Monaco: The Hacker

“I took a stroll and it would appear the floor is quite secure. There are a number of security cameras and locked doors between us and our destination. I believe it is time to defer to the unique talents of our taciturn companion”

I like the old man. Even though he’s well on his way to his own personal Centennial, I like him. People use words carelessly, sifting through what people say for what matters is like trying to find a diamond in a dumpster. The old man’s no different, except he raises it to an art form. The way he spins that endless chatter together, it’s like he’s making sculptures out of cans. I’ll admit that he can turn those words on me and I’m on the hook like a fish with a magnet in its mouth. Whatever else he is at the moment, he’s also right. I lace my fingers, give them a crack and get to work.

Work’s the wrong word, I don’t do this for money, I don’t even do it to survive. I do it cause it’s all I want to do. The world is full of machines and I am their composer. Bach, Mozart, and all the greats who’re now dust, I love them all. But this is a new era, the medium needs to change, but we still need composers. What we don’t need are permanent works. Every system offers a new venue, a new combination to weave together. What happens when it all comes crashing down? That’s what I live for. That’s my composition. The old man and his friends may have sprung the cuckoo from his cage, but there’s a strong argument that I belonged in there. I’m sane enough to know just how crazy I am and as long as I’m loose I’ll keep right on keeping on. You can’t stop the signal brother.

The shrinks did their best to get in my head, to try and figure out why I do what I do. I guess they hoped that if they knew then they could to get me to stop. I’d have told them, but I was in solitary, with an ironclad rule to keep me far from any electronics. Hearing them guess was the closest thing I had to entertainment. I remember one fateful day when the government sent their own doctor to find out the motivation behind my “crimes”, Dr. Kelly. I had made every stock ticker in the country display the words of “Baa Baa Black Sheep” for 24 hours. I was proud of that one. Then he proceeded to ask me if this was part of some movement to incite a world wide cyber revolution. I don’t like violence, or touching people at at all if I can avoid it. But if there hadn’t been bars, and plexiglass, and guys with guns between us, I would have smacked him.

A revolution? Me?! Every single one of my works is unique. No repeat performances, so save your ticket stubs. A revolution involves revolving, wherever you are, you’re going to wind up back there eventually. A new order, a set goal that I’m always headed towards? Bo-ring, hit the snooze button and wake me up when we’re not in Kansas anymore. If Dr. Kelly wanted to know what I was doing he should’ve asked the old man. The old man has always gotten me, he says that I “like to break systems in interesting ways”. Spot on, full marks, gold star. That’s why he’s the wordsmith. Without order there’re no systems, without systems I have no orchestra. If I can’t compose then I’m nothing.

As much fun as this trip down the rabbit hole has been, I can’t fully realize my vision if I’m subvocalizing an audio blog. In 48 hours, after we’re long gone or long dead, this file will email itself to Dr. Kelly. Dr. Kelly, consider this my contribution to the psychiatric community and to your personal artistic enrichment.



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Payday 2 – Dallas’ Journal: Framing Frame Part 1

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my line of work, it’s to never expect a job to go smoothly. Knowing that doesn’t really help, but it does free up some time that would’ve gone towards blaming and death threats.

We’d been hired to steal some art from a museum, part of some political heavy hitter’s plan to sabotage an opponent’s career. Working with a politician has its benefits. For example, because even the whiff of involvement can bring their whole house of cards tumbling down, they tend not to micromanage. When the plan was laid out, I didn’t listen too closely to the “why”. I’m a professional so the job will get done, the client’s reasons are usually their attempt at justifying hiring a pack of thieves and killers. The “what” and the “how” on the other hand, those’re deadly serious. The “what” is Bain’s job, he gives us point A and B, one of my jobs is the “how”. Specifically, how to get from point A to B without all of us winding up dead or in prison.

The museum we were targeting was nothing special. Some mediocre security, but there would be serious trouble if an alarm got tripped. Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult to find a point of entry with no risk of setting off the security system. An unlocked, unguarded staircase to the roof gave us an opportunity to case the place through the skylights. A couple of security guards, cameras in each room, and lasers in each doorway. One of the skylights was completely open and security measure free. Hoxton picked off a pair of security cameras and we slipped in easy as you please. As we surveyed the room, a set of footsteps started getting closer and closer. Time for another one of my jobs.

Before I get into what happened next I’d like to briefly discuss the startle response. Let’s say you’re a rent-a-cop in an art museum. Your job consists of telling people “no flash photography”, walking through empty rooms at night, and occasionally chasing off some teenagers. If one night you should hear, from immediately behind you, “Don’t make a sound, put your hands in the air”.

What do you think your reaction would be?

I can’t say for sure, but I bet it involves a sound, probably more than one.

The gap between what’s expected and reality is too wide for him to even hear what you’re saying. The fight-or-flight part of the brain kicks in and that’s hard to reason with. I’ve been down this road before, so I approached quickly and quietly from the front. First he’ll think I’m another guard, then he’ll realize that I’m not, then he’ll realize what I’ve got in my hand and that it’s pointing at his head. I made sure he could see my eyes, even through the mask. I wanted him to see what Hoxton calls the “Croc Eyes”, eyes that said holding a gun to his head was about as harrowing an experience for me as eating a sandwich. The guard realized he was on a razor’s edge, teetering between life and death. It’s at this point I started offering suggestions as to how to tilt towards life, the alternative being I paint something derivative of Jackson Pollock with the contents of his skull.

“Not a word”
His mouth closes like a bear trap.
“On your knees, handcuff yourself.”
Rent-a-cop seems hesitant.
“We’re here to steal, not hurt anyone. But if you make trouble, things will get
very loud and very very messy”
Judging by how quickly he gets the handcuffs on, I gather that rent-a-cop has moved past his earlier reservations.

Before I had a chance to enjoy my success, a clatter and a clearly audible *thump* echoed across the room. It came from the other doorway, which Wolf and Hoxton had gone to check. I hustle over as quiet as I can. I didn’t know what the sound was, but I knew it meant things were about to become very complicated.


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Warmachine Tactics Q&A with Simon Berman and Scott Campbell

Warmachine Tactics is a Tactical RPG from Privateer Press and WhiteMoon Dreams, based on the popular tabletop strategy game Warmachine. The game is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, and while it has reached almost double its initial goal, there remains substantial amount of content waiting to be added to the game through Stretch Goals.

Warmachine Tactics Header Graphic

Warmachine Tactics is set in the Iron Kingdoms which has been described as Full Metal Fantasy. The nations of the Iron Kingdoms constantly battle with one another and at the center of their armies are the Warjacks and the Warcasters. The Warcaster is a soldier gifted in both arcane and martial combat that possess the ability to telepathically control Warjacks. Warjacks are arcane/mechanical constructs that range from swift mansized machines to towering behemoths capable of massive destruction. Their combined power makes them the equal of an army. Each faction brings their own military methodology to the battlefield, from the liberty and lightning loving Cygnar to hardy and imperialistic Khador. Warmachine Tactics will bring the epic combat of the Iron Kingdoms to life.

Warmachine Warcaster

I was able to connect with Simon Berman from Privateer Press and Scott Campbell at WhiteMoon Dreams and they were kind enough to answer a few of my questions:

Q: Warmachine has enjoyed great success on the tabletop. What inspired the decision to shift gears and create a Warmachine video game?

A: Deciding to make a video game wasn’t so much a “changing of gears” as it was a “natural fit”. Warmachine’s character driven stories and unique blend of Steampunk and full-metal fantasy, lends perfectly to a video game.

We felt that the turn-based tactics genre was the right vehicle to both introduce gamers to the world of the Iron Kingdoms and showcase the sheer awesomeness of its characters, stories, and history. It was also the right choice to bring in existing Warmachine tabletop players, and the experiences we’re creating always has them in mind. Lastly, a tactics game was something that we could create within a reasonable scope and budget – which was immensely important for the Kickstarter campaign.

Q: The Kickstarter had an explosive launch, reaching it’s funding in under two days, and it continues to receive strong support.  But it seems like you’ve had no difficulty providing a steady stream of stretch goals. Did you anticipate this outpouring of enthusiasm? 

A: Actually, we were completely surprised by the incredible turn-out of backers! We had spent months in the development of the game, not to mention the Kickstarter planning, physical goods, tier schedule, and video production.

That initial run blew-us all away!

As for the stretch goals, we had a long list of items and enhancements planned after we launch. With this additional money, we’ll be able to create and integrate them much faster. All of us here want to do as much as possible for this game, and the more backers makes this possible.

What we have now is determination. The thought of all the backers counting on us to build an exceptional experience that brings the Warmachine world to life, that’s what’s driving us.


Q: There are no shortage of conflicts in the Iron Kingdoms. What events set the stage for the first campaign of Warmachine Tactics?

A: The first single-player campaign “No Man’s Land” tells the story of Cygnar’s Journeyman Warcaster, Lt. Allison Jakes. The players will guide her through the harrowing missions that define her emergence into a full-fledged warcaster.  I get tingly every time I say that!

We’re planning for a 20 mission campaign with around 15 to 20 hours of gameplay. There will be perilous battles, betrayals, ambushes, world-shaking events – everything a good story needs.


Q: Warmachine Tactics will feature additional factions and campaigns as time goes on. Will the campaigns be related or will each stand on its own?

A: It’s a little too early to start discussing future campaigns. However, they will most likely be encapsulated single-player stories centered on a specific warcaster. They will all have an effect on all the characters in them, and the Iron Kingdoms, but we can’t say how interrelated they’ll be to one another – at least not yet!

In working so close with Privateer Press, the single player stories are actually considered “canon” in the world’s story line  You’ll definitely be see some things in a video game making an appearance in the tabletop game.


Q: Warmachine Tactics is described as being inspired by Valkyria Chronicles, Final Fantasy Tactics, and XCOM. Will this inspiration be reflected in some aspects of the gameplay?

A: You could probably include the Myth Series, Vandal Hearts, Shining Force, Advanced Wars… We love our tactics games here!

The remake of XCOM proved to the industry that turn-based games were not only still alive, but could draw a large audience. XCOM did a magnificent job of presenting the player’s options and visualizing those actions on the map. As Warmachine is a somewhat deeper tactical experience, we are taking lots of cues from XCOM to simplify and present decisions intelligently and unobtrusively.

In Valkyria Chronicles, we love the dynamic camera. We wanted to be able to get a bird’s eye view of the battle and then zoom in to see a detail on a unit’s shoulder. We want to feel like we are on the battlefield, surrounded by our forces, seeing what they are seeing – and we want to be the general looking at the entire battle strategy. Yeah, we want it all.


Q: A point system and an experience system was mentioned for armies in multiplayer. Will the players be able to choose their armies and direct their growth in the campaigns as well?

A: The short answer is: yes.

In Single-Player, you’ll be able to build out your squads to tackle the hazards of the upcoming mission.

After each mission, you’ll be able to choose upgrades for Jakes, making her more powerful, giving her more battlefield options, and bringing her closer to her full warcaster form.
Q: Warjacks can clearly be towering forces of destruction and no small amount of munitions are being brought to bear in combat. How will the battles affect buildings and terrain?

A: Who doesn’t love Warjacks? Six tons of heavy machinery, steam, and iron that don’t just destroy everything in their path – but do it because they like to!

Warjacks and their aggressive temperament play such a key role in the world, we had to fully respect this in Tactics.

Smashable walls? Check. ‘Jacks throwing ‘Jacks around? Check. ‘Jacks trampling through poor defenseless soldiers? Check.

Trust me, the first time your foe thinks he’s safe behind cover, and you rampage a warjack right through it, you’ll know what I mean.  Good times.


Q: What would you say will set Warmachine Tactics apart from other video games in the Tactical RPG genre?
A: Unreal 4, the IP, and love.

We’re using the cutting-edge Unreal 4 for development – and what an impossibly awesome engine it is! The lighting, the effects, the network connectivity! It raises the quality level we are capable of creating to new heights.  If you like the screen shots we’ve released in Unreal 3, just wait for the Unreal 4 ones. (Wipes drool…)

The Warmachine table-top is in its 10th year of production, and is stronger than ever. We get the luxury of having an entire catalog of bad-ass characters, settings, and stories instead of trying to create something as epic from scratch. The table-top game has hundreds of thousands of players world-wide, and the rules have benefited from years of comments and polishing – and form the starting point of the rules used in Tactics.

All this, AND we love the game! Seriously, we were all fans of the game before we decided to try to make it into a video game. Heck, we still play the game and read the fiction, not because it’s our collective job, but because we genuinely love the world.

I want to thank Mr. Berman and Mr. Campbell for their time, and their fascinating answers. The passion for this project is clear and the game already sounds fantastic. While Warmachine Tactics has cleared its initial goal, there are many features that they hope to be able to add earlier via stretch goals. It is now not a matter of whether or not the game will be made, but how much content will be available at launch. With four days remaining, additional Warcasters, co-op mode, mission packs, and additional factions are all within reach. So I encourage you, in the strongest terms, to follow the link below. See for yourself the exciting potential of this game. By supporting Warmachine Tactics you will not only secure a copy of this great game but help to ensure that when the game is released that there is more for all to enjoy.

Warmachine Tactics Kickstarter



Back This: LFG & The Fork of Truth Kickstarter

You’ll also be able to find this article at Gamerbrew. Even if you don’t want to read it twice for some reason, you should head over there and look around.

Richard, a warlock who burns down an orphanage in “self defense”, Krunch, a bovine scholar with a hammer the size of a man, Pella a dwarf who wreaks havoc whilst singing jaunty tunes. These are just a few examples of the “heroes” of the Looking For Group world.


Looking For Group is a webcomic from Blind Ferret Entertainment that can be found at It is a mixture of High Fantasy and Humor, with the humor coming in equal parts from the interactions among of the protagonists and their awareness of the absurdity of a life in a fantasy setting. The story swings between comical and epic and these sudden shifts only serve to heighten both. While the jokes in LFG are consistently funny, the action is both viscerally satisfying, and frequently hilarious in its own right . LFG has been running for seven years and twenty books as it follows the the protagonists travels and battles across the world of Legarion. Empires rise and fall, lives are put on the line, and rabbits are ridden like horses.   This is a world that would seemingly make for a perfect setting for a game. Ask and ye shall receive:

LFG photo-main

Looking For Group and The Fork of Truth, is a 4-player co-op RPG currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. With three days remaining the Kickstarter is in need of a final push to close the $400,000 dollars needed to reach its goal. The trailer promises that the same sense of humor and disdain for the 4th wall will carry over from the comics. Backers can secure discounted copies of the game, art, music, and at higher levels, input into game items or characters. Furthermore, a number of other webcomics, including Cyanide & Happiness, Something Positive, and VG Cats,  have lent characters that can be obtained as companions at the $50 or higher level.  It promises to be a hilarious time for you and three friends, and anyone watching while they wait for their turn. Back it today while there is still time!

LFG & The Fork of Truth Kickstarter


A Reality Show to Live Your Life By: Why You Should Watch Strip Search

Usually, I am not a fan of reality programs. I suspect that artificial drama, backstabbing, and public breakdowns remind me too much of high school. The folks over at Penny Arcade, in collaboration with Loading Ready Run, have aired an all online reality show called Strip Search. Twelve web cartoonists from all over the United States and Canada were selected to compete for a $15,000 prize and a year within the Penny Arcade company. I have been an avid PA fan for many years, and so I decided to give Strip Search a shot. I was not disappointed. From start to finish, this show held me spellbound. It’s been several weeks since Strip Search ended and I have been using the intervening time to collect my thoughts and try to determine what made it so unique.


Every episode of Strip Search is funny. They’re more than funny, they’re hilarious. It’s twelve funny people, competing in funny contests, that are judged by funny people, it can’t be anything but funny. I could reference countless anecdotes but it would only diminish the enjoyment of potential viewers. Explaining jokes rarely ends well: “A duck walks into a bar (which is an unusual because bars are frequented by humans) and asks for a beer (comical because ducks cannot speak, at least in a way that is understandable to humans)…” etc. etc. Strip Search’s  impact extends well beyond its indisputable comedic value. It’s these other aspects of the show, and their meaning to me, that I’m going to explore.

This article is not about assigning credit, but a huge share of it goes to the  twelve artists. From the outset they were nothing but decent and supportive of one another, no scheming, no alliances, no grudges. Being part of the competition was not just a means to win a prize, it was an opportunity to meet a lot of talented people in their field. Running contrary to the First Law of Reality Programming, it seemed like they were also there to make friends. This was a major aspect of what made the show so engaging. Watching friendships develop among twelve extremely talented people was a genuine pleasure. Particularly, because it seemed that many had never had the opportunity to spend so much time with a group of their peers before. The excitement over the chance to collaborate, share accumulated knowledge, and in one case meet a personal hero, was infectious.  The continuous growth of their camaraderie combined with the intense competition produced a fascinating dynamic.

The competitors were pitted against one another in a wide variety of ways. Usually the challenges straddled the line between funny and impressive. A thread that ran throughout the challenges was the opportunity for the artists to show us a new aspect of themselves. The challenges would occasionally have prizes, excellent, useful prizes. The winner’s thrill at gaining an invaluable boost to their career injected the vicarious excitement of a game show into each competition. However, winning could also carry its own burden. If a contestant won immunity then he or she would then have to choose the two people who would compete against one another for elimination. This made winning increasingly bittersweet, as friendships grew, and the group dwindled, the winner would have to decide which of their friends to put up for elimination. True to form, even loss is funny and inspiring in Strip Search. I can say with no shame that certain exit interviews brought tears to my eyes. The renewed determination of these passionate, marvelous human specimens leaves no doubt in the viewer that they will go on to succeed. The parting words that the creators, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, gave to each departing artist were another feature of the show that distinguished it from most reality television. They were encouraging, they offered to provide more advice after the contest ended, they even would say that they knew the artist didn’t need to win the contest to be successful. These people demonstrated great confidence in the face of adversity, and the creators only wished to build that confidence higher. Strip Search created an atmosphere of fierce, productive competition, where the loser is not consigned to the death of their dreams. The winner is not building their throne out of the bones of the careers of their fellow contestants. Given that I came to admire all of the artists, this made the show far more enjoyable. Watching all these talented people strive to make their way doing what they love, the support and encouragement they received from their peers, deeply resonated with me.

When I watched Strip Search I was not in the best place. Like many others in this fine country I was out of work, and I’d never had a job that I felt passionate about. I truly enjoyed writing, but I couldn’t see a way to pay bills and pursue what truly stirred me. I wound up in an unpleasant middle ground, afraid to apply for jobs, fearing I’d be starting down an inescapable path of joyless 9-5 work, and my writing dried up, as I felt guilty about pursuing it without any idea of how to use it to make a living. Then I started watching Strip Search. I saw these talented, determined, genuinely nice people. Many of them were working another job in addition to drawing. Even as they were eliminated their passion did not waver. It showed me that, if you’re willing to put in the effort, there’s no reason why you can’t do both. This realization renewed my drive to find work and develop my writing. After all Strip Search had given me, I felt the least I could do is share my experience and encourage others to watch it as well.


Armikrog: Going back to the Neverhood and Q&A with Mike Dietz

Before I dive into the article I’d like to mention that it’s also featured on Gamerbrew. It’s a great site that’s been kind enough to let me contribute, so give it a look when you get a chance.

Do you love funny games? Do you crave games with utterly unique art styles? Have you ever played The Neverhood, or been bitten by someone who has? If you answered yes to any of these questions (and even if you didn’t) then you may be interested in Armikrog. It is currently seeking funding on Kickstarter. At $650,000 it is still $250,000 short of its goal, with 3 days remaining.

ArmikrogArmikrog is a point and click adventure game from Doug TenNapel, the creator of classic games such as The Neverhood and Earthworm Jim. Starring the space explorer Tommynaut and his alien dog/drinking buddy Beak-Beak, Armikrog opens with a crash on an unfamiliar world. The player will need to use their wits and the characters’ gifts to survive the planet’s dangers and escape the mysterious fortress, Armikrog.

Armikrog with video

From what has been shown thus far, Armikrog already is shaping up to be a quirky, funny, and immensely entertaining game. A fantastic team of voice actors will be working on the project, including Michalel J. Nelson star of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rob Paulsen of Pinky and the Brain. Terry S. Taylor will be composing an entirely new soundtrack, which is sure to be as hilarious as it is brilliant. If you have any reservations I encourage you to look up “The Lil’ Bonus Room”. I was able to reach out to Mike Dietz at Pencil Test Studios to conduct an interview:

What makes now a good time to create Armikrog?

Mike D — We were looking for a new project to work on, and it occurred to us that with the advent of Kickstarter, the time might be right to do another stop motion animated game. Our first stop-mo game, The Neverhood, still has a very active fan base and those fans have been asking us for years for another game. While we haven’t seen much support from the traditional developer/publisher model for another art driven stop motion game, Kickstarter now allows us to go directly to our fans and ask them if they want a game like Armikrog, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Will the fact that Armikrog is crowdfunded affect your approach to development?

Mike D — Not too much. I think the biggest difference will be that we’ll let the backers see a little more of the behind the scenes process during production than we normally do. They’ve earned that privilege with all their support.

Is there anything you’ve learned in the intervening years that you’re really looking forward to putting into practice?

Mike D — We continue to be students of our craft, always trying to learn and get better at what we do, so hopefully we bring more and more to each project we work on. We’re proud of games like the Neverhood, but I feel we’ve improved as artists, animators, game designers and story tellers since then.

What draws you to stop motion as a medium?

Mike D — We have experience in a variety of animation styles and mediums, but we find ourselves continually drawn back to stop motion. I think it has to do with the fact that you’re dealing with real world objects and lighting. There is something magical about seeing a real, tactile object come to life and start moving around on screen. That was the magic of stop motion 100 years ago, and that magic remains today. When I was a kid there was a sense of wonder delivered by my favorite movies and games that I think is lost today. Audiences today are more familiar with the technology used to create movies and games, and are savvy enough to recognize and be impressed with advances in those technologies. That’s great, but there’s a loss of innocence associated with that sophistication that mitigates the sense of wonder we used to feel. Stop motion, however, still manages to deliver on that wonder, touching people emotionally rather than intellectually. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the small analog imperfections inherent to stop motion seem more alive to our brains than the clinical, orchestrated imperfections of digital animation. Or maybe it takes us back to our childhood when we pretended that our toys came to life. I don’t know why, but it still makes me feel that way.

Tommynaut has some physical resemblance to Klaymen but from the trailer alone it’s clear he’s much more vocal. Will dialogue play a large role in Armikrog?

Mike D — We get asked this question a lot, and the answer is that the nature of each project dictates the amount of dialogue needed. In the Neverhood, Klaymen’s journey as an innocent didn’t require him to speak much. Tommynaut, as more of a hero-type character, will have more to say, but we won’t overdo it. Dialogue will be used as needed to advance the story. One thing people tend to forget is there was a whole lot of dialog in the Neverhood – I know because I had to animate most of it and it was a lot of work! While it’s true Klaymen rarely had anything to say, Willie Trombone almost never shut up!

Terry Taylor will be returning to compose the soundtrack. Will Armikrog’s music have the same quirky, toe-tapping, and hilarious tone that was in the Neverhood?


Mike D — Yes, Neverhood composer and musical genius Terry S. Taylor is returning to provide a full soundtrack for Amikrog in his unique and unmistakable style. Terry has already delivered the first tune for Armikrog, which we featured in our Kickstarter video. You can see Terry sing the song in its entirety on the Kickstarter page in Update # 4!

I know that this is probably something you’d like to reveal later; but as a longtime fan of PvP I’m obligated to ask, who will Scott Kurtz be voicing?


Mike D — Sorry, I can’t answer that without giving too much away… we don’t want to spoil any of the surprises in store for the players!

I want to thank Mike Dietz for taking the time to answer my questions, for bearing with my desperate grab for spoilers. The Kickstarter is in the home stretch but it’s still getting plenty of attention. Nintendo believes in the potential of Armikrog as a Wii U game to the point that it pushed Pencil Test Studios through as an officially licensed Wii U developer. However, if this game is going to be made it’s going to need more support. So follow the link at the bottom of the page, and if you like what you see back the project and spread the word.

Armikrog Kickstarter


Monaco: The Lookout

I’ve been through this countless times but it never gets any easier to tune out the pounding of my own heart. The myriad of smaller sounds that surround me barely qualify as distractions. The Cleaner taking a drag on his cigar, the jingling of the Locksmith’s tools, the purposeful footsteps of a guard looking for a skull to crack, I’ve become so familiar with these that I’d be more distracted by their absence. For whatever reason my heartbeat never quite drifts into the background. It’s like trying to listen to a conversation from the inside of a drum, while someone keeps hitting it. But hard is a long way from impossible. I may be able to hear while I’m running but it’s not until I slow down that the sound of my heart fades and I can really listen.

I’m called The Lookout, somewhat ironic given that my talents have very little to do with sight. The “main events”, so to speak, are my ears. Every sound holds meaning, it just takes practice, and little talent, to tease it out. Most people spend their whole lives making noise, but never learning to really listen. I never had that luxury, listening was how I put food on the table. I listened for the change in people pockets. Then when I got a little older, I listened for who didn’t lock their car. Then I made some friends and listened for when security guards fell asleep. I listened for sirens and boots and so we were always able to slip away. Until one day, when I listened and there was no way out. Now in most stories that would be the end, but I kept listening even in prison. I heard voices, the voices of my new friends. Friends may be a bit strong of a word. They’re my team, and we can count on one another. That doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally want to wring their necks. I guess that might make them closer to family.

They say that no plan survives first contact with the enemy, I wonder if that makes the Mole my enemy. Our current predicament is a result of him deciding to forgo the plan and make a beeline for a vault, through the outer wall. The moment he stepped through his “shortcut” the whole building lit up like a Christmas Tree. Except instead of playing “Oh Holy Night” it’s all alarms and guard dogs. Doors slamming, feet hammering against the floor, guns cocking, every single sound said the same thing, a world of hurt was headed the Mole’s way. I tried to plot a way out for him, but it was like trying to tell someone how to get away from bees when they’ve just jumped on top of a hive. For a while it was all thumping and French cursing. Then it got very quiet.

I can tell that, despite the guards’ best efforts, the Mole is still alive. He’ll probably be limping and avoiding solid foods for a while, but he’s alive. So here we are, three fugitives piled into a closet, trying to figure out how to finish robbing a bank and rescue our contused comrade. Both of them are looking to me for instructions. I suppose it could be worse. It could be boring.


Reus: On the Shoulders of Giants

The day had finally come, the Giant of Stone emerged on the horizon. Its every limb larger than a mountain, its chest wreathed in clouds. Even as it walked across the ocean I saw that its eyes, two lakes of emerald light, were fixed on me. However, even though the village had all but broken down, I was not the only one to notice the Giant’s approach. A flurry of activity ensued, but my attention was completely consumed on the living mountain approaching me. The rumbling from its steps reverberated through my entire frame and shook the village’s foundations. I had no idea what to expect and as the Giant grew closer I found myself trembling with fear and excitement.

Before long it was looming over me, staring with that expression of curiosity that seemingly never left its face. A massive hand slowly lowered itself to the ground, and flattened out into a palm half the size of the town. With a final deep breath, I steeled myself and began scaling the pinkie. Once I was on top I started walking towards the center of the palm. Suddenly, the Giant lurched and I was sent skidding. I managed to find a handhold and avoided tumbling in between its fingers. The Giant then stumbled backwards, sending me rolling head-over-heels towards its palm. It was only then that I could see the source of the Giant’s erratic movements, volleys of spears hurtling up from the village. I’d heard the rumblings, the veiled threats, but I never dreamed that anyone could be deranged enough to actually attack a Giant. What’s more is that they seemed to actually be hurting it! The Giant’s face rumbled and shifted into an expression of confusion and pain. With a gust of air there was suddenly a cliff face where the village had been. It took me a moment to realize that the Giant had raised its other hand to shield me. I was then pressed flat by a sudden rush upwards and before being tipped out of its hand and onto the top of the Giant’s head. While I respected that it wanted to keep me out of harm’s way; I simply had to know what was unfolding. I rushed to the edge and looked down, and was horrified by what I saw.

The people I had known all my life, men, women, and children had taken up arms against our saviors. They were so far below that I could not make out any individuals but the throng continued its assault on the Giant. As I took in the scene below me I felt an awareness growing within me. A connection with the giant and a shared realization: The village had sunk too far into depravity to be saved. The only form of cooperation that remained was violence and destruction. The Giant’s eyes grated into a glare of grim resolve and its hand curled into a fist. I knew what was coming and even though it was the only option remaining, I felt nothing but pity for my former countrymen.

It was a curious thing, how quickly it was over. One moment there was an entire village of people howling, full of rage and self assurance. The next there was nothing. I don’t mean that they were dead, they were gone. The Giant’s fist landed with a force beyond anything I could have imagined. The village was shattered, the swamp erupted, and the detritus and bodies began draining into cracks in the earth. The few survivors had only a moments to contemplate the enormity of their mistake, as the Giant raised its fist and struck another blow. The pulverized fragments of buildings and people quickly sunk into the depths of the swamp, nothing remained. The village had not been destroyed, it had been obliterated.

Suddenly, I was all that remained of my people, a fact that should have upset me. Perhaps it was my growing connection with the Giant, perhaps it was my exile or my bearing witness to their descent into madness. Perhaps it is simply a matter of perspective. From atop this behemoth I can see so much of the world, but without detail or any feeling of connection. Maybe that’s why the Giants need ambassadors. To pull a mountain from the earth is one thing, to walk its slopes and know it intimately is another. Before today I would have said “I suppose we’ll never know”; but now I have the rest of my life to teach and learn from the Giants. I cannot afford to waste a moment.


Reus: A Man Among Giants

From the Giants all life springs, except man.

Every child is taught these simple words. While we don’t owe our existence to them, we certainly owe them our lives. It was the Giants that saved us from wandering the wasteland, eating twigs and each other. Even if the life they brought was a fetid swamp full of poisonous animals it still beats the old days. Personally, I thought that they gave us too much. For uncounted years (largely because we had yet to devise a system of numbers) we scraped out an existence in the wastes. While most people want to forget those days, I’ve always felt that a society devoid of effort and challenge was no better. This attitude didn’t win me a whole lot of friends in my village. Perhaps I could’ve been a bit more diplomatic rather than using terms like “greedy pigs” and “putrid cowards”. I regret my choice of words but not the passion behind them (that apology didn’t go over well either). The Giants gave us more than enough to establish ourselves, so that we can find our own way. But now the elders have decided to ask them for even more. They want to petition the Giants for aid with a project, and in exchange they’re going to send a member of the village  to join the Giants as an ambassador.

The Giants never speak, their existence is so far removed from humans that it’s hard to understand why they interact with us at all. It would be presumptuous to claim to understand their motivations and the meaning behind their actions. However, based on their behavior after the project began I’m forced to conclude they were very excited at the idea of an ambassador. Once the proposal had been announced, the giants immediately descended on the land around our village and began frantically reshaping the land. Entirely new ecosystems emerged overnight, new minerals with fascinating properties appeared in the ground. If what we had before was too much, then I don’t even have the words to describe what it was like to see the land literally overflow with game and riches. Needless to say we had enough to complete the project. The time had come for the village to hold up its end of the bargain and so an ambassador was chosen. Now one would think that the elders would choose the best and brightest to represent our people among the beings that can mold the world like clay. They elected to use an alternate set of criteria, namely the person that everyone wanted gone.

I had no idea what being an ambassador would entail but I was as anxious to leave as they were to be rid of me. However, it appeared that the Giants had pressing business in other parts of the world. They disappeared for weeks and I was left in an odd state of limbo. I was no longer part of the village, but I could not leave yet. While I awaited my inevitable collection I took to moving among the villagers, using my status as a non-entity to observe the people I had be selected to represent. It was during this time that I began to notice changes in the village. An idea was spreading like a virus, “Did you notice how quickly the Giants granted all of our demands? Maybe they are afraid of us“. Then came the question: “Why do we wait for them to give us the things we want, when we can just take them?”. At the time I dismissed the trend. It seemed as absurd as thinking that we could bully the sun. Moreover, there was something more disturbing going in the village. In spite of our newfound plenty, people were taking more and more for themselves. What had seemed to be a staggering amount of natural resources, was rapidly dwindling in the face of this growing rapacity. As the days wore on more and more of each person’s day seemed to be consumed by hoarding whatever resources they could. As cooperation broke down so did even the most basic tasks around the village. My words had never held much weight, but now it was as though they couldn’t hear me at all. My greatest fear was that the Giants might not return to collect me before this madness reach its peak. It turns out there was something that I should have been more afraid of.


Monaco: The Locksmith

I run my fingers over the outside of the lock, it doesn’t take long for me size up its weaknesses and determine how to proceed. I let my mind wander as my instincts take over, thinking would just slow me down. I find myself mulling over the company I keep and the situation I’m in, breaking into the Lebanese embassy.

My mother made me promise her to learn a trade and make an honest living. Sometimes I feel a little bad about only being able to keep half of it. I learned more about locks than anyone needs to know, but building them never held my interest. For whatever reason, I always had a lot more fun getting into locks than making sure they stay closed. Maybe it’s a disease, maybe I just like proving that I’m better than the guy who built it. Who knows? Whatever the reason, my itch has brought me a long way from the little shop I used to run back in the States. I’ve managed to operate all these years without getting pinched thanks to the woman standing behind my left shoulder.

She goes by “The Lookout”. Sometimes I think that she chose that name intentionally so that people would underestimate her. We’re a pack of thieves, trust is always in short supply, but I’d march into hell if that lady was giving me directions. I don’t know much about her, but I know enough. She’s calm, collected and never steers us wrong. If you give her a second to listen she can place every person on an entire floor, even tell you which way they’re walking. When we follow her lead we can get in and out without anyone being the wiser. I’d love to say that I’m as comfortable with my other “partner”.

We call him The Cleaner, and he doesn’t call us anything. If it he didn’t follow instructions I’d have no idea if he could even hear us. If I saw him on the street I wouldn’t look at him twice. The only thing that stands out about him is his hands. They’re strong but smooth and manicured, like a woman’s, it makes my skin crawl. When I see him pin down a guard with the chloroform I can’t help but wonder how he got so good at it. What he did with the people he knocked out that got him put in jail. When we’re on a job I push these concerns to the back of my mind, and trust that the boss knows better. With a soft *click* the lock finally gives way, bringing me back to the present.