New Story: “A Routine Tune-Up” (+Introducing NIGHTMARE FORCE)

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Happy almost-summer! Since last posting, I’ve finished my first year of law school at Cornell, and I’m currently gearing up for studying international law at the Sorbonne in Paris starting next week. In the meantime, though, I’ve been tending to a smaller project I started when progress on my novel (There’s Something Wrong with the Neighbor’s Cat) got to feeling too daunting in the short term. That project: a short prequel/interquel to a very different novel: Nightmare Force.

Some background, because this is a vignette/”spec script” of sorts: Nightmare Force is intended to be a horror/sci-fi thriller loosely based on “Binary DNA” (by “K.I. Simpson,” I think) and a handful of other creepypasta. The main characters are a team of six Engineering grad students at the fictional Cardinal University in New England; by day, they are the school’s “NetFixerz” tech support group, but by dark they are the “Nightmare Force,” hunting monsters, ghosts, interdimensional beings, and other entities that interfere with our world via electronic technology. Picture a hi-tech combination of The Brothers Grimm and Inception — with imagery drawn equally from cyberpunk and surrealist artists like Zdzisław Beksiński — and you’re not far off.

The circumstances of where the Nightmare Force obtained their skills — as well as how they first met — are mysteries to be slowly revealed over the course of the series. However, while I always told myself I’d never pull a Richard Kelly and assume everybody understood the elaborate universe I created after only sharing a quarter of it, this story features terms and tools that–for the sake of pacing and chronology with the rest of the planned series–I didn’t feel comfortable providing an exposition dump for. As such, I’ve added brief character bios and a glossary below, as well as links to a few relevant songs I listened to while writing. Feel free to read them first to understand what’s going on (WARNING: SOME SPOILERS), or just jump right in and check it later as the mood suits you!

Either way, put on your gloves, secure all the exits, and make sure your screwdriver is good and sharp, because it’s time for…

A Routine Tune-Up

#NightmareForce

– – –

Character Bios

  • Aron Lovelace: The primary leader. Aron is first in line to issue orders, interact with entities, and communicate with outside sources. He is professional and focused almost to a fault, but still knows how to lift his teammates’ spirits at one second and get down to business the next. Aron is asexual as well as dysamoric.
  • Ripley “Rip” Zeese: The “lifeline” and secondary leader. Although the team’s rotation schedule occasionally puts her “in the field,” Ripley generally operates from the secret Nightmare Force “HQ” with a triple-monitor computer array, lightning fast internet connection, and remote aid. When not in the field, she maintains constant contact with Aron via an earpiece, a responsibility which sometimes conflicts with her unrequited affection for him. For better or worse, her efficiency is owed to being a literal workaholic, as well as a variation of insomnia which allows her to only need three hours of sleep a night.
  • Calvin “Cal” Gutenberg: The data-collection expert. Cal studies for physical traces of an entity’s past or current presence, collecting samples when need be. He is chiefly tasked with using the “neo-vial,” a test tube-like device which produces information concerning the chemical composition of any substance put inside it. Cal is bulimic, but has yet to seek help.
  • Angela Redwall: The survey expert. Angela assess and secures the surroundings — digital and tangible — of the environment before the team “goes to work,” as well as the likely type of entity they face [“Classes” will be explained in a later post]. She has high-functioning autism.
  • Richard “Rich” Logenbach: Hardware expert: Richard is in charge of handling and managing the team’s arsenal and tools. Although Aron is the leader, Richard’s people skills are stronger and so he often helps ease potential clients and provide any relevant alibis. He is also a minimalist, and has a unique neurosis that can best be described as “compulsive charitableness.”
  • Fuller Narson: Co-hardware expert: Fuller works in tandem with Richard, although his knowledge of their hardware is not as extensive. Fuller suffers from an inferiority complex and severe codependency, and it is with awareness of this that Aron makes sure to emphasize the value of his contributions to the team.
  • Rod: Rod is Aron’s tulpa, a “thoughtform” which — as the only child of a broken home — he created to keep himself company. However, Rod slowly morphed from a joyful clone of Aron to a repository for his most perverse dormant emotions, and grew beyond Aron’s control to erase from existence. The two enjoy an uneasy relationship, as while Rod generally appears to humiliate or threaten Aron, it also has a unique insight into interdimensional beings and creepspace which it may impart to Aron — with or without him realizing it.

 – – –

Glossary

  • DEMON: In the world of Nightmare Force, all the ghosts, monsters, curses, and “haunted videos” you’ve heard about are real–though not as you’d expect. Rather, these phenomena are the result of quasi-parasitic beings from other dimensions which, for scientific reasons even the Nightmare Force has yet to fully understand, find the most efficient way to enter our world is through the electrical activity in computers, televisions, videogames, and other forms of modern technology. The origin of these beings can still vary, though, and hence the catch-all term “DEMONs”: Digitally-Embodied Malevolence and Organized Neuroses.
  • Gloves: The Nightmare Force wears gloves for the same reason construction workers or exterminators do: to prevent injury or “infection.” A specialized electric current running through the gloves prevents any DEMONs from harming, possessing, or otherwise interfering with the team while they manipulate technology with their hands.
  • //skeletonkey:  A codeword developed by the Nightmare Force to bypass extensive coding and alter a computer’s settings more efficiently. Although all of the team’s members have extensive coding experience, time is often of the essence, and a failed skeletonkey bypass is a quick sign that something is seriously wrong. The codeword’s usefulness is limited in that it will only work with computers that have been programmed to accept it (such as Cardinal’s school network).
  • Scrubbing: Although DEMONs can generally only move via a wire or direct signal, wireless cross-platform transmission (such as from a phone to a computer) is not impossible. As such, when security is a risk, Rip may remotely “scrub” sensitive connections to the team, shutting out DEMONs before they can enter. The process consumes enormous amounts of computing power and electricity, so it can only be performed for short bursts of time.
  • Code Omega: In the Nightmare Force’s line of work, frauds and mistakes are not uncommon, and even a legitimate threat may bide its time before displaying explicitly supernatural properties. “Code Omega” signifies that the team is unmistakably dealing with a DEMON, and must take appropriate actions.
  • Manny: Short for “manifestation” — refers to the form which a DEMON takes if it enters the “real world.”
  • Biotrackers: Minuscule tracking chips implanted in each member of the Nightmare Force, impenetrable and undetectable by any known devices except their own.
  • Creepspace: The nickname for a “transpsychological paradimension,” in which a DEMON may — through some form of sensory contact, such as touch or sight — abduct a person into a pocket dimension bound to its mind, like a spider dragging prey to its nest. Conventional laws of time and space will not necessarily apply in creepspace, and those trapped within may die or go insane before they can manage to escape. Voluntary entry into and exit from creepspace is possible but extremely risky, and no two pocket dimensions are alike.
  • Gun: The Nightmare Force’s guns fire tinted bullets which also carry a compressed electrical charge. For security’s sake, they will only function if handled while wearing charged gloves as well.

– – –

And finally, here’s some songs I like that capture the mood and themes of Nightmare Force:

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2 Comments

  1. Ooh, I like this one. The premise has so much potential, and handled well, at least in this story. I was especially a fan of Ripley – despite her being not much more than a voice on the other end in terms of her role, I thought she had the most tangible characterization.

    I thought it actually worked fine running solely on implication for the exposition, and took the meanings of things pretty well without reading anything beyond character names and team positions. That might just be my preference for not needing external material to understand a story. Still, always useful to have a production bible, and it shows thought put into the world building.

  2. Thanks! Yeah, I’m really looking forward to getting serious about characterization with this project — my hope is to create unique and affecting characters based on the team’s psychological quirks, without coming off as insensitive or exploitative (again, the reason why none of them are “neurotypical,” as the phrase goes, is yet to be revealed). Stay tuned for some elaboration on the “classes” of DEMONs!


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