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A couple years ago, I was playing poker full-time during a gap year in college. I'm from Jersey (grew up like 15 minutes away from Anna, apparently - took the SAT's at her old high school) and was mainly grinding at Parx outside Philly and Borgata in AC when I wasn't playing online (thank god it's legal here, fuck Sheldon Adelson - wishing death on decrepit old Jews like Kissinger who have receded into the shadows long after their damage has been done is usually weak shit, but I'd laugh if Adelson caught one in the dome), but I was pretty active in the Central Jersey home game scene. One of my good friends was a home game dealer at the time and started working at this juicy game consisting solely of ex-convicts who met up twice a week to lose their drug money to each other. He'd gotten the gig through a connection with one of the game runners who he'd been selling stolen iPhone parts at Rutgers for and told me to drop by since they were always looking for new players. He said the game was "shady" and told me to bring as little cash as possible as there'd be a non-zero chance I got robbed but gave me no details beyond that. I show up to the game for the first time, hosted in the upstairs of run-down chiropractic office off Route 1, and "fish out of water" doesn't quite do it justice. I'm a sandy-haired twink, 135 pounds soaking wet, and I waltz into this place where everyone has done 5+ years (verbalized by at least three of them, my friend told me pretty much everyone had a record, usually narcotics charges with some domestic abuse sprinkled in) wearing salmon shorts and a button-down. Still, everyone was very cordial, happy to see a new player. Among the cast of characters playing was one of the hosts, an ex-DI defensive tackle who wore the same barbecue sauce-stained wife beater to every game while draped in what looked like 20 pounds of diamond jewelry and rolled up each night in a different Audi A6. There was also "Shorty", a wicked nice guy who'd been wheelchair-bound for over 20 years after taking 5 shots from a Tec-9 for saving his little cousin from getting his shit pushed in (whenever he was dealt 9 5 in Hold' em, after the hand he'd go "man, '95. The year my daughter was born and the year I got shot." which I got him to elaborate on that first night). There was Bri, a woman in her late 30's with an awful weave who'd lose exactly $300 every game in quick $50 increments, always seething on her bustout hand, cursing out the dealer and occasionally throwing chips at them (didn't know why they let her back every game since she brought so little to the game, but it was a very Snot Boogie-esque moment, if you're into The Wire). The only other white person there outside of my friend was "Big D," a paunchy woman in her 40's who'd gone to jail for beating her cheating husband with a baseball bat (omg queeeeeeen slayyyyyy). I started going most Wednesdays since the casinos were usually slow that night and the Omaha game they ran was very fat. I didn't speak much, and I was mostly known for being a "serious player" and for my ability to snarf down a penne vodka tray faster than "Big Anthony" despite having the effete physique of a John Singer Sargent portrait subject. One night, I'm a few Millers deep (people tolerate you draining thousands from their game better if you're not stone sober all the time) and they started bumping some tunes, not super common at home games but the host was in the mood for it. As I'm sitting there stimming with my chips, my ears perk up when I hear the ethereal melody of "Life's a Bitch" fade in. As an autistic backpacker proto-fantanofag whose music taste was birthed out of the annals of 2011 /mu/, all those Illmatic verses are practically etched into my hippocampus. I start mouthing the conversation between Nas and AZ at the beginning, and Shorty sees me as I say "cause we spendin' these Jacksons, the Washingtons go to wifey, you know how that go" and tells the table "yo, look." AZ's legendary verse begins and I drill it. 'Visualizing the realism of life in actuality / fuck who's the baddest, a person's status depend on salary..." and the rest seamlessly leaks out of my grapefruit. The whole room erupts out of bewilderment that this skinny nerd just nailed such an immaculate verse, and they're saying "keep going, keep going" during the chorus. I do a clean run of Nas' oft-overlooked second verse and the host is out of his seat yelling at this point as Olu Dara's cornet gently glides us to the end of the track. He goes "let's see him do another one" and the game is de facto paused at this point (very rare as it stops the collection of rake) and turns on "The World Is Yours," very fitting as the next track on the album. We collectively sing the chorus and then I'm solo when the first verse hits - "I sip the Dom P watchin' Gandhi 'til I'm charged, then / Writin' in my book of rhymes, all the words past the margin" powerful enough lines to carry me through the rest of it. When we get to the third verse, Shorty notices me skip a word in "I need a new nigga for this black cloud to follow / ‘Cause while it's over me it's too dark to see tomorrow" (Jesus, who hasn't felt that at some point?) and at the end of the track, gets his hand on my shoulder and gives the proclamation "anybody who can spit Nas like that can say nigga." The game restarts and I'm asked for an encore, so I do "N.Y. State of Mind", a fortunate ordering since it has by far the highest n-word density of the three. I briefly stumble over "45’s and gauges, MAC's in fact / Same niggas will catch you back-to-back, snatchin' your cracks and black," a difficult string of exact rhymes, but they're equally impressed. The light-skinned drink runner grabs me another Miller and they transition to listening to All Eyez On Me, disappointed I don't have the same proficiency in Pac. Stopped going to the game when I went back to school. Hope they're still drinking and throwing cards around, they were some cool people. TL; DR: I can say the n-word because the Dionysian transcends all cultural boundaries.
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…9
Continuing... “I say that you’re way the fuck out of line, Chuckles. Are you an educated, experienced, fully licensed and internationally renowned master blaster?” I asked. “No, but…” he tried to continue. “But nothing, Scooter.” I said, “What, other than your insane xenophobia and nationalism, causes you to come to such unfounded, not to say stupid, conclusions?” He looked down at the deck. Evidently, he was not used to being challenged in such a manner. He realized he walked face-first into a metaphorical wood chipper. “I’m waiting for your answer, pally.” I continued. Still nothing. He was either deep in thought or ill at ease from newly soggy undergarments. “Want to know why I chose what I did? Fine, meet back here in 15 damn minutes.” He looks at me with a most perplexed, and ignorant, look on his face. “Dax, Cliff? I need you.” I say. We go back to the weapons locker and I explain my idea. “Let’s load a case of typical, TYPICAL Chinese-made dynamite. Then let’s load a case of American C-4. Be very careful with that leaky Chinese shit. Wait one. I’ll do it if you want and you can handle the C-4.” I say. “Ah, Rock; yeah. We’d appreciate it. You being the Pro from Dover, after all.” Cliff agrees. “No worries”, I say, “I got this. You make me up a nice, tightly packed case of C-4. For demonstration purposes.” I find a near-empty case of dynamite and begin to judiciously fill the thing with random samples of shitty and leaky Chinese manufactured and Korean not-too-well-cared-for dynamite. This stuff was so incredibly shitty and poorly manufactured that even when leaking and nasty, it was nowhere near as dangerous as its Western counterpart. It was loaded with so much and many interstitials, like sawdust, diatomaceous earth, literal horseshit, and shredded newspaper, the nitro denatured itself to some degree as it oozed out. Plus, in the non-climate controlled weapons locker; the high humidity, salt air, and poor circulation from the small open grate facing the sea, the nitro had desensitized somewhat and evaporated. It left only sticky, thin, fly-ridden films rather than the usual ‘waiting for a good reason to explode’ puddles. It was in no way as twitchy as that locker back in Nevada. Oh, but be assured, it was still a shit show. If I really wanted to, I could blow myself, this boat and all occupants into the next dimension rather easily, but it was nothing like that old locker back in that disused Nevada mine. I still needed to be scrupulously careful as there could potentially be puddles of the pale yellow, viscous liquid explody stuff, instead of the thin films I was mostly finding. Either way, it required caution and judiciousness. Nitro’s twitchy as fuck and the last thing I need is a dropped nail, blasting cap, or hunk of the rotten box falling into an errant nitro wet patch… Extra attention was exercised. Dax and Cliff are halfway through, and I’m still picking through the leaky, smelly bundles. “Next time”, I mused to myself, “I‘m writing in a ‘Handling fucked-up explosives”-clause in my contract. No matter how much I’m being paid for this, it ain’t enough…” We find a couple of expendable, dry-rotted ‘life preserver’ floaty-rings, upon which we secure both cases of explosives. They’re tethered with a rope and primed with a number of blasting caps. I let the head local Korean crank examine both to ensure that I’m not trying to pull a fast one. He did not notice the 3-pound bag of Tannerite (an impact-actuated explosive) I snuck in the middle of the box of Chinese TNT. “Now. Satisfied that they’re equal?” I asked. “Nothing fishy here. Just dynamite in bundles, with caps. Then, over here, C-4 blocks with cap. OK?” He was satisfied; but only after letting a couple of the shiny suit squad check as well. “Well”, I smirked,” So much for your ‘covert observation’, asshole.” This guy was DPRK secret service or equivalent. “Holy cold-pack cheese-food product fuck”, I cogitate, “They are so goddamned suspicious”. I ask Dax to go over to the pilothouse and borrow the mauled AK-47 I saw hanging on the bulkhead there. They keep it for run-ins with cranky sharks, walruses, and lovesick blue-footed boobies evidently. “OK, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll float each out, and I‘ll trail with demolition wire. Once we’re a few hundred meters out, you can press the big, shiny, green button and detonate your dynamite. I even used 6 blasting caps, to give each bundle its own. You saw that. We green?” I ask. He was, although suspicious of what I had in mind. He agreed although he refused to use my terminology, the stodgy prick. So float away the dynamite case we did. The case of Chinese dynamite floated out and away from the boat, leaving an oily slick in its wake. As it got to around 200-225 meters or so, I requested a rendition of the Korean version of the Safety Dance, as it was just too fucking hilarious to watch. Once completed, I handed Doubting Korean Thomas the detonator. “Your turn, Tweedles”, I said, “Hit the button to spark off your “much-better-than-the-West’s” Oriental dynamite.” He grabbed the detonator, gnashed a tooth in my direction, and mashed down on the big, shiny, green button with a vengeance. PFftt!PAH-foof!fuff There was a cheery little pop, a puff of acrid smoke, and not much else. Let it be said from the onset that I just selected examples of the Oriental manufactured dynamite at random. I didn’t look for the worst or leakiest. Though truthfully I really didn’t have much too choice in the matter. “You! You swindled me! You knew the dynamite wouldn’t explode! Somehow you knew it!!” he swore in my general direction. “Try it again”, I said after retrieving the detonator and doing a quick re-wire to another bank of blasting caps. “Gumeong-e bul!” [“Fire in the hole!”]. MASH goes the big, shiny, green button anew. Pfffft!” *Pop. Poooof! Piffle. Blerp. Nothing but a cute little pop, a poof, and a few acrid puffs of smoke. He was crestfallen. He had taken on the Motherfucking Pro from Dover in a necessarily explosive subject, with inevitably disastrous results. I asked if anyone here was weapons trained. A couple of Coasties raised their hands. “And you are? “ I asked the closest one. “Lt. P'an Tae-Hyun, Sir”, as he snaps a snappy salute. “Groovy.”, I reply and retrieve the AK from Dax. “Can you squeeze off a couple of shots and hit that floating box of dynamite?” I asked. “Yes, sir!” he replied, smiling. “OK then”, I replied and turned to the crowd. “Dynamite is usually pretty stable stuff and won’t detonate without a blasting cap or impulse source. A bullet will most certainly not detonate it. However, I’ve stuck in 3 pounds, imperial, of Tannerite, which is a type of binary explosive used for targeting. Tannerite will most definitely and energetically explode when impacted by a high-velocity bullet. I think we can agree that an AK-47 round is high-velocity?” I asked. There were nods and a buzz of general agreement. “Now, there’s the better part of a case of unexploded dynamite out there. That’s what we in the business call very, very fucking dangerous. Now those three pounds of Tannerite should vaporize everything within a 10-meter radius if it detonates as designed. Agreed?” I asked. Again, there were nods and a buzz of general agreement. “Lieutenant P'an?” I asked, “At your discretion. Fire at will. Or the dynamite case, as it were.” He nodded. He walked over to the furthest point on the stern, checked to see everyone was back and out of harm’s way, as he was a consummate professional. He futzed around with the old AK for a bit and took a shot. It was low and outside. “Ball one”, I snickered. “Sights are off. Not any problems.” He remarked. The next round found its mark. The Tannerite exploded adeptly. It threw sticks of unexploded Chinese dynamite over a 20-meter radius. They each sank into the briny deep leaving only an oily spot to mark their entry and eventual watery grave. The top of the case of dynamite was blown off, but the floaty ring remained. We reeled it back in to find a few more scorched, but unexploded, sticks of fine Oriental manufacture explosive on the bottom of the case. These were motherfuckingly dangerous. Cantankerous dynamite has no place on a ship. I remarked, however, that this would be no problem. Dax and Cliff brought up the case of C-4, which I had wired with one single blasting cap and booster. We had Korean Doubting Thomas and his shiny suit buddies give it the once over to ensure I wasn’t trying to pull a fast one. He agreed, it was nothing but C-4 as advertised. One of the more expendable Coasties jumped down on the stern transom-rack which is just above the waterline on the back of the boat. He wired the two rings together and set them adrift, tethered by a good nylon rope with my nasty, silky demolition wires trailing. Dax was working the rope and I was handling the spool of demolition wire. I had a good 350 meters of the stuff on the spool and wasn’t about to return a single centimeter. Old habits and all. As they floated away, Mr. Kwan asked if we’d like a bit of refreshment, as, gosh, it sure was dusty out here today. Of course, we agreed in unison. Good old Mr. Kwan. So, we’re unspooling our lines slowly, drinking our end of the day refreshers, smoking cigars, and watching our Oriental colleagues getting antsier every minute. I knew what a case of C-4 was going to do when detonated. It would be one hell of a show. I was so confident with my design I had Lt. P’ay return the AK to the pilothouse. Wouldn’t work here anyways if the C-4 failed to detonate. But that’s not going to happen. Dr. Pro from Dover Rocknocker has spoken. Finally, I’m almost out of demolition wire, and Dax has tied off the tether. I motion over to Herr Doubting Thomas and hand him the detonator. “For ye of little faith”, I smiled, recalling the entreaty that even Satan quotes the Bible for his own nefarious uses. But first, an encore of the Korean Safety Dance. They're guaranteed to raise a smile. I look to the character fumbling with the detonator. “At your convenience, good sir”, I say, dripping insincerity. “Gumeong-e bul!” [“Fire in the hole!”]. Mash goes the big, shiny, green button. KA-MOTHERING-FUCKINGLY-HUGE-BOOM! Even over 300 meters away, every one of us not only saw but felt that shock wave. It was like a solid Savate kick to the chest. The boat even rocked a bit in appreciation. I smile, retrieved the detonator, safe it, and reply: “And that is the singular reason why I used good old American manufacture C-4 as a sonic seismic source rather than shitty, leaky Oriental dynamite. Any further questions?” He shook his head in agreement, bowed slightly in my direction, slunk away, and that was the very last we ever saw of Mr. Korean Doubting Thomas. The Captain saw and felt the detonation. He put the boat in park, actually, he handed it over to the sub-pilot for station keeping and came back to the fantail. He wanted to know if we were now officially finished with our project. We maintained that we were and it had come off very, very successfully; in no small degree because of his boat handling abilities. He came over to me and shanghaied one of the translators. “Doctor Stone?” he asked. “Hrmph. Close enough.” I smiled. “May I be first to congratulate your team. In eight sorties, you and your teams are the first to fulfill mission parameters. I am pleased to say that this will go on all our permanent records. It will mean bonuses for all present. I salute you.” And does with a naval flourish. “No shit? Well, thanks, Cap”, I reply, “But I’m just the den mother for this special education class. Without them, and all their hard work, it’d never have happened.” “I knew you would say this”, he smiled, “You are leader of men. We see that. You are teacher, but also not afraid to work. You should do this more often. Use your education and experience to train and teach others.” He says, shaking my hand. Now it’s time for me to wonder. Did he hear of my offer back home? I don’t think he did, I’ve been playing those cards very close to the vest, as it were. I am now officially confused and bebothered. But, since I don’t believe in anything, much less coincidence, I’m going to chalk it up to happenstance and just gratefully consider the source. He asks that we wait here and he’ll return forthwith. “On a boat this size, there are not too many places we can sneak off to…” I chuckle. He returns with a very, very old bottle of something quite unidentifiable since it appears to be lacking a label. He yells something in official Korean and suddenly, a tray with little, itty-bitty demitasse-style glasses appear along with some smoked fish, I think, nibbles of some kind. He pours a dram for all present. No one dares take as much as a preemptory sniff until he’s finished with the ceremony. Everyone thusly charged, he begins a toast. “Shoo-buddy”, I think, “I’ve been down this road before.” It was quick, succinct, brief, and laudatory. According to him, we had ‘hung the moon’. I liked this style of toasting. Left more time to drink and for camaraderie. The project thus finished, as we were running out of potables, especially freshwater, victuals, and toilet paper; we were headed back to base. That is, back to the hotel to see what our comrades who chose to stay onshore had developed. But, that was going to be for another day. First, we needed to chug our way back to port, both literally and figuratively. Ahem. Before which, though, there were some housekeeping and paperwork chores. Dax, Cliff, and I did a quick reconnaissance of the explosives locker and created a ‘used’ manifest; which all three of us signed. They may be officious, they may be obtrusive, but damn, they certainly love their goddamned paperwork over here. We gave copies to the head shiny suit, one for the Captain, and we retained copies for our records. Along with notes that we expended two rounds from the pilothouse AK, as we were trying to out-officious these officious paper-pushers. We made certain the keys were returned and logged in the proper logbooks and the explosives locker was locked securely, solidly, and soundly. Before which, we policed up the weapons locker and actually offered to the gods of the briny deep, quite the quantity of unsafe, leaky dynamite, and other ordinance that was more a disaster waiting to happen rather than inventory. Seawater would neutralize the nasties and in the case of anything metallic, it’d be gone within a fortnight. and the phosphates might provide some nice fertilizer for some lucky passing Cnidarians. We were in water of near 45 fathoms. This stuff would never hurt another living thing. The Captain was very pleased that we had taken that task upon ourselves. He wasn’t allowed to do anything about what was in the locker, but he was responsible for it and keeping the wrong people out of it. I commented that was a fairly stupid way of handling things, and he mentioned that he’d appreciate it if I made an official note of it to the powers that be once we go feet-dry, i.e., get back to shore. I assured him we most certainly would. From then on, all we had to do was putt-putt our way back to port. It was going to take some hours and we’d end up berthing during the wee hours. This would not be a problem as our bus and driver would be waiting for us no matter what the time. He would briskly and without fanfare, return us to our hotel. That we were actually looking forward to bunking back in the old hotel sort of gave one an idea of the Spartan arrangements we had endured for the last three days. Most of the Westerners groused and complained in a humorous manner. Hell, it was only three bloody days. Some of our Oriental friends were so totally aghast they vowed to lodge formal complaints once they returned to dry land. Landlubbers. Odd that once we hit the beach, they all scattered to the four winds and not a single letter nor either a peep of protest was ever forthcoming. Yes, this is an intensely weird place. We wandered down the gangplank, cigars a-fume, and drinks recently and for one last time, refreshed by Mr. Kwan. The shiny suit squad was supervising the offloaded of the seismic data we had collected and had seen it soundly sealed and concealed in the very living bowels of the bus. It was to return with us to the hotel, where we’d demand a receipt. Then it would be off to the ‘Technological Center” on Scientific Street for processing. They assured us that they’d handle that themselves. Evidently we were good enough to acquire the data, but not good enough to see the finished product. Ack, Volna, and Ivan chuckled. “OK, you pirates. What did you do?” I asked “They can try with all their might. But without the decryption key, they’ll spend years processing encoded compressed nonsense.” They snickered. “We did offer to come and help set up the decryption for the decompression of the raw data, but they said they could handle it themselves. Oh, well. We tried. Seriously, we did.” Ack and Volna snickered. “Well, keep it handy in case they come to their senses before we get out of here,” I said. “Always our intention, Herr Denmother”, Volna chuckles. “Oh, you heard that?” I snickered quietly. Back at the hotel, the majority of us sent our sea-gear to our rooms via the on-site laundry. That being settled, the majority of us retired to the catacombs of the basement. We needed strong drink, decent, non-tinned food, and seats that didn’t slop around every time you sat down. Well, with the acquisition of our sea legs, two out of three wasn’t bad. Since the hour was much too late, I decide that tomorrow, well, later today, would be a day of R&R for everyone. Moreover, I was informed that tomorrow would be the “Day of the Sun” celebration, the insanely earnest celebration birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, founder and Eternal President of North Korea. It’s supposed to be some sort of big, hairy nationwide deal. But aside from a couple of small posters, we heard little and knew less about the holiday and its celebration. Everyone’s being even more uncharacteristically low key. It’s odd like there’s something weird going on here. “What? Something weird and covert and sneaky going on in Best Korea? Pshaw, you old fart. You’re letting the paranoids get to you!”, I mused to myself. This place will do that to you after a while. I asked the front desk to place a note that made the rest of today a day of R&R in everyone’s mailbox. After another cigar, some decent prawn stir-fry, and a couple-twelve really stiff drinks, we were all ready to invade the land of Nod for a few hours. I went downstairs for a drink, a nosh, and a smoke. I ran out of NK won as we tend to use them in Western Expat high-stakes poker games, so I needed to trade some of my weird Middle Eastern currency for weird Best Korea currency. I was used to the 900:1 won:US dollar (equivalent) trade-off, but after cashing in the equivalent of US$500 in Middle Eastern dinero, I walked off with 650,000 won, not 450,000. “Pardon me, Ms. Cashier”, I said to the nice little local woman behind the bird-cage security wires, “I do think you gave me too much.” She took my stack, re-counted it, and proclaimed it correct. “I thought the exchange rate was 900 to the dollar?” I asked. “No”, she remarked, “Now 1,336.” “Any idea what’s causing the fluctuations?” I asked. She just smiled and shook her head ‘no’. I smiled back and tipped her 50 UAE dirhams for the information. “Weird. Now what?” I mused. Little did I know… The next morning dawned dim and early as there some sort of something going on outside. Oh, yes, it was ‘The Day of the Sun’ celebration. I discovered it was is an annual public holiday in North Korea celebrating the birth anniversary of Kim Il-sung, founder, and Eternal President and local Poobah-in-Charge of North Korea. It is the most important national holiday in the country, and is considered to be the North Korean pseudo-secular equivalent of Christmas. “Well,” I thought to myself, “I picked a damn good day to call for an R&R break.” Then I found out, why no one told us about any of this is still unknown, that the next two days after the holiday would also be considered a holiday. Come to find out, there are all sorts of intrusive, inconvenient, and wholly unnecessary nonsense that accompany these high holy days here in Best Korea. There are exhibitions, fireworks, song and dance events, athletics competitions, idea seminars: “Think about it!”, and visits to places connected with Kim Il-sung's life, including his birthplace in Mangyongdae. Shops close, the hotel televisions block any other ‘programming’ and show only ‘special’ movies. Either ridiculously fake documentaries on the life of the also ever so ronrey Kim Il-sung or movies he especially enjoyed. People parade to his statue on Mansu Hill to deposit flowers; later in the day, it resembled a pollinated glacier. There’s general obviously forced elation, all of which is extraordinarily strained and appears fake. People are trucked by the groaning busload to the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun where the dead maniac lies in state. “Fuck this”, I said in the exact spirit of international amity, “I’m going to the bar.” I go downstairs to the basement bar, and even though it’s a high holy day, it’s open early. It didn’t used to be open until the afternoon, but since we’ve arrived, they have adjusted their hours for us. They have also doubled their daily receipts. So they’ve got that going for them, which is nice. One of my favorite barkeeps was station keeping that morning. I greeted him in the usual style and expressed to Mr. Ho Gun the best holiday wishes. “Hi! Ho!”, I said, “Annyeonghaseyo”, which comes out ‘Annie young eez-yo!’ in my Baja Canuckian dialect. Mr. Ho laughs at my attempt at Korean, but he does appreciate the effort. “Doctor Rock”, he says, “Dawn greetings. You will drink what?” Nice and direct, I like that. “Ye’ ken Greenland Coffee, me ol’ mucker?” I asked in a swirl of different dizzying dialects. Koran confounds me, so I thought I’d return the favor. “No, but I’m sure it’s coffee with some of your usual high-proof liquors, correct?” he smiles as I hand him a nice, oily Oscuro cigar. “For Best Most Happy Returns: Day of the Sun”, I said, waggling the stogie, as I hand it over. “However, you are correct. Normally, ‘authentic’ Greenland Coffee is a paltry 1/3rd ounce each of Whiskey, Kahlua, and Grand Marnier with excess coffee. Well, I don’t cotton to those liquors or measures. So my Greenland Coffee recipe, really from Greenland, by the way, is Siku Vodka, or any other high-octane vodka, as long as it’s premium. Then Immiak, which is Greenland’s version of Jagermeister, so let’s just go with Jager. Then finish it off with a shot of Tia Maria or Kahlua, if available. Oh, yes, then hot coffee. Silly me, almost forgot…” I conclude. “And measures?” Mr. Ho asked. “Whatever fills the cup”, I replied, in a bastardization of an old Russian toast. “OK, how about a 35 mils (~1 ounce) stiff shot each booze, then hot coffee to fill your mug? With a chilled vodka chaser, as per usual?” He asks. “Make it so, Mr. Ho,” I say. “No whipped cream or crème liqueurs, please. I’m lactose intolerant, and, well, no one wants to hear that…” He laughs and whips together a very nice morning sunriser. It’s a real day off. In a very, very weird land. It’s Festival outside and I stayed up most of the night calling people back in the world, creating and updating dossiers, doing explosives-tracking paperwork, worrying over logistics, and how and when the fuck we’re going to eventually get out of here. Fuck it, double front. I’m doing my ‘people watch’, perched high on Mahogany Ridge. I’m taking, for the first time since, hell, I left the Middle East, some real downtime. I figured I deserved it. I was the only one at the bar, but after a short time, there were festival-goers who infiltrated down into the hotel's subterranean catacombs. They didn’t know of the bar’s recently expanded hours and when they saw me sitting high up on Mahogany Ridge, smoking my ubiquitous cigar, they rejoiced. Obligatory Festival and alcohol! Better than beer and power tools. In the Baja Canada time-honored tradition, I have a pile of the local currency sitting on the bar. At the new exchange rate of 1,386 won to the dollar, I’m making out like a bandit. Drinks here are cheap, really cheap, to begin with. With this fluctuation in exchange rates, which I figured reflected the holiday, I was flush. In the chips. Well-heeled. I've got a lot of what it takes to get along. So, I was feeling magnanimous. I was tipping people very well. “Paper?” one local asked. “Sure. How much for a week-old English version of the Daily Worker’s Manifest and Pork Belly Futures Digest? 100 won? Here’s 1,000. Keep the change.” Not wanting to become over-caffeinated, I switched from Greenland Coffees after a couple to my usual potato juice and citrus concoction. Each one came in a tall, frosted gimlet glass, a very nice touch, and was expertly made my Mr. Ho after I showed him once when we first arrived. Each one, with the current exchange rate, was about 500 won; an exorbitant sum for any local. It was about US$0.40 for me. I bought several for people who bellied up to the bar and tried to engage me in conversation. I was used to handing out business cards, hell, one never knew where contacts could lead; and not receiving one in return. Today, I collected four new business cards; two from various European ex-pats, and two from locals. I guess Festival! time brings out the best and least paranoid in people. It’s only 1000 hours in the AM and people here are already seriously lubricated. This will be a fun few days. I decided to get a rather tall drink in one of my 100-ounce Kum-n-Go travel cups. With all the hoo-ha going on around here, I haven’t seen a handler, translator, or guide since we got off the boat. I decide with all the shenanigans and goings-on around the place on this festival day, no one would give me nor my wardrobe a second look if I were to venture outdoors for a walkabout. Besides, we’re on a bloody island. It’s not like I can go too damned far. So, quicker than a bunny fucks, I get my drink, fire up a cigar, and walk around the lobby of the hotel. There are the usual comings and goings of tourists, local workers, the security forces, and all that allied tat. I wait until a tour bus pulls up and all eyes are somewhere besides me. Pfft! And I’m standing outside the hotel, looking at all the sights. Which, truth be told, weren’t much. Yanggak Island is a slovenly-manicured island with shrubberies, tracks, trails, and assorted support buildings. The river is basically hidden behind stunted shrubs and nevergreens, and the remains of the defunct golf course. There’s a stadium on the island, which was thronging with festival-goers today. I don’t know what sport, if any, they play there, and didn’t care enough to ask anyone. There was a cinema hall, which was currently empty and looking in need of some dire repair. There’s some sort of Chinese health complex in the process of being built or torn down, it was hard to tell which. Needless to say, the scenery paled almost immediately. I did, after a concerted effort, find a small platform that overlooked the Taedong River. It was a very nice little observation platform with a couple of new-Tudor-esque electrical replica gas lights and two concrete benches where a weary traveler could sit and just watch the river. So I did. I was interested in the fish of the river, and wondered if any of the locals did any fishing; or if it was forbidden, as are so many ‘proletariat’ activities are in town. I did see a few locals, huddled out of plain sight, down by the shores of the river fishing with long, 10 meter, reel-less poles. In Britain, they would call this type of fishing ‘noodling’. I didn’t see them catch anything, but in the bar later, I spoke with a local who told me that they catch various species of fish here. These include Asian Aroana, Blue Guppy, Catfish, Crab, Eel, Halibut, Hucho Perryi, Octopus, Orange Guppy, Pacific Flying Squid, Rainbow Trout, Salmon, and Tuna. I’m not saying my informant was lying or embroidering the tale, but from the nasty condition of the river, I think Coney Island Whitefish, Cotton River Horse, Dumpster Trout, and Bugle-Mouthed Salmon would be the more common species. I had enough perambulation and even though I wasn’t given the least look, I felt a bit uncomfortable out here. That unfiltered sun and equally unfiltered air. After that, I wandered back to the hotel and went to enter to go to my room. “HALT! Who goes there?” some door guard yelled at me. “An American tourista who was out on a walk”, I replied. “Impossible!”, he replied, “Tourists are not allowed out without their guides.” “Look, Herr Mac”, I said, “I’m Dr. Rocknocker, and I am an invited Western Petroleum Scientist with the UN special-invited group here to evaluate the country’s oil and gas potential.” “You are not allowed.” He replied loudly. “My good man”, I replied, equally loudly, "Not allowed? Not allowed? I’m a geologist, I’m allowed everywhere.” With that, I grab the handle of the ornate door, take a slurp out of my drink, and sally forth into the hotel. Of course, he goes non-linear. He follows me and is making all sorts of bad noise. He is almost literally dancing around me, pointing, and exclaiming that I’m not allowed. Then, he made a bit of a mistake. He grabbed my arm. Really, really poor career move. I switched my drink to my left hand and executed a pretty spiffy opposite-side wrist grab on the noisy little nerf herder. He was so shocked by this turn of events, he went slightly white and was rendered mute for a short time. I frog marched the little irritant up to the front desk and asked the head clerk there to explain to my captive audience who I was and why I was here. The clerk smiled and gave the character whom I was dragging around a quick background on the guy who was currently holding him captive. When I heard “닥터 락 노커” [dagteo lag nokeo, “Dr. Rocknocker”], I dropped this guy’s hand and just took a few steps back. After a minute or two, he comes over, very, very abashed. He apologizes as he wasn’t told that any Americans were allowed outside the hotel. I told him ‘No problem’, as I really didn’t have any special permission and didn’t want to get the guy into any trouble. I offered him a cigar, which he refused, but he readily accepted the half-pack of Sobranie pastel cigarettes I had in the pocket of my Hawaiian shirt. I decided from that point to just stay inside the hotel to smoke, drink, and avoid any further Imperial entanglements. I wandered on down to the casino because I was bored and it was unusually quiet. Too hepped-up to sleep, too tired to work, it was that odd interarea between “should I be giving a fuck” and “who the fuck cares?” Leaving the basement, I wandered around the ground floor, just taking in the sights, and looking at the “Festival Specials” at the hotel shops. I found an empty, unlocked conference room that looked inviting. About two dozen chairs, a large wooden table, TV monitors, and a southern view of the city from slightly above ground level. I walked in like I owned the place, as it is always monumentally easier to get forgiveness than permission, sat down at the head of the table, propped my feet up, found an ashtray, and began playing with the remote to see what was available. Evidently, these rooms were available for rent by various factions, cadres, and other sorts of like-minded individuals. However, whoever was here last forgot to re-set the filters on the satellite television. There was real the BBC, real-time. There was German TV, Russian TV, Japanese TV, and even some American TV; all the best of the absolutely prohibited hit parade. I shut it down and left immediately. I went to find my comrades. They simply had to see this. I located Dax first, as he was losing won at a rapid rate down at the basement casino. He said he’d spread the word to any of the team members down in the tunnels and we’d meet at Conference Room #1. I had taken the precaution before leaving to move the “Occupied/Unoccupied” placard to indicate it was in use and that if you hadn’t reserved the room, you’d do best to stay the fuck out. I waited the obligatory 20 minutes for the elevator and went up to ‘our’ floor. I knocked on all the doors where I knew they were occupied by our occupants. I found a few of our team and informed them that if they were so inclined, there would be an unannounced, impromptu, and wholly illicit meeting down in Conference room number 1; complete with refreshments and real, uncensored television. They all agreed and said they’d rouse the rest of our team on the floor. I was feeling so brazen, that when I went down to the ground floor, I stopped at the front desk and ordered lunch and drinks for my team in Conference Room #1. “Oh, sir”, the desk clerk responded, “We don’t have any reservations today for Conference Room #1.” “Well”, I replied, “We are in there and if it wasn’t reserved, how would that have happened? The room would have been marked as unavailable, which it clearly was not; as it was open and available and we are now occupying it. Therefore, it wasn’t marked unavailable so it must have been available; not unavailable as you postulate. It’s almost a simple example of the single equation theory of universal containment. So we are meeting there now and requiring refreshments. It’s simply a logical progression of the facts of the matter.” “You are, of course, correct”, she immediately responded, distracted by all the Festival goings-on in the hotel, “Now, you said you’d like to order 4 dozen assorted meat and cheese sandwiches, two cases of beer, and a mixed case of bottled liquor?” “Yes”, I replied, “You see, it’s only going to be a brief meeting. I’ll also need ice, carbonated and non-carbonated mixers, sliced citrus fruit, and an on-call bartender if you have one available.” “Oh, yes sir,”, she replied, “That will be immediately arranged. Anything else?” “Yes”, I replied, “I’ll need about a dozen ashtrays, of the larger variety. Also, I am going to leave explicit instructions with you to disseminate to hotel staff that we are not to be disturbed. This is a very high-level meeting of the scientists of the IUPG. We will be discussing, umm, ‘sensitive information’”. I used the international ‘don’t-even-think-of-bothering-us’ buzzword to let her know were being very serious indeed. “Oh, yes sir”, she stiffened. “Marvelous”, I said and slipped her 1000 won for her troubles. All sighs of nervousness instantly disappeared. “Excellent. Excellent service.”, I said, rubbing both hands together most Mr. Burnsly. I go over to the conference room and see that our order has begun to already arrive. Have to hand it to them, you call for room service and you get room service. Especially if you’re well known around the hotel to be free with imported cigars, pastel cigarettes, and lavish tips. One by one, my teammates filtered in. There was everyone from out earlier pleasure cruise, and most of the force that remained back in the hotel to prepare the paperwork for our ground assault. Cigars, cigarettes, and pipes were lit. Sandwiches consumed and drinks were downed. After everyone had a chance to see their home-town, or at least home-county, version of the news, I decided that it would indeed be a good time to have a bit of a meeting. It was going nuts outside with the Festival, and as long as we were in here, we were being left alone. After the obligatory facilities break, I returned from a 40-minute round trip to my room to get a couple of my field notebooks. I wanted a record of the proceedings, no matter how spur-of-the-moment. When I returned, I thought the room looked a bit spare. I did a quick headcount and I noted we were missing someone. I glanced through my notes and saw that our Bulgarian geomechanic, Dr. Iskren Dragomirov Dinev, or ‘Iskren’ was not present. “Hey, guys”, I asked aloud, “Anyone seen Iskren lately?” There was a brief conclave and the answer was a solid negative. I called the front desk and got his room number. I asked them to ring his room for me. His room phone rang and rang and rang, but no answer. “Who last saw Iskren?” I asked the assembled crew. The Finnish PT, Joon, recalls drinking with him at the casino the night before last. He seemed normally jovial as was normal for him. “Anyone else? Or since?” I asked. Again, the answer was negative. “Something’s not right”, I thought, my rock sense was tingling. “Dax, Cliff, you’re with me.” We all left, stopped by the front desk, and asked for medical assistance. We explained where we were going and the sudden absence of our Bulgarian friend. We expressed deep concern. 25 minutes later, Dax, Cliff, me, the hotel security chief, and hotel doctor were standing outside Iskren’s room. We had pounded on the door for a good 3 minutes. He certainly wasn’t in the shower. No answer. “Fuck this. Open it”, I said. “Under whose authority?” the chief of hotel security asked. “Mine. Dr. Rocknocker. I’m the team leader of the IUPG crew. Do it.” I said. The door was laboriously opened, as both door bolt locks had to be breached. The room was dark, silent, and entirely unnerving. In the gloom, it appeared that there was a human form, unmoving, on the bed. “I’m a rock Doctor. I think we need a medical doctor here.” I said to the hotel sawbones. The hotel doctor went in without switching on the lights nor touching anything. He examined the mound on the bed. Apparently, it wasn’t a pile of dirty laundry. “Was the occupant of this room a large Caucasian male, approximately 60-65 years of age?” He asked. “Yes”, we all answered together. “I’m afraid he’s dead.” The doctor replied. Dax looked at Cliff who looked at me. In unison, all that was heard was a tripartite: “Oh…fuck.” To be continued...
Random guy tried to set up a casino in my freinds house
So...I’ve been having a tough time recently, and my friend was having a party for me at her house to cheer up (great friend) and i go over, and i have a habit of being the most stoned person at the party. so the second i get there i eat two edible cookies which everyone was telling me was a bad idea(but its fine it was a good time) and i was talking to my friends roommate (lets call her F) and F had another friend with her (J) I didn’t know J, but also didn’t know F very well either, F and J just kinda sat in their room together with the door closed so we could kinda tell what was going on eventually they both came out and wanted to play boardgames with us. I asked if they were a couple to which F said “ahaha no we are just friends” and J looked VERY upset. So we all knew no sexing was going on, my two freinds L and N were sitting there and N made a joke about playing strip poker to which J said “or we could just show nudes” (YIKES) we all kinda laughed and shrugged it off awkwardly. So J just got up and left, like wtf he didn’t even say goodbye lol, so after that we just started watching some youtube videos when the front door swings open. Remember im high as fuck so immediately panic and go to the other room...then i heard J’s voice, apparently he came back he just went and got a drink from the gas station. So i come out and start laughing and i said “haha you really scared the fuck outta me man” and right as i said that this random guy who i have never seen before walks in carrying two giant black boxes, mind you this guy wasn’t very calming to look at especially since he walked in and didn’t say anything to us. He set the boxes down and opened them, they were full of cards, board games, and a LOT of poker chips everyone kinda panicked and just went to the other side of the room (should have been a hint) and when i looked back F was sitting on the floor (super drunk) and J was stroking her hair like a james bond villain, i texted N these exact words “hey broskie what the fuck is happening right now?” And then i asked the guy who is at the time laying out playing cards and getting poker chips “are you like...turning this place into a casino?” And without missing a beat he looked up and me and said “i can be” so we all just sat there for a minute in complete silence. Then my fucking hero, L said to them “hey...im sure you guys are cool and all, but you cant be here you need to leave” and...they left...just like that, now most people would think its not a big deal just a little misunderstanding maybe...but what freaked me out, is when they left, we all looked over at F and asked her if she was ok...but instead of responding, she stood up, and immediately fell over on the couch, and then got up, said she was fine just very drunk, and then ran to her room....that was the last i saw of her, but the next day L told us she was fine so i guess all is well
Hey, I do a bunch of world building and homebrew for the campaign I run for my friends, and I figured I'd share it if anyone wants to use it. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- The Undercity? Yeah, it’s dangerous! You’ve got the redcap goblins, they aren’t much a danger by themselves, but they’ll give ya a hell of a time if a group gets you alone don’t you know? The Coldwrought clan moved down there some decades ago of course, and then… well, I don’t believe it myself of course, but they say stone giants still wander around down there. Gives me the shivers! -Elsta Barrlow The Undercity of Kol Taram is a city that was never meant to be: it exists in a massive drainage system built to protect Kol Taram above from spring melts from the nearby River of Colors. Across the Fallen Bridge on the other side of the cavernous drain channel, stone giants live a secluded life. The Coldwrought Crime Clan rules the Undercity with an iron fist, based out of their hotel/dungeon “The Dark Hive.” Woven between these dangers (and so many more) there are, of course, wonderous things, too: Yawmbo, the bugbear keeper of The Dark Hive, can acquire near anything you need; Cadence Clearwater, the skinny, high-strung tiefling can craft a specialized tattoo that allows anyone to summon a familiar; within the simple lean-to that Kev the Kenku has an assortment of interesting items plucked from the streets, amongst them the odd thing of interest. The Undercity Always Flows Many have tried to map The Undercity, but nobody has yet succeeded. Due to the violent, and untrusting nature of many of the denizens, The Undercity is constantly tearing areas down, and building anew. A night doesn’t pass without at least two incidents of arson, and any especially loud squabbles that border on riots result in the stone giants across the Broken Bridge lobbing boulders amongst the city which also result in frequent “re-zonings.” The best way to orient yourself to The Undercity are to look for the towering, 10-story high pillars that serve as both buildings and anchors to a fluid city.
The Glowing Pillar
A Pillar of the People
The Goblin Gables
The Dark Hive Pillar
The Pillar of Stairs
While there are many other structures outside of these super-structures built to support the weight of a mountain, most major buildings congregate around them. The Ring of Rejects The Undercity was not meant to be inhabited, but once The Squall began to rage, and a permanent winter has set in, there is no chance that the River of Colors will flood. Those not of dwarven descent often found that Kol Taram was a place they could never thrive, and many found their ways, by exile or by choice, to this so-called sixth ring, the Ring of Rejects. The Broken Bridge The only support structure to have ever fallen within the drainage system has left a massive, 100’ wide bridge of uneven and broken stones across the 120’ deep drainage ditch. Across it lives, hidden by piled boulders, a small hermitage of stone giants… or so the legend goes. The Broken Bridge is said to be their method of assault, should the violence in The Undercity ever spill over. Refugees of Kol Taram After Kienscale was awoken, and Kol Taram sacked, many of the citizens who knew of the Undercity and the methods to reach it, left the city through this dangerous route. Some lost their lives, most their possessions, and few chose to stay. Those few form around The Glowing Pillar, the mages of The Bearded Consortium dispelling whatever errant arcana had caused the faint light to radiate out from it, allowing the displaced dwarves to fashion out a makeshift fortress. There, elements of The Stoneguard gather, training the remaining citizens and gathering allies to eventually take back their city. Controlled Anarchy There are no set laws in The Undercity, save the unspoken, universal threat of the stone giants that might again assault the city should it grow too riotous. The Stoneguard keep order around the areas of The Glowing Pillar, and The Coldwrought Clan has enforcers keeping the money flowing and outside influences in check. The Goblin Gabbles is thoroughly ridden with goblins, who obey their own laws, a strange and violent pecking order that keeps their infighting at a steady level, and their threat to the city as a whole limited. A Dark City The Undercity features prominently races with darkvision, so aside from The Glowing Pillar and the Pillar of Stairs, there are not frequent sources of light. Those that do dot the inns, streets, and doorways of homes tend to be gas lamps turned to their lowest setting, or sweet, earthy Smolderwart, a pale white moss that burns for hours with a faint light and fragrant smoke. Guide to the Undercity I lived in the Ring of Copper once, you know? Me, a fat greenskinned goblin! No matter how good I became as a smith, it became obvious I’d never be more than skilled labor. So I moved, moved to the Undercity. Every day, death lurks, maybe not nearby, but around every corner you smell him: a feral, red cap’s knife or maybe one of the Lumare’s creepy hands around your neck; but when nobody pretends to like you, it’s a lot easier down here to know who to trust. -Miggblin, owner of Miggblin’s Custom Bladework. The danger of The Undercity, especially to humans and the aarakocra, cannot be understated. That said, outside the Coldwrought Clan, deception is not often practiced: this is a place where the sword will often prevail over the pen. The Natives The Ring of Stone is already within the realm of The Underdark, and The Undercity serves as a place for its citizens and those from the service to mingle. These places were not always occupied by sentient races: before Kol Taram came to be, the cavernous dark was occupied by hideous creatures dreamed into existence by a beholder in the Second Age. Thriving amongst the dark and deadly hellscape of this underdark were the Lumare, grey-skinned humanoids, more spindly than graceful, with unnaturally flexible joints which cause them to have a strange, exaggerated gait, and the ability to easily scale the stony walls of the underdark. Nearly wiped out by dragons, and again when The Undercity boomed into existence after the defeat of the Parroa Rebellion, they hold a place of awe and respect, even amongst the rabble of The Undercity. They are said to be able to read minds, and know your actions before you do. The rest of the creatures that belong to The Old Ones are less beloved, and wandering too far into the dark nooks of the city may find you face to face with them: Wandering Old Ones d4 Result 1 Dreamcrawler: Crawling along the walls, ceilings, and under bridges, these hands with bony, exposed, skeletal tips for scratching. (CR ½) 2 Fearwalker: Eyeless, bipedal humanoids with long, hooked ears, exaggerated mouths, and a taste for fear. They stalk the frightened, lost souls that wander into their domains. (CR 3) 3 Shadowstare: A flat creature of shadow that clings to a wall or under a shelf, though when it’s one massive eye opens it can be as dangerous as any beholder’s gaze. (CR: 5) 4 Zombie Beholder: (CR: 5) Spellcasting Services There are not many spellcasters in The Undercity, as the red cap goblins have a superstitious fear of magic, and they tend to target magic-users with more murderous intent than others. As such, there are no established spellcrafting services. The Bearded Consortium has powerful mages, but they are geared toward returning Kol Taram to its former standing; the Purple Terror who lurks in the city above keeps them wary. Living and Lifestyles in The Undercity ‘Poverty’ is an easy term to toss around within the Undercity: many of the abodes are squalid, temporary structures of pitiful design. This can be deceiving, however, as The Undercities denizens are loath to show off anything of value. These items, beautiful or rare or expensive, are carried on one’s person, or hidden carefully away. As such, it is hard to determine a person’s real wealth. Education and Learning Due to the transient nature of The Undercities populace, traditional schools aren’t common. The Undercity is no place for children. Within the Kol Taram garrison, safe in the halls of the Glowing Pillar, dwarvish children resume lessons under the direction of Headmaster Heurd Rocknose. There are rumors of a Lumare training ground somewhere deeper within The Underdark called The Alabaster Terrace, where the Lumare hone their unique abilities, though none have seen it. Most who call themselves “lifers” who were born and raised in The Undercity take on apprenticeships. Shopping There are no markets or centers of commerce, though what stores do exist tend to cluster close to, or within, the massive pillars that support the cavernous roof of the space The Undercity occupies. The Washed Market outside of The Dark Hive may be the only exception: under careful watch of Coldwrought enforcers, an open-air black market, a warren of tables, takes place on every Wednesday. Nothing living is to be sold but narcotics, stolen jewelry, historical artifacts, unsavory meats, and dark secrets can be found. While outright violence is not tolerated, the Coldwrought Clan does not concern itself with petty theft, and will take no action against thievery. Tax Day There is not a tradition of open celebration of holidays within The Undercity. The only “special” day is Tax Day, which can happen at strange intervals but usually once or twice a month. On this day, Couldwrought enforcers spread across the Undercity in groups, beating up locals who cannot pay for their “taxes.” Sports and Games The Undercity does attract it’s fair share of gamblers and unsavory types that are happy to make a quick copper at another’s expense. The Dark Hive features poker tables, Bluffer’s Cup, and for those with the pieces, a private Gragram room. Gragram An ancient dwarvish game that requires pieces scattered across the northern parts of Dominion, lost with the falls of two of the original citadels. Those who can find pieces will bet on fighting them with others; the pieces are enchanted, and can do harm only to each other; the pieces rebuild themselves after one day. Bluffer’s Cup Each player has three tiles: the shield, the sword, and the hand. It is a rocks, paper, scissors with betting and deception involved. The Square of Might Operated by The Coldwrought Clan, The Square of Might is a small fighting arena with two tiers of seatings. Fights may be arranged, with the loser being paid, the winner being paid more, and the house taking most. Fights are not typically to the death, but True Boughts are fought to the death. People of Prominence There is no recognized government, or set of laws outside of the unspoken ones that seem universal within the Undercity. Instead, there are people of prominence whose spheres of influence have shaped the behaviors of those around them. d6 Person 1 Yawmbo - A bugbear with oiled and styled hair brushed back across the fine black vest he wears over a brown-furred torso, Yawmbo speaks little, but is surprisingly intelligent. He works as a broker, and can obtain most things for players, in return for them completing tasks for the Coldwrought Clan, though this is never explicitly stated. 2 Chief Schneek - At 24, Schneek is ancient by goblin standards. He is blind now, but could once read the fortune of the Undercity using rat bones. He despises magic users, such as The Hidden Hag, who he blames for taking his site. His eyes are made of stone. 3 High Mage Wucrut Coalbeard - 322, Wucrut is a chauvinist, old-guard High Mage who resents the introduction of women to the Bearded Consortium. He is a powerful evocation mage, and proved himself in the Battle of Skaar against the Fire Giant Legion. 4 The Hidden Hag - Deep within The Statuary Pillar, amongst its hallways of petrified humanoids, shifting living statues, resides a pale, veiled woman known as The Hidden Hag. None have seen her face, though rumors speak of looking upon her resulting in the many statues around her abode. She keeps to herself, but hers is the only pillar with a good radius of emptiness around it. 5 The Stalker - The lone Lumare who makes permanent residence behind The Stalker’s Perch. He is quiet, speaks few words, but communicates mostly through his eyes. His insight is unparalleled, and he hunts down those who would cause particular trouble in the streets of The Undercity. 6 Dorgram Coldwrought, Patriarch of the Coldwrought Clan - The most dangerous man in The Undercity, Dorgram Coldwrought is 121, and has been groomed from birth to run the Coldwrought Clan. He is merciless, speaks slowly, but his words have great gravity. He always wears dull navy gloves with gold cappings around the knuckles, and around one eye is heavily tattooed to make it appear as if the flesh is peeling away to reveal bone. Holy Places The Undercity is a place that slows for freedom of worship, and nowhere is that more obvious than the Madruuc Lambus, undercommon for “Market of Gods.” Dug into the ground itself, a cave-like series of shafts and small caverns dedicated to the many gods that others worship. Less crime happens here, as those who defile a chamber of a deity are likely to find trouble with their followers. Within the boundaries of The Glowing Pillar and Fort Taram that has risen up to house the dwarven refugees of Kol Taram, there is a simple stone church known as “Last Hearth,” a simple place to keep the flame of the Dawnfather’s Horizon Cathedral burning while the city is under siege. Just outside of the city, in a cave that requires spider climb to access, there is a large altar designated for Lolth, and many drow slip away in secret to worship here. A City of Factions The huge, 100’ wide pillars that support the weight of Mount Taram above this system of gargantuan drains generally form the center points for factions, though not always. To call any of these groups outside of The Coldwrought Clan and the Red Cap Goblins organized is a stretch, but each of these groups has the resources, manpower, or prestige to lay claim to at least a small slice of The Undercity. The Shadow Scavs The Undercity was born of need; those who could never find a place amongst the elitist dwarves above, moved to a place where they could rise up as high as any other. Many did not wish to move below, however, bought south the help of those in dark places to get materials restricted to them. These people came to be known as The Shadow Scavengers, or Shadowscavs for short. They are a motley group of thieves, smugglers, and fences with the occasional use of Autis, a warforged enforcer usually hidden beneath a large jacket and hat, to protect magical items. Their symbol is a pair of crossed, upside down pickaxes. Ally Benefits: - Material costs for smithing-related projects are reduced by 15% - You may purchase the Rat Tunnels map from any Shadowscav leader for 10gp Stoneguard A small contingent of Stoneguard, the law keeping force and military of Kol Taram above, escorted refugees down to the Undercity. They currently man Fort Taram, the Gateway Garrison, and a small defensive position outside of The Pillar of Stairs to safeguard against any scouts from the invasion above. They are hardy warriors, with stone-coated half-plate and either two-handed mauls or one-handed war-hammers and shields. Their leader is The Stonewarden, Vaddarus, a younger male dwarf who always plays it safe. Ally Benefits: - You may be accompanied by a Stoneguard about the boundaries of the Undercity if you wish. They will provide you with some protection from the Red Cap goblins and various other entities. - Access to the Stoneguard Armory, which sells basic armor and weapons at 10% off the base market price. The Coldwrought Clan Of all the factions in the Undercity, The Couldwrought Clan is the most powerful and the most dangerous. The actual family members of the Coldwrought Clan number maybe two dozen, but they employ countless other dwarves, goblins, kenku, drow, and anyone else willing to back their clan up for the price of a little gold. Led by Dorgram Coldwrought, the family patriarch, they grow wealth with hidden desires to take back the citadel above that cast them down. Ally Benifts: - You can hire a Coldwrought Enforcer at the price of 5gp a day. - You may stay at The Dark Hive free of charge, with one fine meal per day included. The Bearded Consortium Once one of the two primary powers within Kol Taram, The Bearded Consortium has stood for 500 years as a men-only convocation of powerful magic users, primarily wizards. They are powerful evocation magic users, but have flaunted more political power than actual magic in recent centuries. In a large upset of tradition, with the fall of Kol Taram, Zelga Stonestaf, a female dwarf, has been made a full member. In this time of desperation, many welcome to powerful, blunt woman who wears a porcelain mask. Ally Benefits: - -10% to all components needed for a spell tagged as evocation. - Access to the Consortium Militia armory, where scrolls of spell levels 1-3 can be purchased, at the DMs discretion. The Six Great Pillars As said before, the easiest way to break up the ever-shifting mass of humanoids that make up The Undercity is by the most proximate Great Pillar to their location. The pillars themselves have been carved and built into over time, with the Goblin Gabbles being the most haphazardly worked and porous-looking, and the Pillar of Stairs being the most well-kept. It’s difficult to break down the pillar neighborhoods in terms of economic lines, but those who live within The Dark Hive tend to be very wealthy; those who live around the People’s Pillar count themselves as the most squalid in an already poor town. Getting Around While The Undercity is not massive in terms of it’s horizontal footprint, many of the pillars have carved stairs, and ascend stories into the dark with warrens, housing, and even small shops for those who know where to look. While it takes no more than two hours to walk from end-to-end, climbing to the top of The People’s Pillar may take nearly a day for those unfamiliar. As a general rule of thumb:
It takes approximately 30 minutes to walk from one pillar’s neighborhood to the next.
Climbing a Pillar takes approximately 15 minutes a story once it’s familiar to a traveler.
Statuary Pillar Locations Place Description The Stoneyard A church-like building of old casketwood, and fenced in areas of earth where the dead are interred. The Stoneyard is a gravesite that is backset by the Statuary, and even features statues scavenged from within the Statuary pillar itself. Part of the trio of reputedly haunted buildings that make up Quarry Row. The Gentle Repose At one time, The Repose was a beautiful structure, built to house the noble Clan Grandcrest who all succumbed to madness. The one beautiful, Victorian-style home has now been transformed into a hotel, of sorts, though ghosts can frequently be seen walking through walls to different rooms. Goblin Gables Locations Place Description Deek’s Cart Every Wednesday, Deek, a meek, skittish goblin, will bring a wheelbarrow-sized cart of belongings stolen by the Red Cap goblins to the Dark Market, but those in the know will tell you that Deek lives under the Goblin Gables. He even deals directly with the Shadowscavs. Pillar of the People Locations Place Description Bloodworm Farm One of the few edible things deep underground that grow readily are blood worms, each about four inches long and the width of a middle finger. They are protein rich and taste very iron-heavy. They are grown in troughs, and eat both dead organic matter and rust. Commoner’s Infirmary A large tent, similar to a circus tent, though its slowly become a more permanent fixture in The People’s Pillar neighborhood. It is a field hospital, with a limited supply of medicine and an even more limited number of people trained in the healing arts. Mudbath House The earthy, deep pits of thermally heated mud. For an added fee, they can even properly wash after. The Glowing Pillar Locations Place Description Ireworks The single forge now operates on behalf of the Taram Resistance. It expands slowly but surely, all the wire pumping out armor and weapons night and day. Kevin Kevin is a kenku who has set up a tent on the outskirts of The Glowing Pillar neighborhood. Most of what he has is junk, but now and then, he seems to come by a treasure or two. Undercut A general store that sells damaged and broken goods well below market price. Rois Quarry A large, three layer deep quarry for mining grey granite for bricks. The Bleedin’ Stout Named for its signature drink, The Bleedin’ Stout is a traditional dwarvish drinking hall, with a large chandelier, and features a sort of bloodworm pasta with a red pepper sauce that burns the iron flavor right out. The Training Yard Amidst the buildings of Fort Taram, there is a large stone courtyard dedicated to 24-hour combat exercises. The Dark Hive Locations Place Description The Dark Hive The Dark Hive itself is one party casino, one part sprawling hotel/dungeon that houses The Coldwrought Clan’s interests. On the fifth story of the tower is the Coldwrought Apartments, where the crime family lives, and deals with their top clients. The Dark Market Under careful watch from the Coldwrought enforcers, every Wednesday sees a large Square of Might To the west of the pillar proper, perhaps ten minutes walk, is a large, iron cube. There are vents on the top, which allow steam from the gathered crowd to escape. Within, there are seats for roughly 60 people, and a raised marble square where organized fights take place. The Gourmand’s Kitchen This small, eight-seat establishment operates within Coldwrought territory, and provides one meal a week, every Friday Night. It is highly exclusive, and few know what occurs within these walls… there are rumors that many of the items on the menu are harvested from the streets of The Undercity and beyond... Further, due to the nature of The Undercity (violent and volatile) many shops rise and fall quickly, or change locations. The following merchants may be located anywhere within The Undercity, or not at all, at the DM’s discretion. d6 Merchant 1 The Shoddy Scholar - A small shop filled with second-hand books piled on every available surface. Run by the deep gnome Gildroby Middleweasle who knows exactly where every title is, and exactly what's in stock. Specializes in fiction. 2 Feathered Lands - A tiny store, with a single drafting table, a desk, and a few shelves of rolled up, large, scrolls. Mi-Zhan, a middle-aged drow woman shaved bald, though constantly fussing with her head, can create and provide maps of Underdark locations. 3 Hchvat Marganum - Infernal for “Blown Glass”, Hchvat Marganum is just that: a glass blower. Owned by the tiefling Partillin, proud and sarcastic, it can produce glass of master quality. 4 Liquid Courage - A medium-sized Inn of a poor quality. Ownership frequently changes (at least once a week), resulting in odd, mis-matched decor. 5 The All Sleeper’s Domain - A medium-sized tent with comfortable pillows piled throughout. 10gp will get you a pleasant dose of Dreamer’s Stick, a minty, chewy reed that can induce a hallucinatory dream state. Many can’t quite remember where they’ve left all their things when they leave. 6 Cadence’s Tattoo Parlor - Always moving, the rapid-speaking, stream-of-consciousness speaking tiefling, Cadence Clearwater runs a tattoo parlor wherever somebody can track her down. She specializes in a tattoo that can summon a semi-spectral familiar (1,000gp, plus the ashes of 10gp worth of incense, herbs, and charcoal.) once per day. Dungeons of The Undercity The Undercity, by its very nature, might be considered a dungeon, depending on your disposition and willingness to overlook rampant violence. However, there are areas in both the developed pillar communities and the surrounding caverns that present particularly perilous settings. The Statuary Though the hag who is rumored to wander the halls of the pillar known as The Statuary has expressed nothing more than a desire to be left alone, the statues that dot the hallways, rooftop, and even surrounding The Statuary itself, were all adventurers, criminals, or sight-seekers who ignored her wishes and sought the various treasures said to remain from the Drow military outfit that used to inhabit the tower. The pillar itself was designed to be defended, with a pair of staircases twisting around each other through the center, visible to each level that passes. Not all statues remain still, either; gargoyles, mimics, and ropers all take residence here. Stone Giant Settlement Behind large piles of stones that obscure the settlement proper from the other side of the Broken Bridge, are massive steps that lead to a sunken-in portion of earth, hiding the true height of the giant’s large community-structure: similar to a pyramid, though each brick features fine linework to give the entire thing the appearance of being made my miniature stones. Within lives a small community of stone giants, who call themselves Draj-Larc, “The Dark Dwellers” in giantese. They live a quiet, secluded life, and seek to elevate their home to even finer heights, the leader chosen every 500 days by who has provided the most improvement to their lair. The Dark Hive An appropriate name for a complex, five-story-high maze of apartments, functional rooms, workshops, and storage areas. The Coldwrought Clan runs the entire structure, though as it expands ever-upward, even they don’t know the true extent of the pillar’s workings anymore. Many of those missing from the uneven streets of The Undercity still live (in the better scenarios) within The Dark Hive. Past the first level, which is largely a dark, smokey casino, intruders will be met with fierce resistance from the Coldwrought Clan and those in their employ. The complex nature of The Dark Hive does carry with it one advantage: There are no means to sound an effective alarm outside of a very localized area.
That reminds me of a story. After that last one, I thought you might all enjoy a short follow up. After Al, Chuck, Leo, returned to their other lives back in the world, they kept getting requests from various Agencies and Bureaus for more mine closure data, mostly focusing upon lines of documentation. The various Bureaus desired monographs, road guides, technical reports, and most importantly, detailed step-by-step “How To” manuals. My guys, now my fully credentialed doctored colleagues, were predictably reticent to write up “How To” manuals for something that was obviously not of their authorship nor inception. “Fuckin’-A, Rock,” Leo tells me in a phone call, “They want me to fuckin’ basically claim-jump you writing up mine closing procedures. What’s with these goatfuckers? They figured they paid you enough and are now trying to run a goddamned end around? Collective shitheels. No fucking way I’d even think of crossing, even accidently, the Motherfuckin’ Pro from Dover.” I replied that I had no idea, as after the initial contacts after the field season, I had heard precisely dick from any of the bureaus. Which is fine, as I’m busier than a one-armed paperhanger in a windstorm getting ready to shift the family some 12,700 kilometers east. I thanked Leo for the intel and told him not to worry, it’s just bureaucracy misfiring at its finest. “Fuckin’-A, Bubba,” replies Leo as he hangs up. It suddenly goes all dusty in my office. “I’ve trained that boy well,” I sniff and chuckle heartily. A short while later, Al wrote me that he’s been contacted by the Bureau/Agency and they are desirous that he lead a field trip with a gaggle of professors from various universities. They are also not all geologists, but Environmental Scientists, Hydrologists, something called an “Environmental Engineer,” and other forms of societal detritus. He tells me that they wanted him to lead a group of these characters out into the desert for a couple of weeks and show them the mine closure procedures which he developed. He was most adamant in assuring me that they contacted him, and that the terminology was also theirs. He was already otherwise engaged, so he naturally had to decline. However, he made it abundantly clear that he would never even entertain such a notion like the one they had posited. I wrote him back, as he was down in Patagonia doing something more or less interesting and/or exciting, thanking him for the information and wishing him well on his expedition. Since he was in the field, I also included a couple of the recipes we enjoyed back in the Nevada desert. He later tells me that the Gauchos he was working with down there have never heard of Pineapple Upside Down Cake and they absolutely were delighted by it. Come to find out, they also like potato juice and citrus drinks as well. “Good ol’ Dr. Good-deed. Aide to all men.” I pondered. I talked with Esme about all this and she was of the opinion that either they knew I was headed east or they wanted me to have some time off. I had been doing a lot of ad hoc work for both Agencies and Bureaus over the last few years. “Of course,” I replied, “Never ascribe to malice what can best be defined by governmental bureaucracy and officiousness.” So, time puttered on. We were holding weekly ‘GROJ (Get Rid Of Junk) sales’ on our weekends. Since everything electrical we possessed was 120 VAC, and the rest of the world, it seems, is 220 VAC, I had to part with all my antiquated electronics. My Fisher Studio-Standard stereo system, Akai reel-to-reel 16-track tape machines, EMI TG12345 MK IV recording console, and Harmon-Kardon turntables and amplifiers. It was painful. However, I rationalized, if I were to stick them in storage for a decade or two, I’d have re-paid for them via rental fees a couple or three times over. Plus, and all that sitting unused in a storage locker certainly wouldn’t be good for these vintage electronical gizmos. Still, it was a painful time to pack them into the back of someone else’s vehicle. I had to take all my firearms to my Brother-in-Law for safekeeping. Since he’s in Kentucky, he was both happy to accept and vowed to give them regular workouts. Even though he’s some form or another of mechanical engineer, I guess I could trust him. One day, the home phone rings. It’s Chuck and he’s livid. “Rock!” he hollers, “You know what those chapped bastards at the Bureau want from me? They want me to step in on your turf, and take a clan of idiot pseudo-geologists out in the field for a couple of weeks and train them in mine closing. Can you fucking believe that?” “Chuck,,” I say, “Whoa. Cool down. Leo and Al report the same, so it just looks like you were next on the list. So, going to take them up on their offer?” “Don’t make me laugh, Doc!” Chuck asks, “First: I’m busy. Second: I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to handle logistics, camping, explosives, and all that other bureaucratic horseshit you somehow put up with. Third: I really don’t want a midnight visit from you and your bag of tricks because I’ve pissed you off by taking credit for what’s rightfully yours.” “What is the fucking deal?” I ask Chuck, “I’m not like that at all. Everyone thinks I’m going go out and frag them because the Bureau asks them to do a job I did previously. Damn, I’m the most laid-back, gregarious, and even-tempered person on the planet; and I’ll mutilate the miserable manky motherfucker that says I’m not.” Chuck laughs nervously. “Hyperbole aside,” I continue, “It’s just that they know I’m headed out to the Middle East and don’t want to bother me right now; I suppose.” “Umm, Rock,” Chuck clears his thought, and gulps, “That’s not the reason they told me.” “Is that a fact?” I ask, “What did they give as a reason?” “Now, Rock, don’t take this wrong. This is Bureau-speak, not me,” Chuck wants to make the point vodka-clear, “But they felt you were the wrong person to lead this group of ‘scholars’. They were concerned with your…” Hesitation. “Spill it, Chuck,” I say. “Demeanor,” Chuck says, “Your conduct, your deportment, your behavior…” “I see someone got a Thesaurus for Christmas,” I said. “Rock, that’s them, not me,” Chuck continues, “They said you are too ‘wild and wooly’ to conduct this field expedition of ‘noted scholars’.” “Is that a fact?” I ask, rhetorically. “Just reporting to you what they told me, Bossman.” Chuck offers. “I appreciate it, Chuck. Thanks.” I reply, “Don’t sweat it. I’ll take it from here.” You could hear an audible expression of relief when we broke connection. After a couple of cocktails, I had simmered down a bit. Esme says that I need to call my Agency buddies and get the lowdown on the situation, as they’ll know what’s going on. For once, Esme is also very, very pissed off about the whole situation. Mama Bear’s claws were getting sharpened. “You are gone for months,” Es exclaims, “Train a bunch of greenhorns, exceed project requirements by over 200%, supply crucial scientific data on forensic activities, and take out a disaster they didn’t even know existed in that mine with the locker full of explosives!” “Yeah,” I reply, “Does seem a wee bit unappreciative.” “And then they pull this kind of shit!,” Es yells further, “Those ungrateful bastards. Fuck ‘em. Let them stew in their own futility. They call and you tell them to get stuffed. After all you did for them…” “Now, now, Dearest,” say, “Let me call Rack and Ruin. If anyone has the skinny on all this, they’ll have all the latest dope.” “Bastards!,” Es cries, “You damn near get killed several times over and this is their thanks?” “Yeah, I know, Darling,” I say, “Does seems a bit ungrateful and duplicitous.” Esme hands me the phone. “Phone. Call. Now.” She orders. Looks like I just got my marchin’ orders. “Yes, my love,” I reply. Even I know when I’m out-matched. RING RING RING Agent Rack answers and we go through the usual pleasantries… “What the flying fuck you mean ‘I’m too dangerous’?” I question Agent Rack. “Well, Doctor,” Rack tries to explain, “Your ‘cavalier’ attitude towards explosives. More of your ‘relationship’ with them. Not showing the proper deference…” “WHAT?,” I roar, “Ask anyone that has worked with me in the field! ‘Safety first, last, and foremost’. Just that I don’t fret and quail around explosives like a bunch of phonophobic, jumped-up, wet-pantied shuddering schoolgirls, when I have to demolish something, doesn’t mean I’m anything other than a goddamned consummate professional.” “Plus, Doctor, ” Rack continues, “It’s not the 1880’s any longer. A Stetson? A sidearm? A .454 Casull Magnum at that…” “You have got to be yanking my crank here, Rack.” I angrily reply, as I really hate it when someone calls me Doctor like that, “The hat keeps the sun off my head so I don’t get addled like those fuckers you’re talking with at the Bureau. The sidearm is for safety. Oh, yes; there’s that word again. It’s a fucking tool, just like my Estwing hammers or my galvanometer.” “Can’t kill anyone with a galvanometer,” Rack replies. “But I could with a hammer, myriad ways” I reply, “And give me five minutes, I’d figure out a way to ‘extract’ someone with a galvanometer...” “Doctor, do let me let you talk with Agent Ruin; I’m needed elsewhere,,” he tells me. Agent Ruin takes the phone. It’s the old Agency Two-Step. “Doctor is distraught,” he observes. “No, ‘Doctor’ is just plain damned mad.” I reply, “They contract me for a job that has never been attempted before and I complete it beyond their wildest expectations! This is my recompense?” “Well, Doctor,” Ruin continues, “I’m sure it’s strictly a business decision. It’s obviously nothing personal.” “It sure as fuck sounds personal,” I gripe back, as now I’ve gone from annoyed to genuinely pissed off, “I’m surprised they didn’t say something derogatory about my Hawaiian shirts.” “Oh, they did,” Agent Ruin lets slip. “Oh? OK, Fine. That’s is then,” I reply, “The joyfulness of this whole experience has left the building. Tell them to strike me from their fucking list. I’m done with them. I wash my hands of them. I’m off east anyways. Fuck that bunch of paper-pushing, deskbound, pencil-necked dickheads. Fuck them. Fuck them solid. Fuck them ‘till they bleed.” “Strong message to follow,” I add. “Doctor,” Agent Ruin reminds me, “Do I need to remind you that all our conversations are recorded?” “Oh, fuck no. I know that. So fucking what?” I growl, “Like I’m going to get tossed in Guantanamo for expressing a personal opinion? I can still do that in this fine country. Or has the First Amendment been repealed in my absence?” “Doctor, you’re obviously agitated,’ Ruin adds, “Perhaps we’ll talk again later when you’ve calmed down before you head to the Middle East.” “Yeah, about that,” I reply, “You shady characters can cross me off your fucking list as well. You’ve done nothing for me on this latest concern. Nothing! You couldn’t even give me the courtesy of a motherfucking heads-up. Guess that tells me all I need to know about the future of our relationship. Goodbye, Agent Ruin. Give Agent Rack my ‘Da Svidonya. I won’t be answering your calls any longer. “Doctor, I, um, wait…”Agent Ruin sputters. I continue: “And as long as I’m at it, tell that other Bureau to go hang as well. They want more data or shit from me, tell them to go find it elsewhere. And also tell them good luck with that. The three experts that exist in the world apart from me already told them to get bent. At least they possess loyalty and a dollop of comradeship. I’ll be shipping your phone and other items back via parcel post. Hasta la vista, Herr Ruin. Have a day.” CLICK-KER -FUCKING-SMASH! I hang up in the rudest way possible. “Clapped-out assholes,” I muse. “All those years of working together. All those years of building relationships around the world. It’s all kyboshed over a fucking Hawaiian shirt. I guess it was inevitable. Either I became too specialized or evolved myself out of being useful to them. Ah, well, their loss. Can’t be helped…” I take a healthy swig right from the prime vodka bottle. OK, several. “FUCKERS!” I scream at the wood-paneled ceiling, shaking my fist in vehement rage at the clouds coolly cruising by outside my window. Esme doesn’t come running. She doesn’t have to. She knows the score. I ship the Agency’s toys back to them with a terse note: “Thanks for all the nothing. Here’s your shit back. Dr. Rocknocker. PS: Get stuffed.” Not my best effort, I’ll agree. However, I was really pissed at that point. Now I have the time to devote solely to relocating my family and I overseas. Gad, there’s so much crap one must go through. What to sell, what goes in storage, what to trash, what to give away…the lists are endless. First to go are all my power tools. Fuckbuckets. It took me decades to amass that collection. I got a good price, sure, but now I’m more or less without a hobby. We decide to put all Esme’s lapidary equipment in storage. It’s too specialized to generate much interest, much less a decent price. Besides, they won’t rot in our absence. I can ship my fishing gear and golf clubs overseas. They’re American, but at least not 120 VAC. Our house goes on the market and we have to get it spiffed to within an inch of its life. Got to have that ‘curb appeal’. Good, let someone else do it, I’m busy. More unexpected expense. I give our house contractors out in New Mexico their marching orders. It’s going slow and will be a seasonal thing, but they guarantee me the house will be ready by next summer if they can source the slabs of Baraboo Quartzite I want. Splendid, that’s something I don’t have to follow up on every day. Then there’s our aquarium. 250 gallons of treated Houston water, loaded with native Texan fish and a couple of cranky Jack Dempseys. All the gear, filters, pumps, water polishers, heaters, treaters, all of it. Has to go. My ex-Utah Mormon drinking buddy down the road expresses interest. I basically let him have it gratis on the one condition he takes everything, fish included. He has to keep the fish alive and happy their entire lives. I’ve raised some from minnows and have grown attached to a couple of the gaspergou and a certain smallmouth bass with those big brown eyes… Digger, my stalwart mechanic, is going to purchase my truck. It’s a bittersweet parting, but at least I know it’ll have a great home. Digger is going to use it as both his personal truck and his company’s hot-shot vehicle for pick-up and delivery of everything from batteries to full drivetrains. I know the vehicle will be in good hands. Our Land Rover is up for grabs. Few are interested, though; buyer’s market. It’s a couple of years old and has lots of miles, due to Houston being so stupid-big. I order an extra-large bottle of AstroGlide as I know I’m going to be taking it up the ass on this one… Finally, our pets. Reluctantly, I’ve agreed to take the cat. It’s a stupid little feline that I figure we can just toss in a suitcase and drag it with us overseas. No, I guess we’ll get a cat-carrier and figure it out with the airlines. Then there’s Lady. 135 kilos of dopey puppy. She’s getting up in years, as well, especially for a giant breed. Luckily, overseas we’ll be living on a Western compound. So if we go through all the rigmarole of quarantine, getting her a ‘pet passport’, and shipping via a specialist service, Lady can bark at the tenets of pre-Islam (dogs really aren’t haram), and actually join us in our new home. This is going to cost a fortune, but I don’t care. She’s an integral part of the family, she is going to join us. I find a Pet Relocation Service and begin the masses of insane paperwork. It’s an ‘all-in’ service, basically door-to-door. But do not be deluded, they charge every micrometer of the way. Vaccinations, chipping (she already was fitted with an RFID chip), booking, boarding, securing vet services, obtaining health certificates, securing import permits, dealing with all issues related to customs clearance, interacting with foreign agents, supplying IATA approved crates, and obtaining Municipality tags registration for new arrivals. Gonna cost me a couple-three-four kilobucks. Worth every penny. Esme, the kids and I are working on beginning packing, tossing this, wrapping that, sentimentalizing over the other thing when we get a ring at the door. It’s a bonded courier. He has a package for me. It’s of the size that would contain about 6-months’ worth of Playboy magazines, and has no external address. I sign for the thing and walk back to the kitchen. “What you got there, Rock?” Es asks. “Not sure,” I reply, “But it came via bonded courier.” “Well, open it,” Es smiles. She loves surprises. I do so and it’s a series of articles, re-prints, and other information regarding Nevada, mine closures, and the Mine Closure Act. There’s also a number of newspaper and magazine clippings that had been photo-copied into a dozen-page document. All of them, write-ups and reviews from different newspapers, house organs, and journals citing my work with the guys out in the field. I open it further and there’s a personal note from Dr. Sam Muleshoe, and a certified check, made out in my name. Seems I was correct. After exhausting their leads with Al, Leo, and Chuck, they have spent near a month trying to find someone to take over the project. “To fill my shoes,” as Dr. Sam Muleshoe notes. They came up totally empty. “Told ya’ so.” I gloated. Esme smiles a wide schadenfreude-fueled smile. I look at the check. It’s plenty healthy, but not superhero strength. I show Es and she laughs out loud. “So,” Es whoops, “They think they can get back in your good graces by buying you off? Hah! Fat chance,” she says and regards the check, “Hell. They’re not even close.” I agree with Esme passionately. I write a quick, hand-scribbled note to Dr. Muleshoe, thanking him for the information. I give several options, some admittedly anatomically impossible, regarding what he can do with the check and the Bureau’s offer. I wrap it back up with duct-tape, call the courier service, and return it to Reno, COD. A couple of days later, I receive a phone call. Surprise, surprise, it’s from Reno. “Rock, it’s Reno!,” Es tells me. I shake my head “no!” slicing my hand through the air in the head-chop mime. “Tell him I’ve gone bush in darkest Outer Albania and you have no idea when I’ll be back,” I say. Esme looks a bit sheepish, as we can hear the phone remark: “I can hear you, you know.” “Fuckbuckets,” I think, “OK, hand me the rap-rod.” “Yeah?” I growl, very grizzly-like into the infernal communication device. “Hello, Rock. This is Sam Muleshoe,” the phone reports. “Damn,” I exclaim, “I guess you characters can’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Which word fucking confused you?” “Rock, what’s the god damned deal?,” Sam asks innocently, “Why all the bloody hostility?” “Oh, double-fuck me!” I say metaphorically, “Don’t act like you don’t know. Try and snake the latest field mine closing job out from under me and try to snag my guys. Then, when that fails, give some sort of bullshit report to Rack and Ruin. You think I’m ‘too cavalier’, too “wild and wooly’, and think I’m some goddamned 19th-century throwback that loves horrible Hawaiian shirts…” “Doc?,” Sam asks, “Are you currently fucking drunk? What the actual fuck are you rabbeting on about?” “Sam, I’m stone-cold fucking sober,” I reply, “Yeah. I know, that’s a first. But listen here Scooter. You must have balls of brass trying to sweet-talk me into running another field course after all you did…” “Rock,” Sam pleads, “Please, believe me, I have no idea what you’re on about. Can we talk and maybe figure this thing out?” “No!,” I holler, “I’m done talking with the likes of your Bureau. Nothing you can do or say to rebuild the bridges they’ve burned with me.” “OK,” he says, “Doct…, err, Rock, buddy. Calm your tits. Give me the Reader’s Digest version. I’ll look into it, because I have absolutely no idea what this is all about. This really sounds serious, with fuck-up overtones. Trust me, I’m serious as the last cold can of beer on a field trip.” “Marvelous.” I say, “I guess I owe you that much. Professional courtesy. At least one of us has the grit to employ some.” So, I run through the tale of the travails of Al, Chuck, and Leo. Then my little difference of opinion with Agents Rack, Ruin, and the Agency. Plus my severing of ties with both that Agency out on the east coast and the Bureaus in the great American Southwest. “Doctor,” Sam says intently, “I know it’s going to be difficult, but I swear on a box of your finest cigars with a vodka chaser that I didn’t know anything about all this nor did it come from this office. Por favor señor, let me do some digging. I’ll be back in touch.” “Sam,” I say, thinking over the situation, “Yeah…I must apologize for my previous outbursts. I should have known you’re not behind this idiocy. Yeah, go do some fossicking. Let me know what you dig up. Again, sorry. I was a bit…animated.” “Rock,” Sam chuckles, “Do you think that I’d dare anger someone like you? You must think I’ve got a serious case of cranial lithification to cheese-off the Motherfucking Pro from Dover!” At this point, I knew that Sam was also only collateral damage; he too was caught in the crossfire. Ground zero for the original attacks lie elsewhere within the Bureau. Esme and I go back to preparing for our trip coming up in 2 months. But Jesus Q. Christwagons, there’s so much to do. Everything you own; it gets packed, stored, or trashed. It’s the decisions that get so tiring. Keep. Toss. Sell. Burn. Leave on someone’s doorstep. I propose to Es that we just do the basic necessities. Then we hire some firm to finish up for us. It’d be worth the cost since just think what we’d be saving on aspirin and Ace Bandages. Esme readily backs the idea that we should turn the job over to someone else. Plus in the interim, we can take a trip back home to Baja Canada so the kids could visit their grandparents, we visit our family, and all of us could cool out a bit before the big trip east. I need to drop by Big Ray’s Tap for a few hours/days anyways. Old commitments. We’d go the beginning of our last month here in the States, spend a couple of weeks visiting family at home, leave the kids with the grandparents to get spoiled rotten. Es and I would return to Houston to finalize everything. Then Es and I would fly from Houston to that damn sprawling annoyance of an airport on the big lake in Illinoise. The family would meet us there, handover the kids, and we’d all haul ass eastwards to the Middle East. I readily agreed. Anything has to be better than dealing with this crapola. Lady and the stupid cat would go to the pet schleppers a little early. Sure, it’d cost a few more dinars, but that’s one big headache sorted. So, late one afternoon, I’m sitting in my office, trying to figure out exactly what reference works I couldn’t live without. Compton’s? Save. Field Guide to Fungus? Toss. No, wait a minute. Could prove useful. That’s why this is taking forever. The phone rings. It’s Sam. “Hello, Sam,” I say, “What news?” “Goddamn it all to fucking hell and back,” Sam roars. “That’s a unique greeting,” I reply. “I finally drilled down to the bottom of all this horseshit.,” Sam replies, “And it’s a real bowl of fuck all the way south.” “I’m listening,” I say, “Actually, Sam, hold on. I need a drink. Moment.” I give Es the high sign, note it’s Sam on the phone, and that I’ll be in my office if she hears any screaming. I amp up my drink and return to my office, closing the door behind me. Lady is here, waiting to keep my feet warm. “OK Sam, your nickel,” I say, “What’s the scoop?” “Would you believe?,” he begins, “That all batshittery this came from accounting and bookkeeping?” “Well,” I reply, “I’ll have to admit that I’m not overly surprised.” “Yeah,” Sam continues, “I was off on holiday. My first two weeks off after 5 years. My very temporary replacement received a memo from the head of the Bureau that there was great interest in you leading a shortened version of your last trip to demonstrate to a bunch of different university PhDs in the care and feeding of abandoned mines. Seems the Bureau Chief was very impressed with what you and your team accomplished.” “OK,” I reply, “With you so far. So, where did things get wrapped around a tractor’s nuts?” “Right,” he replies, “Here’s where things first went off the rails. Whoever vetted the list of potential attendees sorted the list alphabetically, not by field of expertise. Of course, the obvious first choice would be for geologists; especially those with mining, field, and blasting experience.” “Ah,” I replied, “No wonder it was such a miscellaneous bunch of baloney-loaf whole-grain enviro-types that Al had mentioned.” “Yep,” Sam agreed, “But before anyone with any brains got sight of that list, some fucknuts in the Bureau’s University Liaison department sent out invitations.” “Invitations?” I asked, “To what?” “That’s just the thing,” Sam continued, “They sent out invites to a program that didn’t yet exist, run by someone who had yet to be contacted, much less secured.” “Oh, hey! That’s some good work you guys do down there.” I snort. “Indeed,” Sam agrees, “So once that hit the mail, we started getting back replies and acceptances.” “And there was no project, no leader, no logistics…?” I asked. “No shit,” Sam scoffs. “So, what did these idiots here do? Contact the attendees and explain the problem. Take a little flack, but get it sorted out then try again?” “Let me guess,” I said, “No?” “Nope,” Sam sighs, “By that time, it was in the works and in the hands of accountants.” “Oh, fuck,” I commiserated. “I feel your pain.” “Yeah,” Sam continues, “They see that you’re the hookin’ bull on the last one and they dig into your contract. They figure, ‘Whoa, he’s way too expensive, just look at these expense accounts’, so they do an end-around and contact your colleagues.” “Al, Chuck, and Leo. They’re damn good guys,” I said, “Fine field scientists, all. But I don’t think any of them have the moxie or experience yet to run a whole field course.” “These accounting shitheads never bothered to find out,” Sam groans, “It was all ‘bottom line’, so you got caught in the squeeze.” “OK,” I reply, “I see how that happened, but what about all the shit about me being a 19th-century throwback, that I’m unsafe, wear horrible Hawaiian shirts, and all that shit?” “Comedy of bloody errors,” Sam says, “Actually, the Bureau Chief likes your fashion sense; you should see some of his shirts. But your slime campaign was based on unreliable evidence, tall tales, folklore, and outright fabrications. It was easy to pimp someone with a personality like yours, it’s been said. Someone was trying desperately to cover his ass. However, we have identified the perpetrator.” “Next time I’m in Reno,” I said, “I’ll pay him a friendly little visit and arrange his transport to Neptune. One way. Y’know, it’d be easy for someone with a ‘personality like mine’.” “Ah, yeah. He won’t be here,” Sam says, “In fact, we don’t know where the hell he went. He was immediately sacked, as were a couple of the more boneheaded accountants.” “That’s redundant,” I smirk, “They really don’t want to talk with or see me anytime soon.” “Right, then Rock,” Sam says, “We green again?” “Yeah, Sam,” I reply, “Sure. Green as a New Saigon. But you’ve got to call Rack and Ruin for me. You have to let them know how this whole clusterfuck came to be. We had some words a while back.” “Oh, yeah,” Sam remembers, “I talked with them the other day. They said they’ll be in Houston in a couple of days.” “Cor! Just what I fucking need right now,” I lament. “Ah, it is what it is.” “OK, Rock. Now, back to reality. You interested?” Sam asks. “Send me a JD (job description) and the project particulars. The price of poker’s really going up this time, Sam. Stratospheric. Sorry, it’s all just business.” I relate. “Yeah…,” Sam sighs, “I figure we’ll really owe you if you can drag our ass out of the campfire on this one.” “You have no idea,” I chuckle. We exchange farewells and ring off. Now I have some talking to do with my significant other. Since we were all set to go back to Baja Canada, I could use those two weeks to go to Nevada, if necessary. I can be back in Houston with Es for the last two weeks before we’re slated to travel, and we can sort out the house. “This won’t be an easy sell,” I muse, before chatting with my darling, brilliant, and ever-so-forgiving partner. “I’ll need a drink first”, I declare. Esme notes that it would be nice to have a little spare cash with us when we move overseas. You could have dropped me with a Claymore. Es never fails to flummox me. So, provisional OK from the powers that be. Now all I have to do is wait on Sam’s prospectus. The next day, the doorbell rings. It’s Agents Rack and Ruin. One is holding a box of very expensive cigars, and one is holding a bottle of very expensive bourbon. I turn to Es and remark, “Look here, darlin’. Geeks bearing gifts.” “Hello, Doctor,” Rack says, bristling, “We need to talk. “ “Why?” I ask, “I do seem to recall that I’m no longer associated with you people any longer.” “Doctor,” Agent Ruin cocks his head contritely, bowing ever so slightly, “May we please have a moment of your time?” I look to Es. She shrugs her shoulders. Luckily I’m partial to Es’ opinion. I am also partial to good bourbon and cigars, especially when someone else is paying for them. So I shrug my shoulders as well and tell them to make entry. “My office, “ I say, “You know the way. Mind the boxes.” Once in my office, the Agents stack their offerings and go on in great detail, basically collaborating Sam’s story. I remain steadfast and stony as the Harney Peak Granite of Mr. Rushmore fame. I’m not giving anything away any longer. “Well, Doctor,” Agent Ruin finalizes, “That’s the story, warts and all.” “Yep, it is pretty warty,” I agree, “So?” “We would like to rekindle our relationship,” Agent Rack reports, “These are for starters.” He hands me the cigars and booze; plus another box. “Thanks,” I say, “But just because I accept your peace offerings, that doesn’t mean we’re going to turn back the clock.” “What are you suggesting?” Agent Ruin asks. “No more consulting,” I reply, “I want in. The ‘Full Monty’, as it were. If I’m going overseas and work for some twitchy Middle Eastern sandpit’s national oil company, I want perks, tabs, and my ass duly covered.” “Work two full-time jobs simultaneously?” Agent Rack asks. “However you want to structure it,” I say, “No more consulting. From here on out, you want me, you’re making me a full-fledged full-timer.” Agents Rack and Ruin look at each other, enquiringly. “Doctor,” Agent Rack replies, “We are prepared to offer you an ad hoc Agency appointment. You will be fully attached but you will be also doing your full-time job in the other country.” “I’m listening. Tell me more,” I ask, “What exactly are you offering?” “Full access to all pertinent information,” Agent Ruin continues, “Full entrée to appropriate facilities and, um, assets. Security for you and your family in case of, well, shall; we say, ‘difficulties’. Monthly minimum payment of [$$$] to any non-US bank of your choice. Extra duties would be duly compensated. Top clearances. An enhanced potential payment package, bonus possibilities, and full benefits for you.” “Full benefits for me and my family,” I say, “Or there’s the door. Non-negotiable” I point out. “Very well. That had been anticipated.” Agent Rack replies. “Gentlemen,” I say, “Let us shake on what I hope turns out to be a beautiful relationship.” We shake hands and I sign my life away. I’m really in it now, up to my neck. I have to learn to shut up more and just listen. “Now, gents,” I say, “In order to seal the deal, let us break out the drinking stuff you’ve brought along. We will also smoke together so that we will know there will be no lies or deceit between us.” “Also anticipated, Doctor,” both agents agree. My ‘new’ old colleagues prepare to leave a while later, after a cigar, and far too much of what was a full bottle of expensive gift booze. They always get you in the end. Contained within the other small box were my new Agency credentials, updated version satellite phone, secure codes, and a nifty new Swiss Army Knife, with a built-in cigar cutter. With renewed dedication and expectations all ‘round, Agents Rack and Ruin take their leave. They hope to be able to meet me and the family, remember, they are Uncles Rack and Ruin, overseas one day in the not too distant future. My information, further updated cards, registration, and all that official business guff will come to the specific Middle Eastern country’s US Embassy for me once we arrive and get settled. “Marvelous,” I muse. I receive an Email from Dr. Muleshoe explaining what we talked about and his hopes for my stickhandling a ‘quick’ 2-week field excursion for the approximately 15 Ph.D. types from around North America. Seems there’s a couple of Canadians and one Mexican professor that expressed desires to join. They had actually forwarded funds to be included in our number. Sam suggests I drive out in my truck and proceed as per the last trip. Get the trailer, fill it with noisemakers, and the Bureau would sort out transportation and lodging for the attendees. Seems some want to camp, like real geologists, and some want to lodge in hotels, like real non-geologists. I write Sam back: First item: this is a 2-week sojourn into the desert. It’s a field meeting, emphasis on the field, not a tour of Nevada’s many fine hotels, resorts, and casinos. Item two: I no longer possess my truck. The Bureau will provide me with the appropriate vehicular equivalent. No passengers, this will be the Camp Chief truck from the onset. Besides, I am the only one licensed to drive the vehicle when coupled to an explosives-laden trailer. Item three: I will be flown to and from Reno from Houston. No buses, trains, or automobiles. It’s business class or zilch. Item the fourth: the Bureau will source the necessary support logisticians to provide food, drink, and toilet paper for the 16 professionals while we are in the field. They will also need to provide cooks, dishwashers, camp tidiers, and the like as I don’t have time to deal with 15 potentially field-fresh, whiny waterhead PhDs. Item the fifth: The Bureau will provide for all pre- and post-trip handling of participants. They can handle hotel rooms for the early arrivers or late-stayers. They can manage arrivals, registration, signing of necessary documents, and assuring vaccination records are up to snuff, waivers are signed, etc. They will also handle the transportation of participants to/from and during the field project, when and where necessary. Item the sixth: I include a new version of my contract. Force Majeure, ‘Take or Pay’ clause. Door to door coverage. Plus my, ahem, augmented day rate. Absolutely non-negotiable. Item seven: I have final say over what is done in the field. I am in command, the boss, the head cheese, the head honcho, and I require absolute discipline, especially where explosives are concerned. “My way or the highway” will be the theme of the trip. Gain, non-negotiable. To be continued.
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