right off the bat, Harley Quinn should have had a Brooklyn accent. This seems obvious. I don't know why they'd pick an actress who apparently can't do one, or why they instructed her not to. It's like one of her defining characteristics and it felt wrong hearing her without it. It wasn't her.

This next point speaks more to a missed opportunity with the character in general, in all her appearances, but why the hell doesn't she ever use her psychiatry skills? She's a clinical psychiatrist. She has a doctorate. 8 years of her life. How did she go from that to little more than sex kitten? She's insane, not stupid. She should be observing everyone, picking them apart, exploiting their weaknesses. I hate the overt sexualization of her character over the last decade but if you could maybe comment on that by having her strategically use it to her advantage and then suddenly drop the pretense, become stony-faced, cold, efficient, ruthless, scary. I would have had her wear her Batman: The Animated Series jester outfit. It's still sexy without showing any skin.

Will Smith's nice guy Deadshot really didn't work for me. I like him as an actor, but I don't know if he can play a villain. And that's what Deadshot is, he's a remorseless contract killer who never misses. I would have gone with his classic origin story, where his abusive father was beating his mother when he was a child and he went and found a gun and tried to shoot his father but missed and ended up killing his brother.

Maybe also include his death wish tendencies, over the guilt.

Distill his "powers" down to the fact that he simply never misses. Make it almost preternatural. His costume usually ends up looking really stupid, so I'd base his wrist-guns on the actual WWII Sedgley glove gun, and have his mask just be a plain black military ballistic mask. Make his outfit more or less practical military/special forces.

Despite it being a fairly major departure from the comics, I think I'd actually keep the Ringu-esque version of Enchantress. I liked the creepiness and the weight it brought to her early scenes. I'd go almost full on horror for the character. Play up how ancient the entity is, describe it as being a demigod driven underground during the last ice age. The whole "The Enchantress" magic word bit could be June Moone translating an inscription in the tomb which awakens the goddess.

I'd have the movie cold open with the boardroom scene where Waller demonstrates the power of Enchantress. Make it seem mundane and grounded at first, a meeting at a government agency, low pile grey commercial carpet and conservative shoes, someone pouring coffee, lots of ums and uhs as they go over reports. Then the appropriations committee guy is all rightfully skeptical, talking about slashing Waller's budget. Then Waller has Enchantress do her thing (though I don't think I'd include the Enchantress' heart McGuffin; it muddies the waters, especially when it inexplicably ends up not working later on in the existing film). THEN Kubrick-esque cut to bold title and credits sequence with the jail and find a way to introduce all the other characters more organically instead of the "zany" title cards.

I think I'd have Enchantress serve the same role that Katana does in the existing film, to keep the criminals in line during the mission. *Then* she turns on them when June Moone loses control of the entity.

Keep Incubus as the apparent villain before Enchantress betrays them and teams up with him. Definitely keep the shot where Incubus is standing on the tracks in the subway when the train pulls into the station and he bisects it and you see from his point of view the inside of the train cars as they rush past.

Keep the villains' plan involving these ancient demigods reshaping the world, combining their magic with modern technology, but make it look way cooler, not just dumb boring blue glowy light. It should be all creepy and Giger and Akira style, and clockwork and intricate moving parts.

I wouldn't have the Joker at all, pretty much. Just a rictus grin in the shadows of his Arkham Asylum cell in flashbacks explaining Harley Quinn's origin, but that's it. Show how she became obsessed with the way his mind worked.

Yeah, could have been a good movie if DC didn't so consistently display incompetence with their cinematic universe.

4:20 a.m. - 2017-01-08

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I've noticed a dismissive attitude towards nostalgia and any media that taps into it. As though it were inherently superficial or shallow.

Similarly baby boomers like to bemoan the "extended adolescence" of generation x and millennials.

Memories are like stones in a rock tumbler. Every time you access a memory your brain edits it. Over time the rough edges are smoothed away and even negative experiences often acquire a sheen of poetic tragic significance.

I think a lot of us start to miss that as we get older, as we are confronted with harsh realities. We crave simpler times (however unreliable our memories might be), before we were weighed down by responsibilities. It might even account for the slide into conservatism many people undergo later in life. Romanticizing the past, yearning for it. Fearing the future.

Our past becomes a series of iconic images, places we can retreat to, where we can smell the dust, feel the grass beneath our feet, moments crystallized.

Earlier today as I was listening to Tegan And Sara - So Jealous I thought it could be neat to make a post where everyone picks a handful of their favorite albums, and then describes the memories most closely associated with them.

So Jealous is experiencing that album for the first time at the listening station at the downtown a&b Sound, with its massive pillars and gilded ceilings. Another time sitting alone in the airport in San Jose, California listening to that album on my expensive Discman that had ridiculously good battery life, in the army surplus medic pouch I bought from the Ribtor Warehouse for a couple dollars.

I think there's immense value in nostalgia. Nostalgia can bring joy (and the world desperately needs more joy). Stranger Things' appeal is based almost entirely around it and it's currently one of the most popular shows on television. For previous generations it was stuff like The Wonder Years.

As for the charge of "extended adolescence", I find the notion that people are supposed to stop having fun when they get older positively horrific. What is the point of life if you can't enjoy it?

3:13 a.m. - 2016-08-04

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The Gate, Part Thirty-three

1991 AD

Fatigue poisons accumulating in his aching muscles and unable to reach his crash couch, the acolyte swam against a series of desperate high-g maneuvers, the reliquary grasped tightly in two of his bifurcated tentacles.

The pykrete outer hull of the Amity groaned under the stress, and he imagined the water in which he was swimming suddenly venting into space.

He imagined the radiators outside, incandescent against the black backdrop. Gradually the water temperature rose as the waste heat of the communications laser being used as a makeshift weapon was unceremoniously dumped into the crew compartment; functioning, for the time being, as an emergency heat sink.

He’d be dead long before that became a concern.

He reached the locker containing his space suit when a 100 nanometer UV laser several orders of magnitude more powerful than anything the acolyte’s people had been able to manage carved a deep furrow in the outer hull, vaporizing the Amity’s communications laser.

Klaxons blared like whalesong, confirming the acolyte’s worst fears: the idiot mock mind had finally decided to scuttle the ship rather than allow it to be captured. He had very little time.

Cursing the mock mind, he made his way aft to the ship’s reactor. Ignoring multiple warning signs he opened the hatch and descended into the containment.

The only source of illumination was the ghostly blue glow of Cherenkov radiation emanating from deep within the core below, a labyrinthine nest of pipes. His three hearts pounding, the acolyte watched as his tentacles fumbled while manipulating the latch on a service panel, acutely aware of the fact that the only thing standing between him and a slow, painful death from radiation sickness was several cubic meters of water.

The mock mind protested feebly as he cut its power, halting the countdown, probably buying him a few minutes.

Emerging from the containment, he allowed himself a moment to catch his breath and collect his thoughts.

Just then the proximity alarm sounded and he heard a knocking against the hull: enemy boarding craft.

He’d run out of options.

Looking down at the nondescript calcium carbonate box, the acolyte opened the reliquary.

Inside was a copper ring in the shape of an eel devouring its own tail.

He slipped it onto one of his tentacles.

***

At that exact same moment six thousand light-years away Jacob was exploring the horror section of the newly-renovated video rental store in a small strip mall. Surreptitiously wandering the aisles, his imagination ran riot trying to discern the plots of the movies based solely on their cover art. A green monster emerging from a toilet. A terrifying clown with grotesque claws. A hairy alien with a shark’s rictus grin filled with needle-like teeth.

Peeking through wire shelves populated with similarly gruesome images, new carpet smell thick in his nostrils, he watched his father, older sister Keren, and her best friend Erin finally decide on a movie.

He snuck back over to the video game section and rejoined them as they got in line at the front counter. The rows of colorful snacks tormented him; renting movies was a rare treat, and his frugal father would never consent to wasting money on overpriced candy. They would make air popped popcorn when they got home.

Jacob braced himself against the January chill for the walk back to the car, snowflakes melting when they came in contact with his skin as he fumbled with his mittens on a string.

***

The acolyte had studied the ring extensively, written a treatise on its ecclesiastical significance, spent four tides training for this mission, but this was the first time he’d actually held it, touched it.

The padre had entrusted him with its protection. A Relic, well over ten thousand years old. A weapon in a war long ago. One of a kind.

It now spoke to him, inside his head it seemed. It told him what to do.

The acolyte donned his space suit and waited. His beak worked nervously as he caressed the ring.

The Amity was small, fast, and maneuverable, with an oversized drive and minimal armament. Roughly cylindrical with white hot radiators protruding from the stern like bioluminescent sea fan coral.

The ship was originally built to accommodate a crew of five, but the acolyte was the only one on board. The only one who made it.

Under thrust the habitable section was laid out like the inside of a flooded missile silo, with the drive section at the bottom, the acolyte’s crash couch in the cockpit up top, and the main waterlock amidships.

Carved out of the pykrete outer hull, covering its entire surface, an ice sculpture. An elaborate bas-relief depicting a significant period in the history of the acolyte’s people the Avatara.

A celebration of the early expeditions onto land and the discovery of fire, drawing parallels with space exploration, the ship's drive flame representing the primordial fire upon which their civilization was built.

Everything, from metallurgy, to chemistry, to the splitting the of atom, to space flight. The discovery of the Relics.

It opened up the galaxy to them.

Exposed them to new threats.

A massive explosion shook the ship. Through a ragged hole in the side of the ship the acolyte glimpsed chunks of pykrete bas-relief falling away against the ship’s thrust. The drive hadn’t been damaged; the enemy continued to exercise restraint.

The pillar of water above the breach drained out into space in a torrent and the water surrounding him began to boil in the hard vacuum, obscuring the visor on his space suit. Poking his head above the surface he could see the outline of the enemy through a fog of forming ice crystals. Unfamiliar alien shapes in lumpy space suits climbed through.

A moment’s hesitation. He raised a tentacle and an infinitely thin invisible blade of tidal forces cut a swath through them like kelp.

Alien blood dyed the waters red as they writhed in silence.

He had no desire to cause any living creature pain, to contribute to the suffering in the universe, but more than his own life was at stake.

The next ones through the breach fired their lasers as soon as they were clear.

Too late he closed his eyes. Violet afterimages as the ring effortlessly redirected the laser beams around the acolyte, so that they struck the bulkhead behind him, dissipating harmlessly.

Blinking, he looked away as he waved a tentacle over the invaders. Limbs evolved for land flailed and alien hearts pumped a geyser of blood into vacuum.

Space isn’t cold. Space doesn’t have a temperature and is in fact a near perfect insulator. But boiling necessarily expends energy.

And so the bloodied water began to freeze, from top to bottom like a lake in winter. Panic gripped him as he became trapped in the newly-forming ice.

The ring then informed him that the enemy was about to fire and, without any prompting, teleported him to safety just as the warship’s primary laser knocked out the smaller ship’s drive in an expanding cloud of vaporized metal.


***

Sunita developed a ritual where every time she boarded a plane she’d touch the cool, smooth paint on the exterior of the aircraft where the accordion-like canopy of the gangway met the fuselage. She found it strangely invigorating as she stepped over the threshold and entered a realm of constant pressure changes, recycled air, and engine noise.

The first time she did it was a fourteen hour nonstop flight to India.

The humidity hit her like a wall as she disembarked. Pretty much the exact opposite sensation.

They were serenaded by a chorus of insects as they descended the stair car in the middle of the night and almost immediately she began to sweat, but there was nowhere for the sweat to go.

Her mother scolded her and her brother to behave while they passed through customs under the gaze of humorless customs officers. Sunita watched the luggage carousel, fantasizing about a rental car with air conditioning.

Her eleventh birthday was in a week and it felt weird to be thousands of miles away visiting extended family in the middle of winter, except, she had to remind herself, it was summer here.

Playing Game Boy with nothing but the streetlights to illuminate the screen on the long drive to her relative's’ house.

At the end of a narrow dirt road they parked behind the only other car. Hauling their luggage up the staircase they greeted family and then shuffled off to their rooms. She was always surprised by the open air architecture, the use of concrete as a building material.

She was comforted by the whistling of the chowkidar as he made his rounds as she stared at the ineffectual ceiling fan, struggling with jet lag.

***

The only sound was the soft whir of the water pump in his suit. Teleported along with him a hemisphere of ice that cracked and flaked when he craned his neck, scattering chunks of ice in all directions.

Occupying half the sky was an azure blue ice giant. White wisps of cloud circled a dark spot over 16 000 kilometers in diameter, a planet-sized storm contrasted against the organonitrogen haze of one of the ice giant’s rising moons; a cryogenic world of liquid methane oceans beneath a thick yellow smog.

The moon rose, eclipsing the ice giant, and for a moment the austere beauty of the universe overwhelmed him.

In the distance twin specks of light, the vessels still locked in combat, connected by a glittering thread; snowflakes caught in the path of the warship’s invisible UV laser.

Breaking out of the trance, the acolyte instructed the ring to access the enemy’s network.

Their intrusion countermeasures electronics were woefully ill-equipped to deal with the ring’s assault. It interfaced with their system wirelessly (the lightspeed delay negligible), granting itself unrestricted access, rewriting code as it went.

Moments later the warship underwent explosive decompression as all the airlocks opened in unison, leaving the crew gasping with collapsed lungs as the air inside the ship tried to fill the universe.

It appeared out of nowhere.

Like a cross between a lamprey and a fungus, rhythmically fanning gills, no space suit, gaudy colours and no eyes, looming over the acolyte.

Anunnaki.

It’s “face” exploded into a nest of writhing tentacles bristling with the branching bony digits of a tool user.

And every arm adorned with a copper band in the shape of an eel devouring its own tail.

***

Three thousand antiaircraft guns lit up the night sky.

Like the cheesey fireworks that always accompanied the Saddam song on the evening news, he thought sardonically.

Invisible stealth fighters rained death down upon Baghdad to a soundtrack of air raid sirens and muffled concussions.

The clock said 3:08AM. Jafar lifted the receiver again. Still no dial tone. He prayed that his mother had made it to one of the civilian bomb shelters.

Grateful for his student deferment, he thought of all those who were dying right that moment.

***


The battle transpired far too quickly for either biological combatant to perceive, faster than nerve impulses.

The Relics clashed. Waves of deformed spacetime crashed against a hastily erected scaffolding of non-baryonic matter, frothing and swelling in vacuum. A maelstrom of negative energy density fed by an inexhaustible supply of zero point energy. Water molecules disintegrated into their constituent atoms as ice crystals were violently swept up in tidal forces like those around a neutron star.

For every strategy there was a counter, parry - riposte, effectively cancelling each other out. A duel of savants.

The drawn-out dance continued for milliseconds.

After many failed attempts the ring finally managed to conjure a Lorentzian traversable wormhole into existence in the middle of the Anunnaki’s brain producing a fatal aneurysm. Simultaneously, acting in concert, the copper bands around the Anunnaki’s arms succeeded in severing the ring from the acolyte’s tentacle.

The acolyte flashed stark white in shock before losing consciousness. The self-healing materials in his suit sealed the rupture before he lost too much water, and his severed tentacle, along with the ring, tumbled into the gravity well of the smog-shrouded moon below.

He came to just in time to watch the frozen corpse of the Anunnaki burn up in the moon’s thick atmosphere. The water in his suit had become clouded with his own milky blue blood, smelling thickly of copper. He favored his mangled limb as he manipulated the controls for the maneuvering thrusters on his space suit, aiming for the pair of derelict ships fourteen kilometers away.

1:55 a.m. - 2016-05-16

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The Gate, Party Thirty-two

The Angel was restless.

He dreamt of the glorious conurbations back home; crystal cities spanning entire continents, stretching from permanent dusk to twilit sea.

The scents and the sounds of the bazaar where he grew up, raised by his parthenogenetic sister, selling opalescent trinkets to the throngs of pilgrims. The comforting white noise of a billion Voices.

Drowned beneath an ocean.

He awoke with a panic when he realized where he was.

The Safehold.

A city-sized castle built along a cliffed coast overlooking the sea, the product of a mad dynasty. A storied, schizophrenic design, with concentric curtain walls, winding staircases leading nowhere, honeycombed with secret passageways amid quietly crumbling arcades, and forgotten, overgrown courtyards with marble statues that only felt the sun’s rays one day out of the year. A vast Kitchen District that once catered ten thousand and decaying dungeons preserved the dessicated remains of countless forsaken prisoners.

Baileys accounted for fully half of the Safehold’s land footprint, grassy areas where a herd of twenty thousand could graze during a prolonged siege.

Once the seat of government the Safehold was now sparsely populated by hill people fleeing the government. Encroaching forest had breached the north wall, spilling into the crowded Servants’ Quarters District, and a century of coastal erosion had claimed over twenty percent of the castle grounds, as they tumbled into the sea.

The entire structure was centered around a secluded cloister situated directly beneath the object that inspired the cult which became the state religion for almost 20 years: a gate, miraculously suspended in the air nearly a kilometer above the surface like some twisted planetary oubliette. The Angel’s prison for the past fifty years.

Stranded, on this world of marsh and clay where sulfurous mud caked everything and the sun refused to stay put.

He still hadn’t gotten used to that, the daily transit of the sun across the sky. Shadows moved. It felt fundamentally wrong. As did the preternatural stillness, the total absence of proper seasons. And the Silence was almost unbearable. No one to talk to besides ignorant savages.

The inhabitants of this world, the shepherds, were primitive, superstitious. Their quaint little “empire” barely covered one third of one world, crossing oceans in leaky ships of timber as they sold one another. They’d yet to even develop a germ theory of disease and were perpetually perplexed when plagues decimated their population, when they shat where they ate in the squalid hellholes they called cities.

And within a century they’d possess the microprocessor.


The process of uplifting the shepherds was extremely tedious. Their short lives meant that by the time he’d finished training one it was already succumbing to dementia. His current protege was especially bright, however, and for the first time in decades he felt optimistic.

Patiently introducing all the ancillary technologies necessary for one invention, giving rise to entire industries in the single-minded pursuit of his goal.

And after all these years construction had finally begun! Manufacturing the required turpentine, rubber, acid, and procuring enough silk had been taxing, but his efforts would soon pay off.

With it he could finally escape this world and return home.

Or what was left of it.

5:21 a.m. - 2015-12-15

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Fallout 4 review

Spoilers for Fallout 4:

About 80 hours in.

Got what I wanted out of it. I'm satisfied.

It's a flawed game, but there are some really good bits, and the fundamental gameplay continues to be ridiculously satisfying and addictive. I love exploring, finding these random interesting locations.

I think the Bethesda Fallout games have an advantage over their Elder Scrolls games in that each location in the Fallout games is at the very least something recognizable. A grocery store, a comic book store, a familiar landmark. So right off the bat each "dungeon" has a distinct personality.

Compared to Skyrim where every dungeon looked the pretty much the same and was filled with the same generic Draugr. Little motivation to just explore and find identical crypts.

To say nothing of the really special areas in Fallout, the single lush green space in all of the Capital Wasteland, or a Vault populated by musicians who were driven mad by white noise containing subliminal messages.

The Vaults in particular are always a highlight, though the ones in Fallout 4 weren't quite as good as in Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas.

While the trailer was a little underwhelming the graphics are noticeably improved when you're actually playing the game, especially on PC with all settings maxed out.

One of my favorite moments happens later on in the game when you meet with Father on the roof of MIT. It was night, and he was standing there looking out at the Commonwealth spread before him. And I'd just done something that could have jeopardized everything he was trying to accomplish and there was disappointment in his voice. The whole scene had a wonderful cinematic tone to it. Wish the game had more moments like that.

Not a fan of perks replacing skills. And having them all appear in a big screen that you had to scroll through was confusing, even after playing the game for dozens of hours. I liked in the previous games how your character build mattered more, and how you felt like you were making meaningful choices when you decided how to allocate skill points.

Along the same lines I don't like how Bethesda are trying to make it so pretty much any build can experience everything in the game.

One of the best things about these games is how vast they are, how you definitely won't see everything in a single playthrough. Makes it feel like there's near infinite possibilities.

I went for a high Charisma character. In the previous games this would have meant I could talk my way out of most situations, even convince enemies to kill themselves or abandon their plans all together. But in Fallout 4 it mostly just meant I could haggle with people to pay me more. There are very few meaningful choices locked behind speech checks in Fallout 4, which meant my character build was pretty unsatisfying.

The endings in particular are one of my least favorite parts of the game.

All four endings basically force you to do something horrible, with no way for you to influence the outcome. It's basically "Go murder a bunch of people." and the faction you choose to side with just determines which group of people you have to kill.

There's no diplomacy or compromise or surrender. No nuance.

What's worse is that up until the point at which you are artificially forced to choose a faction you are free to do quests for any of them. So if you are a bit of a completionist and want to experience what the game has to offer you'll likely get to know all four of them. So when the one you side with orders you to kill the others it's especially difficult.

Which is an interesting emotion to experience in a game, one that's new to me, but it feels less like it was intentional and more out of laziness.

There's no commentary on how immoral the plan you just carried out was. No introspection.

I felt so strongly about this that, after experiencing two of the endings and reading about the other two, I went back and loaded a save from before I'd sided with any of them.

Then I donned a hazmat suit and headed off towards the Glowing Sea, a heavily radioactive section of the map that is largely uncharted. Decided that my character didn't want to get involved in their Machiavellian plots, and to let them fight amongst themselves, but without me none of them would be able to gain an upper hand. My ending was the status quo.

And in my head none of them ever saw the Sole Survivor of Vault 111 again.

And the kitty on the Brotherhood Of Steel's blimp got to live a long and happy life.

4:22 a.m. - 2015-12-13

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Fantastic Four movie idea

Watched the new Fantastic Four movie.

I quite enjoyed Chronicle, the director's previous film, so I was still hopeful going in.

It's not an *awful* movie, but it is deeply flawed. I'd put it in the same camp as Green Lantern, which had some neat ideas and could have been salvaged.

I want to give Trank the benefit of the doubt, and believe him when he says that studio interference was the problem, but it sounds like he shoulders at least some of the responsibility.

Either way a lot of missed opportunities.

I think the first problem was starting too early, starting with Reed and Ben's childhood doesn't benefit the film. There's no emotional resonance there, and it's difficult to swallow the idea that this kid built a teleporter on his own.

And they messed up Doom, again.

Which is strange to me because Doom really doesn't require too many alterations to make him work on screen.

As a child Victor von Doom witnesses his mother's death at the hands of what can only be described as a demon and is driven to try to understand what happened. Finding evidence of others who have died in a similar manner, he begins studying science and the occult, gaining insight into the underlying framework of the universe.

Incredibly intelligent he earns a full scholarship to State University in New York. There he meets Reed Richards studying to be a physicist, and Ben Grimm an engineer. A rivalry soon develops between Doom and Richards.

In his spare time Doom continues working on a machine that he hopes will allow him to peel back the veil slightly, giving him the answers he seeks. Reed, who has always been skeptical of Doom's claims with regards to the occult, notes a potential problem with one of Doom's equations. But Doom ignores Reed's warnings and goes ahead with the test. The resulting explosion scars Doom's face and leads to his expulsion.

Over the next decade he pursues his exploration of the occult, slowly gaining in power, eventually arriving at a small Tibetan monastery. There, with their help, he constructs his iconic suit of armour.

He then returns to his homeland Latveria and with his vast intellect effortlessly overthrows the government and with a Lex Luthor-like singularity of purpose sets about reshaping society. He installs a puppet prime minister and oversees the transformation of the country into a utopia.

I'd have this be the opening of the movie, more or less following Doom's early life to the present from his perspective.

The new Fantastic Four movie is based on Ultimate Fantastic Four, right down to Reed building a teleporter as a kid, and I think that's where a lot of the problems lie. I'd get rid of the child prodigies angle or them being students in the Baxter Building.

I can see why screenwriters have struggled with Fantastic Four. There's no real good origin for the team that makes sense. The original was an unauthorized launch by a group of unqualified people to beat the Soviets to the Moon. The Ultimate version is a bunch of child prodigies who all go to the same school and build a teleporter. With the former hard to justify why Johnny (who doesn't even seem to have a job in the original incarnation) or Sue, neither of whom had any background in science, would even be there.

IF you went with a space origin, then having Johnny be a test pilot, like they did in the first Fantastic Four movies, sorta works.

But I prefer the teleportation origin, not much for a pilot to do in that case.

So I think I'd keep Reed working on a teleporter, but a little later, during university. Both him and Doom would have been clandestinely building something in each of their dorm rooms.

Reed would test the teleporter with some recognizable object, the movie used a toy car.

Reed et all would end up working at a government think tank similar to the project in the movie, except as adults/right after graduation. Reed could specialize in astrophysics, Ben in engineering, Sue in quantum mechanics, and Johnny in mathematics (with a bit of a rockstar flair/Good Will Hunting smart guy doesn't want to apply himself kind of vibe).

They help build the government teleporter project almost from the ground up.

The day finally comes to test the teleporter.

They are sent through the N-Zone and arrive at a strange primordial world (think less glowy green crap like in the movie, more Mars). There is a large pile of Hot Wheels toy cars that accumulated over the years (something they inexplicably left out of the movie).

No silly glowy power source subplot, just a really creepy alien world with a cosmic horror kind of feel to it. They can see some sort of structure in the distance.

The N-Zone is an alternate universe near the end of its lifespan, trillions of years older than ours. Entropic heat death has claimed almost everything. White dwarf stars have become cold spheres of solid iron, black holes have begun to evaporate and the sky is filled with only red dwarfs expending the last of their fuel. There are a few scattered settlements, holdouts of unimaginably advanced technology just barely managing to maintain a toehold at the end of the universe.

But the four fundamental forces are expressed differently in this universe, and almost immediately the four participants in the experiment begin to change.

They hit the panic button and are transported back to the facility.

I'd keep Trank's body horror angle, but I'd play it up even more when they emerge from the pods. Almost like The Fly.

Over the following weeks they are quarantined and studied, but eventually it becomes clear that whatever happened to them is not contagious. They are slowly given more freedom, and eventually, with greater control over their powers, are able to demand more rights.

The government desperately wants to exploit them, but it can't control them.

I'd keep the Mole Man fight from Trank's original script and use it as a team building exercise that helps them learn to work together as well as an homage to the first issue of Fantastic Four.

A montage of them becoming famous, saving people, etc.

Doom learns of the accident and wants to know more about the N-Zone, intrigued by the promise of advanced technology.

Baxter Building security presents no challenge to him as he strides into the chamber containing the teleportation pods.

Reed confronts him. Big fight. The other members join in but Doom holds his own.

Doom and Reed simultaneously come to the realization that the devices they were both working on in college were fundamentally the same, the N-Zone representing the convergence of science and the occult. The demon "Mephisto" is an inhabitant of that universe, a survivor of a civilization that had long since succumbed to entropy. It had been trying to use Doom's mother (contacting countless others, including Silver Surfer) to claw its way into our reality. With the teleportation pods it finally had the means.

It begins to manifest and Doom and the Fantastic Four are forced to join forces.

Doom's mystical armour protects him as the fight moves to the alien world where they witness the full might of Mephisto. Together they banish Mephisto, and Doom turns on them, wanting to secure the advanced technology for himself. Fantastic Four defeat him, and teleport back to Earth.

Mostly happy ending, but Doom is revealed to have survived, albeit stranded on the alien world without the teleporter pods, and all the disturbance has drawn the attention of Galactus and the Silver Surfer.

3:55 p.m. - 2015-11-24

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The Gate, Part Thirty-one

Swaying swings, sky bleached by overcast, wind teased autumn leaves across the playground gravel. School let out half an hour ago but they lingered, delinquent.

They dared each other to climb the three storey fire escape on the old Romanesque Revival building, attempting to outdo one another. He made it to the half way point before having to turn back, fighting off waves of vertigo. He had to close his eyes. He kept imagining the bolts tearing lose, the entire staircase tumbling down.

The rules of the game they played were made up on the spot, like tag except the ground was lava, and tangentially related to the merchandising vehicle of a cartoon they watched each morning before school.

Jacob could smell the static scent of ozone on the yellow spiral slide as he weighed his options. From the monkey bars to the flying fox, they’d covered all of his potential escape routes. He was cornered. In desperation he tried jumping from the slide, miscalculated..

He saw stars.

The wind knocked out of him. Terror: he couldn’t breathe!

And then he could.

In the back of his throat he tasted copper. Tingling. His face, acutely aware of the muscles beneath. His sinuses. Ringing in his ears. Dazed. All at once.

Someone lifting him, his feet dangling, dragging. Worried voices...


***

Another school yard.

The nerdy Jewish kid with smeared eyeliner, a mohawk, a thrift store trench coat, and steel toed boots from his grandfather’s workshop, smoking while listening to loud music on his Discman during lunch hour.

Like a dark cloud they descended.

He’d stood up to the bully when they were alone in the library. This time the bully brought friends.

It happened so fast, it was over before he realized.

He hit the cold gum-blistered concrete of the smoke pit, lip bleeding.

He saw stars.

***


Decades later.

He saw stars.

Pain. Accompanied by tightness in his forehead. Stickiness, his face. Iron tang. Burning plastic. Burning hair.

Discontinuity of consciousness.

Strong wind. Freezing cold.

Numbness. Pain.

Thirst, chapped lips.

Being jostled. Lifted.

Blinding sunlight, he squinted.

Awareness came flooding back.

When his eyes finally adjusted what he saw did not make sense.

Janice (Janice?!) holding his hand, looking at him with an expression he’d seen before. He appeared to be in a wheel chair.

To his left the cute Indian girl who sat next to him on the plane. She looked wearied.

He turned his head and saw…

...the woman who killed his niece.

“What the hell?” He coughed copper, raw.

Erin began, “Jacob, I’m so-”

“No. Get the hell away from me!” He turned to Janice. “What, what’s going on?” She just frowned, tears welling in her eyes.

He looked around frantically, ignoring spasms of pain.

They were in a small clearing of hard packed red dirt, dwarfed by strange white obelisks like bleached whale bones growing out of the ground. The sun was high in the sky and the wind rustled through vast fields of yellow fernlike plants.

Of the five people present he didn’t recognize two of them, a man and a woman. Both looked to be in their thirties, both had black hair, the woman slightly taller. Brother and sister by the looks of it, a strong family resemblance. The man avoided eye contact. The woman’s expression was curious.

Everyone, himself included, seemed to be bundled up in winter jackets despite the heat, and he noticed for the first time that he was sweating.

“Someone please just tell me what’s going on!” He struggled to remove the puffy nylon coat with a bandaged arm.

He gasped and fell back in his chair as a sixth individual popped into existence directly in front of him with a barely audible crackle of static electricity. The figure, six feet tall and covered head to toe in form-fitting worn brown leather, all buckles and laces, had its back to him. “What the fuck?! What the hell is that?!” cried Jacob, clawing at Janice’s coat.

She put her hand on his shoulder. “We don’t really know. They call themself Kennedy. Saved our lives.”

His heart raced, each beat exacerbating the headache he was quickly developing. Fight or flight, but there was nowhere to go, he couldn’t even stand, let alone run. His anger towards Erin became wholly irrelevant.

The figure sighed. “Finally awake I see.” It’s voice was genderless, alien. And the acoustics were wrong; the sound seemed to originate from all around them. “I suppose you deserve some answers. You all do.”

Kennedy turned to face him. The mirrored lenses of its mask betrayed no hint of emotion.

“Let’s see... You were in a plane crash. You and.. Sunita? were the only survivors. I’m sorry.” it said, and gave him a moment.

“This next part, well there’s no easy way... Look behind you.” Jacob turned to see a massive copper ring towering over him, over twenty feet tall, the color of the Statue Of Liberty.

“That right there, is an alien artifact.” said Kennedy, the gate reflected in the lenses of its mask. “There are thousands just like it scattered throughout the galaxy. Really old. They facilitate instantaneous travel between two points in space. A wormhole.”

No one spoke, the only sound rustling fields like ocean waves.

“So yeah, uh, aliens are real.” Jacob just stared, mouth agape. “Not like, UFOs, X-Files I want to believe aliens.. More like.. Lovecraft? I guess? These guys are different from the ones that built the gate network and who aren’t around anymore. These guys attacked us. Attacked Earth. Sorta like Independence Day. And we just barely managed to fend them off.”

Kennedy paused. “Yeah. I know. Really does sound unbelievable when you say it out loud.

“Anyways, the US military found a gate in Iraq in 2003, during the war. And they started messing with it.”

Jacob interrupted the monologue. “Something about... Germany. A military base. And letters... EMP?”

This seemed to startle Kennedy. “Yes. Exactly.” It cleared its throat. “At any rate that really pissed off the Anunnaki, uh, the guys who attacked us. They sent one of their warships to take care of us, which would have been enough, but NASA managed to cobble together something that was able to beat them.

“But there was a gate on board the alien ship and when it blew up it was dialed to a command ship in another solar system. So when the alien ship exploded the blast traveled through the gate, vaporizing the command ship.

“Then the gate fell to Earth, which always reminds me of that weird David Bowie movie.. and yeah, landed right on top of your plane,” it nodded at Jacob, “and your hospital.” it said, looking at the woman and her brother, who shivered involuntarily.

“So you all ended up on the other side of the galaxy, stranded on a planet where the command ship was refueling. Which incidentally is also how I got my new toy.” Said Kennedy, patting the smaller artifact clipped to its belt.

“So yeah Jacob, you weren’t really awake for the frozen wasteland part, but you really didn’t miss much. And now we’re here.” Kennedy inhaled deeply. “Much better.”

“H-how do you know all of this?” demanded Jacob feebly.

Kennedy seemed to consider this, and said, in a conspiratorial tone, “Hey, you guys want to see something cool? Everyone, meet Nagini.”

3:22 a.m. - 2015-10-16

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The Gate, Part Thirty

(I apologise for the delay. Here is a link to all the chapters so far:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/... )

The demon Hubal’s earliest memory was of eating his father.

His father’s serene expression as his children took their first, tentative steps, and then devoured him, tearing open his distended belly in a paroxysm of violence, birth facilitated by death. Milky blue blood mingled with the falling rain as Hubal’s older sisters watched from a balcony overlooking the cobblestone courtyard, the spitting image of their mother.

The doula wiped blood from the children’s eyes.

Later, after the funeral, alone on the terracotta tiled roof, braced against the wind, Hubal studied the titian sky. Overhead a flock of fliers Broadcast birdsong. He closed his eyes and Listened. It was nonsense. It didn’t sound anything like Speech, it lacked the reassuring cadence of his parents’ Voices from the womb. In that moment he felt a profound loss that he would never get a chance to know his father.

***

Life in the crèche was an adjustment. Sterile, white, clinical. Upon arrival he was separated from his brothers and sisters. The children were divided into different classrooms each according to gender; male, female, and parthenogenetic. Studies were largely self-directed and they were given access to the planetary network, the sum of all surviving knowledge.

A disconcerting chimera of carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer and Cyclopean masonry, like a black snowflake, the crèche resided in the heart of the old financial district, rising out of glassed ruins.

While the other boys snuck out to spy on the parthenogenetic sisters, the dormitory became his home, a refuge, where, nestled in his bunk, he escaped into books borrowed from the athenaeum.

The crèche was built on top of one of the most complete libraries in the world. Pressed into sheets of copper, texts which had survived multiple cataclysms were loaded onto carts and delivered to his room. Ancient papyrus scrolls too fragile to survive the decontamination process were off limits to students, stored in lead lined vaults, but facsimiles were available.

The exhilaration he felt holding those ancient tomes, flipping through the pages. He imagined a pre-atomic scholar reading by torchlight the same passages. He loved the idea of preserving knowledge.

Seasons came and went.

The hurricanes of the rainy seasons gave way to the blizzards of winter.

Behind thick stone walls Hubal developed a passion for space. He learned about the planets, brown dwarfs and Lagrange points, neutron stars and Roche limits. His astonishment when he learned that not all planets were tidally locked, nor did they all orbit red dwarf stars. On some worlds it would even be necessary to make a distinction between days and years! He read about the discovery of the Ingress, and how it changed the course history, more significant than the invention of the atom bomb.

With a child’s wonder he watched workers unload cargo ships at the nearby spaceport. From his dorm room window he watched as the falling snow melted on the tarmac. He could barely make out a dim speck of light in the dusk sky, a captured asteroid, the counterweight for an unfinished space elevator abandoned by a bankrupt zaibatsu during the last recession.

What kind of man was his father? It was a question that dogged him well into adulthood.

***

Hubal graduated from the crèche, went home to visit his mother, and immediately enrolled in a seminary, the only male in his family to do so.

The seminary was part of a complex of inverted onyx pyramids of various sizes. Of the civilization that built them little was known, the records consumed in a great conflagration. Re-purposed long ago, they now served as a campus.

During long shifts working in the musty basement of the seminary’s archive Hubal sifted through old news articles.

An account of a fire that had swept through an entire district, razing to the ground hundreds of buildings and multiple arcologies, leaving millions homeless.

His father was working at a scriptorium when it happened, transcribing onto deoxyribonucleic acid ancient texts that had survived the most recent war. He assisted in the evacuation of an apartment building, saving dozens of lives. He even managed to salvage a handful of first editions before the scriptorium was consumed.

And for the first time Hubal felt a sort of kinship with his father; the shared experience of being a scribe.

Hubal’s time at the seminary was spent buried in books on orbital mechanics and organic chemistry.

Outside its walls a decade of relative peace gradually gave way to rising tensions. The squabbling polities of the southern continent had coalesced into a confederacy comprising a loose coalition of economists, artists, and exiled politicians, including what were widely considered some of the best military strategists in a generation.

Markets fluctuated, commodities became scarce as bomb shelters were restocked.

Hubal’s stipend ensured that he was insulated from the worst of it while he completed his education, but it was always there, in the back of his mind.

***

A month before graduation, while others were desperately pouring over their notes, he decided he needed a break.

Passing through the rusted gates, he ventured beyond the walls of the complex for the first time since he arrived.

Down a series of narrow streets, past vendors and artisans, he wandered. The sights and scents of the bazaar.

An artificial canyon of glass and steel eclipsed the sun, modern arcologies juxtaposed with ancient stone structures. A soothing double siren sonata filtered down from a private penthouse, reminding him of his days at the crèche. Nostalgia enveloped him as he thought about how his life was about to change.

Eventually, without realizing it, Hubal found himself in the shadow of the Grand Central Terminal. He boarded a random vactrain and soon he was falling through the crust of the planet at several times the speed of sound. There were no view ports so he slept. The two hour journey spanned nearly 10 000 kilometers.

Klaxons roused him from his torpid state. The pressure difference was noticeable as he disembarked, carefully navigating the platform gap. The City, the capital of an interstellar empire, smelled different. Thick. Saturated. Eighteen billion inhabitants squeezed into a thousand kilometer-wide strip of unbroken skyscrapers, arcologies, and tunnels that girdled the planet, hugging the terminator, the line that seperated day from night.

From the Twilit Sea in the west to the colossal desert in the East, with only a narrow channel separating it from the archipelago of the volatile southern polities, The City had long since annexed all neighbouring municipalities. Hubal found the true scale of the ecumenopolis difficult to comprehend. His head swam.

When he Listened the noise was deafening and he had to stop almost immediately. He wondered how anyone could possibly communicate through the din. Coming from a small town of only a million where it was still possible to Hear the lightning of passing storms in the distance he felt conspicuous, naive.

He checked his device for ideas.

The Bath House was the obvious choice.

An obsidian monolith six storeys tall, it had survived multiple dynasties, countless wars, at the edge of the blast radius of a primitive uranium-gun fission bomb dropped centuries ago, it was nonetheless still standing, still in use. Busy, even, despite the recent uncertainty.

The crowds were unlike anything he’d ever seen. He stood, dumbfounded. Like a fluid they navigated around him, a rock in a stream. The economy of movement was fascinating.

“First time?”

He would never forget the sound of her voice in that moment, how it caught him completely off guard, the beautiful, liquid syllables of her City accent.

***

The happiest day of his life was the day he was selected. To his astonishment his mother attended the ceremony, Broadcasting a dimly-recalled lullaby from the second row. It was the first time he’d seen her in nearly eight years. She hadn’t changed at all, though her increased stature was apparent; she was now the regional governor of their home province, flanked by personal security in the rain. She left without speaking to him.

Upon returning to his room he found she had left him a box containing some of his father’s belongings.

The following day there was a limited nuclear exchange claiming only a few thousand lives and he was on a shuttle bound for interplanetary space. Hubal would spend the next decade as a technician maintaining a solar shade, the only male on board. The sisters largely kept to themselves, which afforded him plenty of time to continue his genealogical research.

The box contained, among other items, a brass telescope with a cracked lens.

His father, it turned out, had seen the Night sky with his own eyes, had seen the stars through that very telescope. From the deck of a titanic icebreaker he had watched as dry-ice-bergs the size of cities calved into the Twilit Sea kicking up waves that threatened to capsize the ship.

A hand blown quartz bottle containing sand. Hubal’s father had also journeyed to the furthest extent of the endless eastern deserts of the Day, to the sub-stellar point, an vast wasteland where water boiled.

He’d written sonnets and Sung in a choir where he met Hubal’s mother at a recital. The box contained a program from the recital.

Hubal adapted to life on board the station. His reflexes still betrayed him occasionally; centrifugal gravity was subtly different, and microgravity was completely unintuitive. The food was adequate but the recycled air left something to be desired. It was too still. He missed the sound of the wind whistling through cracks in the window sill. Now his window was a view port made from fused silica and borosilicate glass five centimeters thick with nothing but hard vacuum on the other side.

The planet below was an infernal realm of sulfuric acid rain shrouded in a thick atmosphere, more like a sea of supercritical carbon dioxide, hot enough to melt lead. Lightning flashed in the shadow of the newly-completed solar shade, a tissue-thin megastructure 50 000 kilometers in diameter resting in the planet’s L1 point, blotting out the sun.

Planetary engineering was surprisingly simple.

The shade would block the sun. The planet would cool and after sixty years the atmosphere would begin to condense into carbon dioxide rain. Gradually it would drain into the lowlands and form shallow seas. The seas would freeze over as the pressure dropped and the remaining carbon dioxide would fall as snow.

The sea-floors would slowly sink into the molten interior of the planet as the weight of a hundred billion billion tons of atmosphere settled on top of them, forcing the continents upwards, triggering earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Eventually it would calm down. Only then could they begin carbon capture on a planetary scale.

It would take several centuries to terraform the hellish world, but biologically immortal species could afford to be patient.

And somewhere down there, he thought, were alien artifacts, just out of reach. An aerostat city revealed in radar, floating amongst cloud banks of vitriolic vapour, discovered decades before construction of the solar shade began. No idea who built it. Every expedition had ended in disaster.

He was going to change that.

He longed to see the Day.

4:16 a.m. - 2015-09-09

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I feel guilty when it takes me a really long time to write a new chapter.

1:47 a.m. - 2015-08-06

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Sometimes there'll be a word I'll hear and that'll be enough to inspire some writing. Like "polities".

3:09 a.m. - 2015-07-30

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The ozone smell of static electricity and burnt dust after tuning on a CRT television.

2:44 a.m. - 2015-07-05

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Reading about the end of the universe.

100 trillion years from now star formation ends, beginning the Degenerate Era.

Red dwarfs will cool and become white dwarfs, and the only objects larger than a planet will be white dwarfs (90%), brown dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. All nuclear fusion will cease.

Then the universe will go dark. Occasional bursts of light when white dwarfs merge, triggering a supernova and illuminating the Degenerate Era for a few weeks.

In 1 quadrillion years the orbits of all planets will either decay or they will be ejected from their solar system.

100 quintillion years from now galaxies will lose 90-99% of their mass as most objects are ejected. The remaining 1-10% will fall into their central supermassive black hole.

Two slightly different paths depending on whether or not proton decay exists (so far there is no experimental evidence in support of proton decay but some Grand Unified Theories are dependant upon it).

If protons do not decay, then 10^1500 years from now all matter will decay into iron as a result of cold fusion via quantum tunneling, all remaining stars will become cold spheres of iron.

And 10^10^26-10^10^76 years from now all iron stars will, also through quantum tunneling, become neutron stars or black holes.

If proton decay does occur over a 10^37 year time scale half of all baryonic matter will have been converted into gamma ray photons and leptons.

In 10^40 years all nucleons will have decayed into photons and leptons and the Black Hole Era will begin.

Over the next 2×10^99 years as black holes evaporate and lose mass to Hawking radiation their temperature will increase until they become as hot as the Sun and temporarily provide light in an otherwise completely dark universe.

If proton decay takes longer, over a 10^65 year time scale rigid objects such as rocks will start to rearrange their atoms and molecules via quantum tunneling, behaving as a slow moving liquid.

Next comes the Photon Age, after all black holes have evaporated the universe will be an expanse of photons, neutrinos, electrons, and positrons hardly ever encountering one another, occasionally forming short lived positronium atoms. Gravitationally the universe will be governed by dark matter, electrons, and positrons.

Beyond that it's more uncertain. The universe could avoid permanent heat death through quantum fluctuations, a new Big Bang could spontaneously occur.

5:12 p.m. - 2015-05-17

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My grandfather used to own a chain of arcades and my father worked for him and they wanted to have a bunch of NES consoles that customers could rent time on and play whatever game they wanted.

So before they got that set up my dad brought home a brand new NES with a cardboard flat of 20-ish games for us to "test" over the weekend. I remember playing a lot of Mario 2 and I think I recall seeing the boxart for Mega Man but I didn't end up playing it until many years later.

My mom and dad stayed up late playing Lolo (probably the first and last game they ever really got into).

Since Lolo came out in 1989 I think this all happened in '89.

Then for my birthday my grandfather got me my own NES and we were over at his house and I remember rushing into the spare bedroom, unboxing it, and setting it up and the colors in Super Mario Bros. being the most vivid thing I'd ever seen.

Nintendo later threatened to sue my grandfather because the NES was intended for home use only, so he removed all the consoles and asked Sega if it'd be okay to use Genesises instead, Sega said yes, then later changed their minds and threatened to sue. And now there's a shed in my father's back yard filled with old NES and Genesis consoles.

Eventually my grandfather sold the company to this businessman and he ended up importing a Super Famicom in 1990 and he needed my dad's help getting it to work on their North American TV so I got to try it out. They had Pilotwings and I think I must have been, along with the guy's kids, one of the first people in Canada to play that game.

There was something about that time, devouring the latest issue of Nintendo Power, the cheat codes section, the upcoming games. There was no Internet, magazines and word of mouth were it.

Years later, before we got Internet, at my cousin's friend's house who did have Internet, and us gathered around the computer impatiently waiting for the first ever published images of Mario 64 to download. Later at home watching CNN for hours for a glimpse of the game in motion, Mario jumping into a painting and it *rippled*.

I miss that sense of wonder.

11:59 p.m. - 2015-05-07

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The Gate, Part Twenty-nine

The cosmic background radiation burned like a rash.

Like the inside of a particle accelerator, it felt the impact of every photon.

At relativistic velocities blueshifted microwaves felt like gamma rays as they interacted with the baryonic matter of the ship’s hull. As each photon struck it triggered the pair production of an electron and a positron, creating matter from energy, and causing significant drag.

It also screamed its presence to anyone with a radio telescope, as the ship scattered the cosmic background radiation in its wake.

At this point the energy it poured into accelerating went mostly towards increasing the ship’s mass.

The ship did not look like a ship.

At 99.99999999% of the speed of light to an outside observer the Lorentz contraction of the ship had resulted in a flat wavefront with a thickness of a fraction of an angstrom, well into the wavelength of gamma rays.

Even at a rest frame the ship was odd-looking. A long, thin needle with a hull made out of diamond. Nearly a kilometer long and no more than five centimeters in diameter, like a javelin, it gradually tapered to a point just a few nanometers thick, a molecular bowsprit.

The uncanny miniaturization was only made possible by the warping of space using a scaffolding of exotic matter. The ship was, simply put, bigger on the inside. Like miniature gas giants, four metallic hydrogen fuel tanks fed the hungry fusion drive that burned brighter than stars.

Its artificial intelligence was etched into a substrate a few atoms thick and unlike its cousins the gates the ship was unique, a product of the Embrasures.

A weapon, deployed in the final hours of a war that had ended over ten millennia ago, or, thanks to time dilation, less than 20 years ship’s time.

It had traveled thousands of light-years since, awaiting instructions that would never come.

It was to be the ultimate kinetic kill weapon. Fiercely intelligent and undetectable until it was too late, arriving just behind its own light.

Its artificial intelligence had been designed from the ground up to be content with its fate, to derive pleasure from it even. There was no existential dread. It would perform its duties.

But atom by atom, the ship’s hull had eroded and the fuel tanks were almost dry. It would have to stop soon.

It spent subjective milliseconds searching for a suitable candidate. Just over a light-year away was a small terrestrial planet orbiting a yellow dwarf star. The ship would have to brake hard, experiencing for the better part of a year g-forces that would liquefy an organic crew (if there had been any space for a crew), pushing the fusion drive far beyond its design parameters. Even then it would be forced to aerobrake through a gas giant.

The ship pointed its fusion drive at the target world and began to decelerate, shedding its considerable inertia.

***

A new star appeared in the sky.

The Witch dismissed the popular eschatological interpretations that had plunged the Capital into turmoil these past few months.

No. It signaled a new world order. She was certain.

The star grew brighter.

6:08 p.m. - 2015-04-12

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The Gate, Part Twenty-eight

The Witch could hear the elders rutting outside.

Males. The novelty still hadn't worn off.

She shuffled over to the window and slammed the shutters, plunging the cramped space into gloom. A small stove gave off some light, but the heat made the lab almost unbearable in summer. She could not afford any distractions at this critical juncture. The carnal world interested her less and less.

The Angel would be contacting her soon. It had promised insight.

Returning to her rickety escritoire cluttered with various animatronic designs, reports from the spymaster, translations of classical literature, a text on heliocentrism, a treatise on symbolic language, an unfinished manuscript on imperial expansion. She relocated her mortar and pestle, clearing a space for a ceramic bowl filled with water.

The Angel had given her so much already.

Insight into mathematics. Alchemy. Astrology. Astronomy. Optics. She was well versed in the occult and her personal library had swollen to the point where it now dwarfed the university’s own.

The Angel spoke to her from across the cosmic void as she scried her mirror, a gift from the Queen, crafted by the skilled glassmakers of a tiny island at the southern tip of the empire, employing a secret technique to obtain a near-perfect, undistorted reflection.

Nearly everything she had she owed to the Angel's intervention.

Wealth, prestige, respect. Fear.

The Court feared her. The Witch. The Molybdomancer.

Personal advisor to the Queen.

She had the Queen’s ear, and the Queen controlled an empire.

Power for power’s sake did not interest her, though. She sought knowledge. To unravel life’s mysteries. She did not believe in a world shaped and governed by the thoughtless actions of the Almighty Idiots, the Ancestors prayed to in the temples.

This made her a heretic, but she was too valuable to condemn to scaphism, so she was allowed to continue her investigations into the paranormal.

Fear was a tool. It was perhaps the most mercurial form of influence, it could turn on one in a heartbeat. But she was skilled at navigating the twists and turns of political life.

Her joints ached as she lifted the molten tin from the stove and carefully poured it into the bowl of water, and watched as it formed shapes that disclosed the future.

She massaged the knuckles of her long, slender fingers. At twenty-three she was already experiencing her twilight years. Soon the Dimming would claim her, and she would rut and she would die. But she was not afraid.

The Angel held the secrets of the universe.

And it had promised to share them with her.

And that, that was more valuable than her life.

4:36 a.m. - 2015-03-20

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The Gate, Part Twenty-seven

The gate was unlike anything she had ever seen.

A titanic ring of copper over twenty feet tall in the image of a serpent consuming its own tail. Its surface polished to a mirror finish in it she could see her own weary expression.

Her ash-blonde hair like straw, whipped into tangles by the cold cruel wind, Erin brushed it out of her watery green eyes. Her face was a constellation of faded scars: cheek, bridge, vertical labret, and snake bite piercings had all left their mark, artifacts of a short-lived stigmatophilic phase.

Her mouth was slightly crooked and hadn’t smiled in quite some time.

Kennedy had returned shortly after the nurse, Janice had managed to stabilize Jacob.

In its hands it held a copper circlet, like a miniature version of the gate, an ouroboros. Kennedy studied the object, turning it over slowly. Then, with a practiced motion it clipped the artifact to its belt.

Erin had watched, transfixed, as Kennedy removed the debris and chipped away at the ice so that the gate slid gently into an upright position, like raising an obelisk. The gate now rested against a newly excavated wall of ice at one end of a deep furrow carved out of the glacier.

How exactly Kennedy had accomplished this feat was unclear. The mysterious figure who could teleport at will could also seemingly cause large chunks of ice to simply vanish.

In its disconcerting neuter voice Kennedy advised them to gather supplies, anything that might be useful, that might help them to survive. It assured them that there was at least one firearm buried somewhere in the cargo hold, as well as a small hatchet that might also come in handy.

Kennedy then disappeared.

Erin was grateful for the chance to change into some warmer clothing, gladly tossing aside the flimsy hospital gown for a grey sweater, black jeans, a winter coat, and some hiking boots.

While Janice carefully transferred the injured and unconscious Jacob from the plane into a folding wheel chair the rest of the survivors filled backpacks and luggage with supplies. Bandages, hand sanitizer, antibiotics, medicine from the hospital. Oxygen masks from the plane. Pretzels, cookies, other packaged foods and drinks from the airline service trolley. And so on.

They worked in silence.

It was ghoulish, scavenging through the possessions of the dead, but they had little choice as the temperature outside dropped rapidly.

The girl with the broken arm, Sunita, called out when she found a smashed vending machine underneath some rubble.

The vending machine had Erin’s favorite brand of spearmint gum. Shoving a stick in her mouth, salivary glands aching to life, she stuffed rest into her purse which she’d somehow managed to hold on to in all the commotion. It was oddly comforting having her bag with her, one familiar item in the midst of all this surreality. Continuity. Her iPod, her notebook, her lip gloss. Even the useless receipts.

The man who had occupied the hospital bed next to her, Trevor, discovered a pair of O2 canisters out on the ice. Kennedy, who had reappeared moments earlier smelling faintly of ozone, thought they might prove useful. Kennedy also suggested they hold on to a few of the passengers’ cell phones but did not elaborate.

The gun, found by Trevor’s sister Jane in a hard case under a mangled dog kennel, was a .22 caliber bolt action rifle with a worn wooden stock and a scope, along with some ammunition.

They loaded up a hospital bed with supplies and steadied it down a treacherous ramp Kennedy had carved from ice.

Kennedy, having gotten what it came for, was growing impatient. “Are you almost done? I need to get out of here. I’ll explain everything once we’re clear. I don’t want to waste another minute on this frozen shit hole.” It looked at the assembled group, green flames reflected in the lenses of its mask. “You ready? Good. Move.” Kennedy did something to the gate and then something miraculous occurred.

Erin gasped.

Where once was a wall of ice there was now a window into another place.

The blood red skies of the frozen wasteland were replaced by a field of odd yellow plant life beneath an azure blue sky populated with puffy white clouds. She felt the warmth of the yellow dwarf star on her face as a pleasant summer breeze teased her hair.

At the edges the image became severely distorted, warped, almost like a soap bubble. Somewhat counter-intuitively the wormhole wasn’t a flat membrane, but spherical. It could be entered from any side.

“Come on.”
Frightened and exhausted the survivors reluctantly followed the leather-clad stranger through the gate.

***

Very gradually the particulates which had turned the sky crimson settled and one by one the green flames were snuffed out.

Over the next millennium the glacier’s scars healed. The wreckage of flight 773 and its mummified passengers were carried hundreds of kilometers on a river of ice three kilometers deep, almost to the equator where they were deposited, along with the gate and accumulated till, in scoured glacial valleys populated by strange sessile creatures that ate sunlight.

Flanked by erratics the size of skyscrapers the forgotten gate waited patiently while the ice receded.

It never encountered another human being.

5:55 a.m. - 2015-03-02

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Been playing X-Wing: Alliance lately, a space combat sim set in the Star Wars universe.

I played it before, years ago. Never beat it.

Before that I played through an even older game, TIE Fighter, and actually finished that one for the first time. Not quite sure why that struck me. Like a chapter had finally closed, perhaps.

As I get older I find I place more value on nostalgia.

Nostalgia is like a familiar old room, with motes of dust dancing in shafts of sunlight.

It's a private little world that no one can take away from you, no matter what's going on in the present.

I think that's perfectly valid, finding comfort in things like that, in memories, in stories, in daydreams, in things that no longer or never existed.

We will all die some day. It could be tomororw, it could be 60 years from now.

I think a lot about actors, because they're so visible. Actors I knew growing up, and now they're that much older, but they're still around, still kicking, like Michael Keaton in Birdman. And I figure they've achieved quite a bit, and they're not done yet. Human life expectancy has risen, and 60 can be a productive age.

So I should be able to get a fair bit more done, barring illness or accident. Write more stories, compose more music, make new friends, more laughs, more kisses, learn new things, enjoy new entertainment.

And even if I were to die tomorrow, I guess I feel I've done a fairly decent job maximizing my enjoyment of the time I had on this planet whizzing around the Sun.

Sure there's things I still would like to see, I want to see pictures of the surface of Pluto, I want to see how Game Of Thrones ends, and so on, but you can't always get what you want.

In the end Emperors still died. Dictators died cowering in ditches, hang from lampposts. Seemingly kind people like Robin Williams, people who were struggling with demons, and all the countless nameless people in history whose names we'll never know, and whom we'll join when we pass, nameless.

Life is about enjoying the time you have. Allowing it to enrich you and the people around you.

5:37 a.m. - 2015-02-05

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Holy crap. For months now Diaryland has been refusing to let me log in. I had considered making a new account, but now it's randomly decided to start working again.

4:43 a.m. - 2015-01-22

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For the first time ever my LiveJournal Friends page is completely blank (LJ cycles out the older Friends entries, but in the past there's always been something that was recent enough so that there was at least one entry displayed).

Seems a pretty apt metaphor for the state of the site.

I really do miss when most people kept online diaries. Everything that's replaced them seems so shallow and superficial (Facebook, Twitter, etc.). We've gone from writing long, introspective multiparagraph entries, to brief status updates, to 140 characters.

11:54 p.m. - 2014-09-02

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Sometimes inspiration does not come.

I still haven't decided what the next scene will be. I've narrowed down to a handful of potential ideas, but I usually wait until I happen upon something that feels right rather than settle.

So in the mean time I've been working on rough visual representations of the various alien species in the story, as much for my own benefit as any of my readers.

Mostly I've been collaging body parts from disparate animal species in Photoshop with a new Wacom tablet.

I want my aliens to be genuinely alien, but for them to have a semi-plausible evolutionary background.

There is one central antagonist species that is fairly Lovecraftian. But instead of slimy octopus-like tentacles I want them to be bony, more snake-like.

Then there's more of an ally species that is "bug-like" except that I've given them trilateral symmetry, which changes everything about how you think about them. There's no front or back. You can't sneak up on them.

Another species that I haven't finished working on I want to have pentapedal locomotion.

It's difficult imagining other species that are tool users and intelligent that didn't follow the same path we did. No spear throwing. No persistence hunting.

6:12 a.m. - 2014-08-28

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The Gate, Part Twenty-two

A dissonant heretical call to prayer sung by vocal cords of something not quite human to the rhythm of the self-flagellation of unseen degenerate rituals. Wafting smoke and a scent like burnt onions carried on the breeze, tears welling in his eyes, he stirred. The early morning sounds and scents of the prison camp dragged him involuntarily from the relative refuge of sleep.

The hard dirt beneath him crawled with biting things like ants, and he sat up, rubbing his face with calloused hands. Perennial abdominal pain caused him to grimace as he cracked his neck, the foul taste of starvation ketosis mixed with the iron tang of open sores in his mouth.

He hadnt eaten in two days. It was not uncommon for them to neglect to feed a prisoner for weeks.

The staccato chopping of strange sinewy lumber, the harsh cadence of quarried stone in the distance, the unearthly lowing of queer beasts of burden, the ever present madness-tempting drone of the bees, and the charnel stench of manure and sewage and death.

Bracing himself against the thick wall of his cell he stood. Cool to the touch, it was a minor miracle in the eternal summer. Ten years without winter. Without a rainy season. Without any variance. Only occasionally did it ever drop below 100% humidity. He felt the sunlight against his eyelids as he faced the lone barred window, eastern exposure, nestled up against the low ceiling, looking out onto the road that snaked through the heart of the camp.

This place was ancient. A number of massive monolithic menhirs served as its foundation, with coarse Roman concrete forming all the non-load bearing walls. Curved, thicker at the base, the the few straight lines intersecting at odd angles. Over the millennia it had seen periods of settlement and neglect, and was currently occupied by his captors, a labyrinthine prison complex.

They called him feral, in their profane guttural language, and afforded him none of the privileges enjoyed by most other prisoners. Feeling no need to justify the daily cruelties visited upon him, they fed him offal and scraps and kicked him, laughter in their reedy voices. He spent the majority of each day locked in a cell barely tall enough to accommodate him standing up.

And he shared it with a demon.

Thats what they called it.

A demon. Of course hed never actually seen it, but from the noises it made he shared more in common with his captors than it. In his first month his ankle accidentally brushed up against it. The bristled leg of a crustacean. It had scuttled over to the opposite corner, hissing furiously.

When it eventually spoke it did so in a wheezing clicking chitter. Over the years hed learned to interpret those clicks, whistles, and warbles, and managed a mangled approximation of speech; baby talk.

He gave the demon a name, Hubal, the only pre-Islamic Arabic deity he could recall from his studies, the god that resided in the Kabba at Mecca, centuries before Allah had taken up residence.

Hubal had been living in the cell long before he arrived.

Eventually, six years in, it opened up.

In pidgin prose it told stories. Of far off worlds, of the discovery of ancient artifacts, including the gateways, of wars of conquest, of the day they encountered a more powerful foe: the unseen masters of his captors. It talked of deluge and extinction.

It talked of its mate. Of its home, now lost.

There were days where Hubal did not speak at all.

On those days he would talk to himself.

Outside the sun slid behind some clouds and the wind picked up, whistling through a crack in the wall.

His thoughts drifted once again to home. The old neighbourhood. His delinquent youth. Skipping classes, boredom. Once the other kids dared him to throw rocks at passing cars from a bridge. Despite his misgivings he participated, desperate for their approval, and was caught. His father had disciplined him and he became angry with them. The following day he got in a fight which resulted in the leader of the gang being blinded in one eye. It was many years before he was involved in another fight.

A great disturbance interrupted his reverie, a low siren spinning up, chorused and shifting in the tempestuous wind, like a perverted air raid. There was shouting all around, a flurry of activity. Stalls were boarded up, fires extinguished to the impotent protestations of livestock. Even the bees had stopped.

Through the din and chaos he caught one word, repeated over and over: Annunaki (Anoo-naKAI).

A dread fermented in his gut, like vipers in his belly. A tingling numbness in his lips and fingers. He knew that word.

This had never happened, not in all the years hed been imprisoned here.

The masters were returning.

Deafening thunder that dislodged dust from the ceiling announced the arrival of a god.

5:34 a.m. - 2014-08-13

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God it's depressing how nearly every argument I see regarding Israel vs. Palestine acts as if every single person living in Israel = the actions of the Israeli government, and every single person living in Palestine = the actions of Hamas.

I don't care how "democratic" either of them claims to be. They are (right wing, racist, militarized) governments.

I know I disagree with countless decisions "my" government makes in my name, and that's in a comparatively uncontentious part of the world.

These are ideologues, these are kleptocrats, these are ambitious men steering the apparatus of the state towards their own personal selfish goals.

The Chomsky interview I posted earlier wasn't necessarily because I agree with everything he says. In fact I find his denial of the Khmer Rouge atrocities disgusting.

But his quote about anarchism merely being a form of skepticism really hit home. Because that perfectly describes my beliefs.

When anarchism goes beyond merely being skeptical of and opposing concentrations of wealth and power, when it says it knows how to fix the world, that's when I start to tune out, because I don't believe anyone knows how to fix the world, and pretending you do is arrogance of the highest order.

Which is why I don't call myself an anarchist.

I'm a skeptic.

5:58 p.m. - 2014-07-20

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The Gate, Part Twenty-one

In a frozen waste beneath a cochineal sky Jane grappled with surreality.

This is impossible. Jane said, craning her neck. Stumbling backwards on the ice in chunky heel boots she struggled to take it all in. Less than a hundred feet away green flames licked the now-horizontal vertical stabilizer on the tail section of a 747 deposited on the ice like a beached whale. Next her an Indian woman in a fashionable charcoal grey skirt suit knelt, cradling a broken arm.

I know. the strange woman replied impassively.

Jane glared at her. No, you dont get it. This cant be happening. she insisted.

I know.

The ruins of the hospital groaned as they settled. She tried to make sense of it. One moment she was sitting on a hospital bed with her brother, the next the ceiling was caving in.

Trev? He was sitting cross legged, staring at the wreckage of the plane. The look on his face frightened her. She reached over to touch his shoulder.

Then Janes pocket chirped.

The sound couldnt possibly have been more disconsonant in the alien environment. For several moments she stood in stunned silence as the phone rang, the ringtone stolen from an episode of Arrested Development.

Fishing her cell phone out of her coat pocket she hesitated before answering, ...Hello?

Jane! Its Karen. Im so glad youre alright. I was so worried! I just heard the news. I assumed the worst..

Jane stared at the phone in her hand before putting it back to her ear. "...news?

There was an explosion at the hospital. They're saying it was a gas leak. A pregnant pause. Oh my god, is Trevor okay?!

Yeah, yeah, hes right next to me. Were stranded.

Oh my god! In the rubble? Are you alright? Don't hang up!

Not exactly. Were... Im not entirely sure where we are.

...what do you mean?

I dont know. It happened so fast. I was visiting him in the hospital. Then there was this hole in the ceiling, and we climbed through it. But then it collapsed. Now were in some sort of canyon. It looks sorta like.. do you remember that glacier in Colorado?

...you mean Andrews Glacier?

Yeah, and Mark tried to convince us we could just wade across that river, and he even made it to the other side, but I didnt want to wade through glacial runoff and he had to come all the way back? Almost lost his camera when he slipped on the rocks.

Jane honey, are you sure you didn't hit your head?

Oh! There was a plane crash. One of the survivors is right here next to me. Jane shivered and hugged her wool pea coat to her chest. Also its starting to get cold.

I think you might be in shock. Where are you? Can you hear the search and rescue team? Jane, I want you to stay put, Im going to- The call went dead.

Hello? She held the phone to her ear for a full minute before finally putting it back in her pocket.

Jane slumped down on the ice.

She turned to the strange woman, What the fuck is going on? Where the hell are we?

The Indian woman looked at Jane curiously before answering. I dont know, but perhaps we can ask them? She pointed to a lone figure standing atop the bluff, watching them. Jane gasped.

Then, as if possessing seven-league boots, the figure appeared mid-stride a few feet in front of them, instantly travelling a distance of several hundred yards.

Jane fell backwards and kicked at the ice, scrambling to put some distance between them but the figure did not make any further moves.

It appeared vaguely human. Wrapped head to toe in leather laced like a corset pulled tight. Unfamiliar rough-hewn tools carved from what appeared to be bone hung from a leather thong around its waist. Esoteric metal objects dangled, glinting in the firelight.

It regarded them from behind round, mirrored goggle lenses, with a snout less like a gasmask and more like a WWII oxygen mask.

Who.. who are you? managed Jane.

The figure laughed. It was a peculiar modulated, androgynous voice, a tinkling timbre rich in unfamiliar harmonics. You can call me Kennedy. it enunciated, accentless like a television broadcaster. It was extremely disconcerting, like a poorly dubbed movie, lacking natural reverb. I gather youre Jane... and whos this? Kennedy turned towards the strange woman.

Im Sunita. replied the woman, who remained seated.

And this is Trevor. added Jane, touching her brother on the knee as he stared wide-eyed at the newcomer.

And who are you? it called over her shoulder.

Jane had almost forgotten the other two whod escaped from the hospital with them. Slowly they approached the rest of the group. One was a patient, the woman on the other side of the curtain in the bed next to Trevors. She wore only a patient gown and a housecoat with one slipper, her straw colored hair a tangle. The other was a nurse in navy blue scrubs.

Im Erin, offered Trevors erstwhile neighbour timidly.

Janice. replied the nurse, suspicion in her voice.

The figure looked at each of the assembled survivors. I imagine you all have some questions youd like answered. Kennedy studied their faces and laughed. Sorry, Im not used to this.

It cleared its throat. Long story short: alien invasion. Aliens lost, quite spectacularly, but theyll be back, and in greater numbers. It laughed to itself. Star Wars? Anyone? Bah.

It turned towards the hospital ruins. So that, right there? It pointed at an exposed portion of the well from which the rubble protruded. That, believe it or not, is an artifact from an ancient civilization. Its a ring-shaped gateway. It connects to other gates scattered throughout the galaxy. Lets you travel vast distances, hundreds of light-years, in an instant. Dont ask me how, I dont understand the physics behind it. Hes tried to explain it to me on numerous ocassions and I just cant seem to retain any of it. I mean, I find that stuff fascinating on a conceptual level yknow? But the math is beyond me... Kennedy caught itself rambling.

It heel turned and clapped its hands. Now heres the rub. You cant go home. I dont have the, well, I suppose its a lot like an address. Or a phone number. But a lot longer. Whatever. Anyways, I have no interest in returning. I did my duty. I gave them all the information I had. And you want to know how they repaid me? They shot a fuckin naval gun at my head. Like, the ones on a battleship. At my head. Ungrateful little..

Kennedy studied its gloved hand which Jane noticed appeared to be missing a finger. Looking up it said, Anyhoo. The gates already closed, they shut it down right about the time your cell phone conversation cut out. Nice phone by the way. It watched for their reactions and quickly added, Sorry. I know this is a lot to take in." The leather suit creaked as it bent down and picked up a chunk of debris, tossing it in the air and catching it.

Now, you have a choice to make. it said as it stood. You can come with me, and Id strongly recommend that you do. For one youll freeze to death if you stay, and Im not really sure how healthy it is to be breathing this atmosphere. And I wouldnt mind the company and you might actually be able to help. With its right hand, the one with the missing ring finger, Kennedy caught the debris and examined it. But first Im going to get what I came for. It hurled the stone straight up. Ill be right back.

Abruptly Kennedy turned away and began studying the ice, as if seeing through it.

Oh," it shouted over its shoulder. "There's another survivor still inside the plane. You might wanna, yknow, do something about that.

And the figure disappeared with a barely-audible crackle, like static on a bedsheet.

And the rock fell back to earth, chipping the ice.

4:20 a.m. - 2014-07-09

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While I was watching Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters I paused the movie and, not for the first time, started researching Greek mythology on Wikipedia.

I'm convinced that a super faithful big budget movie based on those myths would do well.

There's something so primal about it.

The generations. The interrelationships.

The Percy Jackson movie didn't really get into it, but the plot of the movie involves Cronos, who would be the main character's grandfather (the movie incorrectly says great grandfather), in addition to being a ridiculously powerful cosmic entity. There's drama there that wasn't explored.

Uranus was the primordial god of creation who mated with the Earth (Gaia) to bring about the second generation of gods, the Titans.

His son, Cronos, overthrew him, castrating him with a sickle (where the grim reaper archetype originates). Where the blood from the wound touched the ground monstrous creatures spawned.
Cronos ruled for a time, and devoured each of his children to prevent them from growing up and overthrowing him. Similar to how his mother had helped defeat his father, his wife Rhea secretly saved their son Zeus by fooling Cronos into swallowing a stone instead of the newborn.

When Zeus reached adulthood he returned and freed his siblings from his father's stomach, and they waged war against the Titans. They are defeated and imprisoned in Tartarus.
One thing I thought Sam Raimi's Hercules television series did really well was continue that theme, and have Hercules overthrow Zeus. It fits really well with the established motif. Of course in the actual myths Hercules died.

Also, Hercules was a fucking asshole in the myths. Serial philanderer, prone to fits of jealous rage, etc. He was also bisexual and slept with Iolaus (who was his nephew, not just a friend as portrayed in the show).

Hercules was defeated by the centaur Nessus who, as he lay dying, convinced Hercules' wife that the centaur's blood was a potion that would ensure Hercules' fidelity. Instead, the cursed tunic doused in Nessus' blood caused Hercules so much pain that he committed suicide to end it.

Yeah, I'd love to see a movie, or better yet, a TV series, that didn't try to whitewash any of it. If they could take these characters that were created by a very different culture in a very different time, and still make them at all relatable or sympathetic. I think with good writers you could pull that off.

5:11 a.m. - 2014-06-26

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The Gate, Part Twenty

Hemorrhaging radiation, seeding millions of square kilometers, the weapon sang.

The size of a locomotive, it cruised less than 50 meters above the surface to avoid radar. It vaguely resembled a whale shark, wedge-shaped, with a gaping maw that hungrily consumed air, compressing it, feeding it into an unshielded nuclear fission reactor that, through the use of ceramic components, heated the air to over 3000 degrees kelvin, providing thrust.

Its song was savage.

The sonic boom that followed in its wake uprooted the sessile photosyntheti