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.

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Wolves of Dacia (First time in paperback)

2018 has got off to an eventful start – lots of requests for Tarot readings, new fanfiction published, Burlesque dance classes started, but best of all, my long-awaited first ever paperback novel has finally hit the shelves (or Amazon, at any rate) …

Wolves of Dacia is my second foray into historical Gothic fiction (after Lucille and the Healers, 2011, Mushroom Ebooks). It is a dark fantasy with a “dieselpunk” flavour set in WW2 Romania. It was inspired by a wish to write something concerning the Porajmos (Holocaust of the Romani people by the Third Reich), but became a wider commentary on racism and misogyny as it went on. At the time of publishing, with Trump, Brexit, and the resurgence of the far-right still very much dominating the headlines, I fear it has only become more pertinent …

WolvesofDacia-510

Synopsis:

Transylvania, 1941: as the spectre of the Holocaust reaches Romania it falls to Andreea Petrescu, a Romani biology student, to go on the run from an SS Einsatzgruppen with her irascible, superstitious father. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient Dacian catacombs, where they discover they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated by the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit Andreea to her cause, and offers her an opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no small cost.

Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, Andreea’s knowledge, courage, and integrity are put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing her dreams.

(To purchase in additional formats including Apple, please visit the publisher’s site.)


Double Dragon Publishing, Eleanor Burns, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

“Wolves of Dacia” – Call For Readers

oldcomp

Finally, I have a finished draft of the vampire novel I have been wittering on about for ages. If anyone is interested in reading it and offering me whatever feedback they feel able to, good or critical or scathing, please drop me a PM. Synopsis follows…

Genre – Dark Fairytale / Dieselpunk / WW2

Pages – 409

Words – 176,988

Berlin, 1933: Andreea Petrescu, a Romani gypsy biology student, is expelled from university by the Third Reich. She returns home to Transylvania, to face a grim future of poverty, misogyny, and the stigma of having associated with outsiders: a fact her insular community regards with distrust. Just before she returns, her mother – a gifted medium – strikes a terrible deal in order to protect her.

Eight years later, Andreea’s circumstances have only worsened: her mother is dead, her father is unsupportive, her community is as estranged from her as ever, and fascism has spread to Romania. The Nazi-allied government takes measures to deport gypsies to concentration camps, forcing Andreea and her father to go on the run from the SS. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient catacombs, where they soon discover that they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her superstitious father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated, and drawn into the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit the brilliant young fugitive to her cause, and offers Andreea a unique opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no insignificant cost.

As Miss Bendice’s hubristic plans escalate to a world-threatening climax, and as the SS death squad closes in, Andreea finds herself caught in the vice. Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, she finds her knowledge, her courage, and her integrity put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing everything she has dreamed of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2016.

Gothic Dieselpunk

oldcomp
Manchester Mk1 Computer, late 1940s

…and if that isn’t a mouthful of a name for a genre, I don’t know what would be.

I am conscious this has recently turned into a blog for my weird artistic pursuits rather than for anything directly related to my transition, but so be it. Since my fiction has for many years been a channel (or a coping strategy) for my gender dysphoria, it may as well have its due as long as there is no more obviously relevant news, and real-life news has been pretty scarce for both the hubby and I of late.

This novel I am currently working on is now in the 90% region of completion, so I will fairly soon be pleading for readers… For the present, however, I would just appreciate opinions on this synopsis. I will be using this, or something like it, to pitch the finished story to potential publishers and / or agents, so please tell me if it fails to grab, or share any advice you may have for improving it (and be as harsh as you please).


Wolves of Dacia (Synopsis)

Berlin, 1933: Andreea Petrescu, a Romani gypsy biology student, is expelled from university by the Third Reich. She returns home to Transylvania, to face a grim future of poverty, misogyny, and the stigma of having associated with outsiders: a fact her insular community regards with distrust. Just before she returns, her mother – a gifted medium – strikes a terrible deal in order to protect her.

Eight years later, Andreea’s circumstances have only worsened: her mother is dead, her father is unsupportive, her community is as estranged from her as ever, and fascism has spread to Romania. The Nazi-allied government takes measures to deport gypsies to concentration camps, forcing Andreea and her father to go on the run from the SS. Their flight leads them to seek refuge in ancient catacombs, where they soon discover that they are not the first to have taken shelter.

Though her superstitious father is repulsed by their discoveries, the scientifically-minded Andreea finds herself fascinated, and drawn into the activities of the mysterious resistance unit that has set itself up in the area, and of their leader, the charismatic and ruthless Miss Bendice. She seems eager to recruit the brilliant young fugitive to her cause, and offers Andreea a unique opportunity to escape from her degrading circumstances, but at no insignificant cost.

As Miss Bendice’s hubristic plans escalate to a world-threatening climax, and as the SS death squad closes in, Andreea finds herself caught in the vice. Forging unlikely friendships with a naïve Wehrmacht lieutenant, an amnesiac teenage vampire, and a scatterbrained Welsh parapsychologist, she finds her knowledge, her courage, and her integrity put to the test as she struggles to survive, save her loved ones, and stay true to her principles, though it may entail sacrificing everything she has dreamed of.

© Eleanor Burns, 2016.


HammerDracula
Christopher Lee as Dracula – just because nobody else ever looked that good or ever will look that good as a vampire…

Sort Him Out

imitation

(Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, “The Imitation Game”, Black Bear Pictures, 2014)

Being a librarian, Cal often brings DVDs home, and no prizes for guessing what last night’s offering was…

I can definitely recommend this film, though it plays fast and loose with actual history something awful. One could almost call it the “Braveheart” of computing and cryptography, though any association of ideas between the ultraconservative Mel Gibson and the tragic, inadvertent gay rights icon / martyr who was Alan Turing seems all too ironic. Still, strict accuracy does not seem to be the point. It is the more emotional significance of Turing’s life (and death) that the film-makers were clearly eager to emphasise, not to mention the gross injustice of his fate.

To anyone unaware, Alan Turing (1912-54) was a pioneering computer genius whose work at Bletchley Park enabled the British to finally crack Nazi Germany’s “unbreakable” Enigma cipher, thus providing intelligence that substantially shortened the Second World War and probably saved millions of lives. He was also homosexual, in a time when that was illegal. Though he managed to keep that fact secret throughout the war, it was discovered by the police in 1952, and Turing was offered a choice of two punishments: prison, or hormonal “therapy” to “cure” him of his tendencies (by crudely and dangerously diminishing his libido). Two years later, he died from cyanide poisoning, though theories abound as to whether or not this was suicide or accidental. At all events, the UK government only got round to apologising for this miscarriage of justice in 2009, with a royal pardon being issued in 2013. However, as the end sequence of the film states, Turing was only one of an estimated 49,000 gay men convicted under those laws before legalisation (in 1967).

Possibly it was that grim statistic, and the extreme belatedness of the apology, which brought Cal to angry tears as the credits rolled:

“It took them all those years to apologise,” he declared, bitterly, “and in 2015 GPs are still saying they need to ‘sort us out’!”

Confused now, I asked him what he meant. He explained that last month, when he had visited the gender identity clinic in London for a workshop event, one of the specialist doctors there had told him of a referral he had recently had for an MtF transsexual patient. The patient’s GP had worded the referral thusly:

This man thinks he ought to be woman. Sort him out.

I didn’t really have a reply to that.

Some days, though, I am very glad I cannot read minds.

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