Yeah, so you've looked behind the curtain, only to discover the whole world is a carefully manufactured lie. But to what ends?
Well, I'm Adam Foster, and these are my experiments in Half-Life 2 mapping!
... in case you were wondering, here it is:
Witness the lack of curtains, table, carpets, furniture other than one solitary chair. Minimalist living beckons!
Despite all this, I have actually managed to get a decent amount of work done on MINERVA. I've been busy building physics puzzles - using some rather useful Episode One assets. Depth Charge and Pegasus still aren't playable, but things are slowly coming together.
Which is always a good thing, right? Previous maps have had long stretches of nothing happening followed by bouts of frenetic activity. And I definitely feel one of the latter coming on...
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Work in progress. Stealing characters (but not abilities or situations) from Eidetic, this tragic tale about MD5 checksums will actually have an ending. And be of novella length. Oh my.
Surprisingly, some other project keeps getting in the way. I forget what it's called. Athena, or something?
The tuneless bleep from the computer woke her with a start.
Red roundel on the email icon: one new message.
Katya sat up, picked up her long-cold mug of coffee, took one final swig then, composing herself, clicked on the icon.
Detective Peter Highbury, Leadchester police. Forwarded, a case number she didn't recognise in the subject line. New work, most likely. She'd better get paid for it this time, she thought. Bleary-eyed, she read on.
got a right interesting one for your weird deductive powers here! dead body, blood spatters, and a proper little mystery! one of ours is involved (but he's not the dead one), suggest you come down to station immediately. have attached some paperwork if you want a read, tried calling you but yr mobile was switched off or summat. silly girl.
Frowning, she scrolled down further. Photographs: a male slumped against a wall, dark arterial spray arcing behind him. The dead body, presumably. That was one for the forensics; her work was much more fruitful when the subject was both alive and fully conscious.
More photographs. Stacks upon stacks of papers, folders and filing cabinets, almost filling a small, seemingly windowless room. Shelves with binders, files and boxes, all carefully ordered, aligned, sorted and collated. Unreadable on her computer screen, tiny, feverish black writing covered almost every available surface, like some scaly, reptilian skin.
Ah. This was presumably where she came in.
She closed the computer, ignoring the rest of the attached documents, stood up, put her coat on then started walking towards her office door. She'd better get paid for it this time, she thought again.
"So you're telling me you're not sure if it's a murder, a suicide or an accident?"
"Yeah. Pc Plod breaks into some apparently abandoned building, after being told of some kind of disturbance, and finds our corpse surrounded by boxes of papers, albeit very much alive and waving a gun around. Depending on who you believe, either our friendly stiff shoots himself despite our valiant Plod trying to wrestle the gun off him, viciously attempts to shoot Plod but gets shot himself in Plod's attempts to defend himself against such flagrant antisocial behaviour, or has his gun cruelly nicked by Plod and thus got shot in a topically messy bit of police brutality."
"Er... Right," Katya paused for a moment, thinking. "You basically don't have a clue who shot whom and why, yes?"
"No. I mean yes, we don't know. Whatever, you know what I mean."
Detective Highbury leant back in his chair, put his hands behind his prematurely balding head and began to smile.
Katya went on. "What about fingerprints? Witnesses? Anything like that? I mean, what's Constable Smith's account of it, given that he's a major potential suspect?"
"Fingerprints are all messed up, and could match any of the possible stories. Witnesses are our corpse and Pc Smith, and Smith claims it was all self-defence. But he's a bit, well, suspect anyway, in part because he nearly lost his job in a happy little incident a few months ago where his boot oh-so-accidentally came into contact with some lout's head. Claimed that was self-defence too, would you believe?"
"Two men, one gun, both had hands on gun, one man dies. Nobody except the survivor to say what happened, right?"
"Yup. Got it in one, girl."
Katya had to ask. "So, what do I have to do here? Magically delve into Smith's head, and retrieve the truth? I'm not a miracle lie-detector, you know. I'm a psychologist. I have methods too."
"Nah. Not Smith. Head's practically empty anyway. Need much better than that."
"So, what is it you want?"
Detective Highbury sat up, pulled a desk drawer open, heaved out a large plastic envelope filled with handwritten sheets of paper and dropped it on to the desk in front of her, grinning. Katya was expecting this.
"I want you to magically delve into the mind of a corpse. Think you can do that, my dear?"
Katya Sorokova. Newly qualified psychologist. Average height, average build, average looks. Mouse-brown, shoulder-length hair framing a thin face, high cheekbones, brown eyes and a long, slightly crooked nose. Still waiting for that proper, steady job which might fully utilise her years of expensive training, and now sat in her bedroom office on some as-yet unpaid side-work, poring over some tens of pages of miniscule handwriting with a magnifying glass.
Edward Traynor. Unemployed, homeless drifter until five years ago, at which point records documenting his existence began to peter out. Had excelled at school, before failing every single one of his A-levels; a death in his close family was thought to have triggered the first of his many mental breakdowns. Tall, desperately thin, almost emaciated. Sparse hair, a near skull-like head. A single gunshot wound to the lower jaw, the bullet travelling upwards and backwards until shearing through the brain-stem, killing him instantly.
Murder, suicide, or accident?
The handwritten pieces of paper she had been given so far were merely those which were found scattered on the floor in the immediate vicinity of the deceased. She had been reassured that there were many, many more where they came from - despite apparent attempts at the incineration of certain batches.
The handwriting was small, neat and usually surprisingly legible. Print, not joined-up, it generally formed proper, grammatically correct sentences, although any actual separation into paragraphs was missing. Written in thin, black pen on both sides of plain A4 paper, only the density of text and the content gave it away as the barely coherent ramblings of someone of perhaps less than sound mind.
So it continued:
"... today I have been made aware of some of the lesser known aspects of this condition, in that I am profoundly knowledgeable about the possibility of progressive changes which shall befall this non-local viewpoint. It is not entirely without due care and attention that I document these important facts and figures, for due to this means of communication I am limited to recording only that which can be understood by an uninformed bystander, since it is implicit that my message be read and dispersed by whomever may discover it. Furthermore, ..."
The predictable concern that the world was about to end?
How ... stereotypical. Cinematic, even.
Katya read on, determined to extract a theme more promising than crude paranoia. Flick through the folders, find something new.
... A diagram.
And that brings this ludicrous Creative Writing Week to a close. I hope you've enjoyed it!
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Yes, it's time for the unveiling of a true find in the archives - the original MINERVA plot concepts!
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A 1996 ghost story, continued from yesterday...
Vex Not His Ghost (continued)
Janet made her way down the stairs with slow, laboured steps. She knocked on the door to the living room very gently, and whispered. 'Arthur? Are you there?' There was no reply, only the distant rumble of thunder and the hiss of the rain outside. 'Arthur?' she repeated, this time louder, and more urgently. The draught underneath the door was quite strong, and the smell was becoming overpowering. It smelt, well, almost like her son's new kitchen. She slowly opened the door, and looked inside.
Gareth thought for a moment, and then realised what he had found. 'My God, it's a head!' he cried, and fell backwards on to the rough wooden floor. He scrambled backwards into the hallway, whimpering slightly from sheer terror. He pulled himself up the chair near the front door, and picked up the handset on the ancient phone on the wall. There was no dialling tone, all he could hear was his heartbeat and the hiss of the rain. He furiously pushed down the lever, and listened again. Still no tone. Through the corner of his eye, he thought he saw something move, something coming out of the kitchen.
When Janet opened the door, the stench was so strong that she thought the septic tank must have overflowed, but as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she saw something horrific. Across the floor, among a drift of rotting leaves, was a human skeleton, covered in rotted pieces of flesh and tendon, and what once were clothes. There was no skull, the neck ended just above the shoulders. Janet screamed, and passed out.
A great flash of lightning illuminated the kitchen, and Gareth saw the face for the first time. Among his tub of margarine and a bottle of cider was his father's face, staring out at him, as if in warning. Gareth screamed, and almost fainted when he saw a faint, shadowy outline moving towards him. The door behind him was jammed, and all he could do was cower, and try to protect himself from this thing. It looked almost like a man, and appeared to be carrying some sort of primitive axe. Gareth could not stand this any longer, and grabbed the chair beside him, and smashed it through the door's window. He then put the chair down, and clambered over it, and through the window, badly cutting himself in the process. He ran, panicking, his head full of the sound of his breathing and heart beating, before reaching the deserted road, where he collapsed. Behind him his dark, forbidding house began to glow from within, a bright, flickering yellow, which slowly grew brighter, until the whole building was engulfed in flame.
Gareth collapsed on to the road, terrified and exhausted. He crawled into the hedge, and slept fitfully, spending most of the night half-awake, becoming ever more drenched by the rain. In the early morning, the sun rising woke him up, still frozen and stiff, and still afraid. The rain had stopped, and the sky was clear. He pulled himself up, and he looked over the gate to the smoking remains of his house. Only the outer walls remained, the rest lying in a smoking heap on what was the floor. He picked his way through the blackened rubble, looking for any remains which could prove what he had seen last night. He saw none, other than a large, gaping hole underneath where the kitchen floor was. Despite the smell of the smoke, the strange, musty smell was coming out of it, and he looked down.
Janet came round slowly, cold and confused. Light was streaming through the window, but the awful scene was still present in the centre of the room. She looked around for her husband, then realised that the skeleton was wearing an identical signet ring as him on one of its decayed, shrivelled fingers. She screamed, and ran into the hall, and, trembling fearfully, picked up the phone and called the police.
The hole Gareth was looking down was lined by four huge, rounded boulders, and was partially filled with earth and ash. A small, dark opening was present at the bottom, out of which a few old, broken bones protruded. He stepped back, knowing that this was some sort of burial site, for those Neolithic people his friend had often talked about. He sat down among the rubble and wept, for his father, and his possessions.
You should have seen the original ending. Oh dear. But for tomorrow - a world-exclusive look at the original story concepts for MINERVA: Metastasis!
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A ghost story, written for a competition but (I imagine) never submitted. I probably still have the original digital copy somewhere, trapped on a 230MB SCSI hard disk. I'd boot the old Atari ST up again, only it has no ports or disks in common with my current computers. Floppy drives are so passé, you know? But here it is, retyped just for you from my carefully, lovingly typeset 1996 original...
Vex Not His Ghost
Gareth Marshall closed the door, shutting out the torrential rain. He fumbled for the light switch, uneasily staring into the darkness. Upon finding the switch, an old, brass dome, he pushed the lever down. A single, bare light bulb hanging from the high ceiling lit up, casting a dim, yellowish light over the hallway. He had been living here for some months now, ever since he had left home. It was an old, semi-derelict farmhouse, built out of stone and brick, perched upon the side of a large, empty hill. According to one of his friends, it was the site of some sort of Neolithic settlement, although Gareth could not be bothered. He hated the place, but it was much closer to the town than where his parents, Arthur and Janet, lived, and it was all he could afford.
He began to mount the narrow, steep stairs, wary of the rickety handrail, cursing the rain which had begun to drip through the ceiling. He looked up, to check the extent of the leakage, when there was a huge, blinding flash. He stumbled, the after-image filling his vision, and a deafening crash shook the house. He fell, banging his head on the rotten handrail, and came to rest at the bottom of the stairway.
When he came round, there was complete darkness, and the relentless hiss of the rain outside. He picked himself up, balancing himself on the old, wooden chair near the doorway. 'Oh, damn you. fuse box!' He cried out loud, feeling his way along the hallway towards the kitchen door. The darkness made everything seem strange, and unreal, as if he was in a dream.
His already aching head hit the door with a resounding thump, and he cried out in pain. He opened it, recoiling against the damp, musty smelling air. He had never been able to remove the smell from the kitchen, despite cleaning, air-freshener, and keeping the window open whenever possible. He opened a cupboard door, and took out an old torch, and turned it on, its faint, yellow light barely reaching the wall. Then he knelt down on the floor, his knees resting in a small puddle from the ceiling. He pushed his fingers into a gap between two of the bare floorboards, and began to lift.
Several miles away, Arthur Marshall closed his newspaper, and settled back into his armchair, the distant rumble of thunder filling the air. His dog began to whimper uncontrollably, its eyes flickering towards the door leading outside. 'What's up with you, Stan?' He heaved himself up, patted the dog on its back, and dragged himself towards the door. When he got there, he looked out through the small, stained-glass window, straining to see if anything was there. A sudden flicker in the corner of his eye made him start, when suddenly the door broke open, as if something very heavy had been thrown against it. Arthur fell backwards, amid a huge flurry of splinters, rain and leaves, and landed heavily on his back. 'Janet!', he cried, as something shadowy billowed into the room, almost like smoke.
Gareth had discovered that the fuse box was ruined beyond repair, the old bakelite casing burnt and distorted. He put the floorboards down again, after deciding there was no risk of fire, and got back up. The smell was getting quite strong, he wondered whether some dead animal was rotting beneath the floor. A distant flash of lightning filled the kitchen with light, and he saw for the first time that the door of the refrigerator was open, and that something dark was inside it.
Janet heard her husband's cry as she was climbing the stairs to bed. She turned around, careful not to twist her arthritic leg, and began to go back down again, putting most of her weight on to the bannister. 'Coming, Arthur. What's wrong with you this time?' There was no reply. 'I said, what's wrong with you?' Her thin voice echoed around the stairwell, but there was still no reply. She suddenly felt cold, for a damp, musty-smelling draught blew around her feet.
Gareth froze. What could it be? A cat that has got in without him noticing? A badger? A rat from the sewer? He slowly bent down, without taking his eyes off where the fridge must be, and picked up the torch. He turned it on, and pointed it towards the fridge. The bulb flickered, and faded, leaving him in complete darkness. He began to tremble, and backed towards the door leading back into the hallway. Perhaps it was just food he had left there? He couldn't remember doing so, as the fridge was generally used for drinks, as he ate almost exclusively out of tins. He began to move slowly towards the fridge, determined to overcome his fear. His feet standing in a puddle of water, he lifted up his arm, and put it inside the fridge. His mind crowded with thoughts concerning what it could be. He felt around, noting everything he came across. A small, vacuum pack full of bacon, a packet of sausages, a tub of margarine, something cold, and hairy. Gareth was still determined to find out what it was, so, gasping for breath, he plunged his other hand into the fridge. With this had, he felt another part of it. It felt smooth, and soft, and a large lump with two small holes at the base of it.
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