by special guest author Chris Hamann of the Roleplaying Exchange, check out his other stuff on Tumblr!

The drone went down at 8:09 pm on April 23rd. This sounds like a piece of needless minutiae, but the person we’re following is detail oriented, and she took note of this particular fact. She still thinks of herself as ‘Madeline’ even if that name is unknown to anyone else. Madeline found the timing curious because the drone stopped responding exactly at sunset. To the best of her knowledge, the drone landed in the center of a field in an area with very few casualties. If she remembered correctly, which she believed she always did, Valentino used that field as practice for dealing with casualties.

Madeline was not right in the head. She pushed people away and responded to any critique with aggression. She was there to do a job, what did it matter that she was rough around the edges? This made her superiors treat her as an acceptable loss, but she didn’t realize that. Instead, she had the ire of her coworkers to deal with. They hated her, but she was used to it. She would tell them what to do, and berate them until they did it. When they went with her plans, the work was so much easier. Why couldn’t they just fucking listen to her? Some day, Madeline will realize that this isn’t a healthy thought pattern.

Madeline did not fit in at corporate training. She was brittle and egotistical - smart enough to realize that she was smarter than everyone else, but not empathetic enough to mask that intelligence or use it as a means of ingratiating herself. She was the gear that ground down the less well-made cogs. If you couldn’t work to her standards, you deserved the punishment she dealt you. She thought of it as the crucible that created better tools.

There were logistical issues in reaching that field, of course — Madeline only had her dronkey, which was little more than a shotgun mounted on a robot — but she was resourceful. With the right planning, it was very easy to travel through the Loss as a solo traveler. There were raiders in the area, of course, but for some reason those raiders liked one of Madeline’s coworkers, so she spoofed his signal on Ubiq. The occasional friendly message from “420TimberwolfLyfe” was summarily ignored. Madeline wanted to figure out what happened to her drone then get back to work.

Sometimes she thought about when she left Seattle. She was in training then, and her superiors actually flew in a helicopter for some of them as a way out. The corporate campus was in shambles—geeks in short sleeved button downs bolted like someone came up with another competitor to Bitcoin or Netflix for pet supplies—they were more interested in spreading the Blight than the next big tech disruption. In private, Madeline thought this gave them more meaning than their previous lives.

It was after dark by the time she reached the field. By all rights, Madeline should have been scared, but Madeline was not right in the head. She was more worried about invisible threats—attacks on her tools, the things that made her useful—than her own life. This made her take risks when those tools were in danger. She found her drone, a surprisingly up to date model for someone living in the Loss. Her superiors had sent it to her, but she maintained to her coworkers that she stole it from an agricultural enclave.

Madeline didn’t understand why her superiors dropped her off in the Loss. Everyone else in the helicopter got to go to the Recession but her. “We need someone to act as an agent in this area, and we think you’re the best at it, Madeline. You’re the best operator we have when it comes to new technology, and you have that killer instinct that the other corporate types lack.” Madeline thought about that almost every day—couldn’t everyone else see the best course of action in an instant? Most problems were so easy to solve. There were the hard problems, but that had more to do with putting in effort—Madeline could tell the code in her drone caused it to malfunction, so she’d be spending the next few nights debugging it. That was a hard problem. She packed her supplies up, slung it back on the dronkey, and hoofed it back to Split Rock.

The defect caused the drone to land at sundown. Madeline was detail-oriented, and sometimes, the devil is found in the details, which is where she found the offer. A subroutine had been corrupted—rogue code placed into a weather app designed by government meteorologists.

“Your escapades have come to my attention, I have therefore looked into your situation. I believe it is your best interest to know that your parent company, Pear, has intentions of securing loose ends and removing you from service. The DHQS has need of personnel of your caliber and capability. I can offer you an alternative form of retirement than the bullet that your current employer has planned. I obviously must have viable proof of your willingness to forsake your current situation and join the right side of the efforts of mankind. “

She weighed her options. Everyone was out to kill her. No one liked her. Her relationships had eroded like the Rocky mountains. The one place where she had loyalty, the company that had specifically saved her life, had her in their sights as a target. Madeline always found it very easy to make decisions; the trick was figuring who would be the best pawns. Maybe the kid who hated her and the man who was afraid of her...

Martin Luther

And now for a character study of Martin Luther, from the 10K Lakes world, written by special guest author Lonnie

He stepped on the box.

It was a clear day, the sky a bluish white that stole what heat was in the air and replaced it with light that hurt the eyes if you raised them too high or looked too long at the snowdrifts beyond the camp. Everything man-made touched by it turned the brown of dried mud or the gray of an elephant, leached of color by the brightness.

He cleared his throat.

"A moment of your time, brothers and sisters, before you go." His voice was soft, but clear in the chill air, seemingly carried on the light. A student of music or voice would call it dynamics, but he didn't have that vocabulary, only the lessons of the listening to a thousand sermons, the rhythms, the pacing.

You don't need to be loud to be heard.

"I'd like to thank Sister Rose and her family for preparing that fine meal. Hopefully the supplies the church has brought can ease this winter, as this meal has eased our hunger."

Sometimes, he hated the looks he got as the archaic forms came from his lips. He's just a kid, talking like an old man, was the unspoken reproach of people twice his age who'd survived on hard measures and God's mercy, even if they didn't believe it.

But he was his father's son, raised for just this duty in just this way. In the cold light of his self-reflection in the quiet moments, he decided that talking like a teenager wouldn't make things better, either.

"However, I also came to give you the good news that the church is almost built. Our work is almost done, friends."

"So what?" This came from a man who shouldered through the small crowd to stand in front of the young man on the box. Even with the extra height, the man's eyes were level, such was his height. He was a huge frame, with the black veins bulging in his exposed face, running into the rough growth of beard.  He raised a hand where the dark merged with the dirt to point a mottled finger. "Another miniature Enclave, with yourself as boss, I take it. Won't be any better than here. Thanks for the food, but no thanks."

The boy shook his head. "No, I'm not here to be Caesar. I am only here to tend the flock. I - "

"Then why don't you go back to Covenant and run your precious church there?" The man interrupted.

"Because even in Covenant, there are walls."  The bitter tone behind the answer even surprised the young man, now that he actually verbalized it—but he realized it's truth the moment it left his lips.

The large man was brought up short by that. He looked mutely at the young man, or maybe the brown red wall behind him, tall and menacing.

"Have you ever wondered why the church hasn't tried to invite you all to Covenant? Why you're here, among those who haven't received judgement, instead of safe behind their walls?" He let the question sink in to a suddenly unmoving crowd. "It's because the men who run it fear what would happen if the church became too large. If people could come freely."

He lifted his hands. "Friends, you know who I am. Doubtless you've heard what I do. And what I've done. But know this," his voice rose. "I don't do it for myself. I have no home in the Recession to go to. Everywhere on Earth, there's a wall to keep out the faithful. They fear God's judgement. And so it falls to me to build a place—the ONE place—where the wall will keep us all safe, instead of keeping us all out."

"I don't come asking for Bounty. The work is almost done. Hopefully, in a short while—" After I've finished committing all the sins I can stand, his brain added unhelpfully, if silently— "we'll be able to open the gates, and all are welcome. That's all." He made a helpless gesture with his left hand and stepped down from the box.

"Even if we don't believe?" came a woman's voice from his right side. He'd turned, so he hadn't seen her. He turned back around, but didn't bother to meet her eyes. He was so tired.

"The Lord's reach is not shortened for sinners. It's not even shortened for them." He waved a hand at the wall where the hint of rifles behind slots in the wall loomed, fencemen watching. "They haven't been judged yet. That's God's work. But they will be."

He left in silence that felt like defeat. Always the same at every Enclave. The work of the Lord is hard, his father had told him over and over. Walking away from the small camp, he hoped it would be worth it.

He took out his Ubiqs and put them on. Time to go find Toss Up. His work was almost done.