After only a short time in transit, the Bitching Betty on the peoplemover begins displaying a track failure warning for the conduit ahead. It goes on to hypothesize a number of different possible explanations for the warning, but it’s clear that we don’t need any of them, because the one clear explanation for our predicament here is “Hamilton Warhawke.”

Hell, we could have done without the Bitching Betty altogether. Hamilton’s presence is profoundly obvious to the naked eye. As the peoplemover coasts us toward the disruption at a cautious speed, we catch a glimpse of him, silhouetted against the glare of a magnesium lamp, an Aryan shadow wielding a five-foot motorized chainblade. With disturbing gusto, he brings it down and down again upon the track before us, a gesture more suited to your average flamboyant axe-murderer than to a proper naval officer. Harsh, bone-jarring clangs meld with the squeal of tearing metal in a sort of infernal chorus that boils and echoes out of the conduit ahead and washes over us as we creep forward. LOLcat covers her ears. A purely theatrical gesture, of course, since she doesn’t technically have ears, but I feel a pang of sympathy for her nonetheless.

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We find a pod waiting for us at the peoplemover station nearest the crew quarters. Predictably, LOLcat is at the controls, clad in a kicky little conductor’s cap and vest, holding a gold pocketwatch. Sometimes I wonder who designed all the outfits for the October’s de facto computer interface module. I do hope that it wasn’t me. Irrationally, I have the sudden urge to harangue her for not being back at my cabin, cleaning out my toilet. Clearly, I’m stuck on biocentric thinking; as an extension of the ship’s data infrastructure, she naturally has the capacity to be in both places at once, but I can’t always make my monkey instincts respect the logic of the situation.

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The problem started, as usual, when our holographic shipboard catgirl filled my personal head to the brim with fuller’s earth in a botched attempt to improve its functionality.

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“Grandfather! Grandfather! You’ll never guess what just happened!”

The old man fixed his grandson with a world-weary gaze and cleared his throat once or twice. If he had had the strength to shift himself in his elaborate iron wheelchair, he would have.

“You were visited,” he said eventually, “by a spiritual being with a strong Scottish accent which took the form of a fairy-winged stoat. In exchange for a tribute of one hundred green copper pennies, it offered to grant you your heart’s keenest desire.”

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A few more miscellaneous practice pieces for Nera and Jonah.  First, we have a fragment of Nera’s Civil War steampunk fantasy novel (referenced last month) and then a bit of Nera and Jonah eating at their not-favorite restaurant.  None of this ever made it into the comic (I was too busy killing Jonah over and over again to dwell much on his eating habits and/or literary tastes) but I thought it was kind of amusing.

* * *

“We have to destroy it, Captain.”

“We don’t,” said Captain Wilderburn. “It makes my ship go.”

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When trying to get the hang of writing a character or characters, I will sometimes do word-sketches to try and feel out their patterns of interacting.  When Shaenon and I were hashing out the primary cast of the webcomic “Skin Horse” I did a series of short scenes involving the characters of Jonah Yu and Nera Vivaldi to practice with them.  In honor of their recent re-appearance in the strip, I thought it would be interesting to show you a couple of them:

* * *

“Specialization,” said Jonah.

Nera looked at him. “Your point being?”

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“Okay,” said Kelli Thunderhold, Paladin of Righteousness, clanking mightily from every last joint in her platemail as she was functionally towed into the Well Chamber by a small and furry kobold. It was not, in Kelli’s mind, particularly paladinesque behavior to be “towed” anywhere, but needs must as Hextor drove. “You keep on telling me that your friend Seamon is interested in ‘drowning’ me. I’ve kinda been, y’know, working on the assumption that you don’t actually mean he’s literally interested in drowning drowning me, because you’re being really perky and friendly and everything. But on the off chance that just maybe, all this is due to my kickbutt attempts at diplomacy earlier, p’raps you can, like, tell me what it is you’re actually—”

This was the last thing that Kelli Thunderhold said before she was seized about her vambraced leg by a tendril of animate water and hauled bodily toward the grotesquely-decorated well in the Well Chamber’s center.

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