Monday, December 29, 2008

The Ultimate Media Player

It's amazing to me that after a decade and more of competition in the PC/Portable media market, we are still left with such shitty programs to actually implement our media libraries on our home computer networks.

I've always been an iTunes guy, as much as I hate Apple with a passion, so far they have always had the best program, and because they know they have the best one, they don't do a damn thing to improve it. Ever. It's starting to get old. I've recently begun to use Zune just to experiment and give the program a chance to make me happy, and so far I must say I'm disappointed.

The integration of Zune software with your Windows Live profile is pretty cool – from a social networking standpoint, ignoring the fact that they seek to find copyright violators as well as to rape the public with ridiculous song prices. Additionally, the ways in which you can view your media library are far better than iTunes. iTunes features no customization whatsoever on PCs, which I hate to break It to Apple, are the vast majority of their demographic – both for iPods and iTunes downloads, although I'm assuming it is still moderately malleable on OSX. The Zune interface is simply better – implementing aesthetically pleasing social networking, a strong juxtaposition to iTunes honestly terrible store-based web profiles which no one even cares about unless you're just that much of an Apple fanboy, which is pretty much anyone who has an Apple account and actually uses it.

Zune has a much better looking and smoother interface as well as a better social networking system. iTunes has a much better CDDB system which is entirely automatic as opposed to the crappy and mostly manual Zune system, athough in reality they are both terrible missing a lot of information, despite that my library itself should single handedly have accounted for at least 20% of the new CDDB information added to the system in the past five years.

It would be great if Apple and Microsoft worked on a joint project to make a media library program that worked with both of their mobile players, with their home media players (Media Center computers and Apple TV), and actually made the process of listening to your music and watching your videos enjoyable.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Chapter Four


Sheratan, Prefecture IV

Republic of the Sphere

April 7, 3133 00:34 Hours

Niobe had, for as long as she could remember, been a mischievous character, to state the least about her shenanigans. It wasn't her preference to partake in mischief, nor necessarily even her forte, although she excelled in it in either way, when a job enticed her adequately. Causing mischief was at best an occasional occupation for her until this point. However, she just like other attuned people in the Republic could feel a storm coming. No matter how normal things ever seemed in the current atmosphere, some had learned harder than others that change was disturbing in magnitude and speed when it involved armed force. Unfortunately, there was no reliable way of knowing how well intelligence could be gathered on any activities, by the supposed government of the Republic. She did not want to risk being a high profile target. Communication in the Republic was still somewhat intact, meaning her stealth activities were afforded no leeway.

Although Hans was the objective of her mission, in fact he was the mission; she felt great angst at the fact that its fulfillment might have unexpected ramifications. She knew already that he was adept, charismatic, as well as impressively adaptable, and had the potential to be what he might become if all things went well. Perhaps her recently developed emotions were threatening to get in the way of work. It would be a new experience for her, as it had never happened before.

Big deal, she thought. She had been given her assignment. No payment had occurred, no contact with the employer after the initialization. In fact, as far as she knew the only contact she did have wasn't even with the actual employer. She liked him, and she could do what she wanted. As far as she was concerned she had no standing obligation to anyone but herself at this point. Perhaps there was still the chance she could have things her way and change the course of Sheratan's modern history…slightly. It wasn't that she was self-centered, or greedy, or being a child. She believed the future could work out differently. There was no denying she hated the administration that devolved under Steiner and a blasphemous, murderous regime, here in a lightless nook of the Republic. Despite her disdain, she still sought to avoid expanding the conflict if it were still possible; although she knew subconsciously the only effective way to bring it to a close would be to involve the only stable power around. Whether or not the Republic became involved, she knew as well as any educated citizen did that Republican government was doomed by design to fail. It had always failed in reality, the countdown until the next failure had been ticking for a century. Niobe sighed as she unclipped the gore-tex strap meant to secure the weapon in her hip holster. A quick flip of the safety on her laser pistol and she shoved it in its holster, clicking the strap back together.

She much preferred working at night, for multiple reasons, the least of which was not her black apparel. Covered from head to toe in a modern rendition of the classic Terran ninja, she wore a high-tech sneak suit built upon the now-outdated but popular camo sneak suit of the Draconis Elite Strike Team, the highly efficient commando units fielded by the Great House armies of Kurita. The DEST suit was woven from synthetic fibers interlaced with Kevlar or gore-tex to protect against shrapnel and low-velocity weapons, although the suit was ideally intended to avoid damage entirely. In addition to the suit's protective measures, it also incorporated an intricate layer of thermo-conductive mesh designed to reduce the wearer's infrared silhouette by absorbing body heat and bleeding it into the surrounding atmosphere. Her own suit also bore the features of standard pre-Republican camo sneak suits, featuring an elaborate system of sensors which analyzed the light and color in the surrounding environment and through computer calculations mimicked the wearer's ambience, making them effectively invisible. It came with the downside, however, of much reduced mobility, if the wearer wanted to stay "invisible".

However, the most remarkable part of a standard DEST sneak suit was the faceplate. Featuring spectral and intensity range image modification as well as anti-glare polarization and anti-flare abilities, in addition to thermal imaging abilities, her faceplate was essentially an extremely intricate panoply of electronics and photo-sensors jammed into a pair of goggles not too big to cram into one of her suits pockets. Not that she ever would. The surprisingly lightweight goggles emitted a tiny green light, though she had them turned off and covered to avoid any possibility of detection because of them.

Due to the classification of her mission as merely reconnaissance, her armament was what she considered to be minimal. She carried three simple weapons with her, all of them essentially ancient and low profile technology. A Clan variation of a vibro-blade clung in a sheath to the rear of her left shoulder, essentially a ninjatō made of extremely rare "memory metal" that would hold shape against severe deformation, charged with an electrical current that caused the blade to vibrate at high frequency and thus increasing its slicing ability, Tucked into a holster midway down her thigh was a Nambu automatic pistol featuring selective fire modes, a silencer already threaded into the barrel and protruding from the holster almost to her knee pad. The Nambu was highly accurate and capacious, not to mention nearly impossible to get outside of the Draconis Combine, and was widely popular despite being twelve hundred year old technology. Her last weapon was one she didn't have the slightest expectation of using at the current moment, but came standard with the suit: a monowire. Monowires were just an updated version of the trusty garrote used throughout history, operating on the same principles as the vibro-blade. It was attached to her left glove, designed to be unspooled and attached to the opposite glove in one vicious and hasty moment.

Although being dressed up in an almost skintight ninja suit was her ticket to freedom and the seemingly infinite enjoyment it afforded, Niobe most appreciated the window to work at night time. The adversities faced by an agent trying not to be seen were much different at night than at daytime: no matter how good you were, assuming people were around, there was always a possibility of being watched. At night she was invisible, quite literally when the sophisticated chameleon abilities of her suit worked effectively. The blades mounted on her palms and the bottom of her feet scraped against the ferro-crete wall as she slipped a few inches, silently cursing herself. Pondering her personal involvement with an established actor in her mission, and her own idiosyncrasies was the last thing she needed. It certainly would not help her accomplish what she considered to be the moderate feat laid out before her. The suit was good, but she was no superhero. Furthermore with the state the world was in, it was extremely expensive and increasingly irreparable, not to mention volatile. If it got banged up, so would she.

Two more meters, she whispered to herself, reapplying her muscular strength to press herself up against the outside wall of the communications tower. Every second that she remained climbing she grew more agitated, fed up with Adrian Hasek. Whether or not he had any involvement with this buildings design was irrelevant. In fact, she doubted the man was intelligent enough to think of a hindrance such as exclusively concave walls. Regardless, she made him the focus of her frustration. Her right hand dug out of the wall and as she shifted her weight, she punctured her hands again into the buildings side, scaling the last few centimeters and sliding under the guard rails on top – this must be a sentry point for the guards. Oddly enough, she had only spotted a few of them. Surely she had calculated their shifting patrol patterns right, as there were no sentries at all on the roof.

Niobe left her chameleon camouflage active, slowly sneaking up to the open window that was to be her vantage point. Inside sat Adrian Hasek himself, who seemed to be involved in some sort of heated conversation over a very utilitarian computer desk. She furled her brow at him – wishing she had the simple luxury of killing him right here, right this moment. It would be no hassle – no effort at all right now to hop through this window and lob off his head with a searing hot sword blade.

The ambient hum of computers and electronics in the room made it difficult to discern the words Hasek was adamantly yelling into the microphone headset, but eventually the advanced electronics of her suit were able to help distinguish. She crouched down below the window sill, pressing her body against the building and remaining as still as possible. Eventually her sneak suit kicked in and painted her in a camouflage nearly impossible to discern with visual methods, and the advanced electronics allowed her to actually see behind her in the room.

Adrian was standing up now, pacing with growing furor back and forth between the window and the desk he was sitting at. Suddenly he broke his brief radio silence and calmly spoke into the microphone.

"I'm sorry I think I had something in my ear. Say that again?"

A second or two went by again before he spoke.

"You can't find him? You can't find him? What the hell are you talking about, you can't find him!?" He started calmly at first, pronouncing the words with increased vigor until he reached a crescendo, yelling into the microphone

"Check that slut's house, where else would he be?"

Her mouth and eyes went wide, her brain telling her to just shoot the guy right now and get the whole thing over with. "Slut?!" she thought. Oh how she loved men and their nonchalant capacity to say and do the most asinine things possible.

"She's gone too!?"

"No shit! Find them!!" he yelled into the microphone, and suddenly by the time she noticed it in her suit's heads up display, the headset smashed into the wall above her head, exploding in a rain of broken solder, shards of plastic, silicon, and wiring which cascaded down her chest. She heard him proclaim something to himself, like "I'm surrounded by idiots!", but focused on laughing in her head at his trouble.

That's odd, she thought to herself. I've seen him in the past hour, what's wrong with you guys? It was true, however, that he had been increasingly exploratory in the short twelve or so hours that he had been free from the hospital, so she didn't find it hard to believe he wasn't sitting still. On the other hand, he was no ninja. As smart as he may be he didn't have the training to simply disappear – especially not on this planet. It was no backwater world but it also wasn't a planet of megalopoli like New Avalon or the other key planets in the Republic. It just wasn't that easy to vanish in a small place.

Finally Adrian left the room, descending by an elevator away from the top floor of the communications building, meaning she could finish her espionage assignment. She slipped over the edge of the window, waiting well until the elevator had come back empty before checking for more occupants in the room. There were none, but she had bigger problems. Hasek had turned the lights off when he left the room, but even after switching on her suit's night vision, she couldn't find a decent place to plant the bugs her employer needed. The micro-communicators were easy enough, and she decided to place those inside the microphones that lined the communication desks. All together it took maybe ten minutes, they were small enough that she had brought more than enough, and simple enough to implement, but the video surveillance footage was proving harder to set up. Truthfully, she couldn't even find the buildings own security cameras, which was proving more disheartening every second.

Once she finished the last audio bug and set everything back into its original place, she began to truly concern: several voices could be heard coming from the stairwell right near where she came in. There was no way she had enough time. Niobe killed the power to her night vision, silently bolting back through the window and clinging to the little defilade the walls offered against the inside of the room. The sneak suit's chameleon camouflage was good, but she never trusted it to handle a dramatic shift of data input such as the lights coming on fast enough to readjust.

Screw it, she said to herself: The audio bugs had been planted; it would have to be enough for the contractor for a day or two. She had hidden the receiver well enough off the site that they wouldn't discover it, not to mention it would wirelessly transmit the encrypted data to a safer location for backups. Although the bugs she had planted were small, they were not perfect. It was ancient technology; used in conjunction with other people usually, meaning it required a radio to receive the data it would transmit. She scampered off as quietly and invisibly as she had come, getting the feeling she should probably find Hans before anyone else on this miserable rock did.

* * *

This was pathetic. Through the years of diminishing adversity and disorganized opposition against him, Adrian must have forgotten not all enemies can be purchased or murdered. Individuals of character, heroes as they used to be called, may now be few and far between but they surfaced when necessary. Hans chuckled heartily to himself. He was actually being imbursed, by his own cousin, in exchange for helping build his projects. In his mind, there wasn't really a better situation at the time. Being paid a highly respectable amount of money to operate the controls of the simplest 'mech possible, by someone that hated him, to do something he loved to do. So far, despite his royal upbringings, piloting a 'mech was the only thing he did, the only career he both excelled at and enjoyed thoroughly. Additionally, he may or may not gain valuable tactical information in the process.

Adrian had departed the scene much earlier on in the day, not very long after seeing the smile on his cousin's face as he did menial labor. Hans suspected that whatever this rouse, whatever had been Adrian's intentions for what he thought was this immensely demeaning act to blackmail his cousin into, had failed miserably and the man had stayed around long enough simply to mask his disappointment, but not appear conspicuous about it.

As far as tyrants went, Hans had no personal experience with them, but from what he could gather; Adrian was a small fry in the business. Surely he had the capacity to develop into a memorable one; already he had gotten off to a decent start. Murder your cousins parents, murder your uncle already in the seat of power, let your own parents settle into the position for a period of time, then murder them and take over. All while you're a young adult. Eventually, manipulate your own living blood relatives into helping you, as Hans was doing right now.

He kicked the throttle forward with the foot pedals, learning the ropes of this strangely familiar new machine. Technically, it was by absolutely no means new. WorkMechs were the original framework for the BattleMech, having been invented in the early half of the 24th century as one of Michael Camerons contributions to technology during his reign as Director – General of the Terran Hegemony. It operated the same as any 'mech, but Hans had never been in the cockpit of a construction 'mech until now. It truly was an odd tool, and he pondered even what made it special: neither arm had any construction features, just humanoid hands for grasping building materials. Maybe the construction machines were used just to set up the framework of buildings.

There seemed to be very little functionality to the 'mech he was piloting otherwise. It contained no jump jets or mechanical boosters, no airborne capabilities whatsoever. Furthermore, it certainly wasn't any taller than any other mech, only standing at about fifteen meters tall.

Chapter 3


Hanse Davion Memorial Hospital

Sheratan, Prefecture IV

April 6, 3133


Hans wasn't quite sure which contributed more to waking him up; the throbbing pain in the back of his head, or the merciless aching of his ribcage. With each new jolt of pain fresh memories of his plunge into Victory Square's fountain flooded his head, and he fought against it as he would fight against the neural feedback of his 'mech while it waged a battle against him to fall to the ground, simultaneously trying to figure out where he was. A look out the window revealed him to be near what he remembered as Main Street, but the bounty of light colors and stuffed animals threw him for a loop. He supposed it was Niobe's bedroom, but wasn't sure as he hadn't gotten so far into her apartment yet. Confirming his speculation, the glowing skinned beauty came into the room, sitting down practically on him, and he began to wonder what happened.

This girl had to be working for someone. She worked at Hasek's hotel, but Hasek wouldn't use so easy and unoriginal a method as a sniper to kill him. Besides, he had the knowledge that Adrian wanted him for something, alive at that. Walking in the park was remarkably well timed if she herself had planned it, but if she was trying to kill him, why would she wait so long and pass up opportunities? Why would she take him into her home? Maybe she was just a pawn and when her part was complete and the subsequence failed, she had a change of heart.

Regardless, she had provided him with a sense of security for as long as he'd known her. Of course, her beaming face often being on his helped a lot towards that direction. From what he knew it was difficult to paint her as sinister, and as he wrapped his fingers around hers he let the thought fade away, at least for the moment. Her face drew closer to his and as he closed his weary eyes, he felt lips press against his, soft at first but eventually he rolled her around, and pressed her against the bed frame, indulging upon her as she moaned into his lips. She had started it anyhow, as a child would say, and was astonishing to say the least. Being the next Kai Allard-Liao bore upon him many gifts and unpleasant surprises, many of which had involved encounters like this. Unfortunately, although he could tell she was different, he intended to parallel some of those more dangerous situations to find out the information he needed.

Hans kept his fingers entwined with hers, lowering her arms to her sides and pinning her completely under his weight against the bed as he brought his knees up to use them against her. She grinned up at him, either through enjoyment or through her misunderstanding of the situation. He forced her head, though not violently, against the headboard and loomed over her.

"You looked rather unsurprised at what happened." he snapped. "Were you paid to lure me into the open?"

Her excitement merely grew as she squirmed beneath him, straining to push against him and parsing her lips, if only because it was a natural reaction to try and defend oneself.

"No." she declared boldly, staring him dead in the eye. Hans liked it, she was assertive. He turned it over in his head as he kept in the same position, deciding whether or not the answer was real. Eventually he affirmed that it was, and he proceeded to squeeze her sides with his knees, until he thought that he might literally squeeze some answers out of her. Either way they both seemed to be having fun.

"Then who spotted me?" he snapped down at her, slowly releasing her from the grip of his legs.

"If you paid attention, two goons followed us out of the JavaPulse Generator." She made sure to emphasize as degradingly as possible on the right word.

"Even so, who hasn't spotted you yet?" This time her response was condescending, but it didn't offend him in the slightest.

He knew it was true, though he would like to ignore that fact. He had seen a guy floating around the edge of the park with a headset on his ear. He moved his knees, again pinning her hands to the mattress as he made a slow motion dive into her lips, like he was in zero gravity, although not that obscene.

As soon as the kiss had started, he denied her any more pleasure from it, skirting his hands along her sides and up into her shirt.

"Why save me?" he wondered to her.

She winked at him, pulling his shoulders and head closer.

"Why not save the Solaris champion?"

"Stop talking, soldier boy." She held a slender, elegant finger against his lips. At that his hands delved further into her cotton top, gently but passionately massaging her breasts, and as she bit her lip, she submerged them both in the covers of the bed.

It was turning out to be one peculiar vacation.


Upon the evenings arrival, which on Sheratan came at a slightly later time than on Terra, Hans awoke to, what he attributed it to at least, the half naked woman shuffling from the bedroom into the shower. Now that he was awake and she was preoccupied, he didn't take too kindly to the prospect of touring her apartment on his own and shuffling through her private things though he still had a lingering suspicion that there was more to her than she was telling. Niobe apparently knew this, guiding him by hand to the shower with her as she finished picking out her apparel for work; the same black and white outfit that he had met her in. Hans obliged and stepped onto the cold tile floor of the shower, immediately thankful for the hot water which beat upon him.

It was not a sexual encounter per se. Obviously she had a job to get to, and Hans didn't want to cause her any trouble with her superiors, especially considering who had ultimate power to terminate her for anything, if Hans caused any obstruction of Hasek's business affairs. Still, the chemistry could be sensed between them as the water cascaded off their bodies. Niobe drenched her hair, turning her back to him as she massaged her scalp, and he noted that as he often found to be the case, she was cute in this position. He offered his hands, helping her to work the shampoo into her scalp and closing the small gap between them. If their co mutual lust for the other were no excuse, he honestly became insatiable in regards to the water temperature in any shower. The water was never hot enough, but her body did the trick just as well.

Hans took his turn at hair-washing, thankful as he ran his fingers through it that he no longer had so much because it was a hassle to get clean, and he took note of how their attraction to the other seeped from their very flesh as they lathered. He was no weight-lifting champion but his career did require physical fitness, and although she clearly appreciated his build, today had been a fair match in physical activity against every other day in his life. They smiled at each other and for at least the moment if not any longer, Hans felt amorous. It was a given, in his case, considering they had just spent several hours fornicating, and then sleeping in the same bed, not to mention the current shower they were having together, which was her idea. Still, though he felt it was real, experience had taught him women were often fickle, if not outright deceitful creatures.

He'd not let his suspicion and inherent mistrust of everyone get in the way with this girl though, not yet. Passionate flames of agate reached out from her tear-drop eyes and tried to swallow him as he worked to massage the sanitizing gel against the smooth skin of her chest, showing him just why he trusted her. Hans pinned her against the shower tile with one of his beefy arms, using the other to continue his soap duty at her lower regions, and his lips hungrily engaged her own. His left hand lingered upon her bottom, and for once he truly wished he hadn't been born into a dangerous life, if only because he wasn't sure if indulging in her curves could become a routine reality. As he thought, Niobe pushed him back and with her head leaning up into his, she returned the kiss and finished their hygienic adventure.

Niobe suddenly found herself airborne, like in the coffee shop; as Hans pulled away from a kiss he swept her away, and carried her from the shower back to her clothes. He yearned for her still and wished he did not have to recognize her priorities, wishing they were still in the spacious shower in which they could have tons of fun. The two helped each other dry off and for once, in the presence of this beautiful woman and her nice outfit, he found himself wanting some very high-quality clothing. Though he acknowledged it was somewhat effeminate, he knew if everyone had the opportunity to dress well, there would be no reason to turn it down.

She seemed not to mind that he was wearing a shirt with a bullet hole in it and grass-stained jeans, but Hans had amended his attention to focus on his Kevlar cooling vest. The ancient thing was the only tangible memory he kept with him from Solaris. He was surprised that the hospital had given it back; much less that Niobe had made sure to bring it back with them. It fit snugly over his chest and he followed her out the front door, looking like a big white amoeba as he put his shirt on over top. Though the ancient device had saved his life the previous night, he feared it would bear him little assistance in the near future. The old vest only stayed in his possession because it was a family heirloom.

Cooling vests, although the galaxy was largely demilitarized, were relatively easy to come across, if not to simply manufacture altogether. Most consisted of a light anti-ballistic cloth wrapped around a sprawling maze of cooling tubes that criss-crossed the front and back of the vest. In a BattleMech, or any 'mech, the tubing hooked directly into the machine's cooling system, which utilized liquid nitrogen to help decrease the extreme waste heat created by the fusion engine and the other systems which depended on it's energy. In the same way, the vest supplied the same coolant to keep the pilot in a fighting condition. Unlike his specially created vest, most could not hope to stop the direct impact of a bullet. His great grandfather had worn it through nearly two decades of successful military service, before retiring to establish his own mercenary unit. Unfortunately, old age took him before he could actually command it, a responsibility which fell upon his eldest son.

Hans never wanted to pursue that path: he believed he would end up largely without money or the sort of exciting although somewhat unfavorable circumstances he was now enjoying on his home-world. Though he held Niobe's hand as they walked through the great hotel, his thoughts were pre-occupied with his future plans, and they ceded only to his dedication to chivalry when the opportunity arose to save her from being bumped by a baggage cart or to open a door for her. The hotel's elevator banks, numerous as they were, were busy and crowded by more people than he'd ever seen in the building, but it hardly impeded their progress by more than a few minutes. Hans assumed it was some sort of convention or business conference and didn't care, inconvenience never managed to actually be inconvenient with him. Her fingers clasped around his as she leaned against him to make room in the tight confines of the elevator, and the elevator began its quick ascent.

At last they arrived on the top floor, and stepped hand-in-hand out into the hallway near his suite. Though he wasn't sure why, Hans was somewhat excited to return to his own new "home". Niobe kissed him quickly but passionately, and she scampered off to the bar. It was a few staircases up from the 13th floor, only accessible from its single middle hallway. He smiled after her, catching her eye once as she looked back at him fiddling with his room key.

He had procured a very fancy suite, which was really an apartment the size of a nice one story house, intended for an almost permanent residence. It had two separate bathrooms, a full-sized kitchen, and a nice common room near the entrance. The latter featured a depressed floor, covered with nice French vanilla carpet, even sporting a very expensive big-screen tri-vid system, which just so happened to be on, loud enough that it was the first thing that he noticed. It was likely the intruder intended it that way, meaning either they didn't intend to harm him, or they were very proud of the fact that they did and had nothing to hide. Or they were just plain stupid. Regardless, he ducked into the front bathroom to snag the laser pistol he had hidden there. He was certainly no ninja, however, and his uninvited guests quickly came aware of his presence.

"Hansi, dear boy!" the first man yelled. It was none other than Baron Adrian Hasek himself. "How are you, cousin?" He demanded to know.

Hans was not a boy. He was twenty-four and Adrian was just shy of twenty-eight.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Hans stabbed the words at him as he lowered his laser pistol to his side. Cranston jumped from his seated position, ready to fight him and his accusatory tone.

"How dare you showcase your ins-" Cranston shouted but was immediately cut off by Hans.

"Stay your tongue, until your master tosses you a new bone!" he yelled, jousting his laser in Cranston's direction. Though the croney could not see, Adrian smiled warmly at Hans as he waved the croney away.

"What are you doing here Adrian?" again he pursued his answer.

"I heard of your injury. I wanted to welcome you home." Hasek said with a friendly smile.

"Your lapdogs already did that." Again Hans glared at Cranston, and his eyes looked ready to do the job for the pistol. "What?" he abbreviated his previous question.

"I felt since you are...staying here for free, I would make use of your room while it was vacant. You should really buy some groceries Hansi." Hans hated that name. He was not a substance-using artist, he was a soldier and his name was not Hansi.

"Thanks. I appreciate the gesture less than I would were you to get to the point." Hans flashed an evil and very much stoic smile at him.

The sound of a huge laser blast struck his ears from the TV and Hans immediately recognized it, so well that he did not want to look at it. The two intruders were watching a Tri-Vid recording of Hans' last battle before he left Solaris. His attention was captured eventually as the jarring sound of the lasers blasting from within his black Shadow Cat's chest and arm hit home hard. Twelve blue beams of light leapt out, striking the opposing Centurion, and Hans found himself back on the scene.

He gasped for air as his reckless combination of all his energy weapons threatened to turn his 'mech into a blossoming fireball. His machine carried far more heat-sinks than its designers had put in it, but even so they didn't completely combat the added heat of his lasers. Hans's senses threatened to shut him down, as did the threatening voice of the electronic female in his cockpit warned him of his machine's similar impending doom. A quick slap of his hand to the coolant flush button released a cloud of liquid, which effectively cooled his 'mech in a great hiss and he was fine again.

The Centurion on the receiving end of the barrage did not share as favorable a fate, however... The laser barrage dug into the humanoid machines center torso, melting straight through its armor to its interior components. Molten globs of armor sprayed en masse from the machine's chest, dancing in the air and falling to the densely packed snow which quickly melted under its heat. Steel bones from the machine's supportive skeleton spewed half-molten from the gaping hole in its chest, joined by twisted, singed bundles of artificial muscle which littered the snow at its feet, and pipes and tubing spewed green cooling fluid all over the ground as the giant metal man fell to its death. Snow sprayed from under the fifty ton machine into the air, and as the machines heat signal faded into a series of sparks all over its metal body, Hans could tell the engine was toast.

He shut down his mech and vaulted down the chain ladder to the ground, keeping his eyes on the man that effectively crawled and fell out of the fallen giant's cockpit. Even through the protective shielding that surrounded the Coliseum, Hans could hear the thousands of spectators as they booed and vocalized their disapproval of what he was doing, but he signaled a medical evacuation for his fallen opponent. His name was Augustus de Paul, and the fans had demanded the two of them duel. Augustus was a rising star on Solaris, and though he survived the ordeal with perfect health, Hans had killed his career. It was the true reason Hans had left Solaris behind.

Adrian embraced him in his arms as he was still coming back to reality.

"My dear cousin, I've missed you." Adrian said as he looked back to the screen, a sinister grin taking hold of his face.

"Doesn't it feel exhilarating to get rid of a rival?" he asked.

"Something you know all about I'm sure" Hans hissed "Regardless, I will teach you how it feels to be on the barrel end." he said hatefully as he shrugged his cousin off of him.

" know, I did you a favor. The order of succession chose my side of the family next anyway. Besides, you're rich now, and cultured."...

"You stole power. Our family was losing its grip on the people and you murdered my father to usurp the power away from them."

Sheratan was much like 20th century Britain, in the terms that although there was a theocratic leader of the planet chosen by ancestry and order of succession, referred to as a "baron" or "baroness", the governments of the various countries were as close to a democratic republic as they could be. Unfortunately, in times deemed to be crises, law allowed for the ruling family to seize control and administer over the planet until such a time was determined by special council that there was no longer a need for a dictator. Clearly his cousin had grasped onto this loophole to further his own interests, although Hans sincerely doubted he had waited. Eight years passed since the teenager had murdered his uncles, and Hans was sure he had found a creative way to orchestrate the deaths of his own parents in such a way as to put himself next in line.

Traditionally the people of Sheratan could also vote for a new leader, under normal circumstances, if the incumbent lost sight of their best interests. They had retained the right of impeachment over thousands of years, and it always proved useful. Adrian had found a way to screw the system, not that he deserved credit; assassination was ancient and offered little room for pioneers and creativity.

"Get to the point." Hans grumbled, snapping out of his self-administered history lesson.

"You came here to get rid of me Hans, but you obviously need a good excuse to be here. Like a job." Adrian said, pressing the space between them and getting right in Johannes's face.

"I'm rich Adrian and I'm on vacation." Hans smiled to him, because it was true, although Adrian was exactly right about his true intentions.

"You have increased the vagrancy in my city and your Republic citizenship will be revoked soon. Tharkad and its prefect may be far away but you are on my planet now, and I am in charge here."

"I'm a vagrant now?" Hans asked curiously. It was news to him.

"When you increase the crime rate, yes."

Hans muttered something under his breath, to the effect of "That's nothing new.", but Adrian seemed to pretend as though he heard none of it.

"So, you have a job for me? What?" Hans had become genuinely interested. Adrian had turned away and prepared to leave.

"The only job that suits you, Mr. Mueller. You've seen the patrols on the streets?" He motioned to Cranston. "Halbert here will facilitate your needs. You start tomorrow."

The two self-proclaimed guests vacated his edifice and as he left, Hasek gave him an optimistic half-hug. As far as Hans was concerned, cousin or not, Hasek was still an asshole, and he didn't like the truths the man spoke, though they were indeed accurate. One piece of the baron's advice he did act upon however; he ordered groceries and waited for their delivery while flipping through the channels on the TV. Technology, in all its glory, after eleven hundred years had eliminated the trip to the grocery store, if one wished not to go. Han's supposed it was a better invention then laser weapons at least. After about half a standard hour, he was storing away the last of the food, at which time a thought occurred to him. Considering Hasek had his room covered, he had an intention to enlist Niobe's aid in destroying quite a bit of it….repeatedly.

He left his fantasy world and made himself some food, realizing he was anxious for a real meal. A simple sandwich sufficed, and after a short nap he slipped his laser pistol into its shoulder holster and slipped into a pair of khakis and a black dress shirt. He finished dressing, and afterwards vaulted up the staircases near his suite up to the bar. The same people from his last visit seemed to be occupying the place, but they were of no interest to him beyond the fact that they were there. Fortunately, he was able to accurately guess when Niobe would be leaving, and swept her away from the bar. Before the night was over, she was introduced to his excitement, as he gave her a thorough tour of the bathroom, and its spacious shower. Hans couldn't wait to be back in a 'mech again. It was going to be great.


Except that it wasn't.

Hans knew that Adrian was a dick, so he didn't find his situation as a complete surprise; Hasek had played on his naiveté and assumptions pretty well.

He awoke in the morning, Niobe's body cradled closely against his own. Cranston was perched upon the bar top counter in the kitchen, with a platter of generous proportions at his side.

Hans rubbed his eyes, sliding out of the hotel bed towards one of his former friends. He left some of his anger behind in the covers, shuffling alongside Cranston to take some of the breakfast food offered him. He took a bite of a scone, and made an acknowledging nod towards the crony.

"Am I to expect the baron's personal housecleaning service too? Since it seems I'm receiving the reserved echelon of room service." Hans inquired.

"If you expect to find me pushing a vacuum cleaner I think you'll find nothing but disappointment. I'm sure you will however." Cranston replied, mildly amused by his temerity.

"So you expect me to believe he needs me to pilot a 'mech up and down the streets. Anyone can avoid stepping on people and cars. What's the catch?" Hans again sought information. He got the feeling that, despite his allegiance, one of his old friends might provide him with some useful information.

"There's no catch, chief. Not yet anyhow. Look around you, you'll figure out the implications I'm sure." Cranston sarcastically retorted to him. Clearly he was annoyed, although whether it was in disappointment of Hans short sightedness or at dignifying him with a response altogether.

It wasn't the answer he was looking for, and he cursed himself for being open minded enough to ask about it, but it was information regardless, just information that he would have to figure out piece by piece.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Prologue : Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

*this chapter isn't done


New Avalon Spaceport

New Avalon, Prefecture III

Republic of the Sphere

December 14, 3127

"Mueller, J!" the voice announced in a strictly business fashion.

He stood up, struggling to shift the perceived maladjusted set of silk robes in order to look what he considered to be presentable. As he made the necessary precautions not to step on the robe, the garment to which he took no pleasure in wearing, the distance between his hand and the outstretched, pasty mandible of the New Avalon Institute of Science dean shrunk. A twinkle that belied her considerably disproportionate joy at his graduation above all else in his class shone in the old woman's hazel eyes, and from her unusually genuine smile, he could tell she was only too glad to get rid of him.

With a firm exchange of handshakes and a quick grab with his left hand, he made off with his loot in the speedy fashion accustomed to commencement ceremonies. The vacant seat awaiting him afforded not only an excellent view of the gathered spectators but not too shabby of an acoustic sweet spot either, from which he gazed upon the audience. He basked in the nearly overwhelming consortium of sounds that attacked his ears, and ultimately, with the look of a subservient puppy, ceased with dissatisfaction his scan of the audience. Immediately he scolded himself – there was no reason to be disappointed. As of this moment he had completed within four years the requirements, at the age of 21, for his Masters of Applied Science in Advanced Military Technology Applications, an impressive enough feat in his own opinion.

As effective as his attempts at self-esteem building might have turned out, he was interrupted by a squeeze on the shoulder. It was none other than his classmate Alex Visser, empirically the only best friend he possessed on this foreign world. Her grip was surprisingly firm for such a petite person, even though he knew it was all an act. She was certifiably the strongest person he had ever met, whether or not she made a habit of showing it. He offered a socially expected smile up at her as she plopped down next to him. He was trying to pretend with his facial expressions that the paramount question in his mind was how of all the master's candidates, the next graduates surname skipped ten letters in the alphabet. In reality, she knew better than to think he would jog his mind over something irrelevant, and he could see out of his periphery that she was staring at him, the same look she always had on her face when she knew he was full of it.

It made no difference to him. He was billions of kilometers from home, and he stared hopelessly into the crowd, looking for some relative. There was no one there for him. All Hans saw were bright lights and strangers. Not one comforting face.

He let out a groan, snapping back into reality as a heavy duffel bag encroached on his torso and into his stomach.

"Hey! What the hell!?" Hans shouted. He shoved the bag off, depositing it halfway into the empty seat next to him. The gate's seating was surprisingly luxurious; reducing what could have been a remotely painful experience of hard plastic digging into his back. After he finished, he gave her a transparent smile.

"You're doing it again." Alex scolded him, though the sternness of her voice and brown eyes was devoid of commitment.

"You're taking what was supposed to be a good memory and you're doing what you can to ruin it. You always do this." She continued to lecture him.

It didn't bother him in the slightest. He had palled around with her for almost a decade, and after four years of a committed relationship, the reciprocity of their pep talks and lectures had become a welcome part of his daily life. He never liked her more than when she was adamant.

"I'm trying. I am." He pleaded with her.

It was apparently enough, although he could tell easily that she wasn't harboring the slightest motivation to argue in public, or at all, over something minute. She placed a sandwich into his hand, returning from her foraging trip and cuddling against him in the adjacent seat. "Danke schön" he smiled the German to her, draping an arm around her shoulders and voraciously biting into his toasted sub sandwich.

They had waited one day and night after graduation to participate in the campus "ceremonies" and get their things ready, but finally they were at the New Avalon Spaceport awaiting their pending vacation to Solaris VII. Both had preferred to take a trip to Terra after their time at the institute had ended, but despite their efforts, two anonymous NAIS graduates did not have enough influence to change interplanetary ship schedules, and they really had no intent of hanging around a few more weeks until a core-ward traveling ship was in the system.

The desire to go to Terra was mostly hers, though Hans found no qualms with visiting the cradle of humanity. It was truly a beautiful vacation spot, and he believed every human in space held some ambition to return to their origin. Over the centuries, with the population shifting to other planets, Terra had regained some of its former splendor, and was touted as the highest quality of vacation options in the Inner Sphere. He felt that the appeal of the home-world wasn't entirely attributable in her case to it's history and beauty, however, as he suspected she had more than an academic interest in Terra's other feature: ComStar, and the Republic of the Sphere, whose nerve centers were both on the planet.

It was more than a suspicion, as she had made her interest well-known to him. Her curiosity didn't worry him terribly about the two organizations, not yet at least. She was a social scientist, interested in archaeology and books and facts. He discounted the possibility that she would ever find any place in the military aspects of either organization, although he acknowledged that she would easily fit in with their more public and bureaucratic sectors. Either way, whatever would happen was exactly that: in the future.

They were headed to Solaris, what might as well be more of a giant spinning casino in space rather than a planet. It was the home of the Solaris 'mech championships, and certainly the largest panoply of gaming and entertainment in the known stars. It was the modern day representation almost of Sodom and Gomorra., if there were one. He knew she was appeasing him and was only interested in the experience of going, as her interest In 'mechs and technology paled in comparison to his. Furthermore, her enjoyment of the trivialization of war and murder and destruction was, as a woman, stereotypically lower than his, he was sure..

Chapter One: You Can’t Go Home Again

-= 1 =-


Prefecture IV

Republic of the Sphere

April 12 3132



    The shouted word intrigued the young man sitting on his bar stool, enough for him to spin to face the individual from whence the exclamation had originated. It caught his attention not for being uncouth, hell as an exclamation was far from obscenity; but for its singularity. No one yells out hell in public. Yelling out hell doesn't make sense. The beer which proceeded to fuse with his trousers satiated his curiosity before the image of a distraught bar-tendress confirmed what had occurred.
    Terrible as it was, the thunder outside seemed to affect this woman alone, much less to the extent of spilling a freshly poured beer on its' potential new owner, in addition to the counter and her pants as well. Her green eyes struggled to build a firewall around the spreading plasmatic embarrassment at what she had done as she immediately set upon rectifying the situation. Within a short period of time she'd produced a bottle of wood cleaning solvent and a cloth to wipe off the bar. The subtlety with which her hand suddenly became pinned to the oak of the bar-top belied the potential of its owner: the victim of the great beer spilling accident.
    "Don't worry so much. It's too late in the evening for worries." He smiled as he spoke, watching the flame of embarrassment and concern in her eyes in its evolution into fearsome curiosity.

Given that he understood what an event it was to spill a beer, it was regardless too trivial a thing to get worked up over, even though it was beer. Anything that contained alcohol seemed to intensify the mess when it was spilled. Whether it was because of the color of different liquors and beers, or the smell, or the fact that it presented a possibly sticky and unpleasant cleaning task, spilling a beer was definitely worse than spilling a glass of water. He figured it was mostly the two reasons he hadn't considered: beer was expensive, and it was beloved.
    "My name is Johannes." he announced in a very serene tone so that only she would hear, still lingering his hand upon hers, which she appeared to have no desire to move.
    The girl used her free left hand to tuck rogue strands of jet black hair behind small, undecorated ears as she replied through a restrained grin.

    "Niobe." she excitedly chirped back to him. He figured the clientele must not be too keen on associating with the bar employees, a lack of conversation which he decided was much to her chagrin.

The joint was rather well decorated as far as bars went, not featuring the cheap neon or contemporary decoration of a standard street bar. Walls on each side eventually gave way to a high vaulted ceiling, sparsely showcased with ancient but tried incandescent lights. Everything was finished wood, save for the metal supports of barstools and leather coverings in the booth seats. Johannes couldn't personally speak for millennia of drinking establishments both on and outside of Terra, but as far as he knew it was as traditional a Bier Haüs as possible thousands of years and billions of astronomical miles away from the origin of humanity.

He interrupted what he felt could be awkward silence with an attempt at humor.
     "A friend of mine once claimed a German wouldn't know a good beer if it were spilled all over him." Hans, as he liked to be called, winked when he finished telling his humorous but cheesily appropriate story, and Niobe responded with a hearty giggle. Technically he wasn't German, his family was of Austrian descent, but for all intents and purposes he could be classified as Germanic and had no quips about it. As far as the beer was concerned, it was the Diamond Negro, the best brand of beer in all of the Republic and probably the galaxy.
     "Do you always react to thunder like so?" He tried hard to make his question sound neutral, but he often came off as having some sort of bias behind his speech. She had practically leapt at the crack of thunder, but in her defense it was relatively frightening. Technically, the bar was on the top floor of a tower which did reach into the clouds. Provided they were low enough, anyway. Subsequently, anyone in the tower was in fact much closer to the source of thunder.

She frowned slightly and nodded to him.

"I do if it's of that magnitude."
     Hans wasn't sure if he had exposed her vulnerability or had outright offended her. He often wondered why the planets with the worst weather were also the planets that were harboring some of the most enjoyable characters.
    The distraction of the beer shower had diverted his attention from the big screen Tri-Vid built into the wall across from the bar, and the thoughts it sent racing through his head. It was a news report, focused around an update on the status of the Hyper-Pulse Generator network, which for all widespread operational intents and purposes had been decommissioned. The HPG network, for short, kept the thousands of star systems inside and outside of the Republic in quick touch for a nominal operational fee. Four months had passed since the entire network had ceased functionality, and without it Hans could sense an almost palpable worry from all the people he came into contact with. He didn't know why exactly, but it seemed humans had an infinite yearning for communication, even if the reality was that they took it for granted and didn't necessarily appreciate the ability to talk to anyone they wanted, anywhere. Perhaps it was more a matter of primal humanity – these people were cut off from the outside. There was no one within trillions of miles that could hear them scream. Fear was beginning to creep into their minds in several different ways.
   Conversation with a beautiful lady was in his reasoning, a superior and clearly preferable alternative to worrying about a situation he could not possibly solve on his own. Whether or not this planet would become permanently cut off didn't scare him, nor did he think it ever would. He didn't care very much. Thus, the beer which soaked his pants might as well not have existed to him, for it necessitated the simple human contact which he could, and did use to generate a conversation free of suspicion, instead of kibitzing.
    "I don't suppose being among the clouds insulates you from the characters native to a sketchier establishment?" Hans purported, letting his thoughts spill into his speech.
    She grinned, and in the sparkle of her eyes he discovered that she had probably figured him out. To prevent any further speculation on his part, she went ahead and vocalized it.
    "You're here, aren't you?" she put him in check.
    "So you spilled beer on a celebrity, but on accident?" he wondered aloud to her.
    His fame was hard-earned and well deserved half of it at least, though he neglected on most occasions to flaunt, within or without the company of beautiful (and often inherently susceptible) women. Johannes had certainly won his celebrity status on Solaris VII the hard, honest way, if it could be considered as one. Solaris VII had always been the premier gaming planet throughout the history of the Inner Sphere. It played host to what was essentially a very high-tech version of the Roman Coliseum. BattleMech pilots fought each other from the cockpits of their giant war machines, sometimes for life, but often for fame and glory and large amounts of money. Like any competition it gave birth to extremely high-stakes gambling both in and out of the arena, in addition to the other numerous races and casinos and other "viceful" establishments across the planet. Hans had never lost a match in his five-year career on Solaris, and was well on his way to becoming the next Kai Allard-Liao, the famed 31st century undefeated champion of Solaris. Fortunately, his genetically inherited claim to fame had as yet not warranted any notice.
   "I jump at the opportunity to spill beer on a MechWarrior, as rare a sight as they are."

She gave him a flirty smile and leaned closer to him over the bar top, her eyes announcing that she had made an exception for the Solaris champion. Hans pictured himself smirking rather than doing the real thing, as if there were such a thing anymore as a "MechWarrior", and began to notice, as he saw more of her, that she was very curvaceous, and her ugly green apron did little to obstruct her form from showing itself off.
   "How about drinking it with one?" Hans slyly proposed.
   Niobe winked, and despite the constant thunder outside she flawlessly poured two fresh bottles of the beer into frosty mugs for them.
   "So, what brings the Champion to Sheratan?" She rested her hands on her cheeks, leaning over the bar top on her elbows.
   At the sight of a celebrity charming the women, some faces diverted from the news coverage on the big screen TV and glanced over at the two of them, though Hans paid them little heed. Basking in his own glory could be saved for a time when everyone in the Inner Sphere could see it, if he actually wanted to do so. Assuming he was still alive at that point. He knew better than to consider himself so important as to deserve an assassination attempt, but stranger things did happen in the universe.
   "I was told the barkeeps are quite a spectacle." He smiled innocently up at her, peering straight into those green eyes. As innocently as a 'mech pilot who had killed a fair share of people could appear. He winked at her and straightened his posture.
    "I grew up here." he stated, in what he felt was far too naive a tone for even a naive person to speak in, in order to convince her that he wasn't all about joking around.
    She changed her face to one of intrigue as he announced that he'd grown up right here in town, and he could see her features perk up as the sounds of the violent thunderstorm outside subsided, if only for the moment.
    "What do you say we get out of here?" Hans put on his most charming set of muscular expressions, and she winked slyly at him. The two walked out of the hotel's penthouse pub sometime later, left and right elbows locked around each other.


"So you just suddenly decided to come back? Why?" she inquired.

"Well it kind of sucks not being able to find out what's going on back where you grew up." Hans began, nonchalantly lying to her as though it were nothing.

"The HPG network being down makes things kind of boring on a planet revolving entirely around it's ability to communicate with everyone else."

Again what he said wasn't necessarily the whole truth. Han's didn't know everything about the internal workings of Solaris. He tried to acquire as much business savvy and insight to the tourism and gambling business as possible in his deceptively short period of time on the world, but was a novice at best. On the same note, he didn't know much of anything about the HPG system, either. He did, however, study them while earning his Masters accreditation on New Avalon.

Hyper-pulse generators, known commonly as HPGs, were one of the two oldest "new" technologies of the third and fourth millennium, with the other being the Kearny – Fuchida jump drive. Both systems operated on the same scientific principle, although their individual implementations were drastically separated by degrees of difficulty.

Working together at Stanford University in the Terran pre-stellar era, Thomas Kearny and Takayoshi Fuchida published a series of papers that attacked the foundations of modern physics. However, despite being publicly ridiculed and ultimately failing to see their ideas come to life, eighty years brought a new generation of scientists ready to validate their theories.

The Kearny – Fuchida Principle, as it was coined, states that instantaneous transport of matter and/or energy can be accomplished by generating a field of precise characteristics around a quantity located at any point A and moving it through an alternate dimension, commonly referred to as hyper-space, thereby instantaneously transporting the mass or energy to any point B. This scientific principle simultaneously paved the way for both interstellar communications and modern space travel.

As far as HPGs were concerned, if the quantity to be transmitted is energy or an energy pattern, such as an electromagnetic wavelength containing a message, then the presence of gravity need not be taken into account when making the calculations. Applying the Kearny-Fuchida principle to generate the necessary field required at the applicative point A, Cassie DeBurke created a successful apparatus in 2630 which came to be known as the modern Hyoerpulse Generator.

The Hyperpulse Generator, since it's inception in the 27th century was the standard medium of communication between the star-spanning empires of the Inner Sphere, although it obviously did not displace more ancient technologies such as modulation based radio transmitters. In six hundred years of both peace and warfare, the HPG network spawned it's own inter-stellar powerhouse known as ComStar.

ComStar and their communications net, composed of myriad powerful hyper-pulse generators capable of transmitting or receiving these instantaneous signals across enormous interstellar distances, has proved on multiple occasions vital not only to the conduct of peaceful relations among the four Successor states, but in the past century played a major and decisive role in both external and internal conflicts threatening them as well. The network was composed of two types of relay stations: Class A stations, and Class B stations. The larger stations, Class A stations, could transmit signals in a 50 light-year radius. Class A stations were sparsely located around the Inner Sphere, only on planets of major significance, with only around 50 in operation. Class B stations, the smaller of the two, could transmit and receive within a radius between 20 and 30 light-years. Virtually every inhabited planet in known space had a Class B station, maintained by it's respective ComStar staff.

Messages transmitted and received by both Class A and B stations were processed on a first – come, first – serve basis, and a Class A station generally transmitted to each subservient Class B station on a 12 – to 24- hour schedule. In contrast, the smaller Class B stations generally only transmitted two r three times a week. Although the communications themselves were instant, the volume of consumer traffic tended to slow things down to what occasionally seemed like a pre-Information Age level.

She seemed to be examining him curiously, so he bored her with a synopsis of what his thoughts on ComStar and their network and it's recently experienced plight.
Hans escorted the young lady home at the end of the night, to her apartment which seemed almost too conveniently located little more than a block or two from his hotel. Eventually the conversation had ended, and with a gentle brush of his lips against her cheek he parted ways with her rain-soaked doorstep. Hopefully he had warranted further involvement with her. Suspicion began to creep up on him, however. Never in his entire life on this planet had he met a girl like this, who just so happened to be right nearby. It felt weird, but at the same time it made him feel doubly weird for suspecting something just because she dwelled right near her job. People have historically lived near their jobs if it were at all possible to accomplish.

Shortly he was back within range of Der überplatz hotel, juggling the prospect of sleeping in enemy territory in his head as he moved his legs. Hans held a legitimate claim to the throne of Sheratan, by blood, and was staying in a hotel owned and run entirely by the political faction that had stolen his inheritance from him. Obviously it wasn't advisable, but he was a glutton for adventure and intriguing women. Prudence hardly served him nobly in his experience thus far.
    Unfortunately, his presence on the planet had piqued the interest of more than just a bar tendress at his hotel, as he found himself having a rendezvous with the ferrocrete alleyway after a sharp blow to the knees. Before Hans knew it he had a brand new friend. His face became intimately acquainted with the grimy silt that coated the alleyway, a steel-toed combat boot crushing his head forcefully against the ground. Suddenly a thousand molten needles plunged into his knees and his head dove into a cold sea of what he imagined a magnetic rail gun might feel like after firing. His body crumpled like a rag doll. A block from safety and the young champion had been intercepted by three individuals whom he would never be able to describe after the ensuing debacle was over.

   "You were asked nicely to stay off of this planet, Mr. Mueller." the one standing directly in front of his head taunted him, accentuating the word mister.
    As much as it pissed him off to hear it out loud, the man wasn't telling lies. The planetary government had exiled him, setting up his new identity and even providing him with the Shadow-Cat 'mech he piloted all throughout his Solaris career. The truth was that they'd done a favor for him, probably in the hopes that he would get himself killed. Maybe they figured it would be better to indirectly absolve their relations with a political refugee, rather than keep his blood on the administration's hands. Hans hated to disappoint them so much, or so he would claim whenever he came into contact with the local government.
    "It must have slipped my mind." He snickered proudly to the speaker, whose face was still cast in shadow. He grinned and delivered a swift series of kicks to Han's chest, causing him to cough violently and spit blood onto the ground.
   "I'm sure it did Mr. Mueller. Baron Hasek wishes merely to welcome you home. He regrets that he cannot greet you in person at this time, but he wishes to inform you of a need for your...abilities."

Hans finally figured it out - the speaker's name was Cranston. There was a point in time, perhaps eight years ago, that he might have called this guy his friend. They palled around in those days, these three goons and the two rich Hasek kids. He always knew they were douche-bags, obviously he was right. Instead of making something of themselves they were still riding on Hasek's coat-tails.

Until now the conversation had been so enthralling that the physical pain and damage he suffered has temporarily slipped his mind, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized his body hurt badly enough to make him want to go the hospital. A warm and sticky trail of what he could only assume was his blood had trickled from his right temple to cheek, spilling onto his neck and the ground the whole time he spent talking to Hasek's goons. At least he could take solace in the fact that they had literally started the blood shed by spilling his own, if anything extreme were to begin happening in the planet.

   "You will be contacted in the future." Cranston said abruptly.
    The foot pressed against his skull let up and as the three left, he received another sharp kick, this time to the kidney, from what felt like a very well constructed high heel. Hans coughed violently once again as he struggled to push himself off of the dirty alleyway, and he gave his outfit a quick glance-over. For a downtown post-rainstorm alleyway, he made it out of the encounter with little more than some wet clothes and a bloodstain. Coughing the whole way, he hastily slipped through a rear-access door to some of the hotels parking garage elevators, and collapsed against the wall of the first elevator car to meet his needs. Thankfully, he was alone the entire way to his 13th floor suite, and he fell onto the bed and drifted to sleep remarkably fast.

All in all, as far as the potential combinations of events that eventually came together to construct a day in the Inner Sphere were concerned, this day had turned out to be among some of the more interesting and colorful days Hans had encountered in his time. Meet a beautiful woman, get the shit kicked out of you in an alley by masked banditos. It was all in a hard days work.

Chapter Two: I Can Has Bullet?


Outbound Dropship Cimbri
Fletcher system
Prefecture IV
April 5 3133

   Simulated dropship gravity never earned the praises of any person to have traveled on board a space vessel, but Alexandra supposed it was better to take advantage of fake gravity than to swim through the air, chasing after globules of her floating cappuccino. The massive , bulbous Union-C class dropship was several million kilometers away from the planet Fletcher, drinking down a sea of fuel as it traveled through space. It was headed to the nadir jump point, a location at the cardinal bottom of the solar system at which a transport waited to ferry it tens of light-years across the galaxy. The Kearny – Fuchida principle, as applied to the transportation of actual matter, dictated this point within the star system as copasetic towards inter-stellar travel as the gravity of the system was nullified at this area. There was  no way to see the jump-ship from this distance, but she knew it was basking in the solar energy of the system's star, soaking it up with a fabric that stored the power known as a solar sail.

She gazed through the massive window of the observation deck, watching the identical dropship next to them in space, the Mauser, and listened in true boredom to the activity below her on the ship's bridge. Unfortunately as far as activity went, there was under normal circumstances a lack of it. Just a lot of blinking lights and occasional orders and some information reported to the captain. When people started getting excited and there were loud noises aboard a spaceship, it was pretty much a certainty that the shit had hit the fan, something that could very well spell disaster out in space. As far as she was concerned, if she never heard anything from the bridge, it was good.
   The sound she did hear, however, was not. The echoes of the man approaching her were like hammer blows to her head, shattering her silent world as each clicking metallic boot heel that rapped against the metal deck floor sounded far louder her to ears than it really was.
    "Yes, Jenkins?" She referred to him by surname; formality hardly appealed to her, not anymore. In a time of peace like the current she didn't expect many other people to care either; military tradition wasn't very well-attended to in this day and age, as much as military people tried.
    "You've a message from a jumpship in-system." The stocky communications officer crisply informed her. He looked rather intimidated in her presence. Surely she didn't deem herself attractive nor dangerous enough to be intimidating anyone, but as she pondered why he did she gave him a smile that would confuse and entertain him long enough to leave her alone. Alexandra nodded to him, and checked that there was no one around the observation deck's sound-proof communications room to determine that her privacy was to remain intact.

Once she was satisfied, she replaced the lid on her beverage and promptly strode over to the small cubicle, reminiscent of a phone booth.
   "This is Captain Visser,"

"Begin transmission." She stated in as military a faction as she could so the microphones in the booth would pick up her voice.
    Without further conversation the message scrolled into the air in front of her, produced in midair by a holographic projector. It consisted merely of text; nothing else but three words.
    "Mueller is here." It read.
    Johannes Mueller was the rightful heir to the to the power seat of Sheratan by blood, the planet from which her mercenary unit had originated and lived on until a few years ago. In addition, he was also the only living pure blood relative of the mercenary band's founder and first commander. Coupled with his Solaris reputation, it was no surprise that at least someone had picked up his trail when he arrived on the planet. However, the only part of it that mattered to Alexandra was that he essentially represented a wild card, one which she and she alone would be able to play. She would make sure of it.
    Right now just didn't feel like the time to plot over it, and besides: It was more prudent to save the "work" for the unit's journey aboard the jumpship, during which they would all be conferencing together on dozens of different topics and situations regarding their assignment on Sheratan.

    As the days passed by from his arrival in his home town, Hans began more and more to notice the changes that had gripped his former stomping ground. When last Hans had lived here at the age of sixteen, everything seemed tolerable and harmonic. The city had a stable political environment and a compassionate, engaged populace composing almost entirely of Republic citizens. Perhaps his perception of home was attributable – excusably, in the case that it was incorrect - to the naiveté inherent with adolescence. Still, Hans felt something was amiss in his home city.
    Oddly enough, it seemed quite possible that a divine force was tuned in to his thoughts. At first he wasn't so sure, only feeling a slight tremble of the ground. It was a low growl on the horizon and he could easily pass it off as the beginnings of a storm, which could easily have been the truth on this planet. However with each pair of seconds that went by, the feeling grew in intensity, and he could see the tremors rippling through his cup of coffee. Before long they were constant and long lasting. Suddenly the muscles of his face contorted to fit with the flame of concern that lit up in each of his azure eyes.
   With a genuine air of reciprocity, Niobe's head slightly tilted towards him and the muscles in her face changed to mirror it. Silently he scolded his lack of self control, as his face bled with emotion. His transparency had made futile any potential attempt to lie to her, so he simply slid his rippling cup of coffee to occupy her newspaper's former resting place. A bartender tackling a newspaper crossword seemed odd to him, but he immediately dismissed his intrigue to ignorance. Again her face morphed expressions as she pursued the meaning of a rippling coffee cup, and Hans noted her perplexion to be astonishingly cute.
   A shriek from one of the coffee joint's female employees in conjunction with the loud crash outside the storefront window solidified Hans's growing unease. The huge metal foot of a Raven, a 35-ton scout 'mech, pounded into the road beneath it as the machine strode past the storefront and down the street. Niobe jolted out of her seat, being the closest person in the building to the window, and he hastily pulled her into his lap to stop her from falling. Clearly it was not the sort of event that made her day.

As quick as it had come, the white/red paint scheme and thunderous noise of the machine had subsided as it made its way down the street, leaving his new female friend and her face a few centimeters from his own. He found it humorous that so lethal and gargantuan of a machine had created so gentle and enjoyable of a scenario. Of all the mission parameters for a BattleMech, romantic acceleration was a new addition to Hans' resume of experience with the ancient machines. However, he presumed it was a very likely scenario – every person in the Inner Sphere wasn't intimately acquainted with these destroyers on a scale that they would feel comfortable with them encroaching upon their every day surroundings.
   Despite the easily won prize in his lap and the reciprocal enjoyment in her eyes, he found it hard to avoid stepping outside himself and worry about the ramifications of what had just happened. For almost two generations, the central area of the planets in the galaxy occupied by humans had been united as the Republic of the Sphere, to usher in an era of peace and prosperity. Subsequently, vehicles of war and their accompanying means of production and upkeep were decommissioned, and their rare occurrence was only in Republic armies and select planetary militias. His own 'mech he left on Solaris VII in the hands of people he knew he could trust. People whose pockets stood to profit very well from its staying in his possession. Hans left the planet when the HPG grid went down and was no longer able to broadcast neither his career nor his life all over the Inner Sphere, and brought a sizeable amount of money with him, which rivaled the fortune of some of the richest nobles he'd ever known of in the Republic. 
    In truth, his profit on Solaris VII in conjunction with his inheritance from the Mueller family was more than enough to buy him a new and better 'mech, but it was the principle that mattered. Unfortunately the Republic and its "laws" to keep the people safe forbid him from sailing around the galaxy with a deadly machine as cargo, much less to merely own two of them privately.
    He felt reality welcome him back in the most generous manner as the chest of the petite woman on his lap brushed softly against his own. The feeling was more innocent than what usually happened to him on Solaris, and demanded his respect. Immediately upon contact he peered into her eyes, which were gleaming with enjoyment.
    "There's something you don't see every day." Hans said, grinning at her.
    "You are charming to the core." The golden skinned girl responded, a hint of blush leaking into her cheeks.
    "I meant the 'mech." Hans covered his tease with a sincere grin, letting his joviality show in his eyes as he gazed upon her. She responded the way any girl would, taking it personally and striking his shoulder to help enforce her facial expression.
    "Do you ever pick up any information working for Hasek?" he paused, and when he saw that she was forming a defensive expression, he quickly clarified his question.

"Like why there are 'mechs walking down the street?"
    "The feeling around here, from what I gather, is that the Republic can no longer guarantee our safety. It seems that plenty of mercenaries can solve that, or so he believes. Hasek is just doing what he can."
    She paused, deciding how much to divulge it seemed. Hans wondered who the security was really for.
   "So much for getting that job then." Hans sighed. He didn't consider himself to be a mercenary, nor had he ever done any mercenary work, but with no machine to use he pretty much couldn't be effective at anything. He was a nerd gone 'mech jockey, but a prestigious and laudable education didn't comfort him on this planet. As much as he loved his home, only insanity could convince him that an experimental military technologist would make any career on a planet with no 'mech factories or research institutes.    Niobe studied him as if she had known him her entire life. Maybe some people really did watch those documentaries that came out of Solaris, especially the ones about him.
   "Poor mech jockey. He doesn't know what to do without someone to shoot with lasers." 

She pressed her face closer to his, trailing a slender finger over his cheek as she spoke the words in a teasing, baby-talk manner.
   Hans supposed it was in order for him to be teased. And with a wink and as dreamy a look as his eyes could manage, he poked back at her.
   "Sure I do." He winked, and in one swift motion he whisked her out of the coffee shop. Outside it was mid-day and citizens were flooding the streets. Far down the road to the east there were children chasing the Raven simply to gawk at it and bask in its presence which to them, was all but a fable at this point in history.
   It was still interesting to live as a civilian for the short time he had done so, although much of his time on Solaris was spent as a celebrity. He was constantly in a conference, or an interview, or helping to film a documentary or promote some product. On the other hand he did spend a good deal of time listening to threats from gamblers, and often times swindling their money away from them, among other more dangerous activities. He did yearn for his typical life of adventure but was beginning to appreciate the company of the same beautiful woman every day. With or without it he was doing what he could to maintain Republic citizenship because, despite how easy it had been for the government's goons to find him already, he would be in a world of hurt if he did not have constitutional rights. 

They diverted their attention from the lumbering bird-legged battlemech and trotted a few blocks east to Davion Memorial Park, a medium sized plaza over which towered a to scale marble statue of former Prince Victor Ian Steiner Davion, standing opposite a full-scale statue of his Direwolf omnimech. Walking in the park with one of the Baron's employees wasn't a great way to avoid attention, but he doubted Hasek would be able to pull off anything detrimental to him and still manage to effectively skirt around the legal repercussions.
    Niobe battered his arm with a few girly punches; it seemed to be her developing solution to the times when he didn't pay attention.
    "Whatever you're worrying about up there" she gently pressed her right index finger to his forehead "it'll all become clear if you let it run its course." She gave him another smile, and guided him by hand around the park until they were in a central, stone area with a very large fountain pool surrounded with statues of history's most famous. Devlin Stone, Victor Steiner-Davion to name a few, and most importantly to Hans there was a statue of his father, whose arm was wrapped around the shoulder of his most favored second cousin: Adrian Hasek.  The man who had technically murdered his father, squandered the majority of his assets, and subsequently secured his own spot on the throne of Sheratan. Fortunately for Hasek, the amount of time that had passed since then had closed the case and there was no longer evidence against him. Still, Hans felt the governor had more crimes to commit, no matter how peaceful things currently seemed.
    "So, do you come here often?" Hans interrupted his own thoughts, though he was paying more attention to a tiny sliver of light which had been crawling its way toward him ever since they had entered the central area of the park, like a drunk driver trying to walk a straight line.
   "When the weather is right." Niobe replied, inspecting the statues as if she had been offended by his overactive mind. Hans couldn't help it; he was searching for the source of the little light circle. Suddenly it stopped just over his heart.
   "Get down!!" He yelled desperately as he dove onto his female company, tacking her through a thicket of bushes and ultimately plunging them both, wrapped around each other, into the fountain as he felt a crushing pain in  his chest.

The impact stung through his body like he had been hit in the chest with a sledgehammer, and he tried with all his energy just to breath, sinking to the bottom of the shallow fountain. It all felt like a video drama, as his head bounced off the marble bed of the pool and he watched a second bullet push through the water, losing speed as it changed directory and ultimately just chipping into the marble. Niobe's head burst back up through the water and she cowered below the edge of the marble fountain, fearing for her life and bringing Hans out of his undersea nightmare. He couldn't help but moan in pain as he collapsed on the soaking wet cotton that clung to her shoulder, gasping violently for breath.
    The water and the sounds and the light all fused into the same hazy mess and the next time he was able to keep his eyes open long enough to comprehend his surroundings, they were naught but the utilitarian decor of a hospital emergency room. Fortunately, he had worn the Kevlar combat vest from his mech, a lesson he had learned from living on a world which seethed with danger. His ears worked well enough to take in the chatter about bruised ribs, and by his own analysis he was fine. It could have been far worse. A faint physical awareness of pressure crept into his mind, and as he struggled to lift his head he could make out the image of Niobe, wrapped in a towel, watching over him. His only complex thought was his gratitude that he had not brought a weapon with him - it would have stirred up a legal hassle that he had no desire to deal with. Hans Mueller smiled, and he drifted back into unconsciousness again.

    Adrian Hasek drummed his fingertips against the glass top of his office desk. Beneath it a computer monitor displayed multiple streams of data transmitted to the government from all over the planet. One such statistic was of particular interest to him; a line graph which charted his approval rating since the interstellar communication network had gone down some months ago. The number declined ever so slightly as the months went by without any concrete sign that the government was doing anything to fix the situation. In truth, he had sent a detailed analysis along with a sizeable team of bureaucrats to Terra to work out a solution to the problem. In the interest of efficiency their orders were not to return without the means or way to attain the means of fixing the problem. The investigation had taken a little over a week, and Terra wasn't much more than thirty light-years away.
   The plausibility of their transferring to a second ship that was ready to jump the rest of the way to Terra would only cut a few weeks from their journey at best. It had been four months and Adrian had lost his faith to the extent that he now had military BattleMechs patrolling the streets of his capital city. In contrast to his decision to do so, the prospects of conflict which would actually require the participation of such machines were not very high. However, Hasek did not want to risk appearing unable to protect his people, and was determined that familiarizing his people first-hand with the tools of war was an innocent event so long as they inspired awe instead of fear. In legal terms, BattleMechs were contraband not only for civilians but for just about everyone in the Republic. Despite the mandates, Adrian highly doubted the repercussions of infringing on that law were very solid, if the authorities even managed to stumble upon the infraction in the first place. Republic bureaucrats and military officials were not as ubiquitous as one would expect.
    Repercussions and rewards were a key part of the Republic of the Sphere, one that Hasek did not agree with but had come, through education, to respect for its efficiency. Republics were an ancient form of government that had never effectively administered their domain; the prime example, the Roman Republic, had torn itself apart with issues exacerbated by its own structure and thus, inherent shortcomings. It had only consisted of what was in the 21st century one percent of Terra's population, in comparison to the hundreds of solar systems administered by the Republic. Part of Hasek's concern was the fact that humans had flourished under more democratic forms of government that stemmed out of the lessons of failed governments like Republics, and in his mind this was a regression. The Republic was forged out of a disdain for warfare, and tempered with the blood spilt to establish its permanence. Devlin Stone and the people who followed him spread misconceptions about the limited extent of liberty in what they deigned to be the "serfdoms" of the Great Houses, the five star-spanning empires which made up the Inner Sphere, and it was a remarkable kindling to the pro-Republic fire. Hasek saw fit to change all that.
    While he schemed how, the knock at the door was the only thing in place to bring him back to reality.
    "Who is it?" he barked.
    "Cranston, sir." came the man's repugnant tone.
    "Come in." The heavy oak door swung open and his right-hand man slipped in, looking as though he had finally done enough honest work to merit exhaustion. He stopped on the opposite side of the desk and folded his hands behind his back.
    "Mueller has been shot." He stated in an informative tone. The governor's brow furled as he began to nibble at his fingernails in anxiety.
    "I never authorized that." Adrian growled from his seat.
    "The hospital released him early this morning with a set rib. The med techs said he was wearing a Kevlar vest when he got hit." the man continued to report.
    "And where is he now?"
    "A young woman was with him. It seems she took him back to her home. Her name is Niobe Conway; an employee at your downtown hotel."
    "We found two bullet casings in a warehouse near Victory Park. Local ballistics officials are still digging the other bullet out of the fountain. The cases match the bullet they pulled out his vest."
    "This merits a visit." the baron remarked as he started to grab his jacket.
    "I suggest we encounter him when he's alone." Hasek gave Cranston a look of confusion.
    "The governor visiting a stranger's house is slightly suspicious, to say the least. Hans has a suite of his own in the hotel. Just wait."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Steal this Article...Seriously

Inspired by an article on Slashdot about PC Gaming piracy tonight, I feel but compelled to write my own experience and thoughts about the subject down, in public. I hate to say it but in today's entertainment industry there is very little reason to pay for absolutely anything that can be otherwise obtained without the often frustrating, time consuming, and occasionally dishonest direct exchange of funds.

Game developers and publishers alike, as well as record companies, Hollywood, and book publishers have lost the respect of Generation Y necessary to perpetuate the financial future of their industries. There is literally nothing worth buying in the entertainment industry at this point. The movies suck and at the best are half decent. We as a consumer base desire movies and television not because of their content, but because 1080p looks very pretty on our expensive televisions. One key element I'm trying to convey is the lack of motivation for us to buy these things. Twenty years ago electronic gaming was new and interesting and games were awesome because the game play was awesome. At this point in time, so many games made are following basic cookie cutter formulas, and rehashing the same experiences we as gamers have had in tens if not hundreds of games before, that they are no longer entertainment: they're a chore. I refer to this while playing a new game by making statements such as "Oh sweet I've reached the Super Mario level" or "Hey let's play Super Mario: The Warrior Within" for example. Surely you can figure out what this means: the coming level/part of the game is nothing but an exact rehash of Mario with some graphical updates and minor modifications.

In addition to these games actually being bad or reruns, the gaming industry is plagued by a ubiquitous, often misinformed and misguided gaming-specific media. My favorite two awful gaming media giants are IGN and Gamespot, a decision I hope other people can understand, at least other gamers, be they PC or console. Media have ruined PC gaming in so many ways I cannot count them at this point in time without literally searching through twenty years of global records. One common and, in my opinion, adorable route taken by the media to slay all that we love is the standard "Give this game a shitty review" routine. Gamespot rates a game with a 3.5 out of 10 score, abhorring it as horrible, cliché, glitchy, uninspired, or any of their other token phrases. Recently, in the past few years, Gamespot has added the ability for users to additionally rate and score the reviewed titles, even to review the games themselves. These reviews and scores are easily displayed on the web page for comparison by intelligent consumers and window shoppers alike, and to further prove my point, the user score is almost always higher than the score given by the Gamespot staff, anywhere between a decimal point and 5 points higher than Gamespot. Eventually, someone makes the mistake of reading Gamespot, despite their hesitancy learned through experience to take anything they say at more than face value, and the majority of the time, regardless of the potential conflicting editorials about the game, said person puts in absolutely no more effort to experience the game than to finish reading the review and say to themselves "You're right, fuck that game." The first infected mind spreads their opinion to their gamer friends and potential gaming colleagues, a fair amount of which will agree, also without trying the game, that it sucks, until it grows into a giant mass of eunuchs. Alternatively, perhaps some of these gamers do try the game, and they then decide it sucks, for whatever reason. The ending is identical.

Potentially worse than the effect of gaming networks attempting to do their jobs, albeit poorly because they are ultimately misinformed and out of touch with the gaming industry, is the tendency of the media to Judas the upcoming titles. Certain titles, sometimes the majority of upcoming games, are given entirely too much media attention, whether it be on the internet, television, radio, movie commercials, gaming conventions or press events. Despite my hatred for people like Michael "Savage" and Sean Hannity in the media, I have to acknowledge my frequent alignment with them and take a saying right from the Savage Nation:

The gaming media is worthless, in every aspect of the word. The media builds games up in perpetuum until they come out and either

a) The media, who gave this game so much attention and nurtured its potential consumer base over the edge of their seats waiting for its release, ends up giving the game a bad review

b) The game actually does end up sucking and is systematically crucified by the entire community, potentially ruining or setting back a developer.

c) The developers pay so much attention to the gaming masses in order to ultimately deliver what every developer hopes will be that incredible, genre-slaying Horseman of entertainment revolution that they end up re-examining the almost finished game they have made and deeming it unfit for production, thereafter going straight back to the drawing board for god knows how many years it takes. Regardless of these outcomes, they generally lead to the same problem: the gamers are disappointed in a game, a system, or a developer.

I can name several games to which this has happened only recently. Guitar Hero World Tour: GH4 was supposed to be awesome. How could it be anything less in consideration of the Guitar Hero track record? How could it suck when it was clear with the GH3 track list and DLC that this company was headed in the right direction? Gamespot (I say Gamespot more because I unfortunately trust them more than IGN, and hate them less) built the hell out of this game, convincing us , even AFTER knowing the track listing, it would be so much cooler than Rock Band that it would make the true champion of the rhythm game genre look like France in World War 2. It was guaranteed both by the media and by Blizzard Activision that the track list was badass and represented rock fans of all ages, that the song creator was rich and robust yet masterable by gamers, and that the game play would bring interesting new twists.

Rock Band 2 came out first, and everyone rushed to buy it the second the actual disc came out, giving zero shits about the new instruments yet. As the time between the release of GH and RB2 hastened to a close, it became clear that RB2 was the king of rhythm games and there was very little room left for Guitar Hero 4. Regardless, as is often the case, franchise and developer loyalties among the consumers run only skin deep, and many people, like my friends and I, made our journeys to obtain Guitar Hero 4 ( I'm aware it's not "4" but you as well as any other competent gamer knows it is ). At first the game was cool, the new open strum bass notes were a twist to the bass parts in Rock Band which were almost entirely easy (ignoring the fact that bass in real life is not necessarily hard anyway), but it became quickly apparent through multiple things in the game that it was for lack of any better terms, what we in the gaming world call "retarded". The star power activation for the drum-set is completely retarded as you have to hit the two middle pads at the same time, which screws up people who otherwise would 100% every song, the bass lines are in purple as opposed to rock bands bright orange, which is PROVEN to be hard for the human eye to discern, when put against the dark background in Guitar Hero. It is true the track background can be changed if you go into the intensely detailed and rich instrument customization option, which I and I hope others found to be extremely cool, although ultimately irrelevant to the experience of the game. Additionally, many of the DLC songs so far have made me, and I hope other people, consider the game almost worth purchasing (although I did not pay for it, friends did), especially the three Tool songs, although I personally would have immediately shot down Schism as an option and picked a song that was, in relative terms, good (This is to say that Schism is a good song, but, as with every radio single by every band, it obtains a whorish aura and falls from grace, whereas other songs from the album were already better, but are now immensely better). Ultimately, Guitar Hero 4 is a failure, because it has way too many songs from Rock Band 1 and 2 and the old Guitar Hero's, because the songs are, like always. ,mediocre choices, which I understand can be problematic in regards to choosing "better" songs as detailed in the magazine articles about how our songs come to be in these games. Regardless, this is now a rock game. No one, NO ONE, in America or the better parts of the globe, when they think the amazing world-changing instrument that is the guitar, is hearing Billy Ray Cyrus and Hannah Montana in their head. They're hearing Metallica, The Beatles, Hendrix, AC/DC, The Eagles, George Thurgood, etc. So dispense with the politically correct bullshit please and cater these games towards the audience that is playing them: people listening to Metal, to Hard Rock, to Ska, to real music, and perhaps the franchise will survive.

With the brutal but brief review of Guitar Hero 4 out of the way, it becomes apparent that the problem is not that people are "stealing" games, the problem is truly that the games are no longer worth dropping between sixty and three hundred dollars on. Three hundred dollars, even sixty dollars, can buy the discerning, experienced consumer infinitely more entertainment than some of the coaster's coming in these jewel-cases.

Now that the problem is out in the open, I'd prefer to change subjects to another element of the piracy issue. The events occurring every day all around the globe in this year and this century in regards to the illegal acquisition of copyright protected software are by no means defined under the collegiate parameters of the word pirate, or piracy. To illustrate this literally is a picture floating around the internet, although it is a little off the mark.

More accurately, Piracy is Not Theft, it's Copying, or sharing, whatever term you want to use to try and justify our actions. Piracy has only recently, in the lifetimes of our parents, been redefined to include this "dilemma" faced today:


–noun, plural -cies.


practice of a pirate; robbery or illegal violence at sea.

the unauthorized reproduction or use of a copyrighted book, recording, television program, patented invention, trademarked product, etc.: The record industry is beset with piracy.


Also called stream capture. Geology. Diversion of the upper part of one stream by the headward growth of another.

The United States Copyright Office as a functional, central and organized institution was not firmly established until 1870. What was copying referred as back then? Where were laws to protect authors, and artists, the only true communicators with an empirical claim, under best of circumstances, to their ideas, for the first four centuries of America? Even more recently, the VCR was not invented until 1971, and the Japanese did not sell the VHS in America until June of 1977. The Government didn't start bitching about file piracy until the internet became the most important thing in the world. Sure, every VHS tape had an FBI warning on it outlining the potential fees and legal repercussions of unauthorized copying and redistribution of copyright protected material, but they also approved the VHS copyright. The United States government authorized the sale of blank VHS tapes, which were a complementary good to VCR systems, to everyday consumers. The sole purpose of these VHS tapes was the unauthorized reproduction of copyright protected material by the average American consumer; they were explicitly informed of this product function when approached by the Victor Company for patent information. With history in mind, "file" piracy has been a comfort, a luxury, of the American lifestyle since before my generation was even conceived. Before your parents ever even met it was perfectly normal for people to record TV shows and records and 8-tracks that they missed on TV or had never heard before. We are an entire generation of college students raised with the ability to not miss radio broadcasts, TV shows, TV movies, access any movie we want any time we want for an irrelevant fee, because our parents started the trend when the Commies were still all over the place waiting to kill us, and the government and industries have waited until now, 30 + years after the fact, to raise hell about it. In fact, not only did the government personally oversee the legalization of a product intended solely to break the law, which was introduced by a foreign country, but they did it again. TiVo Inc. revolutionized the trend of television piracy when in September of 1999; they released another product, a VCR on steroids, to the American public. Not only could the TiVo record shows without you controlling it, it had a damn hard drive, meaning you could fit an entire shelf of VHS tapes and probably more on a hard drive inside of this TiVo that you couldn't even see and chances were, if you bought a TiVo, you were too technologically incompetent to even realize how the box was recording and storing shows, making it even worse that you were illegally recording shows and storing them without realizing it was, on principle, illegal.

TiVo continues to operate at this second and ultimately has set the trend for every digital television media corporation to provide its customers with the latest technology and abilities. Every company offers their own DVR with their service at this point: Dish network, AOL Time Warner, DirecTV, etc. The fact that these companies maintain a farcical control over the operation of their DVR systems by manipulating user access through the direct use of the company's GUI and hardware does not in any way change the reality of a DVR system: You are recording shows onto a hard drive, storing them for later use, and if you go the extra mile to actively participate in file piracy on the internet, redistributing the material through the torrent network to everyone else participating in file piracy on the other end(s).

However, because programmers go through years of college and work experience in what we claim is an "intricate and difficult field" in comparison to actors and producers and musical artists, whose pleads, often made solely by the publishers on the basis of profit loss, it's okay to copy an actor's life work but god forbid you steal that application: you're a cock if you do, and we'll put you in jail and your children if they're ever born. One thing must be clarified about software piracy. No one is walking into a Best Buy and literally shoplifting Windows Vista, or Spore, or NOD32. A few people may be, but the crusade is not against the people with the testicular fortitude and Sneak skill high enough to ninja software right in public. The crusade in this case is against the people sitting in their houses or their college dorms or in a Panera who are interested in playing Will Wright's new game because they have come, over the past 20 years, to trust absolutely in his ability to make an inexplicably entertaining piece of software, software which in this specific case people are likely stealing and then buying it later anyway, or have paid for previous titles and are waiting to determine the value of the new one. This leads to one very interesting and legitimate argument for and against piracy.

Many people, myself included on almost all bases, choose to preemptively "pirate" games, or software, in order to determine their value. Most games and programs come with a trial period, however they are gimped, crippled versions of the full product, which can in absolutely NO way or shape indicate to the rational and experienced computer user or gamer the efficiency and value of the full product. In lieu of a reasonable amount of time to try an application out, we as file pirates don our sabres, feed our parrots, and re-adjust our eye patches as we opt to steal this application and use it unabated until we have learned or come to appreciate it, at which point it is my firm belief every last gamer would be more than willing to pay for at least one copy of the aforementioned software. In many cases, these people do go out and buy the software, or the game, or the new album, or the movie, because they have determined through full prior and risk-free experience with the product that it is worth the ridiculous price tag attached to its packaging, in most scenarios. In general, the pirating community believes as a principle that if you own a physical, legally obtained copy of a product, it's perfectly acceptable to download another copy for backup or record keeping purposes. Thus, many computer users end up pirating first and buying it second. If someone asks for the receipt……"ehh, it must have gotten lost somewhere, I don't know when I bought it."

Unfortunately, the vast majority of file pirates really are just that: pirates. People who want something for free, are disrespectful enough to not even enjoy the product they just obtained effortlessly, without using gasoline, without exchanging any other money than to pay for the internet bill, assuming they even have an internet bill. It is these people, these people who benefit off of the work of others without so much as a thank you, and who even have the audacity in some circumstances to critique and openly talk trash about products they didn't even purchase the rights to be counted as a consumer of, who I adamantly agree upon referring to as pirates. I would go so far as to definitively label them thieves, crooks, douche bags, and asshats.

As for myself, I would fall in between categories. I've pirated an excessive amount of electronic entertainment: anyone who would be truly considered, in my opinion, to be a file pirate, is someone who has pirated an excessive amount. Unfortunately for the legal safety of all downloaders, the government does not share the same views of justice and reciprocity as I do on the subject of legal violations, specifically copyright violation. However, I also own as much of a percentage of what I've copied as I possibly can. For example, there was a point where I owned an electronic copy of every Megadeth CD ever made, but only three of their physical albums. When I finally had the opportunity to get on the internet and purchase things, which in all proven circumstances takes exponentially longer to do than download them, amidst working 70 hours a week, I found a great website and purchased every last damn CD they made at about six dollars apiece. It may not have been the usual twenty dollar rip-off you find at the mall, or thirteen dollars at a best buy, but I certainly paid for them and they certainly were not black market copies.

It seems absurd to me that in articles claiming to delve into the mind of the file pirate, to get to the core of PC gaming's rotten disease eating it from within, the culprit is never considered to be the gaming industry, the developer, the publisher, and the media. Activision and Blizzard and Microsoft and Id software and every other company are composed entirely of angels, of people who have never done anything wrong in their lives, and have made absolutely zero design oversights. People who have never once written a bad line of code, never once given the bounding box for a world object the stupidest fucking dimensions possible. Companies full of people who have never, not once, looked at a successful game made a decade ago and said to their development team "Take that, and put it in our game."

Games these days suck. It's not that hard of a concept to wrap your mind around whether you're a 27 year Blizzard employee or a veteran of Frogger who shakes your head in contempt at the nonsense the kids are playing. I'm not saying all games suck – In fact, I'm not even saying most games suck, or that many individual games suck in their entirety. Games in the 21st century just collectively suck. Don't misunderstand me – I love almost all games. PC games especially. Oblivion, Fallout 3, Half-Life 1 & 2, the Total War series, Warcraft, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, Sim Anything, Doom – you name it, I probably love that game too. The problem is the PC market is just as guilty as the console market of falling into the pit of regurgitation and sequels. Game developers are awful about this – and after all, can you blame them? These are real life developers – their children and their families and their kittens are healthy based on how much money they make, which is based on how well their company fares. Developers in this market state are increasingly resistant to change, to straying too far from the pack. It's proven that risk yields profit, and in some cases, games which have taken giant leaps from the mainstream have been majorly successful. If you had asked anyone in the 90's what the best selling computer game in all of history would be, not one person, not even Will Wright himself would speak confidently about an incredibly complex version of Tamagotchi being the best selling game ever.

Regardless of proven results, game developers are not eager to take drastic steps away from the norms of PC gaming. Whereas many experiments such as the Sims have succeeded beyond imagination, there are a disproportionate amount of games that have failed miserably and been absolutely crucified by the electronic media for their attempt at being different. It's a very delicate balance which is very hard to achieve, even for the extremely talented developers working all across the field at companies like Square Enix and Blizzard and Bethesda, to name a few. Subsequently, the way Europe fell into fighting a 19th century war with 20th century weapons, the gaming industry is fighting a battle for control of 21st century limbic systems with ideas that went stale in the 1990's, and unfortunately many of those limbic systems know those ideas went stale. It is for this reason that the vast majority of titles released continue to be sequels or alternative renditions of proven, ancient gaming franchises.

For example, Blizzard released Diablo II in 2000 and Warcraft 3 in 2002, games that remained for the most part unchanged from their predecessors, although it is imperative to note that Warcraft 3 forever changed the face of real-time strategy games with the introduction of true Hero units, and the proper implementation of technology levels, although this was already existent in games like Age of Empires. In 2004 Blizzard released the much anticipated "sequel" to Warcraft 3, the World of Warcraft, which transcended the franchise entirely from a strategy game to a tactical multiplayer RPG, a step which unexpectedly raped and pillaged the massively multiplayer online gaming world and assimilated it's dedicated fantasy nerds to fight for the Blizzard army, another risky event which ultimately landed Blizzard on the throne of the online gaming empire. However, despite this leap forward (although I have much criticism to pass out on this subject, I hardly consider WoW to be innovative or different from the games before it), Blizzard continues to work on Starcraft 2, which will be exactly like Starcraft with updated graphics, and Diablo III, another carbon copy of Diablo II with some very minor game play changes. Additionally, Blizzard is working on a "secret" project, which although many hope will be an entirely new gaming franchise, many others are convinced this game will be World of Starcraft, an idea that I, if no one else, think is absolutely horrible – but that's the risk they are taking to make something successful and different.

Just as Blizzard does, very few companies are trying anything different. I've mentioned the homogenous rhythm gaming genre, the PC real-time strategy gaming genre, and there's no need to even mention shooters. Every shooter has been the same since Doom and Wolfenstien; they will be the same until the Earth melts. That leaves very little room for the gaming industry to stretch their legs and take up what Meebo refers to as "Hack Week" – working on something else, something different. The only gaming genre that appears to have any room left for growth is Wright's own Simulation genre. As far as I'm concerned, the only cool thing I've heard all year came from the Sim genre. A game I eagerly looked forward to years and years ago when I installed SimCity 3000 is getting its second chance in the next rendition of The Sims. For those that don't know what I'm talking about, Maxis was working on a project in the SimCity 3 days called SimVille – it was to be SimCity on a small town scale, in which your Sims walked around and interacted with one another the way they do now in the Sims, but also providing you the elements of SimCity such as town building and management and ultimately, more godly powers than the Sims allows. I read in an article about the Sims 3 that the field will now be open – your Sims can wonder freely around the "neighborhood" and interact with the rest of the denizens without loading screens. That's one giant step for the Sims, and potentially one massive leap for the gaming industry. One thing that has always plagued games is the loading screen. As the years have gone by, loading times and locations and screens have gotten much better, although in some cases worse, but to play a game without ever having to wait for it to load – that would be the most important thing ever to happen to PC gaming, in fact the entire gaming industry as a whole. Unfortunately, in my expert opinion as a veteran gamer, a veteran file pirate, and an intermediate software programmer, I feel as if the PC Gaming industry has very, very little else going for it aside from the innovations of Will Wright and a few less popular creative celebrities.

As if the lacking inspiration on the software development side of PC Gaming wasn't enough of a deterrent to legitimately paying for software, PC Gaming also carries with it the burden of the PC hardware industry. The unfortunate truth, for the pockets of hardware CEOs at least, lies in the reality that PC hardware is expensive. There are points at which, in the latter half of the year, every year since I have started building computers, the price of computer hardware decreases drastically. Terabyte Western Digital hard drives were $69.99 a piece on Tiger Direct not more than 2 months ago, for example. Starting in the summer and fluctuating up and down until the New Year, the price of hardware does drop to affordable prices. However, the nature of the gaming business makes it hard to keep up with the latest games, assuming you tolerate nothing less than insane performance out of your gaming rig. As a consequence, people have less money to spend on games because they just paid a thousand dollars for a processor, for example. True, these games can now run on relatively shitty hardware, but they do not run at a frame rate or with an image quality that is remotely enjoyable by people who could play games on a console for less money with comparably better performance.

It is for these reasons that PC gaming piracy runs rampant. Even with the knowledge that torrenting a game prevents you 9 out of 10 times from ever being able to play it online and kill people who are actually sitting somewhere at a computer just like you are thousands of miles away, which is the real appeal of PC gaming, there are little to no incentives for people to pay for games that they are not 100% sure will be worth the fifty or sixty dollars they will spend on them. On top of the monetary issue, the negative externalities of paying for the games are potentially more disastrous than losing sixty dollars. Sleep, girlfriends, sex, food, studying, and real life all have the potential to fall prey to PC gaming, and on a bright side, considering that pirating frequently prevents you from fully enjoying the game, not paying for the game potentially preserves what could be labeled as responsible citizens of our society. Regardless, game piracy will not stop until the gaming industry presents a respectable front to its consumers, and speaking as a pirate gamer, I don't believe it will happen sooner than later. As a gamer and a pirate, I must state that I look forward to only two games next year : Resident Evil 5 and Empire : Total War, and as a pirate, I will definitely pay $100 for both of those games, not to mention the console, and the hardware, to be able to play them. I think I'll torrent the rest.