Witches vs. Nazis

The annual C64 game competition now looms its head, so here is the final instalment in my “Valkyrie” series of WW2-themed games, and this time the heroine is a Soviet lesbian fighter pilot who sidelines as a white witch … because why not?

(Download from competition page. Requires a C64 emulator.)

Designed on C64 SEUCK (Shoot-Em-Up Construction Kit, Sensible Software, 1987), with coding enhancements by me and Richard Bayliss, and music by Richard Bayliss. Photographic likenesses (in the end sequence) are of actress Audrey Hepburn (Lady Romana) and aviator Amy Johnson (Lieutenant Orlov). Gameplay and design were inspired by such classics as Capcom’s “1942” and Compile’s “Power Strike 2” for the Sega Master System.

Enhancements include power-ups, multiplane scrolling, and an animated end sequence (accessible via password, to those who succeed in all missions).

Valkyrie 3

the Night Witch

The story…

Transylvania, 1945

Romania has fallen to the Red Army and the war is supposedly near to its final conclusion, but deep within the Borgo Pass there remains one last, secret holdout of the Axis forces that could change everything, dramatically for the worse …

A year ago, the recently-resurrected vampire Princess Mariska Báthory de Ecsed (1475-1492 … then 1942-present), along with the aid of ex-mother superior (and now vampire knight templar) Lady Romana Pasztor, launched a vengeful attack against the Waffen-SS division who had captured her prince, along with several innocent children for their obscene bio-occult experiments. Having saved the hostages, they cornered the chief researcher SS-Obersturmführer Bram von Hellman within his laboratory bunker, turned him into one of their own kind, then sealed him into the bunker, immortal but entombed forever … or so they dared to hope.

But they had underestimated the cunning and determination of the dark occultist. Sustained by ego, hatred, and the blood of the few unfortunate rats entombed along with him, he survived long enough to adapt to his new vampiric powers, and thus learned the skill of phasing through solid matter. Armed with his new supernatural skills, and an inhumanly iron will, he returned to his SS unit, turned a chosen few of his junior officers to immortality, brainwashed the rest of his men into obeying him even over the Führer himself, and set up a new research base devoted entirely to creating occult super-weapons that would enable him to become absolute ruler over all mortals and immortals, for all eternity.

Mariska and Romana have found out about this plan, but their intel is all discouraging. Already, von Hellman has V-2 rockets almost in launch condition, carrying warheads of deadly magical bio-weapons that have the potential to change whole urban populations into his mutated thralls. Worse still, not only is the base heavily defended by conventional and experimental weapons, but its ground perimeter is equipped with spiritual wards to defend against vampires. A swift and decisive aerial assault is the only plausible strategy, but since the base security is at its strongest during the hours of night, this attack would need to be conducted in daylight hours. That is not a task the vampires can undertake without outside help, so they quickly investigate whom they can look to …

Alyona Orlov was born in 1924 in Odessa to a couple of mixed background: her father a respected Jewish doctor and her mother of Ukrainian rural stock, her family steeped in ancient traditions. Although Alyona’s mother – the first woman in her family to receive a modern education, under the auspices of the Soviet regime – drifted away from these folk beliefs to share the scientific outlook of her father, the same could not be said for Alyona herself. Enchanted by the strange ways of her maternal grandmother – her herb-lore, charms, and incantations – Alyona struck up a close relationship with her, and found her very willing to pass on her knowledge of these and even more mysterious arts to her youngest descendant.

Her parents found all of this harmless enough, but they were more worried, as Alyona entered her teenage years, of how she seemed to easily form very close relationships with girls of her age while being totally indifferent to boys. Fearful for her social prospects, her parents sent her to attend a prestigious academy of engineering in Moscow, hoping to give her an advantageous education and also to break up some of her more troubling friendships. Ironically, finding herself now boarding in shared dormitories with other young female students, and with none of the restrictions of home life, did nothing to discourage these inclinations in her. She did, however, thrive in her studies, especially in the field of aeronautics.

In 1941, Axis troops invaded Odessa, massacring the Jewish population of the city, including all of Alyona’s family. When news reached her, she swore vengeance, and volunteered to join the women’s 588th Night Bomber Regiment – known disparagingly by the German forces as the “Night Witches.” That is an insult Alyona owns with pride, as she thinks of her murdered grandmother, and imagines her spirit flying alongside her biplane while she carries out her daring raids, inspiring and empowering her with the magic of her ancestors. She sometimes believes that perhaps that is something more than mere imagination …

As the end of the War approaches, Alyona finds herself dreading her imminent return to civilian life: with all of the friends and family she has lost, she has little left except for her surviving comrades-in-arms, and the 588th will soon be disbanded. Uncertain how she will ever readjust to a normal existence, she is pleasantly surprised when her squadron leader comes to her with one last, secret mission.

“We have received some mysterious but disturbing intel, along with a plea for help,” she explains, “and somehow, Lieutenant Orlov, I feel that you may be the ideal candidate for this assignment …”

Having flown to the pre-arranged location at the chosen time – well past nightfall – Alyona meets her anonymous contact, and is surprised to find a young, blonde, pale woman with curiously reddish eyes, dressed in what looks curiously like a shortened nun’s habit over leggings and combat boots. As the stranger greets her, Alyona catches sight of her inhumanly long, sharp canine teeth and is briefly taken aback. The woman cringes in shame, clearly mortified at being thus ‘discovered,’ but Alyona quickly reassures her:

“Please, don’t concern yourself. I have my reasons to be less frightened of the supernatural than you may think,” she explains, and wonders if that is the reason she has been chosen for this already-surreal mission. “Still, you are not at all what I expected. I certainly did not expect to receive my orders from someone either so holy or so attractive … if I may say.”

“You … may … if you like,” the woman replies, confused and embarrassed, although not so ashamed as before. “Speaking of those orders, though, I had better tell you them quickly. We have so little time in which to act …”

The mission …

The assault on the enemy research base is divided into three stages, each subdivided into a ground assault and a aerial counter-attack that must be survived. During the ground assault stages, it is imperative that you target specific enemy assets, in order to sabotage their nefarious plans.

Zone 1 – Supply Line – Collapse the railway bridges along the Borgo Pass to disrupt the supply of raw materials and fuel to the base.

Zone 2 – Transit Camp – Prisoners are being kept in secure huts, awaiting delivery to the bio-research team for experimentation. Shoot the huts to free them.

Zone 3 – Base Perimeter – The enemy base is located among medieval ruins deep within the Carpathian Mountains. Destroy the V-2 rockets here to deliver a crushing blow to von Hellman’s insane ambitions.

Your Polikarpov Po-2 biplane “Sasha” is agile, well-suited for stealth bombing runs, but poorly armed at first. You can, however, upgrade your onboard machine gun twice by collecting the power-up air drop (one per sub-level). This increases the range, velocity, and spread of your armament. If you lose a life, however, you will forfeit one upgrade point.

You can also improve your chances by fulfilling missions: every five mission targets destroyed will help you to tap into the witchcraft of your ancestors and add a level to your Hex Power

Level 1 – You gain a long-range magical projectile (slower, but larger than your standard weapon).

Level 2 – Doubles the power of your magic missile attack.

Level 3 – Adds directional firing capacity to your magic missiles, and also conjures a spiritual energy shield in front of your craft.

Additionally, destroying all fifteen mission targets will unlock the password for the true end sequence.

The enemies …

(To destroy bosses, concentrate your fire on a single spot.)

Flak Cannon – Basic anti-aircraft guns that fire in a fixed direction.

Railway Gun – Heavy guns mounted on railway cars. They have limited manoeuvrability.

Panzer – These tanks are strongly armoured, manoeuvrable, and fire in the direction they are travelling.

Flettner Fl 282 – Small scout helicopters, slow and poorly armed.

Balloon Mine – Basic aerial defences that will detonate on contact.

Messerschmitt Me 163 – Rocket powered interceptor planes.

Fa 223 Drache (boss) – Transport helicopter, large and tough, but slow.

Turret – Armoured, retractable gun emplacements that fire randomly.

Messerschmitt Me 328 – Small pulse-jet experimental fighters, fast and very manoeuvrable.

Hela – These mutated, programmed beings are the results of von Hellman’s unethical experiments. In addition to the power of flight and having high endurance, they can generate a formidable bio-electrical charge.

Arado E.555 (boss) – Experimental heavy jet bomber, fast and heavily armed.

Mjölnir – Mobile Tesla coils that regularly generate lethal electrical charges all around them.

Loki – Experimental stealth aircraft that can intermittently make themselves invisible.

Naglfar (boss) – This bio-mechanical airship is the personal transport of the evil scientist himself, and as heavily-armed as one would expect.

“Is that all, then, my pretty vourdalak?” asks Alyona, dismissively. “I had expected a challenge.” She is not surprised when Lady Romana looks at her with a very sceptical raised eyebrow and a half-smile, but she does not let herself show any trace of fear or doubt. In truth, though, she knows this will be one of the sternest and most crucial fights of her life. For the souls of all humanity, no less …

“I’m sure you are very skilled,” comments Romana, diplomatically. “Your military record speaks for itself … but you should not underestimate the strength of the forces you will be going up against. Are you quite certain you are well enough equipped?” she asks, casting a doubtful look over Alyona’s fragile, obsolete wood-and-canvas aircraft.

“I accept your advice, lapushka,” Alyona replies, more humbly, “and I will not be reckless in such a vital mission, I promise you, but you ought not to underestimate Sasha. She may not look so powerful to you, but she has it where it counts. In any case,” she adds, slyly, “it would be foolish of me to take needless risks, when I have such a beautiful commander awaiting my return. Dasvidaniya, my Lady.”

… on which note she boards “Sasha” and sets course to the Borgo Pass, leaving Romana in a still very confused, though not at all displeased mood … and the fervent hope that she will indeed see Alyona return, for everybody’s sake.


Come to the Cabaret …

… except you can’t, alas, as we danced it last night, but here’s a nice group shot to give some idea of the wonderfully manic atmosphere:


(That’s me at far left, failing to fling my scarf any great distance, though not for want of enthusiasm. Just rubbish arm action.)

So, my first performance is finally done and danced, and it was by no means the mess I once dreaded it would be. It was not perfect – I confused the order of a couple of steps, and I fear my Charleston still looks so robotic I could give the “Metropolis” gynoid a run for her money as far as Roaring Twenties cabaret dancing automata go (though actually, that could be a concept for a solo routine in the making …) – but I got through the routine mostly in step, didn’t collide with anyone, managed to perform the mini-striptease without any unintentional wardrobe malfunctions (dress rehearsal was another matter … no doubt one of many reasons why we have them), and I had a fantastic time. 🙂


(Could I make this costume … or take it off in any semblance of rhythm? Maybe not my best ever inspiration …)

For anyone actually in Cardiff or the vicinity reading this blog, I cannot recommend Cardiff Cabaret Club highly enough. These last ten weeks of lessons, rehearsals, and performance have been a thrill, have been amazing for my confidence, and have introduced me to one of the warmest and most supportive crowds I’ve ever been lucky enough to be welcomed into. On a faintly political note, they have also laid to rest in my mind, at least, a pernicious myth I used to hear all the time from trans-critical / trans-exclusionary radfems, that nobody really accepts non-passing trans women – they only pretend to for the fear of political incorrectness – and that we really incite discomfort and derision in every right-thinking human being (and in cis women especially). Having only encountered warmth, support, and trust during this period – probably one of my most daring social leaps of faith to date – I can now see this for the paranoid nonsense that it is. Someone evidently felt lonely in their own prejudice and wished to spread the malaise …

Alas, all good things come to an end, and since I will imminently be entering hospital, for an operation that will leave me physically drained for some time (up to ten weeks), I am certain of missing the summer term. It will be a melancholy separation after all this joyously decadent madness, though a worthwhile sacrifice considering the purpose … and when that is over and done with and I am even more comfortable in my body than I will have ever been before, hopefully I can come back to the Autumn classes, overcome my rustiness, polish my techniques, and maybe even find myself doing solo routines in the future. I wouldn’t put it past me. 😉


Black Widow

… but no sexy spy catsuits in this latest photoshoot, I’m afraid: just a replica 19th century dress kindly lent to us by Marigold Costumes along with several veils and a musty-looking bonnet. Combine with heavy dark eye-liner and the old graveyard behind Llandaff Cathedral and you have …

… and in case any film buffs were wondering, I was indeed consciously paying homage to the ghostly Miss Jessel in Jack Clayton’s “The Innocents“.

The photographer was the wonderful Rahim Mastafa of Sugarbox Studios UK, who also bought me lunch in Jaspers Tea Rooms after, so all in all a wonderfully Victorianesque day. 🙂

It has been such a delight getting back into modelling and dancing this year, that I am almost dismayed that I will have to put both on hiatus for several weeks to come … were it for a less pressing reason than my confirmation surgery. When my recovery is through, however, I can see myself coming back to both with a vengeance.


Quick Update

Alea iacta est, or words to that effect … Preliminaries and assessments are all done, and the surgery date is confirmed for April 11, and I will be admitted to Charing Cross Hospital the day before. Apprehensive as I am about my first ever trip to an operating theatre, prolonged stay on a hospital ward, after care, enema (time off work notwithstanding, you couldn’t easily sell this as a package holiday concept), the fact that everything has gone bizarrely well this year gives me faith. My transition is even running slightly ahead of what seemed a very optimistic Tarot reading that my friend did for me last year, which suggested I’d be “seen to” in the second half of 2018. Not to complain, if the Goddess sees fit to clear the schedule a bit early …

Tickets all booked, now just counting down the days. There will be some hard weeks ahead, but the future beyond is looking brighter than ever.




Music Review – “Lijnen” (Helena Tulve, 2008)

Haunting, sonoristic contemporary classical suite.


This subject may have come up before, and I have no wish to reignite political debates on this blog, but suffice it to say it was only after transitioning that I realised what an indifferent feminist I had been before transitioning, and set about looking for ways to amend that, both in activism and in my personal and cultural life. While my bookshelves already have quite a decent gender balance, my music collection proved to be depressingly male-heavy, and particularly my classical music collection. Female composers to this day, alas, do not seem to figure much at all in the popular image of this field, and I struggled to locate many in the classical CD section of Cardiff Library, but I did manage to locate this example.

“Lijnen” (lines) is the work of Estonian composer Helena Tulve, and I ought to perhaps stress right now that I am in no way, with my “D” grade in GCSE music, qualified to review a classical CD, but here is my laywoman’s attempt …

The comparison that most strikes me with this album is with the “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” (1960) by Penderecki, which used a free-form sonoristic style to generate a sense of pain and catastrophe fitting to the subject matter. Tulve’s work follows a similar technique, with very little percussion, and that used only to generate specific effects, emotively and dramatically, rather than to generate any sense of rhythm and form. The main sounds one will hear in this album are woodwind, strings, and a haunting vocal in the second track, generating a very ethereal mood. “Soundscapes” would be a good word for the overall effects, and the album art gives a hint to the type of audio geography in store (and possibly to the title, the skeletal winter trees composing a harsh vista of mere “lines”).

The first piece, “À travers” (through), starts the album off on a Gothic note that will be sustained throughout, seeming to conjure that desolate yet threatening landscape of the cover art, and pulling us on a journey through it. Amidst the purely atmospheric noises of strange, alarming bells and ominous bass tones, a solo clarinet plays a forlorn melody, but it meanders and seems lost in its way, confused. Strings almost seem to echo it. Do they perhaps suggest pursuers, or merely imagined threats? The piece ends harshly, as if in shock or fright.

The second, title piece, “Lijnen,” is dominated by the vocal, which maintains the ghostly mood. It is a beautiful theme, but refuses to be pinned down, with sudden shifts of volume and intensity, almost suggestive of tides, winds, or other such unpredictable forces of nature. This dissonance and capriciousness undercuts any sense of serenity, and leave the listener ill at ease. It is almost like listening in on some esoteric witchcraft taking place in the depths of this frozen wood.

This is followed by “Öö” (night), in which saxophones now take over, although anyone expecting a sudden shift to cheery jazz will be sorely disappointed … They seem to resonate from the distance, atonally, like warning foghorns or plaintive cries. That mood continues into “Abysses” where flutes and other woodwind instruments seem (fittingly) to cry out of the abyss, competing to be heard over each other, their crescendos evocative of despair.

“Cendres” (ashes) is next in line, and introduces a harsh, jangling piano to the ensemble, its staccato, minor key notes perhaps suggestive of chattering teeth, and certainly evocative of cold and danger. Music now comes in fits and starts, with bursts of energy and urgency, and scraping strings that play into the subject matter (Is the traveller attempting, but failing to sustain the fire that may keep her from freezing to death?).

Finally, “Nec Ros Nec Pluvia” (nor dew, nor rain) pays homage to the Vulgate Bible with its title (referencing 2 Samuel 1:21, where David curses the mountain after finding the body of King Saul, killed in battle), while its anguished, unpredictable strings evoke grief, despair, and confusion. Again, they will not be pinned down, but seem to follow their own wilful, emotive melodies. The arrangement (for string quartet) is raw and minimalist. Elaborate orchestration would detract from the effect of these forlorn, screeching mourners.

I am, in conclusion, very pleased to have discovered this. It is certainly not “easy listening,” (if anything, it is designed to be unsettling and disconcerting, with an overarching eeriness) but as interesting Gothic mood music goes, I can see myself coming back to it very frequently. Eschewing traditional formalities, Tulve gives her music a primal, elusive, emotional quality while retaining enough sense of internal logic and structure to hold the listener’s attention (or mine, at all events). if you are in the mood for something darkly original, I would certainly give it a whirl.


Surgery Date

Not much to say really but the self-evident: I have been set a surgery date at the bizarrely early-seeming time of April 11, and will be coming off my hormones in only a week from now (Not especially looking forward to that, but needs must). This will be a manic month, but by June everything will be over and done with. In only three years I will have transitioned, well under the current average. I am so totally blessed, I keep wondering where the stab in the back will come from, pardon my cynicism. 😉

Thank you to all of you who have supported and encouraged me throughout this. I will probably drop off the radar briefly, but I expect to have WiFi in the hospital (and very little to do during a week on the ward), so I will certainly report on the outcome. All is looking extremely positive right now, though.


Album Review: “Tits of Steel”

A brilliantly eclectic combination of performance poetry and punk …

I was lured to this album by C. T. Herron’s glowing review that gave me very high expectations for it, and they were not disappointed … much to my relief, as Anna has been a supporter of this blog since its early days, so it is really nice to be able to write of her work with heartfelt praise.

I should point out, though, that the title claim of Track 4, “I Don’t Know Any Funny Songs,” is a blatant lie, or at any rate unwarranted modesty, as this album is a masterpiece in ironic wit. There seems to be something about Celtic accents that lend themselves nicely to that, so that we can hardly concur when Anna sings later on the album, “I wish I was French but I’m Scottish instead.” (Track 7, “Anna en Francais”) Somehow, her combination of pithy satire and utter surrealism just wouldn’t be the same without her dry, laconic, Glaswegian tones.

Which is not to say that the album is purely an exercise in comic poetry. The musicianship is stunning right from the first, heavy rock track, and continues to show versatility throughout, seamlessly tackling hilarious pastiches of reggae, techno, and funk. The only criticism I could make is one of mastering, in that sometimes the music overwhelms the lyrics, although that would well just be the fault of my inadequate setup (so do try to listen to this on decent sound equipment, as it deserves, rather than a phone speaker or a pair of cheap Flying Tiger headphones).

The whole album was an absolute pleasure for me, but if I had to select highlights, I would probably go for “I Don’t Know Any Funny Songs” (an acoustic number and, as mentioned, a total inaccuracy), “Anna en Francais” (witty, surreal, and all-too-easy for this struggling student of French to sympathise with), and “Catch The Tiger” (which starts off as a series of bizarre self-help style affirmations to a driving, upbeat tune, then turns a corner into something downbeat and ironic, which appeals so totally to my inner cynic).

This is a stunning independent production, the skill and variety of the music perfectly complementing Anna’s wickedly amusing lyrics. The very easily offended might not care for it, but I have no hesitation recommending it to everyone else.