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01: 'Before the Internet'?


Well hey howdie. Anyone reading this probably has either just stumbled onto the bits of my journal that I've decided to put online or you've somehow gotten access to my personal machine. If it's the former great. The Latter, not so much since I only let a handful of people on that box. Might surprise a few of you I've been keeping notes in electronic form since middle school. Just seemed neater to type it out and dump it on disk, that could be passworded instead of handwritten log books. That and it let me take notes I wanted to share and shove at friends, or print out as many copies as I liked with a minimum of fuss.

Oh c'mon now. I bet you're wondering why I'm waxing nostalgic. Between Xanadu being built and me being 'asked' to move there to act as something of a public face and one of the elected Representative on the City council I've been going through boxes of stuff I haven't seen in years.

Then I found my old Apple ][GS and cases of floppies (back when floppies were floppy) and in a fit of nostalgia I got everything hooked together. Surprisingly everything worked and my disks hadn't degraded to uselessness. Figured what the hey. I started browsing my old files and I've decided to share bits and pieces.

Just to answer a few questions off the bat:

Yes the town name is real. No the school name isn't.

I'm going to be using lots of aliases and usernames instead of actual legal names. Why? The people I hung out with tended to run around on BBS's and most of them respond to handles and it's not like there's only one Count Zero out there.

Anything else I need to say? I dunno. I'm gonna be revealing an oddball point in my life and other than making sure not too much sensitive material gets revealed I'm not correcting mistakes I might have made about geography, politics, or whatnot.


Set Wayback to Late Spring 1986
Dad got a computer for me. He said it's the same kind as where I'm going for school and it's Mine. I can do with it as I want so long as the house doesn't get neglected in the process or a giant phone-bill gets racked up. Wait. I can dial out with this thing? Dial out to what? Printout bundled with has instructions and suggestions. Even includes a couple numbers. Dunno what brand since it's clearly second hand and somebody had a little fun trying to make it look 'stylish' or whatever.

[Note: 1200 baud. Kids these days literally cannot comprehend how slow that one was. Included is a link to something I found on a quick jaunt to youtube for something similar. Mine isn't in the wood case the one in the video has, but mine did have phone cups and a few wires.s

You will note the far from 'instant on-ness' the whole process is. Sure what's being loaded is a 'modern' webpage, but it's using a text only browser that isn't even trying to grab images or whatever. Speed looks about right and dangit, now I wanna see if I can get the old warhorse here to run a BBS for the rest of the town.]

Dad said the guy that sold him the modem would give me a go at his BBS even though it's closed to new users. Turns out right after Christmas is a terrible time to try figuring out how these things work. If I get let in great. If not I've got a couple games I can play. Zork looks promising.


OK Back after giving the BBS thing a try. Didn't get much further than looking at the main menu and a couple threads. I dunno. It's interesting but right now I just don't have time to fiddle with it. Maybe next weekend.

Gee who'd have thought anybody in my class would like that I have my own computer. Doesn't matter I can and have run rings around everyone or that if I wanted to I could probably out-compete any of them in their sport of choice. I have a computer and therefor I am now a Nerd.

Same stuff. Diff excuse for them to not like me. I'll be glad when I get to highschool. New place. New people. I get to start over again. Don't get me wrong I'm not boo-hoo over it, well not much anyway. I just don't like how isolated from everyone else I seem to have gotten because everyone thinks I'm looking for all the attention I've gotten.

I can run a six minute mile. So what, I'm puking my guts out and been out of it for the rest of the day. If I wanted I could join wrestling and probably make state. So what? I get weirded out by the whole thing and the rest of the team doesn't like me. Bah... Stop crying. End of year and I'm out. Bigger pond. Just another face. I won't make the mistake of showing off in front of everyone again.

Summertime!
[Note: I'm going to make this really plain. I wrote more than I'm sharing here. I'd just gotten the Apple the Christmas before, so I'd been writing constantly. That and gaming. Often times I'd write about gaming, especially when I was trying to figure out Zork's puzzles. ]

Oh and I've got a job. Sure it's cash and carry but it's actually pretty nice. No yard mowing this year. I get to help build something. Tear a house down to bare beams with a bunch of other kids. Build it up how Mr. Bossman wants it. Not something I really know all that much about.

Turns out at least a couple of the other guys that signed up work the same BBS I do. OK fine I dial more than one, but there's this one that opens up late afternoon to early morning that I've kinda considered home. It was my first and other than arguments over who has the better computer it's generally polite.

Bah. Lotta these guys aren't nearly as hostile when you're looking them in the eye. People that viciously demand you admit x or y is better than the Rotten Apple you've got deflate real fast if you're in earshot.

Nice guys, a few actually know what they're doing and are trying to show the rest of us what's going on. First day done and it's been pure demolition. They want the thing stripped to sub-flooring and studs. No mention on power or plumbing so we're leaving it alone. Amazing how fast tear-down can go when you've got a couple dozen guys and a couple rented dumpsters. Didn't know you could rent those things. Now I do.

End of June
Steve's been making an ass of himself on the board. On the job site he couldn't be a bigger help. Got plenty of experience, patience, and not the slightest bad thing to say about anyone. On the boards though he's turned absolutely vicious. Attacks everyone. Has snark for everyone who even hints at disagreeing that he's the best thing since sunshine. I think Copper's taken him aside a few times. Word's gotten around that if he doesn't stop being such a prick he's getting banned.

I get it. Guy uses the board as a way to vent and make sure he doesn't piss everyone off on the job. Thing is you can't go and flip out and use the board as your personal megaphone for screaming at the world without people getting annoyed. Worse. Steve's rantings have stirred up most of the other users. Kinda strange really. I'm seeing this one number pop up constantly on the 'last used by' header. Been some debate on if this Blackbird is a girl like they say they are, or just some random guy putting on an act to try embarrassing everyone else when the mask comes off.

Copper's told me to call them. Said it was alright, he cleared it with Blackbird first. Dunno why it's such a big issue. Maybe they think this'll distract everyone else from Steve's acid, especially if we have to kick him out. So. Gonna call. I'll try summarizing in a few hours or something.

02: A Challenger Appears


Nervous? You bet. I didn't shake or anything like that while waiting for whoever on the other line to pick up. "Hello?" Girlvoice. Familiar but I probably didn't know the person it belonged to.

I took a breath and tried to calm down. "Blackbird?" Felt weird saying her board handle out loud.

There was a pause. "Copper said it was alright to call. I'm Max."

"Oh," Pause on the other end and some other noises. "Fruitboy. So, what do I do to prove to you airheads I'm actually the girl on the other end of the keyboard." Less than amused voice. Also, fruitboy is not my handle. Seriously...

"Why wouldn't you be? This's the number that matches the name and-" I was cut off.

Her voice had a tinge of annoyance to it. "All it would take is me getting some girl I know to lurk around or read printouts to get a good idea of what goes on, then have her do the phone work while I laughed my head off at suckering everyone in."

I hadn't thought of that to be honest. "Oh. Well," I tried scrambling for some kind of response so I wouldn't sound like a total idiot. "Well it kinda works both ways doesn't it? You get girl to pose as 'you' then you have to make sure she won't make her own account and spill the beans. Plus Copper has something planned on the Fourth so you'd miss out if you were using somebody else as a puppet."

"Well hey. You do have a little common sense." And what was that supposed to mean? "Granted you spend way too much just to get an apple when you could've put down a couple hundred for a Commodore and put the rest away for other stuff." Something of a teasing quality to her voice. Guess she was trying to tease, but it just got on my nerves.

So, being the ever-enlightened and levelheaded fourteen year old, I started mouthing at her. "I didn't buy it, my dad did. Plus I've got software going back years, and I've got all kinds of expansion down the road. Your little breadbox, what's it got?" I tried toning it down so tried winding up. "Plus I've got something compatible with school systems. I get an assignment. Boom. I can do most of the work at home, and goof off with wolfenstien or Zork or whatever."

Laughter. Musical and joy filled laughter on the other end of the line. "Wolfinstein? I've got Beat Patrol."

"Yea. On a download off some BBS with a lame crack screen." I pulled a disk out of my collection and smiled at it. "Bet you don't have the real thing. Complete with the foldout map of the city and files on the gangs you're hunting down hmmm?"

[Note: That's something I sorely miss from gaming today. Sure not everything came with maps, files, interesting cases, or the like. However the stuff that did just kinda stands out. Plus it acted as a sort of anti-piracy since as often as not you'd need something from the bundled material to get through the game.]

"I've got high score on Space Maze at Jon's." Calm voice. No pride to it or snark, or whatever. Just a simple statement.

I couldn't let it stand though. Sure I wasn't a nova-hot gamer, but to let some girl have the high score? "Saturday. Noon. Jon's. I'm going to annihilate whoever's high score. Be there."

More laughter. "Many have tried. All have failed." Singsong voice. "But it'll be fun watching you try. "Byyyeeee." Click.

So I've got a date. No not a date. I've seen that score taunting me for months now. EBC. Those three letters hanging there Just under FLN. Then again FLN had what's been generally agreed on to be the hard-limit score for the game. Plus there's so much of a gap between those two sets of initials that I could scoop little miss EBC and there'd still be room to stack the loser on top and have a little wiggle room before even touching Mr. FLN. I'm not even sure if Space Paranoids has a killscreen or not.


Game Day's come and gone. I'm... not in love. Have to keep reminding myself it's probably just the fact she's got a killer bod and was being a bit of a 's is pretty crowded. Sure you have the usual half-pints and parents that're there just because they don't trust their kid unsupervised but the Space Paranoids Cab was a ghost town. Strange, but then I looked at the person playing.

Girl. Dark skin. Short hair. I grinned, not caring that the usual crowd of watchers weren't there, before changing out a few bucks for tokens. She wasn't paying attention to anything but the Patrol Ships filling her screen. Would've been rude to intentionally break her concentration so I put my token down on the control surface and went to get a couple drinks. Figure if this is Blackbird then she'll want to stay and watch. If not, then it's just courtesy really. I had extra money to blow so why not be nice?

So I get back and it's still just the girl but she's about to get her last life crushed. I offer her my spare drink and pick up the token I'd put down to call dibs on next game. "Blackbird?" I was somewhat unsure if it was her or not. When the girl smiled and stepped aside I smiled back.

"Now. Watch the maestro work." You know. It's almost like I was tempting fate there since I promptly got smished.

I glowered over at the girl, who was all smiles and innocent cuteness. Then I focused back on the game. Joystick with some buttons on it for the turret. Trackball for general movement. I'd heard they wanted to name this one something else like 'Space Maze: Revenge of the Reifers!' or something like that. I'd seen some of the older units and I personally like the new control layout. Kinda takes getting used to, but as I slid around a corner firing at Patrol Ships chasing me, I had to admit it had it's uses.

Couldn't afford to pay attention to it at the time, but I'd already beat my old high score by the time I'd passed through the fake wall in the middle of stage nine and hit a secret warp.

"Well I'll be dipped in cornflakes." Again, didn't pay attention at the time. I'm going off memory, which probably means Blackbird said something far less family friendly. To be honest I'd known the warp was there, but got killed by a rouge tank that'd followed me through. Guess they go in secret areas if they're already targeting you, but otherwise can't, because the one on level three seemed completely empty save for a couple recharge stations.

This one took me to level ?4. Guess that means there's at least three other ? levels. Oh well, not breaking Franklin's score today. This level... destroyed me. I got a couple of the tanks but it's one giant open pit and even with infinite ammo it's thirty on one. Then it spat me back out at the 'proper' level after the one I'd warped from. It even credited me the kills I got in there how nice.

Long story short I couldn't beat her score. I came inside of spitting distance, but still no dice. She wooped and did a little dance. "You're good boy, but I'm still the best."

"Aside from Frank you mean?" Didn't mean it to be insulting just. Yea. Pride I guess.
She snickered. "Well he wrote the game didn't he? Nobody'd be as good as him. I'm happy with taking the number two slot if he's the only guy ahead of me. Oh and... pay up."

"Que?" I was caught off guard. No bets were made after all.

Still, she held her hand out as if expecting money. "Pay up. You lost, so you're buying me lunch."

Ooooh. "Lunch I can do." I grinned. Lunch with a cute girl. Might be Blackbird, probably was to be honest, might not. "Oh, you said you were looking for Challenger Deep?"

"Yea. Hadn't seen a copy floating around. No word on if it's because the game sucks, or if it's new copy protection."

I pulled a disk out of my backpack and held it up. "Tada!"

She made a face a me. "Apple software won't work on a Commodore, genius." That's when I turned the disk so she saw the other side. "Oh wow, didn't know it's a flipper. Gimme!" She made a grab for it. Seemed playful, but I kept it just out of reach. "C'mon that just ain't right. Tease a girl with new softs and not gonna share." She punched me in the shoulder.

"I'll give it up on one condition." This caused an eyebrow. "You help me figure out a way to get Steve to stop harshing everything on the boards." Only after she'd nodded did I hand the disk over.

03: Flamewars and Casualties


Been a week since I'd met Blackbird. We talk on the phone. Constantly. She's Commodore and I'm Apple, but she's a smart girl and she's showing me things about my box I didn't know about. Granted I've never been big into the whole programming thing and all but most of what she's explaining is practical stuff. Methodology, organization of files and the like.

We've been batting around the idea of writing a text adventure or, I dunno, something. The problem is we don't know how zork manages it since they can't go rewriting the whole game from scratch for each system. We'd put the question to a few boards and the general consensus is they use an interpreter that then looks at the game data so all they have to do is write the game once and just dump it in whatever ends up actually having to run.

Great. Awesome. We know sorta what they do but no idea how. Plus Steve's making more angrish noises on the boards and he's getting support. Says Blackbird's 'coming out' is just a stunt so everyone will stop paying attention to him. Granted it is a stunt, mostly because we couldn't find some peaceable way to talk him into being quiet. Board's in a huff and Copper's growing more frustrated.

Both Blackbird and I have promised we'd help with the Independence Day meetup. Personally don't know how so asking Siro and Venom to help organize, take funds, and the like. Everyone trusts Siro to be impartial and not skim. Dunno why since most of us haven't actually met. Sure there's small clusters of people, but it's largely the Board itself that brings us together.

Weird when you stop and think about it since it only runs part of the day and it doesn't even have that big of a warez section and nothing to speak of in art. Ah well. It's mostly talking gaming and the occasional bit of social. Case in point. Venom and Art have been huge into Dungeons and Dragons. I mean like Godzilla huge. They've been giving me transcriptions of the basic ruleset so I can try coming up with a setting they can use that isn't the usual Conan the Barbarian or Lord of the Rings ripoff.

I am an unrepentant Star Trek nut. I view Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as a holy trinity of interstellar asskicking with Scotty keeping the Enterprise running with Hope, Dreams and lots of Duct Tape. Blackbird likes Star Wars, and I gotta admit X-Wings and Light-Sabers look totally rad, but gimme a phaser any day. I'm also into, and if anyone finds out I'm probably going to have to turn my geek card in, Battlestar Galactica. Don't ask. Please, any hypothetical readers, don't ask. There's a poster of Mars in my bedroom right next to a painting of one of the Tripods that attacked London.

This is brought up because my background is in Space. I know of fantasy settings and even like a few. However I'm going for something rooted in the Stars. Sure TSR has a few things for space but Venom only has DnD so I'm making what they have work for what they want.

[Note: At the time Venom, Siro, and a few others actually had their eyes on existing systems that could have worked. There was already a Star Trek themed RPG, ditto for Marvel, and I think Gamma World was in 3rd ed. Thing is, none of us had these things and our money was already either used up or spoken for. So make do with what was there and maybe if we were good little jibbering idiots we'd get some shiny new books to play 'pertend with for Christmas, or if one of us managed to make enough with summer work above and beyond what we'd already decided to save up for.]

There are four days between now and the meetup. Hoping to have something sketched out to give them there. Man this's gonna be one of those 'it's gonna end up weird and everyone's gonna wonder what drugs I've been on' sorta things. I just know it.

Copying over everything off my notebook.
Weird. I've known some of these people months and never actually saw 'em. No wonder the news, media, whoever runs TV Land is cashing in on the spooky computer guy image. Probably going to mishmash tenses during transcribing along with color commentary spaced throughout. Have to remember to keep things consistent. Even if nobody reads this except Blackbird it's good practice.

The big fireworks display was on the opposite end of town from us. Sure it meant we kinda missed out on the big show, but it meant traffic was less of a problem. Most of us didn't drive so there were a few of the folks there; my dad, blackbird's mom, but it was mostly us pooling what we had in way of food and kaboom. Granted it wasn't much, and the big draw was the food, but hey make your own fun.

I'd used a good twenty or so sheets of printer paper but I'd gotten Siro that writeup I'd promised. It was only threeish when we got together so plenty of light, and it's not like we were just there for dice rolling. I don't bike, but most everyone else seemed to have one, or a skateboard. No. I don't skate either.

[note: Looking back don't quite get it. I remember things strangely. Maybe I'm mixing stuff that happened later in highschool and or college with what happened that night; but I want to say someone had brought a brick of pot and we got stoned out of our minds waiting on the food to cook. None of that in the writing though so either memory's fuzzy, or this was right before we toed in those particular waters. I dunno, make of it what you will. Was a fun night. Mostly anyway, maybe it would've ended better if we had pot on hand to keep Steve from being such a, and I'm quoting myself here, 'Major source of Bogus Karma.' That is one thing I do not miss about the 80's at all. Good riddance, we have all new slang to be embarrassed about... dawg.]

Steve. I dunno. I just don't. He kept hassling everyone. Demanding a public vote to get Copper removed as admin. For awhile we just ignored the bile and tried getting him to watch the pretty lights, get some fresh air. Mellow a little. It was fine for awhile. Most everyone I talked to agreed he probably just needed someone to talk to, get things off his chest.

Then it just got worse as the night went on. He got louder, bolder, more annoying. A few of us think he was drunk. He just wouldn't let it go. Started screaming at me, copper, blackbird... said we were all trying to hurt him. That we were trying to take away the things he was good at.. My dad ended up calling his dad. Took him to one side to try getting him to open up, or at least he tried to. Steve hit him. Not hard, more of a 'shove person away with your fist so you can hit them' than actually punching.

He hit my dad. Full on in the face. I think all of us were too surprised to move. It even caught Steve off guard, or at least he looked as odded out as the rest of us. Dad checked his nose, winced at something when he did. Maybe something got broke, probably not but there's lots of little bones in there that can break. Steve must've figured out just how major wrong a thing he'd done because he ran for it. Never-mind the fact he left his car there. He ran like were were about to sprout claws and haul ass after him. A few of us might have but I think it was just the shock of it that kept us from reacting as a group.

Dad's fine, at least he's saying he is. Have to say I actually feel sorry for Steve. Till we started working together everyone said he was one of the nicest most even tempered people around. Wish I knew what made him snap. Lot of things could have been it. Aku said his home life was in the dumps and he kinda used the boards as an escape. Taro said she'd keep an eye out. See if he can be talked down.

Copper's said nothing on what he'll do about all this. There's other places he can go if it comes down to that, but something's wrong, seriously wrong and I want to know what, but I'm the exact worst person to go poking around. Blackbird's here with me for the night. Her mom's got a party she wants to go to. So she's got the guest bedroom. Not like we'll be sleeping much. We're gonna watch Blade Runner and Tron. It's not like I'm going to make a move on her with dad home. Seriously what kind of bonehead do I look like?

Post Author: Max Justice
Subject: The School Year Approaches

While I don't claim to know what Copper has planned I can say that, with the
exception of Steve being banned (which none of us liked since he at least was a
fairly cool guy till he went nuts) everything he's planned has ended up being
stuff we've all been able to get behind.

Personal theory is he's trying to talk Cross Town High into setting up a multi-
line BBS. How is that awesome you ask? Well they'd want him on as an admin,
though maybe one level removed from staff sections maybe. It would sure put him
in a good position to give us any sort of heads up on the doings that they'd try
surprising us with. That and c'mon, if they'll budget in a BBS they can't be all
brain-dead fogies ya?

- M -

Post Author: Blackbird
Subject: Slightly Misleading Thread Title

Sure it'd be kinda neat if Copper was given an intern job helping keep a School
BBS running, but that'd mean he wouldn't have time for this place, and they'd
try keeping him either away from us so they could milk him, or try turning him
against us so he wouldn't want to share whatever new neat and fun stuff he
finds out.

- Do not cross me. I can find where you live. -

Post Author: Terry
Subject: Tinfoil Hat Time!

Whoa there girl Even if Copper got a job with Cross High it's not like he'd sell
us out at the drop of a hat. Plus we don't even know if that's the big project
he's working on. Nobody knows. Though I think Sharea from IceWind is clued in on
a few details I'm almost sure she'd keep us in the dark just to make us squirm.

Point is, don't go flipping out over something we're clueless on. Just sit tight
and let things happen on their own. Plus, even if he did have to give up running
the board Copper wouldn't just tell us all to find a new place. Venom's got same
access level he does and they live a couple doors from eachother so it's not
like there's nobody else.

- Aliases used to Protect the Innocent. -

Post Author: Max Justice
Subject: Hints are being Dropped

Blackbird here. Max's letting me use his account since he's said he doesn't want
me using my login on his machine. I dunno why but whatever. Got off the phone
with Copper before I left for Max's. Seems that yes there's going to be a school
run BBS, but Copper's not involved. Slade from IceWind talked them into it and is
going to help keep the thing running along with a couple of the more tech savvy
guys from the facility. Supposedly he's getting exempted from a couple classes
worth of homework to do this, but that sounds just plain silly. Even for the
Ever-Boastful Boy Blunder.

- M -

Post Author: Venom
Subject: If not a BBS then what?

Title says it all. What else could it be?
- It's only Poison if I don't like you. -

Post Author: Copper
Subject: BIG ANNOUNCEMENT.

As some of you have heard I've been working on a fairly large project with Cross
Town High. It's not tied to official school activities, and it's not a BBS.

Well OK that only works if you don't considered school backed and endorsed clubs.
There's several other gamer groups, BBS's, SciFi clubs, and the like that are all
too small to qualify for club status. So we're all pooling efforts so we can get
a few perks like access to equipment, school grounds, space in the newsletter,
and so on.

There's another project I'm involved in but it's less 'fun' and more 'business'.
Don't know who talked who into it, or the politicking, but we're getting a BBS
tied to the school which I'm helping put together along with Slade, Rose, and a
few other Sysops in the school district. If the school is to spend tens of
thousands of dollars on a sixteen line system they'll want to make sure the
student body will bother using it.

The school board will have no warez discussions. None. Asking about warez or how
to crack will get you banned, and possibly get some kind of in-school punishment
too. Same goes for phreaking. In fact if you aren't sure if it's legal. Don't
talk about It 'kay? I don't want to have to ban any of you, but if it's my day
to act as Op I will without hesitation.

[Note: Boring Board Regulation Stuff got clipped here. Seriously. Does anyone want to know how a board that's been gone since '94 is structured or it's three strikes policy? No I didn't think so. Moving on.]

To kind of help bring as much bang to the table as possible we're all bringing
our A List material to the meeting. Slade's bringing the Apple I his dad bought.
I know Aku's working with the gamers, especially the ones that don't also have
modem access, for stuff that will be relevant to their interests. There's a little
something I'd gotten my mitts on a bit of something that will likely interest most
everyone. With that out of the way what about you guys?

Just a couple more weeks. Are you ready for it?
- Can't Stop the Coppertop! -


Blackbird finally let me have a look at Copper's big announcement. She looked pleased. Couldn't really fault her for it since it was a good idea. Get the students that already did this thing to help the staff that might or might not know the ins and outs of the system. Plus having a school recognized club was something that was a bonus all the way 'round.

We got to schedule events. Could use school resources, and possibly would have their discount when buying new stuff. What? There's an accelerator card I want. Plus we could get books, resources. Blackbird's drooling over the idea of getting her mitts on some of the technical material. She's already good. I've seen her at work with a soldering iron and she's got a far neater hand than I've got. She's got a neater hand than Grandad too, and he's been in the radio thing I think since it started? No that's not quite right. It started in the teens and he wasn't born till the twenties. Still. Been a licensed radio guy since at least World War Two, back when the only way to get really good equipment was to build it yourself.

Grandad's met Blackbird. Likes her. Says she's doing real good for herself. I dunno. Those two started talking tubes and ohms, amps and I just kinda wandered off. He was raised in the deep south. Kinda freaked out he's being so nice with her, especially since he saw her coming out of my bedroom. If he knew we were dating I'm pretty sure he'd kill me or drop over dead... or drop over dead then kill me. No. Now's not a good time. Don't know when would be, but I think Dad won't tell him. Not sure how he feels about it either, but dad knows we're an item and seems fine about it. Kinda wish I could talk to granddad about it. They like eachother, smart, and he's been after me to find a girl. Ah well.

Speaking of Dad. Work's been pulling him away more often. Something about new seismology gear or- If it helps figure out if we can tell when the next quake hits before it does. Even if it's just a few minutes, that'd be worth the long nights, him looking like he's been put through the wringer. Yea, I worry about him.

04: Little Fish, Big Pond


Haven't written here till now since the only really interesting thing other than Blackbird showing off a new swimsuit she got, was the general gearing-up for school went smoother than it did last year. I'd say it's because I'd already hit my growth spurt and didn't have to buy a whole closet full of clothes, but it's not just that. No last minute need-to-haves. None of the expected logjams at checkout.

OK fine. Grandad got me a leather duster that I find pretty sweet, but I'm not sure if I'm gonna wear it at school or not. People might think I'm gonna start some kind of power metal band or something. Then again I have to admit between the spiked hair, my general build, and with the right lighting, I could probably double as Roy Batty in the thing; which is ridiculously epic in my opinion.

Sadly Blackbird doesn't really share any classes with me, but we do have the same lunch period and there's after school stuff. So it's not like I won't see her at all. Point of fact I'll probably see most of the crowd from Copper's board. Unfortunately that includes Steve, but I hope new school, lots of new people, and all that will help take the edge off of whatever's wrong with him.

Just got done helping with a stress test of the school's shiny new BBS. Have to say I'm kinda happy that they included sub-sections for ascii and ansi art. Never did get into it like other Venom or Neko, but cultivate creativity where you can. Now if only they'd include a set of demoscene sub-boards. Oh well. At least the board itself is fairly easy to navigate and the layout's pretty logical. Student Organization sections are sealed till after signups. Makes sense. We can't do any of it till a couple weeks into the semester. I'd say there's staff/SysOp discussion going on though. Has to be.

[Note: Removed about three albums worth of bad poetry and song lyrics both because I doubt anyone would be interest in my attempts at purple prose, and because I could've sworn I heard three or eight of them on the radio. Since there's no proof I did it first, I'd rather not have the pants sued off of me.]

First Day of School
General meet and greet aside. I've already got homework from most of my new teachers. Seriously. Oh well. It's all easy stuff really and I'm done except for some of the critical thinking material, but I don't think my science teacher wants a five page write-up/rant on ethics in experimentation. Think it'll probably impress her enough that my work's printed (I sign my own stuff though, not that anyone asked or that it's a particularly good way to tell if I cheated or not.)

Hate the gym uniforms. It's like they went out of their way to make something nobody looks good or feels comfortable in. Might be more the fact I'm bored with the class. Keep having to hold back. They have a set of weight machines. Most of the class tried it out while she gave a lecture on good habits, knowing your limits, and some other stuff. I was one of maybe three guys that didn't jump right in but I let myself get goaded into giving it a whirl anyway. Had everything set at half of what I'd max out at.

Still impressive considering I'm a beanpole, but It isn't the best out of the class by a long shot. Had to fake being wore out after. Not sure if anyone bought it really but I don't want to make the same mistakes I did last year.

Sure I got called out on it but after class I explained things. I'll step up if I really have to, but not if it's going to cause school-wide problems. Don't think she bought it since it involves peer pressure and she seems to think you shouldn't bow down if it means hamstringing yourself.

I dunno. Put the question to the boards. Fairly universal 'Go For It Man' response, but I don't know how they'll react if I do that. Enough whining! Work on the supplement to Aku's space setting now.

Steve's joined the school wrestling team. He seems happy and it looks like he's making friends. Happy for him. Trouble is he's getting more and more anti-Everything. Anything having to do with gaming, computers, He now considers it all a waste of time. I wonder what's gone on since I know at one time he had, on the board, a very lengthy text file detailing why computers and computing would be The Future.

Making notes while club's meeting
So. Meeting starts, introductions made. Feels as strange as when everyone from Copper's board first met over the summer. I mean lots of people from boards we've been at 'war' with, if you think name calling an empty threats count.

Introductions made, time to start showing off some of the stuff. The Apple 1 was up first. Interesting to me since it's a very do it yourself system and there's not all that many of them left since there was a big return for credit to an apple II way back. Other than that I have to say it's kindof disappointing. Just text, coding. Boring presentation but even so it's part of history so I feel a bit bad for being bored [not included: lots of drawings I'd made at the time.] Next up was a request for any games, relevant books, and the like. Anything so people that were either just interested and didn't have, or, in the case of people who had the same hardware, they could borrow and see if they wanted copies for themselves.

Anything donated would become club, and by extension, school property. Books and Software could be loaned out for a week then it would be a dollar a day fine if late (barring weekends.) Hardware either stayed in the designated areas or, if a majority consented, could be gifted out to deserving members (figured having the occasional contest would promote involvement and get people thinking.)

Argument ended up breaking out over system representation, which turned into shouting over which one was the best system. Won't claim I took the high ground. After all I love my apple and not a chance in the bloody pit of Hades that I'm gonna let some nut with a freaking Nintendo claim high ground. Not proud of it, but I put up with Blackbird's teasing because between us that's all it is. Plus she lost it just as bad as me when the same nut started slamming Commodore.

Gotta hand it to Copper for finding a way to make everyone shut up. While the arguing went on he brought out a... something. Looked like a Nintendo, but at the same time Not. Was a keyboard, controllers. Wand... gun... thing. Then he plugged it up and passed the controllers around. I didn't get a turn, but all he had to show was Mario. Not sure what the system specs are, or what it would take to get a disk drive on it, but it looks more like what's sold here than in japan. So maybe we could cobble a few things up as add-ons if we study this thing enough? I dunno but it sounds interesting.

Meeting ended with re-stating a point Copper made when it started. There will be no console vs computer vs brand wars on the school BBS. It makes us look bad and our write privileges might get revoked. Don't think anyone wants that. I sure don't. We're having votes on officers and the like next meet. For now though it's a cooperative head between Copper and a few of the other board sysops along with Alyssa and a couple of the other gamerheads to balance between the computer and the console crowds.

05: Snap


It's been about a week since the club meetings started. Aku's dad sold the Apple I, so I guess we should feel lucky to have seen it. I just feel... I dunno what I feel really. Upset? That's a given, but why? It felt like a stripped down barely working thing compared to what I have at home. Maybe it's just the fact it's gone to somebody's collection where it'll sit collecting dust instead of get shared with the public. I just, you know. It's not all that important in the long run.

Messed up thing is Steve's been allowed to join even though he's started taking on a fairly anti-technology sentiment. Miss Stone thought maybe it was just part of whatever caused him to snap over the summer and his rants will subside with time. We're supposed to humor him as 'the voice of the opposition'. Personally I'm with Alyssa and Will. His board's a couple chips short. Sadly he occasionally, even if it is less by design and more by accident, does raise a good point. It shouldn't surprise me much since he's always been good at debate.

Sero wants to start a band. Sure I could possibly do vocals, but I'd rather sit this one out. Blackbird's interested even though she hasn't really played anything that I know of. Hey couples aren't supposed to constantly be in eachother's business right?


"Max?" Miss Stone's voice pulled me away from the maze I was trying to map my way out of. She sounded. I dunno. Not pleased but not mad. "A word with you after class." Several people snickered. Usually when she wanted you to know to hang back after the bell it wasn't good. I couldn't tell what it was up since I knew my grades were good. So I waited till after everyone filed out.

"Ma'am?" I waited while till she finished grading papers.

Her answer was to slide a stapled together stack of papers at me. "Did you write this?" Again with the not pleased tone. The cover had Gad on the cover in front of a set of tesla coils. 'Across the Stars: A Bonehead's Guide' blazed across the top in block font. Oh kipple that wasn't good. All sorts of typos, rude language, and definitely situations proposed in what's otherwise a blandish tabletop rulebook that I'm fairly sure my dad wished I didn't know about. Nothing overly lewd but sometimes in a scenario it helps to know where the red-light district was on a given star port. All I could really do was nod. She had me and she knew it by the look on my face. "Yes Ma'am." Waited. Figured the less I said the better since I suck at lying.

"I am bound by school regulations to confiscate this." She held the papers by the corner they were stapled together at. "As your teacher I am disappointed with some of the subject matter, your sentence structure needs work, and there's misplaced punctuation everywhere." Her tone still had that not mad/not amused tone. I kept waiting.

"However since as of right now you are not in my class I am encouraged by the depth you've gone into and your attempt at reconciling social problems your audience would wish to work into a story with a post-scarcity setting." Small twitch of a blink-and-you'd-miss-it smile then. "You'll get this back during your next gaming session." Flat statement there. No negotiation. When I was excused I grabbed my things and left.


"Wait can't you just print out another one?" Calling Aku annoyed would have been to call water wet. It was after school and he was my ride home.

I tried to disappear into my jacket. Not easy to do since I'm a touch over six foot tall. "I don't have enough paper left."

"So? It can't be all that expensive."

My hand shook. it wouldn't be till later that I realized it was because I wanted to strangle him. "I also had to get dad to buy another ink cartridge for my printer. Those things are not cheap and unless you're gonna pony up for another one just so I can run off copies we can deal with her sitting in."

"But-"

It's a minor miracle I didn't hit him. "Dude just chill. It's just for one session and it's not like she can screw with our grades if we don't make her the star of the show."

In review I almost backhand a friend. I've got my English teacher showing up for Aku's gaming session, and Blackbird's told me off (rightly so) for getting pissy with Aku. Think that sums all that up nicely. Oh and Blackbird's Commodore is broken so we've gotta try figuring out if it can be fixed, or if not how to get her a new system. Life's just Prime sometimes I suppose.

Das Game
Miss Stone showed up early. Since I was the reason she was there I was responsible for stepping her through char-gen (though she didn't really need any since she had our book to work off of.) Her and my dad made small talk and he settled into his chair for the night. Guess he found it off that my teacher showed up for game night.

Table talk ended up diverting from the game to Steve. I dunno what happened. I honestly don't. Sure I haven't made much of a secret about me Blackbird but it's the eighties let it go people. He must've seen us having a quick frisk between classes. Sure, stupid I guess since if somebody wanted to get brownie points they could have had us wrote up for 'inappropriate conduct on school grounds' but it was nothing really just a quick hug and...

Next thing I know he's yanking us apart screaming bloody murder at Blackbird. She tries shoving him away. I've got eight or nine guys piled on me. Surprised they were able to hold me to be honest. She was holding her own fine but-

She gets shoved away and he's got his hand on something in her bag when I manage to twist loose. We start yelling and by the time I can see straight I'm on the ground with what's left of Blackbird's commodore and most of the teachers on the floor trying to sort out just what happened.

It's been a couple days. Maybe that's why Miss Stone came by and showing up for the game was just an excuse. Blackbird was at home. Not sure if Steve's gonna get expelled or what. I told Miss Stone I think there's something wrong in the head with him. I don't want him thrown out since it'd just leave him with nothing. He needs help. Just had a thought. Steve wasn't going after us because I'm white and she's black. He went after us because I moved in on someone he was sweet on. Would explain a little bit I guess. Will have to talk about it, but don't know with who.

She kept asking how my head was, if I'd gone to the emergency room. I hadn't and it's just a bit of a headach and a shiner. Had worse when I was little so why bother? Everyone's always said I have a thick skull. Guess the Commodore missed my face. Guess I should feel lucky anyway since there's a lot of delicate little bones that could've broke. Sure I don't feel great but I don't drive anyway. Big deal. Down some pills. Get some sleep. I'll worry about tomorrow when it gets here.


Head hurts but I guess that's normal considering everything. Weekend went well, better than expected to be honest. Miss Stone promised she'd try making sure Steve gets looked after instead of just booted out and or bounced to some other school. I'd write the guy but I don' know where he lives and some things need to be said face to face. Right now I don't trust me to not hurt him if he isn't bowing down apologizing.

Today was my first time at a swap meet. Blackbird wanted me to go so she'd have an extra pair of hands carrying things and I think she wanted me out of the house. OK fine, I had more money than she does so that was likely part of it too. She said she saw it in QST and was supposed to have more than just old radio stuff there.

At first I didn't think much of it. Not really in my interest area. Granted It does interest me a little since grandad's let me use his radio under supervision and some of the conversations I've heard him have are thought provoking. Others not so much. Finally got to meet at least some of the faces that went with the voices I've heard so often through those ratty old headphones. A few asked me where 'Old Joe' was. I don't know where Granddad goes when he's out of town but it was nice actually to hear a few of the familiar voices that don't actually live around here. Now that I think about it the whole thing felt like when I first started meeting the rest of the BBS's population.

While I was busy playing catchup with a couple oldsters who'd actually been around since before granddad got licensed Blackbird was snooping around. I dunno which of us told them we were into BBSing but that sparked something. Turns out these old hams had been messing with computers too.

Still having to let that one sink in. These guys have been messing with trying to get radios and computers talking for the past few years. I'd known about teletype and messed with it a bit, but I didn't know they were trying to get boards hooked up. Technical challenges aside there's this part of me that just can't grasp the generally friendly well-mannered group that kind of police themselves on a BBS. I'd always figured boards turn anyone into a hooting screaming lunatic. Could be the community at large makes sure those problems don't happen. Have to look into that I guess.

Ended up leaving with a commodore 128 with a busted case Blackbird says is in good enough shape she can make work again if she can dive for a parts. Also got a TNC so when she gets licensed she can plug radio into computer and see what's out there. Thing's a kit that'd have to be soldered together but if she's confident she can bring a flea market dead commodore back to life I'd say putting together a pile of good parts isn't beyond her.

Oh and I got a new set of speakers Jim had built. They look nice and when he plugged them in it was pure ear candy. Don't think dad'll like it, but whenever he's out next I'm going to see how loud they can go. Cost a bit but quality gear, and I'm pretty sure I would've had to pay three times as much from a store.


Blackbird's off making phone calls while I try parcing this bit of news.

Post Author: Copper
Subject: AVS STOLEN

A couple guys showed up this morning. Showed some kind of ID then started going
through my stuff. Plain black suit. No ID other than what they showed dad.
I'd understand, but still be pissed, If it was some goons Nintendo sent out to
pick up a prototype that shouldn't have left the compound but somehow got out
but that's not the case here, not at all.

Nobody we've talked to with Nintendo says they know of either person. We got
transferred a few times, ended up somehow getting connected to the main office
in Japan. Nobody has heard of these people or the division they cited.

Emergency meeting at Jon's. Spread the word around so the non-computer users
know to show up. Dad's calling the police and we've got the plate number of the
car they were in, but at least one of these guys had a gun and showed it to me
when I tried getting them away from my things.

Some major-heavy stuff going on. Jon's. two hours from now. Everyone that can
get down there. Dad managed to snap a couple pictures while they were too busy
getting me out of the way.

- Can't Stop the Coppertop! -

When I showed Dad the printout he just went still then left. No words. No advice or warnings. He just got up, left. Something is seriously not right here.

At Jon's
Aku's here and he's one of the people Copper wanted to see. When Aku got a look at the pictures he went still. Said those were the guys that bought his dad's apple. Not just looked like the guys. Those were the guys. Copper said his dad got approached last week about the gizmo. Surprised he didn't sell to them since the amount offered would have set Copper for college and then some.

What are we dealing with, a collector that's willing to pay stupid huge money for things, then send muscle out to grab these things if the owner doesn't want to sell? I suggested hiring a private investigator. Copper asked with what. I've got some money. So does Aku, Sif, Thor, Sero, and a bunch of others. Might buy us a few hours. Might not since none of us are eighteen yet. Still it's a start, and we can try getting more money from the people that didn't show.

Blackbird made a real good point. Why not just wait for the police to do all this? Only counter I have goes back around to Money. Whoever's doing this apparently has lots; enough to set up college funds for kinda interesting hardware that really isn't worth that much if you stop and consider it. So he's probably got enough money to either buy people off or outright stop anything the cops would do. Bad Idea? Youbetcha. We're doing it anyway. Sero's going with Copper tomorrow to try finding somebody.

Ice made an offhand comment it's too bad we can't make a fake system and lure these people in with. She claims she could with some help on cosmetics, but someone with money would probably be able to find out from the makers if it's real or not.

From there someone suggested a portable Microsoft's putting out to try getting in the home console market independent of IBM. We all laughed at the idea but then we all looked around. Lots of hardware nuts in the club and more than a few junk collections full of working parts. We've also got programmers, people that can do the metal work on a 'rough' case, and it wouldn't be too hard to put up some fake ads. If nothing else it'd give us something to do while we wait. C'mon. We might even make something that could do something useful. The Altair was a kit system, and people made all sorts of stuff for it. Why not?

06: Lurk


A week in and our collective savings are gone. Most of us have sold at least one or two bits of equipment and more than a few floppies worth of stuff to cover costs for this investigator guy. Harry somethingsomething Malone. Only experience I have with these guys are black and white movies, Bladerunner, and a few pulp novels. We're going to let him do his thing, but since everyone's auctioned off something of their own, or traded, or just chipped in, we collectively don't feel it's unreasonable that we get summaries of what he's been up to every couple days. He's agreed to this and given us an address we can find him at if he's not in his office.

Copper's afraid S, and I'll use that til we get a name since X or some random curse is overdone, is just going to pull out and leave us nothing to work on. Malone has, fortunately, managed to come to the rescue there by finding where the guy is working out of. Kinda bland rent-a-office type place and S is payed up til the end of the year. Would think that's that and we can call the cops in right?

Turns out having a plate number and a destination isn't good enough for the cops. At least that's what Malone's telling us. Says it could be one of the gophers that's stealing and S thinks the guy got the goods fair and legal. We need to prove S is in on this before going all gung-ho here.

To add more problems to my plate like it or not I have school to focus on since. Well. Yea. Also I broke my promise I wouldn't sign up for sports again. Blackbird talked our History teacher, who's also our football coach, into having a sit-down talk with me.

He won't take no for an answer. Says he's seen me lifting weights after school and my morning runs. Says I have an obligation and damned what the rest of the team thinks. I'll give him two weeks. Let him see things for himself then I'll drop. It's what basically everyone who tries out is allowed. Two weeks and you can drop for any reason. After that you're in for the rest of the season no matter if it's bench warming, laundry, or whatever.

I need to talk to grandad when he gets back. Dad's advice was what got me the 'drop after a couple weeks' idea and I don't like quitting.

Post Author: KiddSkull
Subject: Training From Hell

Max. Dude. Not funny man. I don't know how or what or anything but next time
when the coach says we can't leave til all of us are passed out or puking that
isn't the time to show off you've been working since last summer before tryouts.

Post Author: Max Justice
Subject: Re: Training

Now do you see why I didn't like the idea of signing up in the first place? I'm
not trying to train for /anything/. Dad's just had me doing morning runs since
he thinks it's some kind of father-son bonding time or something.

This's kindof what happened in middle-school with me. I signed up for everything
since that's what you do right? You try getting into whatever they're offering.
Had most of the other kids hating me by the time it was over. I was always that
half-step faster, or could go ten minutes longer, or hit a little harder while
it looked like I had to work half as hard.

- M -

Post Author: Aku
Subject: Re: Training

Max. Don't let anyone get you down. It'd be a shame our best is going to bench
himself because everyone else is whining. Can't say what anyone else thinks, but
I'd rather have you running the ball than Tyson. You at least I know aren't on
steroids and liable to hit random people for no reason.

Post Author: Blackbird
Subject: Re: Training

Hey maybe it'd be good for the whole club. We game and solder, and code so much
we kinda let the whole 'taking care of ourselves' bit lapse. Might be a good
idea to have a club-wide set of events.

Two Classes here for folk. Those that are already in some kind of sport, and one
for those that aren't. This keeps things fairish. At least it keeps people who
already have had a week or month or whatever of conditioning from curbstomping
the folk that haven't. Sound fair?

- Do Not Cross Me. I Know Where You Live. -

Post Author: Copper
Subject: Re: Games

Blackbird that's an awesome idea. We'll hash out details come next
meet.

TOPIC CLOSED.

Great, woo-hoo the board seems (largely) behind me doing the sports thing. Still not sure about this. Give it another week.

As a bit of distracting yet good news Blackbird apparently got that busted commodore up and running. Both of us really want to upgrade our systems since my ][e is showing it's age, and even with the 128 for her being a massive horsepower boost the writing's kind of on the wall. We've both talked, joked, jabbed, and if we can get the money we're both going to stick with our respective brands. Suppose that makes things easier on me since the GS is supposed to be backwards compatible.

Funny. Haven't really heard much about the GS even though it's out right now. Might want to look into that before I start picking up and saving money for next year's round of spending. Ah well. At least Blackbird's finally got a box that can do a full eighty characters per line.


Been a few days. First club wide fitness day went... about as well as can be expected. Man, knew a lot of these guys were out of shape but not even able to do a twenty minute mile? I can do one in eight but I run every morning and I'm starting to suspect I'm some kind of freak of nature.

Oh well. They showed up, it's a baseline we were after. Sure the bar's pretty low but nowhere to go but up right? Next time we'll start on some basics. Stretches, warmups, things that won't make someone puke a lung (I hope) and in general just try helping everyone look on the bright side. Don't need to go making enemies out of everyone so push attention away from me, put attention on making things better for them. Strong body. Strong mind. One can't exist without the other. That sort of thing.

Me and Blackbird met with Malone. Just writing this down while waiting for Aku to get here with the ride. Malone says he's found something huge and we need to move. Not wait on the cops. Us. Blackbird's skeptical but- it feels right to me. Just the three of us it'll be a small group and it's going to be a quick in, take pictures, out. We won't be trespassing so it'll give us what we need but we gotta move.


Well this explains a thing or nine. Steve's working with these [Note: lots of strings of profanity removed here. That and even more of me beating myself up for not noticing] people. Amazing what you can see through a lens as big as your head. Steve clear as day handing over what Aku tells me is a Timex Sinclare and something else then getting a dufflebag from the suit he handed them over to.

I know. Everything could be on the up and up, but you don't go middle of the night to sell something you own. What doesn't add up is why wait so late? I'd asked dad this and he said something about timezones then wouldn't say anything else. Even if the person all this stuff is for why? Must be something I'm missing. Even if the guy with the Big Money is off in Europe it'd make more sense to do the deal in daytime then call with the news later. This late night back ally stuff only makes things all strange.

Things don't add up. Only a couple hours before practice and I'm not sure how to handle Steve. Bundle of nerves don't want to hurt the guy but if last time is anything to go off of he's going to be a handful. Venom's offered to help since he's doing the wrestling thing too. Blackbird said she'd be with me when I make my play.

Going off Venom's notes. Everything went too fast for me.
Max had just showered and changed out of his practice clothes when Steve rounded the corner. The plan had been to confront him as a group and see what was going on, but while we watched Steve he was watching us.

Steve had gone for Max's legs, get him on the ground, off his feet and keep the fight on his terms. That looked like the plan and would have worked fine except Max's leg reaches further than Steve's arms and taking a size ten to the face kills momentum almost as bad as taking a fastball with no cup would.

After a moment or three Max poked Steve with his foot before picking him up and carrying him outside. I'm going to go with the idea Max knew he wasn't hurt when he did this, or at least got real lucky since by the time I got there Steve was babbling some kind of nonsense about Russia and Black suits and Max ruining his life.

Then Blackbird showed up. She gave Max this... Look that made him find somewhere else to be before turning to Steve. She sounded sad really. "Steve, I don't know who you've gotten mixed up with but we can help if they're why you've gone crazy."

"No," Steve sounded defeated, resigned, and probably more than a bit hurting from the boot to the head, "Not these guys. He's not KGB but he's next best thing, and he's got money to buy people everywhere."

Blackbird looked confused, off balance. 'You're telling me this guy is Russian right?" Nod. "He's not KGB, but he's got eyes and ears on you." Another nod. Her voice grew frustrated then, "You realize this doesn't make sense. I don't claim to know how much it costs to buy that sort of thing but it's more than I'll ever see. And this guy has been using all that to get a few one off computers?"

After a bit to think, and a fresh soda can pressed against his face, Steve started spelling things out we'd been wondering for close to a month now. "I got asked to help. Was told it was for a curiosity collector and he'd pay for whatever I could find. Didn't say why just that it was important to him. Something about a museum he wanted to open in Europe."

He fidgeted, tried to pull away once but Blackbird put a hand on his shoulder. "It all started going wrong last summer. I knew Copper had that Nintendo but it's Copper so I lied, said he had nothing worth getting. I get a couple heavy dudes in my house going through my things. Trash the whole place. My stuff, Mom's stuff. They don't lay a hand on me. No-neck in charge was very polite. Said he didn't like messing our things up since it looked like we already had to patch and scrounge and whatever. Says if I stiff his boss again he'll start in on me. Says if I do anything again after that he'd go after mom."

"Don't worry." Blackbird just held him there. Honest to God I think Steve was crying. Don't know how long she held him like that but it felt like awhile and it was getting strange feeling since we were still right outside of Gym.

By then Max was somewhere behind me and wrote something on a page I'd just flipped. 'Find Them. Hurt Them.' I looked up and saw his face. I was expecting beet red, or big angry eyes but his face was calm. Wouldn't think by looking he was mad, but I've known him long enough to know.


Talked to Malone. Probably stupid to flat out ask if he's been bought, but I was mad. Wanted answers. Was lucky I could hold myself together well enough to not start breaking anything. If he's not lying Malone's been approached, but hasn't given anything up. Almost wish these suits... whoever they are would make a pass at me. Only reason I don't is I don't know what they'd do to Dad, or the house, or Grandad.

Went out on a dumpster run with Blackbird. Sure not the most romantic of dates but between getting some interesting office memos and getting a looksee at a magazine reviewing the new GS I'd consider it a good run.

Got home and Everything was spotless. Worries me because Dad didn't do this. I didn't. Whoever got in was here and gone, put everything away but put things away in the wrong places. It's almost like a prank Aku wanted to try. Go in behind somebody and rearrange everything. Only this time it's not funny. Scares me that they could just get in like that.

First pass on personal inventory came up clear. Everything in the tradeables pile was more or less the same at a glance, but really it was the docs and work disks I was worried about. Those seem in order. Handwriting on 'em looks like mine, but I'm going to have to go through disk by disk.


Inventory's done. Nothing's missing except for a couple cracked games from the trade pile. Work disks all accounted for, though they could have just made copies of a few things since I sort by date. Blackbird says everything at her house is fine. She's calling copper while I call Alyssa.

Dad's told me to take him to see Malone. At this point I'm not arguing with him. Just hope he has an idea or three other than just call cops start wishing for the best. Only idea I have that's any sort of productive involves getting a ride to that office and busting heads, except this isn't an Arnie 'n' Sly Murder the World movie and these guys probably have guns.

Post Author: Blackbird
Subject: MAX EMERG

Max is missing.

I don't know if he was kidnapped, or if he got snagged while out on his morning
run, but I last saw him the night after Steve came clean about what's been
going on. We talked about what to do next, why him, why all this mess with
whatsisname behind the spy stuff we're
going through.

Saturday morning. Nothing. I'd thought maybe he had family stuff to go do what
with his grandad coming back from out of town, but when I talked to his dad
he told me he thought Max had been with me. We made calls. Drove around, and
called the cops.

If anyone knows anything call, come by or something.

- Either Help Me or Get Out of My Way -

Post Author: Copper
Subject: Max

Just got off the phone with a bunch of the non-computer guys in club and they
don't know anything either but promised to keep eyes out and call if anything
drifts their way.

Til we know more of what's going on I want everyone here to start traveling
together, large groups where possible, and just try keeping an eye open for
anything or anyone that just doesn't seem right. Don't want people flipping
out and jumping at shadows, but if S grabbed Max then the game's changed
and I'm worried who else might be a target here.

Was there any sort of ransom note?

- 01 10 11 100 101 111 1000 1001 1011 -

07: Turncoat


[Note: The following segment came from a friend's notebook. It was given to me when some of the other staffers here found out I was going through my old highschool stuff and making things public. Not sure how accurate everything is, but the bare bones of it check out.]

Right when things were starting to look up again and life was starting to put itself back together I had to go get a kick to the gut. Max vanishing was bad enough on it's own, but it was worse for me because Everyone from the old board knew I was playing for the other team and a group of them thought if they beat me hard enough he'd magically show back up.

Not sure how long our 'chat' lasted, but it was interrupted by Venom and Blackbird. Later after my head stopped spinning they told me they were stopping by to sit down and talk see what I knew that might help. At the moment though all I knew was Blackbird had one of them in a armlock and was shouting at the other two to either back off or she'd dislocate his arm.

Was aware of Venom patting me down, looking me over, then carrying me inside. Pretty sure she was talking too but as soon as I got picked up the world started doing odd things around me.

When I woke Blackbird was gone and Venom was typing something up on my dad's Commtel unit. Keep telling him I could get a card for the apple that would let him do more than what that idiot box Ma Bell dumped in his lap, but he swears by it. Oh well. Asked what Venom was still doing here and tried to get out of bed.

Between helping me off the floor and helping me get a few bites of something lumpy and liquidish she explained her mom was a nurse and she was leaving a message for her work mailbox since she didn't know what floor she was working.

God. My English teacher would murder me for that. Funny what goes through your head when everything's hitting the fan.

Also. Real surprised the Luddites are catching on to the whole Commtel thing. Sorta worried the phone company won't want to update and upgrade the terminals as new stuff makes more possible, but hey if it'll help drag the dinosaurs into the modern age I'm all for it.

I'm writing all this after the fact. Way after the fact really. Wasn't til the next day I really felt like doing much and that's after Mama Venom doctored me. Blackburd's furious, but focused and has priorities. Copper's tearing himself apart trying to come up with a Hail Marry. My friends. I didn't want this. It was just supposed to be a little extra money to help out.

House full of nice things and my family's too busy screaming at itself to notice not a stick or switch of it is making them less likely to kill each other. Now because work turned out to be run by a scary crazy guy with more money than brains and either blind luck or something let him hire a bunch of people really good at what they do. I'm being watched. They'll read this.

Venom says it'll be alright. I want to believe her especially since I want to help clean this mess up. Tomorrow's supposed to be a group meeting. I'll try doing my talking then.

Nobody's taking me back in with open arms. Not much of a surprise there. I did recognize the three boneheads that roughed me over. They saw me. None of them left. Guess they thought they were with friends and me showing up would start everyone else on the 'hey let's beat this punk's head in' train.

Blackbird stood and shouted the whole place down. Sitting where I was it was hard to tell if anyone tried talking when she raised her voice but by the time she was done all was quiet. Then she started talking again.

'Most of you new punks don't know Steve except as that cranky guy that's been causing trouble and maybe is the reason Max is still gone. I've known him since middle school. Up til these pigs got their claws sunk in him he was one of the smartest most level guys I've known. You want to fight. I get that. I wanna bust heads too, but he's off limits. Those pigs. They're the ones you should go after. They ruined his life and have Max who knows where. Steve's gonna help try getting him back. So you want to throw down with him. You throw down with me.'

She then sat down and motioned to me like it was my turn at bat. God she was magnificent. I smiled to her then got up. What I told them was more or less the whole of my involvement. Writing it down here so there's a record. Sending a copy to Copper when I'm done so in case I'm next on the smash and grab list and police, FBI, or whoever needs details.

Everyone calls me Steve. That isn't my birth name. Forget where it came from but it's been a nickname since I could remember that my cousins would use. It's the name i gave 'Velocity Computing' when they offered me a job setting up a BBS for them. Hey I wasn't making any money and my mom had just cut me off to try spiting Dad.

It was a pretty easy job. Set up a multi-line system so the corporate drones could just phone in with any commtel terminal and work from home. It's Ma Bell. They want everyone using their stuff exactly for things like this. I tell 'em there might be some charges since anything outside of basic lookups and some 'sponsored listing' pages cost per minute to call. Boss tells me it's all right. He'll take care of Bell so long as I can give him a working system.

Takes me a couple weeks; first to get the board itself configured, then to run tests both from in-building calls then to local and finally long distance calls just to make sure everything works out.

I get paid cash in hand. Then this guy sits me down; nice suit, funny accent kind of like Boris from Rocky & Bullwinkle but a lot less. He asks me if I want to stay on help him do some personal work. I get panicked since there's this look he gives me that just scares the daylights out of me like he hasn't eaten in a month and I'm a huge stack of pizza.

He then start stalking. Says if I want my dad involved that's fine by him. I don't even have to leave home if I don't want because of the board I set up. All he wants me to do is find a bunch of computers. Gives me a list. Wants Those. Not ones like 'em. Those. A few classics like the Apple-1 my uncle got, but mostly stuff I'd never heard of or outright clones.

My job ended up being dial up boards. Browse their sale sections, and if there was anything on the list I'd then use Dad's terminal to phone in and leave the contact details. So far so good. I don't have to do anything that makes me uncomfortable.

Then I get wind Jet's looking for this oddball MSX console. Asks me if I'll keep an eye open for him since he's seen me ghosting through boards looking for stuff. We've known each other for long enough that I want to help the guy out even though my boss is supposed to have priority and that MSX is one he wanted.

I let Jet have dibs. He buys it. Happy times. Figure another will come on the market later and I can snag one for bossmonkey. A few days later I get a call. Get told to look out my front window. Turn to look and BAM a brick goes through the glass.

I'm screaming in the receiver some maniac smashed my window. Voice on the other end tells me, quite calmly, that my boss is unhappy with my work performance and that next time a conflict between work and friends happens I choose work or they hint the next thing sailing through will be a bomb.

Then to twist the knife to my gut I get told I have to get the console back from Jet. I'm given a stupid amount of money and given two rules. I couldn't tell Jet that I was working for somebody, and I had to have it by the end of the week. Jet didn't like my excuses, tried getting me to tell him more but I got it back.

Then when I get to the office Mike, or whatever his real name is, He gave me another job. He heard the chatter on the boards after Copper showed off his Nintendo Prototype and he demanded it. I told him Copper wasn't going to just sell it like everyone else has. I saw how he treated it when he showed it off and not a chance in hades of a sell.

So I had to watch as a couple heavies got sent out. They wanted me to stay where I could see them so I couldn't phone ahead. However even though I couldn't call out they still let me weasel around on the boxes they have. I don't know if this guy really believes what's in the disks I looked through or if he left those out so I could find them and just write him off as crazy. Either or I guess that still leaves me needing to help clean up.

Copper I know you're reading this. I am
going to send you files on Everything
I've seen of building security.
Everything. Also including a text dump
of the passwords to this guy's floppy
collection. I know you're going. I don't
know if you'll let me tag along, but
anything I can do to help make it right.

- So Says Steve -

08: Alone


[Note: I'm only just now feeling comfortable with sharing what happened when I was taken. Other than a few short sentences on the mess I hadn't really written much down before. So there's a great deal of hindsight and awareness of other things that'd been going on I wouldn't have at the time. Apologies for the shift, but I feel the added perspective is owed.]

When I woke up my head was hurting and I couldn't see where I was. For a subjective eternity everything sounded distorted and I couldn't think straight. Moving wasn't happening either because it felt like I was strapped down to whatever I was laying on. I wriggled and tried making noise. Panic was stomping common sense and good judgement into the dirt.

Voices again. Two people I couldn't see speaking in something I didn't know. More words, then in English, "You're awake. Good good. our boss wants words with you."

I told him his boss could do something that's probably anatomically impossible.

The man laughed. "You have spirit, this is good. Most who get gassed take days to recover. We'd hoped it wouldn't take so long for you to wake up. You know things." Somewhat pleasant tone to the man's voice. Never mind the accent he sounded conversational rather than business-like. "I know you have many questions, but it is best you rest. Food will be brought. Eat. Rest. We will talk and then you will go home."

I doubted it but at the time I was sick to my stomach and still more than a bit dizzy. Could feel movement. Heard something I'd later find out was an engine. After more time passed the same man picked up one end of whatever I was strapped to and wheeled me out of the back of the van. Tried getting a look around. For all I know we were halfway through Nevada, or they could have driven in circles for a few hours just to confuse me. Either way this place wasn't near anything. There was a high fence topped by barbed wire, and more than a few cameras

Dizzy and sick to my stomach as I felt I still could put a few figures together. "You know if your boss wanted to talk to me he could have just asked. There's a lot I'd like to find out and we could've done it all without the whole kidnapping thing."

The man wheeling me up a wheelchair ramp laughed. "This is true, but my boss has a way he wants to do things and won't pay unless they are done how he wants." Was that exasperation I heard in his voice? My Pusher's partner was ahead of us opening doors in our way til the three of us were in an elevator where they flanked the dolly, or whatever I was on.

Goons A and B swapped positions when the elevator dinged and I was wheeled out. No more talking from either, not even if I brought up how their whole wannabe spy stuff was figured out by a kid with a C in social studies. Nothing. Not til they'd wheeled me into an office and sat me upright in front of an office desk with the person on the other side facing away from me.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting when he turned around, but if this was S I was less than impressed. Balding. Glasses. He seemed to keep in decent shape though so point in his favor. "It has been given to me to understand you are not liking how I conduct my business here yes?" His accent was thick and there was a way about how he spoke that felt wrong. Looking back it's obvious English wasn't a first language.

Can't say what this guy had planned for me, even with the advantage of hindsight, but I remember not liking the look in his eye. "No Comrade. No I don't." It took effort but if this guy could play at being nice then so would I even though I was scared out of my mind and at some level was afraid I was going to end up like that guy on vacation that lost a lung and a kidney.

He raised an eyebrow and motioned for me to go on. "Well first there's the obvious fact I'm strapped to a roll-y trolley thing." My mouth worked for a few moments to try getting a little more moisture. "Plus there's the fact you seem to almost want people to come snooping around what with the whole night-time meets, guys in black suits and the like. I know I'm just some punk kid to you but if I can see you're about as boneheaded as a dinosaur that flunked preschool what're the cops going to think?"

Comrade Mike glowered at me. "Child you really have no idea do you?" Hooboy villain monologue. "You really think I'm trying to not be found?" He got up then and opened a drawer. For a moment I thought he was going to pull a gun, but instead it turned out to be a pack of cigarettes. After he'd lit up he blew smoke at me. "I'm going to look forward to the look on your grandfather's face when he comes to fetch you."

At the time I thought He'd sent a ransom note to the effect Grandad had to personally deliver whatever money was being asked. Then I'd tried figuring out Why. Comrade Mike stood there waiting as I tried figuring it out.

"Look." My voice trembled, "You probably figured out who he was from raffling through my floppies."

"Good. Very good." Mike motioned encouragingly for me to continue. "You are perhaps smarter than you look yah? Go on."

"OK." The hamsters in my head were working double-time so I could put pieces together. "You're probably wondering how I knew you made copies of my journal. First I'd noticed someone had thumbed through my floppies. Very hard to notice if it were most people because it was all arranged neat and tidy like the rest of the house. Nice touch that really real classy."

"Thank you." Mike smiled slightly. "I would like to think I am not a complete barbarian."

My throat picked that moment to go dry. "Look you got a coke around here? Tea? I know you're not gonna untie me but-" Mike had gotten a can of something from a mini-fridge in the corner and offered a straw. "Thanks."

When he took the drink away I continued. "I've got an internal clock on my box at home that adds an access date stamp. Most people wouldn't have bothered checking, not if it'd been just a random break-in. Thing is I'd already gotten on edge from all the fuss and noise so I went through everything, made notes, and the last file accessed was a report I'd done last month for English class on my grandad. So. Comrade." I tried meeting the man's gaze. "Wha'd he do to you that made you want to go kidnap me? I only ask since I'd like to know why I'm tied up and all."

Mike laughed soft. "Oh very good child very good. Given the company you keep and your family at large I likely shouldn't be this impressed." He got behind me and started wheeling me elsewhere in the building. " I have read your file, which includes some of your journals. Really I am sorry but time grows short for me and it isn't as if our two governments cooperate enough for me to make a phone call for the supplies I need."

Again I was in the elevator; this time with Mike telling his story. "It would seem strange that I have interest in your home computer market I'm sure. After all for what I've paid for the various pieces to my puzzle I could have bought several mainframes. Possibly even a Cray."

Ding. I was wheeled into a well lit room with rows on rows of monitors, keyboards, and a mosaic of displays that formed a giant monitor against the far wall. "Wow. You saw War Games and just had to make a copy of Crystal Palace for yourself?"

I'd meant that as a way to lighten the mood; what with me being tied down and kidnapped and all. However once Mike's laughter died down his face grew serious. "I'll admit the rows on rows of terminals are a bit redundant since I only have a small handful I trust enough to work this level but other than the fact this facility controls nothing other than itself you have come remarkable close to the heart of why. As you say a picture is worth a thousand words yes?"

"Wait. You want to try making JOSHUA real?" I'll admit the idea, if it could work, was as fantastic and awe inspiring as it is Now that I know actual AIs are out there somewhere. This was, however, the 80's, and there's no way the hardware of the time could have done it. No way. The first I know of needed specialist hardware that took up an entire power plant's worth of energy and had to be nitrogen cooled just to function.

Mike nodded slow and typed a sequence into the nearest terminal. "Unfortunately even with the latest and most powerful machines either of our people have made something is missing. So I took a different approach."

On the giant display at back there flashed wireframe images of a brain that then splintered apart into sections; stem, that thing in back, the big mass of grey wrinkly stuff. Each labeled. "My reasoning is that the human mind does not consciously control breathing, or heart beats, or sneezes. Nor does the hind-brain control thought, logic, reason, or any of the other higher functions. So I started looking into the feasibility of having a computerized mind that follows a similar approach."

As it turns out the concept itself isn't a bad one. Pretty sure he wasn't the first to come up with it either. "So what do mass produced consoles have to do with all this? You would need specialized chips that have hard-coded Everything from the ground up to make this work."

"Indeed." Mike sounded satisfied with himself as the displays blanked then started displaying a layout of what I guess is where we were, complete with little dots showing where we're standing. "The lower functionality actually works quite well. It is not good enough though to have a dog-brain the size of a building that consumes millions of watts to function." His laugh was bitter. "I follow plans a madman lays out that call on chips from a hundred computers and it works flawlessly. Yet the intelligent part that learned well educated men have toiled on since the sixties does nothing. NOTHING!"

I wobbled when he rounded on me. "That is where your grandfather will help me!"

My eyebrow raised. "He's a War vet, not a scientist man... How would him coming in one way or another help? Even going with the idea he won't just bust you into next month for trussing me up like a turkey."

He laughed. It was loud and long, and I was sure in that moment he was quite mad. "So much you know... yet you know nothing of the true nature of things. He will help me."

"Or I'll die right?" If I was sure to die why not just be blunt about it. "Or you'll start breaking and cutting and crushing til he agrees to try doing whatever for you."

"No." Mike's grin matched the madness in his laughter. "I'll start killing everything that matters to you. Your friends. That waif of a girl you're smitten with. I will start breaking them so you will do the talking for me. He'll listen to you child he'll-"

There were more words. He kept talking but once he said he was going to try hurting my friends. Hurting her just so he could try doing something off in crazy land. There was nothing there but the sound of my heart beating. My temper is a controlled thing. It has to be because the few times it's come close to being let out I've hurt people. I don't want to be angry. I don't like me when I'm angry.

He definitely wouldn't. Not when I got free.

09: Monster


[Note: Used with permission from the Peter (Pyotr) Vagin Memorial Library. I wish I had more than just his notes to work with but Age catches up with everyone. He probably knew I'd get around to something like this anyway since everything related was copied and marked as mine to do with as I wished.

Also I have taken some liberties when translating from Russian. The grammar doesn't exactly line up and I'm sure more than a few people will call me out for not simply giving a straight copy of the Cyrillic. With all respect due to anyone that feels this way; chill. I'm going for layperson readability. The original texts are available to on request and It would be poor of me to not include at least a few things people writing books nitpicking /my/ book to have to work with.]

Eugene,

Your Grandson is in trouble friend. I have exerted what influence I still have and have called in several favors. However while those that had come to aid him have been allowed to leave my handlers have ordered me in the most polite way possible that Max is to remain in our custody for the immediate future. I personally am convinced he means well and he has a good spirit. However like we were at that age he is more than a handful so you will appreciate my situation. If you could call John, or maybe exert a little pressure of your own maybe we can head this off before it becomes a media event.

I do not know if this will hurt or help your efforts but I have included my own observations of what has happened along with what I feel are pertinent segments of interviews made.

Your friend,
Peter

[Note: To keep confusion to a minimum I have substituted written designations 'subject 1', 'subject 2', etc with the names/handles I have used throughout this account.]

Interview Segment: Blackbird
You want me to just talk or what? I've had a real long night and you're kindof creeping me out with the whole huge russian with no sense of humor thing.

It is very important that we know what exactly happened miss. There are only a few of us and it is best if we do this as fast as possible so memory doesn't fade.

OK, but for the record it's setting bells off in my head you're not letting us call home or anything. None of us are adults so if you're going to charge that [Expletive Deleted] that kidnapped my boyfriend you're just going to waste your time, or are you just going to disappear him off to Siberia or wherever?

Allow me to, as you say, 'level with you'; we plan on putting this man to work for us. He will be well cared for and supplied so he may continue his research. He will not be allowed to roam free and those that he has stolen from will be compensated for their missing property and any undue trouble they have been put through.

[Blackbird made a disgusted face while this processed.] So long as he won't be bothering us again...

Interview Segment: Copper
Steve got us to where he thought they were keeping max. Place didn't look like it had much other than a fence on the outside, but there were dogs raising all sorts of noise when we pulled up in the van Aku borrowed from his older brother. Steve had some doctored steaks he'd thrown over that were supposed to knock the mutts out. Was a little worried he'd messed up and put too much of whatever in but we didn't have any other ideas.

While we waited Steve went over the place's layout and a few rules once we got in. Always stay in groups of three and don't just mindlessly trash things we find. In fact he came down pretty heavy on Venom for suggesting we set fire to the place even though he's kinda got it bad for her. Something about not being what we're here for and-

Interview Segment: Blackbird
-if they could say we had directly monkied with the floppies, printouts, and whatever they could throw out any proof we weren't trying to frame this guy up for kidnapping as a smoke and mirrors thing for us being here to rob the place blind.

There were only enough of us for three groups and each group leader had a walkie talkie so we could keep in touch. Silly and what you can get off the shelf for cheap isn't nearly as good as what you have to spend a few hundred per handheld on, but it's amazing what you can do to make them suck less if you know your way around electronics and a few hours of prep time; which was more or less everyone there.

Copper's group took the upstairs. My group was going to take the ground floor, and Steve was going to take the basement. We were supposed to radio in every fifteen minutes or if we spotted anything like cops showing up, or people with guns, or whatever didn't look right.

My group didn't have any luck so we made like we were supposed to be there and hung out at the front desk. There was a terminal there but I didn't know the commands for anything so til the screaming started it was pretty dull.

Interview Segment: Copper
We took the stairs up since if anyone was there we didn't want to get trapped in an elevator and it was only a two story building so not like we'd have a whole lot of stairs to go up anyway.

After we looked around and found nobody up there Venom stopped me from sitting down at one of their computers. Really I'd just sat down because I wanted a sitdown but she freaked. Started busting my case about touching things and possably screwing everything up and then Steve was screaming on the walkie he'd found Max and we had to start running.

Interview Segment: Steve
I sorta knew what was waiting for us in the basement level when we went down. Mike didn't tell me in so many words what all the gear was supposed to be for but I'd heard snippets and since I was their troubleshooter I had free run of what files they had. Interesting stuff really, but to me it was all high concept with no real backing by reality and Mike had already convinced me he was more than a bit crazy.

We weren't supposed to be able to go down there. The button to get to the basement needed a key, but Icewind had tools and we were down there anyway. We heard Max screaming. It wasn't torture screams. It was pissed off I'm-going-to-rip-your-spine-out-through-your-nose rage screaming. I thought I heard Mike say something, he sounded worried then- I don't know what it means. [Steve says what loosely translates to 'God Please Save Me.]

Then I heard gunfire. Mike was running at us, clearly scared out of his mind. I tackled him and demanded to know what was going on.

'He'll kill me.' He screamed while trying to get away. 'I hit the wrong button now he'll kill me.'

There was a loud noise coming from the door Mike had slammed closed before running our way. It was a heavy looking door. Deadbolt, tempered glass with chicken wire in the glass. Looked like it'd take ripping it out of the frame to force open.

[Steve gave a rueful smile.] Turns out that's exactly what Max did. We didn't know what was going on but we had Mike and if we got up he'd have gotten away so we had a pretty good view of the door as it bowed towards us then fell over. When we saw Max I think we collectively [soiled] ourselves. Can't say if it was fear, or if anger adds to you but I remember him looking seven feet tall and pissed off enough to rip Mike's arms off and beat him to death with 'em.

So I let mike go. He ran for the elevator and Max ran after. There was another impact noise, guess where Max punched the elevator door, and lots of swearing.

I radioed Blackbird Mike was coming her way and Max was going to kill him.

Interview Segment: Blackbird
We had Mike tied up by the time Max got to us. He...

He shoved past us. Picked Mike up. and threw him out of the front window to the building.

There wasn't anything I could say that would make him turn around. Believe me I tried everything to get his attention but he kept kicking that poor man around screaming incoherently til the dogs attacked.

Don't know if it was him being worked up enough to move that fast, or if the dogs wre still doped up but he flung them around like they were stuffed animals. I would've been impressed if I wasn't scared out of my mind.

Then you guys showed up.

Interview Segment: Pyotr
When we came on the scene the boy was in the middle of the parking lot beating the life out of Mike. One of my subordinates had started toward the scene when I stopped him. It was clear by watching how this boy swatted the guard animals away that he would be too much for any of my men to handle, so I confronted him.

I am old yes, but where he had me in youth and potentially strength I had a lifetime of fighting experience. Even so I am told at least two of my ribs are cracked, possibly even broken.

He fought like a wild animal. Raw strength and rage with no finesse. There were other people watching on, a young girl shouted something to me. 'Max Stop. It's over. Stop. We can go home now. Please.' [Pyotre made a dismissive gesture] to him it was like so much background noise to be ignored.

As we fought he slowed down, his cries growing horse, his body tired. Then when I had him pinned to the ground he blinked and looked at me with eyes clear of whatever rage had gripped him.

'Uncle. What are you doing here?'

I must make it clear I have not told Max what it is I do for a living. He only knows that I am from the USSR and that his grandfather and I are friends of a sort. Though we are not blood relation I have watched him grow up. Seen that he would take after my friend Eugene and have, in some ways, felt he was the child my daughter never could have.

Interview Segment: Max
Mike's going to live. You've no idea how much that means to me.

Trust me nephew. I know. Always having to keep a tight lid on your temper. Always being a few steps ahead of everyone in sports. Oh yes. I know how it feels. We are, unfortunately, going to have to talk of such things another day.

Please tell me whatever happens that they're going to get to go home. What happened with me would have happened no matter what. [Hurt sounding.] He was going to kill her. I couldn't let that happen.

I know. All will be taken care of, but it will be an interesting few weeks for you I think. Rest. I just wanted to be the one to let you know that everything will be made right. You deserve that much at least.


Coda

Everyone else got to go home later that night. I had to get a couple bullets pulled out of me and get stitched up. Never realized were there and had to have a long heart to heart with 'Uncle' Peter and later my granddad. I'm special. OK fine Everyone is special, but me being able to outdo everyone. It's something genetic and even if I'd spent my whole life stuck in front of a TV I would've been stronger and in better shape than most people that exercise eight hours a day all week.

It didn't sink in then, not really, what that would mean for me but when I was finally allowed to go home I didn't care that I'd almost punted a guy's head off or managed to go Hulk on a reinforced steel door. Halloween was coming and Me, Copper, Steve, Blackbird, Venom, and even a few of the teachers had a theme for our costumes that year.

Finally got to wear the long coat I got before school started, and Steve made a near perfect Deckard. We had fun basically randomly acting out bits of the movie in the halls or improving stuff on the fly. Sure Steve had to use a nerf gun instead of that fancy pistol that could shoot black holes through people but we had fun. Steve was part of the gang again, and we were going to have a club meet. Bonfire, dancing, skating, all that awesome jazz.