Friday, January 30, 2015

Bristlefur Dig Site

Here's another map for my tabletop game. I should get around to explaining what that is but I'd say eighty percent of my readership already know about it or are already playing it.


Here a small mining camp ran by a family of Gnolls (bipedal, intelligent hyenas). Like so many others in Pitchblende Flats, they've been mining uranium, hoping to strike it rich before monsters get them. In the center is the large hole/crater they've gotten most of their haul from. A little north of that is a small shack made of assorted trash and a little south is an old rusted water tank. To the east a little is a broken down truck and a little west are the piles of discarded material they sifted through and determined wasn't nearly radioactive enough to sell in town.

More on this later.

Maybe.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Pitchblende Flats

Here's some maps for my tabletop game. Maybe I'll make a blog post about it, but most likely I won't.

 Here's one of Pitchblende Flats, the huge mining settlement everyone's been exploring wrecking havoc in. A good portion of it burnt down recently. You can see it marked, just a little north west of Trinity:


And here's one of the research hanger the players have been cooped up in ever since a freak storm blew away their last motorcycle, Tory 401:


And finally, here's an incomplete map of the whole world: Chmatra, Planet of Death. You'll notice there's enormous craters where habitable land should be:

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ia! Shuth-Meleth Fhtagn!

As always, I'm writing back story details for Ramzca's civilization game, specifically the characters from my own civilization, the Empire of Transmyridil. Well here's a character profile I've been meaning to finish for a long while now. Like so many other things I've written lately, this has ballooned out of proportion and probably counts as a a full novelette at this point. So, because I have no self-control, enjoy the biography of a pink octopus monster that's been very near and dear to me lately.

...

The Black Book of Ajez Saala-Abdul speaks darkly of what are variedly called the Old Ones or the Outsiders; godlike beings from outside space and time, the very manifestations of otherness, the alien and the incomprehensible. They do not adhere to physical laws as we understand them, having come from the realms beyond or some other primeval darkness before time. It said that to look upon such things is to gaze into the abyss itself. No one born of our material world could have their eyes opened to such otherness and walk away unscathed. The Black Book tells of those foolish or unfortunate enough to have laid eyes on the true form of an Old One, all of whom have unfailingly perished or have gone mad at the sight of such things. That is the danger of the Ancients; they are so vast, powerful and alien that we as mere mortals cannot perceive them without becoming aware of the true, monstrous nature of reality. No mind can comprehend the Old Ones, not even a glimpse of them.

The Black Book lists many blasphemous names in it's yellowed pages; Xorchlcotyl, Zoth-Morazoth: It Which Waits, Tlhordl, Capatatosh: The Rancid Mother. Some are so horrible that even the merest mention of them spells doom for those who speak their name. There is the Indescribable One, who's name cannot be printed without the page eroding away. There is the Unspeakable: That Which Blots Out The Stars. Among the worst is a force known simply as The Other, which is prophesied to plunge all being into unending elemental darkness.

Then there are some that are altogether less horrible. In the back pages of the annotated third edition of the Black Book, in the appendix on chapter III Saala-Abdul makes mention of some minor or otherwise inconsequential Old Ones, many of whom were not named in the original Tablet of Black Utterances. Among them was Sthoth, Zoz and most importantly to us, Shuth-Meleth.

Shuth-Meleth was said to have entered our world with the alignment of the twin blue stars of Allistus and Obern. On that night, a red comet was observed streaking across the sky above the city of Yg and plunged far out to sea. The waters boiled and it is said that all the milk for several miles went sour and all the eggs of domesticated birds rotted. But beyond that, there were none of the deleterious effects commonly associated with the coming of an Old One. No more is said of Shuth-Meleth in the Black Book, but an account of what happened after it's arrival appeared in The Complete Traveler's Guide to the Southlands by Tholir Stonemason. In chapter VIII while elucidating on the issue of which beaches had the most attractive women, Stonemason retells the story of a curiously shaped ruby that washed to shore and was snatched away by a passing Kaam, a kind of squamous humanoid octopus.

Later, in a chapter devoted to which drinks the author thought were best served in coconut husks, Stonemason continues the story of the ruby. While on a journey to the desert city he encountered the ruby once more while spending the night in a tavern; only this time it appeared as a symbol on a tabard worn by a Vyllnr. The Vyllnr, named Bora Saanak-Rek, claimed to be a member of the Order of the Sleeping God. He went on to describe how his god had fallen out of the sky in the form of a glittering gem and had instructed it's high priest to build a temple in the jungle on the edge of a nearby river. After a night of drunken carousing that would take too long to describe here, Stonemason woke the next day, hung over and laying on the makeshift alter in the temple of the Sleeping God.

It is unclear if what happened next was a genuine religious experience or a hallucination brought about by poorly manufactured mead. But Stonemason claims to have received a vision of Shuth-Meleth:

I had an unbelievable headache the morning after. The bed I was laying on was lumpy and hard and I realized Melindra must have snuck off sometime during the past few hours. Everything looked fuzzy and dark. I started to worry I'd have a repeat of the Monday incident. But as my eyes adjusted I noticed a pair of braziers with unnaturally red fires casting an eerie glow on the small room. I was in a small, circular building, made of piled together stones, with what looked like moss used as cement.

As my eyes were adjusting I could see the room getting darker. A small, slimy looking thing, smaller than a dwarf was standing at the other end of the room. My vision went black. The only thing I could see was a dim red haze. Then, all of a sudden, a shape appeared. At first I thought I was going blind because of bad grog, but something was floating in front of my eyes. Something pink.

As I stared at it I started to see something like a tiny pink octopus. It stared back at me with three beady little eyes. It was ringed by an aura of shimmering green light and it's stubby little tentacles waved in a rhythmic, hypnotic motion.


-Tholir Stonemason, The Complete Traveller's Guide to the Southlands

What's notable about this experience is that the author did not go mad upon seeing an Old One in person, nor did his ears bleed upon hearing it's voice as he goes on to describe:

Suddenly, it spoke to me. It had a soft voice, faint and distant sounding. The glowing pink thing called itself Shuth-Meleth and greeted me and welcomed me to it's temple.

The author continues his interactions with the Sleeping God. For the better part of a day he sits and listens as it tells it's story; Shuth-Meleth appeared when the stars aligned, arriving in the form of a multifaceted gemstone which was the closest thing to it's true form as could appear in our world. When asked where it came from, Shuth-Meleth only vaguely hints at what it calls "a realm of primal darkness". When the stone fell to Myridil and crossed the ocean it reached out to find the mind of a worthy follower. When it finally made it's way to the northern shores of the Southlands what it found was Grrgl.

Stories from that area seem to collaborate with this claim. In the earlier chapter, Tholir mentions others present for the incident when a shiny stone or crystal washed to shore. When a crowd gathered around to inspect the glowing object a Kaam rose out of the water, snatched the gem and fled into the nearby jungle before anyone had a chance to stop it. Tholir went on to describe sightings of a "slimy blue creature with tentacles where it's face should have been" at a later point while traveling in the jungle but dismissed the sightings as alcoholic hallucinations.

What Stonemason didn't know was that Grrgl, the Kaam had taken the stone of Shuth-Meleth up river to a safe hiding place, becoming the first High Priest of the Cult of the Sleeping God. There, Shuth-Meleth started to speak to the Kaam telepathically, allowing it small glimpses into the realm from whence it came. At first, Grrgl responded with sheer horror and was left catatonic for nearly a week. But as time went on, the Kaam started to make cave paintings depicting the terrifying home of Shuth-Meleth and it's arrival into our world. It was at this time that the Cult's visual vocabulary started to develop. It's still possible to find images of rubies and red comets in the jungle, carved into trees or painted in caves.

There has been at least one instance where a large mural depicting Shuth-Meleth was found by explorers. An account of an expedition into Spinebreaker cave described an enormous symbolic scene, rendered in caked mud and paint made from crushed tropical berries;

Day 32,

We found an impressive mural today near the subterranean river. While it looks like something left behind by prehistoric people, it couldn't possibly be older than several weeks as it clearly depicts King Rodriq in several scenes. We're trying to find clues of who made it since we've made camp here. I'm recording a miniature copy for my own study while Saala-Mustafa writes up a summary of what we've found. I'll copy it here:

"Painted on the wall is a well designed image of Dwarves and a large pink octopus by an unknown artist. The Dwarves are bowing before the octopus. The octopus is surrounded by the Dwarves. On the mural is an image of red meteors in bumbleberry paint. On the mural is an image of a fishman. The fishman is holding up a red gem. The artwork relates to the worship of an unnamed icon in a fortress and the appointment of the fishman to the position of priest of some local cult."

The octopus (or squid) is an interesting feature. It is large and bright pink, with tentacles (eight in total) reaching all over the wall. What's notable is that it seems to be crushing a tower in one arm and flicking a figure off a horse in another. The crown on the figure's head is unmistakably "Rodriqesque". The deity, or sea monster or whatever it is has three eyes, two closed and one open and staring at the viewer. It has a bright red pupil.

Note: Yalric's gangrene is getting worse - consider amputation.

As Tholir recovered from his hangover the eponymous pink octopus continued it's story; after Grrgl's traumatic visions the pair went back to the port city to preach and hopefully gather more followers. They were met with open hostility by the locals who took the Kaam for an insane cultist. Despite insistence that Shuth-Meleth wouldn't be accepting blood sacrifices the pair were forced to leave with only a single Vyllnr to show for their efforts.

This ended up working to their advantage in a small way however, as the Vyllnr was able to bring them back to it's village in the jungle where reception to the Cult was much more favorable. In the weeks following their arrival, Shuth-Meleth made the first real show of it's godly powers. First, it healed the blindness of a young Vyllnr in the village. Then, when a family fell ill because of tropical disease, the Sleeping God whispered into the mind of the local alchemist, telling him what ingredients to gather to make a potion to cure them. As time went by and the Kaam and it's magic gemstone made themselves generally helpful, favor in the Sleeping God grew. After nearly a month in the jungle, the tribe decided to completely devote themselves to Shuth-Meleth. The chieftainess saw it's true form in a vision and declared it the tribe's only god and the only one who would lead them to salvation.

It was this same village that Tholir had drunkenly stumbled into the night before. As the Sleeping God ended it's story the chieftainess came inside to greet the Dwarf. After, she brought him outside to show him the village. Banners carrying the symbol of the red ruby were flying from every mud hut. All around him, Vyllnir were packing up supplies for a long journey into the heart of the jungle. As he stood there, rubbing his tired eyes, the chieftainess announced the tribe's intentions to travel up the river and find the promised land of her visions.

She spoke of a tall mountain peering above the jungle, with a volcano smouldering in the distance. A short one-eyed king stood on the mountain, surveying the untamed wilderness. She told the tribe that this place was to be their new home and in order to find it, they must seek out the man from her visions. Immediately, Tholir suspected she was talking about Agekugog, or Beebane, and the king she spoke of was actually Emperor Urist Thunderbeard. Having no idea what either of those things were, the chieftainess agreed to let Stonemason come with them, as he was headed in that direction anyway.

The tribe set off the next day, swimming upstream as they carried their supplies in waterproof bags. Stonemason was pulled close behind in a small boat. While his original intention for going to the Empire was to sample their local beer and mead he started to hear the whispers of Shuth-Meleth in his mind. As the days dragged on, he started to see strange things in his dreams. Stonemason described seeing "impossibly tall towers" and "writhing tentacles" in a veil of absolute darkness. Throughout the next several chapters he would complain about a pinpoint of red light that always seemed to be in the corner of his vision.

As the Sleeping God's influence in his mind grew, disaster struck. Bandits raided the Vyllnr camp one night as they were resting on the riverbank and stole several bags of supplies, including the gemstone itself. Several members of the tribe died fighting off the bandits. As panic started to grip the survivors Grrgl and Tholir resolved to go searching for the stone themselves, convincing many of the Vyllnr to do the same.

They stumbled through the thick underbrush throughout the night, guided only by the sense of unearthly power drawing them to the stone. Eventually they  found the camp as the bandits were sifting through their spoils. The bandit leader was busy arguing with an underling; it was clear to the cultists that they were fighting over ownership of the stone.

Tholnir used this opportunity to silently kill the bandit on watch, allowing Grrgl to usher the Vyllnr into the camp. All at once, they sprung from ambush and attacked. While the bandits were more well armed, the cultists had the element of surprise and managed to kill several of them before anything could be done to stop them. One of the bandits was a sorcerer however and was quickly whittling down their numbers as he roasted the angry cultists with lightning.

Being so short, Grrgl was able to avoid most of the tall bandits' swings. He leapt on top of a table, tossing a candle into a tent which quickly burst into flame. Almost in imitation of that early day on the beach, no one was able to get a grip on him as he rampaged around the camp, searching for the stone. Eventually, he found the leader and threw himself onto his face. Grrgl tried to pull his eyes out with his suction cups as they struggled for the stone. In the heat of the moment the bandit leader pulled out a knife and plunged it deep into the scaly neck of the Kaam.

Overcome by the death of his first, most loyal follower, Shuth-Meleth took revenge against the bandits. Mustering all his godly power, he reached out to the minds of each one, filling them with horrifying visions of the "primal darkness" from whence he came. They all dropped their weapons at once and blanched at the sight of such horrors. As Tholir reached for the stone, the bandits fell to the ground and started gibbering madly. Coming in contact with such alien chaos was too much for them. The brains of the highwaymen started to cook from the inside out, oozing out of their ears as they died.

Grrgl laid dead and the Vyllnr scattered all over the jungle, irrevocably lost due to their awful sense of direction. All that remained was Tholir. He buried Grrgl by the riverbank, making a makeshift headstone with the symbol of the red comet and continued on his way.

For nearly a week he trekked through the jungle. All the while, Shuth-Meleth spoke to him in his mind. The two beings, the lowly dwarf and the Old One consoled each other over the death of the cult. Shuth-Meleth assured him that, while scattered, he could still hear the thoughts of the Vyllnr and was reaching out to them. And while he could still hear the prayers of his followers there was no hope of gathering them back to the river because, again, they had an awful sense of direction. Instead, he told Tholir to "follow the smoke". Tholir did as he was commanded, thinking he was making his way to the lip of the volcano.

Instead what he found were the smouldering ashes of siege equipment and the half-demolished walls of Beebane. Urist was dead. The Empire was still reeling with their war with the neighboring Isolationists. Sankis had been declared interim Empress as she tried to rebuild the fortress. Shuth-Meleth had arrived in the promised land with no followers and no one willing to listen to his message.

Nonetheless, he and Tholir took up residence in the fortress. They were quietly ignored as the Imperials took the remaining Isolationists to trial for war crimes. Tajjini Besaa-Mora, former Arch Minister of Information, was executed for high treason. For the next several months Empress Sankis was kept busy retaking the lost territories of Bistleholm and Thunderbeard's Hallow. The entire Empire was embroiled in the ongoing campaign of executions as well as preparing for the coming Goblin War. The only official who seemed to notice the strange crystal's arrival was Caten Ironfist. As Arch Minister of Magic, she was concerned largely in the manufacture of glowing lightstones and wasn't interested in the politics of running an empire.

Caten wrote a yearly address concerning the state of magic in the Empire. While it largely consisted of records regarding the movements of enchanted items from one office to another, during the year of the Goblin War she made sure to point out that a dark god had taken up residence in Beebane and was quietly gathering followers while the government was otherwise preoccupied:

Shuth-Meleth is some manner of squid-deity worshiped by the spiderfolk living in Beebane. As far as I can tell it practices astral magic, specializing in thaumaturgy with a passive dormant ability to make followers more perceptive of potential danger and solutions to problems. A dormant god from the deep sea, it's conjured form is an oddly shaped ruby.

-Caten Ironfist, Arch Minister of Magic

While neutral in tone, Caten's report contained just enough alarmist language to cast serious doubt on Shuth-Meleth's intentions and cause a panic. The Empire had already had dealings with dark gods in the past. Urist's near-transformation into an elf was still fresh in the minds of the citizens and many feared a repeat of those events.

The Sleeping God had already gathered followers among the Spiderfolk population when he came under serious scrutiny from the Arch Ministry of Magic. He was asked to appear before the Empress as part of a formal inquiry. Holding nothing back, he told the Imperials the plain truth; he was an immensely powerful being from beyond space and time. Coming from a realm of pure terror and chaos, Shuth-Meleth was peeking through a hole in the fabric of reality and sought mortal worshipers in Beebane. As Shuth-Meleth continued it's tale of cosmic horror the Imperial council squirmed in their seats. A sense of dread hung over the whole room as everyone stared into the uneven contours of the crystal. Meanwhile, Empress Sankis slouched in her throne. Her son Biin listened to the story with rapt attention, at once terrified and fascinated by the alien monstrosity.

Despite objections from Caten, the Empress decided that the newly formed Cult of the Awakened God had every right to live in Beebane. Tholir Stonemason and Shuth-Meleth were granted full Imperial citizenship.

Today, Shuth-Meleth's crystal resides in the Temple of the Awakened God in Beebane, attended to by the Spider People who call the fortress home. The temple mirrors the one built in the jungle. A small, dignified place of quiet prayer and study; it is a circular room with a low arching ceiling. On all sides are alcoves leading to small libraries and study rooms. The stone rests on a copper dais in the center of the room and the smokeless red fires burn in their brazers, never needing fuel.

In the foyer leading to the temple is a small stone statue of Grrgl, former high priest and first saint of the cult.

What's interesting about this particular god is that, in spite of being an alien monstrosity from outside space and time, Shuth-Meleth is relatively benign. While it could be blamed for the deaths of it's Vllnir followers, the Sleeping God has never killed something except in self-defense or the defense of it's followers.

The tenants of the Cult of the Awakened God are relatively simple. It forbids murder, theft and other crimes that are frowned upon in the Empire. What's unusual isn't it's safe, pedestrian commandments, but that such safe, pedestrian commandments are coming from an Old One, something that by all rights should be driving it's mortal followers mad or imparting knowledge man was not meant to know. It has been argued that Shuth-Meleth is not an eldritch abomination at all like it's followers have been lead to believe. But instead, it is in fact a much weaker being masquerading as a powerful Old One to impress the mortal population. Others suggest that Shuth-Meleth should represent a paradigm shift in how we view the nature of the Old Ones. Some scholars take the Sleeping God as evidence that mortals can in fact be bestowed with cosmic insight and keep their sanity intact.

Whatever the case maybe, Shuth-Meleth maintains that it itself is a vastly powerful cosmic being from outside space and time and that it's meager influence in the physical world is due to a combination of the lack of belief from it's mortal followers and the stars not "being right enough". Only a small portion of it's power can escape through the pinprick hole in reality that Shuth-Meleth is forcing itself through.

Shuth-Meleth's sacred number is 8. Missionaries of it's cult are expected to wear a black tabard with a red border, with the symbol of the ruby acting as their badge of office. It's followers value knowledge and discovery, believing Shuth came to Myridil to give them the gift of enlightenment. What could perhaps be considered the central belief of this new religion is that, with the devotion of enough followers, Shuth-Meleth will be able to break the bonds of it's stone and physically enter our universe. While it's followers in Beebane are enthusiastic about this so-called Great Arrival, scholars of the Old Ones are not so happy to hear that an eldritch abomination is planning to break into their universe. Shuth-Meleth itself has commented on the situation:

While I would not oppose passing through the Gate into your world I have no plans for making this come to pass myself. And I certainly have no plans to make my presence known here with a calamitous End Time, great devouring or any event that would plunge the world into darkness, elemental or otherwise. If an opportunity for me pass through the gossamer-thin barrier between worlds ever did present itself I certainly would not take it if it involved the blood sacrifice of a living being, virginal or otherwise. So please, no virgin sacrifices. I will not accept them.

-Shuth-Meleth, An Open Letter to the Empire

When asked why hearing it's voice didn't drive mortals to madness or why gazing at it's true form in visions did not instantly kill it's high priests, the god has this to say:

It is a common conceit among your kind that anything that comes from beyond the Veil must be all-knowing or all-powerful. While I admit that I exist beyond your conceptions of time and space and in fact transcend it, I am not the omnipotent alien being you make me out to be. I still appreciate that you worship me as a god, but I am not the sort of god to melt your minds or cast your souls adrift in the limitless expanses of chaos. For this reason, you have nothing to fear.

And to answer that young man's question from earlier; yes, if you worship me I absolutely do lay claim to your soul.

Shuth-Meleth has claimed that it is perfectly happy existing alongside the rest of the Imperial pantheon, making sure to point out that it wasn't looking to take followers away from the Everfire. So for better or for worse, Shuth-Meleth's new temple resides in the lowest layer of Beebane, attended to by High Priest Chkl'thak, a Spiderperson who emigrated to the Empire that same year. While most of it's followers have been Spiderfolk, Shuth-Meleth has a small following among the Llynir population in Beebane and even one or two Dwarves. Worship of the Awakened God isn't especially popular among Humans or Gnolls, but so far no tensions have formed between the various belief systems of the Empire. Our operatives have asked around Beebane, Thunderbeard's Hallow, Bistleholm and throughout the Empire; the reaction seems to be the same. Most citizens are comfortable having the new temple in their capital city. While those who aren't are merely distrustful.

The cult has found Beebane very accommodating to their needs and have been able to assimilate into the local culture rather well. They recently gathered enough funding to have a holy book printed using the press in Beebane. The Eightfold Path is a small one-hundred twenty-eight page volume that easily fits in a coat pocket and mainly concerns itself with the early history of the cult and the philosophy of Shuth-Meleth, as well as prayers, blessings and tacit warnings against dealing with other Old Ones.

When asked how he feels about Shuth-Meleth residing in his fortress, young Emperor Biin Thunderbeard had this to say:

I had tha chance ta speak to the octopus-deity when 'is followers first signed tha deed ta tha land. To tell ye the truth I was a little wary at first, but after speakin' to it I feel like 'e'll make a nice addition ta Imperial culture. Besides, the Spiderfolk seem ta like him an' anything ta make them feel at 'ome is good. After all, that's what me father founded this country on: a people unified by their diversity, not divided by it.

-Emperor Biin Thunderbeard

Due to it's benign policies and positive reception in Transmyridil, our organization have decided to reclassify Shuth-Meleth to a level 6 cosmic entity with ROOK type psychosomatic influence. There is no reason to assume the great Happening will occur because of it's actions, nor will there be any danger of a Helvetica Scenario if it's allowed to expand it's influence. The recommended course of action at this time is continued observation but it is in our professional opinion that it is now safe to redirect vital equipment to other listening posts. No tunneling entanglement activity has been reported and all stellar charts are safely out of alignment. Finally, to address [...] concerns, there is no evidence at this time to suggest Shuth-Meleth is a guise of Xyphochotl.

Next Report:

Udil Bronzebolt: Interdimensional Terrorist or Elaborate Hoax?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Pluto

The S.L.A.M. saga isn't over yet. Lo and behold there's a documentary on YouTube all about the history of Project Pluto from the early design phase to the construction and testing of the nuclear ramjets.











Once again, I have no idea how long these videos will stay here. So for the time being enjoy this informative documentary on the most hideous weapon ever devised. Plus, it has commentary from some of the scientists who actually worked on the project.

And if that somehow still isn't enough S.L.A.M. for you there's a wonderful short story by Charles Stross called A Colder War involving our favorite missile. I don't want to spoil it so I'll just say it involves something called XK-Pluto, an alternate timeline and a poorly timed joke made by Ronald Reagan. Trust me, it's good.

You can read it here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Berserker

Imagine the worst idea in the world.

I don't mean a merely bad idea, like trying to rob a bank or investing in a viatical settlement. Those are bad ideas, but they're not world-ending. When I say "the worst idea" I mean something well and truly diabolical. The worst idea is something that is not only dangerous and ill-conceived but can threaten to kill on a scale as of yet unheard of.

But the worst idea doesn't necessarily have to be ill-conceived or poorly thought-out. In fact, it could be the product of sheer genius. The finest minds of a generation could come together and pool their knowledge to create the single worst object the world has ever seen. Because remember, this isn't just a bad idea; it's the worst creation our species has to offer. It's going to take billions of dollars and millions of man hours to bring this monstrosity to life.

The Cold War was a hotbed of terrifying new doomsday devices, some of the worst ideas we've ever had. On either side of the Iron Curtain, nestled away in their secret research bases, the most brilliant minds of the 20th century were at work building new and exciting ways to end all life on Earth. The USSR had the Dead Hand, an autonomous defense system that would deploy their entire nuclear stockpile if the Soviet leadership was otherwise occupied or dead. They also built the infamous Tsar Bomba, the largest thermonuclear device ever detonated. If a Tsar were dropped on Washington D.C. it would destroy every building within a 3.5 kilometer radius from the fireball alone. The resulting shock wave would topple every structure for hundreds of miles as the sheer heat incinerates the entire landscape. And then, the Tsar would kick up a cloud of fallout large enough to render much of the east coast uninhabitable for the next hundred years. In all, a single Tsar Bomba, if dropped on the right population center, would accumulate close to seven megadeaths worth of damage. (Doubly so if dropped on Paris.)

Meanwhile the Americans were busy building their own bigger and better bombs, happily vaporizing the Bikini Atoll in their quest for the perfect thermonuclear device. They also developed such strange novelties as the M28 "Davy Crockett" nuclear artillery, a kind of recoilless rifle designed to fire a small nuclear bomb over a distance of just over four kilometers, making it the smallest nuclear weapon ever devised.

They also worked on plans for a variety of enhanced radiation weapons, bombs designed to have a smaller explosive yield while spreading much more radiation than a "conventional" thermonuclear weapon. Included in this were plans for neutron bombs, which were intentionally designed with thin radiation cases in order to allow neutrons to escape and irradiate the blast site. There were also salted bombs, which came packed with easily irradiated material such as cobalt or gold, which would be spread in the form of deadly, radioactive dust when the device was detonated.

Either of these proposals had the capability to destroy all life on Earth if enough of them were detonated.

And these doomsday devices are certainly impressive. Their potential for destruction is harrowing. But can we really say they're the worst product of Cold War engineering? Because as horrible as these weapons were they lacked the certain pointless cruelty needed to bridge the gap between "terrifying" and "nemesis of all life and creation".

No. There's something even more sadistic than the Dead Hand or cobalt bombs. There is an area-denial weapon more pointlessly cruel and over-engineered than any of those...


There is the SLAM: Supersonic Low Altitude Missile; officially the worst thing mankind has ever set out to build.

The SLAM was developed in the early 1960's as part of Project Pluto, a government program to develop nuclear powered ramjet engines for cruise missiles. At the start of Project Pluto the Air Force was relying on long-range bombers like the B-52 to deliver nuclear munitions. ICBMs were still an emerging technology and military analysts were concerned that the missiles wouldn't be ready in time. So the Air Force started work to bridge the gab between bombers and missiles, hoping to create a cruise missile that could fly under enemy radar and deliver a nuclear payload with virtual impunity. Thus, the SLAM was born.



The SLAM's reactor was developed as a joint venture between the Air Force and Atomic Energy Commission. Together they approached the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to design Pluto's reactor. The lab gladly accepted the offer since before then most nuclear engineering contracts where handed over to their rival, Los Alamos. What the Air Force wanted was a compact, lightweight reactor that they could put in an aircraft. This was a tall order to fill since every reactor built up to that point had been encased under several feet of concrete. Never mind powered flight, precious few reactors had been built to even be portable. What Project Pluto needed was several leaps and bounds in metallurgy, a material that could withstand the near 2330 °F expected to be pulsing through the reactor. The sort of metal used in jets and missiles before then could only be expected to liquify in the presence of such extreme operating conditions.

Not even the exotic compounds used in the X-15 hypersonic jet were expected to be able to withstand the the stresses the SLAM was expected to endure. This missile would have to pass through wind and rain, enduring salty ocean air, not to mention the extreme heat and radiation produced by the reactor. Before long it was decided to use ceramic to construct the fuel elements, much like how ceramic would be used in the construction of the space shuttle years later. So, Livermore ended up approaching the Coors Porcelain Company (yes, that Coors) to construct the hundreds of pencil-shaped fuel elements for the reactor. As time went by it started to dawn on the scientists just how durable this missile would be, leading to project director Ted Merkle giving it the nickname "The Flying Crowbar".

And keep in mind this was all uncharted territory. While simple in theory, ramjets are notoriously difficult to test in the air. This difficultly is surely compounded when the ramjet in question is spewing radiation every which way. And yet, progress was slowly being made. Chance-Vought was commissioned to design the airframe and the shape of SLAM, which had come to encompass all of Project Pluto, was slowly coming together. Soon enough, there was a complete picture of what SLAM would look like and what it would be capable of.

Besides the rudders, the Pluto would have virtually no moving parts. It's fuel elements were arranged like a honeycomb and kept subcritical until just before take off. After that, the only thing protecting it's electronics and nuclear payload was a thick shadow shield. The ground crew were basically on their own.

Once take off was authorized the SLAM would be launched from a ramp using a cluster of rocket boosters. These would be necessary to get it up to the speed needed to force air into the ramjet. After take off the missile would navigate using an early TERCOM computer, using radar and radioed commands to map out it's surroundings.

Once the rocket boosters broke away the missile would be left flying under it's own power; drawing air into it's inlet which was then heated by the reactor, creating thrust. The missile would continue to fly at high altitude approaching Mach 4.2 before making a rapid descent as it approached Soviet airspace. From then on, the SLAM would level out and fly at extremely low altitudes, just barely above tree top heights, weaving around enemy radar as it closed in on it's target.

The missile came equipped with an enormous payload of up to sixteen thermonuclear warheads, each one capable of incinerating a city and all it's people. The SLAM would come careening across the landscape, dropping it's bombs on all manner of military bases, munitions stores, hospitals, anything that could aid the enemy in the coming post-apocalypse. It would then tear off into the sunset to vaporize the rest of the country. Relying on it's TERCOM navigation system, the missile would be able to snake it's way up the coast dropping bombs on a multitude of preprogrammed targets and making course corrections as need be.

And if Pluto's nuclear stockpile somehow wasn't enough to destroy the offending hemisphere, don't worry. Because researchers working on Project Pluto quickly realized that having the missile flying a crisscrossing pattern over the enemy country was more than enough to leave it an irradiated wasteland. Remember, the Pluto's nearly 600 megawatt reactor was almost entirely unshielded, meaning it would leave a plume of deadly radiation in it's wake wherever it went. Merely having a SLAM fly overhead would be enough to give a lethal dose of radiation to any would-be communist sympathizer. The neutron radiation would be enough to poison the land, indiscriminately killing all plant and animal life and leaving a trail of destruction wherever it went. Or if you were anxious to get this thing out of the air as soon as possible you could deliberately crash it, making a nice radioactive crater out of whatever unfortunate satellite nation it plunges into.

And if even that somehow wasn't enough, the SLAM could kill with noise alone. Remember, the missile was proposed to be around fifty-two feet long and weighing twenty-five tons; about the same size and weight as a steam locomotive. This very large missile would fly at Mach 3, just slightly higher than most rooftops. The shock wave left by it's passing would be strong enough to wreck all sorts of havoc, smashing windows, bursting eardrums, outright demolish buildings. Imagine the sound of a typical passenger jet taking off. Now imagine that same sound, magnified ten times, being made by a passing missile that's spewing gamma rays in every direction.

If the SLAM didn't vaporize you it would cook you like a T.V. dinner. And if it didn't cook you it left you slowly dying of radiation poisoning. And if it somehow didn't do that it would shred you to pieces as it came screaming over the countryside. Now you see why this would have been our worst weapon ever devised? The SLAM wasn't just cruel, it was monstrous. The Supersonic Low Altitude Missile would have been a proper doomsday device.


Sadly, it was never meant to be. As the researchers quickly found out, it would have been impossible to do a proper flight test of the Pluto, not unless they wanted to inadvertently irradiate Las Vegas or Los Angeles. There were some daffy proposals to tie a long steel tether to the missile as it flew circles around the Nevada Test Site or have it fly into the Pacific Ocean and intentionally crash it far from shore. Neither plan was put into action of course.

In the end, the Pentagon scrapped Project Pluto; deeming the missile too dangerous, too provocative to even test. Plus, they were afraid of the Soviets catching wind of their plans and developing their own counterpart to the SLAM, which, if it worked, would be impossible to defend against. But as it turns out there was no race to close the nuclear cruise missile gap and Pluto was quietly forgotten by the public.

However, the scientists at the Lawrence Radiation Lab were able to successfully test both the Tory II-A and II-C reactors, proving the feasibility of the nuclear ramjet. The project also lead to the development of new heat resistant materials. Pluto saw some interesting advances in metallurgy such as the development of ceramic fuel elements based on beryllium oxide and enriched uranium oxide, both highly carcinogenic of course. But eventually, ICBMs caught up with the SLAM, presenting a much cheaper and even more unstoppable delivery system. To the Air Force, the answer was obvious and Project Pluto was discontinued.

Still, one can only imagine a future where the SLAM was eventually tested in the air, a future were people live in fear of rampaging, out-of-control missiles with nowhere left to bomb. It would be a future of endless radioactive deserts, a glowing ball of dust where grass never grows. The land and sea would be poisoned by radiation and Plutos would streak across the sky like glittering needles, threading streams of nuclear fire wherever they went. The whole world would become a tapestry of fire as the missiles reached across the globe. And the last survivor would be there; their body rotting away, ravaged by high energy particles. And with their last dying breath they would claw their way up a pile of rubble and with scorched, sunken eyes they would stare off into the horizon and shake their sallow fist at the machine soaring in the distance. They would slump over and fall silent as she flies off into the sunset.

Atoms for Peace indeed.