AND, I’M BACK.
No, for real, I’m actually back. It’s been a long time coming. Between real-life misadventures such as losing the first floor of my house in a hurricane. Relocating and accepting what would become the job from hell. To being diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders in November of 2020. Life has been, shall we say, hectic. And let’s not get started on Co-vid.
Since changing employers in June 2020 and establishing a healthier work-life balance, my desire and ability to return to creative pursuits have grown. I realize now that part of the issue was that I was actually sick. It wasn’t just the hellscape I was working in. Thanks to modern medicine and a boatload of prescriptions each day, I’m doing better. And although there’s no cure for autoimmune disorders, the daily prescriptions regime has returned my health to an even keel. Today, I feel more like myself than I have for a very long time.
What excites me most about feeling back to normal, is the ever-present desire to write and be creative. It wasn’t until I felt better and I’d escaped the pressure-cooker job that I realized how much joy was being sapped from my life.
THE NEW SHOW FORMAT.
An inability to finish my stories on a more regular basis is the main reason I stopped doing content. I dislike starting stories that I don’t finish as much as I’m sure followers dislike reading them. Struggling to find the time to breathe, let alone write, was a huge challenge.
A couple of months ago I hit on an idea for a cadence I believe will work. One that allows me to focus on my writing, which is how I arrived on this adventure. While continuing to share game commentary, how I started blogging. I’m moving into fixed seasons where I write all of the primary content in advance and add timely commentary for that week. With so much entertainment delivered in seasons, I figured people would understand that type of schedule.
All of the primary content for Casual Citizen Season Two is already in the can. I’ve written over thirty thousand words of fiction and ten thousand words of game commentary, that I’m excited to share. So, without further delay, welcome to Casual Citizen and Nightbus Season Two, Episode One.
BRING ON THE LIVE EVENTS.
The growth we’ve seen in recent months around C.I.G.’s ability to deliver timed events is encouraging. They haven’t been without issues. It’s alpha. Baby steps and all that. But I enjoyed them regardless. The standout for me is the Xenothreat. It’s the first time in a long time I’ve been excited to log into the game. Knowing without a doubt that there was content I could participate in without an excessive amount of sandbox-style planning.
I’m no longer excited by the various ship expos. I have more than enough ships. Especially ones that are flight-ready but lack their intended mechanics. Seeing more ships no longer holds any appeal. I want updates on the ships I’ve already backed. See progress toward what’s needed to deliver their mechanics. Beyond that, the shine of new ships has worn off.
I’ve mined for long enough. A profession I don’t plan to do in the released game. Even though I feel the mechanics have been done extremely well. I have no interest in bounty or cargo hauling. And box deliveries were broken for so long that I wrote that off as more frustrating than fun. Plus there’s little to gain from doing them.
Live Events, no matter the duration is motivation. Even when it includes mechanics I wouldn’t normally do. Like combat or grabbing boxes and hauling them to a location. It’s the context and server-wide participation that make it exciting to do. It’s the story that surrounds the doing. The scope and scale of being bigger than just me or a small group of others. It’s the largess that reminds me of open-world bosses in Guild Wars 2. Alterac Valley from World of Warcraft. Scenarios from Warhammer Online.
Guaranteed active content is why I’m looking forward to Theaters of War. Opportunities for quick-hit action. Versus the random roaming around getting a whole lot of nothing done. I like where Star Citizen is heading with the capabilities to host these events. I look forward to when there are more varied mechanics involved. But for now, I’ll take it.
I don’t always need events to be multi-layered or contain specialized mechanics. I didn’t bother to visit the showroom during the most recent ship expo. I skipped visiting the Javelin. Instead, I pulled out the 890 for a cruise with friends to watch the fireworks. Lacking swimwear, we stripped to our skivvies. And enjoyed a trip over to Microtech. We lined up the ship for a great view of the fireworks. Of course, shenanigans were involved. ChewedToy, the streamer I was with at the time, was tracked to our location by one of his viewers.
They arrived in a Mercury Starrunner and a tonk. Why wouldn’t we try to airdrop the tonk onto the 890’s hangar? I mean, what else would we do under the circumstances? Many deaths later, which were saved by the bell due to the available medbay. Eventually, 890 ran out of fuel. And we all fell down. Lots of laughs all the way around brought on by a spectator event.
I need more of these from simple spectator activities. To those with explicit mechanics that require group participation. Here’s hoping Xenothreat and Ninetails arrive with 3.14.
What are your thoughts on Live Events? Have you enjoyed them? Is it game-play you’d like to see more or less of?
FINDING YOUR PLACE IN THE VERSE.
I’ve been playing MMO games for over twenty years. I’ve played every triple-A title targeted for North American gamers. My long-time blog, Mystic Worlds, has a list of titles I’ve played and written about across the period of time. Among my habitual behaviors, is that I will eventually stumble into a place that feels like home for me in that game. It either strikes my fancy of where my character would live if they lived in the world for real or it speaks to a character from one of my stories and where their adventure would take place.
It will become a place that I visit frequently when I simply want to exist in the game. Gaze out upon that view and imagine or write a story. Sit back and chat with friends in-game or a guild voice chat server. Other times I’ll head there while working and that view becomes my window scape. And in every MMO to date, I’ve found that place.
In World of Warcraft, it’s the Herbalist’s hut in Red Ridge Mountains. Floating over Stormwind when flying mounts arrived. In Guild Wars 2, it’s the Cornicpian farm in Gendarren Fields. Marianople in Arc Age. Qeynos Harbor in Everquest 2.
I always knew it would be Crusader in Stanton. The Ghost in the Shell of Arc Corp is cool and makes me feel like watching that or the Blade Runner 2040. In the same way that I’m fascinated with deep space, I enjoy techno and steampunk. But nothing is home to me like rolling fields or whimsy. The palette, open spaces, flowering trees, and sweeping lines of the platforms, are nearly fantasy in space.
I haven’t found my specific spot yet but I will. It’s my new port of call. I used to float above Area 18 in a Caterpillar with all of the cargo doors open. Better view than any cockpit or vantage point on the 890 Jump. But with it being Crusader and all, I’ll rest peacefully in the Captain’s quarters aboard the 600 I when I’m alone. I’ll save the fuel-guzzling 890 for special occasions.
What’s your port of call in Stanton? What do you think of Orison?
What I feel compelled to do is write. Whether it’s retelling the tales of my gaming misadventures, creating guides and sharing tips, writing in-game fiction, or spinning my own worlds, writing is what’s dearest to my heart. I’ve been blogging about my gaming adventures for over fifteen years on my Mystic Worlds blog. And I still harbor the dream of being a published fiction author.
What’s new for me is audio and video. Recording and editing audio takes time. As does combing the audio narration with music and visuals to create a nicely produced show. All the while, I’m usually thinking, I could be writing or relaxing.
I’ve recorded two shows recently that never made their way into episodes. Writing is writing – so it’s always good practice but a shame they never made their way into production. So where’s the middle ground? You just listened to it. I’m using text-to-speech voice cloning. I’ve scribed to software that over time, learns my speech pattern and turns my narration into a digital asset I can use to automatically narrate text. It’s not perfect and is a bit uncanny valley at the moment. It sounds like me. Some of the cadences are correct. But it bears the hallmarks of a robotic voice. This is an experiment to see if audiences can tolerate this compromise for those who prefer audio to reading the episode transcript and fiction posted directly on my website.
What are your thoughts? Is this something you’d continue to listen to versus there only being a text version?
Welcome to Alysianah’s Star Citizen Night Bus.
Night Bus is the part of the show where I feature in-game fiction I’ve written inspired by the universe and mechanics being built by the talented Cloud Imperium Games. As a long-time backer, I’m awed and inspired by the vision.
The short story collection featured this season is Pod City, The Fallen. It contains a cast of characters and settings that will eventually be interjected into my own IP. A universe that I’ve been developing simultaneously. Without further ado, here’s Shifting Sands Part One of Two.
The Star Citizen Night Bus is exiting the station. Please stow all personal items. The transport is departing in three. Two. One.
SHIFTING SANDS PART 1 OF 2
At a glance, it was hard to distinguish the pilot from the cockpit. His retro-reflective optical camouflage flight suit was the best money could buy.
The accompanying Kevlar XI undersuit fits like a second skin. Viper, from CosmoGen, was the closest legal approximation of the Titan Master set produced exclusively for the United Empire of Earth military.
John sagged back into the pilot’s seat when he reached his assigned hangar. The ship’s vertical take-off and landing thrusters roared to life as they rotated downward to support his descent. The spacecraft vibrated violently beneath him as he gradually lowered it into the hangar. Overhead, he watched as the bay doors closed, eclipsing the red glow of the hangar’s external location markers. John arched his back and rotated his shoulders. His eyelids felt like sandpaper scraping across his eyeballs. “Need to give up these twenty-hour shifts,” he thought to himself. It wasn’t like he needed the money.
John powered down the ship and popped open the canopy. He swung his body out of the cockpit and onto the side ladder in a single fluid motion. His muscles screamed at being made to expand after being in one position for so long. A few rungs from the bottom, he hopped down. “Much better,” he moaned as he bent over at the waist and shook out his legs. John used the mini datapad on his wrist to close the canopy and lock the ship.
The hangar John was assigned was 500 by 300 meters. It was designed to house four Hawk Mark V ships, side by side. John removed his helmet and pulled back the skull cap. Without it, his ears were instantly assaulted by the thunderous hum of the floor-to-ceiling life support system and localized gravity unit. The hangar, bored into the side of the asteroid known as Grim Hex, was self-contained in case of emergency. The smell of heated steel, lubricants, and neglected lavatories permeated every breath.
Owned by the failing Green Imperial Housing Exchange, the station was a defunct mining and refining facility drilled into a small S-type asteroid orbiting Yela. A decade passed its prime; Grim Hex now served as a civilian utility station. The hangar was empty, except for John’s ship, assorted crates, and random piles of tools on the floor. John took a slow walk around the spacecraft, examining the exterior. He knew from the ship’s status report it hadn’t sustained any substantial damage. Still, he wanted to see it with his own eyes.
The Hawk Mark V was a lightweight interdiction ship favored equally by bounty hunters and smugglers. Small and agile, it possessed an impressive arsenal of lethal weaponry and stealth tech. Shaped like a hawk, it boasted a retractable holding cell that fell from its belly. When the pod was extended, it looked like a hawk carrying its prey.
John walked over to the holding cell perched below the belly of his ship. He tapped on the exterior stasis panel to check the occupant’s vitals. The prisoner was stable, but the perp looked a little worse for the wear. It was unfortunate he’d insisted on being captured instead of surrendering. The abrasions on the right side of his face had stopped bleeding. Contrasted against pale white skin, the bruise on his cheekbone had darkened to a sickening blue-black with a purple halo. “Unnecessary shame,” John said out loud as he shrugged away concern. Fully sedated, the would-be smuggler was prepped for a smooth transfer.
John changed into civilian clothing. He secured his flight suit and accompanying accessories in one of the ship’s external storage compartments. Afterward, he sat on a nearby crate waiting for prisoner transport to arrive. Relaxed, he hummed to himself while browsing the local entertainment feeds on his datapad. He looked up when he heard footsteps echoing across the stone floor.
“My man, JJ,” a boisterous voice offered. He was tall and reedy, with olive-colored skin. The knit cap he wore off to the side of his bald head matched his dark gray jumpsuit.
“What’s up, kid?” John replied in kind as they bumped fists in greeting.
“How are the skies treating you?” Larry asked as he looked beyond John to the Hawk.
“Same as ever. Another day is another day,” John replied with a shrug.
Larry patted the underbelly of the Hawk. “I hear ya. One day, something like this will be mine.” He walked over to the holding cell and waited for John to join him there. “Sure you don’t want to transport this yourself?” Larry asked, gesturing to the prisoner.
“Pass. I prefer to fetch, not carry, especially if any sort of investigation is needed. Too many strings and paperwork for my blood.”
Larry laughed. “Can’t blame you and not going to complain. I appreciate getting a chit on the board today. Another paycheck and a few things on the side, and I can afford the Bounty Hunters license fee and few ship upgrades. ” He pointed to the external stasis pad. “May I?”
“Sure, he’s all yours now.”
Larry looked the prisoner over through the observation pane. The edges of the vertical head-to-chest window were frosted with condensation. “A few dents and scratches, but vitals look good.”
“He’ll tag out as a clean extraction. No worries there.”
“You still doing the seventy-thirty split for your transports?”
“That’s the deal. Pod hatch can be unlocked from the outside.” Pointing his thumb to the station entrance, John said, “I’ve got a couple of errands inside, then I need to leave the sector for a while to handle some personal business. Think you can be done in the next thirty minutes or so?”
“Easy. I have a hover cart, and my Argo transport is only one hangar over. I’ll have this one out of your hair in no time.”
“Great.” John extended his hand. Larry shook it. “Good doing business with ya, kid.”
“Same. Keep me in mind. Trying to get enough tosses for a step up the old ladder.”
“Sure, kid,” John said as he headed toward the station entrance.
John walked up to the bar and introduced himself. “John James, plain name, simple life.” Followed by “or you can call me JJ. I’ve no preference.” He reached across the bar toward Maggie and gave her hand a friendly shake.
Maggie immediately warmed to his disarming smile. Was it a trick of the light, or were his eyes sparkling? “On drugs more like,” she thought to herself. Shit! She might have to find someone else. But he’d come so highly recommended. She stepped from behind the bar to join him on the other side.
Maggie was in her late fifties with spiky gray hair that she kept long on the top and cut close on the sides and at the back. The lines on her face aged her beyond her years. But the fact that she’d been a beauty in her youth was evident.
Maggie and John were standing at the bar of Maggie’s Red Dragon pub, a popular hangout on the station. The public space was a large rectangular room divided into distinct sections. The decor was a cheap, gaudy attempt at the Asian Revival design that had been popular two or more decades ago. Circular black and white rice paper chandeliers with missing panels hung from the ceiling. Scarred wooden dragons acted as vertical beams; the blood-red paint chipped and faded. A rumpled threadbare gold and purple lotus patterned carpet was stretched across the floor.
Maggie pointed to the areas as she described them. “I’ve got just one room here. Pool tables there.” She pointed to the back left corner. “Holo gaming tables there.” Back right corner. Looking toward the front half of the room where they were standing, “Up here is all dining.”
John absentmindedly scratched at the three days of stubble on his chin as he listened. He didn’t say anything, so Maggie shrugged and continued. Then, pointing to a door centered on the wall behind the bar, she added, “Back there’s the kitchen, my office, and restroom.”
“Just the staff?” He asked.
“Yeah. Public restrooms too much trouble. I kept finding empty syringes and vials. That Black Widow crap smells like rotting flesh. Vagrants sleeping, couples fucking — you name it.”
John laughed. He could imagine that and worse. “Hex customers aren’t known for their manners.”
“Drug busts in the men’s room. Last of it for me. I walled it off from this side and renting it out as a commercial stall on the other. Young kid doing tats out of the space. Name’s Ronnie. Seems like a good sort. Pays on time. Customers welcome to eat, drink, ‘n party here. Take care of their other needs elsewhere.”
“I’ve walked through some of those elsewheres,” he joked. “No entrance on this side to the tat place?”
“Nah. This work is only for here.”
“Okay – sounds good. It’s really just the one room, then. The kitchen looks secure,” John said, pointing to the hand scanner on the door. “The glass opening bulletproof?”
“Yep, I had that installed last year. Is this the kind of job you take? I know you’re contract bounty, but I was told you take freelance stuff too. You came highly recommended; I just wasn’t sure if this is your thing.”
As was his custom, John diligently using one finger to tap notes into his datapad. Noticing that Maggie had stopped talking, he looked up. John’s smile was genuine and raised his cherub-like cheeks high on his face. Dark curly hair rested on his forehead just above a bushy unibrow that arched gently over gray eyes. “I do most any security work on contract if I can fit it in comfortably. If I can’t, I’ll refer you to someone.” He continued tapping in notes. “No point in stressing to squeeze it.” Looking up, he said, “Or stressing you if I can’t be here when needed.” His face back on his pad, “I like to keep it simple. Works best that way.”
Maggie nodded her head, still uncertain if that meant he was taking the job or not. “Okay…”
“John James, plain name, simple life, is my motto.”
“Uh, sure,” was all Maggie could think to say again.
He stopped taking notes and gave Maggie his full attention. “Looks like I can fit you in. Friday and Saturday from 22:00 Standard Earth Time until close. Which is?
“Right!” He walked away from Maggie to survey the space himself. “I’d like to install security cameras in each section.”
Maggie walked toward the holo tables where John had wandered over to. “How much does that cost?”
He chuckled. “My expense if we can agree, I can handle emergency calls when the place is quiet.” He saw her eyebrows arch up and smiled. “Only local emergencies. I discount for the time I’m out.” He sauntered back toward the front and leaned on the bar. “Cameras are my eyes and ears. Also, solid evidence if you insist on pressing charges. I prefer to work things out in other ways, but here, you’re the boss.”
With concern in her voice, Maggie asked, “You expect that to happen often? Being away during my shift?”
“Never know. Just a precaution. This is side work for me. Filler. Chasing smugglers and routing vagrants are my main meal ticket. I’m a senior security and bounty contractor for Crusader, Hurston, and a couple of others’ round here. I get first dibs, so that’s my priority. If I don’t take a gig, I lose it and eventually get bumped down the ladder for future work.” His tone was light. His voice even.
Maggie came to stand beside him. “I don’t know. I had trouble a few days back. It’s why I started asking around.” She wrung her hands. “It got pretty bad. I need those hours covered. The place is rowdiest then. The station’s been seeing more traffic lately. Some looking for work or to shop. Others for trouble.”
He reached out and took one of Maggie’s hands. He patted it like they were old friends. “I hear ya. Totally understand. I can shoot you a couple of names. Either one of these would do just as well.” He started humming as he reached for his datapad. His head bobbed slightly to the tune that only he could hear.
Maggie interrupted him. “Oh, I hadn’t realized. I just asked around about who’s best…”
“That’d be me,” he said absentmindedly. “Here we go. Try…”
Maggie cut him off. “Several said you’re the best and actually a good guy. Everyone said that — good guy.”
“I try, Maggie, dear, I do try. I keep it simple. Live right. It’ll be alright.”
“Well, if you think it will work…” She hesitated. “I’m up for giving it a try.”
He looked up and graced her with the full force of his penetrating gaze and smiled. “Trust me; it’ll be fine. I wouldn’t steer you wrong. Do no harm is my motto.”
Maggie caught her breath. “Well damn,” she thought to herself, “His eyes actually do sparkle. Even if they’re a bit red.” To him, she said, “Send the contract, and I’ll authorize it.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“Can you start this week?”
John extended his hand, and Maggie accepted it. “Sure can. Will install the cameras on my first shift.”
Maggie hoped she wasn’t blushing. John was too young for her, and he wasn’t even particularly handsome.” But there’s something about him,” she decided inwardly.
“Pleasure doing business with you with Mags. Off to my next stop.” John slid his hands into his jacket pockets and sauntered toward the exit. Then, over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t hesitate if something comes up before then. You’re one of John’s now. I’ll come as fast as I can.”
Maggie patted the sides of her hair and wiped gently at the edges of her eyes as if that could erase the heavy crow’s feet nesting there. “Okay. Sure. Thanks.” Her voice cracked on the last, and John gave her a knowing look. She turned away, her cheeks flaming.
“Now for the main event,” John said to himself. He checked the work queue on his pad to verify the habicube eviction request he’d received earlier was still active. It was. Maggie’s pub was at the back of Quad-D, one of the cleaner sections on the space station. The work request was in Quad-A, the worst area. The quickest way there would be through the tunnels.
The tunnels, as locals called them, are a network of secured maintenance routes burrowed into the giant asteroid turned industrial facility and housing exchange, now a self-governing powder keg. A few dozen legit merchants had stayed after the mining operation shut down. Having invested all their life savings in establishing businesses here, they couldn’t afford to pack up and run when Green Imperial had abandoned their industrial division. Without local administration onsite, the criminal element began infiltrating the station, trying to secure a foothold in Stanton.
Industrious opportunists stayed too. They squatted in available spaces, installed personal generators, and opened for business. Green Imperial retained control of the functioning self-service habicubes and continued to collect the revenue. But everything else on the station was an “as is” situation—no maintenance or repairs. When things stopped working on their now nearly defunct stations, they stopped working forever.
John whistled as he made his way to the closest maintenance tunnel. He unlocked the massive vault-like door with his access code. As the door retracted, he ducked his six-foot-four stocky frame through the opening. It was pitch black inside. He pulled out the flashlight he kept clipped on his belt.
With no maintenance crews on the station, lighting in the tunnels was spotty. A good distance ahead, John could see a pinprick of yellow light flickering. He panned his flashlight around him and forward to get his bearings. The jagged walls of the tunnel glistened with sweat. Rusted pipes overhead led the way forward. They hissed angry pockets of steam from cracked wounds. John started walking. His boots reverberated on the uneven craggy path.
Although it would be a reduced payout, John hoped the occupants had voluntarily vacated by now. The request was two hours old. He’d get his twenty-five percent fee for signing in at the location as evidence he’d checked it out. It would be easier for everyone if they were already gone.
Persuading vagrants to depart on their own was his preferred solution. Convincing would-be perps to vacate the area with words or by force was better than disabling, capturing, and hauling them to a Law Enforcement Station, or worse, planet-side for processing. “Everyday flying free above terraforma is a good day,” in his book.
Seasonal supplies and the mandatory annual physical required by his contract were the only times John went planetside. He was impatient, waiting at the medical facility, and fidgeted standing in line at the surplus warehouse where he bought non-perishable food supplies. John grunted, trying to maneuver around the other customers picking through clothing haphazardly tossed into “Final Sale” bins. If it wasn’t about his spacewear, he didn’t care overly much. Convenience was his priority.
John was almost at the other end now. He could see the door clearly from here. He pulled his Gemini L86 from the back waistband of his pants and checked the magazine. It was full. He reached down and grabbed a fresh magazine from the bottom right pocket of his cargo pants. He put away the flashlight. Just before stepping through the exit, he slid the pistol into his right jacket pocket and the fresh mag into his left.
He emerged from the tunnel and waited until the door locked behind him. Quad A was quiet. Fewer people than usual around. He wondered why but kept moving. He nodded to a group of guys decked out in grunge gear, hunched around a fist-sized glass vial full of red smoke. “Red Alice,” he mused to himself. A popular psychotropic drug that caused temporary paralysis when overdosed.
Just beyond the group of men was the grated metal staircase to the next level. John took the steps two at a time then turned left into Quad A’s shantytown. A dead-end of the lowest rate habicubes, fronted by illegal mylar tents. The smell of urine was overwhelming.
John coughed and covered his nose.
“Damn,” he muttered to himself. He hadn’t been on this side of the station for a while. With no merchants in the area, no one complained or paid for security to keep the place civil.
The cube he was looking for was second to last on the left. As he approached, he saw a bloody trail leading to the door. Drops of blood on the gray slab floor were like bread crumbs. A bloody palm smeared on a door frame. He eased his pistol out of his pocket and moved into the shadows along the opposite wall.
To Be Continued.