Welcome to the Bioverse

Bioverse cockpit

We’re super close to wrapping up a flash fiction collection for publication; and it seemed timely to bring you into the loop a bit on some of the key ideas tying them together. One of the biggest ones had nothing whatsoever to do with COVID19 or any global pandemic because I started writing the dang thing two years ago.

It’s a little creepy now, though.

I was just was thinking along the lines of global outbreaks and mutating diseases…and what fantastic but maybe plausible mechanisms might science fiction offer to do something about them. In the collection, you’ll see much of the world’s population hit very hard with a rogue prion that triggers wild mutations. The resulting cascades of diseases appear with thousands of faces over a hundred years; and humanity forges an incredible approach to face them down.

It’s called the Bioverse. Let’s head inside to see what it’s all about. Here’s a short piece of flash fiction. It’s called THE CHASE. I hope you like it.

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You can tell yourself the Bioverse is just a visual representation, a rippling and illusory curtain of data. You can steady yourself against the deck’s cockpit and acknowledge that it’s not really sailing anywhere physical. Look around if you like – maybe you’ll catch glimpses of the walls or lighting or soundproofing panels.

More likely, you’ll black out or vomit into your lap. It’s a lot to take in.

The aggregate input of quintillions of nano-scale machines and sensors embedded in practically every human alive throughout the globe has been rendered in this artificial universe for specially trained CounterBiotics agents like you to sail its front lines. New viruses and exotic bacteria are evolving at rates never before seen, in seconds rather than days. Rogue proteins and phages stalk the world, triggering DNA mutations that launch into the wide world in a matter of hours. It’s a devastatingly dangerous time.

And it’s a very good thing you’re here to do something about it.

Those images are data. You’re rocketing through actual people out there, who might be at the grocery looking through apples or coughing their last breath in a hospital bed. You’ll never know who they are; that’s hidden from you. In fact, you’ll hop seamlessly from one person to another like crossing an undefended border. It’s the chase that matters. Only the chase.

Imagine a ski-slope shaped chart, a pareto. The highest bars on the left are the people with some nasty disease that we’ve set in our sights…something that steals away pregnant mothers and single dads and wide-eyed little kids who can’t understand what’s happening to them. Imagine these diseases, these plagues, as hungry prowling beasts drooling in the shadows. They’re scary, aren’t they?

But we’ve built this miracle place. And we’ve tasked you to chase these beasts from their highest concentrations down to the last gene somewhere that’s coded for it. And we’ve tasked you to be merciless and slay them all, right where they hide.

It’s the chase that matters, my friend. Only the chase.

 

(C) Brian Bennudriti

Grailrunner Publishing

Nonlinear adventures: the mind-twister for Coronavirus lock-down

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I hope everyone is staying as safe and locked down as possible till the COVID19 issues are a distant memory. The hope is that in no time at all, we’ll be looking back proudly at how well we weathered this whole thing and how we pulled together as families and neighbors.

Meanwhile, it’s a great time for projects, right?

When I was a little nerd, I was a huge fan of the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’-style books branded ‘Endless Quest’ that let you dive into Dungeons & Dragons worlds and set your own course. Battles and mysteries and spooky beasts…I was really into that. Here’s one I used to read:choose own adventure

Around Christmas, I poked around in a few Cthulhu solo adventures, which brought those old books back to mind. I still have a few on the shelf; but they don’t really have the same oomph from back in the day for me. So I wondered is it time to try and write one?

Well, no it’s not. Obviously. I have a short story collection to finish, a novel that’s 3/4th complete and in ramp-up mode, a wargame and merchandising to finalize and market, and a sequel to write. It’s obviously NOT time to start another project.

But still…

My house is chaos sometimes. My wife often asks from across the house, “What’cha doin’?” Two teenagers need a lot of attention. And they eat a lot. And two dogs need stroking and wrestling. So now as we’re cooped up together in the house, it’s kind of nice to slip down to the basement to the little cafe table beside the wargame stuff, leave the lights a little dim, and bust out some words on something completely different from what I’ve been thinking about for years now.

And that’s where this nonlinear thing comes in.

So Twine. Check these guys out here. This is software for writing branching narratives that leave decision-making up to the reader. You can install it as an app or build it from your browser. I’m seeing that it’s a lot easier to learn than I’d thought. Here’s an example I pulled from a kind soul named Sara Stern:

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The post-it note thingies are individual web pages where your text lies, accessible via links the reader is clicking as they make their choices. All you do is put a “[[ ]]” around your choice options; and it creates the new pages for you. Seriously, super easy. Tutorials on this abound. Twine 2.0 is my preferred brew, the default Harlowe format. You can add images, even background images, and sound and video if you want. Though you probably shouldn’t do those last things.

The tricky thing here, as I’m learning, isn’t the technical piece of engineering an html file for posting which contains your adventure. No, not even a little bit.

The tricky thing is chasing a particular decision out and building your beautiful, intricate plot development out along the resulting bunny trail, then realizing that maybe they didn’t pick that option.

Ichiwawa!

Anyway, there will be a new Salt Mystic adventure out hopefully in a couple of weeks…the first non-linear story. Here’s the branding we’re going with:

Salt Mystic Interactive Adventure

It’s called AT THE MOUTH OF THE ROTTING GIANT. You’ll be crouching and scraping your way inside the corpse of a long-dead fallen giant to speak with an ancient piece of artificial intelligence. And you’ll be armed.

You’ll need to be.

See you soon, guys. Stay safe!

(c) Grailrunner Publishing

 

 

 

The long history of the Salt Mystic universe

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Here at Grailrunner, we’re building a storytelling framework we call ‘SALT MYSTIC‘. You can get the point of it here. If you’re going to call something an “immersive storytelling engine”, it needs to have some long legs, right? So we had the idea that it might help to have a reveal of some of the history that led to the software-haunted ruins, screaming statues, and city-sized war machines in which the main storyline is unfolding.

Here’s the familiar setup:

Two thousand years ago, a withered old woman stumbled out of the salt flats declaring her vision of the forces of history, and how to harness them to shape human events.

Naraia was the name they gave to the world-spanning democracy that arose from her teachings, encompassing countless thriving civilizations on land, floating on the seas and tethered to the sea floor, and tucked into pockets of artificial space called oriels. All of it shattered into a thousand pieces a generation ago in a terrifying and almost supernatural conflict called The War Of The Rupture.

But so much happened before!

How could a worldwide nation be possible unless they had seen the anarchy of centuries of soul-destroying war? Where did such miracle machines come from that could serve a civilization this mighty? And what mad travelers and philosophers and generals lived in the hearty days before these shining towers whose lives could feed the kinds of stories the Salt Mystic would weave into her powerful myths?

Let’s take a look at the broad strokes of ten thousand years:

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First Era:     Misty Antiquity

A muddled time of legends and fables. Many themes of these stories include an ancient technological Singularity, where humanity’s machines rocketed beyond their own understanding and reprogrammed the very matter of their landscapes.  It’s probably just a story.

The most popular figure among the legends of the era tell of Rendel, a mischievous trickster engineer. Typical of his confusing rants, Rendel was famous for asking whether this is the first and original universe in which we live, or if it too began as an oriel.

Second Era:     The Brewing

A wild era of exploration and settling where many of the familiar cultures of Naraia developed their own cultures and identities as enclaves or small nation-states.

  • The Red Witch Annex was carved out to isolate and contain their vile ways of seeing the world
  • The first people settled in the barren Salt Flats, hunting with their traditional bladed kites the high flying whitebird
  • In the ancient settlement of Alson high on the mountain plateau, the hallucinogenic algae wine called sana was first brewed
  • The first ball lightning carbine was crafted by a gunsmith whose mysterious lover asked him to bring her a mighty storm in a box

Third Era:     The Merchants’ Wars

The largest conflict in history to that day, when the various enclaves came to realize their bankers and merchants had leagued together across the world in a secret shadow government. Theirs was a lost generation, who learned in the burning wakes of ever-escalating war machines to trust no one at all.

It was a time of devastating economic and psychological warfare where propaganda was brought to its highest effectiveness. Many of the cruelly manipulative stonewisps, artificial intelligence agents of chaos haunting statues and masonry elements, date to this period. It’s noteworthy that this was when the seafloor empires arose in The Tethered Cities, its early peoples fleeing from unrest on the surface.  

One ironic result of all the chaos and fury of the Merchants’ Wars was the planet-wide system of shipping, trade routes, and banking infrastructure that later made Naraia possible.

Fourth Era:     The Philosophers’ Parade

This period in history was notable for the seemingly endless parade of new religions and philosophies, where it was said any stray book casually left in a plaza would sprout a temple from its pages. The superstitions of the Mountain people especially spread like wildfire due to the popularity of their algae wines and wildly inventive folklore.

Although well understood now, it was unknown to the people of the time that many of these belief systems were being engineered for the purpose of uniting the world’s enclaves under one ruler. It was an attempt to conquer without blood or treasure, since previous eras had proven that neither war nor commerce could unite everyone.

One unremarkable nomadic enclave called The Rauchka dramatically lived out their protests of these bloodless coups by transforming into a roving race of jesters, mocking without regard for power or influence. This is important because these prancing, nose-tweaking jesters would later be charged with the important responsibility of humbling those wielding terrible authority under the world government. They were declared untouchable up until the time of Old Man Talgo during The War Of The Rupture.

The end of this era is marked by the arrival of The Salt Mystic, who stumbled from the Salt Flats with a history-shattering vision of the forces of history.

Fifth Era:     Naraia

Within a hundred years of the Salt Mystic’s arrival, a united and mighty civilization arose, spanning from the mountains to the seafloor, across countless pockets of artificial space, and deep into crevices in the earth. This remarkable and unprecedented society was built upon a number of foundation elements:

  • The Augur, a collective hallucination maintained by attendants and providing oracles based on the Salt Mystic’s philosophy
  • Recorders, people chemically and genetically modified to remember every sight, sound and scent they encounter and used for almost supernatural consultation
  • The Malthus, enigmatic errand runners and assassins, able to weaponize the Salt Mystic’s philosophy to shape human events. It was said a single Malthus could not just destroy a city, but make its own people do so.
  • The Rauchka jesters, ever humbling those in power

This pinnacle era of history lasted for almost nineteen hundred years before it decayed from within. By its end, the Augur and its puppet copies were hotbeds of secret files, intrigue, statecraft, and meaningless power plays devoid of wisdom. The Malthus were all but wiped out, with only a handful in hiding in the Trapmaster City under the Yagrada River.

Sixth Era:     The War Of The Rupture

Libraries are filled with reasons for the War Of The Rupture, perhaps the largest possible war ever to be fought. It’s said a billion people died in this nightmare, a conflict of practically everyone against everyone else. The most terrible war engines imaginable blanketed countless battlefields. It was the golden age of war.

The most important figure of this period was known as Old Man Talgo, a minor military figure who rose to unimaginable heights of influence due to his ferocity and battlefield innovations. He was a cruel and vicious man, who pitted his sons as officers in battle against each other for competition and refining.

The Old Man made a bitter enemy of the last clan chief of the Rauchka and swore to erase his people from history, eventually beheading the chief. Strangely, Talgo was said to have gone to the Augur afterwards and hung himself at what he heard there. It was after this that the Rauchka made their sad, desperate pact with a general named Tienna in the Great Valley Cemetery to transform into cyborg engines of war.

Seventh Era:     The Guardian Age

The current era is a time of roving armies and miraculous war machines, scattered like maple seeds for anyone to seize. It’s a time where some of the old legends from the war still live and carry enormous influence, and old grudges. And it’s a time of very old mysteries.

The era is named for the most important myth ever told.

It was said in hushes and whispers throughout the terrible conflicts of the war that the Salt Mystic had foreseen what would become of Naraia. Because of it, she had injected cunningly engineered stories into the folklore and myths the people pass down, ones capable of possessing a person’s soul. Foreseeing the wars and injustice that could emerge, she hid tripwires in these myths that inspire world-shaking guardians when they’re needed the most.

A guardian arises maybe once in a generation. It changes everything.

And it can be arise in anyone at all.

(c) Brian Bennudriti. All rights reserved.

Tales from the Salt Mystic universe. Read more here.

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