Monday, August 29, 2011

Map of LL Events

The rough positions of the planets and stars during the course of the events in Land Leave.  (if someone does the math, they can also figure out what year this happens).

Land Leave 17

Looking up at the Baja California mega-structure from the third pillar.  An Eve-sized ship is docking about 100 stories up for scale.

“Holy shi—” Dr. Kelvin tried to hold onto the railing and missed.

“Status! I need us pulling in tight on the AmU capital station now!” The captain barked.

“Sir, we have multiple distress signals at 14 major mega-structures,” the comm officer stated harshly, “something big is going on.”

“Get me on comm with any authority!”

“I've got too much chatter. All major enforcement channels are nearly white noise. Sir, I think we have some sort of coordinated attack.”

“Y'think?” The captain recovered, “sorry. Figure out what's going on and initiate docking procedures with AmCap.”

“They are putting us in a holding pattern. I think we've been quarantined,” the comm officer looked at the captain helplessly.

The captain wasn't in the mood, “I don't want to hear another word out of you unless you are putting me through to a higher officer,” he said tersely. The comm officer turned back and tried to patch something through. The captain winced at his poor response and turned to Dr. Kelvin and Sorensen, “anything?”

“No. Tactically speaking we are blind. No idea about the fleet and our plan to patch through to someone of significance could be pre-empted by the Continental's actions.” Sorensen wanted to throw up his hands.

“The cube did its job, I don't have anything beyond that. Hopefully it's safe and the Hestia has rendezvoused with the cube.” Kelvin threw up her hands, they were lost and cut-off in the middle of a war they had no idea about.


“What!” The captain nearly yelled.

“I have the Admiral of the AmCap on the line,” the comm officer barely spoke.

The captain relaxed his shoulders, “put him through.” The admiral appeared on a screen.

“What the hell is going on?” The admiral was not pleased.

“I was going to ask you the same thing,” the captain answered.

“I have reports that you perpetrated an attack against a Jovian solar array, led a mutinous fleet into an unordered retreat out of our Mars facilities, and entered unauthorized LEO.”

“Sir, I can assure you that I have the AmU's best interests in mind and I can explain it all, but I'm concerned about the distress signals on 14 AmU mega-structures and the seeming coordinated attack against the AmU Navy by Jovian forces,” the captain couldn't keep his heart in his chest.

“We're practically blind up here. We lost contact with Earth four minutes ago and have been receiving spotty reports of explosions on the pillars of these structures. I haven't gotten hold of Secret Service or command,” the admiral looked lost, “Pat, I think we are in the middle of an insurrection.”

The captain looked out at the bridge, “Jean, I'm lost. What's our stated mission? I'm on defense and trying to keep what's left of the AmU fleet from collapsing.”

“I have 4 ships in Low-Earth Orbit. I'm afraid to drop them to aid in evac because I wouldn't have any orbital defenses or contact once they drop LEO. I've contacted the EU, Asian Pacific, and South African fleets for help but they are doing clean-up at Mars and Jupiter. What can you do?”

“My fleet is scattered in four locations. The Valley Forge should be in Geo-stationary orbit—I'm surprised it hasn't contacted you. I can dispatch it to retrieve all ships,” the captain suddenly became aware of the Valley Forge's absence. It should have commed immediately. He turned to his comm officer, “get them on the line!”

“Sir, I am reading a heat signature at 42,000 kilometers. I have photon compression signatures!”

“Brace for impact!” The captain gritted his teeth as a laser struck the shields. There would be minimal hull damage but the Eve had been knocked off it's course. “I want that on-screen and targeted!”

“It's the AmU Earth fleet.” Sorensen cursed audibly.

The captain looked at the admiral on screen, “you don't have any defense forces admiral. I recommend evac, otherwise you'll all be hostages.”

“Noted, get back-up,” and the admiral was gone. Another hit of a laser charge grazed the side of the shield. The shield hadn't fully recharged and part of the Eve's hull melted.

The captain was in a bind, the Valley Forge could be assumed to have been destroyed. There was a severe attack on AmU soil and there was no back-up. He looked at Sorensen, “order all non-essential personnel to evacuate. Order all able pilots to dispatch to all 14 zones and help however they can,” the captain took a deep breath in, “set course for the cube.”

Bill and James were sitting in their fighters waiting for orders. There was a hold on all full disembarks until they were in the clear. The emergency lights flashed red as they looked at each other nervously, “what do you think is going to happen?” Bill said as he ran a routine check on his systems.

“Dunno. We've been dark down here for fifteen minutes. A lot can happen in that time,” James was surprisingly zen given his earlier frantic outbursts at the solar array. “I think that the captain got the admiral of the Earth fleet to call off the attack and we are about to launch a major counter-offensive against the Jovians.”

“Maybe. Or maybe we have become such hated fugitives that the full force of all the interplanetary fleets is after us. We knocked something out of balance with this cube.” Bill hoped his words were hollow. The system check finished and an urgent notice appeared on-screen. It gave coordinates and an aid mission order.

Sorensen's voice came over the comm, “all able-bodied pilots mobilize according to your flight plans, the Eve will be leaving LEO and you will be in charge of disaster relief at 14 mega-structures. If there was any doubt that a war has started, let there be none now. We are in the midst of the largest coordinated attack on the AmU since the Mons Pavonis Conspiracy. Your job is strictly rescue and relief; there are millions of AmU citizens in danger.”

James looked at Bill and waved. James put on his helmet and fired up the engine. Over the comm he heard Bill mumble, “it just makes me uneasy...”

James looked at the coordinates and then it dawned on him, “dad,” he said painfully. His and Bill's destination was the Baja California mega-structure, “Bill, do you see these coordinates.”

“Don't think about it, everything will be fine,” Bill tried to convince the both of them. Bill shot down the launch tube and initiated his re-entry sequence; James followed closely behind. As they rounded the Earth's curvature, they saw the smoke billowing into the atmosphere. In low-earth orbit weather patterns appeared like a fog hovering lightly over the earth, the texture of the earth was distinct, and burning mega-structures were a disconcerting sight.

“Thats not good. My dad--” James said. Bill heard the heart-wrenching helplessness in James' voice. Bill knew that James had a tough relationship with his father. At the end of the day James still sought his father's approval. “We gotta--”

“I know,” Bill said it with determination, “we're going into black-out, I have two minutes till comm signal. Mark.” With that the two ships entered the Earth's atmosphere. The ceramic plating of the ships heated up. The immense heat blocked out radio communications briefly. Then they were through, decelerating to sub-sonic speeds.

Fighters were much more primitive than the large battleships, they had a weak velocity-stabilizing field for high speed fights in space, but those were ineffective in a large enough gravitational field such as the Earth's. The braking system on re-entry was rough to say the least, and Bill knew his neck would feel it the next day. If he made it to the next day.

“Fix it. Fix it. Fix it,” James repeated to himself. He knew that he had to perform perfectly. He had to be there. He had to just, “fix it. Fix it. Fix it.”

The mega-structure stood like a mountain over the bay. It lay at the edge of the Gulf of California and was the seat of the AmU state of Baja California. It appeared that where the A-frame converged, some sort of major explosion had occurred. Bill knew that the shield would protect the building from most blasts. The smoke was a sign of an internal explosion—a terrorist attack.

As they approached the chatter on their comms turned to white noise. Bill went white with terror. James could only feel his heart get heavy and a deep rage build inside him, “what do we do now?”

Space Wanted

Ever notice how awful having a space with no one to live in it is? Do you hate having no one to make your empty studio or 1 bedroom feel like a home?

Well now there's a solution! From the makers of the Room Mate comes the Re-GrUEP—Recently Graduated Under-Employed Person. What is that? It's more than just a passing fad, it's the way of the future! With rising unemployment and a down economy the Re-GrUEP can be yours for sublet or short-term lease for the low monthly rate of...wait for it.

Wait for it...

-$600 to -$950! That's right, we pay you to give the Re-GrUEP a wonderful place to call home. Now all your telemarketer friends will have a new number to call. Now that dusty can be filled and you don't have to worry about that space lying empty and alone!

But wait there's more, the Re-GrUEP comes with his very own Long-Time Awesome Girlfriend—the LoTAG! The LoTAG has a job and does the math of splitting the rent so you don't have to. All you have to do is provide the Re-GrUEP and the LoTAG with a space to call home. This set of young naïve kids trying to just make it in this crazy mixed up world comes with suitcases and the autonomous ability to breathe and eat on their own. No maintenance required!

The set is totally capable of making their own payments for the foreseeable future, and the adorable pair will even go to their jobs and produce for the flagging economy. It's enjoyable to watch these young upstarts try to:
--Do dishes
--Separate whites from darks in the laundry
--Go on super-cheap dates
--Figure out cell-phone contracts
--And much more!

It's really up to them, and everyday is a new experience. The Re-GrUEP can cook, has a passion for urban planning and conflict-resolution, and can fold hundreds of tiny origami paper cranes—it's a riot! The LoTAG just got a BFA in theater, is incessantly enthusiastic, speaks with her hands and her mouth, and can do some mean sword stage combat—deadly and wild!

Call in the next fifteen minutes and we'll toss in the Hygiene Accessory Kit—HAcK. You'll laugh as the Re-GrUEP and LoTAG try to use these products to clean the space and themselves. What happens when they mix lye and water? I don't know but I can't wait to find out!

Call Nick at 775 830 7876. Sorry, only available in the state of Washington; specifically owners of space in the Seattle area.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Time Developing

I took 36 exposures. I was so excited to see them developed. The black and white roll of film was one of the higher quality films in the industry. Because of that, Costco would not develop my Ilford Delta Black and White film. I insisted to the technician that it required no special processes but she was kind of...unpleasant to me.

Anyways, I carried around this roll of undeveloped film as if it were a child. I put it in a cool dark place in my aunt Nan's basement (not that you should do that with children, just that I was very careful with it). Finally I had the time and courage to ask my grandfather if he would walk me through the process of developing film in his dark room.

“I haven't done it in years,” he croaked after I asked him to help me loudly, “I still have some—uh—chemicals.” He coughed and tried unsuccessfully to clear his throat, “come with me.” And he led me to the dark room. It was filled with photos and an amateur love of an evolving art. My grandfather had abandoned using film years ago; he was digital, and I was the curmudgeonly man trying desperately to hold onto an obscure format. But he obliged.

For nearly an hour we set up the proper requirements for developing this special film. We looked at everything and made sure that it would work. He showed me the equipment and how to measure it out. Each time he explained something, I nervously repeated it; checking and re-checking the tables we had.

My cousin Louie appeared, “it's time for dinner.”

I went upstairs and found grandma, “I think I've gotten myself into trouble.”

“Why?” She asked.

“Because I asked grandpa to show me how to use the dark room.” Truth be told I was very excited to try the process out but very scared that it wouldn't come out. And those had photos I desperately wanted. I knew the roll had a portrait each of both my grandmothers and I was sure that they would enjoy the gift. There were also excellent shots of scenery and the beach house. It would be a shame to lose them. Of course excellent probably because I fancied myself the next Ansel Adams, but nonetheless important to me.

“The darkroom? When I was a kid my friends used to joke about Dad and the darkroom,” my aunt Phil piped in, “he used to ask him if they would like to see pictures that he had taken of them, and of course they did. Then he would start developing film and they wouldn't be allowed to leave for at least an hour,” she laughed, “Dr. Hara and his darkroom.”

I headed to the dinner table, grandma pointed out where I should sit. Then she showed me the vegetarian option she had made, “this is for you and Ciera. Don't eat all of it, leave some for her,” she said sternly.

I smiled and nodded. I appreciated that grandma was looking out for Ciera while at work. It was funny that grandma believed that I wasn't. So it goes. Dinner was pleasant enough. As we cleaned up the dishes—actually as Phil and Andrew did—Nan gave the family news of Auntie Marian. My great aunt has been diagnosed with lung and brain cancer; her treatment options have been discussed and hopefully she will recover. During the course of the conversation it was resolved that we would make paper cranes for her. In Japanese culture 1000 paper cranes is a sign of good-luck.

Because of grandpa's poor hearing, Nan had to tell him directly and slowly. The words were deliberate and emotionless. Noise was the key. And it made it heavier for me. Speaking with volume gave my system a shock. Something stirred slowly inside me.

Grandpa took the news quickly. It entered into him and he filed it away to think about later. Grandma sensed this and justified it to everyone. I understood. How do you react when you are told your only sister is very sick, but it has been told without tone because you are nearly deaf?

Grandpa and I went downstairs to the dark room and he left me to start the process. “You ready? Do you know where everything is?” He asked. I nodded and he turned off the light and shut the door.

I was in the room alone. I felt around for the can opener and pried apart the canister that contained the film. I strung it on the roll carefully and slowly, each second ticking by brutally. My eyes adjusted to the dim red light. I hoped it wasn't too much to ruin the film. I finally put it all on the roll and put it in the canister.

I filled it with water and washed it. 68 degrees. That was the temperature of the water. It had to be for optimal development. I turned on the light and opened the door. I saw my grandfather sitting in a chair, looking at the hallway. What was he thinking? I felt I had interrupted a deep thought. I poured out the water and put in my pre-measured container full of developing fluid. I started the timer. “Be patient. This takes time. Keep it agitated,” he said as he turned on the radio.

I watched the timer; an old analog clock face where the hands could be moved manually. It ticked down. I wandered around the room gently rolling the container in arcs. Every so often I tapped it against the counter to make sure that there were no trapped air bubbles. Music circulated the room. I poured out the fluid, rinsed the container with water, and poured in the fixer. I reset the timer and repeated the process of shaking and tapping.

I finished the process by rinsing the container with water and pulling out the film.

“Midnight,” grandpa turned to me with genuine disappointment in his voice. I felt empty inside. Something had gone wrong in the process and I had lost the entire roll. He checked and re-checked the film, looking for something to salvage. I knew the answer. I could see that no light penetrated the dark paper.

My gut opened a hole and sucked in an anvil. I smiled weakly at grandpa and told him it was ok. He told me to check with a pro-photo shop and hopefully they could tell me how to fix the process in the future. I barely listened and excused myself to go upstairs.

When I got upstairs Nan was showing off different cranes she had found. Then she picked an unopened package of origami paper from a box. “These should be fine; let's use this size.” I sat at the table and opened the paper. I grabbed a sheet and started folding.

In no time we had George, Louie, Adam, Jesse, Nan, Phil, and I all folding cranes. I thought I was the fastest one, churning them out quickly, but Adam was faster. Cranes. It starts slowly, but then the fingers catch up to the job and the mind turns off to the process. Cranes appear below your fingers almost magically. It is a time to reflect on the people around you and why you are folding over and over again—a thousand paper cranes. It meant something. It would mean something to the recipient.

I lost the roll; the time I spent taking the photos, anxiously waiting for them. But it's funny how even though I lost them I felt like I had gained something. I cared about that roll because I wanted to show my family something: an emotion, a feeling, a new perspective.

I have spent the entire summer here, engaging with people I have known all my life but never with such depth. This summer has given me the time to be a special part of my family. What is there to regret? I lost the material record of the moment. I gained several hours with my grandfather and exactly what I thought that roll of film held.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Land Leave 16

No pic for the day, just a great link to the scale of things in sci-fi and real life.

Bill pulled out of the hole first. He was the first small craft to successfully pass through a wormhole. The excitement of holding that honor quickly evaporated as he realized what was in front of him. A fully powered up fleet of Jovian vessels twice the estimated size. “Uh oh.” Bill looked at his map, the cube and the fighters had pulled through, but the main fleet was missing still.

“I got double estimate on hostiles, all copy?” Bill spoke into the comm.

“I copy, I'm getting increasing small craft signatures; here it comes.” James felt his stomach churn and his heart race. “Cube, where is our fleet?”

“Wait, they are coming.” the cube was not in a rush. It had not been briefed on the military aspects of the operation.

Hundreds of small fighter and bomber craft launched from the vessels and made a beeline to the small group. “Incoming,” Bill saw the distant launches of heat-seeking missiles. He blasted a wall of flares. The missiles changed course and collided with the flares.

“This can't be right,” James sounded unsettled, “I'm reading 3 AmU ships, one of which is the Continental.”

“I read it too. What are they doing?” Bill was very unnerved. The Continental was three times the size of the Eve and was the flagship in the AmU fleet. It appeared to be at the head of the hostile fleet and assisting them. Bill read as fighter signatures emerged from the ship. He clenched his teeth and got on the comm, “James, what do we do?”

“Get stubborn. Follow me.” James was determined. The eight fighters moved out of formation with the cube, and broke through the fighters ahead of them. They scattered emp bursts and throttled went to the central turret ridge of the Continental. As they tightened in on the ship, they scattered formation and left a trail of flares behind them. At that moment, the AmU fleet pulled through the wormhole. Almost immediately a large laser blast struck one of the Jovian ships.

Debris scattered everywhere. Over the comm, the captain's voice came through, “fleet, this is the Eve, status?”

James spoke up, “we have hostile AmU forces. Something's up. The Continental is leading.”

“I read that, we are initiating phase two.” The captain's voice was steady.

Bill deftly avoided a narrow collision with a debris cloud, He checked his sensors and saw the second phase was in action. The cube's gravitational field was throwing objects into large elliptical orbits. At the same time it had opened another pinhole that was absorbing a majority of the incoming fire.

“We don't have much time, there will be a nasty kick-back soon,” Bill swung his ship around and headed for the fleet. The opening of the second pinhole meant the beginning of the tough part; it was going to be much harder than simply doing something unprecedented.

Bill registered incoming hostiles, the two fleets were almost equal in number. The addition of the AmU flagship contingent, ships that should have been defending Earth from the Jovians, was confusing and scary. But the AmU ships hadn't pursued the Eve to Ares. Something was wrong. Bill watched as four fleet ships passed through the pinhole. The remaining six ships split into two groups of three.

The Eve headed straight toward the Continental with two other ships—the Dawn and the Siren. All fighters formed a large sphere around the three. Then on all comm channels, the captain's voice came through, “AmU Continental, you are in clear violation of inter-planetary law and have committed an act of violence against your own fleet, stand down and surrender.”

The captain was bluffing slightly. He knew that the Continental was significantly more powerful than the Eve and his move at Mars meant that they probably were the hostile fleet. But he tried anyway. He checked the status of the cube, it had pinholed through. He felt relieved and tentative. The cube had opened a separate pinhole to an undisclosed location with the four fleet ships. The other three ships were pinholing to Earth, Mars, and Jupiter respectively. They were ordered to gather any information.

The captain looked at the rear view screen. He saw a wave of energy from the kick-back coming toward the ships. “Order all fighters to quick dock! Move to use the hostiles as a shield against the incoming wave.” That was all part of the plan anyway, but the order may have come too late. The Continental was out maneuvered by the Eve, and the remnant fleet settled behind the ships as the shock wave hit. “Easy now. Give the pinhole order. Now!”

The Eve and the three ships all opened their pinholes. As they did so, a Jovian ship swung in front of the Siren's field. The pinhole shut and the two ships exploded together. “Brace yourselves!” The captain ordered. A large chunk of debris was headed toward the Eve. The Eve was mid-thread as it approached. Dr. Kelvin stood breathlessly as the enormous chunk filled the bridge, then she was staring at the dark side of the moon.

Land Leave 15

Obama has been touring the nation showing off his big, long, black...bus.

Land Leave

“So you can do it?” Dr. Kelvin wanted to be sure.

“Yes. It must be exact.” After fifteen minutes of arduous phrasing, the cube had finally answered the question. “I will project a 'stabilizing field' and assist in the passage of all ships through the field.”

“and the second part?” Dr. Kelvin asked.

“That is clear also.” The cube was now intimate with the details of the plan.

All of the officers were in the strategy room looking over the final plans. The energy in the room had risen in the past two hours. There was now a fighting chance for the AmU fleet. “This won't be easy but this does give us something, I want everyone ready to embark within the hour. Sorensen I'm counting on you to coordinate this ship, I'm going to oversee the preparation of the rest of the fleet.” The captain dismissed everyone and they hurried to make final preparations.

“You two are sure you are ok with this?” Dr. Kelvin handed Bill his helmet.

“Yeah, remember. We are your classified team. We aren't qualified except for circumstance and we are just stupid enough to think that's worth something,” James yelled from his fighter.

“Besides, I kind of like the mystical cube,” Bill's statement was muffled as he put on his helmet.

The two signaled readiness, and fired up the engines. Their ships pulled out and shot down the launch tubes. Dr. Kelvin gave a quick wave and walked to the elevator.

Bill and James flew in tandem with 6 other fighters. The cube left the aft bay, and sent a comm. “I am moving.” James snickered, the cube still spoke with a funny simplicity. The ships proceeded in formation with the cube. James looked behind him. He saw the fleet arrange itself tightly. They arrived at the event horizon of the black hole. All of the ships in the remnant AmU fleet were about to punch through time and space together. If the cube succeeded then they would have a fighting chance. If not, then they would all be dispersed as fragments of matter. It was a sickening prospect, but the cube maintained it could be done successfully.

“Bill, you ready?” James spoke anxiously.

“Yeah,” Bill said.

The cube activated the field, and the AmU fleet threaded through the black hole.

Land Leave 14

An accretion disc around a black hole. It is formed as the black hole sucks a star's mass into orbit around it.

Dr. Kelvin, James, and Bill sat at a table eating quietly. The food was a gray mess. Bill looked like he was someplace else, letting the world pass through him. James, as always, had finished his food already; he figured that the less time spent on his tongue the better. Dr. Kelvin ate. It was all she could do.

Three days and nearly no progress, the cube had a maddeningly tenuous grasp of English, and the translations of the texts had proved more difficult than initially thought. The organic computers and the cube had been roughly interfaced with each other to transfer huge amounts of data back and forth. The problem had been synthesizing that information. The two systems could learn but they were, at the end of the day, computers and bound by the limits that their programmers had set upon them. The organic computers were much better archivers of information than they were adapters to that information. The cube was well-suited to giving out its history in a basic framework, but the complexity of learning and responding to complex stimuli had the object stumped.

Simple questions and numerical conversions of standard metrics had been the biggest progress. Sorensen, before he stormed out of the bay in frustration had asked the cube if it was a weapon.

“I can do many things.” It was a very dissatisfying answer. The second day it became clear that weapons were equivalent to a butter knife or a kitchen appliance to the cube. They all changed things to higher states of entropy. The cube had no motive and could not distinguish a weapon from a tool.

Dr. Kelvin felt defeated. She had made the biggest discovery in human history; aliens existed and left a full catalog of their history. The foot work and cost had been too high for her. She had nightmares about stumbling into the interrogation room, talking to Bacchi. Sometimes it was another officer on the ship, always there was blood. She had trusted Bacchi, found him to be intelligent and ethical. She couldn't grasp that she had been wrong. It made her sick and she pushed away her food. “We're going nowhere.”

Bill snapped out of his trance, “what have we been doing wrong? I feel like the answer is staring straight at us.”

“We can't talk to it, that's what. Our questions are crap. Everything we say, the dumb thing can't understand,” James took a gulp of his water, “it took us two days to figure out it didn't even have a concept of weapons.” James looked away and shook his head. “At least it's speaking our language. It was hard enough to understand the obscure grooves that made up the alien language.”

The captain came by, he could see the three of them were tense, “I probably shouldn't ask this but how is the work going?” Everyone shuffled slightly in their seats, “that bad huh? I know you'll find the key to it.”

“We did, Bacchi killed himself over it,” James mumbled almost inaudibly. Bill heard it but didn't react.

“I'm sorry, I didn't catch that,” the captain wanted to hear about any new information.

“I said that we have the keys, sir, but we don't know what the locks are,” James strained.

“Ha. You're clever, y'know that? Do you mind if I sit?” the captain had lost some of his seriousness, he knew they were in a holding pattern until a breakthrough occurred, “I told Sorensen a bit about this, but I think you two should know too. I was a pinhole cowboy way back when. I was one of the lucky few test pilots that made it through. Once we were fleeing a pirate vessel in the asteroid belt. There were two ships, the Forte and the Midway, both had experimental pinhole technology on them. I'm talking about the first organic computers. Anyway, we were out-gunned by a lot, and going to be quickly overrun. The fastest our ships could move was .4c, and the Midway had a blown lateral thruster. We decided to try to use the organic computers to our advantage.” The captain grabbed the salt and pepper shakers to demonstrate, “back then, the theory was that two or more stabilizing fields could pass through a pinhole together if they were sufficiently close enough to each other. There were two problems though, margin of error and kickback. The margin of error in movement was tighter and more exact than the most finely honed cowboy's reflexes—only organic computers were theorized to be able to do it. The kickback was a shockwave that was sent back as the pinhole sluffed off matter.”

James looked at the captain, “so you decided to go for it right? You lined up your ships and hoped the kick-back would keep the pirates from orienting to your position?”

“Sure, if you want to get technical. It really had more to do with the nature of the captains. They were best buds, and wild rebels in the navy. The Midway and Forte were constantly engaged in the wildest stunts imaginable. I believe that the AmU command put them in those slow, out-of-date wrecks because command liked them but didn't trust them,” the captain smirked.

“So the captain ordered you to pinhole with the other ship?” Bill asked.

“Yeah, it was easy at first, the computers took over, carefully aligning the ships side-by-side. The stabilizing fields activated and we started threading in. As we did so I stayed on the controls just in case. Right as we passed into the temporal, I felt the Midway's field fail.”

“Your ship?” Bill and James were confused which ship he was on.

“No, I was on the Forte, listen boys,” the captain briefly snapped out of the memory, “anyway, the Midway's field failed, leaving only the Forte's stabilizers to work approximately twice the area it was rated for. I quickly took the helm of the field, hoping I could drop us back into space. Then the field failed entirely.” The captain sighed as he moved the two shakers close together, “I lost the ship for a while, everyone died. But the temporal dimension doesn't do well with matter. It kicked us out. I came to just as we were exiting the pinhole, and I was able to pull most of the Forte out of the hole.”

“You lost the Midway and most of the crew.” Dr. Kelvin looked up, “I remember hearing about it many years ago.”

The captain poured out pepper onto the table. “No. Nothing was lost, it was all just in odd configurations. The official story is that we lost the outer hull on our port-side. That's not exactly true. Its integrity was compromised because large chunks of organic matter had been fused into its framework. Months later, we finally found the captain on a large patch of debris from the Midway; he, along with five crew members had been mashed together into parts of the fusion engine.”

“Sir?” James didn't understand the point of the story.

“It's a rough universe. We all have to sacrifice, and we do the best with what we have. I know you are trying hard and I know that you can rise to the occasion. Use this time to your advantage, because once back we won't really have any.” The captain rose out of his seat and walked away whistling.

“I can't pin that guy.” James shook his head as he watched the captain walk away, “keys, time, cowboys.”

Dr. Kelvin perked up, “the cubes. The keys. James, do you know why we don't pinhole more than one ship at a time?”

“Because the Forte and the Midway proved it impossible.” James said sardonically.

“Yes, and no. The Midway's field failed and cowboys tried to compensate. What if the computers were powerful enough and the fields stayed stable?”

“Well, unicorns would fall from the sky and simultaneous pinhole travel would be possible.” James wasn't up for hypotheticals.

“What could possibly make those things happen?” Bill idly asked. Then he got it, “the cubes.”

“James, you saw it. It held open huge pinholes in a stable field with the other cubes. I think that it might be able to help us.” Dr. Kelvin was smiling, something rare for her.

“Yeah, but then they failed, and the planet was destroyed in a supernova. Remember?” James really didn't get it.

“The kick-back.” Dr. Kelvin's shoulders had risen to her ears in excitement. “All of the matter going through those pinholes without a stabilizing field, there was a huge matter kick-back. That's what disrupted the fields.”

“The keys to the key,” Bill couldn't help the epiphany.

Kelvin had suddenly taken on a girlish and naïve air, the weight of the mission lifted off her and she almost giggled, “let's go see the cube.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

96 Degree Recipes

A peach. It was a record-breaking 96 in Portland on Multnomah Day. Not that hot compared to the rest of the nation but still uncomfortable.

If you haven't heard about the chili incident, read the last post. But here are some great recipes for the summer heat. Produce is now super cheap and if you want to start talking about eating healthy, here are some recipes.

First, Ciera and I are ethical eaters and we found that Morningstar makes an awesome ground beef substitute. It is fairly robust in texture and with a bit of taco seasoning it is almost indistinguishable.

Nectarine (or peach) salsa:
1 nectarine
1 yellow onion
4-5 cloves of garlic
1-2 tomatoes
a couple radishes
1-4 chilis (depending on desired heat)
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 lime

First slice the chilis down the middle and remove all the seeds and white stuff (unless you want it really hot). Be careful because the oil is very potent and hard to remove. It is probably worth it to wear liquid gloves. Then heat a pan on high with some oil in it. Toss the sliced halves in the pan and cook each side until they have a roasted texture. Remove the chilis. Chop up the onion and garlic and toss that in the pan, just to open up the flavors a bit, squeeze a lime half out on the onions and cook the peel in with them. In the meantime chop up all the remaining ingredients, including the chilis and toss them in a bowl. Squeeze any remaining lime juice into the bowl; add the vinegar. Pull the onions and garlic from the pan and add to the bowl. Remove the lime peel and throw it away. Mix together in a bowl and chill. It's like mango salsa only better because you made it and the nectarines didn't travel thousands of miles or get harvested by slave labor (probably) to get here.

Tasty vegetarian tacos (or ethical if you want to go through the hassle of finding ethical meat).

1 bag of Morningstar 'ground beef'
1 bag of taco seasoning

Homemade nectarine salsa

humanely killed corn tortillas (or whatever you want to wrap them in)

Put the 'beef' in a pan with some oil, add the taco seasoning and water to keep the not-really-meat product from burning. Remove from heat when well mixed and water has evaporated. Put the tortillas in a pan on low heat and add all the ingredients into the tortilla as it heats. I tend to go cheese, 'meat', salsa, and lettuce. Then fold the tortilla over and press it down with a spatula. Wait until the tortilla cooks a little and flip.

Aside from the horrible burning sensation that may accompany capsaicin exposure, these should be really freakin' tasty. So get excited and tell me what you eat in record breaking heat.

Homemade Mace

A freshly cut habanero with color enhancement on the left to show the potent oil (in yellow)

Ciera and I had the most difficult dinner I have ever made. Not because there was anything particularly difficult about it. Except for the chili oil. Fred Meyer was selling chili's at a severely reduced price and I couldn't pass on the opportunity to cook with the exotic fruit.

Here's the deal. Chili peppers have a few oil-based chemicals on them called capsaicinoids. They are named after the plants they derive from capsicum—chilis. This potent chemical is excreted by the plant and irritates mammals, especially humans. Birds however do not become irritated by capsaicin or its associated chemicals. It has been conjectured that this is evolutionary; humans and mammals with molars crush the seeds and do not disperse them, but birds swallow the seeds whole and distribute them. It is in the chili's best interest to keep mammals out and birds in.

Now capsaicin is potent stuff. If it gets on the skin, especially sensitive skin, then it causes a severe burning sensation. It is recommended that when someone works with these plants, they wear gloves because the thick skin on the hands can mask the presence of the oil.

Ciera found that out firsthand when she touched her finger to her nose and experienced that very distinct burning sensation. I laughed at her until I realized that I had it all over my hands and the cutting board and the knife. Everything I touched had it on there, including my face. It burned horribly. I can only imagine what mace feels like, which comes in at up to 5.3 million on the Scoville (spiciness) scale; by contrast the average jalapeno is about 8,000 at its hottest.

This stuff burns. It felt like the color orange was pushing its way through my face. Ciera and I tried to rap up our cooking but it was quickly turning into a fiasco. The peppers were too spicy, the tortillas were burning, and everything was turning a very unpleasant orange. In very large quantities capsaicin can cause death—don't worry, I wasn't anywhere near that.

I talked to my cousin Rader, who works a farm, and he told me that he always wore gloves when handling large amounts of chilis, but that even by the end of the day the colorless, flavorless, waxy substance is layered on his gloves thickly.

Capsaicin is an oily substance of the vanilloid family (yeah, vanilla) and is basically impervious to water—making it hydrophobic (big shout-out to all of the chemists in my life). Water will only spread the chemical. So the typical solution is find something that binds to it and makes it water soluble or to put it in a solution that can be easily removed.

The common answer that people give on the internet is to use milk. That is a fairly effective treatment. Ciera can attest to that as she rubbed yogurt all over her face, and she said it relieved the burning fairly well. She was covered in yogurt though. It is also possible to rub the area with an oil-based substance (vegetable oil, petroleum jelly, or most creams). Another solution is to put any sort of soap or detergent on the irritated area and to wash it away. Aloe has been shown to be effective as well and may be worth a try. This works for any of the chemical that has not worked its way into your skin.

Once you start feeling the burning, the capsaicin may already be in your skin and you have to just wait out the burn in a lot of ways. It is worth it to scrub off the excess capsaicin, but if you are feeling the burn on your hands it very likely will have to work its way through your body. The nerves in your fingers are under several layers of skin whereas the nerve endings on your face are right at the surface. It is worth it to vigorously apply and repeat to feel some relief. It is also probably going to take a while to subside. Just be prepared.

Do not use vinegar, bleach, alcohol, or almost any other home remedy. Often they can have an exacerbating effect or even come with their own medical problems. Wikipedia says so.

As a final aside I would like to note that this would be one of the better substances to use for a prank because it is fairly harmless despite the pain caused and it is flavorless, odorless, and colorless. Just don't sneak it into any of my stuff. The good news is that the dinner was a success. Dinner tasted amazing. I just have to remember to watch out for those chilis.

Land Leave 13

A binary star and a nebula similar to that of the pre-solar one.

Land Leave 13:

Dr. Laura Kelvin had been studying the formation of the solar system, and the human history of space travel for three decades. Her expertise lay in human interaction with the solar system. Even with her extensive knowledge on Sol phenomena, she was out of her league with the cube. She had colleagues on the Hestia that would have been much more suited to working on the cube. The navy's cautious pragmatism had put her on the Eve with Bacchi instead of them though. When she was approached by Bacchi and his navy cohorts, they seemed hopeful for alien technology, but skeptical about authenticity. Kelvin knew that Bacchi had been lying now. He always played the skeptic before, but referred to her on matters of authenticity.

She sat in the control room watching the screen. Every second new facets were being discovered. The beings that created the cube lived in a far different world. They tried very hard to explain how that world appeared, but even the most basic of words were hard to describe. She thought about it a bit. She supposed that trying to describe a flower to an alien would be extraordinarily difficult without much common ground.

So the majority of words had been described in mathematical terms; precise, but ultimately lacking descriptions. A screen popped up. A series of grooves called cube type future equals had appeared. It roughly translated to an index for the many programs in the cube. Kelvin flipped the comm, “James, I just got a reading for what I believe to be an index of programs. I'm sending you its location. Touch it and hopefully that will expedite our search.”

James was in the cube piloting a small hovering robot to record every detail in the cube; he was rapidly running out of excitement as discovery had turned to tedium. The cube was giving up its secrets but in a painfully slow manner. Hearing Dr. Kelvin's order was a godsend, “will do,” he said pulling himself out of a trance. He found the segment that she referred to and touched it.

Immediately the section lit up; a pale blue light identical to the one on the circle. He stepped back as all of the writing inside the cube also lit up. This time it did so as a pale red; it cast the entire interior of the cube in an eerie way. James was unimpressed, breaking the monotony would require more than that.

James looked up at the large interior of the cube. The fog seemed to be condensing. Then, it was moving slowly toward him. Dr. Kelvin watched the view from James' helmet cam. Both were breathless. The fog formed into two spheres in front of James, one red and one blue. They rotated slowly around each other. The red one was much smaller than the blue one, “Um...Doctor?”

“I think it's the binary system. The way it was before they merged,” Kelvin's voice over the comm seemed distracted. She was obviously very intent on the sight before her. The two of them watched carefully, the system evolved and changed, the orbits got tighter and the red star started to distort as its mass was sluffed off it into a disk around the blue star. Then the stars collided, and the superstar collapsed, bursting into a supernova. The clouds of dust cooled and a nebula formed. Then small bright disks started accreting. Many tiny yellow, orange, red, and blue suns burst forth, and the nebula disappeared, to be replaced by the modern system of suns. “That's how it happened. I think this recorded everything. James, the translation says this program is an index. Try touching something and see what happens.”

James reached forward to touch a star and thousands of violet dots appeared on the stellar map before him. By a yellow star, the violet dot was flashing.

“That looks like Sol, I bet the flashing dot is this cube. Those must be the locations of the other cubes.” Kelvin was reading the screen. The grooves for program execution were helpful, but this visual/tactile system would be easier to navigate.

James brought the flashing violet dot closer to his face. The fog complied. James studied the location carefully, he lost track of his hand and dropped his wrist. Instantly the fog swept backwards to the image of the binary system. “What the--” He lifted his hand and the fog changed back to the present. “There are commands built into it. Gestures do things.”

“Don't break a sweat thinking Einstein. You're right, go back to the binary system, see if you can figure anything important out about the bigger key that it refers to.”

“Ok, but it doesn't appear to--” James motioned toward him and the binary stars got bigger until they were just fog again. At the same time a large rocky planet appeared. Thousands of violet dots left the surface of the planet and held orbit. Together they formed a lattice around the planet. Then it appeared that the dots each opened a wormhole. “I think they tried to save the planet with these cubes,” James whispered. The planet was now surrounded by pinholes. The suns collided in the background and huge waves of material washed over the planet. The pinholes kept the material from touching the surface of the planet, “the cubes were built to save the planet,” James was in awe. The pinholes stayed constant; the wave of the supernova became stronger and denser; the pinholes wavered. Then they failed, the cubes on the main side of the blast were swept back into the planet. The planet's crust peeled off and melted, layers of civilization and dirt vaporized before James' eyes. The remaining cubes were swept away in the current of the supernova blast. “It didn't work.”

“We failed, we weren't expected to win,” came a voice on James' comm.

“Was that you James?” Dr. Kelvin had jumped out of her chair. She suddenly noticed that the circle on the cube had stopped pulsating and was now a solid deep blue.

“No. What do you think that was?” James asked.

“I am the cube. That is the name for me.” The voice wasn't human; it sounded like a parrot almost, emulating the words and unsure of their meaning.

“The cube?” Kelvin was baffled but not disbelieving, the last couple of days had ruined that for her. She paused, “of course, the cube doesn't just output its stored information, it takes it in.”

“I was started, I hear until I know. I can comm with you. I still store more.”

“You are learning still?” Kelvin suggested helpfully.

“Yes. I can tell that I know. I can't say always that I tell.”

There was a long pause as Dr. Kelvin and James tried to understand what the cube was saying. Finally Kelvin asked, “are you saying that you can't tell us everything you know because you don't understand how to communicate with us fully?”

A long silence “Yes. I will try.”

Kelvin thought a bit. If the cube could learn, maybe there would be a way to help it learn faster. “How do you prefer to learn?”

“I was made with light, sound, and touch for good new learning,” the cube spoke through the comm.

“Ok, so I guess you don't have a USB port. James, do you think we can rig up a link between the organic computers and this cube?” Kelvin was trembling from excitement.

“Yeah, but we probably need to clear that all with the captain.”

“The captain is the one that tells action?” the cube asked; questions sounded almost angry, it was still obviously finding nuance in how it manipulated human sounds.

“Yeah, but I'm sure he'll be excited about all this. Sit tight, we'll figure it all out,” James left the bay. He entered the hallway and took off his helmet. Then he caught his breath and tried to contain his excitement. He had just talked to a 5 billion plus year old cube made by an alien race. “Holy crap!”

At that moment Bill entered the hall, “oh, I was just about to get you. Anything exciting happen?”

Land Leave 12

The plaque on the Pioneer spacecraft. It is a basic pictoral diagram that describes our location and appearance.

Land Leave 12

The Eve was in orbit around Ares II with the 9 ships of the AmU fleet. The captain watched as repair ships tacked on makeshift patches. He thought about the news. The spy had been found, and the secret revealed. The cost was enormous: a war, the fracturing of the AmU fleet, and almost certainly the captain's rank stripped from him. He had gambled on the cube's value, now it sat pulsating slowly in the holding bay, doing nothing.

The captain knew that all transmissions between worlds could be cut-off; supplies and signals. They would be starved out. The captain didn't want to wait that long, but what was he going to do? Before the fleet could prepare for battle, they would be destroyed one by one as they exited the black hole. They had little recourse and less time.

Sorensen entered the captain's office, “sir, I've been running scenarios and I'm not sure how to improve our chances. The East Io Company, for its rag-tag nature, has us bottlenecked. We can't pinhole through a different point because of the necessitated stability factors over that distance. We can't send more than one ship through the pinhole at a time, also because of stability. How are we going to get through this sir?” Sorensen had been very loyal to the captain, never steered wrong by any of his decisions, but this one seemed hopeless.

“You know why I keep my door unlocked all the time Ben?” The captain turned to Sorensen with an earnest expression. “I can't tell you how many times I have been stumped or just about ready to give up when something important bursts through that door. I don't believe in fate. I don't believe in mistakes either. We know from using wormholes that it is possible in theory to break causality; that things we hold to be immutable—aging, death, action and reaction—can be broken,” the captain looked through Sorensen, “have you ever pinholed without the aid of an organic computer?”

“No, too young for that.”

“Of course not. I guess I'm getting old now. I can remember when I was a pinhole cowboy. Follow me on this, I'm not just reminiscing. It was like running your hand over an entire beach and feeling all the footprints that had ever been there, every possible configuration that the grains of sand had or ever would have. But the linearity of the temporal dimension forces you to exit on the same track at about the same time; too much distortion and the waves roll in kicking and swirling the sand. That's what the life was like. It was truly the edge, once we lost the entire outer hull of our port-side,” the captain took a deep breath.

“That time was the closest I've ever come to death; actually, I experienced it. For a moment, our stabilizing field dropped and I became one with the universe, I felt every atom that had been in my body, and every one that ever would. I felt me as a child, and me as an old man; then I felt all of my atoms as they degraded slowly over trillions of years into eternity,” the captain suddenly looked as if he had aged twenty years.

“And I felt this moment here with you Ben. I felt this moment as a turning point. It felt like sasquatch stomped on the beach. I couldn't ever decipher it fully; three things were important though: ensigns Tan and Rojas, you, and the fact that we lived. I broke causality in that moment, perceived the radical nature of the temporal dimension, and came back from a death lasting trillions of years,” the captain's expression relaxed, a peace came over him.

“But sir, how are we going to--” Sorensen was interrupted by Bill bursting through the door. The captain gave Sorensen a knowing look. Sorensen smiled and shrugged.

The captain turned to Bill, “what is it ensign?”

“The computers finished deciphering the square. We can now read all the writing. James is recording everything and transferring the data straight to the computers.”

“Well ensign, don't keep me in suspense. What's the verdict?” The captain noticed Sorensen lean forward with anticipation.

“It's a history. It's a library. It might even be a weapon.” Bill was short of breath, his excitement had outpaced his inhalations, “pull up the direct translations on your screen, I had the computers make a raw feed and an indirect rough English translation.”

The captain smiled as he pulled up the screens, then he realized something, “where's Dr. Kelvin?”

“I couldn't pull her away from the screen, she was taking notes in a blur,” Bill noticed that the captain was engulfed in what he was reading, “let me see what you are looking at. This is the square; I like to call it the Rosetta. It started with geometric shapes and mathematical formulas. Things that described their universe. Look here, it describes the expansion of the universe and basic atomic particles.”

The captain stared at the raw translations, this was a language far different from English, “2 star round. Down oval constant life,” he read aloud.

“It means that this came from a binary star system. There was a time of constant equilibrium, approximately 2.5 billion earth years where life evolved. The organisms were nitrogen based.” Bill paused, “beyond that the description is difficult. It starts to get into the life forms and how their society was structured. But all those concepts are fairly abstract given our complete lack of common ground.” Bill took over, “here is the bit you want. It describes the cube's function. The grooves are commands; the cube is a giant library made after the 'murder' of the star.”

“I thought you said they were in a binary system?” The captain was puzzled.

“Right, the smaller of the two stars was sucked into the larger. It was metaphorical murder, a play on their concept of integration; kind of a math joke—at least I think it is.”

Sorensen got it suddenly, “so Bacchi thought this library, or key as it translates here, was a weapon because the binary system collapsed at the time of its creation,” he said, “I'd call him stupid if this language wasn't so hard to decipher.”

“Right, but this cube is actually a big repository. When the little collapsed in on the big, the energy released was sufficient to destroy the planet. But the process took millions of years. By the time this civilization arose, the planet was already subject to severe solar storms. They knew the end was coming. According to this, the cubes have everything in them,” Bill explained.

“What is everything?” The captain asked.

“Well, I opened the cube by touching the writing. The writing on the walls activate programs on the cube. We have only to decipher them to use them,” Bill got up and headed for the door, “and that's it for what we've deciphered.”

“Thank you ensign,” the captain felt calm, “wait, you said cubes.”

Bill was at the door, “well yes. See, the squares go with the cube—keys to the bigger keys. There are a ton of cubes too; nearly indestructible and containing an entire civilization's knowledge. But the keys are keys for the even bigger key; at least if their math humor is right.”

“What's that son?” The captain felt a sinking feeling, this was the moment everything would change.

“A square is two-dimensional, a cube is three-dimensional, and I suppose the biggest key is four dimensional; so sir, I guess the big key is stuck in time.”

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Land Leave 11

A rubik's cube. Which has over 43 quintillion combinations.

Land Leave part 11:

“And you are sure?” Sorensen looked at the screen in front of him. It didn't add up, yet there it was.

“Absolutely sir, I checked and double-checked,” the security officer was a cautious man; careful and measured.

“Alright, I'll go down personally, have two MPs meet me,” Sorensen nearly ran out of the room. As he made his way to the aft holding bay, he thought about the facts. A transmission had been sent from the Oort cloud on an unauthorized and unused channel. The origin of that long-distance relay had been on one of the modified ret ships that were used for the cube's retrieval. The contents of the message were a simple binary code—redundant and easy to interpret, 000, 101, 101. The three numbers then repeated for the entirety of the message. It was a code indicating that some predetermined action had been achieved. Sorensen guessed that the 'yes' the ones indicated was that the cube had been retrieved and the attack on Mars should continue.

But that was only part of the story. If the Eve was going to be used as a transporting body, why blow it up at New Alexandria? How come there wasn't a more extensive attack on the Eve at the Oort cloud? And how was Rojas involved?

James and Bill got up and started heading back to the bay when they were stopped by Sorensen. “Stop, James, I need you to come with me, you are under arrest for treason.”

The two of them looked confused more than anything. James was completely dumbfounded by the accusation, “arrest? Treason? How—what? That's wrong. That's wrong.” It was all James could say to defend himself.

“Hold on, I'm going to go get Kelvin and Bacchi. Maybe they can clear this up,” Bill dashed down the hall and saw Kelvin in the control room to the bay. “Where's Bacchi?”

“He's at the cube again, what's up?” Dr. Kelvin saw the look of panic on Bill's face and immediately registered that something was wrong.

“They're arresting James for treason.”

“Arrested,” Kelvin didn't let her surprise register on her face. She steeled herself and turned on the comm to Bacchi, “James has been arrested. Keep working, I'll handle this,” she turned to Bill, “let's go,” Dr. Kelvin got up swiftly and was down the hall in less than three seconds. “This is wrong Sorensen, what did Rojas do?”

“I agree, but the evidence is incontrovertible. A transmission was sent on an unused channel to the Jovian system upon retrieval of the cube. It was sent from ensign Rojas' ret ship during the mission,” the elevator doors opened and the group stepped in.

“I couldn't have done that, the cloud was too dense for me to have done anything other than focus on not dying,” James pleaded desperately.

“It was sent from the modified sensor system that yours and Tan's ret ships were equipped with,” Sorensen looked at the elevator doors.

“What? That's impossible! I never trained Rojas or Tan to use that equipment, it was all--” Dr. Kelvin stopped.

“It was all what?” Bill asked helpfully.

“Stop the elevator! It was Bacchi! We have to go back. Stop the elevator damn it!” Dr. Kelvin's face had gone white.

“Do it,” Sorensen motioned to one of the MPs, “Order a lock-down on the aft bay, get me more security down here!”

The elevator stopped and reversed moving at double speed. The doors opened and the group rushed to the control room. Kelvin got on the comm, “Bacchi, come out, we need to talk.”

“I think we are on the verge of discovery Dr. Kelvin. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to find I am one step ahead of you,” Bacchi's voice sounded preoccupied over the comm.

“The doors to the bay are locked. He fused them shut,” Bill kept trying the switch over and over again.

“Open the bay doors Tomas!” Kelvin was tracking Bacchi's vitals on the screen. His heart rate was rising, “what are you doing in there?”

“The square grooves. The ones that look like there are pieces missing? I have one. Got it as a souvenir from the Jovian government. And I am going to find out what this enormous die really is. You know I never really liked the Communist idea. It was too far-fetched. But a pre-solar weapon of mass destruction? That made sense. So here we go.” A loud click was heard over the comm. The circle on the face of the cube lit up. It started to glow brightly, ominously pointed at the core of the ship. “Did I start it up? Am I going to kill you all? Hopefully. Then I will be spared the agony of trying to fly a brick through a wormhole and fight off the remnants of the AmU fleet.” He laughed maniacally, his voice reaching higher and higher pitches. Something was going on in that cube.

Dr. Kelvin looked at Bacchi's vital signs. His oxygen levels were depleting. “Tomas! Get out of there! There's a leak in your suit, you're losing air fast.”

The cube suddenly powered down, the circle glowed faintly and pulsed slowly. Dr. Bacchi seemed to have come to a bleak realization; inserting the square was just part of the puzzle. His voice came over the comm, defeated and almost comically high pitched, “No bang? No infinite weapon? I thought--” And then the reality set in; Bacchi had fused himself inside the bay in a desperate gambit, but now he was in an airless bay with a leak in his suit, “get me out of here!” He rushed to the door pulling on the melted handles.

“Re-pressurize the bay!” Sorensen yelled at Dr. Kelvin.

“I already started the sequence, but this bay is too big, it takes ten minutes for pressure to become breathable,” James was now trying to save the life of the man who had moments before put his head on the chopping block.

“Kill the gravity in there,” Sorensen motioned to James and looked at Kelvin, “tell Bacchi to move to the ventilation on the walls. Kelvin nodded and did so. Everyone in the control room watched anxiously as Bacchi moved to a vent, pulled off the grate, and shoved his head in.

“Get him out of there,” Sorensen said with a look of disgust.

Thirty minutes later Sorensen and Kelvin sat in interrogation with Bacchi. The room was actually an old vanity room for diplomats. It had a large mirror along one wall and appliance plugs where amenities had been kept. The room now only contained a large wooden table and four chairs.

Rojas and Tan watched from a closed circuit. Sorensen threw up a schematic of the modified ret ship, “you put an automatic dispatch on ensign Rojas' ship knowing full-well that we would come after him. But you are sloppy; none of the minor details were right. Rojas is the son of a senator, he was never trained on the supplementary equipment, and it would have been too difficult to send a signal in that dense cluster without significant risk of physical harm.”

Dr. Tomas Bacchi looked at Sorensen, he knew he was a terrible spy. He was a good scientist though. He had been sure that the cube's activation would have given him the ultimate weapon. “It's all wrong, why didn't it work,” Bacchi mumbled to himself. He looked down at the table with his head in his hands.

“Listen, you are already in about as deep as you could possibly be. We have enough to put you up for the death penalty. We could have let you die and kept the cube from being contaminated. But you have valuable information. And despite your colossal stupidity—fusing the doors shut, nearly killing yourself because of the hole you burned in your suit, and trying to blow up the Eve—we are willing to make a bit of an exchange to find out how to proceed. We'll reduce your charges and get you in a halfway decent prison if you tell us what you know.”

Bacchi was broken, he would have folded either way, “about 14 months before the mission started, I took a vacation to the Galileo Resort orbiting Ganymede. At one of the mines, a crew had found the square. It turned out to be a Rosetta stone of sorts. It provided information on deciphering the system of grooves and bumps that make up the writing on the cube. It also said it was a key, and mentioned the murder of the star. I interpreted this to mean that the cube was responsible for the death of the pre-solar star in some way shape or form.”

“But why did you betray us? Why not just give us this information instead of starting a war?” The hurt in Kelvin's voice was obvious.

“Because you didn't offer me everything. The East Io Company had obtained the square and approached me. Knowing I had worked closely with the crew of the Hestia and that I had a particular lack of moral fiber, they asked if I would be a spy for them,” Bacchi seemed defeated by his own words, “they promised me the head science position in their proposed Jovian empire. Money and unlimited research grants were too hard to pass up.”

“Why not just sign on with the East Io Company and go out without AmU help?” Sorensen was confused.

“No resources! The Jovians and the East Io Company can't do good pinhole travel, their fleet is a bunch of junkers,” Bacchi scoffed, “I suggested the creation of a science team to explore the probable locations of the cube according to the square; I then set about getting a Navy science contract to study the possibility of pre-solar weapons. They almost laughed me out of the room, but the Hestia's strange new readings indicated that there was a slim possibility I was right.”

Kelvin finished, “one military contract later, and with a much more distinguished scientist on your team, you had access to this weapon,” the words came out of her mouth like venom, the betrayal in her voice was obvious.

“What about the attack at New Alexandria?” Sorensen didn't see how that fit into the puzzle.

“I'm not quite sure, I was told there would be an attack and that there was another Jovian on board. I was told he would try to disable either the defenses or the weapons to make obtaining the cube from the Eve in the Oort cloud easier.”

“Oort cloud? There was no attack in the Oort cloud,” Kelvin seemed confused.

“There was supposed to be. But the failure of the bombing, or the 0 in my 101 transmission, meant that the psycho bomber hadn't achieved his mission. The ship following the Hestia could only have made an attack under those circumstances. The second 1 in 101 indicated to go to back-up.”

“A surprise attack on Mars,” Sorensen finished, “The Eve was never supposed to be the transport unless something failed. Why didn't the Eve get captured, they had the jump on us.”

“Weak military. Their navy is so bad, that's why they were desperate for this cube,” Bacchi sounded like he had been abandoned, “listen, if I help you decipher the grooves will you let me free? All I wanted was the glory of discovery.” He started mumbling to himself; it was clear he was depressed.

Kelvin and Sorensen looked at each other. They excused themselves to talk in the hall, “we can still use him. Is there a way we can keep him under supervision?” Kelvin explored options.

“Perhaps. It might be tough, but he has what we need and there isn't much time. Give me 20 minutes to figure out a security situation and we'll--” Sorensen noticed Bill and James running down the hall.

“He's killing himself!” James yelled. The four of them opened the door and rushed to Bacchi. There was blood and glass everywhere. Bacchi had smashed his head against the mirror and slashed his wrists with a large shard of glass.

“Get medical,” Sorensen ordered.

“Too late,” Bill felt Bacchi's pulse; nothing. The four of them stood in the room and looked at each other. The futility of their situation suddenly filled the room: they were in the middle of nowhere with nowhere to go and with no way back to the world they had known. The ship felt empty and alone.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Land Leave 10

Simulated view of a black-hole

The continuing story:

Land Leave 10:

Land Leave 10:

“That was blatant disregard for chain of command with all due respect sir,” Sorensen was bewildered by the captain's actions. The captain was one to rarely run from a fight, and he had run from two in as many days.

“I'm sorry Sorensen. I didn't think it would spiral out of control like this. Something is going on over this cube. The Jovians are doing something drastic; shooting for an empire and total solar dominion even though they have insufficient firepower to outgun the whole AmU fleet. They were obviously aware of our approach,” the captain ran his hair through his hands, he had just witnessed the loss of many of his colleagues all of them great captains. He had deliberately abandoned the Mars stations, compromising huge amounts of classified materials as well as an entire planet's defense. The 40 million inhabitants of the Mars system were now exposed to attack.

James stormed into the room, “you killed them! You condemned them to death!”

“Calm down son. Some will die, but they are looking for us. Pillaging is a waste of time and ammo. They can't follow us to the Ares system and they will be waiting at the wormhole. I guarantee it.”

James calmed down a bit but he was still fuming, breathing heavily. A long silence pervaded the room. Bill burst into the room and apologized about James; he started guiding him out. At the door, James paused and turned to the captain, “what do we do now sir?”

“Figure out that cube. There's something about it; I don't know why but it seems that the Jovians have the upper hand. I don't know how they do, but something about that damn cube just might get us the better position.” The captain watched the two ensigns leave, “what's the status of the fleet that went through the hole with us?”

“Nine ships sir, all of them with functional fusion cores; most have severely compromised shielding systems. Weapons appear to be largely functional if not low on conventional ammo. Air-force is at minimal damage, they can mobilize and fly in a dog-fight if need be. My best guess against the fleet we saw today, we could easily punch a hole to the main AmU fleet if necessary,” conjectured Sorensen.

“Draw up some strategies, we don't break through the hole again until we know something about that cube. I want contingencies and all ships making necessary repairs now. Any other information about our Jovian infiltrators?”

“None sir, we are investigating an unauthorized transmission that was sent on an unused channel back in the Oort cloud, but it could have been a homesick ensign for all we know,” Sorensen wasn't hopeful that the security breach would be that easy to discover.

“Follow up and let me know. And keep an eye on the progress of that cube.”

James and Bill suited up to join the doctors in the bay. They were taking a close look at the corner with the line through it. Upon closer inspection the cube had some form of writing on it, a faint script that seemed to shimmer in the light. The writing wasn't well defined, nor was it what could be traditionally interpreted as writing. It was more a series of grooves arranged in an orderly pattern. Bill approached the writing and looked at it closely. He instinctively reached out to touch the writing. The field on the cube pushed his hand back, but he slid through. He broke the field and touched a groove. The cube shook, James became keenly aware of how tight the space in the bay was. He was suddenly very nervous about the cube swinging open and crushing him.

“Uh guys,” James tried to hold back his worry.

“It's ok, it'll be fine,” Bill felt calm. The cube started to disintegrate until the opening was the about 10 meters high. A faint light illuminated the inside and Bill stepped into it.

“Wait, are we recording this?” Dr. Kelvin's jaw had snapped shut and she suppressed her awe.

The four entered the cube cautiously. Bacchi looked at the walls and observed that there was writing everywhere. As he looked around, he noticed that there were squares about a meter in length that denoted grooved areas where there was no writing. It looked like something fit there, like pieces were missing. “It looks like something was here, what do you think it was?” Bacchi seemed antsy.

“Don't know, can you see anything down there James?” Kelvin motioned to James who had wandered a great deal further in.

“Nothing, writing everywhere though. I can't see very far though, it's like there's a haze in here.”

“It's helium and nitrogen. There is a ton of it in here.” Kelvin was looking at her monitors, “someone shine their light up.”

Bill did so and caught a glimmer of a large structure above him. Like the outer cube, it seemed to be almost featureless. The four explored the interior for another hour, trying hard to decipher any bits of information. What they found was almost nothing, without any way of deciphering the writing, they were largely stuck. They recorded what they could and went back for a break. At the computer terminal, they dropped off their recordings and turned the deciphering over to the organic computers. They sat and sipped coffee.

“It's definitely not full of political dissidents. I bet it's a compact spaceship built by an alien civilization. It lost power and got stuck in the Oort cloud.” Bill sounded practical and distant.

“Probable, we need to get some materials samples in, I think this thing is very old. So old that it does pre-date the solar system.” Bacchi sounded optimistic, hitting the jackpot on a pre-solar alien civilization would be incredible.

Bill thought about the statement as if from another world, “why do you think it's so old? I mean, it could be recent even. The fact is that it's 'alien' technology, its age is indeterminate and its function moreso.”

“It better be worth something. The Eve has lost 17 crewmen and sustained lots of damage for an empty cube,” James let the words bounce sarcastically from his lips. He jabbed Bill in the side, “wake up man, we gotta solve this Hardy Boys mystery.”

“An empty cube,” the thought stirred an energy inside of Bill, “it's useless. It doesn't fix things, it doesn't do anything. We don't even know what it's made of!” Bill was starting to rise, he could feel his frustration from the fights and losses taken in the last few days build up, “what the hell are we fighting for? It's a big cube with indecipherable writing.” Bill stood up out of his seat, spilling his coffee, “it's all so meaningless!” He stormed out of the room.

James, Kelvin, and Bacchi looked at each other. James stood up and ran out the door to catch up with Bill. “Bill, wait up.”

Bill stopped in the hallway, turned to James. Bill's face was red and his eyes were puffy. “I just don't get it. What the hell? We've been fighting and running forever and the big reveal is nothing. Just some grooves and bumps on some enigmatic wall. How do we justify that? So many people have died because the East Io Company thinks there is some weapon in this giant pre-historic cube. What kind of distorted world are we living in.” Bill smashed his fist into the wall, breaking a panel. He burst into tears and collapsed on the ground.

“I could have been a dad.” James stared at the wall.

“What?” Bill asked.

“The Turkish woman I hit in the Bazaar. She had an abortion. It was mine. I didn't love her. But I would have loved that kid. I would have had a kid; I could have been something to someone, not just a political pawn crawling through the ranks.” James sat in the hallway next to Bill, “I don't have anything against abortions, but she kept it from me. All of it.” The two sat in silence together, thinking on it all.

“Maybe there is no reason to it, maybe we just do the best we can with what we're given. I'm sorry about all that.” Bill spoke slowly.

“Thanks. What do we do now?” James felt vulnerable and lost.

“Keep working I suppose.”

“Keep working.” James let the words play in his head.

Land Leave 9

The Lorentz curve, time dilation as speed reaches c (light-speed).

Land Leave 9:

The ship slid through the fourth dimension seamlessly, the organic computer worked overtime to maintain a 3 dimensional frame of reference in the ship while navigating the paradoxical lane of time. Theoretically, by transcending into the 4th dimension it was possible to travel to all points in time and space. That was not feasible yet, the drives had enough trouble breaking back through the linear time barrier. The computers didn't choose a destination in a traditional way, it was less like a point on a map and more like—well, space. It was intuitive more than anything. The first navigators were trained athletes, people keenly in tune with their instinct.

The modern age of wormhole travel started with the advent of organic computers. The computers simulated instinct using the old quantum computers and fusing them with genetically modified nerve clusters. The computing power was magnified by a power of ten for each quantum computer tied to a nerve cell. The Eve had multiple computing cores to work as back-ups as well as several independent quantum computers on board. This gave the ship a huge amount of leeway in using the wormhole system.

What Sorensen had opened was a one-way. It was a wormhole generated by the fusion cores and held in place using huge electro-magnetic fields. Basically, the act of opening it was a major breach of probability, keeping stable only because of the Eve's computers and a ton of energy. The second type of wormhole was a stable post-stellar wormhole. The nearest one was actually man-made, it was an endeavor that took nearly 60 years to complete. A nearby black-hole mass star was dragged from 10 light-years to 3.5 light-years outside Sol and forcibly collapsed into a black hole. The colony ship Endeavor made the first manned jump through the wormhole and arrived in the Ares system. The drawback to post-stellar wormholes was its singular nature. It wove a huge thread through space-time, linking two disparate points. It couldn't tap into the fabric and weave new threads.

The Eve slid out like a long thread pulled from a sweater in reverse. The thread wove itself into the Eve about 10 minutes from Mars. Sorensen called for a status report. Immediately things weren't going well.

“Sir, we are getting a distress call from Phobos. There seems to be an attack.” The communications officer sounded panicked.

“Get the captain, and set a course for intercept. Get me a reading on hostiles now!” Sorensen had beads of sweat immediately form on his forehead. Hearing that Phobos was under attack was a scary notion. It was the core of the AmU's naval research and was heavily guarded. An attack of that magnitude required audacity and firepower. The Eve was only lightly equipped and it was now fighting its second battle in as many days.

The captain raced out of his office. “Status.”

“It appears that there is a large naval contingent of unknown origin engaging with AmU forces. I am reading distress signals from Mons Pavonis, Phobos, and six ships in the fleet. Most of the fleet appears to be moderately to heavily damaged.”

“That's no good. What do we have? Arm all long-range weapons, target what we can. This isn't going to go well. Do a sweeping pass of all weapons, contact all ships that can do a one-way and tell them to meet at the Ares wormhole.” The captain swiftly took charge of the situation.

As they got closer, the battle became more obvious. A surprise attack had split the fleet into several small groups that were cornered. The opposing force seemed decently well-organized and was aided by modified short-range ships similar to the attack at New Alexandria.

They moved at battle speed, .2c, and made a direct pass straight through the largest contingent. “Everyone brace for impact, accelerate to .6c and get us out of here.” The Eve banked hard through a group of ships and shot to the far-side of Mars. Several large explosions rocked the outer shield.

“I read thirty-two ships following, ten are ours. Sir, I don't think we can break a wormhole at this speed.” The navigation officer was well-aware of the risks of relativistic pinhole rupture.

“Push the engines to full-speed, give me pinhole activation,” the captain was shouting, “comm, relay, now.”

“But sir, how are we going to break space?” The nav officer was getting more nervous by the second.

“cut engines when we get to earth's elliptical, flip the stabilizing field and then the pinhole. Stay with me and relay. On my mark.” A laser tore through a ship following behind them, it cleanly cut through three quarters of the ship. One of its fusion cores leaked into the void with dispersed fusion reactions tearing what remained of the ship into pieces. “Mark.”

The Eve made a hard reverse, slowing to .0001c in three and a half seconds. The Eve wasn't the fastest ship but it had the best braking in the solar system. It gave the Eve an extra five seconds to open a pinhole and disappear into it. The AmU fleet was similarly equipped to brake and most pulled through on the other side at the Ares wormhole.

The captain ordered everyone through the Ares wormhole, and the remnants of the AmU Mars fleet disappeared into the Ares system.

The Ares colony was located in a galaxy far, far away. Stellar maps couldn't exactly pinpoint where in relation to the Milky Way due to certain spatial distortions, but it was estimated that it was at least 3 billion light-years away. The Ares colony had been a fledgling colony on the edge for the last 22 years. There were few amenities. It was largely a science outpost aside from the cowboys. Two class M planets resided by the large red giant star. One Jupiter sized planet rotated the star at approximately the distance mercury was from Sol. It created odd weather patterns on the two Ares colonies; mostly beautiful Aurora Borealis effects over the entire surface.

Colonization had been slow largely because only AmU ships could really hold stable fields passing through; everything was centralized through the Navy. That made Ares safe for what remained of the AmU Fleet.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

McMenamin's Edgefield

Yesterday was fun. Edgefield. It is camp for adults. McMenamin's owns a large property out in Troutdale, OR. It has a distillery, a winery, and a brewery on its premises. It has a hotel and a spa. It has a putt-putt golf course and live music. It has a three dollar theater and a bar in every building. The place is a resort. And it was a great day for Edgefield.

The sky was particularly blue, the grass especially green. I sat and had a nice lunch with Ciera, her dad, and his new wife Jane. It was pleasant talk and the food was good. After, and one beer later, we hit the course. Jane's brother Pat joined us. He is the chiropractor that helped Ciera when she hurt her back. He looks like a shorter more angular Bill Murray. He's not a half bad golfer. The course was great. It overlooked views of rolling hills, the campus of Edgefield, and the large red water tower. It was a tranquil moment.

We golfed casually, had a drink on the course, and picked blackberries off the bushes. They were ripe and juicy, but not particularly sweet or flavorful. I sliced the golf-balls pretty badly. But winning wasn't the point, although I did get a nice birdie on the second to last hole.

The point was spending an afternoon with people and getting to know them. Being adults in the adult world was different. As much as I loved it, I yearned for the ebullience of the adolescent one. There is a lot of calming energy in being adult, also a lot of drinking. I loved being a kid though, running around; where every turn was a new discovery. The sheer energy of being somewhere new is sort of lost on me now.

The sun set slowly, it reddened and turned violet. We ate dinner at the Black Rabbit, a restaurant with a small menu but a wide selection. I had a drink of their gin. Ciera and I basked in the pools at the spa. It is basically an enormous hot tub with great landscaping. The couples that joined us were not quite so fun. We left when the making out reached a fever pitch.

We finished off the night talking in low voices at the picnic table. Tranquil, calm. That was the place.

Obesity and Perry's Miracle

Unemployment by state (June 2011)

So let me warm up with a little news and analysis, I know I'm 3 behind so I'm going to get up to speed.

Obesity, and Perry's 'Miracle'

Approximately 23.5 million Americans live in a food desert according to the USDA and reported by The Week. A food desert is defined by a cross-section of two elements: distance to a supermarket (at least 33% live over one mile distant in an urban area, and ten in a rural), and poverty (at least 20 percent in the census defined district). According to The Week “Only 26 percent of the nation's adults now eat three servings of vegetables a day.” To counter this, places like Los Angeles have started using zoning laws to restrict fast food—fresh produce's main competitor. LA put a one year moratorium on fast-food construction in a 32 mile area. “City officials say the results were successful, and have now imposed permanent zoning restrictions on fast-food chains in the poorer, southern part of the city.” According to City Councilwoman Jan Perry, “We have already attracted new sit-down restaurants, full-service grocery stores, and healthy food alternatives.”

Paul Krugman wrote in the NYTimes today that, “The Texas miracle is a myth.” He goes on to outline the ideological problems with Perry's policies and a drastic misreading of the numbers. Mr. Krugman is largely right, the numbers do not support a miracle of any sort in Texas because of small governance. “Texas was spared the worst of the housing crisis, partly because it turns out to have surprisingly strict regulation of mortgage lending.” Or more simply, big government laws regulating an industry. Next, Krugman continues, “the Texas unemployment rate was 8.2 percent [in June]. That was less than unemployment in collapsed-bubble states like California...but it was slightly higher than...New York and significantly higher than...Massachussetts.” Texas is below the national average which is good, but out of stable non-bubble states it doesn't stand out of the pack.

But at least there are jobs, right? Texas has been putting up good employment numbers; which means quality of life must be good. Krugman analyzes this too, “1 in 4 Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion in the nation.” In the most basic measurement of quality of life, access to high quality healthcare, a quarter of Texans are unable to easily pay for essential health services. But what about jobs? Lots of jobs right? Sort of, “[Texas] has, for many decades, had much faster population growth than the rest of America...The high rate of population growth translates into above-average job growth...almost 10 percent of Texan workers earn the minimum wage or less, well above the national average...and these low wages give corporations an incentive to move production to the Lone Star State.” The jobs created in Texas are low-wage and low-benefit. These are jobs that are just trying to “keep up with its rising population.”

“What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and...weak regulation [on job markets] can attract jobs from other states.” If you give away enough of conditions for a business to set-up shop then you can steal them from other states. Case in point, Electronic Arts has moved its facilities from California to Texas. A move highlighted by CBS news last week. This is the proverbial race to the bottom in action.

So finally, how does Rick Perry relate to obesity? The short answer is good regional governance. The philosophy of sustainability is simple: create, grow, and sustain businesses and quality of life by working within regional constructs. The major problem with policies like Perry's and the creation of food deserts is a poor philosophy of regional politics. Think of bad regional or state policies as a hungry baby—called Texas. Without a filter to help it distinguish good business from bad, it eats indiscriminately. Texas grows up without restrictions on its eating habits, happily gobbling up all sustenance it can find. At twenty to thirty years old, Texas is asked to run a marathon. There's no way Texas makes it past the first mile. This is how it will be. Southern states have already done this, so have the post-industrial wastelands we call Buffalo, Albany, and Tacoma. The effects are well-known; a period of 'prosperity' followed by economic collapse and widespread poverty. Not surprisingly, these regions also have some of the highest obesity rates and huge food deserts. Regulations are in place to manage our quality of life. They benefit the workers not the CEOs that are already making thousands of times the average wage of their employees.

Is that bad? I can't make it any clearer. Certain policies disguise infrastructural problems that build until the bubble pops. Get ready to watch Texas have a sudden surge of problems: rising obesity, overstretched costs for road maintenance, mounting healthcare costs pushed on the state, and businesses abandoning the state in droves because the state can no longer provide incentives to stay.

And Perry's America is at the core of the problems we see today. Our bubbles have burst and we don't have the patience to implement the long-term plans that will help us fix our ills.