Hello, my name is…
1 - Charles - My family is one of the more complicated families in all the worlds. Some would say that is an understatement, but it is the world I grew up in, so perhaps I see it as more natural than others. My family has been in positions of power for hundreds of years. Some say longer. A record like that would lead anyone to believe that they are inherently superior to others. I do not deny that I accepted that fact at face value when I was younger. I may have even still believed it when The War came upon us all. I did not by Wars End. They say it is hard to maintain a sense of proper superiority over those who share the trenches with you. My example would suggest that saying is true. Much like the saying that there are no atheists in the trenches.
2 - Betty - Cybers weren’t a part of everyday life for Jack when he was young, and his personal assistant was a freckle-faced redhead. About as different from Julie as he could get. Yes, I knew what I was doing when I picked the form I did. And yes, I manipulated him with that form. But you have to understand that Jack has always had amazing blinders when it comes to not admitting he realizes things he doesn’t want to think about. He knew all along what I was doing, down deep. He simply didn’t let himself know up top where he’d have to put words to it. He was a willing participant in everything we did until the day we died. We’ve had amazing lives, and I look forward to many more.
3 - Jack - We’re all brothers. Sorta. It gets complicated pretty quick when you start getting into the cloning process. But the simplest way to say it is that we all have the same memories of our earlier lives, but we have different memories and motivations for living now. First there’s me. I’m the closest to the original Jack. Then there’s the singer and the circus conductor. They’re the most…outgoing of my brothers. The teacher and the bartender are a lot quieter and gentler. I keep seeing things I really need to do, but I need to go because I have something else to do. So sometimes I make a new clone just to do that other thing. He’s the best part of me when it comes to doing whatever it is, born needing to do it as much as I. And that’s what allows me to walk away in peace and not regret the paths I’ve not personally traveled. Because one of me has done it, and I can live vicariously through that Jack every time we get together.
4 - Charles - My friends and I grew up knowing that it was our destiny to be kings of the universe. We had no rivals. No equals. Everything and everyone belonged to us. Thank God we learned enough of the truth to keep ourselves from becoming drunk on that kind of power. It is my great sorrow most of my cousins drank too much from that cup. They never questioned our right to rule, or our position in the worlds, and so my actions came as a great surprise to them. They called me traitor and worse. They never understood what I did. They did not wish to. Their eyes would not see. Their minds could not understand that I acted for all of humanity.
5 - Medron - Medical Marvels - My uncle has Parkinson’s Disease. He’s been slowly getting worse over the last few years. This year is his year of no return, the time in which life has become…not good. But someone he knew had an operation done that made him able to live again, and so my uncle came up to the Mayo Clinic to get that procedure.
It starts with the doctors drilling a hole in his head and pushing a spike through his brain. I’m certain they explain it much nicer, but that’s what I thought when I saw the X-Ray. That was last week. This week, they performed another surgery to install the batteries. The plan as I understand it is to electrically stimulate the mind to override the Parkinson’s tremors.
As you may guess, this is a rather involved medical procedure that no man recovers from instantly. But the things we can do with modern medicine are surely amazing. If this works, a man who maintained a campground until mere years ago, before losing the ability to even walk in a straight line without random muscle spasms, will soon walk straight again.
It is amazing what we have created as a people. The things we make to allow us to live beyond the frailties of our bodies. We are in an age of medical marvels, and we should feel thankful that we have lived to see such.
6 - Betty - Japanese Neko - The Japanese fascination with mixing animal traits with humanity goes back centuries, to when they still lived on the Japanese Home Islands. They would dress up in animal costumes called kigurumi, or wore prosthesis that gave them similar animal appearances. And they would dress up as major characters from entertainment franchises in what was called cosplay. Makeup to improve the looks became new art forms in many parts of Japanese culture. They held contests over who could do it best, and attended conventions where thousands of participants showed off their talents. Some even had cosmetic surgery to make themselves appear permanently like their chosen characters or animals. And some took even more radical gene therapies once they became available. The Fall of Japan signaled the end of that lifestyle in the Home Islands, but it lived on in New Japan.
7 - Jack - Japanese Neko - I’ve met a few Neko over the years. Not many came up to my neck of the woods for vacations though. I think they like water almost as much as real cats, so they didn’t come up North to enjoy my favorite past times. But I did take field trips in school, and so I got to see Los Angeles and all the crazy people there. It was something else to see a pack of Neko go by. I’d seen them on screen, you understand, but I don’t think I fully realized just how real they were until I saw them in the flesh. Fur? Whatever. I’d never been into furries before, but I have to admit that my teenage hormones kicked in rather well at the sight of a few of them. Especially the ones with functional tails. They gave me a few sleepless nights, let me tell you.
8 - Charles - Japanese Neko - The Neko culture was based in Los Angeles for centuries, after the Japanese evacuated the Home Islands during the Fall of Japan. The Neko spread out all over the worlds in time, but their center was Los Angeles. The vast majority of them wore prosthetics or makeup to obtain the desired effect, and could return to their normal human life whenever they wished, with no one the wiser. But the most fanatical Nekos have used full gengineering to permanently change their bodies for centuries. They have become catlike in looks and genes, and they have had children. Most of them died, along with millions of other people, when the Shang brought a piece of Yosemite Station down on Los Angeles. Considering their views on genetic manipulation of humanity, I doubt the Shang cried a single tear over that loss. The surviving Neko cried many tears, I assure you. Then they stood back up and fought, much like the rest of us.
9 - Betty - Japanese Neko - The Neko of New Japan have been around in some form for centuries. They used to be purely cosmetic, but advances in gengineering allowed some Japanese to make the changes permanent and even capable of being passed on to their children. There are innumerable types of Neko, ranging from those with just cat eyes, ears, or tails, to those who have everything up to fur growing all over their body. Some have even taken to mimicking the Cats of San Lucas, though there are still significant complications in body modifications that extravagant. The vast majority of Japanese Neko, and the Westerners who seek to join that community, keep their standard humaniform with only minor changes. Those changes can be significantly functional though, as those Neko who fully learn to use their tails can attest. Many of them have eyes and ears with different acuity as well, and those with fur have an entirely different sense of touch than most of humanity. While not a full race of humanity yet, they show promise towards becoming one in the future, which says interesting things about the future of Earthborn humanity.
10 - Jack - Japanese Neko - Neko have a reputation for being sly and sneaky. Maybe add a dash of the joker or trickster in there. They can be a lot of fun to be around. And a lot of frustrating. They enjoy confusing people. Whether gengineered or prosthetically enhanced, the majority of Neko just seem to love acting the way they think humanoid cats would act. Not that they’re always right. I’ve met many cats who think Nekos are stupid at best, or insulting to real cats at worse. I think it’s really self-selection in most cases. Somebody wants to have fun acting like that, so they modify or augment themselves to look like that, and then nobody questions when they act like that. Though I do know at least one person who was genuinely “born in the womb Neko.” She wears the stereotype like a glove.
11 - Charles - Japanese Neko - The Neko were a culture devoted to having fun. They still are, mind you, but that was their sole driving goal before The War. They were tricksters, yes, and they were sneaky, and they were jokers. They spent centuries self-selecting for those who wished to have fun, sometimes at others’ expenses. But the best jokes, the ones that would live on in memory forever, were the ones that the target could laugh about as well. When the target spoke of the trick played on them, everyone knew it was a trick well played. That is because the Neko were spiritual descendants of the Japanese cat spirits. Jokers and tricksters all. But the Chinese cat spirits were different. They were killers. Monsters. Murderers. The Neko embraced that version of their spiritual ancestors after the Shang destroyed Los Angeles. They devoted themselves to the goal of killing every Chinese and Shang they could find. Those stories their targets do not tell tales about, and the Neko are pleased. They have returned to their long-held goal of having fun, but never make the mistake of thinking they are harmless. They can be most dangerous when provoked.
12 - Medron - Jack of Harts - One of the defining traits of my Jack of Harts universe is that the aliens are human too. Aliens that are not human are obviously genetically engineered from Earth animals of the present or the past. The Albion were busy little gengineers in their time, and our own Western Alliance gengineers were similarly busy with the uplift process once they figured it out.
There are no alien aliens in Jack of Harts at this time. It is not that they do not exist. It is that the story I am telling does not require them. They may appear in the future, but Jack of Harts is a purely human story. Humanity and those we create in our image. Those we play god with. Does that make us gods? Or simply children that do not understand the dangers we play with while thinking we have the knowledge of gods?
Jack of Harts is a coming of age story for humanity, and for the titular character, with all the Races of Humanity playing front and center as they argue and fight over what stories their descendents will tell in the age that follows. Perhaps I will write a story with aliens in the future. If I should, I will have fun writing it. But for now, as we all know looking upon each other on Earth, humans can be plenty alien enough to each other for just about all the stories I could hope to write.
13 - Betty - Japanese Neko - The Neko of New Japan have long pursued a degree of augmentation avoided by most other people. Whether it’s the oldest of attachable tails or the newest of cybernetic and gengineered eyes and ears, the Neko have gleefully taken experiments of technology and genetics into their very bodies. They’re constantly looking to enhance their physical appearance or abilities with new technology, and everything from embedded phones to IDs are common. They can be walking down the street in nothing but their fur, talking to someone on the other side of the Earth via a phone no one can see, and purchase something to eat with a wave of their hand. Many of them have never used a physical key to unlock anything, or find the idea of handling physical paper money that someone else had touched disgusting. They’re on the forefront of adopting cybernetic and genetic technologies into their lifestyles, and they can seem a little alien to many others on Earth.
14 - Jack - Reina Ono - Reina Ono lived in Los Angeles back before The War. She was a fully gengineered Neko, only lacking the tail that some Neko had. I remember her saying that was a plus. She had a cybernetic tail for the times she wanted to show off, but she related stories of what happened when fellow Nekos sat on their real tails by accident. She was happy to avoid that particular sensation, though was also happy to inform me that she felt every other sensation from it just fine when it was attached. She’d had other cybernetic attachments when she was younger, but either lost them when Yosemite fell on Los Angeles, or outgrew them in the chaotic years that followed. By the time she was old enough to volunteer for military service, all she had left of her previous life was her subdermal personal computer and her tail. She was pretty proud of both, let me tell you.
15 - Charles - Japanese Neko - The Neko of New Japan are unique in many ways. The physical features that resemble cats are merely one of them. Another is their naming conventions. America has spent centuries absorbing some names and modifying or abandoning others. A man named Anders in his home country might change his name to Andrew to blend in with the sounds that American speakers can best understand. Place names, foods, and basic concepts have met similar modifications when coming to America. But the Neko take pride in choosing Japanese, or Nihonese as they call it, names for everything. One can easily hear a Neko walking down the street in conversation with a friend, effortlessly moving from American to Nihonese so smoothly that they baffle most listeners. They proclaim their differences in ways that most people do not dare, and that daring is part of what made them so effective when they went to War.
16 - Betty - Japanese Neko - Neko culture in New Japan could almost be described as something out of cyberpunk stories. Los Angeles was a far more utopian setting that most of them, but the Neko embraced everything else. Cybernetic intelligence, cybernetic augmentation, and a mixing of the cybernetic and physical worlds in ways most people never saw. A person walking through downtown Los Angeles before The War would have seen only half of the world around him. But augmentations, or glasses logged into the local networks, showed you the virtual world of glowing, hovering billboards overlaid over everything else. Dragons flew in the skies, advertisements flashed for your attention, and Neko wearing artificial eyes or manipulator arms designed to be noticed moved through the hybrid worlds like they were born to them. They lived in amazing places and times.
17 - Jack - Reina Ono - Reina Ono told everyone she signed up for military service on her eighteenth birthday. The problem is that computer records were messed up pretty bad the day the Shang attacked. And what was left could be easily massaged to say what anyone wanted it to say. Many people started new lives, or walked away from lives they didn’t like, in the days after The War began. Reina could have been fifteen for all I knew the day I met her on Sunnydale. I personally think she was sixteen or seventeen, but that didn’t matter much at the time. A lot of people grew up quick when The War came for us. I knew how many friends all of us had lost. Who was I tell her some calendar was going to deny her the right to fight for them? So that’s how Reina became the first Neko in the Cowboys. She told us she was eighteen, a legal adult with the right to sign her life away on the dotted line, and everybody from the recruiting officer on up to Major Wolf pretended to believe her. That’s the day she became part of our family.
18 - Charles - Japanese Neko - The Neko of New Japan, or New Nihon as they call it, are non-conformative rebels in many, chaotic ways, and traditional conservatives in other, well-defined ways. They will always be a product of their home culture, seeing class and birth in ways that few Americans can understand. They have simply transformed their minds to see such concepts differently than their ancestors ever did. A high class Neko is one who has undergone a full gengineering transformation, down to the fur. Even higher class is one born to the fur. Lower class Nekos often have permanent tails and ears. Lesser classes use cybernetic or cosmetic augmentations to imitate full Nekos. The full Nekos are both more rebellious from normal culture than almost any other and are the most conservative in their chosen culture. It is a dichotomy of spirit and mind the Neko are able to process better than the vast majority of those who grow up in more Western culture. It makes them a fascinating society to study.
19 - Medron - Justice League - I picked up Justice League on Saturday. It was an eighteen-hour day of hanging out with friends up in the Twin Cities. I basically got home and crumpled into bed. So when I awoke from my coma, I watched Justice League with family, and I have to say that it was actually more fun at home than it was in the theatre. We got to see Superman actually being Superman for the first time in this series of DC movies. And every character got a chance to shine multiple times. Also, they got the chance to show some humor. It was a fun movie to watch, and I greatly enjoyed it. It was a good way to spend a day recovering before beginning another week of work. I love it when movies entertain me.
20 - Betty - Japanese Kitsune - The Japanese Kitsune are similar to their Neko cousins, though it’s not generally wise to remind them of the fact. They get along together like cats and dogs. Or more accurately, they don’t. Where the Neko came from the Japanese’ obsession with cats, the Kitsune came from their obsession with foxes, who in some traditions are messengers of the gods. In others they are tricksters, or loyal confidants, or loving spouses. They could shapeshift too. The fox spirits of old were pretty varied in their habits if the old Japanese legends are to be believed. The modern Japanese Kitsune are just as varied, whether we are talking about the gengineered or augmented ones. They all have ideas of what they should be or who they want to be, and those visions are as numerous as the stars.
21 - Jack - Emiri - Emiri is a complicated cybernetic intelligence. Her original self was the operating system of mecha that defended the Japanese Home Islands when the Chinese invaded. She lost over ninety percent of her mecha in the first week of fighting, but the rapid system updates her engineers performed and her experiences on the battlefields caused a marked improvement in her abilities. Even as wear and tear and battle damage reduced her remaining mecha’s power, her effectiveness in battle skyrocketed. Her mecha were soon tasked as part of the honor guard taking the new Empress to Okinawa, and there they held the final line when the Chinese followed. Even Emiri can’t tell exactly when she “woke up,” but she thinks it was during that battle, when the last of her bodies fought to give the Empress time to escape. She remembers feeling fear for the first time when one of her last four mecha fell. She realized she didn’t want to die, so she hacked her own networks and transmitted copies of herself throughout the evacuation fleet. Then her last three mecha charged the Chinese invaders and actually breached their lines. She drove the attack home and killed the general commanding the invasion, halting it for several critical hours. It was one of many desperate last stands that gave the evacuation fleet time to escape.
22 - Charles - Japanese Kitsune - The Japanese who arrived in Los Angeles after the Fall of Japan were a shattered people. Many refugee populations cease to exist within a generation or two, absorbed into the host country, and are never seen again. America was built through that process of assimilating those huddled masses of humanity, discarded by time and space, yearning to breathe free. But the Japanese had something most other refugee populations lacked. Their Empress. She was a living reminder of who they were, and she started many new initiatives in the early years to unite her people, to keep them from fading into the dustbin of history. She created new youth and cultural organizations. She reminded her people to be proud of who they were, and to never forget that one day they would go home. She called on them to rise up and prepare themselves for that day. Many answered her call, including a sizeable number who claimed membership in the Kitsune subculture of the time.
23 - Betty - Japanese Kitsune - The Japanese Kitsune are a product of the modern world, combining advanced gengineering and cybernetic augmentation to make something we thought belonged to fairy tales and cultural myths. The Japanese had worn clothing and makeup to mimic fox features in celebration of popular anime for generations when Japan fell, and that subculture survived in Los Angeles after Empress Aiko evacuated the Home Islands with the last of her people. They changed of course. And they grew in numbers. Some people wanted to escape the real world to wear a set of fox ears and forget about everything they’d lost. Some people wanted to explore the new world they’d been thrust into. They did it all with friends, and that is why they survived to make it to our modern world.
24 - Jack - Emiri - Emiri became friends with Empress Aiko as the evacuation fleet sailed for Los Angeles. By the time they arrived, she had a plan for everyone to survive. She met the other young artificial intelligences of the day, and joined their coalition to protect humanity from the worst we could do to each other. And to the networks that gave them life. She officially retired to those networks after the wars ended, but never really gave up working for the Empress. She went by a different name back then, you understand, and has gone by many other names over the centuries as she’s played games and tricks on people and programs all over the worlds. Emiri is simply the name she wore when I met her. She was Reina’s companion, and had been since picking the girl many years earlier. It seems she looked out for promising young Japanese exploring the networks, and did what she needed to become their friends. Her face was that of a Neko, much like Reina’s. Her mind was hundreds of years old, unlike Reina’s. Her voice could carry the words of the Empress. Some call her a Hand of the Empress, in fact. Let’s just say I decided I wanted to be her friend real quick.
25 - Charles - Japanese Kitsune - The Japanese Kitsune were little more than a loose assemblage of social clubs who enjoyed dressing up in costumes before the Fall of Japan. They went to conventions and played games with each other. They watched anime over the networks. They had fun. Then the Japanese Home Islands fell and the new Empress called on the survivors to organize. To remember. To prepare. That was when several prominent members of the Kitsune community came out of the closet as members of the Imperial Household. Or several prominent members of the Imperial Household came out of the closet as Kitsune, depending on your point of view. Not the Empress. She maintained an official distance from any and all social organizations, but she made it clear that old divisions must end if their people were to survive. And so more and more Kitsune stepped out of the closet and began doing in the open what they had once done in the shadows of public disapproval. They organized meetings and outings, with Imperial approval and funding, and it did not take them long to become one of the larger organizations supporting the new Imperial plan to rejuvenate Japanese culture in Los Angeles. Or New Japan as many began to call it.
26 - Medron - Epic - I watched Epic over the weekend with family. Not the Epic Movie, but the movie Epic. Yes, there is a difference. Epic starts with the crazy idea of a crackpot scientist that there are tiny people the size of bugs in the forests fighting a battle of good and evil, and then shows us it is true.
One thing I liked about the movie is that the good guys are well trained, well drilled, courageous, and intelligent. When they have to fight, they do so as a well-oiled machine. There was never a time when I wanted to smack them upside the head for being idiots.
Another thing I liked is that the bag guys were well trained, well drilled, courageous in their own way, and intelligent. The bad guy had plans, and backup plans, and more backup plans. He never had a “curses, foiled again by my own stupid plan or henchmen or whatever” moment. And he didn’t want to destroy the world. He wanted to make it nicer for him. Which happened to destroy it for everybody else…but hey…they can’t have everything.
In short, I got to see intelligent people fighting for good and evil, I got to see the good guys fighting with honor and discipline and courage, and I enjoyed it all. It actually reminds me of Star Wars in a way. The original Star Wars, not Disney Star Wars. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and everybody is fighting to control the world as they know it with courage and conviction. I had fun. I enjoyed it. What more can I ask of a movie?
Two thumbs up, without reservation.
27 - Medron - Jack of Harts Research - One of the things I find interesting about writing Jack of Harts is just how much time I spend researching on the various subjects I write about. World War II is a repeat subject for a lot of reasons. One is that I write Jack of Harts like World War II in space. We started out as a land at peace, forced into War by a sneak attack. So there is a lot of scrambling. But one thing I like to do with my writing is having some realistic fleets. I look to World War II as an example. It is really our best example of a grand war, and the ship lists are truly amazing. Hundreds of names dot them, so when I’m looking to name a few dozen ships for a battlegroup, I just go to the World War II ship lists and see what catches my attention. Almost every name that has seen print in my stories was used in World War II. That is a sobering thing to think of. It is my way of remembering and honoring those who have and do serve our country. It is my way of making certain the names of our past are not forgotten.
28 - Jack - Niko Nakamura - Niko Nakamura was a fairly average girl growing up in Los Angeles. She’s got some subtle genetic mods. The eyes are most noticeable there. Outside that, she’s the fairly typical mixture of the Old Japanese and American genes that dominates Los Angeles and the surrounding lands. She joined the Kitsune Youth and did all the typical things kids do. Went scouting. Played laser tag. Learned to cook and clean, how to build a car, the basic care and use of a firearm. How to blow up small buildings with household cleaning chemicals. The little things that pretty much every kid should grow up knowing. She earned her tail, and still wears it on formal occasions to this day, but she’s not one who wears it out around town most days. Most chairs outside Los Angeles are not designed for people with tails you understand, and sitting on them is uncomfortable. Or so she tells me. I may have made certain all my chairs have nice, decorative holes in them after that. She may have smiled the first time she saw them. What can I say? The tail looks good on her.
29 - Charles - Japanese Kitsune - The Kitsune of New Japan are a kind of a social club, if you consider the Masonic Lodges a social club. They have both youth and adult organizations, own businesses for both production and play, and even influence certain political parties in the New Japanese government. They are a serious enterprise in truth, devoted to the preservation of their Japanese traditions, while expanding it to include the American traditions they deem would improve it. Like the Scouts that they partner with, the Kitsune Youth is devoted to the practice of raising helpful and courteous children into trustworthy and brave adults. Most people only see the fox ears they wear, thinking they are something like the Disney Planet’s Mickey Mouse ears. They are to a point. Anyone can buy and wear them if they wish, but the ears and the right bow are akin to the Scouting Handshake when it comes to meeting a fellow Kitsune in public. Proof that they trained themselves at a young age to be physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight. There are subtleties in the Japanese oaths that do not survive the filtering into American, but the standard Scouting Oath is a good approximation. It is one of the reasons the two organizations partner with each other so well.
30 - Medron - Myths and Legends - One of the more interesting things I do when studying what I want to do next with Jack is looking at old myths and legends. They are the great stories that have entranced us for thousands of years. They are the cultural myths we have tried to use to understand ourselves and the world around us. They are part of us. Stories like Star Trek and Star Wars have touched on these myths and legends enough to create millions of fans all over the world. People who don’t just enjoy it, but want to be it. People dress up as Starfleet officers, or wear Jedi robes. You can see it in other modern stories too, especially in those coming out of Japan, or in the sports heroes we idolize and dress up as. The football fan wearing horns and makeup is no less enamored by the spectacle than someone dressing up like their favorite Harry Potter character. The best stories have something that makes us want to be part of them. That is what I strive to harness with Jack of Harts.
31 - Jack - Niko Nakamura - Niko Nakamura has amazing eyes, and a truly fantastic tail. Seriously. She just doesn’t wear it most of the time. She was the first time I saw her on Sunnydale though. She came in with one of the Earthbuilt Avenger squadrons. She’d signed up for service after Yosemite fell, you see, and found her way into the Navy. Spent most of her first years in service escorting capital ships around on long, boring patrols, and through short, terrifying battles. After arriving at Sunnydale, she decided to come prowling around and scouting us Cowboys out to see if we were worthy of our reputation. She was doubtful on that fact. So there I was, minding my own business…nah…who am I kidding? I was totally watching the pretty girls walk by. That was when she appeared at my elbow and asked if I enjoyed the view. Would you buy it if I said that I calmly turned to face her and said it was fantastic? No? Smart. I nearly jumped out of my skin. Once my heartbeat got back down into the living range and I noticed her squadron patch, I decided that the proper revenge for such a low-down, sneaky, and duplicitous act was to give her a ride on a real Peloranbuilt Avenger. Let her suck on those eggs and like them. Little did I know she liked that ride so much she decided to request a transfer. Showed up a week later wearing a told-me-so grin, a tail flicking in amusement, and genuine Kitsune Youth ears. That was the day she became a Cowboy. It was a strange day, all told.