barnabas_truman: (Default)
"If you're already good at piano, how difficult is it to transition to piano accordion?"

"I'd say it'd be a bit of a stretch."
barnabas_truman: (Default)
Me: [plays slow mournful waltz]

Her: "I think I finally figured out why it sounds mournful when you play waltzes!"

Me: "Oh?"

Her: "You play them straight; you don't throw in all the ornamentations."

Me: "Reeeeeally." [plays classic waltz "Shebeg & Shemore" with ALL THE ORNAMENTS]

Her: "That had more ornaments than notes!"

Me: "That's how you WIN at pennywhistle!"
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
"You have any experience fighting nonhumans, kid?"

I hesitated for a moment, wondering how much I should reveal. "A little bit. Three years ago we took out a wizard in Salamanca going by the name of Diego en Fuego, and before we reached his inner sanctum he sicced some sort of hellhounds on us. They put up quite a fight; we managed to put them down but the Security agents carted off the bodies under wraps before I could get a good look at them."

"Huh," said Molly. "I read through your file last week; you've done great work in Mage Control, by the way; but I don't recall any mention of en Fuego having any sort of summoning ability."

"Yeah, uh, our team got another visit from Security after the mission," I explained, feeling a little embarassed; "they informed us that our official report was required to say that en Fuego had only elemental magic, and that no summoned beasts were present during the entire mission. Special orders from higher up. So I'd appreciate it if you don't tell anybody I told you about the hellhounds."

In the darkness, I heard a case being opened

"What hellhounds?"


Molly pulled something out of the case and began plucking strings. Under the whir of the helicopter's engines, an ancient-sounding melody formed, at a fast pace in a haunting minor.

"Is that... a banjo?" I asked incredulously.

"Banjo ukulele. It's small. We're allowed a few personal items on missions, right?"

I shrugged, and Molly started to sing.

There is a wild hog in these woods,
Diddle-um-down, diddle-um-day.
There is a wild hog in these woods,
Diddle-um-down a-day-o!
There is a wild hog in these woods,
He'll kill a man and drink his blood.
Run him down, cut him down, catch him if you can.

We tracked that hog down to his den,
Diddle-um-down, diddle-um-day.
We tracked that hog down to his den,
Diddle-um-down a-day-o!
We tracked that hog down to his den,
And found the bones of a thousand men.
Run him down, cut him down, catch him if you can.

"Well that's cheery," I said.

"My da used to sing it to me when I was young, back in the hill country long ago," Molly replied, silencing the strings. "I thought he made it up, but later I learned it's old, very very old. At least Arthurian, maybe older still."

The helicopter touched down with a thump.

"We're here," snapped Molly, unbuckling and standing up. "Eyes open and have a look around."

I removed my blindfold and was dazzled by the bright sunlight. Through the now open door of the chopper I could see desert from horizon to horizon, a few big quonset huts and a variety of tents scattered around the landing pad... and one big shimmering obelisk stretching towards the sky, its true height difficult to estimate in the stark surroundings. Next to it was a pile of rubble that could have been the ruined foundation of its twin.

"Sorry to keep you in the dark on the way here," said Molly. "I figure at this point you're ready to learn a few company secrets, but the exact location of this site ain't one of them."

We stepped down onto the sand-strewn concrete. A small man in a lab coat and dark goggles greeted us.

"Good morning, Captain Clebban. This is the guest you mentioned?"

"This is Jackie, from Mage Control. I figured now's a good time for her to learn a little more about what we do here at Tower."

"Very well. Did you get my report on the field reading fluctuations yesterday?"

"I did. That's one reason we're here. Jackie might learn something useful."

"I see." Lab coat looked perhaps disapproving, but it was hard to tell with the dark goggles. "I shall leave you to it, then. You know your way around the base."

He returned to the nearest quonset hut, and Molly started walking towards the obelisk. I followed.

"What was that all about?" I asked.

"I'll explain in a bit," said Molly. "First, though, let's see... how much do you know about the Deluge?"

"Just the usual story from Sunday School. God creates Man, Man displeases God, God sends flood to drown Man and start over with one righteous family."

Molly chuckled. "That's one way to describe it, sure. Noah, or Noach, or Nuh, or Utnapishtim or Deucalion, depending on where you're from."

As we approached the towering structure I noticed scaffolding covering parts of it, with more workers in lab coats and dark glasses studying it and typing away on smartpads. I noticed for the first time that looking directly at the surface made my eyes feel uncomfortable.

"Do you know anything about the Pillars of Seth?"

"I think you've hit the limits of my Sunday School curriculum."

"Seth was one of the children of Adam and Eve. The story goes that he gathered up all the knowledge of the world at that time, including prophecies about the future of humanity from Adam himself. He knew from the prophecies that the world would soon be destroyed either by fire or by flood, but he didn't know which, so he built two colossal pillars, one utterly fireproof and the other utterly waterproof, and inscribed a copy of all his knowledge on each pillar, that the knowledge of the world would not be lost."

I let out a low whistle. "So this is the accumulated wisdom of the antediluvian world?"

"That's what the hieroglyph-jockeys up on the scaffolds tell me. They've still only just begun to translate it."

"So what happened to Seth?"

"Supposedly he hollowed out a room in one of the pillars, hoping to ride out the end of the world. Of course, there was only one Seth..."

"...and he guessed the wrong pillar?"

"Bingo." Molly gestured broadly towards the crumbled ruins near the surviving obelisk. "Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair."

"Ozymandias?" I felt a sudden insight. "Did Shelley know about this place?"

"Not directly. He might have dreamed about it. Some other artifacts from this era act as psychic broadcasters under the right circumstances; we don't know if this one does or not."

Molly stopped and took a swig of water from her canteen.

"So why me? What does all this have to do with my experience with Mage Control?"

"You're good at what you do. And like I said, you're ready for a few more secrets. Here's a big one for you: how many times do you think God has destroyed the world and started over?"

I was taken aback. "One? I mean, assuming that the flood myth is true, and that all the different flood myths are referring to the same global event."

"Yeah. That just means one that we were permitted to remember. The Eden story--any creation myth, really--could just as easily be the 'and started over' half of a story that lost its 'destroyed the world' half."

"I... I guess so. But what difference would it make? If the whole world was destroyed and remade, there would be no evidence of the previous world."

Molly nodded meaningfully at the obelisk. "Some things survive." A dark look passed over her face. "Some things survive that shouldn't."

She shook her head, and asked "Have you noticed anything funny about that obelisk?"

"You mean like the way it shimmers, even in places where the sunlight doesn't hit it directly? Or the way it hurts my eyes to look at it for too long?"

"Yeah. And the corners don't add up to the right number of degrees, and rocks dropped in its vicinity don't fall straight down, and the whole mess just don't look right."

"Why is that?"

"Because it was not built using the laws of physics we have today."

"Oh, come on!"

"No, seriously. As far as the researchers can tell, every time the cosmos is destroyed and remade, the laws of physics change slightly. The pillars were made using the laws of the previous version, so they don't quite work the way they should in the current version. The physicsts working for us have figured out ways to tell how many times the 'destroyed the universe' counter has been incremented by examining antediluvian artifacts like this one. Apparently statistical analysis of numbers in various sacred texts supports their findings."

"So how many times?"

"We are currently living in universe number five hundred forty seven."

"Five hundred forty seven??"

"At least."

I ran my fingers through my hair in disbelief. "That is one indecisive Creator."


(That's as far as I got so far.)
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
"What's that movie with Lady Gryffindor and the owl?"

"Um... the entire Harry Potter series?"

"No, the other one! With the fakey owl!"

"Fakey owl?"

"And all the other people up on Olympus!"

"...Is it possible you mean Clash of the Titans?"

"Yeah, that one!"
barnabas_truman: (army)
"Why would anybody want a square pan?"

"It heats up faster."

"Why would it heat up faster?"

"The corners are already 90 degrees."
barnabas_truman: (army)
"Hey Dad, I have an ornithology question for you."

"Okay, go ahead."

"What kind of bird is black and orange and catches flies but does not eat them?"

*laughs* "Is this a joke?"


"Black and orange and catches flies but does not eat them..."


"Baltimore Oriole."

Can't get nothin' past my dad.
barnabas_truman: (army)
"Here, hold this broccoli."


"And this other broccoli."


*puts broccolis on head*

*waits patiently for her to turn around and see*

"What are you doing with the broccoli??"

"They're antlers."

"What? Why antlers??"

"Because they are solid and will soon fall off. If they were hollow and permanent, they would be horns. Science!"

barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
"Would you liiiiiike... oatmeal for Valentine's Day? Because it is healthy? And I care about your health?"

"Um... no thank you."

"How about oatmeal fudge?"

"Like raw oatmeal stirred into the fudge? That might be interesting to try."

"No, cooked."

"Maybe not then."
barnabas_truman: (army)
Have you ever wondered why songs and jokes and stories have always been the tools of the resistance?

Flyers can be torn down.
Graffiti can be painted over.
Picket signs can be confiscated.
Books and pamphlets can be burned.
Printing presses can be smashed.
Web servers can be turned off.
Guns can be out-gunned.

But if you compose a catchy song, a funny joke, an inspiring story, and you tell it to enough people, and they tell it to enough people, then you create a message that cannot be shut down.

Why does the resistance use songs and jokes and stories?
Because they are unstoppable.
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
"Can we count imaginary velociraptors as dependents on our tax forms?"
barnabas_truman: (army)
"It's basically shaped like a snal."

"What's a snal?"

"A snal is a snek with a shell."

"I thought a snek with a shell would be a turtle."

"A turtle would be more a leezard with a shell. No wait, a tortoise is a leezard with a... with a mobile home. A turtle is a leezard with a houseboat."

Powering Up

Oct. 2nd, 2016 02:26 am
barnabas_truman: (kimiko)
With one last smash, the locked door bent open, and Ann Droid and young Apollo "Quasar" Jones burst into the empty bridge.

"They're all gone!' shouted Quasar.

"Hm. The pirates must have subdued our friends and taken them aboard their own ship while I was powered down from the EMP shockwave."

"I wish I hadn't been stuck in the ventilation shaft; I woulda fought 'em off!"

"No. They were many, and heavily armed. Be glad that they did not know you were there."

"Yeah, I guess. But we have to chase after them!"

"Indeed. Let us start the ship right away."

Quasar took a few steps towards the captain's chair, then cried out: "Oh no! They smashed the controls!"

Ann's eyes glowed red as she scanned the dashboard console.

"The damage is superficial. Many parts of the user interface are cracked or burnt and unusable, but the underlying systems are unharmed."

"But by the time we repair the controls, the pirates will be long gone!"

Thanks to the recent facial servo upgrade, Ann managed a slight smile.

"You, and apparently the pirates, are unaware of my full capabilities. As long as I have access to an undestroyed data port…"

She sat down in the captain's chair, folded back a hinged finger to reveal a datajack, and inserted it into the port under the console.

"…and the opportunity to concentrate without interruption…"

Her eyes dimmed and clicked off. The flashing red alert lights around the room went dark for a few seconds, then returned to the usual pale white. An echoing voice boomed from the intercom speakers:

"…then I do not need to control the ship, because I am the ship."

The hyperdrive began to hum awake.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Have you heard stories about "wild boars"? The Caledonian Boar from Greek mythology, Twrch Trwyth from Arthurian legend, the Wild Hog in the Woods from Appalachian folk song? Do keep in mind as you read these tales that the wild boar is not just a little pig with extra fur.

The wild boar is a primeval beast from the Pleistocene; larger specimens can be four feet high at the shoulder and weigh up to 700 pounds. It can sprint at 25 miles per hour and jump nearly five feet in the air, with enough force to knock down anyone short of Hercules. Snake venom has no effect on a boar; wolves run away from it; tigers that try taking one on will probably have a very bad day. The males have razor-sharp tusks, and during certain times of the year are covered with stiff bristles and an inch-thick extra layer of subcutaneous tissue. Good luck getting a spear through that. And if you do, I hope you're using a specially made hilted "boar spear," because if not, it will just keep charging up the shaft that's impaling it so it can bite you anyway.

Is it any wonder that the boar was spoken of with such fear and marvel in old songs and stories? These are legendary monsters brought to life.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
"Okay, so galley #5 is sailing to Tripoli, and buying two crates of spices."

"Tripoli is under my control, so six ducats please."

"Six? You mean two!"

"No, we tripolled our prices. Wo ho ho ho."

(The game in question is Serenissima, one of our favorites.)
barnabas_truman: (army)
"Are there any puns about Arthurian legend?"

"Hm... Oh! I've got one: who made all the musical instruments for King Arthur's minstrels?"


"Luthier Pendragon!"

[awkward pause]

"I don't get it.

"Arthur's father was Uther Pendragon. I thought that was common knowledge?"


"Aw, do I have a twisted idea of what 'common knowledge' is because I grew up with Arthurian legends?"

barnabas_truman: (dwarf)
"So what kind of Dungeons & Dragons character would I be?"

"I think you're the cheery innkeeper who secretly has connections all over the place and knows everybody and has access to hidden resources that nobody else knows about."

"Neat! And what about you?"

"I'm the semi-retired wizard who rents a room in the attic above your tavern and tutors adventurers in theory of magic."

"The attic?"

"Yeah. Wizards are supposed to live in towers, but I really like this tavern, so I just moved in to the top room, because technically that counts as a tower."
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Adams: We should do the thing!
Everybody: No, John.
Adams: But it's important!
Everybody: No, John.

Adams: Hey Jefferson, tell them they should do the thing.
Jefferson: I'm busy.
Adams: But it's important.
Jefferson: Boring.
Adams: But morality! Posterity! Doing the right thing!
Jefferson: *sigh* Okayyyyyyy.

Jefferson: We should do the thing.
Everybody: Hell yes!

Adams: That was great! Thank you so much!
Jefferson: Whatever. I'm going back to Monticello; come get me when the country needs a president that isn't you.
barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
"There's more--there has to be more--to being heroes than simply defeating villains. You have a role, a purpose far greater than yourselves. You have to set examples, lead the way. You represent what we should be, what we dream of becoming, not what we are."

(Ms. Marvel in an Avengers comic written by Chris Claremont)

It also reminds me of a bit that Delirium says to her brother Dream in a brief moment of clarity in Gaiman's Sandman:

"The things we do make echos. S'pose f'rinstance, you stop on a street corner and admire a brilliant fork of lightning — zap! Well, for ages after people and things will stop on that very same corner, stare up at the sky. They wouldn't even know what they were looking for. Some of them might see a ghost bolt of lightning in the street. Some of them might even be killed by it. Our existence deforms the universe. That's responsibility."
barnabas_truman: (army)
The other day I brought up the notion of a crossover fanfic bringing together Mary Poppins, Ms. Frizzle (of the Magic School Bus books), and Carmen Sandiego (monument-stealing criminal mastermind from a series of old geography edutainment computer games), presumably as they pull off some sort of absurdly elaborate heist. A friend suggested time-traveling to the glory days of the Library of Alexandria to save a bunch of the scrolls that have been lost to history. Here's what I ended up with an hour or two later...


"Can I help you find something?" asked the old librarian.

"We're looking for, er, the big fire that's about to destroy the library," said Ms. Frizzle with a bit of uncertainty.

"Fire? What fire?"

"My understanding is that the Roman army set the city on fire during a war and the flames spread to the library, burning everything."

"Romans?" interrupted Carmen; "I recall being told that the scrolls were destroyed by a mob of violent and fanatical Christians who thought they were heretical."

"Pish-posh," said Mary. "I have always read that the scrolls were used as firewood by decadent and uncaring Muslims."

"That's not entirely true," said the librarian slowly. "Yes, Caesar's army set fire to the city, and many buildings were burned, but the librarians were able to keep the flames away from most of the scroll-houses. Yes, Pope Theophilus decreed that the pagan temples were to be destroyed, and that included the main museum itself, but we were storing most of the scrolls in outbuildings by that time. Yes, Amr ibn al-As conquered all of Egypt, but the rumors of his using scrolls as firewood were propaganda spread by his opponents. Kings and conquerers come and go but we librarians make do."

"Then where are the scrolls?" asked Carmen.

The librarian gestured towards a dark doorway at the back of the room. The three travelers rushed to it, only to find a large unfurnished storeroom, dimly lit by small high windows. Piled in the middle was a colossal heap of dusty scrolls.

Mary cautiously reached for one and gingerly picked it up. It crumbled to dust in her fingers.

The three stood in silence for a while, looking over what was once the knowledge of the western world.

"What has happened to this place?" asked Ms. Frizzle as they returned solemnly to the front room.

"We've got no shelves," said the librarian sadly. "We've got no scribes. We've got no money too. The apathy of the people and the abandonment of the government have accomplished what generations of conquest could not. No library can survive long without support."


(apologies to Pratchett for shamelessly plagiarizing his "kings and lords come and go" and "we've got no ships, we've got no men, we've got no money too" lines)


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