Battle Royale: Kirk vs. Picard

Star Trek Movie Logo 2009 Beneath our society, a war has been raging. Two factions have drawn an invisible line and stand on either side, defending their honor — nay, the honor of the leaders their philosophy is based upon. It is a debate so fierce that the very mention of it will turn the most rational adult into an angry, spewing wreck, and every level-headed nerd into, well, an angry nerd.

And those are the worst kinds of nerd.

I’m talking about a debate that has plagued the civility of our world for more than two decades: Who is the best captain of the USS Enterprise?

I assure you this is not a topic I approach lightly. The last time I was caught in this I was an innocent bystander, trapped in the slobbering, gibbering ravings of angry nerds — I consider myself lucky to have escaped unscathed. Also, my car. I half expected to find my car covered with “PICARD RULES” and “KIRK IS AWESOME” in shaving cream. But I was lucky. I lived to fight another day.

Today is that day. Today I will compare James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard and determine who reigns as definitive captain of the starship Enterprise.

In order to have a fair comparison, The Editor and I sat down and watched the first Kirk episode (The Man Trap) and the first Picard episode (Encounter at Far Point 1 & 2) back-to-back.

Note:The first episode of the original Star Trek featured Captain Pike, so we watched the second episode, which had Kirk. Also, since Encounter at Far Point was actually two episodes, I wanted to keep it fair and give Kirk the same amount of face time. You know, because Kirk is an attention whore and would demand equal viewing had he been told of this discrepancy. So I also watched episode 3 of the original Star Trek (Charlie X).

While The Editor and I watched these shows, we commented on the strengths and weaknesses of each Enterprise Captain.

The argument against using only the first two episodes is that the characters continue to develop through the entire series, so it might be unfair to base it on a small, early snapshot. However, this is the fairest way. Though everyone in both series continues to change and develop over time, these beginning episodes reveal what lies at each character’s core. Also, many years have passed since I have watched a Star Trek episode (original or otherwise) so I went into this without any preconceived notions of who would reign supreme. All I could recall was that the two captains were entirely different, but nothing more.

Let’s get into it.

Kirk vs. Picard

As much as anyone would like to deny it, appearance plays a significant role in the way people identify leaders. Studies have proven that when voters have no information on candidates, they vote for the more attractive person. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why this is, we only know that it is. So we have to talk about it.

Captain Kirk
Kirk is generally known as a ladies’ man, even to people who haven’t watched a lot of the original Star Trek series. We don’t see a lot of his sexual prowess in the first two episodes, though the support for attractiveness is there, especially in all of his close-up shots: when the camera gets up close and personal, the mood lighting comes on and it’s Ridiculous Bedroom Eyes Time – even when he’s talking about a disgusting biological ailment and/or death.

I guess you could say Kirk has muscles. Times have changed and the definition of a hunky physique has changed, too, but back then I suppose you could call him “built”. Or “substantial”. Yeah, let’s call him substantial.

His mannerisms have flair: he employs a cool tricorder flip move and, when there is drama to be had, he flits around, then stops abruptly and holds bizarre poses. Possibly he’s playing Red Light-Green Light in his head. My favorite part about Kirk is that he crawls around in the dirt, performing silly fighting maneuvers. This behavior adds to his ruggedness.

And is it just me, or do none of his shirts fit?

Kirk Shirt

Captain Picard
Yep, he’s bald and he’s British. Good work, Sherlock.

Picard’s first appearance is as a black silhouette, Alfred Hitchcock-like. Then he emerges and is revealed as a short bald dude. I wouldn’t say that was a letdown; it was more of a surprise because immediately he is very un-Kirk-like. Though he was voted as “TV’s Sexiest Man” in 1992, I have to say that Picard’s attractiveness isn’t made by his physical appearance. It’s made by his persona. Don’t get me wrong, Picard isn’t unattractive. But he doesn’t fit the characteristics that typically make mainstream folks get hot over. And I may not even have brought all this up if not for the fact that on this version of the Enterprise, the captain’s chair sits between two others – where they seat Beardy McVirile and Bubbly McBreasticles, two people who are clearly put there to increase the sexy quota on that ship. This, to me, makes Picard’s physical attractiveness a question – or even a farce. If they had sat him between two regular people, I wonder if it would have been noticed. If they had sat him between Wharf and a gorgon, he’d be considered George Clooney in comparison.

On the bridge

Don't worry, audience -- here are two hotties who will save you from looking at the regular people!

And is it just me, or is Picard’s head shaped like an Alien head? I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Alien is bad ass. You are no match for Alien.

Picard-Alien Cranium

I declare their appearances a stalemate. Kirk scores with the chicks, but Picard has a sweet, Alienesque cranium.

Without a terrific crew, captains would be flying solo, doing it all themselves. Great leaders are people who rely on their crew’s expertise, utilize their crew to the fullest, and inspire. This is where we get into substantially different territory on our captains.

Captain Kirk
What’s different between the two series openers is that with the original Star Trek series, Kirk’s been captain for a little bit and he’s already established a relationship with his staff. Picard is new to the ship and he’s picking up a couple of new senior staff members. Kirk has already established his expectations. He yells at McCoy at one point, rebuking him for putting his emotions over logic and duty. He constantly relies on his senior staff for opinions and facts, which he pieces together in order to solve a mystery. And why wouldn’t he? He has Spock. You’d have to be a real moron to disregard Spock…

More on that in a minute.

Captain Picard
…is Kirk’s opposite. He’s introduced as a man of great intelligence who prefers to verbal combat over a physical one. In fact, in the first two episodes he is prone to long, rambling know-it-all statements.

He’s smart and knows a lot of facts. We get it.

But I also found him to be a contradiction. He gets pissy a lot and doesn’t like anyone stealing his thunder. Every staff member around him is apparently an idiot who needs to be corrected, from the lowly yeoman to the chief security officer. And correct them he does, in his long-winded way. Funnily enough, the only person on the ship who dares to be correct in Picard’s presence is a kid. And when it happens, Picard turns into a raging jerk and exiles the kid from his presence.

Apparently Picard doesn’t like it when someone steals his thunder. The only time I did see Picard attempt to rely on someone wasn’t really relying at all. After his new first officer (William Riker, AKA Beardy McVirile) comes on board, Picard orders him to connect the two halves of the ship together. You know, stick the big thing inside the little hole.

Riker

Euphemism, anyone?

I don’t consider that as asking Beardy to be useful. It was more like Picard wanted Beardy to prove he wasn’t a waste of space on his ship.

I can’t give Picard points for utilizing his crew, unless it’s because he wants practice at being smarter than someone. Sorry, Picard fans. Kirk comes out way ahead when it comes to utilizing and inspiring his crew.

Okay, so we’re at Kirk 1, Picard 0, but we haven’t even gotten to the most important issue: what are they like in action? The methodology of each captain in a dangerous situation can make or break their mission, as well as save lives.

Simply put, Kirk is a mover and a shaker. Sure, he hates mysteries. He says they give him a bellyache. But when danger abounds, well, screw danger. He rushes headfirst into a threat like a scantily-clad blonde in a horror flick. The safety of his crew is of utmost importance, so that’s probably why he prefers to do the dirty work himself. When it’s time to act, he and random, unnamed, red-shirted crew members protect everyone else.

But is it really that hard? Kirk generally only fights dumb enemies. He was first up against an alien woman who sucks salt from your body. His second combatant was against an incredibly annoying (albeit powerful) kid.

Charlie X

I’m pretty sure this kid was the inspiration for that whiny brat Anakin Skywalker.

Since Kirk dislikes mysteries, it’s probably for the best that the enemies are so stupid. If he encounters anything smarter than a box of rocks, he might be screwed — if it weren’t for Spock.

Unfortunately, Kirk has some quirks that compromise the Spock factor. I could (and probably should) have included this little tidbit when I talked about utility and inspiration of crew, but I decided to wait and mention it here: Kirk hangs up on Spock. At least, that’s what it looks like. When he’s on the planet and Spock is on the ship explaining something important, Kirk seems to cut him off and close the conversation a little too soon. It’s amazing Kirk survived as long as he had. Of all the people in the universe you’d want to listen to when you’re faced with danger, it’s Spock. Probably a bad idea to cut Spock off before he gets to the good part. You know, like how to stop something that’s trying to kill you.

Kirk Communicator

As I said earlier, Picard is Kirk’s opposite. He’s a deep thinker. When the crew is in mortal danger, his strategy is to send all of the pretty people into danger while he stays on the ship. And why not? There’s air conditioning. Granted, if he was using that time on board to actually think a way out of the mess he’s in, I wouldn’t mention this. However, in the episode I watched, Picard sent his crew into danger, then used that time to wander down to the sick bay and stare at Beverly Crusher’s breasts.

Now, most straight men and gay women probably find this a perfectly acceptable usage of time but I fail to see how breasts will rescue anyone from mortal peril. Okay, breasts are great. I get it. But they aren’t magical.

No. They really aren’t.

Stiff Posture

My posture isn't the only thing that's stiff, Doctor Crusher...

I got the impression that Picard really wasn’t too concerned about the predicament they were in, which was pretty serious — a powerful, all-knowing being was putting Picard on trial for all of humanity. If Picard couldn’t redeem the entire human race from past to present, everybody was screwed.

And I’m not talking about Bev Crusher’s breasts.

Picard’s lack of focus on the immediate danger made him flippant and uncaring. At one point he flatly states that he would be willing to destroy his ship to beat “Q”, the all-powerful, all-knowing being who is calling the human race to account. Notice what I am saying — the point wasn’t that he wanted to “save everyone”. It’s that Picard would destroy the Enterprise to win.

We’re back to throwing tantrums when someone one-ups his ginormous brain.

Based on the episodes I watched, Kirk comes out as the clear winner in his methodology. Despite hanging up on Spock, Kirk personally gets more done. Plus, I feel that Kirk’s motives are more genuine. He cares about his crew while Picard just doesn’t like it when someone steals this thunder. Maybe he’s smarter than Kirk. But he throws too many stupid tantrums. Maybe I should give him more credit. After all, he does sit next to Bubbly McBreasticles, who is the most annoying senior officer in the history of science fiction and would also drive me into a rabid fit. McBreasticles is an empath. While that sounds really neat, all she does is sit around and report the obvious.

Sensing Things

I sense joy! And hunger! And I think someone has to go Number Two.

If Picard were a man of action, he would blast her out of the airlock. Or have someone beam her to another planet. Too bad he’s a thinker. He could ask Beardy to do it, but it only makes sense for the two beautiful people on the ship to have some sort of sexual tension. No way is Beardy going to jettison his opportunity for some bedroom action.

But I digress. Though mental intellect would be a key driver to outstanding performance, emotional intelligence reigns. Kirk simply shows more. Picard needs to get out of his head. The score is Kirk 2, Picard 0. Kirk is the winner.

Verdict: Kirk captain is best captain.

Captain Awesome Continue reading

Games You Should Be Playing: Skyrim

Skyrim Logo
I play video games. And yes, I am a girl.

I’ve been playing video games since the day my parents brought home an Atari 2600. My brother and I made forts in the den, rolled out our sleeping bags, and played Pac Man all night long. From that day on, I was hooked. The fact that I became an avid gamer at such a young age still astounds me because my parents have always been technologically challenged. Case in point, they only got cable television five years ago.

Get with the times, Dad. Internet TV’s where it’s at.

There’s a widely held misconception that women don’t play video games. That’s crap. I have a lot of cool female friends (who aren’t ugly toads, virgins, and/or live in their parents’ basement) who play video games. We’re rare, I’ll give you that. There are few things funnier than being the only girlfriend who is invited to the boys’ all-night gaming party.

Don’t worry. I’ll bring the beer and kick your ass.

As times have changed, I’ve noticed more women are open to video games but they don’t know what to buy. Girls want different things in video games than boys do: We want to feel rewarded early on, we want to be able to play for shorter spurts and still get things accomplished, and we want an avatar who isn’t a gross exaggeration of our sexual features. Most importantly, we want to kick ass, too. But games are generally marketed to men — how will we know where to start?

Let me help.

Skyrim In-Game Banner

Skyrim is a game that would have caught your eye in the store or with online ads, except that their logo shows a big hairy man surrounded in mist, clad in armor, and covered in dirt. And maybe all the boys get excited about a big hairy, dirty dude. I don’t. So I went and made us an avatar that we might be a little more excited to play:

Awesomesauce

I named her “Awesomesauce”. No, really. That’s what I named her. She shoots fire and lightning bolts from her hands. In fact, here’s a shot of her lighting everyone on fire! Sadly, that includes the guy who is helping her escape. I was still working on my aim:

Awesomesauce Lights Everyone on Fire

Is it warm in here?

And in case you’re wondering, my level 20 warrior is named Pumpkin. She kills dragons. Bad ass.

In Skyrim there are lots of races and you can choose to play either a male or female character. What’s funny about the character creation is that there are a plethora of customizable options — one could spend hours creating a custom avatar, but in the end you’re going to stick a big hat on their head and you’ll mostly be looking at them from behind. So don’t waste too much time on it.

The game starts out in this long, exhausting sequence where you discover you’ve been captured and are being sent to the chopping block for execution. As you get down on your knees and the axe is lifted, a dragon shows up.

Dragon!

Hi! I was just wondering if I could borrow a cup of sugar?

The dragon starts breathing fire all over the town and, naturally, no one is concerned with you anymore. You get up and run for it. This is where your story begins.

If you haven’t played a lot of video games and you’re worried about your skill level, let me assure you: modern role-playing games have implemented systems so that you always know what to do. If you have a quest, an indicator will float above someone’s head so you know to talk to them. If you are on a journey, a map indicator will tell you where to go. In that regard, Skyrim is no different. So if you’re an experienced gamer or a novice, Skyrim will help you along.

In the screenshot below, you’re still a prisoner and need to escape the town and the dragon. Notice the indicators above both doors (yellow circles are mine). Here, you have a choice to make: escape with the soldier or with the resistance.

Choice: Enter the Keep

Two options! Compared to games of old, this seems like a lot! Back in the day, games only gave you one choice! (And get off my virtual lawn, whippersnappers!) But to be honest, this is as restrictive as Skyrim gets. Once you leave the town, you are given the opportunity to continue the game’s main quest line…

…or you can forge your own path.

No, really. That’s not just a tagline. The world is immense and open. There are dungeons, towns, quests, stories, books, trainers, guilds, giants, monuments, treasure chests, etc. in every direction. In fact, you should forget all about the main story and do whatever the hell you want. Just pick a direction and start running. You’ll bump into fifty other things to do. Skyrim dungeons are so different from one another that you’ll never get bored. There are times when I feel as if I’ve entered the ruins of Atlantis, or I’m Indiana Jones in search of lost treasure. As you go, you’ll increase your skills and level up. You could decide to be a warrior mage or a thief who wears heavy armor so you can take a beating in combat. The talent trees allow you to customize your character any way you want.

It’s called an open world, and they mean it. You could become an assassin AND a notorious thief AND a hero AND a skilled tradeskill master AND a bard…

Vampirism

…and apparently a vampire. And I’m not talking the kind that sparkles. I should probably get Awesomesauce to a shrine and get this fixed, but I’m curious to know what will happen next — which is the most exciting aspect of Skyrim.

The bar for open world RPG’s has been raised. Girls, if you’re looking for a game that you can sink your teeth into from time to time, pick up Skyrim and create your own tale.

Your boyfriend can go get his own damn copy. Continue reading

The Mark… and Beyond

pancake_bunny

I couldn't think of a photo to go with this post, so here's a bunny with a pancake on its head.

I want to thank everyone who came out and participated in The Mark. Even though it didn’t go the way we wanted, I hope everyone had a great time. If you want to relive the adventure (and the failure — HA!) you can go to the “Vote Your Adventure” link on the top bar and select “The Mark” or any of the adventures we’ve shared thus far.

When The Mark wrapped up, a couple of people asked me if I was “over” the whole idea of writing Vote Your Adventure stories. My first reaction was “ARGH, NO!” I hope you didn’t get the idea that I was fed up or angry. Part of the excitement of writing these stories is having no control over what happens. You guys really keep me on my toes! Even though we really didn’t set out to do any of the things I had hoped during this last story, the ending really made me giggle. So the short answer is: No. I am not tired of writing Vote Your Adventure stories.

The long answer is a little more complicated. I’m not “over” writing the stories, I’m over the world that our stories have been in. This is why my blog has remained so silent — I was trying to make a decision about it. I love that you guys are so into the stories and the post-apocalyptic demon-infested world, but it’s time for me to turn over a new creative leaf. We’re going to have more Vote Your Adventure stories, I promise. They’ll just be in new worlds and the next one won’t start until next year.

Moving back to the opposite coast has put me in a completely different mindset. I’m thinking about the concept of new. It just hasn’t felt right to continue working on the same projects that I have been for the last couple of years. I’m giving myself permission to set aside the writing projects that I’ve wrestled with for the last couple of years and start new.

Yes, my necromancer book, The Fourth Channel, is going away. It might not ever be released and I’m okay with that. Sorry.

I’ve started a couple of new projects. The first one is straight up science fiction in a future where corporations rule humanity. Jerica Ariden, Universal Prosperity Federation Marshal, is framed for a murder she didn’t commit. As she’s pursued by her coworkers, her newly assigned partner, and a dangerous crime boss, she must find the murderer and clear her name — all while dragging around the dumbest criminal in the universe.

The other project is a series of stories and novels that support the world of my Sunday night GURPS game. Okay, I haven’t played since I moved, but I hope to get back into it soon. For the uninitiated, GURPS is tabletop roleplaying game. You know, where everyone makes up a character and one person guides you through a scenario. It’s like our VYA stories, but in real time. My friend who runs my Sunday night game has created his own world, a medieval place called Albea that’s filled with humans and elves and daemons and cannibals — and whatever else he can think of. I’ve been wanting to write some stories that will really flesh out the lore and history of this world. I don’t have anything to share yet but I hope to very soon. If I can get enough done then maybe we’ll even run a Vote Your Adventure scenario in this world. So stay tuned for that.

Blog posts coming up:

Captain Kirk vs. Captain Picard! The Editor and I sat down and put these two captains head-to-head to find out who is the best Enterprise captain. Which one was dubbed “kind of a dick”? Which one has the best tricorder flip move? Which one was docked points because they should have blasted Troy out of the airlock because she’s so freaking annoying? Find out!

ALSO!

Gaming Reviews for Girls: SKYRIM! My pen pals asked me what the heck Skyrim is? Their boyfriends/husbands play that “gun shooting gaming thingy” (non-gamer speak for Call of Duty 3) but they don’t know Skyrim. I will review Skyrim for girls who don’t even know what “RPG” and “FPS” means.

Stay updated! Subscribe to my blog using the RSS button on the sidebar or on Twitter. Continue reading

The Mark: Part Five (Vote Your Adventure)

GameOverThis is the fifth part of an adventure series where YOU determine the next step in the story. Read part one, part two, part three, and part four.

You decide to go after the goggles. As soon as the guards disappear through the door, you pull yourself out of the duct and race to the ladder. You climb to the third level. Through a small window on the door, you can see a narrow hallway. The guards are walking away from you. Thirty feet away, they stop, nod at each other, and enter doors on either side of the hall. The guard with the goggles takes the door on the right.

All of your senses come alive, fueled by adrenaline. Your heart is pounding. Luckily, you’ve been trained to ignore it.

You slide your knife from its sheath and step into the hallway. It’s quiet. Muffled sounds of city life float in the air. You sneak quickly to the door on the right. Every squeak of your damp boots echoes off of the concrete floor and walls and sets you on edge. You stop at the door and press your ear against it. You hear shuffling sounds on the other side… and a strange growl.

You tell yourself it’s just nerves getting the best of you and crack open the door. You peek inside. Red light and hot air wash over you. The room is narrow and long with a high vaulted ceiling. Massive heat lamps are chained overhead. Large cages are built into the stone walls and stacked, two high, to the ceiling. They’re all empty. More cages are stacked in the center of the room, creating a maze. There’s no sign of the guard. You slip inside and quietly shut the door.

At first glance, you aren’t sure what the room is for. The cages are large enough to hold demons but the room doesn’t look like a containment center.

You hear heavy boots on the other side of the crates. You take a deep breath and walk to the corner. Very slowly, you inch your head out until you can see the guard. His back is to you. He’s checking his weapon, oblivious to your presence. The goggles are sitting off to the side atop a crate.

You raise the knife and step behind him. You reach around and clap your hand over his mouth. He rears suddenly, startled at the attack, and throws his weight into you. This reaction is nothing new to you. You step back with him and jerk his chin upward. You reach around with the knife and slice through his left internal jugular and carotid artery.

His lower body goes limp almost instantly. You keep your hand on his mouth and wait a few seconds for the blood to drain from the brain. Then you release the body, allowing it to drop to the floor.

As you bend and wipe your knife blade clean, you hear the door. The other guard is coming through.

“Hackley? You still in here?”

You duck out of sight between two cages and watch the guard round the corner. When he sees his companion on the floor, he screams out a curse and rushes to the body. He bends over the fallen form, turning his back to you. You step out from your hiding place. Within seconds, the guard has met the same fate as his companion.

It’s like taking candy from a baby.

You clean your knife again and stand. You grab the goggles. You slip them on, fasten them securely, and turn them on. The room comes alive in shades of purple. The stone wall at the back of the cages seems to pulse. The glasses define features in the stone that make it seem almost alive — you make out feet, claws, wings…

Eyes.

Hundreds of unblinking eyes stare at you from the cages. Fear seizes you, nearly rooting you to the floor. You realize the walls aren’t just stone; there are gargoyles, two or three to a cage, settled into the stone. The room is an incubator for demonic hybrids.

You take off running for the door. You hear the metallic squeal of cage doors pushing open and the rush of many, many wings.

Luckily, your prized goggles let you watch the gargoyles rip you limb from limb.

YOU LOSE.


Epilogue

Undermanned and leaderless, your team is easily captured and turned into mindless demon-human hybrids. The Mark, Evangeline Ryder, begins to recruit other surviving cities into creating more hybrids. She plans to mount an offensive against the very people you failed. Continue reading

Part Four Results: The Mark

Kitty Night Vision I was compelled to use the Kitty photo again, just because it’s so damn funny! Can you blame me?

So this week we’ve managed to find our way out of the pipes. Now we can get back on track with our mission — or can we?

The choice this week was tough, making the votes a little more evenly divided. On Tuesday, there was even a resurgence at the end for B votes. Here’s how we stacked up:

A (Go after the goggles): 9
B (Catch up with your team): 6

This Friday, you will abandon your team and go for the goggles. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

And now for my favorite votes!

Kendall Grey: Get the damn goggles. I have no idea what they are, but they sound cool as hell.:-)

Hah! Remember the gargoyles in Part One? If you hadn’t been there to witness their transformation into demon-human hybrids, you never would have seen ’em. The goggles allow you to detect them, like infrared.

Estelle: If the cat’s got hybrid vision goggles, I want ‘em too.

Aaaaaw, yeah! Kitty’s stylin’!

Tom: B. If you have goggles and no team, you’ll either just avoid the hybrids or get slaughtered. If you have a team and no goggles, you may get surprised, but you’ll still be able to fight. (You’re all wimps.)

See you on Friday, when we attempt to retrieve the goggles! Continue reading

The Mark: Part Four (Vote Your Adventure)

Kitty Night VisionThis is the fourth part of an adventure series where YOU determine the next step in the story. Read part one, part two, and part three. Vote in the comments below or on Twitter at #TheMark.

You want to get out of the creature’s reach so you head to the ladder. Your head is pounding with a migraine. You glance at the oxygen level in your tank.

It just hit zero. You’re minutes from suffocation.

You climb as fast as you can. Black spots dot your vision and you start to feel dizzy.

At the top of the ladder, the passage narrows. A metal hatch with a release wheel hangs overhead. The oxygen deprivation is causing severe fatigue. You guess you’re at about half your normal strength. You try tugging on the wheel but it doesn’t move. In your head, you repeatedly order yourself to turn the damn wheel.

The black dots clouding your vision are getting larger.

You pull.

Your heart feels as if it might explode.

You pull.

Nausea and dizziness weigh you down, threatening to knock you from your perch.

You pull.

The release wheel groans and gives way. You hear a loud hiss, as if a seal has been broken. You spin the wheel then throw your shoulder against the hatch. It’s heavy and it doesn’t move easily. The metal hinges groan.

You can’t open the hatch all the way in your weakened state so you wiggle through the opening as best you can. As soon as you’ve cleared it, the lid bangs down. You rip off your oxygen mask and gulp large, ragged breaths. The cool metal floor feels good against your skin. You can’t see yourself in the dark, but you can feel yourself shaking uncontrollably. Your energy is gone and your body craves sleep. But sleep is a luxury you can’t afford.

“Get up, soldier,” you growl at yourself. “Get your ass up.”

You grab your flashlight and hunting knife and roll onto your stomach. You shine the light around to get some idea of your surroundings.

You’re in an access tunnel that’s tall enough to stand in. According to the compass on the handle of your knife, the passage runs northeast to southwest. Your team was heading west. You estimate that they’ve already entered the city and you’ll have to move quickly to meet up with them.

You drag yourself to your feet and give yourself a quick inspection. You’re covered in muck and sewage and stink to high heaven, but at least you’re alive.
You jog southwest. Your steps are dogged until your strength starts to return. Five minutes later, you reach a metal door with a small round window. As you near it, you hear the constant whirring sounds of machinery and fans. You peek through the glass. It looks like the boiler room.

You step away from the window and press yourself against a wall. Intelligence warned you that this room was heavily guarded. You’re lucky to have missed the patrol. You definitely won’t get through the room without a confrontation.
It takes you less than a minute to pick the lock. You slip inside the room and duck behind a water heater.

The room is expansive; three stories of tanks, piping, and machinery are crammed together. Red ladders run from top to bottom. You also see security cameras but they appear to be off. All of the other exits are on the upper floors.
You stay close to the wall and head to the nearest ladder. As you duck under a pipe, something black near the floor catches your eye. It’s a black boot poking out from a duct. You unholster your manure-caked Glock and take a look.

A dead guard has been hidden inside. Blood has pooled around his torso, but it’s still fresh. Your team has obviously been through here very recently. If you move fast, you can catch up.

At the same time, you’re painfully aware of your current condition. You’re caked in shit. The heavy scent will compromise your attempts to remain covert. The dead guard’s clothing might help…

You slide the body out. You relieve it of a rifle and some goggles that look better than your night-vision set. You switch the goggles on and press them to your face but you see nothing other than the room. Maybe they’re broken?

You set them atop a pipe and change your clothes. You toss your soiled gear into the duct, then slide in the body and the extra rifle.

As you’re strapping on your pack, you hear a heavy door slam shut. You slide in feet-first next to the bloody, naked body.

Voices and footsteps near your hiding spot. A pair of black boots step into view and stop. And that’s when you realize you’ve forgotten the dead guard’s goggles. You aim the Glock at the boots and wait.

“He already made his rounds. See? The idiot forgot his hybrid goggles. He probably went for a beer.”

Hybrid-vision goggles? You can’t believe you left them behind.

The guards walk away, taking the goggles with them. You slide out just enough that you can watch them ascend a ladder.

Your team would have gone north into the complex. If you hurry, you can catch up with them. On the other hand, the hybrid goggles would be very useful, but they’re heading south.

What do you do?

A: Go after the goggles.
B: Try to catch up with your team.

We want your vote! Vote in the comments below or on Twitter at #TheMark. Voting ends Tuesday night. The highest vote will be the next step in the story, posted on Fridays.

Image courtesy of Alan.

Voting for Part 4 is now closed. Thanks to all who participated! Continue reading

Part Three Results: The Mark

Ballot BoxHey! Why didn’t you guys tell me that I had forgotten to post my favorite votes for the part two results of The Mark? I knew I had forgotten something, but it didn’t occur to me until a couple of days ago. To make up for it, this week I will post both.

A double-dose of votes. I love it!

But first, the results for Part 3. This week, I kept you in the poop for a little longer. It just wouldn’t have felt right taking you out so soon. You also met a friend… who wasn’t very friendly.

A (Right & up the ladder): 12
B (Left & toward the voices): 5

And now for the best votes! Here are my favorites from Part 2:

mirwyn: Well crap… (ba-dum-bum)

Hey, somebody had to go there.

Estelle: Uuuuuuuuuuuuuuh….

Good response. Deep. Thought out. The mind of a tactician…

Zug: Come on in, the water’s fine! B it is.

You sound way too excited about being immersed in poop. I’m almost beginning to think this little plan has backfired!

Great job all around, gang. And now for my favorite LOL’s from the votes on Part 3:

Mark Lidstone: Sh*t and blood. Reminds me of the time I ate at this really sketchy Thai spot.

Nice. I LOL’d.

Gene Lempp: Get the rest of the team together and then at least there are a few more people available to die before me! grins

That’s the spirit!

Jesse: I’m picturing the scene from Rambo First Blood 2 where he emerges from the mud…

To be honest, I did picture the same thing — although wouldn’t the smell give us away? LOL I have to admit that I’m a little concerned with that detail now.

Thanks for your votes! Glad everyone’s having a great time so far. Tune in on Friday for Part 4! Continue reading

The Mark: Part Three (Vote Your Adventure)

DemonHorns This is the third part of an adventure series where YOU determine the next step in the story. Read part one and part two. Vote in the comments below or on Twitter at #TheMark.

Your gut says not to split up your team but you decide it’s best to find a way through the tunnels. You order the team above to carry on. You’ll try to rendezvous with them later.

You and your teammate strap the rifles high on your backs and wade to the mouth of the pipe. You take the flashlight from your pocket and shine it inside. You can’t see the end.

You reach in and plunge one hand into the thick waste. Chunks of matter squish through your fingers and jam under your nails. You press down until you can feel the metal at the bottom. You climb inside. The sewage comes up to your chest and the barrel of your rifle bumps against the top of the passage. The weapon looked clean when you held it above your head — you can only hope it stays above the sewage. You pause and give a reassuring pat to the hunting knife strapped at your side. As long as you have that, you can make the best of any situation.

You hope.

You both crawl forward as fast as you can. The sewage is thick and flows heavily against you, slowing your progress. You can’t help but wonder about the sludge you’re submerged in. Animal manure is typically harder. It doesn’t flow like a liquid. If this stuff doesn’t come from an animal, then what?

Ten minutes later, the pipe widens slightly and curves to the right. The manure recedes a few inches. As you crawl around the corner, you hear a gentle scraping. It doesn’t sound mechanical — some scrapes are longer than others and they’re at random intervals. You shine the flashlight ahead but see nothing of interest.

The sound gets closer. Within minutes it’s right next to you. You press your hand down and hit something scaly. Startled, you pull away and grab for your knife. The thick manure impedes your movement. Before you can get to your weapon, something shoves you against the pipe wall. The sound echoes in every direction.
Behind you, your teammate shouts. You twist around and shine the flashlight at him. He has his hunting knife in his hand, poised above the surface of the sewage. You’re finally able to grab your knife, too. You both stop and listen.

The scraping sound is gone but you know you’re not alone.

Your teammate drops his free hand into the sludge and searches around him. You feel a slight vibration in the pipe and the scraping starts again.

Your teammate lets out a blood-curdling scream and snaps back, as if trying to yank his arm away. He starts thrashing and stabbing his knife wildly into the sewage. You rush forward with your flashlight and knife raised, trying to figure out what’s happening.

Your teammate finally gets free but he’s still screaming. He holds up his arm. Wet manure and blood drip from the stub where his hand used to be.

In the space between you, two small, curved horns break the surface of the sewage. You strike at the spot between the horns but they submerge too quickly. Whatever the creature is, it moves faster in the sludge than you do. You follow the scraping sounds and stab again. A sharp pain shoots through your side and you think you’ve been bitten. You plunge your knife hard into the muck around you, desperate to keep your limbs attached.

Your teammate’s screams intensify. You shine the light just in time to see the horns reappear at your teammate’s side.

You reach for your teammate’s jacket but his body lurches away from you. You grasp air and fall forward, leading with the knife. You scrape metal and skin and muscle. The scratching sounds become frenzied. You jump up and reach again for your teammate, grabbing a tentative hold on his sleeve.

The horns submerge. Your teammate is ripped from your fingers and dragged backward. This time, he doesn’t stop — he picks up speed. Sewage sprays in his wake. His screams grow faint.

You can’t help him now. You just have to get the hell out of here. You scramble ahead on your hands and knees, panicked by what you just saw. The pipe twists and turns. After a couple of minutes, you reach a T. To the right, the pipe inclines and you see a flashing white light that exposes a ladder. To the left, the pipe declines and you hear human voices, but you can’t see more than 15 feet.

From behind, you hear the scraping sound again.

What do you do?

A: Go right (incline, light and ladder)
B: Go left (decline, human voices)

We want your vote! Vote in the comments below or on Twitter at #TheMark. Voting ends Tuesday night. The highest vote will be the next step in the story, posted on Fridays.

Image courtesy of Herruwe.

Voting for Part 3 is now closed. Thanks to everyone who participated! Continue reading

Part Two Results: The Mark

Ballot Box Well, I said I was going to punish everyone because of the sweeping landslide vote in Part 1, ensuring we all took the easy route. I hope you enjoyed the “crap” in Part 2. It was a lot of fun to write.

This week, you crawled through the processing area of an underground city that uses manure for fuel and electricity — and then fell right into one of the tanks. Not only are you waist-deep in crap (pardon the pun) but you’re running out of oxygen. The results are still pretty slanted, but not nearly the landslide of Part 1. (I hate landslide votes. They’re not nearly as fun!)

This week our votes were all cast on the site. And the results are… (drumroll)…

A (Have the team haul you up): 6
B (Crawl through the pipe): 14

Thanks to everyone who came out to vote!

A little housekeeping here — I know I still owe you for a Story Tree on Site 27. I haven’t forgotten. We just moved out of our corporate housing and we’ve been in our new apartment for about a week. Our PC’s aren’t hooked up yet. In fact, there are so many boxes in the house that I’m unable to even get to my desk. As soon as we’re settled, I’ll make the Site 27 Tree.

Come on back this Friday for the next installment of The Mark! Continue reading

The Mark: Part Two (Vote Your Adventure)

demon cows This is the second part of an adventure series where YOU determine the next step in the story. Read part one. Vote in the comments below or on Twitter at #TheMark.

You decide to avoid the gargoyles and search for another way in. You signal your team to fall back another 30 yards. A few minutes later, the team gathers behind the wing of a 757 that protrudes from the ground like a shark fin. You pull a map of the city from your bag and point at a remote spot at the edge of the airfield.

No one looks happy, but they seem to understand that it’s your best chance to avoid more human-demon hybrids.

You jog to the east edge of the airfield. Scraps of planes, service vehicles, and towers lay heavy on the ground and give plenty of cover. Halfway to your entry point your nostrils twinge with a familiar foul scent. Directly below you is the maze of ventilation ducts of New Milwaukee’s processing plants that turn thousands of pounds of cow dung into electricity and fuel. The processing center is only reachable through a narrow, methane-filled passage. The team has small oxygen packs that are just enough for a one-way trip. You’ll have to move fast.

You reach the service grate and bash open the rusted latch with a rock. Metal rungs descend into the shaft. Small ducts appear opposite of the rungs. You climb in first. The smell of manure turns your stomach.

At the 19th duct, you stop and hoist yourself across. The methane is thicker here, making you light-headed. You activate your oxygen pack and don the mask. Almost instantly, your head begins to clear.

You crawl deeper into the duct. While you wait for your team, you hear a skittering sound ahead, but you can’t tell if it’s coming from inside your duct. You remove your night-vision goggles, grab your flashlight, and shine it into the passage. About fifty feet ahead the passage turns left. The way is clear. You stash the flashlight back in your pocket and put your goggles back on.

The trek through the ducts is quick; you’ll even have a few minutes of oxygen to spare. As you near the end, the temperature rises dramatically, threatening to bake you in your body armor. The metal beneath you bends more easily under your weight. You must be over one of the processing tanks.

You signal your team to space out to keep from putting too much weight on the ducts. The soldiers in the rear hang back. As you crawl forward, the duct beneath you lurches. You realize you’re putting too much pressure on a seam between the panels. You start scrambling past when the panel beneath you gives way. You feel yourself fall through the air for a few terrible seconds, then splash into a large vat of thick and slimy material. Instinctively you grab your rifle and scramble to your feet. You hold the rifle over your head. An unlucky teammate is doing the same thing.

You’re both standing in waist-high manure. The walls are sheer metal except for a three-foot pipe that gushes manure into the tank on one side. The rest of your team is looking down at you from the mangled duct fifteen feet up.

You have enough oxygen to last another 25 minutes. Your team could haul you both out, but that would take a lot of time and most of your oxygen. Instead, you could crawl through the pipe of manure, though you aren’t sure where it leads. Either way, you could run out of oxygen before you make it to safety.

What do you do?

A: Have the team haul you up out of the tank.
B: Crawl through the pipe.

We want your vote! Vote in the comments below or on Twitter at #TheMark. Voting ends Tuesday night. The highest vote will be the next step in the story, posted on Fridays.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my website via the RSS links on the toolbar and on Twitter.

Image courtesy of Matthew Harrison Blue.

Voting for Part 2 is closed. Thanks to all who participated! Continue reading