Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The New Gods of Babylon

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When you think hard about it, the traditional cyberpunk trope of megacorporations literally ruling the world doesn't make any sense.

A megacorp is a massive private corporation, holding monopolistic or neat-monopolistic control over multiple markets. Megacorps are so powerful they can ignore the law, maintain private armies to enforce their will, and exercise extreme control over their employees. This looks like a set-up for a nightmare blend of a dictatorship and state capitalism, but for one small problem.

Megacorps are profit-driven.

Their goal is, quite simply, to make money. As much money as possible, and with it power and influence. That is how they achieved their status, and how they maintain it. One of the most fundamental tenants of maximising profit is minimising costs. And ruling the world is costly.

Governments in the real world spend money like water on public goods, including roads, sewage, public infrastructure, the environment, the legal system, and so on. While their bring great benefit to the public, they incur massive upkeep costs. In corporate-speak, they are loss centres to any private company that is not explicitly in the business of providing these goods and services.

Megacorps may be so rich and powerful they can afford to cover the costs of these goods. But why would they? It is far riskier and much less profitable for megacorps to diversify into new markets and sectors than it is to consolidate and grow their existing market share and to offer even more product. They may well benefit from having excellent infrastructure, a robust national defense, and so on, but it is far less costly for them to simply pay someone else to take care of them so they can focus on their core strengths.

In other words: megacorporations in a realistic setting will need governments. They will not take on the burdens of governance, because the costs incurred from upkeep of public goods would be far too great for any profit-oriented company outside this sector to shoulder. Instead, they will want to create a pliable government, or a hollow state, one that offers them maximum permissiveness and opportunities to pursue profits with minimal oversight, regulations and punishments. The megacorps will leave the hard work (and expense) of actual government to the public sector, so they will focus on profits.

This, by the way, is what is happening in Mexico. The drug cartels may be fighting a decades-long war with the federal government, but they do not actually want to overthrow the government. They do not want to rule Mexico. They wish to carve out a space to carry out their (hugely profitable) criminal enterprises in peace, and to destroy their rivals to capture their market share. They leave the drudgery of day-to-day administration to the civil government so they can accumulate and enjoy their wealth.

Megacorps that do go into the business of actual government must necessarily set aside a pure pursuit of profits, and thus become something other than a hypercapitalistic private entity. They may become an extension of the state, form an alliance with the government, or create some new hybrid private-public model. Whatever form this takes, if they assume the costs and responsibilities of government, if they become the government, then they are not traditional megacorps any more.

With this in mind, I set about creating non-traditional antagonists for Babylon Blues, a decidedly non-traditional cyberpunk work.

Megacorps would not work. Dystopian governments are exceedingly common in fiction today, and in the real world dystopian governments do not usually produce the futuristic aesthetic I wanted for Babylon Blues.

That left me with gods.

More precisely, demons in the guise of gods.

The New Gods of Babylon wish to rule the world. To them, wealth is a necessary prerequisites to gain control of the people, but is not itself the end goal. They may control megacorps to gain profit from sales of goods and services, but it is only a means to an end. They pursue power, and the logic of pursuing power is vastly different from the logic of pursuing profit. Among other things, they will be perfectly willing to spend money on loss centres if doing so will increase their power, such as standing up private armies to do their bidding instead of getting the taxpayer-funded military and police to take care of business.

Of course, few people will willingly pledge themselves to entities that present themselves as demons. To attract followers, these beings present themselves as gods. They wear outwardly-beautiful forms, offering power, blessings, the opportunity to earn the right to become superhuman. With their occult powers, they make the miraculous mundane, and dazzle all who witness them in action.

In our world, there is no widely-accepted proof of God, gods, or other supernatural phenomenon. It is fashionable to be atheist or agnostic, because the physical sciences have not proven the metaphysical. Believers must have faith that there is a higher power.

In the world of Babylon, there is no need for faith. The New Gods openly dispense blessings and miracles on their followers. Every time a believer uses a power, no matter how slight, he becomes a living testimony to the power of the gods. With the existence of gods and powers widely known and accepted, there is no room for disbelief, no way to reject their existence. The only choice you have left is which god you side with, if at all.

And, no matter which god you choose, there is always a cost.

The New Gods dispense blessings and privileges to those they deem worthy. People who desire temporal wealth and power will do everything it takes to win the favour of the gods, and with them their blessings. But there is always a price to gain the power of the gods.

Humans are fragile vessels, tiny motes of dust in comparison to the overawing cosmic entities that are the gods of Babylon. Even if a New God imbues a believer with power, that believer must be strong enough to receive it. If not, the power will burn him out from within, destroying his mind and soul, transforming him into a ravenous blood-maddened beast. A husk of a man, now a monster that must be put down before he brings disaster on the world.

Or, at least, this is what the New Gods want you to believe.

For the believers strong enough to accept the power of the gods, the changes are incredible. They can manipulate their bodies, bend the fabric of space-time, become berserkers, manifest aspects of their gods, wield stupendous technologies, and more. But these powers require a constant connection to their deities.

Which means the New Gods exercise immense influence over the minds of their believers.

And when a god gives you marching orders, you cannot refuse.

Even if it means acting like a Husk -- or becoming one.

The New Gods, one and all, do not inspire their believers to become greater than they are. They do not uphold any values save those that support their rule and doctrine. They do not value truth, beauty and goodness beyond utilitarian uses. They offer power, but in exchange demand the souls of their believers.

They are all false gods.

It is well that they all hate each other, and are constantly seeking to dominate and destroy their rivals, or the world of Babylon would be in even worse shape than it is.

In keeping with these ideas, when planning the New Gods, I based them on religious heresies.

The youngest of the New Gods, and the first we meet, is the Singularity Network. Its heresy is that it believes it can create a god through mere technology. Thus, they focus on cognitive enhancement technologies and cybernetics, and have wholeheartedly embraced the posthuman and transhuman philosophies. They reject the flesh and embrace the perfection of the machine. The closest they have to a god is the Will of the Net, a gestalt of every member of the Singularity Network, operating as a group consensus for global decisions. To outsiders, it is a tech-driven direct democracy that chases perfection. But for some reason, no one opposes the Will of the Net. And maybe they can't.

The Guild of the Maker is a faction for laborers, workers and creators. They proclaim that their god made the universe, and honour him through the act of creation. Take the SN's obsession with tech and spread it out to everything. Everything the Guild creates is a testimony to the Maker, and the Maker blesses his believers with the ability to create wonders far beyond human ken. But the Maker is a jealous god, and tolerates no other gods, and will stop at nothing to achieve supremacy--including using up his believers as pawns and footsoldiers. And in the Guild, the only true sin is opposing the Maker. The Guild, thus, is Christianity perverted and watered down, and shorn of its doctrines and values.

The Pantheon isn't one god, but many. An alliance of lesser gods, believers in the Pantheon are free to worship any or all of them as they please. But this worship is transactional: you make offerings, you attend empowerments, and the gods grant you your wishes and make you an Elect. If you are sufficiently devout, they may let you take on their aspects and become a godman. There are no deeper truths, no central doctrine, no exalted virtues. The only good there is lies in supporting fellow believers against outsiders, and bringing in new believers. They have stolen the visage of the Hindu gods and goddesses, but in truth they have much more in common with rakshashas.

The Liberated hold only one law: do as you will. In this sense they are very much like Wiccans. They worship the goddess Namanah, whose blessings allow them to sculpt their bodies into their idealized forms -- or forms for war, depending on her needs. With their code, they are liberated from all cultural, social, and political norms and attachments, and are allowed--even encouraged--to pursue pleasure and hedonism for its own sake. But the Wiccan Rede actually goes: if you harm none, do as you will. And the threefold law warns that whatever you send out, you will receive threefold. The pursuit of empty pleasure is a slow acting poison, one whose fruits will only be seen in the future, but the Liberated's shadow wars against the other gods will have far quicker -- and far more dramatic -- repercussions. You might even say the Liberated are more like theological Satanists.

The Court of Shadows is the church of last resort. To the outcasts, the broken, the pariahs, the desperate, the Court offers sanctuary, protection--and the power to destroy all who have wronged them. For their signature aesthetic, I took the most popular beings in urban fantasy and paranormal romance -- vampires and werewolves -- and smooshed them together in a horrific hybrid. As with the other New Gods, they may claim to extol virtue, but their belief structure only supports their own believers -- and justifies ultraviolence against outsiders. For their aesthetic, the Court stole the mantle of the Catholic Church and twisted them with death and lust, creating a perversion that could exist only in Babylon.

The Void Collective worship no gods. They pursue enlightenment through the complete dissolution of the ego and all attachments to their outside life. They see space-time as an illusion, and with it all matter and all things. The closest they have to an object of worship is the Void. But the Void is not empty; it is full. The Void Collective took a shallow interpretation of Buddhism and weaponized it for its own ends, and in doing so created a hive mind of hollow puppets.

The Seekers of the Way also do not believe in gods. Rather, they wish to become as gods. An alliance of corporations, military forces and security agencies, they seek to understand the powers and the technologies of the New Gods, and use them for their own ends. In doing so, they aim to transcend their fleshly bodies and become something more. They are like Taoists, who seek to become immortal through cultivation of vital energies and strict diets. But instead of following the Tao, the Seekers impose themselves on the world in opposition to the Tao. And in doing so, they court disaster.

With seven factions in play, at least two of them will be in open conflict at any one time, and the rest are deadlocked. If any faction tries to gain an advantage by allying with others, the rest will quickly counter them by forming their own alliance. However, there are so many players that their interests must eventually diverge. Any alliances are temporary and doomed to dissolution, not the least because they are all competing and all believe there is only enough room for one faction at the top. Likewise, any one group that gains a decisive advantage can quickly be overpowered by the rest -- if only because all groups are carefully watching each other to prevent just that.

The New Gods aren't the only gods, of course. There are countless other minor gods in the world, and in Babylon, it is said that there is a god for every man. And in a world where gods walk amongst men, why would anyone choose to believe in an unseen God?

Who would want to?

This is the crux of Babylon Blues, and the answer to that question is Yuri Yamamoto. He who has gone beyond this illusory world, a world of gods and men and suffering, a world that accepts only that which can be seen, and has experienced something... more.

As for what this 'more' is, I'll leave it to another post.

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Babylon Blues may be fully funded, but the campaign carries on! If you want exclusive book bundles with demon-hunting knights and samurai, check out the Kickstarter here!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

BABYLON BLUES IS FUNDED!

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My upcoming cyberpunk horror work BABYLON BLUES is fully funded on Kickstarter!

I'm incredibly grateful for the support of my backers, friends and family. Without them, this project would not have gone so far in such a short time.

With that said, the campaign still has some time left on the clock. I'd like to announce the stretch goal: a digital art book.

This art book will have 12 images, 6 character portraits and 6 scenes. Each image will be accompanied by a detailed write-up. All backers will receive this art book in addition to the rewards they have chosen. The art book is projected to take 4 months for completion and delivery.

The art book will be unlocked at $2500. With just over a week to go, let's bring this project to a strong finish.

If a demon-hunting cyberpunk horror saga is up your alley, back the BABYLON BLUES Kickstarter here!

Cheah Kit Sun Red

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Blades of Babylon

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Swords are cool.

That alone would be enough reason to include swords in fiction. And you can't have a street samurai without a sword.

But my preferred aesthetic, that of the military technothriller, demands greater justification than just 'cool'. And for good reason: soldiers must justify every piece of gear they carry on a mission. Unnecessary gear just slows you down and takes up space. On the modern battlefield, where death is routinely dealt beyond visual range, there's no place for a sword.

Or is there?

James Williams, master of ancient samurai military arts, noted that in the Middle East, soldiers found themselves fighting threats high on drugs. The 5.56x45mm NATO round, already considered anemic in many circles, couldn't stop them, even with multiple hits. The attackers may take fatal wounds, but until they bleed out or suffer a central nervous system hit, they will just keep coming.

As such, Special Operations troops requested Williams to produce a special kind of knife. A long, heavy knife, capable of cutting through a limb with a single blow. That way, it doesn't matter how drugged-up a threat is. If he doesn't have a hand any more, he can't hold a weapon and he can't harm you.

This story from SOFREP describes another knife use case. In 2011, a gang of pirates hijacked a boat and killed all four passengers. A team of US Navy SEALs boarded the yacht to take down the pirates. During the raid, one of the pirates decided to play dead. An alert SEAL spotted the pirate opening his eye. The SEAL couldn't shoot the pirate for fear that the bullet would punch through the floor and hit his comrades on the lower decks, so he finished him off with his knife.

The Special Operations Combatives Program illustrated a third example of knife use in modern combat: an aggressor jumping on a soldier as he makes entry in a room and wrestling for his gun. The threat is too close to engage with a firearm. A solution is to draw a knife, defeat the grab attempt, and finish the threat. This may require stabbing and cutting him off, but it could also entail using the knife as a lever to facilitate throws and other maneuvers.

From these three scenarios, we see when a knife is used in modern war: to neutralize pain-resistant attackers, to engage threats in close quarters where overpenetration and collateral damage is a risk, and to fend off gun grabs and attempted takedowns.

With these three use cases in mind, I set about searching for suitable blades to arm a street samurai.

The Art of the Knife

The world of BABYLON BLUES is populated with monsters, sorcerers, cyborgs, and powerful demons. Capable of rewriting the laws of reality, the threat they pose to operators in that universe goes above and beyond the threats a soldier would face in ours.

In Babylon, there are Elect with the power to regenerate swiftly from wounds, even seemingly-mortal injuries. Husks that can transform into hulking beasts that can shrug off rifle rounds at point blank. Cultists that can teleport right up in your face.

It's every threat I've described above, but turned up to eleven.

Yuri Yamamoto, operator par excellence, would be intimately familiar with such threats, and would arm himself to meet them.

In line with the street samurai motif, I looked at James Williams' blade catalogue. With his in-depth experience and research into the samurai arts, I was confident that he could provide a solution.
And he delivered.

Yamamoto's primary combat knife is the OZK 002 Osoraku Zukuri Kaiken. Slim and low-profile, it can be carried and concealed almost anywhere. With its neutral textured handle, he can quickly manipulate the knife without losing his grip. The spine is exceptionally thick, making it extremely durable--and perfectly suitable as a lever, even when jammed inside a threat's body. In darkness and deep shadow, the matte black blade will disappear. The blade profile, modeled on the osoraku zukuri pattern, features an armor-piercing point, the better to reach deeply into a target's vitals. 

When operational, Yamamoto prefers to mount his knife in a kangeroo pouch on his plate carrier behind his magazines. This allows him rapid access, especially in a wild melee. The dark handle blends into the fabric of his plate carrier, making it harder for the threat to spot until it's too late. In civilian clothes, he wears the blade horizontally edge-up on the left side of his belt, the way his samurai ancestors would have. In a high-risk situation, he could casually fold his hands over his belt, placing his hand on his handle. If he needs it, he could draw and thrust in the blink of an eye. 

When he needs a longer blade, he turns to an o-tanto, a HZO 002 Hira Zukuri O-Tanto with the blade length of the Hisshou. An o-tanto is technically a long knife, but everyone recognizes it for what it is: a short sword.

The o-tanto is his signature weapon, the blade he carries into high-profile operations. With a single swing, he can sever a limb or a take off a head, decisively ending a confrontation. Against armored threats, he can grab the blade to thrust into unarmored points, almost like half-swording from European swordsmanship.

Other writers might go for a katana or a wakizashi. Their longer blades would certainly afford greater reach. However, Yamamoto expects to use his blades in very close quarters, so close that the extra length and mass would get in his way. He also appreciates the value of a long blade he can conceal under a jacket. The maximum blade length he will accept is twelve inches, and depending on the situation, he might pick a shorter blade. Any range handicap from a shorter blade can be easily overcome with the right footwork and body mechanics.

It is an unorthodox choice--but then, Yamamoto is an unorthodox man.

The Way of the Sword

With Yuri Yamamoto's portrayal as a street samurai, I sought to find a suitable Japanese martial art for him. A martial art that teaches the use of the blade, combining timeless wisdom and modern realities.

Nami-Ryu was perfect for my needs. Headed by James Williams, it took samurai military arts and applied them to modern warfare. On YouTube, Williams has published videos showing the application of Nami-Ryu principles to modern combat. Better yet, Nami-Ryu is itself descended from Yanagi-Ryu Aiki Bugei from the Yoshida clan, a classical samurai combat art.

To complement Nami-Ryu, I chose Systema. On first glance, they seem nothing alike. Nami-Ryu focuses on kata and swordsmanship; Systema uses freeflow sensitivity drills. However, Williams wrote multiple essays describing the many similarities in both arts, including their emphasis on relaxation, softness, and blending. On closer inspection, I saw what he saw, and agreed with his conclusions. Plus, incorporating Systema would further cement Yamamoto as a man of East and West, old Japan and ancient Russia.

Hollywood and pop culture portrays sword combat is crude, unsophisticated ways, or emphasise flash and style over substance. You have characters spinning and twirling and jumping and otherwise performing acrobatics, characters who batter their way through the enemies' ranks, characters who handle their weapons as though they were bats or clubs instead of cutting tools. With Babylon Blues, I wanted to give the reader insight into how high-level samurai combat could have taken place.
Hard blocks are virtually nonexistent in Yamamoto's arsenal. He faces threats so powerful, it is impossible for a mere man with mortal strength to confidently block a blow without being overwhelmed. Likewise, relying on power, speed, or reaction time is useless; there will always be someone stronger and faster than you, especially in the world of Babylon.

Instead, the foundation of Yamamoto's art is deception and blending.

The art of war is deception. In a world populated by berserkers, giants, cyborgs and other inhuman monsters, deception is one of the few tools Yamamoto has that can't be nullified through magic or technology.

There are many techniques to deceive the enemy. Appearing to go in one direction, but in reality going in another. Masking small motions with large ones. Surreptitiously drawing a weapon before a high-risk encounter. Body movements that, to the attacker, appears to be taking you away from him, while in reality placing you in an advantageous location. All these, and more, are the cornerstones of Yamamoto's art.

When a strike comes in, he employs subtle cams and deflections to redirect the force vector, and shapes himself to blend with the force. Instead of traditional steps or shuffles, he pivots away from the line of attack, getting off the X while remaining close enough to deliver the decisive blow. Through body twists, turns, and other small motions, he remains unavailable, yet unavoidable.

The Japanese hold that the way of the sword is the way of strategy. Knowledge of the sword translates into knowledge of all weapons and other methods of war. In an integrated system of combat, body mechanics are universal across all modalities. Sword cutting mechanics are the same mechanics for grappling and throwing; empty-hand movements translate to pistol draws and manipulations; polearm work can be adapted to long guns; sensitivity, deception and footwork apply to all methods of combat.

Executing these techniques under pressure requires a mindset vastly different from other martial arts. It demands relaxation, softness and looseness, the better to feel the incoming force vector and the target. Precision and subtlety are prized over gross motor skills and raw aggression. Instead of meeting force with force, you redirect the incoming energy, lead the enemy into a sudden void, and return his energy as a strike he won't see coming.

Most of all, this way of combat requires faith.

It requires giving up your ego, letting go of all attachments to outcomes and prejudices, to see the world exactly as it is. To give up contesting for space and move as the situation demands. To recognize that inherent in every problem is its solution. To sense and receive forces great and subtle beyond yourself, and shape them to your needs. To recognize that the universe returns what you send out, and that you can be part of the great chain of energy return. To relax and become totally free.
And for a man defined by faith, there is no better art.

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Enjoy stories of street samurai fighting monsters, cultists and false gods? Back BABYLON BLUES on Kickstarter here!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Sneak Preview of BABYLON BLUES Remastered!


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What goes into a remastered story?

A lot of work, unsurprisingly enough.

BABYLON BLUES was originally conceived and written as a series of interconnected webserials. The concepts were sound, the characters were intriguing, the tech and world resonated with me and my readers, the stories were compelling -- but they suffered from a lack of continuity. And, alas, deep proofreading.

For the remastered edition, which is currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter, I'm poring through the old stories and cleaning up the canon. Old terms like 'argees' have been phased out, character descriptions have been cleaned up, terminology and jargon made consistent.

Most significantly, I have rewritten key scenes for additional punch and characterisation. Some action scenes have been re-choreographed for greater authenticity, some dialogue cleaned up to make more sense, and in some cases entire scenes have been significantly rewritten. Case in point, Chapter 10 of the first story, THE BLACK WATCH.

This scene takes place after a climactic battle with a monster. Team rookie Karim Mustafa in his werewolf form has defeated the monster, and team leader Yuri Yamamoto is ordering him to stand down. In the original sequence, Yamamoto conducts an exorcism on the dying Husk, driving out the Dark Power that granted him his powers.

For the remaster, the chapter goes much differently. You can read it below and compare it to the original version.

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10. Believer
The werewolf beheld the operator.
Yamamoto was a man. A weak, fragile, puny man, barely worthy of his teeth and claws. And yet…
And yet, he stood unflinchingly before him, cold green eyes clear yet inscrutable, short sword held loose but at the ready, his muscles ready to explode into a symphony of motion. Something within the werewolf stirred, something that spoke of a lone warrior in crimson armor standing his ground on a blood-soaked battlefield, naked sword in hand, heart as clear as still water. In Yamamoto he saw a knight of a long-dead kingdom, a samurai who marched for a tattered banner, an operator wielding his blade for virtues and ideas long faded but never forgotten.
Here was a man who had long ago embraced the inevitability of death, yet would live every moment in total dedication to his mission.
The wolf stood down.
He departed from Karim, returning all the mass and materials he had borrowed, reforming them into more familiar substances in places long committed to muscle memory. As he shrank down to a mere human form, his plates, his tools, his ammo, most of all his pistol and carbine, reassembled themselves by the secret methods only Galen had at their disposal.
“Well done,” Yamamoto said. “Now step aside and cover me. I have work to do.”
Karim stepped aside. Connor sidled up next to him, apparently none the worse for wear. Yamamoto positioned himself at the feet of the dying Husk, sword ready to respond to a dying blow. But his face, his eyes, had softened. Once they were hard and unyielding as steel; now they were filled with… compassion.
The Husk was dying. This much was clear. Lying in a claret lake, the Husk moaned and twitched, grabbing its neck with what little strength it had left. Blood squirted from his wounded arm, boiled from his burst eye, gushed freely from its eviscerated throat. Karim scarcely believed that so much blood could exist within a creature, much less be poured out without immediate death.
“Help…” the Husk whispered.
His voice, so weak and so small, drowning in liquid, couldn’t possibly have come from the lungs of such a monster. With its severed throat, speech should have been impossible.
Yet here it was, talking to him with the voice of a dying man.
Yamamoto knelt next to him.
“We can’t help you. Or rather, we want to help you, but our medical supplies are only compatible with humans. You understand?”
“Cold…” the Husk mumbled. “Hurts.”
“What’s your name?”
“John.” He coughed wetly. “Porter.”
“Alright, John, we can help you, but we can’t do that until you’re human again. You have to give up the Dark Power indwelling in you. Do you understand?”
“Dying… Need… help.”
“Yes, but that Power can’t help you anymore. We can.”
“What… can you… do? I’m… already… dead.”
“If you can talk, you’re still alive. Even now, even if you’re dying, you still have a choice. Do you want to die as a man? Or a monster?”
“A… mon….” He coughed. “Man. A man.”
“Then do you reject this Dark Power and all his works?”
The Husk groaned.
“Stay with me. Do you reject the Dark Power and all his works?”
“Yes,” he whispered.
“Do you wish to be free of him?”
“Yes!”
“Very well. To the Dark Power possessing John Porter, I speak to you now. He has rejected you. Release him from your power and—”
“Never.”
The Husk had spoken with a new voice, deep and gravelly, filled with echoes from an otherworldly dimension.
But his lips had remained still.
“John Porter has rejected you. You heard him say so. John, is that right?”
“Yes!” Porter exclaimed, spraying blood over his chest.
“He has rejected you,” Yamamoto continued. “You have no claim over him. Leave him now.”
The turtle’s face twisted into a mask of rage, his eyes glowing a defiant green.
“I will never leave.”
The voice that emerged from his lungs was low and clear and resonant, yet suggestive of rot and decay. It was mold degrading dead matter in triple-quick time, it was the thick poisonous fumes of invisible swamp gas, it was fingernails clawing and scraping the inside of the soul. Karim shivered.
Yamamoto remained steady.
“This man is a child of God, the finest creation of the Creator of the Universe. The longer you hold on him, the greater your punishment shall surely be.”
The creature laughed. No mortal could have laughed like that through a closed mouth and torn throat, yet the Husk’s voice filled the world with a terrible and otherworldly sound, sneaking past Karim’s earpieces and burning into his brain. Galen woofed in rage. At the edges of Karim’s vision, black spots danced and swirled.
“I reject your God!”
Lights cracked and burst, plunging the world into darkness. A strange chill fell, gnawing at Karim’s bones. Inaudible voices whispered at the edges of his hearing. His human self screamed at him to run. Galen the Wolf commanded him to stay.
“Everything you send out shall be returned to you. All suffering you cause shall rebound onto you. This is the iron law of the universe. John Porter is dying. If you hang on to his soul, you shall surely be dragged into a hell of your own making.”
You go to hell.”
The turtle opened his jaws.
Yamamoto reached under his shirt and held out a small object.
“Gaze upon this and know the face of the Creator!”
The Husk recoiled from the sight, screaming in agony and fear and terror.
Karim blinked. Yamamoto was holding up a necklace of some kind. But what necklace could inflict such agony on a Dark Power?
“Witness the symbol of God! The Uncreated Creator who made all things! The Prime Mover who set the cosmos in motion! He who divided light and darkness! The Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last, the One and the All!”
A strange blue-white light emanated from the necklace Yamamoto held in his hand. A faint light, but it chased away the cold, the voices fell silent, and the darkness retreated.
“What is your name?” Yamamoto demanded.
An inchoate roar exploded from the turtle’s lips. It flailed and thrashed about, splashing blood over Yamamoto’s face and body. He continued, unperturbed.
“It is not I who asks you, but God. What is your name?”
The turtle screeched in terror. The windows rattled. Books flew off their shelves. The floor trembled, the ceiling shook.
“TAKE IT AWAY FROM ME!”
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” Yamamoto asked, his tone suddenly and surprisingly gentle.
The turtle snapped its jaws, going for Yamamoto’s hand. Yamamoto drew it away.
“You see the Light? It is the Light of God. It exposes all corruption and heals all wounds. You hurt because the Light reflects in your soul the torment you have inflicted upon others. If you want to stop the pain, ease into the Light. Relax. Let it inside you. Let it heal you. Let me know your name.”
A weird expression crossed the turtle’s face, and suddenly Karim saw three faces superimposed on it. The face of a worried man, slowly relaxing, eyes widening in wonder. The face of the turtle, slack like death. And a twisted green-black ball of knotted, ropy tendrils, compressing ever more tightly.
“John, you see the Light, don’t you? Head into it.”
“I… I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“Hurt… killed… too many people.”
“You caused much harm, but even so, there is forgiveness for he who seeks with a sincere heart. Do you regret your actions?”
“I do. I… I didn’t know it wanted to turn us into… into monsters. None of us did.”
“Then go to the Light, intent on seeking redemption and reconciliation. Accept the judgment and the mercy of God. Ask for forgiveness, and it will be given.”
“Will I… be punished?”
“You’ve suffered enough in this world. There’s no need to suffer even further. Go to God, and all will be well.”
The three faces wavered. The face of the man lifted away from the turtle. The face of the monster remained.
Black limbs whipped out from the dark ball, slashing at the man’s face, pulling him back.
Porter screamed.
“What are you doing?” Yamamoto demanded.
“He is mine! I will never let him go!” the Dark Power screamed.
“It still hurts, doesn’t it?”
The monster bellowed through its gaping wound, a horrible liquid sound that spurted black fluid across the floor. Karim startled. Where had the fluid come from?
“It hurts because you’re still holding on to him,” Yamamoto continued. “What you are feeling is the Light of God flowing into you, through him. The tighter your grasp, the more Light will flow into you. If you want the pain to stop, release him.”
The turtle screamed in protest, but softer this time.
“You can feel it for yourself, can’t you? The tighter you hold on to him, the more it will hurt. But if you let him go, the pain will stop.”
The monster sighed.
The tendrils unwound themselves from John Porter’s face.
Porter’s face folded into itself, transforming into a sphere of light. It shot up and away from the corpse, through the ceiling, and out of sight.
Kari’s jaw dropped. He was a psi. An Elect of Galen. But he’d never, ever, seen anything like this before.
“It still hurts!” the Dark Power shouted. “You promised it wouldn’t hurt!”
“You’re still tense. You’re still fighting the Light. Let it flow into and through you, and cleanse you. The more you resist, the more it will hurt.”
“LIAR!”
“Try it for yourself. Just pause and relax.”
The face of the Dark Power settled into the face of the turtle, darkening the flesh, becoming one with it. And yet, ever so subtly, under the light from the necklace, the dead flesh began to brighten.
“Feeling better now, yes?” Yamamoto said. “Now tell me, what’s your name?”
“I will never tell you,” the Dark Power said, slowly enunciating every word.
“You’re not speaking to me, for it is not I who speaks to you. It is God, the True Light, the Light of the World, the Light of Lights. He who is the Sovereign of all things seen and unseen, the Supreme Judge and the Father of Eternity, he who causes to become, he who decrees the beginning and end of all things. He speaks to you. What is your name?”
An abhorrent sound flowed from the monster’s mouth. It was an unpronounceable word trickling through miles of superheated tar, combining with methane bubbles and the remnants of long-dead creatures, bursting out of primordial muck into an impossible sound. A sound like ‘Aruk’.
“Aruk,” Yamamoto said. “Thank you for your name. The body you are inhabiting is dying. It may well be dead already. You can’t stay any longer. Now you’ve got two choices. You can go into the Light, surrender to the judgment and the mercy of the Almighty, or—"
The turtle howled.
The windows cracked and shattered. The earpieces shut off all noise. Claws tore deep rents in the floor. Tiles fell from the ceiling. Shelves toppled.
A great black cloud burst forth from the Husk. It covered the body completely, shrouding him in a veil of darkness. The inky cloud grew larger and thicker, sucking up the lake of blood into itself, blooming into a pillar of smoke that reached up to the ceiling.
It became a face.
“I WILL NOT SURRENDER!” Aruk said.
Karim’s blood froze. His muscles clenched tight. His heart trembled. His eyes and jaw locked wide open.
“THIS IS NOT OVER!” the Dark Power shouted.
Yamamoto raised his necklace.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”
The cloud dispersed like smoke in the wind. It blew out the shattered windows and dissipated in the storm outside. The air freshened and cleared, and in moments, it was as if it was never there.
And where was once a monstrous turtle, there was only the shriveled, naked remains of a man.
Yamamoto sighed.
Pressed his hands together.
Lowered his head.
“Was that… an exorcism?” Karim asked.
Yamamoto stayed still for a moment, then looked back up at Karim.
“The technical term is ‘compassionate depossession,” Yamamoto said.
“I… I don’t… how… Are you an Elect? A priest? What are you?”
Yamamoto turned to face Karim completely. His necklace reflected the faint light around the room. It was a strange symbol, one Karim had glanced a few times on the beat but had never investigated, so simple, yet so powerful.
It was a cross.
A cross whose ends terminated in three lotus petals.
“A believer,” Yamamoto said.
“A believer?” Karim asked.
“Yes. Only this, and nothing more.”
“How did you do… Whatever it was you did?”
“It is not I, but God.”
Something within Karim trembled. He had known many of the words Yamamoto had spoken; he had heard some of them in the mosques of his childhood.
Had he been wrong about Allah?
More importantly, did this man have the power to exorcise Galen too? Was this the secret behind the sterling record of the Black Watch?
Who was Yuri Yamamoto?
“What is a compassionate depossession?” Karim asked.
“Well…” Yuri began.
The radio interrupted him.
“Black Watch, this is Three-TAC. We have a… a situation.”
It was Rogers, the SWAT commander.
“Go ahead,” Yamamoto said. “What’s the problem?”
“A Counter Assault Team from the SN is coming up. They want the body of the Husk.”
Connor shook his head, muttering softly under his breath.
“Stop them,” Yamamoto said. “This is our scene, not theirs.”
“We tried. Control told us to stand down.”
Yamamoto sighed. “Understood. We’ll deal with them.” Changing frequencies, Yamamoto said, “Black Watch, Samurai. On me.”
The six operators gathered around Yamamoto. They were battered, bruised and blood-covered, but their eyes were bright and their demeanor firm. Without orders, they reloaded their weapons and fanned out in a semicircle around the body.
The CAT came. Thirteen of them, all cyborgs, marching in lockstep down the aisles. Their uniform was a cross between tac gear and clerical clothing. Black long-sleeved armored greatcoat, black pants, black gloves, black boots. Their cybernetic eyes, three per cyborg, scanned in every direction, their hands held close to their waists.
And in the lead was Alpha Epsilon Eight-Two-Two.

--


Where the original exorcism scene was more dramatic and forceful, very much akin to Hollywood exorcisms, this scene was more low-key and subtle. Instead of driving out the Dark Power, Yamamoto aimed to negotiate a peaceful solution by convincing it to go to God.

The first reason for this change is doctrinal. It is not doctrinally sound for a Christian who is not an ordained priest to attempt an exorcism, and Yuri Yamamoto is most assured not a priest.

The second reason is to create character depth. Up to this point, we see Yuri Yamamoto as an operator par excellence, destroying his enemies before him. You'd expect him to achieve a more forceful resolution. But he isn't that kind of man--not anymore, anyway. He is now a law enforcer, and if the situation can be resolved with a lower level of force, he can take it. Further, as described in my interview with Rawle Nyanzi, Yuri Yamamoto is an unorthodox thinker and a Christian mystic. This approach of compassionate depossession is more in tune with his character.

The third reason is structural. The previous chapter was a huge action scene. In a webserial, readers can take a break between chapters, so the next scene will feel fresh. In a conventional book, however, a high-intensity scene quickly followed by a second and a third quickly leads to burnout. This approach lets me step down the emotional intensity and create a different mood while still resolving the conflict with the Dark Power.

There's a final reason too. But you'll need to read the final chapter to find out.

BABYLON BLUES is six shots of cyberpunk horror, starring a Christian street samurai and his teammates in an epic struggle against monsters, cultists and demons disguised as gods. Back BABYLON BLUES on Kickstarter here!


Saturday, November 2, 2019

Babylon Blues Meets Deus Vult Wastelanders!

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Bloodthirsty demons and black-hearted cultists. Guns and swords and high technology. Unshakable faith in the face of soul-rending evil.

These are the defining points of Babylon Blues. And Adam Lane Smith's Deus Vult Wastelanders series.

Deus Vult Wastelanders is a heavy metal Christian pulp fiction series, set in a post-apocalyptic America where demons and cultists run rampant across nuclear-blasted wastelands. Humanity’s last hope for salvation lies with the Knights of the Blood Cross, crusaders clad in powered armor who will brave the wastes to rescue the innocent and destroy evil wherever it raises its head.

When I noticed the thematic similarities between Babylon Blues and Deus Vult Wastelanders, I decided to approach Adam with a proposal: to cross-promote our respective books on the Babylon Blues Kickstarter.

He accepted instantly.

Today I am pleased to announce the next phase of the Babylon Blues Kickstarter campaign! From now until the end of the campaign, Adam and I will offer new rewards and book bundles exclusive to the Babylon Blues Kickstarter.

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KATANA AND CROSS combines Babylon Blues and Book 1 of Deus Vult Wastelanders, Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross. With this bundle, jump seamlessly between a cyberpunk city and a nuclear-blasted hellscape and follow the exploits of a street samurai and a crusader clad in powered armor.

KNIGHTS AND SAMURAI bundles Babylon Blues, the Dungeon Samurai trilogy, and all 3 Deus Vult Wastelanders in a massive 7-book collection. Here, knights and samurai across 3 worlds march together on a glorious crusade.

APOSTLES presents the KNIGHTS AND SAMURAI tier in ebook and paperback, and an opportunity to learn from two of the rising stars in masculine pulp fiction! Adam and I will join you in a 90-minute Zoom session, where we take a deep dive into Christian storytelling and show you what we’ve got planned. Plus, we will give you private coaching sessions on the art of writing through emails.

Pulp fiction is denigrated as cheap gutter-grade tales, while Christian fiction is seen as weak and lifeless. No more. With this partnership, Adam and I are revitalizing both genres, creating a vision of powerful, positive Christianity through the vehicle of masculine pulp fiction.
But we need your help to make it happen. This is your chance to move the needle, get in on the forefront of the next wave of indie fiction and support two indie fiction writers!

If you share our vision, buy Babylon Blues and Deus Vult Wastelanders now!

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Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Guns of Babylon

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When writing a tactical thriller with heavy action elements, you have to get around to talking about the hardware. Tools drive what the characters can and can’t do, and weapons are a big part of that.
Also, guns are cool.

When writing guns in fiction, a common approach is to simply drop generic terms like ‘rifle’ or ‘pistol’ and leave it at that. Some slightly more sophisticated writers drop brand and/or gun names: FN SCAR, Beretta M9, Barrett M82. It may well work for them. Most readers just want to get on with the action without being bogged down in too much detail. But I prefer a more sophisticated option.

A character’s choice of weapons reflects his capabilities, needs, preferences, and perceived mission and enemies. Weapons that are issued to him speaks to his organisation’s requirements, missions, policy, culture, and, most importantly, budget. A character’s weapon in a scene reflects his character and/or his parent organization, defines his capabilities in a scene, and drives his tactics.
When I write, I write weapons as though they are extensions of people and organizations. That’s because in real life, they are.

Your average American criminal doesn’t care about quality or range or whatever; he wants something that is concealable, readily available on the black market, and dangerous-looking enough to intimidate victims and blast away at rivals. Thus, we see that the most common firearm used by American criminals is the 9mm handgun, usually a Glock, due to its widespread availability.

In contrast, your average police officer must use either his department-issued weapon or, in larger cities, choose from a list of department-approved weapons. His weapons reflect the needs of the department. Any sound PD would place reliability as its top priority, quickly followed by (reasonable) accuracy: firearms are used in the gravest extreme, and they must work when called upon—and that may well mean taking a hostage rescue shot. But a department is also constrained by its budget, which means you won’t see top-end gear for the rank and file, only gear that is deemed good enough (and, to be fair, in modern times, ‘good enough’ gear from reputable manufacturers is actually excellent).

Uniquely to America, police departments are held liable for the actions for their officers to a far greater degree almost anywhere else, and as such department liability sometimes drive purchasing decisions. The NYPD infamously issues the ‘New York trigger’, a spring which increases the pull weight of its issued Glock pistols from five pounds to twelve pounds. Such a long and heavy trigger pull reduces the possibility accidental discharges, and therefore liability in the eyes of the police brass and politicians—but I repeat myself. At the same time, it makes it extremely difficult to shoot accurately under stress, leading to missed shots—and, perversely, increases legal exposure. The NYPD itself acknowledges that heavier trigger pulls reduces accuracy. But it hasn’t changed its policy. The most charitable interpretation is that it views the risk of a negligent discharge as greater than that of missing a suspect in a gunfight. Fundamentally, the NY trigger is a half-baked hardware solution to a training issue, mandated by politicians who either don’t know much about weapons or push to ban them altogether–but again, I repeat myself.

A gun is a gun. But in fiction, it is more than a gun. To readers in the know, a gun tells them something about the user, reinforcing his characterisation.

I, being cursed with such knowledge and an obsession to pursue it, dedicate a lot of time and energy into choosing weapons for characters and organizations. Babylon Blues, being an action-heavy saga, will features weapons and tactics prominently. Being the secondary stars of the show, choosing the weapons is a delicate and often frustrating process.

But, all things considered, it worked out nicely.

M83 Carbine

The M83 carbine is the standard weapon of the Special Tasks Section. In keeping with modern tactical police trends, the STS issues rifle-caliber weapons to its operators. Unlike regular SWAT in our world, the STS hunts down terrorists with supernatural powers, cultists who have fused with gods, monsters that wield lethal magics. Showing up with a lesser weapon is a recipe for failure. The carbine is the defining weapon of the STS, the one it uses most often, and therefore the one that I have to pay the most attention to.

Small wonder that it was also the most frustrating weapon to create.

The carbine originally began life as the LSW192. After watching the original Cyberpunk 2077 trailer, I had a vision of a futuristic rifle. It would be a compact bullpup with a 20-inch barrel, the better to navigate the tight confines of a megacity, with the option to use shorter barrels and handguards a la the Tavor. It would eject forward like the F2000, and its fire controls would be mirrored on both sides for one-handed use, allowing for full ambidextrous use.

Then I stopped to think about what the STS really needed.

The STS is a cross of BOPE and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team. They hunt down the most dangerous street predators of Babylon the way BOPE combs the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, but the mission is to save lives like the HRT. They need a hard-hitting weapon, but they also need an exceptionally accurate weapon, because they will be working within densely-populated areas.

Rifle accuracy is measured in MOA, minute of angle. A rifle capable of shooting 1 MOA can place a group within 1 inch at 100 yards. The US military’s acceptance criteria for its M4 carbine is 5 MOA. This will allow the carbine to hit a man-sized target at 300 yards. This may be adequate for general purpose use—but not necessarily for special operations. Contrast this with the HK416 carbine, designed in collaboration with the US military’s elite Delta Force, which has an accuracy of 2 MOA from a 16 inch barrel.

A bullpup rifle places the magazine and the firing mechanism behind the grip. This makes for a long action with multiple linkages, and a long action comes a long and mushy trigger pull—which tends to reduce accuracy. It’s telling that bullpup rifles tend to be less accurate than conventional rifles.
This problem of a mushy trigger can be solved with laser ignition. Indeed, the LSW192 called for one. This replaces the mechanical firing action with a computer, a laser, and a switch. Without mechanical actions, the trigger can be clean, crisp and light. It would have been the perfect solution.
Just one problem: the STS fights monsters, not men. Including monsters with the ability to manipulate light and electricity, as seen in the story THE WHITE CROSS, exclusive to the BABYLON BLUES collection.

More than accuracy, the STS prizes reliability. The gun must shoot, even in the face of monsters and madmen attempting to rewrite the laws of reality. That means the STS’ carbine must feature a mechanical-only action and must have backup iron sights.

In addition, the monsters the STS faces may be heavily armored and/or possess magical shields, so well-protected against small arms fire even armor piercing rounds can’t defeat them. The only way to stop them with man-portable weapons to shoot their weak points. And if these monsters have regeneration powers too, then the weapon must be able to put repeated shots into these weak points until the monster finally decides to die.

In practical terms, this means the STS-issue long gun must be capable of making headshots out to at least 300 meters, preferably 500 meters, with 95% confidence level or greater.

Can a bullpup rifle do that? Possibly, if combined with FUTURE TECH. We know today that the Steyr AUG A3, a bullpup rifle, is capable of 1.5 to 2 MOA accuracy with ball ammo. With premium match-grade rounds, it could even achieve sub-MOA accuracy, sometimes. This a comfortable margin for a headshot.

Accuracy and reliability aside, however, the STS has a third criteria: mission adaptability.
STS operations are highly dynamic. They may make multiple hits in the same job. Their target may be mobile, or even break free from a police cordon, requiring the STS to go mobile.

The situation may change rapidly over the course of a mission, and the team must adapt, as seen in THE BLACK WATCH.  The ability to rapidly reconfigure weapons on the field is a huge plus, and indeed when an STS team goes on a callout, they carry multiple parts kits with them in the field. An operator may have to transition from close-quarters assaulter to precision marksman in the same op.
The baseline accuracy standard for a modern sniper rifle is 1 MOA. Top-flight counterterrorist units that will be called on to make difficult shots (such as the STS) would demand sub-MOA accuracy. This level of accuracy is very difficult to achieve with a bullpup, due to the linkages in the firing mechanism and the mushy trigger. I’ve only heard of a couple of bullpup rifles capable of consistently achieving 1 MOA or better, versus the larger numbers of precision rifles with a conventional layout.

In the end, it boiled down to this: either have a bullpup platform and a separate dedicated sniper rifle, or a single family of weapons that can be reconfigured on the fly.

The STS would go for the latter. It is cheaper and easier to train on a single family of weapons than to maintain two platforms. Moreover, it is easier for the reader to track a single family of weapons than two platforms.

The new weapon system for the STS had departed so far from the original design that I gave it a new name: the M83. A boring, staid name, in line with American naming conventions, reflecting its conventional nature, instead of the exotic ‘LSW’.

This isn’t to say that the LSW name won’t show up again, only that this design doesn’t fit this universe.

The M83 drew inspiration from two designs: the LaRue Tactical Optimized Battle Rifle and Textron’s  Next Generation Squad Weapon – Rifle prototype. The LaRue Tactical OBR is a precision rifle that can be run like a battle rifle, capable of sub-MOA accuracy in hard use conditions. Exactly what the STS needs. The NGSW – R was taken because of its calibre: the 6.8mm General Purpose Cartridge.

The world of Babylon Blues is far more dangerous than ours. Heavily armored monsters walk the streets. Lightweight rifle-grade armor is commonplace. The traditional military answer to body armor is the generous application of explosives.

It is not an option for a hostage rescue team.

In our world, the US Army’s 6.8mm GPC was driven by a desire to defeat Level IV body armor out to 500 meters, a questionable design choice among gun guys. In the land of Babylon, the 6.8mm round was designed to kill giant armored monsters without causing collateral damage within a densely populated megapolis. Both military and law enforcement would push for the development of such a calibre, practically guaranteeing its adoption.

There are presently three main variants of 6.8 GPC: a cased telescoped round, a hybrid metallic-cased round, and a polymer-cased round. At the time Babylon Blues was conceived, the first was widely touted and the latter barely known. Indeed, the latter two emerged only through the NGSW competition, which provided the 6.8mm bullet but let manufacturers design the rest of the cartridge.

I chose the cased telescoped bullet because, well, it was SCI FI. But a cased telescoped cartridge doesn’t have a rim, so it needs a novel ejection system that pushes it forward out of an ejection port. This leads to the bulk you see in the Textron NGSW – R, the same bulk replicated and described in BABYLON BLUES.

Was it the right choice? I don’t know, to be honest. I threw in cased telescoped ammo into the manuscript without thinking about how it would affect the aesthetics and possible ergonomics of the weapon design – although, to be fair, I don’t think anyone outside the Textron design team understood how CTA would affect the design of a conventional weapon until the prototype was revealed.

Another challenge that emerged was the increased bulk of the 6.8mm cartridge. Textron’s NGSW – R’s prototype ships with a twenty-round magazine. So does its competitor from SIG. Contrast this with modern assault rifles, which have thirty-round magazines. A 30-round 6.8mm mag would be too long to be used comfortably when shooting from the prone. Once again, I didn’t anticipate this, and The Black Watch was written with carbines sporting 30-round 6.8mm mags.

And an automatic rifle with a 20-round magazine isn’t exactly suited for auto fire.

But, this being sci fi, there are two ways around this.

The simpler approach is introduce more powerful and efficient propellant. This allows the cartridge to be much slimmer than modern cartridges. These high-efficiency propellants do exist today, as prototypes, and offer up to 52% volume reduction, making it easy to squeeze 30 rounds into a 20-round mag.

The second approach, and the more intriguing one, comes from True Velocity / General Dynamics’ NGSW submission, which uses a 30-round magazine.

I don’t know how they did it. It could be a byproduct of the novel case design, which mostly eliminates the shoulder and neck from a conventional cartridge, thus reducing volume and length. It could be new propellant. It could simply be a magazine well and chamber mounted higher on the rifle than in a traditional AR-15 design. But it showed me that a 30-round 6.8mm magazine is possible, for a rifle that doesn’t look as ugly as Textron’s.

Will there be more changes to the M83? Maybe, maybe not. The basic layout, design and mission remain unchanged. But the rest deserves a second look.

M99 pistol

When I conceived of series protagonist Yuri Yamamoto, I saw his favorite pistol. A hammer-fired high-capacity handgun, derived from the CZ P-07 line of pistols.  I even had a line for it: “In a world of polymer striker-fired handguns, he believed in steel and hammers.” It reflected his main character theme, which is a seamless blending of old and new.

It even dovetailed with what I knew of HRT and Delta Force, the units I used as the model of the STS. They used customized M1911 pistols, ultra-accurate, supremely reliable, the finest fighting handguns ever designed.

Then I did my research.

It turned out that Delta, and to a lesser extent HRT, had transitioned to Glocks a while ago. The custom M1911s were, and are, superb, but they went through such a beating in high-intensity training and operations that they required constant maintenance and parts replacement. Glocks, in contrast, kept running and running and running.

Reliability is far more important than accuracy, from the perspective of the operator, the armorer, and the accountant. And if the pistol can confidently deliver a hostage rescue shot at expected combat range, it was good enough.

But.

Glocks are boring.

Imagine a plastic block with an angular plastic handle and a square hollow box. That is a Glock in a nutshell. It will never win any cosmetic awards, which, depending on your needs, may or may not be a good thing. When you’re writing cyberpunk, though, style is as important as substance.
And there are better designs out there.

I went with Laugo Arms Alien pistol. In contrast to the staid conventional design of the M83, the Alien pistol is a handgun of the future. It features a fixed barrel with interchangeable slide unit, a mounting for a red dot sight and ultra-low bore axis. It represents genuine innovation in the field of pistol design, and it looks like it stepped out of a cyberpunk movie.

Thus the M99 was born: a futuristic, battle-proven Alien pistol, marrying the accuracy of a competition gun with the reliability of a service weapon—and built of steel, with an internal hammer.
Could the Alien pistol achieve this dream in our world? We know that its native accuracy makes for a superb race gun. We don’t know anything about police or military tests yet, if there are any at all. It could well be that the Alien is fit only for sport, unable to stand up to the rigors of extreme duty use.
Fortunately, I write fiction.

M585 Personal Defense Weapon

The STS doesn’t use submachine guns. Neither do many American police or military units, at least not as a default weapon.

In the late 1980s to early 2000s, an SMG offered accurate firepower in a compact package. Today, however, modern carbines are of comparable length to an SMG, sporting a more powerful calibre. Further, a 9mm SMG tends to penetrate interior drywalls much further than a 5.56mm carbine, an important consideration for police forces. With the increasing proliferation of body armor and active shooters, military and tactical LE units had switched to carbines long ago.

Given the mission of the STS, any weapon that cannot defeat body armor is a non-starter. SMGs were right out.

With that said, there is still a niche for a compact, high-capacity full-auto weapon, not necessarily in a rifle calibre but still capable of defeating armor. Babylon is a sprawling cyberpunk city, with claustrophobic rooms and corridors and small spaces. To search and clear such spaces, the usual response is to transition to a pistol. But missions can take place entirely inside confined spaces, as in the case of Fortune City in BABYLON BLUES and a cult headquarters in THE WHITE CROSS. Given the threats the STS faces, they will a weapon more powerful than a mere pistol.

Enter the M585.

Compact as a machine pistol, with the armor-defeating capabilities of a carbine, it was a personal defense weapon. Figuring out its design was easy: I just took the MP7, borrowed the see-through magazine and grip of ST Kinetics’ CPW, and called it good. After all, it wasn’t going to see much action anyway.

The tricky question was the calibre. The terminal performance of the 5.7mm and 4.6mm rounds is perfectly disappointing. The 5.7mm has a mixed record in police use, with some users reporting excellent terminal performance and others claiming poor performance. As for the 4.6mm, it is a truism among special operators wielding the MP7 that if you couldn’t nail a headshot, you had to shoot the threats lots of times.

Real-world PDW calibres aren’t acceptable to an agency that deals with berserk beasts in close confines. In the end, I bumped up the calibre to the 7.92x24mm. This is the calibre used by VBR Belgium’s PDW design, adapted for the needs of Babylon. This calibre offers the performance of the time-tested 9mm, but with increased magazine capacity and novel armor piercing designs.

Given the small size of this calibre, I also chambered the M99 in this calibre. An organization would seek to maintain as few calibres as possible to reduce logistics costs, and having a pistol and a PDW that fires the same ammo would be a godsend. And in the STS’ line of work, an armor-piercing pistol is a necessity.

Other Guns

A plethora of other firearms are mentioned in passing. Shotguns, submachine guns, other generic rifles and pistols. There’s enough firepower for the army of a small nation packed in the saga.
A gun fanatic would name and spec them all. The wise writer wouldn’t.

The weapons of Babylon are all fictional. If I say a character is holding an Erebus Arms LM1920 rifle, what does it mean to reader? Nothing more than a bunch of words. These words would only grow in significance if the story spends time exploring and describing the weapon and its capabilities.

If the story doesn’t require an in-depth exploration of a weapon, there’s no need to waste words describing it – not to mention the time and energy needed to research and craft it. If a generic ‘pistol’, ‘rifle’ or other such weapon word would do in a story, I’d prefer to just slot it in and continue writing.
Ultimately, the purpose of researching, crafting and designing fictitious guns is to entertain the reader. To create an emotional connection, to set up future scenes, to hint at the needs and circumstances of a character, his network and his mission. Anything more than that is superfluous.

Gearhead I might be, but many of my readers most certainly aren’t.



Want to see the guns of Babylon in action? Back the BABYLON BLUES Kickstarter here!

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