Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Jun 27, 2013

Skull and Shackles Session 21: Vines and Skulls

Once again, the waters of the cove were still--oddly still, considering the north wind was beginning to pick up, heralding another child-storm broken off from the Eye of Abendego.  Clouds streaked the sky.

"So... Okay, I feel bad about that now," Chopper commented, casting a wary eye at the weather.

"I feel like that might have been more productive at sunrise, Captain," Reiko admonished.
Chopper emitted some unintelligible mumbles that ended with, "So's your face."

"All due respect, Cap'n, that don't make sense,"  Cochobar told him.
"It always makes sen . . . Oh, nevermind. For what it's worth, I'm thinking the guardian monster ain't tied to the sunrise. Just seein' the Relevant Bit so we know where to climb

"Possibly, but it's pretty dark in the cove any time during the day and night, except sunrise to probably around late morning.  Who knows what the cove will look like during the morning hours?"  Reiko pressed.
"Who ever heard of a guardian monster that's afraid of the dark?" Chopper demanded.
"Afraid of the light, you mean,"  Feruzi corrected.

"No, I said it right."

"Sadly, you meant it wrong."
"I didn't mean to suggest that it was afraid of the dark, only that it will be much, much, MUCH easier for us to see when the sunlight is shining directly in there,"  Reiko continued, beginning to get aggravated.

"Fine. Whatever.  I want lights all over the deck. And maybe some rum. A little dancing..." Chopper shook his head. "No. No. Just the lights."

"We'll keep the ballista loaded as well,"  Ezikial told him.
"That's probably the wisest thing I've heard all evening," Reiko grumbled as they began laboriously moving the ship.  The wind helped some, but in these close quarters it was as likely to drive them up on the rocks as blow them in the right direction.  The Crisis drifted out over the dark bowl of the cove.  Her crew gathered nervously at the gunwhales, surveying the water.  Ezikial looked up at the crow's nest and yelled a warning as thick tentacle-like vines erupted from the canopy above, sweeping across the deck of the Crisis.  Reiko ducked as one groped after her; another snagged Grok around the waist and yanked her skyward.  Rosie all-but vanished in the coils of a third tentacle-vine, while a fourth got Chopper around the ankle and hauled him upwards, ass-over-teakettle.
"Oop!" he yelled. "Save the ladies! I got this!"  The tentacles began to contract along their length and Chopper watched in horror as the skin around his ankle and thigh flushed dark red and began to feel horribly numb--a deep lassitude gripped his muscles.

 "BESMARA!" Ezikial grated, firing the ballista at the canopy above and producing a brief rain of slimy vegetation and a high-pitched squealing noise.  "Dar, Insawa! Reload that!"  Something that might be a beak gnashed within the canopy and the victims rose to a height of sixty feet.
"Feruzi, shoot that!" Reiko yelled, pointing to the beak and blobby plant mass above them.  She yelled and charged the vine still flailing at her, severing it cleanly. 

Feruzi shot her a horrified glance, seeing Chopper pulled inexorably upward, then scowled and aimed her bow at the central mass.  Vile sweet-smelling fluid rained onto the deck as she fired three arrows in rapid succession. "Let go of my Chopper, vile beast!" she yelled.  Another vine descended and grabbed Maoud.  Chopper thrashed wildly as the creature's beak emerged from the vegetation and snapped at him, tearing a bloody stripe across his chest and nearly crushing his ribs.  A second ballista bolt ripped through the canopy nearby.

Reiko leaped for the ropes and began to climb rapidly, trying to get in range to cut Maoud down.  Feruzi took careful aim and shot another barrage.  The vines writhed in vegetable agony.  Chopper slashed at the beak with his axe, yelling and bleeding.

"Cmon, ye blighter!  Is that all ye got!"

"DON'T ENCOURAGE IT!"  Feruzi shouted, horrified.

Copper's axe caught in something deep in the creature's body.  Taking the haft with both hands, he braced his feet and pulled with all his might, tearing open a mass of green, pulsing tubes.  The creature, whatever it was, shuddered violently all over, jerking its tentacle-vines almost hard enough to break its captives in half.  Then, slowly, it began to tear free of the canopy and topple toward the water below more than a hundred feet below.

"Uh oh,"  Chopper remarked, struggling to get free.

"Leila, catch Rosie!" Feruzi yelled.  She grabbed the base of the rope Reiko was climbing and gave it a powerful shove, sending the samurai into Chopper's path.  Reiko clutched Chopper's belt and they swung back out over the ship, thumping into the mainmast and sliding down into the rigging, bruised, winded and covered in blood but still alive.  Ezikial grabbed a dangling vine and cracked it like a whip, swinging Grok in a fast, tightening spiral that ended with her safely on the deck, albeit rather more green of complexion than was her usual wont.  Leila flipped off the sterncastle and caught the hurtling Rosie, absorbing their mutual momentum in a series of acrobatic turns before landing nimbly.  Haroun, Dar, and Insawa raced to catch Maoud, but the ballista hindered them and the Rahadoumi sailor crashed to the deck.  Sandara and Chopper reached him at almost the same moment, but he was already gone.

"Damn," Chopper said softly.  Unable to find anything else to express the sick feeling twisting his stomach, he repeated himself. "Damn."  Feruzi poked him worriedly.

"What's this enormous hole!?" she demanded.  He looked up at her, face tight with pain that wasn't only physical.

"Failure."  Feruzi frowned and helped him to sit back, gently squeezing his shoulder and resting her cheek against his for a moment.

"What was his name?" Chopper whispered in her ear.

"Maoud."  He nodded and repeated it several times, committing it to memory while Sandara doctored his ribs.  Subdued, they tidied up the body--Haroun weeping silently to himself--and cleared the vegetation from the deck.  The Guardian of Mancatcher Cove slowly sank, to the distaste of the sharks.

"Sunrise, then?" Feruzi asked finally.

"Right," Reiko told her.  They settled in to wait for morning, tired but too shaken up to sleep.  Deep in the night watch, Feruzi suddenly stirred.

"I heard something," she told Reiko, rushing off toward the stern.  "Get a lantern over here," Feruzi ordered.  She picked up her boarding pike, gripping it in the way that caused it to extend twenty feet, and flailed away at the side of the ship.  "Something is down there messing with our rudder."  Chopper appeared at her side, a boarding axe in each of his hands, and straddled the gunwhale, apparently intending to climb down and investigate.

"Oh no you don't!" Feruzi yelled at him.  "Sharks, remember?"

"I'm not gonna get in the water," he grunted.

"If you go down, you need to be on a rope so we can pull you back up," Feruzi insisted.  The head of a sahuagin emerged from the water about fifty feet away before disappearing again.  Feruzi growled, but no more sahuagin appeared and the noise had stopped.  They watched alertly for some time, but no further activity was forthcoming.  Shortly before dawn, Chopper gathered the crew on the deck.

"Listen up, you lot. We've already lost Maoud, and I don't aim to lose anymore! We got fishmen in the cove with sinister intent, and while the away party is . . . away, ye'll need to be extra vigilant. Repel any would-be boarders with extreme prejudice. Is that clear, sailors?!"
"Aye aye, sir!"

"Right, then. Let's find this toothy whatsit."
As the first light of dawn peeked into the darkened cove from the east, the jungle cliffs came alive with patterns of shadow and light in a thousand fanciful, ever-shifting shapes. When the sun was fully up the cliffs would return to their normal appearance, but for a few moments they were almost magical with a display of shadow art. In the half light, a group of caves and crevices on the cliff face took on the appearance of a grinning skull. As the morning sun illuminated the shadow that resembled the skull’s mouth, a previously unseen glint of gold sparkled brightly in the sunlight, as if the skull had a gold tooth

"I kin scarce believe I'm seein' such a thing," Fishguts said in awe.  Reiko grinned.

"And there Captain Chopper, is the Grave Lady's prize tooth."

"So what is the meaning of 'wayward orb'?"  Feruzi asked.

"Cap'n Wolfe lost one o' his eyes," Fisguts told her.  "Th' right one, if I recollect."

The four officers climbed down into the ship's boat with Sandara and began rowing for the 'tooth', finding a mass of gold set into a crevice between the stones where it would catch the dawn light.  They pulled the boat up onto the beach and looked upward speculatively at the twin caves above them.  Chopper swung a grapple speculatively.  "So, did that mean HIS right or OUR right?"

"That one," Reiko said, pointing.  Feruzi began climbing the rock face with expert ease--apparently the months aboard ship had honed her skills considerably.

"Ruse, yer doin' in the hard way, but you're making it look easy," Chopper commented.

"Don't . . . distract . . . me . . ." she grated.  The other three followed using the rope.  In the cave entrance they found the rotten stub of a wooden boom, likely used for hoisting heavy loads.  Chopper pulled the rope up after them and secured it.  "No sense helping those sahuagin blighters if they're inclined to follow us."

The opening ascended into the cliff face, initially a tight fit between various vines and roots but it widened further in until they reached a point just below the island's surface.  Sunlight filtered down through a rent in the earth overhead, just enough to provide for the growth of a single gargantuan tree.  Its massive buttressing roots blocked any hope of further progress.  The many fissures and crevices in the bark vaguely resembled a wrinkled human visage surmounted by a craggy crown, the spreading roots a hoary growth of beard.

"The 'old king'?"  Feruzi asked.

"That's my guess," said Reiko.  Feruzi found a humanoid skull among the roots, its hollow eye sockets directed toward the earthen floor.  Chopper produced a shovel and they set to digging in turns.  Ten feet down through the nasty, rocky soil they found a layer of wooden planks laid across what was, evidently, a pit.

"Bloody hells, it's about time," Chopper grunted.  They were all filthy and sweaty.  The wooden planks revealed a vast cavern in the rock, dropping twenty feet to still, dark water below.  The remnants of a wooden platform and stair clung to the wall but the wood had long since rotted in the damp.  Reiko cracked a sunrod while Sandara cast a spell that should render them able to breathe underwater if necessary.  With care, they descended into the water and found a sloping, submerged tunnel leading southwest.  They followed it for some distance, then were abruptly attacked by sahuagin coming from both directions at once.  Reiko cleaved two down before they had a chance to realize they were overmatched; a brief and brutal melee followed, with the few remaining sahuagin fleeing to the southwest.  The five adventurers followed but lost them in the dark, finding instead a section of tunnel that rose above sea level, creating an air pocket.  The floor was sand with a few items of furniture scattered about, including a table and chair, a bed with a sagging frame, and a crude fence of driftwood.  The entire cavern was overgrown with vines bearing tiny violent flowers that filled the air with a cloying sweet fragrance.

"Inkskin smelled like this . . ." Chopper muttered.  He sniffed again, then his eyes crossed and he folded in on himself, asleep.  Some of the flowers began to extend fine tendrils and creep toward him.  Reiko sliced at them, sheering them in half and replacing the fragrance with a vile stench.  Holding their breath as best they could, Feruzi and Ezikial helped her rapidly dispose of the remaining carnivorous vines.  Sandara crouched and examined the sleeping Chopper.

"He should wake up in a minute or so," was the verdict.  They set to rummaging through the few items while they waited, and Sandara proved to be correct; Chopper regained consciousness quickly and looked around.

"I think these are xtabay plants of unusual size.  Didn't know they existed," he muttered.  Feruzi turned up a wand in the bedclothes and a small coffer next to a large glass jar underneath the bed.  The coffer held three potions, but the jar contained the preserved severed head of a vicious-looking Tian man with pock-scarred cheeks, a tattoo of a kraken on his forehead, and all his teeth broken out.  A label, written in crude Minkaian, clung loosely to the side of the jar.  Reiko read it and gasped.

"Whass it say?" Sandara asked, fascinated by the gruesome spectacle.

"It's a name. The name of my father, as he was known on the seas."

"Thass... thass yer Da?!"         

Jun 22, 2013

Government Program Roulette

It occurred to me today that government "insurance" programs--social security, welfare, food stamps, subsidized school loans, anything where the government offers some kind of guarantee or assurance or "safety net"--are like a giant game of Russian Roulette.  Somebody is getting shafted by these programs so other people can "benefit", and engaging in any of them is an enormous gamble where you can only hope that "somebody" won't be you.

Social security is bankrupt and needs to end, but whoever's left holding the sack when the benefits finally get cut gets reamed.  They had to pay in, but they get nothing back out whatsoever.  And this could happen at any time--it just awaits a big enough fiasco for it to be politically palatable to make cuts, and cuts there will be.  Yet, somehow this is claimed to be more secure than saving money you control on your own recognizance?

Student loans are another example.  How many people get sufficient benefit from going to college that it's actually a worthwhile investment for them?  Very, very few of the people I know, that's who.  A good 80% wind up working in jobs that by no means should require a degree of any sort just to manage their overwhelming debt.  To keep that job, they have to go further into debt by buying a car, which ties them to further expenses like car insurance, gas, repairs, etc. etc.  Five years down the road, they're bored with their job but they have no savings and can't afford to look for another one--nor could they afford to move if they got one.  Start their own business?  Yeah, if they had savings to support them and time and energy to invest. But those are consumed by the simple maintenance of their debt and car and housing and food.  And they're not even working in the field they studied.  Then the government decides to raise the rate on their student loans.  Russian roulette.  The only way to win is not to play.

The really nasty part is that the more these programs are created, the more it becomes prohibitively difficult not to play.  The list of losers keeps growing and the opportunities for people who opt-out continue to shrink.  In the end, somebody is going to have to bite this bullet.  Nobody wants it to be them, but it's inevitable given the nature of the system.

Jun 10, 2013

Lead with your Head

I think one of the major things holding me back in my life is that I have crushing anxiety issues--I am MORE afraid of success, ANY success, than I am of failure.  Any kind of success creates a chain of responsibilities that must be followed-up on.  Write a novel?  Now you have to edit it, send it out to publishers or self publish, promote it endlessly, engage with fans and detractors both, and write another one.  I start a part-time job at a retail store (I've held AT LEAST six jobs EXACTLY like this one at various points in my life) and I am PETRIFIED.  I have broken down in tears more than once.

Failure hurts, but it's kind of liberating, too--when nothing you can do will fix the mess, you might as well do what you want.  I think I may be addicted to self-sabotage--when things get challenging, I want to throw everything out and start fresh.  Starting something is fun and gets me all enthusiastic.  Keeping it going is another matter.  I don't need a fresh start.  I need to buckle down.

There are some things in my life I've actually managed to complete and even follow-up on, but I have no idea why.  It has something to do with my emotional stance when I start the project, that much I know, but for the life of me I can't seem to figure out what causes it.  Some things I just decide to do, and then I do them.  I might get tired or annoyed midway through, but I still manage to finish it somehow.  So, what's the difference?  And, more importantly, how can I manage to do this on command?

I suppose the thing to do is to look at my successes, few as they are, and try to figure out what's different about them, if anything.  My only glimmerings of a clue at this point is that the times I've been successful at things, I . . . didn't have any particularly strong initial emotional reaction to them.  Does that sound strange?  I mean, when people talk about success, don't they always tell you to "follow your passion" or do something that makes you super-excited or similar?  This does not work for me.  Enthusiasm PARALYZES me and turns into helpless terror that cuts off my judgment and eventually I bail out from sheer desperation.

Every single colossal failure or bit of stupidity in my life started out with enthusiasm.  I think I may use enthusiasm as a sort of anesthetic to push myself into doing things I really don't want to do.  But like rage, enthusiasm cannot be maintained long-term.  It might get me to start an ill-advised effort, but it won't get me to finish it.

I'm not saying enthusiasm itself is bad--I've experienced enthusiasm in the course of my various successes, as well as satisfaction, fatigue, annoyance, etc. etc.  I just think that when I'm enthusiastic at the start of something, this is a sign that I'm hiding my real feelings from myself and I won't be able to carry it through.  I'm anxiety-ridden.  When I start something my natural response is dread, not enthusiasm.  I start work at Meijer tomorrow and I'm totally dreading it.  I have zero enthusiasm.  But I'm going to do it anyway, because I decided to.

That seems to be pretty universal with the successes I've enjoyed.  I just decide to do them, and then do them.  No passion, no enthusiasm--maybe even a bit of dread.  As I sit here contemplating this, analyzing it, my dread has faded away from my awareness, leaving only the functioning of the analytical part of my mind.

I read an article not too long ago about a bit of research that seems to indicate that your emotional and analytical functions are mutually exclusive--engaging one shuts the other one off and vice versa.  So, that may very well be the secret to my successes--I get my analytical apparatus engaged and let my emotions, whatever they are, just tag along.  Emotions are fickle (well, mine are, at least) and cannot sustain an effort, but I can analyze shit FOREVER. I can forget about dread, physical discomfort, lack of food, lack of sleep, you name it.

So, why don't I just DO that?   Because there's a kind of "switch" that has to be operated.  I don't know if it's true for everyone, but most of the time I seem to be in emotional-operations mode; coasting along, letting my feelings run the show.  Hungry?  Go eat.  Bored?  Go play a game.  It takes some kind of special effort or preparation to turn on the analytical--it's never automatic.

So, maybe what I really need to do is to create a habit of turning on my analytical mind regularly.  I HAVE this habit, but I tend to dissipate my efforts in stuff that's enjoyable but not all that productive.  Facebook.  Playing games.  Some rewarding little ritual that pulls me in and settles me down for work.  Maybe list out the various things I want to work on and create a little ritual for each one.

Stop trying to feel my way into accomplishing something.

Jun 7, 2013

Skull and Shackles Interlude: Clothes Make the Woman

*Note:  Technically this interlude falls in the timeline before session 20, however I had writers block and didn't get it done before it was time to post the session writeup.

"Are you well, Lady?"  Feruzi asked.

Lady Agasta seemed to give this some consideration.  "Well enough, considering.  I'm still alive, unlike poor Royster."

"You were very fond of him?"

"Of course.  I think his loyalty was all that kept me going, sometimes."

Feruzi frowned.  "He seemed . . . fond of you.  More than fond."

Agasta smiled sadly.  "Yes.  I know."

"Then why didn't you marry him?  Why marry Chopper instead?"  The frown deepened.  "Why marry anyone?"

Agasta cocked an eyebrow at this series of questions.  "Is something bothering you, my dear?"

"Marriage seems such a troublesome matter.  Feruzi is only here because her sister Ukele ran away from it--ran away from it twice--and caused a mess of troubles.  That, and no man in the village would have Feruzi for a wife, so she was available to do the chasing.  Now Captain Pegsworthy is sending Feruzi gifts that make no sense.  Why all this . . . this trouble."

Agasta's chuckle was deep, resonant, and cultured.  "Exactly how old are you, dear?"

Feruz bristled.  "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Humor me."

"Feruzi has nineteen summers, if it matters.  Ukele has only sixteen, but every man in the village was after her like a pack of dogs after a bitch in heat."

"Oh, how very flattering."

"They deserved it.  They made so much fuss for the war-chief that he declared a games so she could choose the best to be her husband.  It lasted for ten days and kept everyone in the village from their work before she made up her mind.  And then she vanished."

"That sounds more like a cattle auction than a courtship to me.  I'm glad I wasn't born to your people."

Feruzi shook her head, not in disagreement so much as correcting a misapprehension.  "It was so unseemly.  Ukele did not even have her own hut yet.  Usually, when a woman is decides to marry she establishes her own hut and the man just moves in with her.  They stay married until he leaves or she kicks him out.  Ukele couldn't be put to all that work, no, she has to make up to every man in the village and nearly cause a brawl."

"Did you ever think that maybe she didn't want to get married?"

"No?  Then why was she always showing it off?" Feruzi gestured to Agasta's dress.  "You show off, you marry Chopper.  That makes sense."

Agasta's eyes rounded in shock, then she burst out laughing.  She laughed so long and so hard that Feruzi began to look mulish.

"Feruzi doesn't see what is so funny," she said stiffly.

"Oh, my dear, you are fantastic.  I don't 'show off' for Chopper.  I dress this way because I like to.  It's who I am, and it makes me happy.  I would dress this way even if I lived on an island by myself, or an island filled only with other women, although I admit that would be rather dull."

"Do you like Chopper?"

"Of course, dear.  He's a sweet young man.  But I wouldn't have married him just for that.  Maybe a fling, but that would have made Royster so terribly unhappy."  Agasta's face fell and she sighed.  "Poor man.  I wish . . . oh, but there's no use in wishing.  Besmara does as she wills with us all."  She visibly put aside her grief and brightened again.  "But you, don't you have any fancy clothes?"

Feruzi huffed in offense.  "Feruzi got new clothes in Senghor!"

"Those things!  They look nice enough, but that's a suit, dear.  You wear it to work in.  I mean something you wear just to wear it--because it's beautiful.  Every woman should have some thing beautiful for herself.  And, yes, to show off to a man if you want to.  But it's really for you, dear."  Feruzi shook her head mutely.  "Oh, well, we'll see about that!  I'm sure there's something in my closet we can make over to suit you.  Let's go look!"

"Oh . . . Feruzi doesn't want to take up your time . . ."

"Nonsense.  It'll be fun to play at being a girl for a while.  Take my mind off things."

Jun 6, 2013

Skull and Shackles Session 20: Legendary Loot

Studying the dead sorceress' skin revealed an elaborate map--one curiously without labels or names.  Chopper copied it down on a sheet of parchment and sent for Fishguts.  The old salt turned the map around several times, then let out a whoop that echoed across the cove and nearly took Chopper's hat off.

"This map mus' lead ter Mancatcher Cove, Cap'n, if we c'n read it!  What be these 'ere scratchin's?"

"It is Minkaian," Reiko said.  "In Taldane, it might read:

"From blue bight’s embrace
Spy the Grave Lady’s prize tooth
With the Dawnflower’s first kiss
Climb the Captain’s wayward orb
To claim old king’s hoard."

"Some sort o' riddle, then.  Sorry, Cap'n, I heard o' Mancatcher Cove, but that be all I know," Fishguts said, sighing.

"I know it," Reiko informed him.  "Nearly a century ago there was a captain called Cyrus Wolfe, a mage of some kind.  He hunted the coast of Garund for the most part and was so successful the Free Captains offered him the Hurricane Crown.  It is said that he laughed in their faces.  It is believed that Wolve divided up his treasure and hid it in several different places, but most of them have either been discovered and pillaged or are simply lost.  Mancatcher Cove is supposed to be his greatest hoard--and it still remains untouched.  Wolfe selected an uncharted island shrouded in dense jungle and surrounded by forbidding cliffs, save for one cove said to be so deep it descended into the pit of Hell.  Wolfe used his sorcerous powers to reach into that pit and call forth a guardian that could crush any ships attempting to enter the cove.  Copies of this map are not all that uncommon in the Shackles, but no one who sets out in search of the treasure ever returns."  She stared levelly at Chopper and began counting under her breath.

"Except us, of course," Chopper announced.

" . . . three," Reiko muttered.  "I take it you wish to set off after this legendary treasure, Captain?"

"Was there ever any doubt?"

"Of course not, Captain.  Let's raise anchor and be on our way."

"So, what sort of demonic creature awaits us, exactly?"  Feruzi asked when they were under sail, Tidewater Rock receding into the distance.

"Kraken," Chopper opined.

"That sounds delightful," she responded with no evidence whatsoever of delight.  She sighed.  "At least I brought arrows for demons.  Or whatever it proves to be."

"I'm sooo booored," Chopper complained.  "Bards, tune me!"  Conchobar appeared as if by teleportation.  "What, no Rosie?  Have you not sealed the deal?  What is up with that?"

"I'll wear her down yet, Cap'n," Conchobar said.

"She is definitely warming up to you," Chopper told the gnome.  A loud boom shook the entire vessel and acrid-smelling smoke began to leak from the hatch.  "Ho now, what's that?"

"Prolly Mr. Hands an' 'is grenades," Sandara sighed.

"SANDARA!" Ezikial bellowed, staggering up onto the deck.  He looked dazed.

"Oh good. He's gone deaf," Chopper said.  "Twit."

From below, they could hear Rosie's inventive swearing.  She concluded with: "Welp, thass one wall that'll ne'er bother anyone agin."
"As long as it wasn't an outside wall, we should be all right," Reiko said.
"I MADE A HOLE IN THE DECK!" Ezikial bellowed helpfully.
"Feruzi wonders, if this goes on eventually we will have replaced every party of the ship. Is it, then, still the same ship?"

"Yes," Reiko said.  "Unless all parts are replaced at the same time."

Reiko winced.  "Sandara, if you would please . . ."  With his hearing restored, Ezikial was much quieter.

After repairing the wall, Chopper resumed his place on deck and began messing around with his new magical spyglass.  A column of smoke was revealed on the horizon--a pair of ships, side-by-side about two miles away.  Cog turned the wheel slightly and they closed rapidly on the scene.  A pirate brig named the Vorsfang was burning.  The other ship was a single-masted Chelish naval cutter, the Famished Mane.  Chelish marines were fitting slave collars on the surviving pirates and dragging them below.   

"Well now," Chopper mused.  He pulled out a coin and flipped it. "Heads, the pirates. Tails the Chelish." Then he caught the coin in mid-air with a sneer. "Take those devil-spawned bastards!"

"I don't know why you even bothered flipping that coin. You already knew the correct answer," Reiko said.
"For. The. Drama!"
"Dar, Insawa, let's get the chain shot loaded first."  Ezikial barked.
Busy with their captives, the Chelaxians didn't notice the far-from-stealthy Crisis until she lurched into grappling range.  Ezikial was first over, his bullet punching right through a breastplate while he laughed at the blood.  Chopper followed, swinging his axes.  The Chelish marines quickly surrounded them, but they were driven back by a hail of arrows from Feruzi's bow.  Ezikial grinned at the marines and sketched an ironic bow, stepping to one side like a sniffy butler.

"Gentlemen, meet Reiko."  Unfortunately, their acquaintance was brief.  But not entirely without incident.  They located the captain, cowering behind the wheel, and she eagerly surrendered her vessel.  Ezikial pointed his pistol at her, but Chopper shook an admonishing finger.

"Knock it off, Mister Hands.  We get it.  You're extremely scary.  Let's see what we can do about all that burning instead."

"Vorsfang still have a captain?!" Chopper called when they were all assembled on the deck of the Mane.

"Me, Captain," a rough voice called.  "Well, I'm the Captain now.  Hkarogawa Saburo.  We are in your debt."  The man had Tien features and subtly pointed ears.

"Duh," Chopper said graciously.  "Captain Chopper of Crisis."

"I will vouch for this man, if I may have a moment to speak to him in private," Reiko told him.

"Er... Hey, sure. Why not, eh?"

"Thank you Captain. By your leave then."  Reiko gestured for Saburo to follow her.  They spoke quietly for some time, then Saburo and his crew swore loyalty to Chopper and departed for Tidewater Rock with the Chelaxian captain in the brig.

The Crisis sailed into the archipelago of small, nameless islands around Mancatcher Cove.  The cove itself was easy to locate, piercing the eastern flank of the westernmost isle The islands were surrounded by nearly sheer rock cliffs with few beaches, and were buried under a shroud of prolific jungle growth.  The Cove was almost perfectly round, the water a deep indigo.  The jungle crew thickly atop the cliffs bordering the cove; massive jungle trees that spread their canopies over the bowl and shaded the water, giving it a cave-like quality.

"We may have best luck at sunrise, Captain," Reiko suggested.

"Use the ballista to tear holes in the canopy letting the light in?"  Feruzi offered.

"Nay. Weigh anchor. We'll await sunrise, as Reiko suggested," Chopper decided.
"Ship over there, Captain," Ezikial alerted them as they settled down to wait.  He pointed to one of the smaller islands off to the east.

"Good eye, Gunner. All hands, eyes sharp!" Chopper enthused.  The farglass revealed a dark ship with black sails.  He could not read her name, but the flag was definitely of pirate provenance.  "Poachers, you reckon?"

"I think that was the Thresher, Captain.  Belongs to Inkskin, that sorceress we gutted," Ezikial told him.

"Fookin' 'ells.  T'hell with this. Let's get 'em."  They left the Cove behind to make for the Thresher, who eagerly joined the attack.  Chain shot made a mess of the Thresher's sails while Feruzi peppered the deck with arrows.  Insawa fired the second ballista under Ezikial's direction and the Thresher's wheel exploded into splinters.  The rest of the fight was decidedly one-sided, even the massive half-orc first mate unable to rally his pirates.  When he fell, the rest promptly surrendered.  Feruzi eyed them speculatively, remembering the carnage at Tidewater Rock.

"Put them in a boat and use them to test the Cove," she said grimly.

"I like this idea,"  Chopper told her.  "Make it so."
The Thresher crew were not happy at this idea, but Chopper made it clear enough they had no choice.  They climbed into the Thresher's boat and slowly made their way into the Cove, staring into the water and jumping at every shadow.  All seemed calm.  Then something struck the boat from below, forcing the bow up and nearly swamping it.  It struck again and spilled the men into the water, where a trio of hammerhead sharks made short work of them.

"That...did not provide as much information as I hoped."     

Skull and Shackles Interlude: How the Strife was Won

"Run us over starboard a bit!  I said starboard!  STARBOARD!!!" Pyxes bellowed.  Ionni hastily reversed the rudder, but it was too late--the newly-renamed Strife crunched to a halt on the gravel.  "Ye silly bitch, don't ye know what starboard means?!

"I be knowing yer words full well, ye yam-blasted scummat, but wich way be I turnin yon thingy?"

"WHAT did you call me?!" the half-orc oarsman demanded.  The drekar rocked violently as he struggled to get to her past the other crew.  Ionni shrank back at first, but she sensed the disdain from the other remnants of Svard's crew at her display of weakness.  Her eyes narrowed as she sought backup.  Pellal was solid, as always, and Kuun could be relied upon not to back down from a fight.  The other two former slaves were unknown quantities.  Salmonix was temperamentally unstable, a combination of his elvish ancestry and long indenture; he was the only one among them who was born a slave.  That left Vrinege, the Mwangi pygmy.  Even her facial expressions were indecipherable.  She sat in the rigging with the halfling triplets from Svard's crew, Knotte, Knoose, and Knobbe.  Ionni glanced at them and was surprised to see Vrinege grinning widely and the halflings making surreptitious gestures of encouragement.  It made sense, though--Pyxes was the largest of the oarsmen and appeared to lack any vestige of a sense of humor.

Heartened, Ionni straightened up and unleashed a torrent of abuse. "I called ye yam-blasted, ye lank-haired, slime-breasted, rot-breathed turd o' a scurvy rat!  E'en the fleas won't bite yer filthy carcass, ye spindle-shanked, cork-eared, limp-knobbed blighter!  Ye . . ."

"I'LL KILL YOU!!!" Pyxes bellowed and charged across the remaining deck.  Ionni ducked and Pellal stuck out a foot, tripping the half-orc, who went over the side.  Pyxes grabbed Pellal as he went down and they fell overboard together.  Ionni jumped on the struggling men and began viciously kicking any part of Pyxes that was available.  In seconds the melee became general, with the other oarsmen rushing to Pyxes aid.  They never reached him, however; the sail came down and flattened them to the deck.

"What are they doing?" Reiko muttered, taking out the spyglass she'd inherited now that Chopper had a magical one.  She watched as the assorted oarsmen of the beached Strife squirmed their way out from under the sail, only to be met at the edge by a halfling and forced to surrender or be skewered.  By the look of it, no one was inclined toward the skewering option.  Once they were all subdued, the dark-skinned little pygmy hopped up on a rock and addressed the group with a broad grin and a number of expressive gestures.  The oarsmen exchanged baffled looks.  Vrinege gestured emphatically.  One of the oarsmen got to her feet, took two steps, made a grab toward the pygmy and was instantly on the ground, writhing in pain.  Vrinege addressed the other oarsmen again.  Emphatic head-shaking.

Herding the large, muscular brutes like a cattle-dog, Vrinege got the Strife back into the water, got the sail replaced, and without further incident the patrol around Tidewater Rock resumed.  It was a good thing, too--the mast of the Crisis was repaired and it was time for her to set out again.  Vrinege would make a good person to leave in charge of defending the island in her absence.

Jun 5, 2013

Capitalism Problems

Many, many times when I discuss Capitalism with people who are critical of it I will point out some problem or difficulty caused, as always, by a lack of proper Capitalism, and they will respond with some version of the question "but how will Capitalism SOLVE that?"

This is, of course, unanswerable, but the reason WHY it is unanswerable is what makes Capitalism the only proper and moral economic and social system.  Capitalism doesn't solve ills.  It does not prevent ills.  It is not a magic fairytale cure for injustice, hate, failure, injury.  There is no solution to the fact that humans are human, nature is nature, existence exists, we are all fallible and will some day die.  If you even attempt to create a system for the purpose of solving these problems you are engaging in nothing short of a full-out, no-holds-barred deathmatch with reality.  And that is a fight that no one can win.  No one and nothing can solve reality.

What Capitalism does is to free the mechanism of human action to create solutions to specific problems by recognizing that while nothing and no one can solve all problems for all time, each person, when free to think and then to act, can solve some problems for some length of time.  Failure to fix everything is not equivalent to failure to fix anything.

Here's where it gets kind of sad.  Many people comprehend this idea that you can't fix facts and thus it's necessary for individuals to have freedom, and then what do they do?  They try to solve freedom for everybody for all time and engage in precisely the same sort of error.  Then, when they fail miserably at the impossible task they've set for themselves, they conclude that freedom itself is the problem and revert to looking for their magical fairytale fix for reality.  It's mind-boggling.